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Trip Report A tale of two Japans: a trip report

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Greetings all
We are back, and I am jotting down a few things quickly while my mind is still fresh.
First off: thanks to the many Japanophiles here on Fodors who infected us with their enthusiasm: hawaiiantraveller, kimjapan, DonTopaz, mrwunrfl, and others.

Air itinerary: Flew to LAX as a gateway.
Flew to ITM via HND (Tokyo Haneda) and took bus from ITM to Kyoto.
Returned from Tokyo Haneda on the overnight flight to LAX, and went home after 2 overnights in LA.

Some remarks on air travel:

*I am afraid that we suffered badly from jet lag this trip. On the one hand, by flying first to LAX and overnighting, we were able to pick up ANA's overnight flight the following evening to Tokyo Haneda, which allowed us to use the following morning to commute by air to Osaka (Itami) and thence by bus to Kyoto. However, in hindsight, I wonder if taking the daytime flight to NRT (Tokyo Narita) and overnighting there before proceeding to Kyoto might have been better. As it was, we wound up being up for almost 48 hours from the time we woke up in LA to the time we hit the sheets in our Kyoto hotel, save what we snatched in the way of naps on the overnight flight. I'd hoped that this would help us adjust quickly to adjusting to a 12 time zone switch, by virtue of being so tired we'd fall asleep no matter what our first night, but the price paid in net loss of sleep was high. We enjoyed Kyoto, but our progress was slow as we were still recuperating, and I think an extra day just to offset this jet lag effect would have been a wise idea. Heck, an extra day in Kyoto is I suspect always a good idea. But more on that later.

**On the other hand, the return from Japan worked very well, as we got in a last full day in Tokyo instead of being obliged to head for the airport in the early afternoon. We also loved Haneda International, the facilities are spanking new and it's easy to spend time there. Once back in LA, we had no trouble falling asleep, although getting up the next morning was a bit tough - but it did help to force us back to North American time.

*** We loved ANA (All Nippon Airways). Very professional and courteous staff.

Ground travel:

We got very efficient use of our 7 day JR Pass between Kyoto and Tokyo.

We also were very glad for the small compass key chain I brought along, for those places, such as the interior of large rail stations, where GPS won't work. I kid you not, I think we'd still be in Shinjuku station if we hadn't consulted the compass!

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    Yo, but it was hard to pull myself out of bed this morning. But the sun is bright today, so that should help me in my mission to re-acclimatize to my local time zone.

    Okay, where was I.

    2 Apr, day 1. And we're off.
    For some reason, on both legs of our journey to LA, United rushes us aboard and announces with pride that they are 'closing the doors for an on-time departure', only to have us sit for up to an hour on the tarmac before we even push back.

    I wish I'd thought of this one for all those times I was late to elementary school. I should have walked into the classroom with my coat, boots and mitts still on, slush dripping onto to the floor, books still in the bag, and homework as yet undone, and announced to Miss H that notwithstanding her suspicions to the contrary, I was assuming my seat for an "ontime start to the day".

    But of course Miss H, unlike this cowed air traveler, would have called my ruse in an instant. Dear Miss H, who predated regular air travel, and who would have been startled to hear that ordinary people took trips to countries literally the other side of the planet. And what would she have made of my eschewing reading as a means of passing the time on long journeys, in favour of watching a movie on a seatback screen or, if the plane be 'old', a movie on a notepad computer brought from home? "In Grade 5, Miss Sue, we grow up."

    Sorry Miss H, I have no room in this economy seat to do any growing. But regular 'in-the-seat' leg exercises are still (just) possible, and I credit these with my escaping leg swelling on my flights this trip, despite my history with a (not air-travel-related) DVT.

    In any case, Grade 5 for this writer was, alas, a long time ago. In any case, here we are, at last, in LA. A bed looks very good right now. ZZZZZZZ.

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    3 Apr, day 2. LA.
    A sunny day in the city of angels. We have plans to drop in on the observatory at Griffith Park, but since it doesn't open until noon on weekdays, we pass the time by driving our little rented car first to Marina del Rey (because we both loved the song) and then to the neighbourhood (not the beach) of Venice. I really liked Venice, this is a place I could actually imagine myself living in, were I ever to relocate to LA. Please don't spoil my fantasy by telling me how much these little houses cost.

    Owing to minor jet leg we rule out getting tickets to any of the planetarium shows at the Griffith, but no matter as the view alone from the site justifies the trip. As it is the 'ordinary' exhibits are quite entertaining, including the live demonstration put on when the sun reaches its zenith. Watching the demo, I wonder if this is where the screenwriters of the 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' films got their inspiration for a certain scene.

    Our visit concluded, we make our way back to the environs of our airport hotel and quickly take in a little of nearby Manhattan beach, before turning in the car and settling in for the tedious wait until it is time to head for the airport and our very late (as in 00:40) flight to Tokyo. I'm tired, and so is spouse. But as we know from previous experience, the only way out of jet lag is through it. Our consolation: Japan awaits.

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    4 Apr. in flight, crossing the date line.
    5 Apr. day 3. Tokyo, and onward to Osaka and Kyoto.

    I should warn all(if you haven't figured it out for yourselves already) that this report will be as one once described by Winston Churchill to his superior at the time: dear sir, I am sorry my report is so long, but I didn't have time to write a shorter one. His point, and mine, being that concision is what takes effort.


    Even the super courteous ANA flight attendants cannot alleviate the fact that the flight is long and the seats are small. But all tedious things come to an end, and what is more we are greeted, as our plane rolls up to the gate in Haneda, by the sight of the ground crew bowing to the plane. That's a first!

    We have arrived early, so early that I wish I'd tried to see if we could have been moved up to an earlier flight to ITM. On that flight spouse and I are not seated together, but each of us gets a window seat on either side of the plane. Spouse lucks out and gets treated to a spectacularly clear view of Mount Fuji on his side; I have to settle for a great view of Osaka castle.

    Once off the plane, we barely have time to scratch our heads in wonderment at the machines that dispense bus tickets, before a helpful person materializes out of nowhere to speed the experience for us. As we are later to find, this helpfulness is common in Japan.

    Onboard the bus, we are startled to see an extra ten people climb aboard, pull down folding seats, and sit in the aisle of the bus.

    As we roll past Osaka, I am elated to see the sight of cherry blossoms. So, we are not too late after all!

    Kyoto station is as I expected - large and confusing. I know that there are several JR offices and that only one will do the job I have in mind: exchange our vouchers for JR passes and make the reservations. As luck has it, it takes three tries before we find the right one. But the job is done, Hallelujah.
    I was very glad to have taken the time to research what we wanted on hyperdia dot com, and then make up a chart for the agent listing what we wanted. No doubt the people in line behind us were similarly grateful.

    What little Japanese I managed to learn before departure has evaporated in a haze of jet lag and disorientation. All I can remember is "Konnichiwa" and "Arigato" which I suppose is better than nothing. As for the written script, we adopt a generic term 'squiggle' for Hirigana and Kanji. For the rest of the trip, it becomes our stock phrase: "what does the sign say?" "Can't tell, it's all in squiggle."

    I wish I knew squiggle, it is one of many deficiencies in my education. Now I know what it feels like to be illiterate, and it is not a comfortable feeling.

    As it is, even when English is available, it is not always as clarifying as hoped. For example, it takes us a few minutes to realize that the two fare ranges displayed on the chart above the subway ticket machines are for 'adult' and 'child'. Once we get that through our thick skulls, it becomes a matter of learning to insert the 1000 yen note into the machine, pushing the 'ticket' button, then the button with the graphic of two people, and then the button with the correct fare for one person to the stop (this is where the chart comes in) - the machine then makes change and coughs out two tickets.

    Our hotel in Kyoto is actually a small apartment, and we love it. The kitchenette is mouse sized but will serve to heat up food and prepare tea or coffee. There is a washer/dryer, a small table and chairs, and two comfy beds. What more could we need?

    After settling in, we head to a 'kombini' for some supplies, and then stroll the nearby canal section, which is lined with lovely cherry trees. As evening draws on, Maruyama park heats up with 'hanami' partygoers. We buy a couple of squewers of meat from two of the many vendors selling food. We'd love to stay on and enjoy the fun, but we are by now pooped. Just. Pooped.

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    Maruyama Park........what a nice place for your first mini hanami.
    Great start to your report and may I echo Craig's sentiments on long reports. Can't wait for the rest and welcome home.


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    Hello gertie - Osaka's ITM (Itami) airport is closer to Kyoto than KIX - is why I chose it. ITM also closer by air to either of Tokyo's airports than KIX.

    Unless you are asking why I didn't fly direct to KIX from North America. Long story, but schedules/routes etc weren't convenient for us from the few cities in NA that have direct flights to KIX.

    Hello to Kathie, Kavey, and Hawaiian - glad you are enjoying it. I shall add as I find a moment in between getting back to, alas, 'real life.'

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    Yes, I wondered why you didn't fly direct into KIX from North America. We usually use United from SFO ( having started out at IAH). That trip is horrible under any circumstances and United is dreadful. I might think about using ANA/JAL/any other airline next time, but we head straight for Kobe without any need to go to Tokyo.

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    Seems like you enjoyed the trip -- glad to hear it!

    I was wondering where you started from -- going through LAX adds a lot of extra miles from most places in the U.S. And the point about adjusting to the time/jet lag should not be lost. I've made the trip from Boston to east or southeast Asia 20 times or more, and it's never easy.

    Interesting idea to bring along a compass. Though others should be warned not to use a Tate's Compass: he who has a Tate's is lost.

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    Yes Craig your iphone5 compass will work in Shinjuku and other stations and throughout Japan. I always use mine as I have mentioned before in trip reports. Generally a phone compass that will work in airplane mode will work without additional coverage.


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    That's great news, Peter! I will probably also purchase international calling and data plans before I go and cancel them when I return, as you have recommended in your reports...

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    it is a relief to hear that even experienced Japanophiles don't find the trip to the East coast easy. The funny thing is, we've made the trek to New Zealand and thence Australia, and didn't find it so bad. But Japan is three more time zones further away from our local time than New Zealand, and those last three zones were for us, deadly.

    Yes, it's true that the shortest route would preclude LAX from most places on the east coast of NA. But I was trying to optimize other things besides overall distance. There was, for example, the time of day of one's starting flight, and the time of arrival. I didn't want to have to start out too early - we'd be losing sleep as it was. There was cost - and as Fodorites know, airfares don't always follow geographic logic. And I was trying to start our trip in Kyoto, correctly figuring that Kyoto would be less hectic than Tokyo. Each of these constraints added to the benefits of thinking out of the box.

    So I figured what the heck, make the journey part of the fun. Pick somewhere on the west coast that we'd like to visit, one that is a major gateway, one for which a reasonable airfare could be found, and start the Pacific leg from there. I appreciate this approach might not work for everyone, since of course airfare markets are extremely variable, and one must of course add in the cost of hotels at the stopover point. But short of flying first class (not in our budget) or on a private jet with beds (Mr. Obama, can I borrow AirForce One?), it was the best compromise I could manage. All suggestions for the future gratefully considered.

    Perhaps we Fodorites should pool our resources and buy our own jet?

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    Hi Sue. We may have overlapped a bit. We arrived in Japan on April 5 and have since spent time in Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima, and Kyoto. We are now in Tokyo again and fly back to Canada tomorrow.

    There were two or three times that I wished I had a compass. By the way, did you notice that the area maps you sometimes see at places like subway entrances are not always oriented with north at the top?

    We have had a delightful trip, full of rich experiences. I look forward to reading the rest of you report.

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    maps in subways are oriented in what you see in the direction ahead as you step outside that exit and never in our experiences oriented with north at the top unless you are coming out of a north exit.


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    6 Apr, day four. We wake up to an overcast day with a forecast of rain. No matter, we are used to rain. On go our hiking pants, our Goretex shells, and out comes the umbrella.

    We take breakfast at a local McDonald's. Yes, I know, but it's one of the few places open in our neighbourhood when we wake up each morning, and we wake up early. And we need that cup of coffee to try and jumpstart our bewildered bodies into action.

    We intend to take the bus to Ginkakuji and walk down the Philosopher's path in a southerly direction, but one look at the packed bus and we reconfigure our route. We elect instead to take the subway to Keage and start with a look at the 'Keage incline' which is an old railway bed, now a kind of park, near the Keage subway station.

    As we were yesterday, we are elated to find that the cherry trees are still in bloom. It is true that the blossoms are past peak. Falling petals whirl around our heads, cascade down stone stairways, form pools inches deep in the gutters at our feet. But there are still plenty of intact clusters on the trees.

    On the path to Nanzenji it starts to rain. We are sharing an umbrella, so it is one person's job to shelter the camera whilst the other takes a photo, which happens a lot. Starved for colour after a long winter, we are mesmerized by the splendid blossoms around us. There are more than just cherry trees, there are the bright yellow branches of forsythia to be admired, purple azalea blossoms, and other flowering shrubs unfamiliar to me.

    We arrive at Nanzenji as it starts to rain. We slip off our shoes, stuff them into the plastic bags provided, and shuffle around in slippers (also provided.) As we stroll the dark wooden floors of the halls, I note the presence of the statuary of gods (?) who are not sombre, but laughing, as if sharing a cosmic joke. I also note various painted screens, but due to the darkness of the rooms, they aren't shown off to maximum advantage. What is, are the rock gardens that surround the open breezeways that connect this and that section of the temple. As we have visited so early, we have the place virtually to ourselves, so the only sounds are of birds and falling rain. Raindrops quietly patter on the rooves of the breezeways, bounce out of artfully shaped pools in the gardens, slip down decorative chains strung vertically from roof to ground - I suspect the chains are there precisely to direct rainwater from the roof to ground away from the building.

    Later when I think of Kyoto, I think of this beautifully peaceful temple, our first that we viewed in Japan.

    With reluctance we slip back into our shoes and resume our walk, this time joining a parade of bobbing umbrellas of every colour, for the number of sightseers on the Philosopher's path has increased now that the morning is getting on. We stop for tea and a sandwich at a tiny cafe near a school, then resume our walk. As it is cool we succumb to the temptation of diving into this or that shop along the path to warm up. Some sell purses and small handtowels, many sell sweets and so forth. One shop is a potter's studio, and we really liked his stuff. Sensing our admiration, the proprietor whips out some tea and little snacks, along with a binder of photos showing how he produces his work. Alas, I remember that this is a cash society and this shop is no exception, and our initial stockpile of yen is almost depleted, so we leave without making any purchases. I hope to get back to pick out a pair of teacups, but it never happens, thus proving once again the importance of buying something when one first sees it. Or in our case, of being sufficiently stocked with cash to buy something when one sees it.

    We reach Ginkakuji in the early afternoon. I confess that as pretty as the garden is, with its sand sculptures and pond views, we are disappointed to find that the interior is accessible only if one takes a guided tour. We didn't object so much to the required tour or the fee, so much as to its being only in Japanese with not so much as an English pamphlet provided. We conclude that if one has no means whatsoever of understanding a tour, there is little point in taking one, and so having seen the garden we head for the bus stop.

    We had studied up beforehand about how to use the bus - board in the rear, pay on exit according to the fare displayed electronically up front on a panel - but it took a kind English speaking bus rider to help us realize that we could use an automatic change machine at the front to change a 1000 yen note in advance of getting off. It is crowded on the bus albeit not as bad as this morning.

    Once off the bus I remember that it's Saturday, and late Saturday afternoon at that. The post office will be closed, so much for using the associated ATM to get the now much needed cash. Time to find a good map, and plan strategy.

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    Hi Anselm, just saw your post. What a pity we missed you, we did indeed overlap. I look forward to hearing of your own impressions.

    YES, I noticed that maps not infrequently didn't follow the north-at-the-top convention -- one reason the compass was so useful!

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    It is a measure of my sleepy state that I didn't start off by stating our itinerary.

    Fly to LA, check in LA hotel - 1 night
    Day in LA, night doing leg exercises in an economy seat - 1 night
    (1 Night offered to Dateline God, but night will be stolen back later; meanwhile flip calendar forward to fool him)
    Kyoto - 5 nights via flight, bus to Osaka
    **JR 7 day pass starts**
    Takayama- 2 nights
    Nagoya (We Love Nagoya) - 2 nights
    Okayama - 2 nights
    Tokyo - 3 nights
    Day in Tokyo, head for airport late in evening
    ** but since this is the night stolen back from Dateline God, don't count it, instead flip calendar back and hope Dateline God doesn't notice
    LA - 2 nights

    Day spent flying back home
    (1 + 2) nights LA
    1 night on plane
    (1 night offered to Dateline God but stolen back later)
    14 nights Japan
    Total 18 nights, return on 19th day after departure

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    Okay, after that brief word from our sponsor, back to day 4.

    Later in our trip, we will see posters in the rail stations that as far as we could tell, were of photos of Japan's most wanted.

    But even before we saw these posters, we knew there was crime in Japan. Because on day 4 (is Japan like China, wherein 4 is an unlucky number?) the infamous Umbrella Thief of Kyoto struck.

    We had returned from Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion - which no doubt helped remind us that our own silver, or at least our yen, was getting low, and it was time to find an ATM. It being a Saturday and a Saturday afternoon at that, the Post Office was closed. (tip: It's easy to find post offices, the signs look like a red capital 'T' with a underscore or hyphen over the top of the 'T'.) Anyway, we decided to drop off our day pack at our apartment and into the bargain, borrow a second umbrella from our landlord to supplement our own, since by now the proverbial cats and dogs were coming down in earnest. Sharing an umbrella is romantic, but under such circumstances, also makes for a damp experience.

    So reinforced with a second umbrella, it was off to the 7-11, one of the few places we had heard would take foreign ATM cards. As we approached, we noted that a stand for wet umbrellas sat outside the entrance to the store. Later we were to discover that other stores provide plastic bags to carry one's wet umbrella in - and today, we were given a good reason why one should use a plastic bag instead of the stand. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

    After completing our transaction at the ATM, we returned to find that our umbrella was still in the stand, but our landlord's umbrella was missing, and a broken one standing insolently in its place.

    Later, when confessing our careless loss of his property, our landlord reassured us his was not an expensive umbrella, and not to worry. Which was kind of him. However, I was not so disposed to forgive the thief him or herself. I am given to understand that most Japanese aren't Christian, and therefore likely do not believe in hell. But I am given to understand that many are Buddhists, and thus believe in karma. Our umbrella thief, therefore, should in this life or the next suffer an inverted umbrella at the very next opportunity. (We shall overlook the possibility that his own brolly inverting was what inspired him to a life of crime in the first place, it is the principle of justice that counts.)

    So woe unto you, the Umbrella Thieves of Zion - or should that be, Gion.

    And here endeth Day 4.

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    Hello Mara, glad you are enjoying it. Also hello to Marija and ShelleyK, I think I forgot you the first time around.

    Sorry Gertie, we didn't make it to Kobe, though we ran into many who did, it does sound like a fine place.


    Day 5 - Kyoto, day 3. It is drizzly today and chilly into the bargain. Well, maybe that will keep the crowds down, which is important because today we are off to Kiyomizudera.

    We hike our way up the street - ah, here it is - and up the stairs to the temple and its famous verandah, noting happily en route the beautiful weeping cherry tree at the temple entrance. Up on the verandah we find a few early morning worshippers buying what we assume are prayers painted on pieces of paper or light wooden sticks. Presumably this is the equivalent of paying to light a candle in Catholic churches. Other worshippers approach what I at first take to be a large ceramic cooking pot, until it dawns upon me that this is not a pot but a bell, but inverted compared to the way I normally see a bell. That is, the open part is facing upward and the closed part sits on the ground, with the clapper not hanging from the inside surface of the bell but grasped and swung as a separate object against an outside surface of the bell by the bell-ringer or worshipper. Later we'll see much bigger bells that require a pulled rope to draw back much, much bigger clappers, but even with those the clapper strikes the outside surface of the bell and not the inner, as we from the West are used to seeing.

    We descend many steps and find people waiting to fill long handled dippers under streams of water, there from which to drink. Drinking the water is supposed to ensure good health, although I note the pragmatic hedge of the provision of an ultraviolet light chamber in which to store the dippers in between use.

    From there it is back up the steps to make our way over to the famous Jinja (?) shrine. I confess myself confused by this shrine: the Kyomizudera temple itself seems a very serious place, with people lining up first to ring the aforementioned bell and then to pray to a god or gods - but here at this shrine, vendors are selling good luck charms and an invitation is made to undertake a ritual that will assure one luck in love. And look, over here, looking like a stone version of the chocolate Easter bunny sold by Lindt, is a statue of a rabbit. What gives? And then I remember that Western churches are no different, they are not always places of serious cerebral contemplation but have their bits of 'kitsch' thrown in as well, like supposedly 'weeping' statues of Mary and miraculous visions attested to here and there. But still I am annoyed with myself for not doing more research before we came. For one thing, I would understand why the little stone figures we found on a nearby hillside sport not just red bibs, but yellow and blue bibs as well.

    Somehow in the confusion of looking for a washroom (the perpetual quest of all travellers) we forgot about Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka and just head back down the street we came, which is apparently called Chawan-zaka, or teapot lane. After sharing a rice dish in a rather pricey cafe overlooking this street, we check out the vendors who were still closed when we first arrived. One offers us a free sample of some kind of sweet - since we were expecting flaky pastry, we were taken aback by this, our first taste of mochi. At another kiosk we try a green tea flavoured popover type cream bun - like the chocolate bar filled with green tea flavoured creme, we find it edible but otherwise a taste we haven't yet acquired. Which is unfortunate, because it is clear by now that the Japanese are wild about green tea - it flavours everything, from Kit Kat bars to ice cream.

    Wary of getting lost on the buses, we hoof it to our next stop, Sanjusangendo. Meanwhile on this cold Sunday in sakura season the tourists - mainly Japanese - are arriving in earnest to visit Kiyomizudera, busloads and busloads of them. Indeed, we were wise to turn up early.

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    7 Apr, day 5 (cont'd)

    We arrive at Sanjusangendo and my first thought is of a film I love, The Gods Must Be Crazy. Except that here, the Gods, or at least their guardians, must be Dusty. I don't quite know why, given the otherwise scrupulous cleanliness of this country, but the twenty-eight cypress-carved 'guardian' statues that stand in front of the multiple Kannon statues definitely look like they could use a whisk of a dust cloth. Maybe the statues are too delicate to withstand much cleaning. Maybe only priests can touch them, and they are too preoccupied with higher things to do much in the way of dusting. Or maybe the job was delegated to a priestly assistant who defaulted in favour of watching one of the famed archery contests I've heard take place outside this, the longest wooden structure in Japan.

    Clearly this focus on the mundane will not do, I need to call upon my imagination to recreate the sense of awe that pilgrims of old must have felt as they filed by these statues. I imagine ordinary folk, from kagas (porters) to rice planters to housewives, saving up their pennies for a trip to see this, which probably is the Buddhist equivalent of all those soaring cathedrals I've seen in Europe. I imagine the gold on the statues made all the more brilliant when lit by flickering torches, I think of the awe wrought in the worshippers as they contemplate the Shinto god Rajin, complete with a set of drums to make thunder. I bear down hard, and slowly my imagination starts to do its job.

    Outside the main hall though the real treat awaits - the sight of arrow marks in the wood, made when arrows were shot there during contests held centuries ago. There's also a well nearby with a sign indicating the purity and loveliness of the water that sprang therefrom. Unhappily a more recent sign sits beside it, and declares - in both English and Japanese - NOT POTABLE. I guess as in so many instances in life one can have one's symbolism, just don't examine it too closely.

    Since we're in the neighbourhood of the station, we scope it out so as to smooth our departure in a couple days time. Then we grab the subway and head for the Heian shrine. I was torn, as I am beginning to realize just how quickly four and a half days will go by in Kyoto, and I'm wondering when to pencil in the Fushima Inari Shrine. However, for now we head to the Heian shrine not only because it is close to our apartment ( a plus on this chilly day) but it will have good blossom viewing. And it does, and we enjoy every petal, even though the place, being a Sunday, is quite crowded.

    and here endeth day five.

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    8 Apr, day eight

    It's sunny - at last - today, and in the nick of time, as today we are hoping to see Kinkakuji.

    The buses in Kyoto are as slow as I'd heard them to be, so we hope to get a head start by taking the subway to Kitaoji, which proves to be simple enough. But once at Kitaoji we find ourselves in the small bus station behind at least thirty Japanese women, who are waiting for we know not what bus. As a result, we let two buses go by, waiting for them to board first. In due course they board a bus and we take the next one, and alight when the automated voice announces we are at Kinkakuji something something bus stop.

    Having previously scoped out the area around Kinkakuji on Google Street view, I'm confused by the scene around me, which looks nothing like. Out comes the compass, but I'm still confused. Only when I decide that temples and villas are invariably built higher rather than lower on a hillside, do we get our bearings.

    And as we approach the entrance to the famous temple, that's when I realize that there are TWO bus stops for Kinkakuji, each used by different bus lines; I'd been expecting to arrive at Kinkakuji MAE, the stop I'd scoped out on google, but we in fact arrived at Kinkakuji MICHI, which as we found was a few minutes walk away.

    This temple was once a villa, and it shows. In fact, it reminds me of some oriental version of a Canadian summer cottage - with the notable exception that the latter rarely features walls covered in gold leaf. There's even what appears to be a boat dock, or even a swimming dock. It became a temple, only when it was donated for the purpose.

    This is a lovely place to spend time, with a place where one can be served 'matcha' tea (we passed this time) along with the usual stalls selling charms and so forth. Also for the first time we see and smell a brazier for the purpose of burning incense. Believers waft the smoke of the incense toward themselves - it's said that it has healing properties, although I prefer to think of this as purely a soothing ritual.

    From here we board another bus - at Kinkakuji MAE this time - bound for Arashiyama. This requires a change of buses roughly half way, but no worries, the change point is both quiet and well signposted.

    Later in the trip, we'll see other bamboo stands, but the one in Arashiyama stands out for two reasons: the sheer size of the grass (?) and the fact that two Maiko happened to decide to visit the grove that day. I'd never have asked them to pose for photos but some Japanese did, and so we availed ourselves of the opportunity. They're not in full makeup, possibly because this is the middle of the day, or perhaps they are partly on 'holiday'. Whatever, it made for a colourful scene.

    We stroll back down the hill through the gardens of Tenruji, once more admiring the sakura, and why not - having worried so much that we'd missed them, we intend to enjoy them. Exiting the garden, we are relaxed enough to enjoy the details of a few temple outbuildings, such as the gargoyle-like feature we see on one of the rooves.

    It is taking longer than expected to get around from place to place, but our next stop - Nijo - was reasonably easy to access after the morning's challenges with buses: we grab a train at Arashiyama station, get off at the Nijo stop, walk a short distance to the subway stop of the same name, and get off at Nijo-Mae stop. I don't know what "Mae" means but so far this makes it twice that the "Mae" version of a stop delivers the goods, so to speak.

    I should note here as a tip that we didn't buy either the bus pass or subway pass but simply paid as we went, because we used no one means of transport to a degree that would pay off a pass, and indeed sometimes used trains, as noted.

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    8 April, day six - cont'd

    Spouse loves Nijo. He loves it because it features mannequins inside who give a clue as to how the various rooms inside this castle/residence were actually used.

    Nijo is noted for its 'nightingale floors' and indeed they obligingly squeak as we and other visitors stride across them in our slippered feet. The floors were supposedly deliberately designed to squeak as a defense device, but I have other theories. You see, the floors in my 1920s era house squeak too, and to the best of my knowledge, my house never housed a Shogun. So here's what I think: I think the carpenter and/or the carpenter apprentices goofed, and used green wood when constructing the place. With the result that as the boards shrank, they began to squeak. Carpenter opted to save his head - in those days, his objective would be literal - by insisting that the sound was all part of the plan, so to speak. Or squeak. That's my theory, and I'm sticking to it.

    Nijo features a lot of painted screens/sliding doors featuring fine gold leaf and paintings of cedars and cranes and so forth. The only trouble for me is, that the artist seemed to confine his subject matter to, well, cedars and cranes and so forth. But they are, as noted, fine representations of cedars and cranes.

    The afternoon is drawing on and the shadows are getting longer, making it easy to imagine, if one so chooses, ranks of samurai guards assembling in the courtyards outside, or black-clothed ninja trying to launch an assault on the massive stone walls surrounding the moat. The weeping cherry blossoms in the gardens here are superb, and I note one visitor -evidently from Russia - systematically shooting photos of just about every tree. Poor soul, I can identify - no doubt those photos will give comfort on some long winter day.

    Just before we exit Nijo, we come across a vendor selling a concoction evidently a sweet, since a strawberry is inserted therein. This is our second forae into the world of mochi, and this time we like it. I make a mental note to try to buy a box or two of the stuff before we depart Japan. Only trouble is, vendors gift box everything, it seems, in Japan, so I am a tad worried I'll end by buying a beautifully gift wrapped box of oh, pickled vegetables or something. So I pass for the time being.

    And here endeth day six.

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    9 April, day seven, Kyoto day 5

    Today we were slated to go to Osaka and take in the peace museum on the grounds of Osaka castle, and perhaps catch a bit of Fushimi Inari on the return. But we just aren't in the mood for hiking to a big city today, and so I sketch out plans to patch in the peace museum sometime en route between Nagoya and Okayama, later in the trip.

    Instead, after folding up the latest laundry round and other housekeeping chores, we head to Kyoto station and buy a platform ticket to Hikone, roughly 1000 yen each.

    At Hikone we find a delightful place for lunch just by following our noses outside the station. It's a simple affair - an appetizer of three, well, we know not what, but it tasted fine - followed by generous bowls of rice and beef, and a large pot of tea. Then it's up to Hikone castle, and oh, the sight of the reflected cherry blossoms in the water is a sight to behold.

    After climbing up the not inconsiderable ascent, we notice that tea is on offer in a tiny outbuilding. Entering, we find a kimono-clad lady gesturing us to take our places on a pair of tatami mats in the tiny room. What follows is not a full tea ceremony, of course - the full affair I understand can run for several hours, and certainly would cost a lot more than the 500 yen apiece we have forked out. But the scene is so perfect - the castle and cherry trees are visible through the windows, a scroll hangs on the side of the tiny room, and the sweet is served on a small plate of the most intense scarlet red, while the electric green of the tea is set off by the blue bowls in which it is served. The sweet, a kind of crystallized version of the mochi treat we had yesterday, is the perfect accompaniment to the bitter tea. There are only two others taking tea in the tiny room, so all in all it made for a very intimate, if simple, version of taking tea in Japan.

    In the gardens surrounding the castle is a couple walking their dogs, one of which is a chocolate lab. I have noticed before the fuss made over dogs in this country, and the lab and his companion are no exception - everyone wants to pet them. No doubt it is in part because few people can afford the space for such pets.

    It's an absolutely perfect day, and the view over Lake Biwa is reasonably clear, even from within the castle keep (which involves climbing some ladder like steps.) Hikone castle may not compare with Himeji, but as the latter is under restoration, this one at least is a restoration, i.e. it isn't a reconstruction of ferro-concrete like Osaka's castle. It features things like a tenbin yagura - 'balance scale turret' - and cleverly hidden access points for weapons that were plastered over on the outside so as to be invisible: teppozama (for guns) and yazama (for arrows). There was a museum we could have also visited, but, bewitched by the gardens below the castle, we ran out of time.

    This being our last day in Kyoto, we decide to take an evening walk through Gion-Pontocho area - we enjoy the bright red lanterns and the illuminated cherry trees, but otherwise find that this is mainly an area of pricey restaurants. Which is all very well, if one is looking for that sort of thing.

    Tomorrow is our maiden voyage on a Shinkansen, and we must fortify ourselves with rest.

    and here ended day seven.

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    10 April, day eight

    Kyoto to Takayama

    Sakura season may be on the wane in Kyoto, but it is coming into full peak on the lower altitudes of the Japanese alps. However, as we reach the higher altitudes of Takayama, it is clear that it is as yet too early for cherry blossoms. Which isn't surprising, as it is cold.

    We've taken a room at the Associa Takayama Resort for the next couple of nights, and while this is not a cheap hotel, there is value to be had. We more or less simply kill time until we can check in, because we are anxious to try our first hot springs bath. This hotel has a special wing featuring two full floors of baths, one for each gender, with the floor assigned to each alternating on successive days. As we discover, each floor features up to twelve (depending on how one counts them) steaming hot baths of every description, and most of them are outdoors and, being on either the fifth or seventh floor of the hotel, feature splendid views of the city of Takayama and surrounding mounhtains. My favourite is the 'infinity pool' type bath which is almost large enough to swim in, and from which one evening I watch as first the skies reflect the sunset, and then the lights come on. The outdoor air is chilly, as I said, and so the steam rises enticingly from each and every bath. Ah, but I could get used to this! I also love the yukata supplied by the hotel - I wish I could buy a set, but they don't seem to be offered for sale.

    The one thing that mars this day is that emboldened by our experience in Hikone, we went in search of a rice bowl style restaurant, and ended up picking a place near the station that served our worst meal of Japan. Oh well, one can't win 'em all.

    11 April, day nine

    Breakfast this morning is a buffet affair that is included in our rate. The hotel caters to both Japanese and gaijin, and so the items on offer are varied. I try things like fermented soy beans, pickled vegetables, and grilled fish for breakfast, but only tiny portions of each: the rest of my plate features more familiar fare.

    We learned yesterday that the local bus at the train station can be confusing, as it shares a stop with a bus that is NOT local. In any case we dawdled so long at the included breakfast buffet that we miss the hotel shuttle bus to the station for that hour of the day, and decide to indulge in a taxi to take us to Hida no Sato, the recreated folk village.

    This will be one of the highlights of our trip to Japan. The night before, a light dusting of snow fell, and as our cab drops us off, snow is still visible on the thatched rooves of the farmhouses. Over the course of the entire morning we see maybe twelve people visiting this site, which is as informative as it is beautiful. But it is cold: I'm wearing a light but long sleeved cotton shirt, a cotton vest, cotton cardigan, light gore-tex jacket with hood pulled up over a hat, corduroy trousers, and mitts, and I'm only just warm enough.

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    Just a couple of thoughts as I read along: you can buy yukatas quite cheaply in department stores, probably on the bargain counters on the top floors. I take mine everywhere. Re getting pretty sweets to take home, wait until you get to the airport. There the staff will speak English and you can be sure of what you are getting. And there is a huge variety to choose from.
    You probably know all this by now though!
    This trip report is bringing back nice memories.

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    Gertie, that was the funny thing. On our last evening, literally hours before we set out for the airport, we stopped in at Mitzukoshi (?) that high-end department store, certain that they would have yukata - and they told us they didn't! At least in their food court we were able to pick up some sweets. But I wanted more (sweets that is) and so I set out to find some at Haneda airport. The stores that were open (ours was a late night flight) didn't carry the ones that I was seeking. Lots of what looked like pickled vegetables in plastic stored in giant coolers though (who buys that stuff, and do they consume it right away?)

    I wish now I'd bought more sweets when I saw boxes and boxes of the stuff I wanted. But I was worried I'd eat the sweets before they ever made it home (knowing me, this is a real hazard...)
    As for the yukata, all I can say is that the hotels are missing a business opportunity, I'd have bought the Takayama hotel one on the spot, such a pretty pattern of bamboo leaves. Oh well.

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    11 April, day nine Takayama (continued)

    I've been to folk museums before but it is most decidedly a first for me to visit one where I have to remove my shoes before touring some exhibits. Note to self - wear two layers of socks next time. Because I am reminded most forcefully that the floor is inches from the ground, and it is chilly walking on those floors.

    A few fires have been lit in the various farmhouses, but just barely (staff must be worried about sparks and accidents) - and the 'fireplaces' consist of just sunken sand pits cut out of the floors; smoke, we are told, is allowed to rise and permeate the thatched rooves to help keep them free of insects. So, no chimneys.

    I have mixed emotions touring this place. I admire the ingenuity of people who were extremely resourceful - as one had to be to scratch out a living this way - but I am also appalled by how hard their lives must have been.

    Two displays stand out. One is a display of sledges, and I am impressed with the ingenuity of the various designs. But it is also clear that the work of using sledges to bring down heavy loads of logs from the upper mountains was incredibly dangerous. The other display of note was one adjoining a water wheel: it was a small communal factory for producing starch from bracken (ferns.) I think of how I can buy starch for literally pennies a box - and this in 2013 - and I am appalled at the labour that had to be expended to make starch, a critical ingredient at the time in making umbrellas, paper, etc.

    The net impression I take away is that this was a life of grinding poverty, and I speculate how, had I been offered an opportunity to go and oh, be a soldier in the expanding Japanese army at the turn of the twentieth century, I might well have jumped at the chance. Certainly the poverty aspect is endorsed by the curators, who note that the arrival of the refrigerator, the washing machine, and the television in the mid fifties spelt the end of this kind of existence. The washing machine meant that traditional clothes were replaced by those more suitable for automatic washing; the fridge allowed considerable expansion in the range of foods consumed; and the TV taught young people that a better life was to be had in the cities. And who, thought I as we left, could blame them.

    In search of lunch, we walk down the hill from Hida no Sato, and run into the Hida Takayama museum of art. We are soon lunching in, of all places, the MacKintosh Tea Room - the MacKintosh being Charles Rennie MacKintosh, whose work features in the museum.

    This wasn't a must-do on our original list for Takayama, but as we miss the next bus back to town, we decide to spend an hour admiring the glasswork by Lalique and others, and the various Art Nouveau and Art Deco pieces. Later in the trip when we tour the Ghibli museum, I am reminded of this place, since the latter museum has collections of children's books with illustrations clearly influenced by the Art Nouveau movement.

    It's thus early afternoon when we make it back to the station, and we hoof it for the Shishi Kaikan, where we catch a demonstration of traditional karakuri, or festival puppets), each notable for a different mechanism of action. Some are operated like marionettes, with strings; some have a clockwork mechanism; still others are operated by rods. I will recall the engineering of these puppets when we visit the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology in Nagoya - but I'm getting ahead of myself.

    We catch just one last exhibit in Takayama, the festival Float Museum, complete with film. I am glad I altered our plans to miss the Spring Festival that will be held in a couple of days, I actually think we are getting a better view of festival paraphenalia this way, without the crowds (and the prices!)

    There was lots more to do in Takayama, but the day is cold, the afternoon getting on, and the baths at our hotel await.

    and here endeth day nine

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    12 April, day ten: Takayama to Nagoya for two nights

    We need our compass to get out of Nagoya station and onto the correct subway, and again in the subway station, which has a lot more exits than we expected. That keychain is proving its worth.

    The usual helpful courtesy of the Japanese is in evidence with the employee of the Meitetsu railway who speaks nary a word of English, but intuits when I inquire about 'Sako' that that is the station I seek. He actually goes with us to the machine to help us buy the ticket, and guides us to the correct route to the platform. Either that, or he thinks we're punch drunk, which in our continued jet lag state isn't too far from the case. The point being, that this is one huge station, and must be navigated with care.

    On the other end, at the relatively tiny Sako station when we goof and take the wrong exit, another helpful employee arranges for us to get back into the station (without buying another ticket) so that we can take the correct exit for the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology, which is quite a mouthful so I'm called it TCMIT from now on.

    The TCMIT turns out to be one of the highlights of our trip to Japan, and the joke is, I chose it as a consolation prize for our not being able to fit in a plant tour at Toyota since the Toyota plant is at some distance from Nagoya centre. This museum isn't just the story of Toyota autos, it is arguably the story of modern Japan, the second Japan of my report title.

    On this day, we spent almost three hours here, with much of the time being spent in the Loom section of the museum. You have that right, Toyota was first a weaving firm. For this Canuck who never even saw a cotton plant before, to learn how cotton thread was spun from raw cotton fibres, beginning with the most rudimentary hand-held technology to the most modern high speed equipment, was a fascinating journey. As was it fascinating to see the progression of weaving from using a simple hand shuttle, to watching threads be carried by jets of water in lieu of wooden or metal shuttles, or even simply jets of air. As one who must be one of the last people on the planet to program a computer using punched cards, here too was an example of a Jacquard loom, which arguably was the first programmed machine.

    Here was where I learned of the 1923 Kanto earthquake, of how the devastation of that earthquake on railway lines illustrated the application of cars to such situations. Here was where I learned of the importance of a skilled workforce of machinists, if one is to hope to convert to new technology. Here was where I learned, firsthand, of the guts it took to take a gamble, sell a patent on a loom device, and risk the wherewithal to develop an entirely new industry.

    We tore ourselves away at closing time and resolved to alter our itinerary to make it possible to come back - we'd barely touched the Automotive Pavilion. But for now, we had to go.

    Here endeth day ten.

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    Sue - I have been away from the forums for a while since I have been busy planning our trip to Morocco. But, I'm glad I signed in today. Really enjoying your report (loving all the details) and your sense of humor! Looking forward to reading about Nagoya and Okayama as we didn't make it there.

    Glad you had a wonderful trip!

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    Sue, I see that you are determined to get this done but I am following along dutifully, even though our only destinations in common are Tokyo and Kyoto for our October trip. I feel slighted that I am the only Fodorite posting on this thread that you have not acknowledged :-( ...

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    Still here and following along too! I am getting a kick out of your first impressions in Japan. Takes me back a ways. Lucky to have experienced Hikone at sakura time.....actually most castles in Japan are beautiful in the cherry blossom season.

    Craig, seemaskt and samantha are missing kudos but only Craig is crying about it ;)


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    Oh Craig, I thought I had gotten everyone, but I see you are right, although I read your kind remarks I managed to overlook making reference to same, I'm so sorry. I hereby award you the Official Sue Seal of Acknowledgement, and better than that, I look forward to hearing about your own October trip and even about your anticipation, for anticipation of a trip is surely half the fun.

    Greetings Seemaskt, I remember your own report which was full of your culinary reflections on Japan. Don't know as we succeeded as well as you did in sampling the local cuisine, but we did give it a try. I have to admit, I enjoyed the 'vendor' food the best.

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    What's this, hawaiian, I missed Samantha too? Oi vey, yes, there she is, SamanthaCanyon, all the way back on April 22 at 4:59. So hello, Samantha, albeit belatedly, sorry about that, glad you are enjoying my report.

    I am back for four days - actually six days since leaving Japan, and I'm STILL nodding off in the middle of the afternoon and struggling not to pace around the house in the middle of the night. Hawaiian, you've been many times, surely you have a recipe for jet lag ?!

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    13 April, day eleven. Day trip to Magome-Tsumago from Nagoya.

    I had done a lot of homework for this outing, beginning with ensuring that we would catch an 08:00 train out of Nagoya for Nakatsugawa arriving 08:50, because according to the websites that I checked, there would be a DAILY bus at 09:10 leaving Nakatsugawa station for Magome. But when we arrive in Nakatsugawa, we march over to the bus stop (clearly labelled so that even non-compass-toting folk can find it, "MAGOME" - yes, in English) only to find that on weekends (today was Saturday), that the next bus would not be until 09:40.

    Naturally someone has updated the websites since, and the schedules now read that a bus leaves at 09:10 'weekdays only' so that I look like a moron who can't read, but I swear to you, that that was not what the websites said almost right up until the time we left for Japan. Anyway, it is just as well, arriving at 08:50 for a 09:40 bus allows us time to do important things, like scope out a washroom, buy sandwiches at the station, re-read the bus notices, and examine our shoelaces as we stand in line at the stop. And yes, believe it or not, we were second in line, even arriving at 08:50. It's a Saturday, as I said, and hiking enthusiasts are out in earnest, enough to almost fill the bus when it arrives.

    I also learn an interesting aspect of Japanese culture, which is that it is not just North American tourists who fail to read signs. The bus notice I have referred to detailed the terms of payment, a great relief to me as those here on Fodors know, because this was a detail missing from schedules posted on-line. Don Topaz had assured me that nobody would yell at me if I got on a bus without a ticket, assuming one was required, but in a country full of samurai swords, being yelled at was not my principal concern. Anyway here is the info for those needing it: the rule for the Magome bus follows the rule that I have found applies in general for short-distance buses in Japan, to wit, that it is a pay-per-distance system, and so payment is settled as you exit and not as you board and certainly not before you board (i.e. with a pre-purchased ticket.) As for my fellow hikers, mainly Japanese, many boarded without pulling a ticket out of the dispenser as they boarded, notwithstanding clearly posted information to the contrary, which made me feel better for some reason.

    We arrive in Magome around 10:05, and spouse and I begin our hike, stopping at one of the shops in Magome only to pick up a cold drink. I have this idea that we will save ourselves part of the uphill walk if we catch the Magome to Tsumago bus operated by 'ontake Kotsu', which according to their schedule

    will leave Magome at 10:50. So, my guess is that that bus will arrive at the stop labelled 'shimizu' on this map: around 10:55 or so. It being just after 10:00 now, I figure if we stroll determinedly, we can have our stroll and make the Shimizu stop by 10:55 in time for the bus, too.

    Which we do, but there are two problems. The first is that while I estimated the time perfectly, I underestimated the grade of the hill to be climbed, the result being that spouse is wheezing fit to have a heart attack by the time we reach the ''shimizu' stop. The second is that there is a schedule on the stop that informs us, contrary to information published elsewhere, that the bus will arrive at this stop at 10:58 (it is now 10:57) --- but only between 22 April and 4 May, or some such, whatever, today is as we know, the thirteenth.

    I try to distract my wheezing spouse with the fact that it is a beautiful day, that we will enjoy hiking up the mountain, but he is obstinately wondering why we roared up two thirds of the mountain in a futile effort to avoid walking up the last third.

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    Marija - Spouse didn't always think so, this trip. (and hello to Bokhara2).


    13 April, day eleven (continued).

    Around this time we find the first of a series of 'bear bells.' Now, being Canadians we know the old joke, that bear spoor is often found full of bells and pepper spray, and so we feel this bell is useful for little more than as a summons to dinner, and certainly not a deterrent to one being made into dinner. We ring it for laughs anyway, and at this point we meet our companions for the balance of the day, a couple more or less retired, like ourselves, but unlike ourselves, from Australia. They had been discussing between themselves as to whether they should continue the hike, not because they feared its length, but because they believed their options for returning to Nakatsugawa (where they were staying) were limited to taking the bus back there from Tsumago. No fear, I tell them, you can catch a train from Tsumago rail station to Nakatsugawa, and yes, I was certain that there would be a bus to Tsumago rail station from Tsumago, notwithstanding that as we have seen, any certainty that I have with bus schedules should be regarded with some skepticism.

    Anyway they decided to throw in their lot with us, and we will in due course complete the balance of the hike together. Meanwhile the remainder of the uphill climb was indeed short, at least in this writer's view (one of her party wishes to voice dissent), and not long after we reach the summit, "Magetomage" on the linked map, we run into other English-speaking hikers headed in the opposite direction. They assure us that Tsumago is less than two hours away, and also affirm that a rest stop complete with free tea is nearby. And sure enough, not long after parting ways with the other hikers, we come upon something that could figure in a Grimm's fairy tale - a hut in the woods, complete with fire in the fire pit, and no joke, an old man dressed in traditional conical hat handing out plums soaked in wine and hot tea for only a suggested donation. But best of all there are toilets without, and yours truly would have been grateful even if all she found were the pit toilets that she expected in such a remote spot. Instead she finds, not just flush toilets, but toilets with heated seats, which feature she hopes will catch on with the folks at Parks Canada, although she is not holding her breath.

    Tea quaffed and plums consumed, we bid sayonara to our host, and not long afterward come upon a lovely shrine lit by a shaft of sunlight piercing the dark evergreen canopy. My hiking map informs us that this is a 'Shrine to the Goddess of Mercy for Easy Delivery.' Now I accept that my knowledge of Japanese obstetrics is extremely limited, but it does seem to me like delivery would be easier if the poor woman wasn't expected to hike all the way up here to do the deed in the first place. Unless I've misunderstood something, which is likely.

    Onward we trek, now passing a lovely mountain stream. I indicate to my companions that we should be keeping our eyes out for the 'Male and Female Waterfalls' although how to distinguish the two I have no idea. And we do indeed come upon two waterfalls, and we still don't know which is which, not even after sitting down to picnic in the proximity, which was a fine idea shared by several other Japanese hikers.

    We reach the outskirts of Tsumago by about 1:30 in the afternoon, just about three and a half hours after starting out, lunch included. We split up with our Australian companions to explore the town, which we find a delightful place, far more interesting than Magome. We take up an invitation by a vendor to try some steamed buns, one filled with bean paste and the other with some kind of walnut paste. The buns are nice but even nicer is the vendor's invitation to consume his fare with tea that he provides beside a crackling fire in a fire pit. We also try a sample of roast chestnuts - no, thank you, they taste a bit like squash to us - but have better luck with Sakura (cherry flavoured) soft ice cream. Elsewhere in the town (lest you think it's about nothing but eating) are some ancient noticeboards dating from the time the local lord posted edicts in the town, and a waterwheel.

    It's a pretty village but after an hour or so we've seen it, with the notable exception of a museum or two which we're not in the mood for on such a fine day, and so we hike to the nearby bus stop to await with our Oz companions the bus to Tsumago station. It is here that I am reminded, for the umpteenth time, that Japan's success in engineering everything from electronics to cars does not extend to even pavement. I have nearly tripped in Kyoto, stumbled in Takayama, and almost lost my balance in Nagoya thanks to uneven grades, and here in Tsumago I finally manage it, fortunately with mainly my dignity damaged. But it's a reminder to slow down and be more careful, the last thing we need is an injury to either of us at this stage.

    We say so long to our Oz friends when they alight from the train at Nakatsugawa and are ourselves back in Nagoya by 5 p.m.

    And here endeth day eleven.

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    Thank you Don Topaz, except that I woke up this morning and realized that I have made reference to 'Tsumago rail station' which does not of course exist. The rail station that serves Tsumago is NAGISO; regular buses from Tsumago will take one there. It is also possible to walk it, Nagiso being much closer to Tsumago, than Nakatsugawa is to Magome.


    14 Apr, day 12: Nagoya to Okayama

    We had promised ourselves a second look at the TCMIT, but I had also hoped to squeeze in the peace museum at Osaka and/or Fushimi Inari this day, en route to Okayama. TCMIT won out, and so we head back to it this fine morning.

    We do a quick overview of the loom section, before heading over to the automotive section. In between there is a fine steam engine on display, and a section on metallurgy, which may prove of especial interest to those with an interest in the 'Titanic' and why or how that doomed ship's metal hull failed so drastically.

    For those who can't, like us, make the plant tour at Toyota, this museum really does demonstrate the assembly line process very well. Here is a giant 3 ton press, set up to do a demonstration 'press' of automotive body parts, complete with robots whirring around to do the 'welding' only the welding is represented by glowing electric lights. There are demonstrations of tools and of dies, and working demonstrations of other auto components such as differentials, and of advances in steering including rack and pinion. In short, we emerge three hours later (including time for a snack) with a healthy respect for the gazillion odd parts that make up a car.

    After a quick hop from Sako to the main rail station, we walk back to the hotel to pick up our bags, having figured out that we spend not much more time walking the entire distance, than walking in between the platforms of the rail and subway stations. Then we roll our bags back to the station, there to hop onto the Hikari for Okayama, a medium sized city where far less English appears to spoken than in Nagoya or Kyoto. We are starting to relax about taking the train, even the bullet train: it really is very well organized. Just know that the shinkansens pull up to the platform no later than three minutes before departure, and ye had best get aboard pronto, because it WILL leave on schedule. The marquee display in the station, as well as the train itself, will be clearly marked as to type, so one has little excuse for hopping a NOZOMI (not covered by JR pass) instead of an HIKARI, say.

    My watchstrap broke this trip, followed by my watch for some reason giving up the ghost completely, even though I'd just changed the battery. So once at Okayama, we head into a "BIC Camera" store which I assure you sells a whole lot more than cameras. There are six floors of electronics and appliances, and most especially, there is a large section of watches. Here, for the princely sum of 980 yen, I find another watch, complete with battery and even already set to the correct time. (I do not make a practice of investing in expensive watches, as I have a tendency to destroy any watch no matter what the price.)

    I am curious to see the home appliance section. There are large refrigerator-freezers here of the kind I've seen coming on the North American market, one with the fridge section divided into completely separate compartments. But curiously there are very few standard ovens or ranges to be found, and I don't know if that is typical of the market here in general or just of this store. There are many more models of tabletop dishwashers to be found than at home, and also a model that looks like it's designed to fit into a shallow shelf - none of this is surprising given the small size of many Japanese homes. Oh, and many, many models of microwaves and toaster ovens, in contrast to the dearth of radiant ones.

    Prices on most electronics, including Apple iPads and so forth, didn't seem much different from at home, once we did the currency conversion.

    This evening's search for supper is a tad challenging since outside of our hotel we find fewer people speaking English. The menu comes with photos but no English explanations, and what is more I can't quite make out the subject of the photos. I think I can discern some rice in one photo and that's the item I indicate to the waitress, and then settle down to hope for the best. It turns out to be an omelette with mushrooms and rice, and it was reasonably good. Unfortunately I suspect it also contained whopping amounts of MSG, because I soon have a headache.

    This reminds spouse that he's out of ibuprofen, so we head to a pharmacy in a department store. The pharmacist assures us that a given product is ibuprofen, but as I don't read the squiggle on the side, I am reluctant to risk a miscommunication on this. Instead we settle on 'Aspirin', one of the few brand names both recognizable and printed in English, and of course Aspirin is an antiinflammatory like ibuprofen, so it should do the job. The Aspirin comes with a complimentary towel made out of some kind of reuseable material (not cotton.) It seems a bit odd to market a towel with a drug, but the towel turns out to be very useful. We have noted how few washrooms provide paper towels, and even an electric hand dryer is often missing.

    And here endeth day 12.

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    Trying to work out why you are going to Okayama. I used to go there to get the ferry to Shikoku but now there is a bridge so....
    Japanese people carry small handkerchiefs which they use to dry their hands in the bathroom. That's why you won't find paper towels or even hot air dryers in most places outside tourist hotels/restaurants.
    Glad you are enjoying the Shink (as my kids call it). You can't go far wrong, there are even marks on the platform where you should stand to get on at the correct car. And you will have noticed that people line up meticulously before the train arrives.

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    15 April, day 13. Day trip to Onomichi and a sampling of the 'Shimanami Kaido.'

    I am greatly relieved to awaken and find that the weather is to be fine for this, the day of our cycling trip.

    We arrive in Onomichi and find the bike rental station next to the 'Green Hill Hotel' which is not far from Onomichi rail station. After a few minutes spent adjusting the height of the seats and so forth, and after a little paperwork - we are ready. We are required to deposit 1000 yen for each bike, the deal being that if one drops off the bike at a depot other than this one, one forfeits the deposit. Other than that, it is a very reasonable 500 yen per day for each bike. The bikes are built for service, not for speed, but I am pleased to see that they do come with a few gears. The locks seem very flimsy but should do for this civilized country of low crime.

    Our next task is to find the dock for the boat to Setoda. Now, the Shimanamikaido bikeway follows all but one of the bridges spanning the various islands in between the major islands of Honshu (where we are now) and Shikoku. If you plan to cycle the entire 70 km route, you have a choice of starting at Imabari, on Shikoku, or starting on the island of Mukaishima, just off Honshu.

    Here's the map:

    Either way, the authorities do not want cyclists on the bridge between Mukaishima and Onomichi/Honshu, they ask that one take the short ferry instead. All other bridges are bike friendly, and cost only nominal toll fares each.

    Yours truly, whilst an enthusiastic cyclist, was not certain she wanted to do a full 70 km bike ride in unfamiliar territory, and she was very certain her spouse would not want to do it. So, I decided we would take the ferry - a different line - to Setoda, which is a village on the island of Ikuchijima; bike the quiet rural bike path as far as the vicinity of Tatara bridge, and then loop back to take the same ferry back to Onomichi. This I estimated would involve a bike ride of around 20 km roundtrip, an easy run that would give us a taste of the Shimanami but still ensure that we would return home married and not divorced. Most importantly, it would not involve biking on any actual road shared with cars, which can be the case for other parts of the Shimanami. It also meant that we would already know where to get the return ferry to Onomichi, which was important as my readers will soon understand.

    Anyway I had been given to understand that one bought the tickets for the ferry to Setoda in the lobby of the Green Hill Hotel, which is on the second floor of that fine establishment. There I am told to go 'downstairs' but when I return to the first floor, no ticket dispenser can I find. Worse, we cannot find the dock for said ferry, only the dock for the ferry to Mukaishima.

    At this point a kind Japanese couple, also with bikes, notice our bewilderment and offer to help. This is a good time to point out that our experience in almost every country we have visited is that we have always run into kind locals willing but not necessarily able to help, and sometimes into the bargain things are complicated by said locals being actually less informed than ourselves. This was to be the case here. Our kind Japanese couple acknowledge that they are themselves doing the Shimanami kaido for the first time, and that they too are bound for Setoda. They insist that the Mukaishima will do the job. I begin to waver - even though my research told me the next ferry to Setoda was not until 10:10 - 40 minutes from now - how can I know better than one who speaks the language?

    As soon as we all four board the ferry I know something is wrong - the fare is far too low, only 100 yen each. Sure enough, when we dock a mere five minutes later at Mukaishima, with no prospect of going onward to Setoda, I indicate that this is not where we want to go. "There's a boat to Setoda?" the Japanese woman of the couple asks, and sure enough, she does know less than I do. It is now clear that they intend to BIKE to Setoda from Mukaishima, and this was what they had thought we wanted to do. But our couple is helpful after all: they translate to the ferry operator to please point out the proper dock to us, once the ferry goes back to Onomichi (which it will do immediately.)

    Things don't appear to be too bad - we are only out 400 yen or so for the roundtrip, we will not lose much time, and sure enough, when we arrive back, the operator does indeed point the way - to the BASEMENT floor of the Green Hill Hotel. Of course. That's what was meant by 'downstairs.' And there I find the ticket machine, and a helpful lady who assures me that notwithstanding the pleasure craft docked at the dock immediately adjacent to the Mukaishima ferry dock, that is our dock. I buy 2 tickets, 840 yen each: the lady assures me that I can pay for the bikes once aboard, about 300 yen.

    And sure enough, just before 10:10, the ferry turns up, even marked "ONOMICHI-SETODA" on the side. We are off.

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    15 April, day 13 (continued.)

    It's about a 40 minute cruise on a small glassed-in launch to Setoda, where we arrive just before 11 a.m. There we find, not too surprisingly, that the wind is up, and moreover we realize that we will be biking into the wind for most of the way to Tatara bridge.

    This doesn't faze me in the least - I cannot say the same for my companion - and now we are pumping away merrily - okay maybe the merriment is mainly mine - on a fabulous bike path. The waves lap at the breakwater beside us, the leaves of coconut palms soaring overhead crackle in the wind, and ever-present is the joyous sound to any cyclist's heart, the sound of whirring wheels.

    This is citrus growing country and while the harvest is apparently being brought in, there are still plenty of orange trees and lemon trees laden with almost ripened fruit. (Indeed, we were given bottles of lemon flavoured water as a complimentary part of our bike rental.) "Rural" is a relative term, it is still well populated here, but there is actually significant space between the houses, and moreover we are virtually alone, the first such experience we've had in Japan; we meet only the occasional pedestrian or group of fellow cyclists. If one seeks a beach in Japan, I direct them here - there are several stretches of sand, including a long one at a place called, tellingly, "Sunset Beach" and which looks like it gets a lot of customers in warmer months.

    The path is well serviced with the necessities (read: restrooms) and what with visits to same and photo-taking, we make the entrance to Tatara bridge just before noon. I reassure spouse that the ramp up to the bridge is the only uphill we will be biking today, and that, along with the appearance of snacks, brightens his outlook considerably. There is a picnic area with sheltered tables provided, and the view of the bridge, surrounding sea and islands, is quite delightful, as I had hoped.

    Lunch finished, we decide to bike across Tatara bridge - it is a fairly long one in the series, about 1.5 km long - and on the other side we find an oddly shaped edifice that is apparently an observation deck. So after locking the bikes, we ascend the stairs to enjoy the view, this time facing the opposite direction. There's a small park featuring cherry trees of the double blossom variety, and yes, they are in bloom.

    Around 12:30 we decide to head back, our ferry back will leave at 13:40, and the ride back is a joy - we sail across the bridge, sail DOWN the ramp, and with the wind now behind us, literally almost sail, the wind pushing us, back to Setoda by 13:20 or so. And this, even on bikes that admittedly are not quite as nimble as my aluminum-framed hybrid back home.

    We decide to sit and sun ourselves on the dock as we await the ferry. A Japanese woman in a kimono walks up - I noticed her on the boat on the way out - and she begins to ask us, apparently, for directions - I say apparently, since she speaks only Japanese. "Yes, this will be the boat to Onomichi" I reply, trusting the word "Onomichi" to be reassuring, which it is. So much so that she continues to chat animatedly in Japanese, whilst I nod politely and try not to let on that for all I know, she could be discussing the theory of relativity. I daresay this is the experience many long-suffering Japanese have with English-speakers all the time: having someone speak to you as if you understood.

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    15 April, day 13 (continued)

    I will here interject and post a link:

    Which should make clear just where we had biked. There are three systems of bridges connecting Honshu and Shikoku; the most famous of the three, which carries a JR line, is the Seto-Chuo Expressway (sometimes just known as the Seto Ohashi); it lies to the east of the system on which we cycled. Our system, the Nishiseto Expressway (also known as the Shimamami Kaido) is the only one that can be crossed by bike or foot. If you click on the link in the Wikipedia article for the Tatara bridge, you will get a fine photo of the bridge we crossed over (and back again.)


    We arrive back in Onomichi at around 14:20, and immediately opt to get a takeout coffee to enjoy whilst sitting on a park bench overlooking the waterfront. Onomichi is not very active as a port, but there certainly are signs of port activity: several barges with cranes cruise back and forth in front of us, trying to look important, and for all I know they are.

    Coffee finished, we head off on our bikes to explore Onomichi, which has a very charming historic district with a number of temples on a hillside. The idea is to bike over to where a cablecar will whisk us to the top, and then walk down. But things don't exactly go as planned...because yes, I get it wrong. Again.

    Spouse points out, with maddening logic, that cablecars need, well, cables, and the point at which I was having us pull the bikes over was at some distance from where we could see cables. He is perfectly right of course, but for some reason, I am deaf to logic this afternoon. I spy a feature I think I saw back home, on google street view, and decide this is the point where we can walk to the cablecar station.

    I am of course premature; the stairs up which I lead us lead to more stairs, and more stairs, and more....After the debacle of the uphill portion of the Magome-Tsumago hike, spouse is justified in thinking I am trying to finish him off with a heart attack, thereby qualifying me to collect the insurance. All humour aside, we are heading into a period of life in which heart attacks are not just a theoretical possibility, and I begin, after having us climb about 80 stairs or so, to be truly worried. This makes me tense, and so when we finally gasp our way up, all the way up, to Senkouji temple, with spouse not yet actually dead of a heart attack, my relief expresses itself as grouchiness.

    And so it is that we eventually arrive, both of us grouchy, just in time to reach a place that the local tourist board promotes thus:

    "Make an unforgettable memory at Senkoji Temple & Park on your anniversary day. The Observatory that has been selected as a "Top 100 Night View" will be the best place to declare your feeling of love or your appreciation to your lover while gazing at the night view."

    Yes, and here we were, ready to declare our appreciation by tossing each other off the hill we'd just climbed.

    But the view! Who could long remain grouchy, with such a view. And so we allow a kind Japanese lady to snap our photo in front of some sort of monument that another lady had donated, in years past, to commemorate this haven for lovers.

    We also loved the cablecar down. And loved that we still had the bikes in our possession, and so could ride back to Onomichi station, there to turn them in.

    We walk to Onomichi station by 16:30, a bit ahead of schedule, and thus we decide to improvise our return route: we opt for an earlier "Kodama" train instead of our planned "Hikari" from Fukuyama to Okayama. (Onomichi itself is linked to Fukuyama by an ordinary commuter train.) That's when we found that Kodamas are shinkansen in name and form only: I swear, that thing pulls over to let not just faster shinkansens, but donkey carts, go past. So notwithstanding we set off for Okayama almost 30 minutes earlier than originally planned, we actually arrive back in Okayama at about the same time we originally planned: 6 p.m or so.

    And here endeth day 13.

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    16 April, day 14. Okayama to Tokyo.

    For those wondering when my tale is going to end, I can at least promise that this chapter will be a (slightly) shorter one. For today is mainly devoted to getting to Tokyo, just over four hours by "Hikari" shinkansen, with arrival in Shinagawa scheduled for just shy of 1:30 in the afternoon.

    This much I have mercifully forgotten about the shinkansen: the chime that plays before arrival at each station. At one point, I couldn't get it out of my head. Other than that, I love these trains.

    The scenery outside our train window I come to associate with the sound of the train: whirr, whirr, whirr, as it bombs past houses and rice paddies and warehouses; WHUMP! as it heads into yet another tunnel. Japan, it seems, is just one long chain of low, older, rounded mountains. Very different in character from the younger, more jagged mountains of North America that I have seen.

    In due course we arrive at Shinagawa - the accent, it seems, is placed on the second syllable, hence, Shin AH gah wah. I had timed our arrival for early afternoon, since I was pretty sure nobody was going to appreciate our lugging baggage onto the Yamanote line during rush hour. We alight the Yamanote line at Meguro - many people swear by Shinjuku as the most convenient place for a tourist to stay in Tokyo, but we came to like the relative calm of Meguro. In the Meguro train station, once again some kind soul helps us, this time to find the taxi rank outside the station where the shuttle bus for our hotel is to be found.

    Spouse has recently started using a CPAP machine, a device to assist with breathing for those suffering from sleep apnea. Such device requires distilled water for use in the device's humidifier. We'd taken the precaution of writing down the characters for 'distilled water' before leaving home, and even at that it took our landlord's help in Kyoto to find a pharmacy that would sell us some. Many pharmacies in Japan seem to be strictly dispensaries, and sell nothing except prescription medicine. A few offer an expanded line of products, and it was from one of these that we had bought our last batch of distilled water, in Kyoto. My advice: when you find it, buy enough for your entire trip, it will save you time.

    As it was, we had let ourselves run low ( I say, 'we', partly to atone for my role in the mountain climbing debacles of days past), and once we'd checked in to our hotel, we began our search. We hopped over to Ebisu, where I'd heard there were lots of shops, only to be told by one drug store (there are such things in Japan that resemble 'drug stores' of the North American variety) that 'we don't have this product in Japan.' We find this a bit much: it is one thing to admit one's store doesn't carry a product, but to announce that a country of 120 million plus has no use for distilled water borders on the grandiose. Anyway, after much searching, including in the famed "Mitzukoshi" department store, we finally find the item by asking a dispensary type pharmacy for a reference for an 'expanded' type pharmacy. Our errand done, we return to partake of tempura for supper in a chain restaurant, 'Tendon' that we find just outside Meguro station.

    And here endeth day 14.

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    Postcript to day 14

    Thanks to Hawaiiantraveler and others, we did remember to reserve seats D and E on the train back to Tokyo, and to have our camera ready just east of Shizuoka, if memory serves. We did indeed see Fuji - a bit hazy perhaps, it appeared as little more than a cloud, some dark patches and some white (snow) - and by heaven, we had to be fast with that camera, because that shinkansen gathers no moss as it thunders by. It wasn't quite as good a scene as spouse saw from the plane enroute to Osaka, but I CAN say that I've seen it.

    Also, both coming and going to Okayama we caught a glimpse of Himeji castle. It is indeed mainly 'under wraps' for renovation, we only knew it was Himeji because the officials have used a scaffold cover on which is printed a life-sized photo of the castle.


    Day 15. Tokyo, Ghibli Museum and Edo-Tokyo museum.

    Today we took the shuttle from our hotel to Shinagawa station, because that is the only station served by our hotel shuttle in the early mornings. This way we got a chance to experience the famous white gloved 'packers' who oversee the boarding of the Yamanote and other lines during rush hour Tokyo.

    My impression is that these 'packers' are actually principally there to ensure safety under demanding conditions, they tuck in coats and purses and so forth before the subway car doors close, and more than that, they actually stop too many people from boarding each car.

    And here's something that I wish security personnel at airports all over North America, but especially at LAX, would learn from the Japanese: SHOW DO NOT TELL. In other words, if you want people to go somewhere, stand sideways on, and gesture, preferably with a white-gloved (and hence very visible) hand, the direction you wish people to take. In LAX, for example, I heard an official try to give a direction by shouting out "wicket 22 or 23" but of course, folks in line will first have to figure out if wicket 22 or 23 is to the right, or the left, of the line in which they are standing. Had the official gestured the direction, people would have instinctively followed his or her outstretched hand. Gestures as opposed to verbal instructions also keep the noise down, something much to be desired in crowds.

    In point of fact, the Japanese to this observer appear to be masters at crowd control; one would think this would follow as a matter of necessity, but I am told that other densely populated countries, e.g. China, have yet to learn the art. I am particularly impressed, as we ride the trains in Tokyo, to find bilingual electronic displays over each door showing one not just the name of the next station, but where relative to the rest of the train your car is, and where, in a given station, will be found escalators versus stairways and elevators and so forth. And always a voice announces, in addition to the name of the forthcoming station, "the doors will open on the [left/right] side of the train." This kind of calm, precise direction minimizes stress for everyone, and maximizes efficiency, a point still seemingly lost on officials elsewhere in the world.

    As I await our turn to board the Yamanote line, I recall the scene we witnessed back when we were walking to the shinkansen platform in Kyoto. A man back at the ticket gate was losing it, and I do mean, losing it: he was shouting at the top of his lungs, what, I of course did not know, but he was clearly a very unhappy camper. And all the while two officials spoke to him soothingly, and made little bows to him - but other than that, did not give way. Again I was impressed, I felt very secure, knowing I was in the hands of such well trained people.

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    Thanks for this report sue!
    I always enjoy reading about places I've just been to and can compare notes. We spent the majority of our 10 days in Japan in Tokyo so a very different trip to yours but the similarities stand out.
    We too struggled to comprehend the hiragana and referred to it as 'double dutch' and we only saw Mt. Fuji heavily veiled in clouds on our very last day. It didn't matter that it was barely visible there was no mistaking that iconic cone topped with snow!

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    Greetings Sassy_cat. We were more fortunate when in New Zealand when it came to having clear views of volcanic cones, we saw Tongariro on a cloudless day. So we had at least some idea of what Fuji probably looked like had we gotten a clearer view.

    Kavey, I am glad so many are enjoying it, because in truth I am typing at top speed almost stream-of-consciousness style, I have no time to edit.


    This morning's mission, should we decide to accept it, is to go to the Ghibli museum. While we enjoyed this place, I confess in hindsight that we overpaid for our tickets, even allowing for the convenience of getting them in advance via JTB. Tickets or at least vouchers for this museum can also be obtained after arrival in Japan at machines in 'Lawson' stores which are indeed to be found almost everywhere, and said tickets can be obtained for 1000 yen each; except on weekends and holiday periods, time slots should be available especially if one is prepared to be even somewhat flexible. In contrast, JTB charges very high, almost extortionate handling fees and postage fees; tax also applies, so the end result is that one can end up paying almost three times what one would in Japan. For the diehard afficiando, it might be worth it, of course.

    The second thing I note is that this museum is really more about animated film-making than the art of character drawing per se. While it does a wonderful job of showing the user the journey from the drawing to film, I think in hindsight I would rather have gone to the Manga museum in Kyoto. But for all that, I did enjoy the Ghibli, and it did fulfill somewhat our desire to have some insight into a very important part of Japanese 'pop' culture.

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    17 Apr, day 15, Tokyo, Ghibli and Edo-Tokyo, cont'd.

    Side-note: It appears that the Ghibli had more of an effect on me than I originally realized. Prior to going, I had heard of Hayao Miyazaki only in the context of his manga work (Nausicaa); I can scarcely believe that I was in ignorance of his film-work for so long, given that it is so extensive and given that his studio partnered with Disney, to boot. Admittedly, I rarely go to movies or even watch them on TV, but still... Anyway, since going to Japan, I am determined to dig up a video of one of his works, if only to see more examples of his style. (I thoroughly enjoyed the short film shown at the museum; like all great animated works, the theme of the piece cut across all language barriers).


    Lunch is at the Ghibli, which is very 'Hobbithole' like in many aspects. I leave wishing I could buy a copy of one of the classic children's books that inspired Miyazaki - I remember well as a child poring over the illustrations to ancient volumes of the "Land of Oz" (sequel to the Wizard) and various other works where the illustration style was heavily influenced by the Art Nouveau movement.

    We then head to the Edo-Tokyo museum. We initially rent audio-guides but as at TCMIT, we end up not using them, since we discover that a volunteer will give us an English tour. I thoroughly appreciated this man's time and attempt after our tour to offer him at least a cup of coffee, but his own schedule precluded this.

    Our temporary host, whose name I alas did not write down and now do not remember, guided us for 90 minutes through the section covering the older period of Tokyo's history; we went through the section on Westernization and more recent history, on our own.

    I'm a fan of James Clavell's 'Shogun' and, during the preparation for this trip, I came to realize that Clavell had loosely based his character 'Toranaga' on Japan's first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu; I also learned that his character 'Blackthorne' was similarly loosely based on a real person, William Adams, who indeed came to be known and favoured by Ieyasu. Enough of Clavell's novel was factual to provide me with some groundwork for understanding the older part of Tokyo/Japan's history. I recommend the novel in any case, it's a great story, especially the tea ceremony scene between two Japanese characters roughly halfway through the second volume.

    During our tour, our host pointed out a model of a boat, which he emphasized was, by order of the shogunate, designed to be only suitable for use in inland waters. In response to my inquiry as to the purpose of such restriction on the movement of ordinary people, our guide suggested that it was to consolidate the shogun's power, much as the Kim Jong dynasty in North Korea similarly seeks to consolidate its power by restricting the movement of its people, and thus their access to wider knowledge. This remark made me yearn to talk longer, and more informally, with our guide; we'd been in Japan for nearly two weeks, but as yet had not had a chance to really talk with any local. But 'twas not to be, as I said.

    My comments on the section on the later period of history will be postponed for the time being, as I found this section particularly thought-provoking and I need a bit more time.

    Following the conclusion of our tour, we thank our guide (who has to go) have a quick break in the museum cafe, and then rush back to see what we can of the remainder of the museum, as it's due to close in an hour. We both then become thoroughly absorbed in the exhibits, so much so that it seems but a minute before we hear the strains of 'Auld Lang Syne' over the speakers. This seems to be a standard 'closing soon' theme song employed by many Japanese museums.

    In any event, I awaken from the trance I've been in for the last hour or so, and realize that I am not carrying our daypack, and what is more, I realize spouse is not carrying it either. A horrible instance of deductive reasoning then ensues: 1. Neither of us is carrying the daypack, which means 2. We have left the daypack down somewhere, which means 3. We are at risk of losing my prescription sunglasses, our GPS unit, the bag with the chip holding dozens of digital photos... uh oh.

    I bear down hard. Where have we been today? The Ghibli museum - thirty minutes by train away. This museum, picking up audioguides. Arranging for a tour. Taking a tour. Having a break in the museum cafe.

    The museum cafe...The museum is closing in four minutes. The museum cafe closes when the museum does. Which means...


    We sprint for the cafe, arriving at two minutes to five, pantomiming the carrying of a backpack, and lo, our daypack appears from behind the counter.

    Whew. That was close. We have been making a policy of double-checking before we leave anywhere to avoid just this kind of adrenalin-pumping scene, but somehow, in our enthusiasm for this museum, we forgot. Lesson (re) learned.

    En route back 'home' from the Edo-Tokyo, we stop in at Shinjuku to have a look round, just to see what the area is like.

    Nobody just has a look round the Shinjuku station area. It's like saying one will just have a brief look Mars, or Jupiter. It is large, bright, and by the way, for the record, do not attempt to orient yourself using landmarks like a Bic camera store outlet, there are two. Or a 'Lumine' store outlet, there are apparently three stores with this name just at Shinjuku.

    We scope a shopping complex for restaurants. There are about five on each floor, all playing competing recorded music. I feel like I've been thrown into a washing machine with seven strobe lights and eight ghetto blasters. It's a stimulating experience, too stimulating.

    We beat a retreat, and settle for a repast back at Meguro station. The spot we choose, "Yotsuya" I think it is called, requires one to first insert money into a machine to buy a token for the menu item of one's choice. This, one then gives to the waitress. I can't quite follow the difference between a 500 yen version of my select5ion and an 800 yen version, and so pick the latter to be safe.

    The portion of rice and grilled pork and salad that arrives is huge. Next time, the 500 yen version.

    And so endeth day 15.

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    18 April, day 16, Tokyo

    I awaken this morning delighted to realize that as I have for the last couple of nights, I have slept all the way through instead of counting ceiling tiles - or sheep, or whatever else will suit - at two a.m.

    Spouse has occasionally opined on the hassle of dragging around his CPAP but I love CPAP, I love its gentle purr, so much an improvement over spouse's intermittent snores. CPAP is a relatively recent introduction to our lives, how I wish we had discovered it years ago. For spouse, it means better health. For me, it means that when traveling, I no longer have to explore exotic escapes from snoring. Over the years, I have whilst traveling slept in hallways, in closets, in a bathtub (not as comfortable for the purpose as reputed to be) and on one memorable occasion, a balcony. CPAP has allowed me, like a character in a John Le Carre novel, to come in from the cold - or at least, from the balcony.

    This morning CPAP is still purring away as spouse is still asleep. I listen to its soothing purr - whee-oooh, whee-ooh, whee-ooh, and contemplate our recent days.

    I have already peeked through the curtains and found that a fabulous sunny day is dawning over Tokyo. This I take to be an omen that we should head for Mount Takao and enjoy the weather. It will also enable us to have a little downtime which I think we need. Then maybe we can try a second assault on the neon extraganza that is Tokyo at night.

    Spouse awakens and as part of my outline for the day, I am careful to use the words 'chair lift' lest he get some idea that a hiking excursion to Mount Takao is just another attempt to collect life insurance.

    We eschew the shuttle and take a more direct route, walking to the subway and hopping it to Meguro station where we grab some breakfast. Then we jack up our Suica cards that we bought yesterday with another 1000 yen each. Suica is convenient but I gotta say, those cards are gobbling up 1000 yen notes like popcorn.

    For some reason once at Shinjuku station we opt for the JR Chuo line out to Takao and change there for the Keio line to Takaosanguchi, instead of taking Keio line all the way out to Takaosanguchi. This not only means a couple of changes (at one point our JR train terminated and we had to switch platforms) but it is also slightly more expensive. Still, it's reasonably quick, and we arrive at the chair lift around 9:45. Under the careful supervision of the attendants, we drop our butts into the chair.

    The view as we ascend is initially pitch black with occasional flashes of light; this is the inside of my eyelids as I am somewhat reluctant to open them and contemplate my imminent doom. There is no bar on this chairlift, only a net underneath. As I resign myself to my fate and open my eyes, I note water bottles and hats and so forth dropped on the net by previous souls as they fell off their chairs and disappear between the strands of the net. Do not bother telling me that the spacing is too small to accommodate a human frame, even a juvenile, I know better. We are all doomed.

    In due course we manage to outwit the goblins who would have us fall to our deaths and we alight the chairlift. One or two parties of schoolkids are in turn coming off of the other motorized conveyance, the cable car; as this is a special event they are not in uniform, save for identical sun hats. I confess they do look cute, even if they are at this moment tearing around like, well, nine year olds are apt to tear around. But wait, their teachers are calling them together, and they do indeed assemble in a neat group. Remarks in Japanese are called out - my guess is that they are being read the riot act, because when the teacher finishes they all reply in unison, "Hai." Two minutes later they are more or less as they were before. Teacher sighs. We grin. Kids are the same, all over the world.

    My plan is for us to explore a small section of hiking trail 5 which will take us to a suspension bridge - flushed with my success at outwitting the chairlift, I'm prepared to tempt fate - then double back and take the conventional route, trail one, as far as the temple. This will involve climbing but, as I insist to spouse, should not involve too much climbing. My credibility is admittedly low by now, but he decides to believe me. Ha, I'll get that insurance yet.

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    18 April, day 16 - Tokyo/Mount Takao (cont'd)

    I misspoke; it's trail 4 that takes one to the suspension bridge (and beyond.)

    Before embarking on our hike, we take in the view of Tokyo from the viewpoint not far from the chairlift/cable car station. It's a little hazy today despite the sun, but the skyscrapers of the city are quite visible in the distance, along with a surprising number of trees in the foreground. Alas, the accompanying graphic of the scene is in Japanese only, so we cannot orient ourselves very well.

    Just beyond the viewpoint, we pass some magnificent cedar trees, which a sign informs us are very old indeed - no surprise, given the diameter of the trunks. One tree's trunk is encircled with rope bearing what looks to be like zig-zagging pieces of paper. I long to know what this is, what it signifies, but nothing nearby gives a clue.

    As we detour onto trail 4, I can hardly believe we are so close to downtown Tokyo. We pad along a trail that is set amidst an incredibly peaceful forest of cedar. Now that we're off the main trail, we are almost entirely on our own - we meet a total of perhaps five people in the next half hour or so. Of course, it's also possible other people fell off the trail to their doom, for this walk is on a hillside that is quite steep, and the trail is remarkably narrow.

    On the other hand the suspension bridge when we come upon it is tame - it's no Lynn Canyon. This is fine by yours truly, who doesn't really appreciate it when the terrain beneath her bobs up and down. But it's a fine place to stop and listen to the birds, who can be at least heard if not, given the heavy canopy overhead - seen.

    We head back to the main trail and just before we reach the junction, we spot a TV crew following what appears to be a local TV personality and his guest, out exploring the park this fine morning. They swoop past, the 'personality' carrying on in a style one would recognize from any North American 'breakfast' style show.

    Other than that, we're pleased to see that traffic on the main path of Takao is relatively light on this, a weekday in mid April.

    When we reach the temple - more accurately, a temple complex, for there are several buildings - I again see the proverbial rope and zig-zagged paper suspended underneath the eaves of the main hall. We hear the sound of monks chanting within - for us this is a first. Moments later we are startled to hear the sound of a conch shell being blown and sure enough, the monks are leaving the temple and heading in a procession over to one of the other buildings, led by a monk in a robe of brilliant purple who is indeed blowing a conch shell. Other monks in similar brightly hued robes follow, with some big cheese monk bringing up the rear under the shade of an umbrella held by some minion. For this reason this temple, Yakuoin, stands out in my mind amongst the ones we've seen this trip.

    The air is sweet with incense from a nearby brazier. Moments before, we had passed the 'Shinto' part of the complex - a giant ring that people take turns stepping through. And now here, a few steps away from the temple, we come upon a shrine guarded by statues of foxes, similar in design to one we saw at Sanjusangendo, back in Kyoto. A young man steps up, throws a coin into a box, and pushes a wheel engraved with what we assume are prayers into a fresh position. In my memory the sounds of a temple and shrines become intertwined: the clatter of coins, followed by lovely sounds: a clap of hands, of ropes pulled on rattling gourds, of clappers applied to bells, of metal wands applied to metal rings, and on this day on Mount Takao, the sound of a massive bell - a timekeeper? nearby being rung by an unseen monk, pulling a rope to manipulate a giant exterior clapper.

    Here on a hillside near the temple, we again see something that reminds us of Sanjusangendo, winged figures both birdlike and human-like, standing in the foliage of the steep hillside.

    We set off back under one of the temple gates, seeking the vendors we saw on the way in, and sure enough, here is one selling something we've long meant to try: what looks like three rice balls on a stick, and kept hot. This, we learn later, is 'dango' - makes it sound like it belongs more in the Wild West than in Japan - and it comes served with a delicious brown sauce of unknown composition. Dango is some form of rice flour dumpling: it's chewy, flavoured with black sesame seeds and the aforementioned sauce, and very filling - one stick apiece keeps us going for the next five hours.

    I'm glad, in light of this experience, that I didn't make a reservation at Ukai Toriyama. Had I done so, we wouldn't have sampled dango, but more to the point, I don't think we could have given this restaurant the relaxed time it needs for us to truly enjoy the experience. Next time, perhaps.

    Meanwhile it was now one p.m, and our plan is to return relatively early to our hotel, for we have evening plans.

    In short order we find the chairlift, and this time I can distract myself with the splendid view of Tokyo, and thus avoid falling to my doom. And this time, as well, we catch the Keio line back to Shinjuku, and thence to our hotel. We take turns napping and soaking in the tub - ah... - and thus recharged, prepare for our second assault on nighttime Tokyo.

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    18 April, day 16 Tokyo/Mount Takao (cont'd)

    This time we are prepared: we eat BEFORE we head to Shinjuku, grabbing a quick bite at the 'Tendon' tempura place we liked so much before. Yes, I would have liked to have tried the Sushi conveyor-belt style restaurant, and spouse even offered to sit with me whilst I did so (spouse not being a sushi fan) but this would have made for other complications, so I pass.

    Our first stop is Shibuya (you say she yay ya, but I say she boo ya - drum roll....) and the famous crossing. In contrast to last night, when we arrived on the nighttime scene too tired to enjoy the madness, this time we are sufficiently rested, in fact we decide to embrace the madness. If the place is mad, go mad. Thus, taking our cue from 'Where's Waldo'? we decide to play, 'spot the Gai-jin' - splitting up to cross at various points, snapping pictures of the crowd (and of each other, somewhere in the crowd) with our respective cameras, and seeking to find ourselves in the pictures later.

    The sound is almost beyond description - of not one but two giant TV screens, of dozens, dozens of neon ads, teenage girls chatting on cellphones that grow out of their arms, boys lounging about trying to get the girls to answer THEIR cellphone calls, and eighteen-wheelers lurching around at every light change; we finally realize that the sole purpose of these trucks is to advertise services and entertainers, not ship goods. For they bear not containers but giant billboards lit from behind by lighting carried on the truck chassis.

    After about the fifth round of Spot the Gaijin, we reunite and head off to Shinjuku.

    Our goal is the Metropolitan Government Building, which looks close enough to Shinjuku station on a map. Next time, I'd seriously consider a cab - it felt like at least four long city blocks just to get out of the station, and then another long - but I must concede, very pleasant - stroll outside the station to the MGB. After a quick security check (be prepared to have bags inspected) we are whisked to the 45th floor, there to enjoy a free nighttime view of Tokyo in all directions. Some fellow tourists maintain they were even able, earlier in the day, to spot Fuji, far in the distance, from one angle. But I am far more enthralled with the sights of the Tokyo Tower, the Skytree, and what I insist to spouse is a ferris wheel, far off on Odaiba island. And everywhere, everywhere, masses and masses of lights, as far as the eye can see.

    But occasionally I catch myself wondering at all this light. Do Japanese children, or at least, Tokyo children, ever get a chance to see stars?

    I have no answers. Instead, mindful of the long walk back to Shinjuku, we bring our night's activities to a close. Enroute to Shinjuku, we pass en route a sign featuring a cartoon of an elephant surrounded by a red circle, and a red line drawn across it. No elephants? People keep elephants as pets in Tokyo??? Then it dawns on me: this is Japanese graphic for, "no horseplay." Only, in lieu of horses...

    Back at the hotel, we are bushed. Packing for tomorrow night's plane can wait till tomorrow morning.

    And here endeth day 16.

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    I envy both your time exploring and your energy. (To say nothing of your powers of observation.)

    Is Lynn Canyon that place just outside of Vancouver? With the nausea-inducing "bridge" that rocks back and forth as you try to cross? Sort of like trying to cross a great chasm on a cable-knit sweater.

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    19 April. Tokyo, day 17.

    Tonight we head to the airport, and in point of fact our plane takes off on the 20th of April, very, very early in the morning. But since we plan to cheat Dateline God of his offered day, we will in fact arrive in Los Angeles on the 19th, which is to say, 'today' and spent 'tonight' and the following night in LA.

    Our first mission, following a quick breakfast of toast and coffee and juice grabbed at a 'Johnathan's' restaurant, is to pack for the plane. This is a tedious affair as all travelers know: stash 'sharps' in the bags to be checked, organize the bag of liquids thing for the onboard bags, etc. etc.

    Our last day in Tokyo, our last day in Japan. So many possibilities: but we must choose, we must choose.

    It is spouse's turn to have his watch give up the ghost. So, bags checked at the hotel desk, we head out on the subway (one last 1000 yen meal given to the Suica cards)to Hibiya where our internet search has told us there is yet another 'BIC camera' outlet, where spouse also picks up a cheap watch. A traveler without a watch, after all, is a traveler impaired.

    We then walk to the nearby "Yorakucho" stop of the Yamanote line, taking it as far as Shimbashi. There, it's on to the 'Yurikamome' monorail, because we're headed to the Telecom Center stop on Odaiba island, there to visit the "Miraikan' - the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation.

    We manage to grab, if not seats in the front of the automated monorail, at least standing room behind the front seats, and so get a different perspective of the Tokyo skyline today, as well as a good look at the most interesting architecture of the Miraikan - think of a giant tennis ball stuck in one side of the building and you get the idea.

    On the brief walk from the monorail stop to the museum we spot what we take to be a kiosk selling lottery tickets - "Lottario" - well, it was a good guess. It is, in fact, a hamburger chain. Only in Japan.

    Hullo, what's this? It's a free day at the Miraikan, so we save 600 yen each on admission. I later learn that Friday and Saturday of this week were free because this was 'Science and Technology week' in Japan.

    No amount of technology will save the food that is about to burn on my stove, if I don't break off for a mo'. Back later.

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    Don Topaz

    Yes, that's the one. After Lynn Canyon, I think only bungee jumping would inspire more trepidation.

    Marija - my planning ability rep is about to get whacked. I MUST stop that pot on the stove....

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    Thanks for such an entertaining and educational trip report.

    I especially enjoyed the section on Takaosan which we intend to visit in mid-November...hopefully there will still be some color there.

    What hotel did you stay in in Tokyo? We are currently debating action vs calm!

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    I feel like Victor Borge, that comic pianist who would amongst other things play a piece composed of nothing but endings, a satire on situations where audiences applaud too soon.

    Because as much as I can sense pressure to take a bow and exit stage right, I must advise the audience that my symphony (still) isn't finished.

    Those of you attempting to escape, I suggest you do so by quietly pretending to go to the lobby for a glass of water. Or listen to this Victor Borge piece (couldn't find the endless endings one, so this will have to do)


    ovenbird.. It was the Sheraton Miyako.

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    The Miraikan doesn't wow us quite as much as TCMIT, but then Miraikan's mission is both more ambitious and more abstract than TCMIT, and so must be accorded some slack. As the museum itself states, it "seeks to facilitate understanding of the things that are happening in our world today from a scientific perspective, and to provide a forum for pondering and discussing the future that we will create moving forward."

    Up on the fifth floor, "Explore the Frontiers" where we begin, are exhibits dealing with the deep oceans, including the phenomenon of hydrothermal vents, which form when seismic activity causes the ocean floor to crack. Water seeping into these cracks is superheated, to temperatures of over 350 degrees C, and as it re-emerges from the crack, carries with it minerals leached from the rock below. The scalding hot water doesn't turn into steam (like the boiling water in my dinner pot of a few hours ago) because of the immense pressure of the overlying seawater: we're talking miles of ocean depth here.

    Entire ecosystems form near these vents, because hydrogen sulfide gas is released from these vents, and this gas can be oxidized by certain forms of bacteria, which in turn live in a symbiotic relationship with tube-worms. Okay, you ask, so what's the big deal. The big deal is, that by studying life at extreme ocean depths, scientists might get a clue as to how life on earth first began.

    Which takes us to the other end of things: outer space. Here are exhibits on telescopes (hearkening back to our visit to the Griffith Observatory in LA) and on the study of elementary particles with particle accelerators, and the study of neutrinos. I have to really bear down hard here, I'm no physicist, but this is precisely the value of this museum: it's making me think about things outside my comfort zone, so to speak.

    We whip through the rest of the fifth floor, for time is flying. Down on the third floor "Create Your Future" we find a live demonstration of ASIMO, the robot created by Honda and named in honour of Isacc Asimov. I confess I'm not all that impressed - the robot was a triumph of engineering, to be sure, but this is stuff to amuse kids, not to educate about robotics - so I'm glad when it's over. But, but, there are other exhibits that fill the bill. I spent most of my time studying the exhibit on the 'high speed catching robot', as I have to be selective; time is roaring by. We also have a tiny bit of time for the 'mechanical computer' -it's been ages since I've thought much about the guts of a computer, and this is a good opportunity for a refresher.

    Alas, so much to see, so little time. I had come here precisely to find some stuff on nanotechnology, and it's late into our visit by the time I finally find it.

    In the museum as a whole, we spent about three and a half hours, including lunch, and personally I felt that wasn't enough, but it may be for many others.

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    19 April Tokyo, day 17 - continued

    Well, it's 15:30. Time to beat feet and start making our way back. Onto the monorail - lord, but this is a great view of Tokyo - and back to Shimbashi, where we pause at a Starbucks.

    Can one ever get to know a country, even slightly better, in a mere two weeks? We have come, and now are leaving, without having had a single in-depth conversation with any of the inhabitants. Certainly our eyes have just about popped out of our heads, such has been the intensity of our gaze. Nonetheless, I'm leaving with very few answers, but definitely more questions, than when we arrived.

    Alas, no time to philosophize. Time waits for no traveler.

    We head to Ebisu to do our last bit of shopping - a whistlestop through the food court to pick up some mochi and whatnot for friends back home - and then it's off to pick up our bags.

    At Hamamatsucho, after a few false starts, we find the JR office that exchanges our SUICA cards - and thus we get our deposit of 500 yen back, and also remaining credit on the cards (less 210 yen or so.) We use our windfall to buy tickets for the monorail, no, not the Yurikamome, the other one that will take us out to Haneda airport. No worries, ticket machines are easy to use, as elsewhere.

    Night has fallen on Tokyo as we board the monorail, and the view of the lights of the bridge and elsewhere make for a lovely final view of the city. I'm in a daze - we just got here, how can we be leaving? But then, to get beneath the surface of a megapolis like this would take, one suspects, rather more than even a few weeks here, let alone a few days. Sayonara Japan, who knows when or if, we will see you again.

    20 April Tokyo, day 18, Los Angeles/Pasadena

    It's tough to get out of bed this morning, but the laws of time zone hopping must be obeyed.

    Our objective today is Pasadena. Most sites in Pasadena don't open until noon, so we have time to stop in at "old Pasadena" which is a tad disappointing - but to be fair, our impression is based on but a small sample of time.

    We time our arrival for the Norton Simon museum in West Pasadena exactly on time for noon, when it opens. This place is a joy. The cafe, with outdoor tables overlooking a fabulous collection of sculpture displayed in the museum garden, is a joy. The Impressionist art within, is a joy. So are the Picassos. And the Asian collection, which oddly enough features stuff from everywhere BUT Japan.

    It's three thirty when I remember we were going to try to also take in the Gamble House, but when we arrive, we are too late for the last tour of the day. No matter, the gift shop features plenty of stuff giving clues to the interior of this famous Arts and Crafts style house. And in fairness, we are running out of time (and energy) anyway.

    The drive back to our airport hotel has us crawling back on the so-called freeway. It seems even on a Saturday at 5 p.m. there's a rush hour. LA, says the song, is a great big freeway... not entirely true, or fair, portrait of the city, but the song has a point...

    21 April, day 19, flight home. Summary.

    To be last time.

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    Hotel: As always I direct folks to a source which is both regularly updated and is based on a large sample, the US State department, to get an idea of how prices vary between cities in Japan. Not surprisingly the rates are quoted in USD, which at time of writing was gaining on the yen - a quick rule of thumb is to add two zeros to the rates quoted (e.g. 200 USD -> 20000; then subtract oh, five per cent (1000 in this case) to get 200 USD = 19000 yen, (USD 100 thus buys 9500 yen) which should roughly be what one could buy after exchange fees, etc. Non-Americans, obviously, can then convert based on their country's currency vs USD.

    My guess is that US state department employees are housed in moderate, but not luxurious style as a rule, which means the hotel rates quoted should reflect prices for reasonably spacious rooms. However, bear in mind that such employees are generally traveling solo, and unlike many other countries, single rooms are common in Japan. Ergo, the hotel rates quoted are fairly conservative in my view for the 'moderate' category; i.e, don't expect to beat the hotel rates quoted if this is your category of choice and you are traveling as a couple.

    On the other hand, the meals rate seems very generous, no doubt because state department employees are on business and thus expected to save time and simply eat in hotel restaurants, which are apt to be pricey. Tourists on the other hand, are not so constrained, so one's budget for food etc can if one wishes be much less. More on that in a moment.

    If you are willing to accept comfortable and clean, but quite small, as in just enough room to move, rooms, it seems you can easily find accommodation for 30 to 40 per cent less than the 'moderate' category. Such rooms are not much bigger than what are deemed 'single' rooms in moderate category hotels, but as far as I can tell , they are otherwise of the standard of oh, Comfort Inn hotels or Ibis hotels. (Feedback from other Fodorites welcomed as we didn't stay in this category of hotel this trip.)

    Backpackers can find accommodation in hostels for a fraction, maybe as little as 15 per cent, of the State department rates - one place I heard about in Tokyo offered dorm rooms, clean but VERY simple, shared washrooms, for

    ** Food, local transport other than JR Pass, entrance fees, etc.

    We wound up spending, for two, around 9000 yen per day (4500 each) on average for this category. We didn't stint on entrance fees - if we wanted to see a temple or a museum, we went - and ditto for local transport for other than what was covered by JR pass. On the other hand we ate (by preference) very simply; probably our biggest indulgence was a daily coffee or two taken 'sitting down' - such coffees tend to be pricey, as opposed to a can of hot coffee from a vending machine. Meanwhile if you are a 'foodie' and want to sample multi-course sit-down 'kaiseke' meals, or if you expect to hit the bars, or if you want to sample sites like DisneySea, etc. you will have to budget a great deal more in this category.

    1. The easiest thing is to book accommodation with machines provided: this is quite common with the 'business' style hotels like Tokoyo inn, Tokyu Inn, and Dormy inn chains. Other than this...

    2. ...There's a chain known as 'Wash and Fold' in Japan - believe it or not, asking around for a 'coin laundry' (yes, the English words) will often elicit helpful directions to an outlet of this chain or similar chain. In Nagoya, there's one adjacent to the Nagoya Musical Theater. It's not especially cheap (800 to 1100 yen, depending on load size) but it is fast - we got a complete load washed and dried in 45 minutes for that sum. As far as I could tell, one must usually bring one's own detergent - before leaving home, we found something called 'detergent sheets' in a dollar store, and packed these as they're less messy than powder to pack.

    Appliance tips (mainly for medical stuff like CPAPs)
    - A power bar and extension cord can be useful, outlets in hotel rooms aren't always conveniently located. Note that Japan voltage is similar to North America's, so if you are from NA, no special converters, plug adapters, etc. are required.

    Packing tips (spring)
    1 word, layers. And as always, less is more.

    I'm slowly conceding that having a notebook computer and/or handheld device for consulting x or y on the Internet is making my folder of printed out material out of date. Though I still like having printed copies of hotel confirmations, etc. and I still like low-tech maps.

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    Enjoyed your report, Sue. Thanks for enlightening and entertaining all of us that traveled along with you in the past few days.
    I took note of your #2 tip in laundry. That will come in handy when we visit Japan in October.

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    Fantastic report and very well done! Thank you for taking the time to do this.

    I do know how you are feeling after leaving Japan with so many questions still unanswered. That is how I felt after we left after our first three day visit. We have been back a few times since to answer most of my questions :)

    Shinto shrines abound in Japan and it seems to have been one of your interests and still with unanswered questions. Let me try and help a bit. Those large ropes you saw with the folded papers on them are called shimenawa and the strips of white paper attached were the gohei. All of which are made from rice and twisted rice strands which date back to ancient times when they were used to mark off sacred places and ward off evil spirits. We have seen HUGE shimenawa throughout Japan.

    You and other travelers planning a trip to Japan should read this page as it contains answers to your questions about what you saw and what visitors will see when at a Shinto shrine.

    In fact(lol) this website will answer a lot of your questions about things you may see,eat and do while in Japan along with the history of someone or somethings you may encounter while traveling in Japan. Also it can give you a detailed history of a place or person of interest. This along with the Japan Guide site and of course Fodors are my key sites for Japan information.

    I also use the JNTO site quite often. If I knew how to read Japanese it would open up a whole new world but haven't yet needed to,lol.

    Do you think you would have interest in a return to Japan to answer some of your questions?


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    Greetings all. I am glad you enjoyed it; I myself felt I needed to put down so much detail since I will have to live on the memories of this trip for a long time, perhaps a very long time. So I didn't want to forget a single thing.

    Hawaiian, thanks so much for the link, it is wonderful to now have context for many of the things we saw.

    In response to your question: am I motivated to return to answer some of my questions: yes and no. The kind of questions I have are on subjects which will require a lot of reading and thinking, and this means dealing in my own language (a barrier, to be sure, but I doubt I will become fluent in Japanese at this stage.)

    On the admittedly fragile basis of a brief visit, I see many bumps ahead in the road for Japan; and yet our visit to the Miraikan left me with hope not just for the country but for us all, particularly in the revelation of many international cooperative scientific endeavours.

    I am a neophyte and many of you have made many trips, so I'd be interested in hearing your own impressions. Especially since, for various reasons, I don't expect to return any time soon.

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    I finally had some time to read your enchanting report, and add my thanks to those of so many others. Your evocative descriptions brought back some wonderful memories and inspire future travels. Thanks so much!

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    Many thanks for your report. Enjoyed it so much. It reminded me that our best memory of our trip to Japan was the helpfulness of the Japanese. When we got off the train at a wrong stop and there was nobody anywhere around, nothing open, we walked till we found a man in his yard. We tried to speak to Japanese. He used his cellphone to get a friend who spoke English to help us. Wonderful!

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    Greetings Kathie, kalihwai2, kja, and elainee, And Reading4, and encore to hawaiian, Don Topaz, and Craig, and everyone else...

    glad you enjoyed it. I have just been reminded we did goof once with the trains - in Tokyo. A Suica card only covers local trains within metropolitan Tokyo; en route back from Mitaka (the stop nearest the Ghibli museum) we started to get on one of the JR Chuo/Soba lines; it was packed, whereas a train on an adjacent platform was practically empty and moreover, due to head to Shinjuku earlier than the train we'd just boarded. Without stopping to think why so many had crowded onto the later train, and thinking mainly of a chance to sit down and rest our feet, we jumped off the Chuo, ran across to the other train, and jumped aboard to gratefully settle into seats.

    As our 'new' train started to pull away, up comes a conductor, looking for tickets. This should have been our first clue that this was no ordinary commuter train...that there was a conductor. We show him what we've got - Suica cards. He patiently explains they are of no use, we're on an express train (not sure, but I think we wound up on the limited express Kaiji train, originally hailing from Kofu - well outside western Tokyo. ) He informs us the extra fare is 500 yen each - but he kindly waves off payment when I start opening my wallet. (I do not recommend one assume leniency will invariably be the policy of JR staff, but it was this time.) In any event while we pull into Shinjuku faster, we are bound for Ryogoku for the Edo-Tokyo museum and still had to switch trains back to the JR Chuo/Soba local - quite possibly back to the train we were about to take in the first place! Anyway, we arrive at Ryogoku no faster in the long run - although it was nice to sit part of the way. The experience reminded us: don't leap aboard a train until you are SURE you know what it is, a) and b) if it looks too good to be true that there are untaken seats on a train in Tokyo, it probably is.

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    Hi Sue, finally got around to reading this great report! I do have answers to two of your questions about Japan. (Well, maybe you didn't have a question, but I have an answer)

    You mentioned the lack of ovens in the BIC appliance section. That's because most Japanese don't bake. Stovetop cooking and microwave warm-ups are used for most all dishes. When someone does bake, they will usually get a small countertop convection oven.

    You also wondered if Japanese kids ever see stars. We had many Tokyo exchange students over the years, and going stargazing (especially during meteor showers) was a always a huge hit with them, mainly because they rarely see stars at home.

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    I've grown up in London and we didn't see many stars either -- same for any densely populated metropolis. I was blown away on my first Namibian safari when we looked upwards the very first night!


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    Or any other person who can't see the stars at night. If you have a smartphone there is an app called "night sky" that you can download for free and position up even in your bedroom at night to see what stars are out that night.


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    Sorry, I didn't mean not to acknowledge these replies, I was asleep at the wheel.
    Ah, lcuy, so my speculation wasn't far off, which was that most Japanese must buy their baked goods from bakeries as opposed to baking those goods themselves. It makes sense in a way, since my guess is that the cost of electricity is high.

    Even in North America, it is getting hard to find places dark enough for good night viewing. The best place I've found for viewing the Perseid meteor showers in my own area is well out of town. But in Japan, getting 'out of town' is very hard.

    kavey and hawaiiantraveler, I'm told that during a blackout a few years ago in the NYC area, many people called up the meteorological office, puzzled by what they were able to see in the sky for the first time, ever (the Milky Way.)

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    Than you Russ and Kathy, always glad to get the cards and letters, money too is always appreciated. ;)

    Okay, a bit of time to be serious.


    Some time ago Hawaiian asked: "Do you think you would have interest in a return to Japan to answer some of your questions?"

    Hawaiian, I read today (January 17, 2014) in the NYtimes, an article entitled:

    "Hiroo Onoda, Soldier Who Hid in Jungle for Decades, Dies at 91" (Robert MacFadden for the New York Times)

    The article reminded me of a question on which I had hoped to do some research during our trip to Japan: what prompts a people (any people, anywhere) to go to war? I eschew putting people into categories: I neither subscribe to the victim nor to the villain theory, where the average civilian in a modern conflict is concerned.

    It turned out that I had very little time to do research on military history in Japan, especially since, unlike our trip to northern France in 2007, our trip to Japan wasn't specifically designed on a 'military history' theme. I would have liked more time in the recent history section of the Edo museum in Tokyo; I would have liked to have visited the somewhat controversial Peace Osaka museum in Osaka. I would have liked a lot of things, and came to realize that with the time I had, I was not going to find any answers.

    Anyway, now you know of my reluctance to discuss my questions; partly, because the questions concern a very controversial subject, and partly because despite much reading on the subject of war in general, I have never found any answers that really satisfy me.

    Right now I'm reading Margaret MacMillan's "The War That Ended Peace: the Road to 1914". It's the 'prequel' to her 'Paris 1919', the book which discussed the degree to which the failings of the Paris peace conference laid the stage for World War 2. Like Paris 1919, The War That Ended Peace is long (645 pages plus notes) and needs to be read slowly and carefully (as was Paris 1919) so nobody hold their breath waiting for my reactions.

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