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Japan: Moxie's trip report -Part I

Old Apr 30th, 2006, 01:19 AM
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Japan: Moxie's trip report -Part I

Saturday: Left Paris on a 13.00 direct flight to Narita, (Tokyo). The flight was uneventful except for surrounding passengers:
A mother and 10 yr old boy sat in front of us and they kept their seats fully reclined, even during meals. Since the child had to sit on the edge of his seat to eat, we asked if they could please put their seat up during meals...

Behind us were a young French couple, obviously very excited about the trip since they burst into rap songs every 30 minutes.
They requested that I put my seat up at all times since it reclined more than any other seat on the plane...

Although AirFrance advertises seats that recline the most, the flights were very uncomfortable and we had bad luck with our seat assignments

Day 1. Sunday: Tokyo - HOTEL NEW OTANI

Arrived at 7.30 am and were through with landing formalities by 8.45. We easily found and purchased the limosine bus tickets for the 9.30 bus to our hotel. We went to exchange our JR vouchers but due to long lines and scheduled bus ride we decided to go outside to wait for the bus.

° This is our first encounter with people wearing face masks. During the trip we saw many different styles and vowed to buy some (but in the end did not).

Checked into Hotel New Otani at 10.30. The bellhop escorted us to our room, explained the hotel and room and then refused the tip and explained that tipping is not done in Japan. (I was glad that I brought along French cookies and candy to leave as tips.)

Lovely room with a king-size bed on the next to top floor (39th) of the tower. Since I was a NOC member, they had a birthday present waiting for me on the table: a package of almond cakes with a rose on a tray.

My SO had a headache and went to sleep, I slept for 3 hours and then went to explore. The hotel is huge and was quite busy.
It has lots of shops, restaurants and hallways and also a lovely garden.
It's a great stroll garden with lanterns, carp pond, bridges and much to my delight the cherry blossoms were still hanging on and it was sunny.

I ventured outside the hotel grounds and walked past the Hotel Prince and subway and walked around a little shopping street. I returned to the subway and bought two 1000 yen subway net-pass cards (we ended up buying two more while in Tokyo). Back at the hotel, my SO was ready to go out.

Unfortunately, it was too late for my itinerary of flea markets, Harajuku, and Meiji Jingu Shrine (We'll just have to come back another Sunday). We took the subway to Tokyo Station, hoping to exchange rail pass vouchers, buy tickets to Kanazawa, buy night berth tickets to Beppu and reserved seat tickets for the other trips.

The first 2 Ticket agencies were closed since it was Sunday, the one which was open had a sign in English saying JR exchange was only done before 5 pm. After checking with a travel agent who said she could not do it; we returned to the open ticket agency and ignoring the English sign waited in line and were successful in accomplishing our tasks! It was very easy to do since I had all the train names, numbers, schedules and cities typed out. Even with this helpful paper, things got sticky trying to explain the night train and the type of berths we wanted.

We then strolled through station shops. We returned to the hotel since the SO was not feeling any better and had a quiet dinner in one of the hotel restaurants. The SO said he has forgotten how to use chopsticks which could cause difficulties later...

Day 2. Monday: Tokyo - HOTEL NEW OTANI

We were up 5.30 and took the subway to Tsukiji Fish Market. The corridor to the tracks had black lights illuminating ceiling paintings, very nice. We toured the vegetable section and fish section, the variety of merchandise is amazing. We walked the streets in the area but did not feel up to sushi for breakfast.

Since it was too early to go to the Hama Rikyu Garden and take the river cruise to Asakusa, we returned to hotel for the Western Buffet Breakfast at the Top of the Tower.

We then took the subway to Asakusa and walked along the Nakamise Dori to the Sensoji Temple. It was quite crowded but interesting to see all the trinket shops, pagoda and temple. This is the first place I saw the waving cat - I debated buying one but resisted. We did not have any 100 Yen coins so I did not buy my fortune.

We walked the back streets (shitamachi: old downtown), including the street with all the kitchen supply stores to Ueno. Along the way I found a vending machine which broke 1000 yen bills and had my first hot coffee can -- strange at first but addicting (I made a point of seeking them out later).

We checked our email at a Kinkos and while walking in Ameya Yokocho we bought an umbrella since the rain had started in earnest. The noise generated by the pachinko parlors was very disturbing.
I had planned to play but I could not stand the racket. We contined our walk under the train tracks to Akihabara. Here we had our first problem finding a place. I will spare you the details but we cruised an 8 block grid of streets in the rain for hours. Finally, after asking several very nice shopkeepers we found the building but the shop we wanted was exceptionally closed that day! My feet were sore (full of blisters) so we toddled towards the subway.

We saw a noodle shop and had an very late lunch or early (for us) dinner. Before entering we encased our wet umbrellas in the nifty sacks they provide. They were out of fish cakes so I had little ravioli with my noodles and the SO had spicy soba which cured his sinus headache. We were back at the hotel by 7 pm and went promptly to sleep.

Day 3. Tuesday: Tokyo - HOTEL NEW OTANI

We decided to try the other hotel restaurant which offered a Japanese and Western Buffet Breakfast. It had a tremendous selection and we had a lovely breakfast. The croissants were wonderful as were the eggs poached in fish broth and all the vegetables. Before leaving for the day we checked about the Takkyubin service.

We set out for a rainy walk to the Imperial Gardens. By the time we reached the Imperial plaza the drizzle had stopped. We gazed at the bridges and caught hidden views of the castle. We then strolled the East Gardens. In seems like much of the time in this area was spent skirting parking lots; maybe we just did not know the right paths to take. The gardens were lovely and the cherry blossoms were still clinging to the trees.

We then crossed the road and continued toward Ginza. Here we checked our emails and found that we needed to do a cash transaction with Western Union. Luckily we skipped lunch and therefore had time to change money and send it by Western Union (which closes its doors at 14.45) (NB: Western Union only accepts Yen so we had to change currency twice. The nearby bank would change only 1000 euro per person).
We celebrated our successful (and expensive) transaction by having a coffee at a Japanese coffee house.

We then took the subway to Shibuya. It was drizzling again as we looked at the statue of the dog and the video billboards in the "Times Square of Tokyo". The streets were packed and it seemed even more crowded due to all the umbrellas. We walked to Tokyu Hands and I installed my SO in the bar on the top floor while I shopped. They have great stuff but I only bought trinkets for mobile phones. The variety is amazing.

I took several photos of the extensive display of plastic food at the bar. Night had fallen and the rain had stopped by the time we left so we were able to take photos of the vertical neon around Shibuya station.

More confident with our scouting abilities we tried, and found a restaurant I had noted from the internet. It is on the 9th floor of a tower and specialises in Tonkatsu. We were the only westerners there and they took very good care of us even though they did not speak English or have an English menu.

It was all new to us and we loved the pork and cabbage. We provided great amusement for the other customers since we had no idea which sauce to use and my SO decided to start using chopsticks.

After dinner we took the subway to Shinjuku station, wandered the streets and took pictures of the neon. It was great to see both Shibuya and Shinjuku up close since we saw their skylines from the hotel room.

Day 4. Wednesday: Tokyo to Kanazawa by Train
- HOTEL INN

Japanese and Western Buffet Breakfast. Shipped bags: 4200 yen (2 24-in suitcases - one containing my carryon) with Takkyubin service. Checked out at 8.30 with only one carry-on and umbrellas. Still drizzling, we took the subway to Tokyo station for the 9.30 am train to Kanazawa. We arrived with plenty of time to spare (35 minutes).

There were amazingly orderly lines to board the train. Each train car's door is marked on the platform and people stay well within the marked lines to board. What a pleasure!

Lovely train ride through the mountains. We lost the rain and now had brillant sun. There was still lots of snow piled up in the fields and yards. We changed trains in ECHIGOYUZAWA and arrived at 13.30 in Kanazawa. First stop was the tourist info center in the station. We bought a "free" pass (900 Yen) for the loop bus and obtained a city map and loop bus map. The maps are quite different from what we are used to and resemble cartoon maps.

We then walked to the bus station to buy our reserved tickets for the Kanazawa-Shirakawago-Takayama trip the next day. Even though I had reserved via email and received instructions to buy the tickets in Kanazawa, they were unable to sell us the bus tickets from Shirakawa-go to Takayama. I was a bit concerned that we would be stranded in the countryside with no hotel and no way to get to Takayama but since it was a vacation we took our chances and bought the partial ticket.

We then walked less than 5 minutes to the Hotel Inn. Taking part of Kim Japan's advice, I cancelled my expensive room at a different hotel to obtain a more reasonable one here. We had a basic room and bath with a nice view of a lively intersection. We rushed off to catch the loop bus to visit the Kenroken gardens.

The announcements for stops are in also in English so it is very easy to use this bus. The road to the garden was lined with food stands and it was difficult to find the entrance booth to buy tickets. When we did, we were told that admission was free since it was sakura season =) Plus we discovered that the Seisonkaku Villa (normally closed on Wednesday) was open! Our visit to the villa was our first encounter with taking our shoes off; my SO was told and it was the only time we made this error. What a Beautiful Garden and villa! We wandered about for 2 hours; then took the loop bus close to the samurai house (we arrived at 5.15 and were too late to visit).

There we met a Japanese lady who explained the outside of the house to us. We walked back to the main street (on the way I stopped at a bakery and bought dumplings on a stick and a chestnut cake) and took the loop bus back to the station and stayed on the bus until we reached the Higashi Chaya District (this was the last bus for the night).

We got off and walked around the old houses (I ate the 3 dumplings on a stick (pink, white and green); I think they are only sold during cherry-blossom season. They were not sweet and had no flavour -- the consistency was spongy/gummy), encountered friendly cats
and found ourselves at the river which was lined with blooming cherry trees. We sat and watched the blossoms through the street lights - it was gorgeous. We then walked back to the hotel.

We were still a bit shy about finding restaurants and since it was late (for Japan) we took the easy way out and had sushi and fried tofu near the hotel. It was scrumptious.

** Kanazawa was wonderful.

Day 5. Thursday: Kanazawa to Takayama (via Shirawaka-go): Highway bus - RICKSHAW INN

We got up early, had a Japanese Buffet Breakfast at the hotel which was very good and a very good deal (I am starting to like pickles and vegetables for breakfast) and walked 2 minutes to the Bus Stop. The 8.40 bus went through many tunnels and each time, the amount of snow increased. Instead of snow fences there were huge metal grids attached to the hillsides to prevent the snow from falling on the road. At some points there were 5 levels of snow guards going up the ravines. The driver was an extremely good and polite motorist. The scenery was lovely and the only down side of the the ride was a small baby who cried for the entire trip.

Once in Shirawaka-go (10.00 am) we checked our bag (200 Yen) with the tourist office (coin lockers were available but our carry-on was too big), obtained maps, and to my relief, bought the reserved tickets to Takayama. There was still alot of snow around but the paths and roads were clear.

We started our tour by visiting the Shirakawago Gassho Zukuri Minkaen. It was very quiet, only one couple in the museum with us. We visited the buildings leisurely. The houses are visited without shoes and by the end of the visit my feet were freezing. We then walked across the suspension bridge to the main part of the village. I bought some souvenirs from one of the many shops and we continued to stroll through the town.

It was slightly sunny and cool but no rain and was lovely for walking. On the way to the observation point we saw the trout in the canals lining the roads.

The path to the observation point was blocked with huge drifts of snow so I waited for my SO who braved it and said the view was great. We continued walking and due to the cool air decided we needed lunch.

We stopped at the restaurant "Irori" and continued the sinus treatment: So had soup with chicken and noodles, I had soup with mountain vegetables (they had an English menu and both western and Japanese seating). The soup was wonderful and ended up being the best we had while in Japan. This was my first encouter with a traditional Japanese toilet: the pebble mosaic on the floor was beautiful. We visited the Wada Ke House and then made our way quickly to catch our bus at 14.20. We had a lovely 4-hour visit.

We had another great bus driver and we arrived in Takayama around 16.30 pm. The bus station is near the train station and we stopped at their tourist booth to obtain more information on the Spring Festival which started the next day.

We walked to our hotel following the best map I have seen in Japan to the Rickshaw Inn; it took about 10 minutes. We were happy to find our bags already in our Japanese-style room. This was our first experience staying in a tatami room, we had our own Japanese-style bathroom. The lady at the desk was lovely and explained how things worked at the Inn: no shoes, only slippers in public area; no slippers on tatami mats; no smoking in the rooms; curfew at midnight; laundry facilities; kitchen use: lounge and free computer use; breakfast needed to be ordered the day before. She also gave us an wonderful map of restaurants in Takayama.

We settled into our room and then left to explore the city before the festivities started. We walked along the bridges and on the way saw a white cat which had been shaved except for a pompom on its tail. The poor thing was embarrassed to be seen and ran back into her house before I could pet her.

We walked in the old district (San-machi Suji) and past the old Merchants' Houses and enjoyed the crispy air (and no rain!) with not a cherry bud in sight!

We started looking for a restaurant early and since my SO wanted to try the Hilda Beef - or perhaps just use a fork and knife - we thought we'd try a steak house. After looking at the three mentioned on our map we picked one and settled in. Unfortunately, all they served was steak and I don't eat beef! They very nicely pieced together a dinner of corn soup and a slice of ham for me. My SO said his steak was great. The table next to us was quite loud and rowdy. After they finished their 3rd bottle of wine, the waiter cleared the bottles and returned with cards which had the wine bottle label and lots of writing. There was a small scuffle to see which person got which label. Nice mementos for a night out.

Day 6. Friday: Takayama - RICKSHAW INN
Very nice breakfast: rolls, bread to toast yourself, hard-boiled egg, fruit and coffee in the hotel lounge. We checked our festival schedule and headed out to see the floats which were lining the streets. It was a bit cold so I used by scarf and coat liner. We walked the streets admiring the beautiful floats. Each float had its attendants, some of whom explained the details of the float, others were seated on the street enjoying their sake break. There were 11 floats in all and they were each different and pretty in their own way.

We made it to the central place at 11.30 to get a spot to watch the Karakuri (Marionette) performances (you can see them here http://www.hidanet.ne.jp/e02/ematsuri/ekarakur.htm ).

There were three different performances which were paced much differently than western performances - each was very good, I now need to read the story they were enacting.

The crowd was very large but very well-behaved. After the performances we strolled by the morning market and visited the Historical Government House (Takayama Jinya) which was near the place. After walking about on cold floors here in our stocking feet we needed to get warmed up.

We headed to the restaurant Suzuya and had habo miso and sansai-misonabe (a stew of cabbage and mountain vegetables, chicken, and rice balls) which we cooked at the table while drinking hot sake. Ummm it was all delicious! We went back in the street to find the procession but failed. We did see one cherry tree in bloom but it had a shed built around it with the limbs climbing out of the roof

We returned to the hotel and did laundry. The washer was fine but the dryer took forever so after 90 minutes we gave up and ironed the light clothes dry and hung the others clothes to dry in the room and rushed out to the night procession of the floats.

The floats were decorated with lanterns and pulled by hand through the town. By dumb luck we got a great spot on a corner and were able to observe first-hand how they turned the floats. Quite impressive with posts and retracting central pivot wheels all the while the men pushed and shoved with 10 foot steering poles or their hands.

Again there were huge crowds but they were very well-mannered. I did smell quite a bit of squid-breath in the crowd. After the procession we went off to find dinner. It was late and many places were closing (a theme now for us).

We stumbled across Ebihachi, a tempura restaurant and were the only customers at the bar. We ordered the set menu: my SO got 9 pieces, I ordered 6. The rice here was incredible. We found out that it came from the owner's father's farm. If you are really hungry you can have free rice refills =). The tempura was also very good.

Day 7. Saturday: Takayama to Beppu - Train and Night train

Breakfast at the hotel. Visited laquerware shops; bought a lovely little tray with legs and a framed painted glass tile.

Went to the central place to see the Marionette floats but they had been parked in their storage houses due to the threat of rain. We stumbed upon an international ATM and retrieved cash.

We watched the lion dance and the procession through the streets. Only men were in the procession and they had beautiful kimonos, laquered straw hats and helmets and scrappy little straw sandles. Had habo miso and sashimi for lunch and after a last tour of the town we returned to the hotel to pack our bags to be shipped to Kyoto (2200 Yen for the same 2 bags) and to check-out at 6 pm.

We used the JR pass for the first time on the train to Nagoya. At the station we bought a beef curry box lunch and sushi (the last bento box was taken by the person in front of me!). The lady explained that we needed to pull a string on the curry box before opening it. Once settled in the train, my SO pulled the string and the box automatically heated up the food. This was amazing! The sushi I had was a huge roll cut into slices. I managed to eat 2 slices before we rounded a curve and a piece of sushi flew off my chopsticks to the aisle: I was so embarrassed that after I picked it up I renounced eating sushi on trains; I had a packet of crisps (special cherry blossom ones which were good but I could not identify the flavor). Obviously my SO is not the only one who was chopstick-challenged!

In Nagoya we changed to the Fuji express bound for Oita (18000 Yen berth supplement with the JR pass). My SO had another sinus headache attack and while he was sitting on his carry-on in the station numerous people asked if they could help. The Japanese are really lovely. We never did find a lounge in the Nagoya station but there were seats on the platform.

Once on the train, again very quick boarding, we discovered that we did indeed have berths reserved but they were private ones, not a shared 2-berth compartment which we thought we had reserved. I had one with a lower bed and next door my SO had a little stairway and a high berth. We settled into our respective compartments and slept.
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Old Apr 30th, 2006, 02:22 AM
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hi moxie, great report. i have been waiting for this, as i plan to just about mirror your trip next year, except starting from osaka, and ending at the takayama matsuri before heading on to tokyo.

how many months in advance did you have to make your reservation at the rickshaw inn? did you see other properties that you might have wanted to stay at? i also enjoy staying at a minshiku, and a ryokan, so that will be options for me.

thanks for the report, and keep it coming. domo arigato.
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Old Apr 30th, 2006, 04:20 AM
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LOVE IT, LOVE IT, LOVE IT!!!!

What a great planner you are! I laughed half way through this and so identified w/you.

Did you know that in GInza there is a pharmacy that stocks over the counter medications w/English labels (they are American meds)?? I read about it and then the concierge told me also. I almost went there to get something at one point. I wish your SO had had something for sinus headache...
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Old Apr 30th, 2006, 05:29 AM
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BTW, kudos to you for navigating so well, esp. the Takayama and Shirak. portions. I have tried to plan that also (but have not gone yet) and it is challenging, esp. for a first time Japan visitor. It appears you did your homework and it paid off.

I'd like to hear what kappa or KimJapan says about the dumplings you had and if they are only made in spring. I have had (and now, have made!) many sweets w/sakura but never any other type of food like a dumpling.

"This was my first encounter w/a Japanese toliet. The mosaic floor was beautiful." Moxie, you are a die hard optomist!! I can't stop laughing at this. All I was thinking about (and still do) is not ending up completely on that mosaic floor, esp. if there is not a grab bar or some plumbing to hold on to. And then I have flahses of the plumbing/bar coming off in my hands as I grab so darned tight for my life!
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Old Apr 30th, 2006, 10:34 AM
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Part II: Last part of the trip report:

Day 8. Sunday: Night train to Beppu - NOGAMIHONKAN RYOKAN

During the night I discovered that our car only had a Japanese toilet. Yes, this was a challenge while the train was moving but they had a bar to grasp. In the morning, I explored the rest of the train and found western toilets and vending machines.

We woke up around 6 am, south of Hiroshima and were treated to wonderful scenery, clear skys and SUN. The food trolley came by at 8am and we shared a bento box, cold fish cakes and 4 coffees. Yes, it is true that you tend to get 2/3 of a cup of coffee so I started ordering 2 at a time on the train.

We arrived in Beppu at 11 am, visited the foreign tourist office, obtained a map of the hells and bought the "free" bus pass. We walked to the ryokan using their excellent map. We had planned to leave our bag and check in at the normal time but we were allowed to check in at 11.30. The Desk personnel apologised that we would not be served tea since the maids were not in. We ordered dinner in our room (7 pm) and also time slots for their private onsens (9pm and 6am the next morning).

We took a shower, put the champagne in the fridge and walked back to the station to get the bus. I had picked the 5 hells I wanted to see and planned a circular route to see them.

We took the first bus which went to HonBouzu-Jigoku. It took about 20 minutes and a kind person told us when to get off. If you do not want to ask, when you see the "Gooday" Store (a DIY) on your left, you need to press the button and exit at the next stop. This hell consists a pathway which winds by various pools of bubbling mud. It is not included in the "All Hells" group admission tickets so there were not many people there.

I found it interesting. There is a public mud bath nearby but since it is open only in the morning, I missed it.
After exiting the hell, we walked across the parking lot to the big road, made a left (thereby passing the Gooday store) and continued down the hill. After about 15 minutes we saw signs on the left for the Kannawa area hells.

We visited Umi-Jigoku (sea blue water) which had a marvelous garden around it. We liked the garden so much, we bought ice cream from the machine (chocolate, cream soda) and then wandered about to see it again. We skipped all hells with animals.

After Umi-Jigoku, we continued a short way down the road to Siraike Jigoku (white milky water). It looked pale blue to me but was still pretty; on our way to the hell, the path took us by various fish in tanks. We exited, turned right to the big road and then turned left to arrive at the big bus depot, stop: Kannawa.

We boarded the N° 16 bus and watched the roadside for signs for Chinoike Jigoku. This hell has blood-red water and with the shadows from the clouds was quite beautiful. Here I bought some soaps and special skin cream made from the hell muds at the tourist shop.

We continued down the hill and Tatsumaki Jigoku was on our right. This hell has a geyser which spouts every 25-30 minutes. I figured out the multi-shot function on my camera and got lovely photos of the geyser starting and stopping.

We then crossed the road to wait for the 16 bus to take us back to the sea front. There was a hot coffee machine at the bus stop (very convenient. We exited the bus a few streets from our hotel and walked to the Takegawara Onsen. The building is beautiful but my SO still was not interested in taking a sand bath. I looked at the set-up to know what was needed (including money).

We returned to the hotel, and since it was almost 7pm I dumped my bag and coat, grabbed my money and returned to the Takegawara Onsen. This would be my first onsen experience in Japan. I tried the baths in Budapest twice but chickened out due the noise and crowds so I was not sure I'd go through with this one! I put my shoes in the locker (10 yen coin needed) and went to the ticket window. The attendant shouted at me in Japanese then in English and pointed to the sign saying that you were not allowed in the baths if you had high blood pressure, heart condition, diabetes, were pregnant or having your period. Once I denied all the above, but felt that I would now get all of the conditions (except pregnancy while in the bath), she asked where my towel was. Of course I had forgotten it but she sold one to me for 100 yen - a nice little souvenir . I paid the 1000 yen admittance, got a chit, a towel and a yukata (colour-coded for size) and she pointed for me to go through the door under the red curtain. Here was a area with lockers to the right and 2 women were undressing. I was so happy that I would have someone to copy! I put my clothes and shoe locker key in the locker, put on my yukata, used a 100 yen coin and took my key, towel and chit down the stairs, past the hot tub and showers through the sliding door the other women had used.

Signs all around said you were to bathe first but since the Japanese ladies didn't, I didn't either. You enter a large room with black sand and wooden paths around the edges and down the middle. There were 2 women shoveling sand on the 2 ladies (one other woman was already buried). A lady motioned me to come into the depression she had created and I left my towel and key on the wooden path and followed her into the sand. You keep your yukata on during the burial. They position a brick pillow under your neck and then they pack about 10 inches of sand on top of you. They also nicely remove the brick pillow and build sand up under your neck. You remain buried for 15 minutes, the clock on the wall helps you keep track of the time. It was a great experience.

The ceiling of the building has a lovely design and you can hear gentle street noises (through the gaps between the walls and roof). The heat of the sand is very gradual. The amazing thing was that it was difficult to stay still for 15 minutes; my knees started to ache but I closed my eyes and tried to ignore it. I saw to my right that the other ladies had broken out before the time was up. There was a steady flow of men and women coming to take the sand bath. Each side of the central wooden path can hold 10 people so there can only be a total of 20 buried at a time.

When told, you gradually break out of the sand and brush off what sand you can; you and your yukata are completely wet and sandy. I picked up my towel and key and followed the others into the bathing room. Here you shower with the yukata on, to get rid of the sand, wring it out and place it in the container. Then you shower until all sand is gone from you; this takes a long time, especialy for hair. When sand-free, you go into the spring water bath. It was only while showering that I realised how hot the sand must have been; the shower water was cool by comparison but the onsen was deliciously hot. I was under time pressure due to dinner so I stayed only 15 minutes in the water, dried off, dressed and left. I would love to do it again.

I was all pink, changed into my hotel yukata and ready for dinner at 7 pm. The lady came into the room and set-up our dinners (we had ordered tempura); I tried to say the required phrases in Japanese but I failed and the maid left.

The SO got out the champagne we bought in Paris and had been hauling all over Japan and we had a wonderful dinner. When the ladies came back to clear the meal, I gave our maid an envelope with a tip and a box of cookies. She was very pleased.

We got our sandals and towels and went downstairs for our private onsen appointment. The front desk gave us the key and pointed across the street. We entered the room and found a burbling hot bath, with showers and stools, hairdryers, soap etc. We showered and entered the bath. The room was half open to the outside: big gap between the walls and roof and half the roof was made of open weave reeds. I loved it but it was too hot for my SO. He dipped in and out. I stayed in for about 30 minutes and then we left (50 minutes are allowed). We returned the key to the front desk and noticed that others were wearing a jacket over their yukatas and different sandals. All well, that explains the smiles from the people on the street...

We were very clean, very pink and a little tipsy. We slept very well =D

Day 9. Monday: Beppu to Matsuyama (via Miyajima):
train and super-jet ferry
- HOTEL PATIO DOGO

My SO surprised me and ordered a japanese breakfast; I ordered a western breakfast. After over a week of hard-boiled eggs, my SO got a raw egg. We didn't know what he was to do with it until we observed a Japanese man whisk it and pour it on his rice: Japanese Carbonara =).

We checked out and walked through the back streets to the train station. The "back" streets were all shopping arcades and clubs. I loved Beppu but perhaps it is a different place on days other than Sunday...

We boarded the most luxurious train of our trip in Beppu: Leather seats and parquet floors to Kokura. Plus there were all kinds of gadgets from which to hang coats, purses etc.

Lovely scenery, I would love to come back and explore this island. We also saw how the train seats are rotated so that everyone always faces the direction the train is travelling; they are so smart!

In Kokura we transferred trains and got off in Hiroshima. In Hiroshima we took the local train to Miyajimaguchi. Used the underpass to cross the road and boarded the JR Ferry. What an easy transfer!

From the bay we had wonderful views of the Tori gate (I really appreciated the powerful zoom on my camera). As usual, our first stop on Miyajima was the tourist office. This time it was to meet and give a present to a lovely woman who helped me plan my ferries and with whom I corresponded by email for 4 months. We stored our carry-on in the coin lockers just by the tourist office (I think these were expensive ones: 400 yen).

We strolled the waterfront, admiring the cherry blossoms, the Tori gate and bay and dodging deer (and deer pellets). Our visit was planned to correspond with high tide, it was just starting to recede.

We entered the shrine and went directly to the stage -- thanks to my friend's help, I knew there would be Noh performances that day. We watched for about 45 minutes and saw one and a half performances; we had to leave due to our ferry reservations.

We walked back along the business section, bought green-tea soft ice cream (nothing like the real thing and I dumped mine) and some postcards, retrieved our bag and went swiftly over to the ferry office (200 m from the JR ferry building). The time in Miyajima was too rushed, I would have liked another couple of hours to mill about.

We bought our tickets and took the high-speed boat (1460 each) to Hiroshima port. Here we had no tickets, but a reservation and only 8 minutes to find the super-jet ferry to Matsuyama. Luckily it was on the same quai and they sent someone down from the office to collect the money for the passage/ tickets. They were very pleased we had exact change (around 6500 each) and we were very pleased that they went out of their way to help us.

The boat went really fast but the ride was very smooth. The scenery was really outstanding: small islands, big islands, rock outcrops, sun, reflections, other boats, oyster beds etc. It was an idyllic 70 minutes. Although this jaunt was expensive (for JR pass holders) it was a highlight of our trip. Thank you mrwnrfl =) .

We arrived in Matsuyama, exited the ferry terminal and found the limo bus (600 Yen each) with no difficulty. It took a long time to get from the port to the end of the line (Dogo Onsen) due to street traffic. If I were to do it again, I would take the limo bus to the JR station and the street car from there to Dogo Onsen; although I would not recommend this for people who have never been to Matsuyama... Although I did a fair amount of research, I was shocked to find that Matsuyama was a big city; I was expecting a town like Beppu.

During the ride, we saw the Maysuyama Castle and my SO said he'd like to visit if possible. We arrived at Dogo Onsen stop and followed our hotel's excellent instructions and arrived to check-in at the Hotel Patio Dogo at 17.00.

We had a room on the 8th floor overlooking the Dogo Onsen - a wonderful view. We reviewed the travel plans and opening times and revised our train schedule for the next day to fit in a visit to the castle. We then dashed off to see the Ishite temple which closes at 6pm but was only 20 minutes from the hotel. We got a real cartoon map at the desk and set out; after walking up hill for 15 minutes I realised that we were turned around. I asked a man for directions but we failed to understand each other. We walked for another 10 minutes and I approached a woman. On the street I found that people avoided eye contact and seem unapproachable but when stopped, everyone was charming. We were in luck, the lady was charming and took us in hand. Yes, we were going the wrong way. She took us to a sub-office of the tourist bureau; got a more elaborate cartoon map for us, and took us to the correct intersection and explained the route. By this time it was after 6 pm so I told her that we would set out in the morning.

She then took us to see the Mechanical clock and explained the characters, the author etc. I was curious if Matsuyama residents also visited the Dogo Onsen so I asked her and she said of course, she does so at least 4 times a week and was on her way there now! She explained the different baths and showed me her "bath kit".

Since today we missed the sights, we had time for dinner We looked in our Discovery Guide and our hotel restaurant was listed so we went there and had excellent sushi and green tea ice cream (the real thing this time).

We then took the street car to the JR station and got new seat reservations for the following day. Everything was written out so there was no difficulty with language. It was quite funny though when the agent corrected my notes and said that a certain train arrived at the final destination at 17.59 NOT 18.00 Yes, the trains are all on time (except the night train arrived in the final destination 15 minutes late). Uneventful return to the hotel via streetcar (150 yen - no change given - but 1000 yen bill changer available in the car).

Day 10. Tuesday: Matsuyama to Kyoto (via Himeji): train - HOTEL GRANVIA

I got up at 6am, crossed the street with my coupon, towel, soap, shampoo and 100 yen coin to bathe at the Dogo Onsen. The attendant was lovely and pointed where I should go. The hotel had an instruction pamplet so I thought I was well prepared for my 3rd onsen experience. I used the coupon from the hotel for the basic bath on the ground floor. I entered the door under the red curtains and to my dismay, the changing room was empty. I had to rely upon my memory this time since I had no one to copy... I stripped, locked my clothes in the coin locker (100 yen) and took my towel, soap and shampoo (bring a washcloth too) down the stairs, past the scale and pushed open the sliding door. Ekks, just like high school gym class, or the Budapest baths: steamy, lots of people and noisy. I press on and after touring the perimeter of the bath find a washing station which does not appear to be reserved. I fetch a stool and bucket and sit down. I put my towel, soap and shampoo on the shelf above the taps. First (known) mistake, always spray the stool with water before sitting down. I now wet myself down with the water from the bucket and soap up; rince, rince, rince. Luckily a lady sits to my left so I can time my washing to hers. I repeat this 3 times to make sure that I am really clean and have no soap on me. The shower has now sprayed my towel so it soaking wet. I discretely try to wring it out and leave it folded up. Ahh I wish I had bought one of those twee little onsen baskets I saw everyone parading
about with yesterday, a washcloth would have come in handy too. Finally, I am done washing, or rather the lady next to me is, so I arrange my soaps/towel and locker key on the ledge out of the way, wash my stool and put the bucket and stool back in the pile.

Whew, I finally get to enter the bath. It is a huge oval pool with very hot water coming out in 4 forceful spouts from a central sculpture. I lurk around the edges, no one staring intently and then when a spigot is free I move to the center and let water flow down my body -- it was a little bit of heaven -- but I was polite and only stayed there for a short time. Then back to the edges to soak. While soaking I saw a Japanese woman enter the pool without washing first!! Ah well, no one said anything; maybe this is normal? When I felt really sleepy, I got out washed and rinced and used my wet towel to "dry off" before entering the changing room. It was crowded and I did get some looks as I changed back into my underwear and yukata (I don't think you are supposed to wear underwear). Back at the hotel my SO was ready to go.

We left the hotel at 7 am with our cartoon map and personalised instructions to get to the Ishite temple. We walked for about 25 minutes through residential streets. We saw lovely houses and gardens. There was not much of a sidewalk and traffic slowed when they passed us. The lack of other pedestrians made me think of LA. When we arrived there was only one shop open at the entrance and there was no admittance fee. The incense was burning, the cats and dogs were prowling and the charm shop was being swept out. We toured the shrine, visited the outbuildings and the statues representing the other 87 shrines on the pilgrims' route. It was a lovely walk in the woods and around the grounds, particularly since it was not kept-up very well. I stamped my paper, a lady spoke to me and showed me where to get a good shot of the pagoda. She was very sweet. By this time the real pilgrams had arrived with their white vests, staffs and bells so the gongs and bells started ringing.

I forgot to mention the rubber stamps which are available all over Japan. I have quite a collection of stamped papers now; I wish I had started with a clean notebook instead of making due with scraps I had! The best (ie most elaborate) were the ones at the Takayama post office.

We walked back to the hotel and had
a great Japanese breakfast. We checked out, took streetcar N° 3 and got off at a stop (Keisatsusho-mae) which had no outside panel. The SO was not happy since sometimes I am bad at navigating. This was the perfect stop though and was a shortcut to Matsuyama Castle (watch for Kamiichiman stop and press the stop request buzzer right after it). We put our bag in the coin lockers (200 yen) and bought tickets for the chair-lift/cable car. We chose not to get an admission ticket for the castle since it is undergoing renovations (it is still open though).

We took the chair-lift up and had a wonderful view of the park and bits of the city. There were still Cherry Blossoms so the stroll through the grounds was wonderful. After about an hour we left and took the chair-lifts back down. We walked down a very posh street and took the streetcar to the Station. I bought Japanese sweets at the station and we were off to our final destination. The time has flown by!

The train to Himeji was uneventful. Nice scenery and it was great to see all the cherry blossoms dotting the landscape. As with the other islands, there are rice paddies everywhere. I looked for citrus trees but only saw a few. At Himeji station we found a coin locker right by the Shinkansen tracks. I really love the coin lockers =) We follow the English signs up and down stairs (the only station without escalators so we really loved that coin locker) and around the tracks to a big boulevard. As the guidebooks say, Himeji castle is at the end of it.

Since the original itinerary had been changed (yes I am a control queen) we checked the closing times of the castle. The guidebooks say it closes at 16.30 in the winter; we ask ourselves: is April winter? Living in Paris has made us pessimists so we assume that the castle will close early. We walked swiftly up the slight slope to the castle grounds. Lots of people on the sidewalks, it appears to be another big city.

We enter the castle grounds at 15.45 and yes April is still winter... We still toured the grounds and castle. The views are lovely from within the castle and many of the displays are in English. Did I mention that there were lots of cherry blossoms. The walk back to the station took less than 20 minutes. We retrieved our bag, bought some beers (I also love the vending machines and the fact that you could practically live on train platforms with all the stuff they sell there) and boarded the train for Kyoto.

After a very quick ride we are in Kyoto. We traverse a large portion of the station, find the Granvia Hotel and join the line for check-in. Yes, they had received our bags we need to wait for them to fetch them. No, we are told, we cannot stand about, we need to sit on a certain couch and wait. I would have expected the bags to already to be in our room and for there not to be a line to check-in since it was evening... We are escorted up to our room and the bellhop lingers. We chit-chat with her but are clueless and finally she leaves. As she is leaving we both realise that we should have tipped her! We have gotten out of the habit in Japan...

We had a room on the top floor, with a view on the south side of the station -- we could see the Toji Pagoda from our window. Unfortunately we also heard the announcements all evening and the little jingle. The room is clean but a bit tired (scraped walls, peeling paper, bashed closet doors). The bathroom is lovely with a high-tech toilet and Japanese bath again. We unpack, look at the dinner coupon they have given us and go out to find a restaurant.

On the way we try to get a bus pass, but the bus office is closed. Once again it is 8.30 pm and restaurants are closing... We cruise the streets and find a lively bar, a bit pretentious with little pebble paths to tables and the servers all in kimono. We have yuba, fried bits from the chef with soup and beer. The yuba was interesting but I prefer tofu; the fried bits were great; I then had wonderful sesame ice cream (the colour (gray) was a bit disconcerting but it was scrumptious!).

Day 11. Wednesday: Kyoto - HOTEL GRANVIA

I reserved the hotel on the internet and received a JR pass holder discount. No matter where I looked, I could not find a better rate or the same rate with breakfast. We decided to pay for the buffet breakfast (2500 each) since we had a busy day ahead of us. The buffet was convenient and ok but expensive for our needs.

We set out to buy a 2-day Kyoto transport pass. I admit that my planning for Kyoto was not as good as for the rest of the trip due to hard-disk meltdown before we left. We went to the bus station, right outside the North side of the JR station and bought 2 2-day Kyoto transport passes. Since we only used the subway twice, this was not worthwhile; daily bus passes would have been better. The transport map is wonderful though and allowed us to cover a lot of ground.

We found the bus stop and boarded the 205 express for Ryoanji Temple. Luckily a professor saw us and explained that express buses do not follow the normal route; the bus we were on stopped at the University but
she would help us get to the temple. She pointed out the right street to follow and we walked down a lovely wooded street to Ryoanji Temple.

The garden was amazing and the rock garden was interesting. The temple and grounds were overflowing with school kids. We took a different exit and waited with the 50 kids for a bus to Kinkakuji. We arrived a Kinkakuji (The Temple of the Golden Pavilion) and toured the grounds with 400 school kids. When we noticed the boat docked by palace but blocked by an island we were inspired and started reciting haiku. I was prepared with a 100 yen coin and bought my fortune from a machine.

We walked a bit in the streets to a different bus stop and went to Ginkakuji (The Temple of the Silver Pavilion). Again, we jockied with the school kids for admission tickets and a spot on the path. The garden was lovely here, especially the stands of bamboo. We then found the Philosopher's Pathway and walked the length of it. The Cherry Blossoms were starting to fall but it looked like more than 3/4 were still on the trees.

We enjoyed the walk, and took lots of pictures of the cherry blossoms falling. The SO got a soft ice cream with 3 flavours (green tea, grey=sesame and yellow = vanilla?), quite tasty and I regretted that I just bought a can a Qoo (ummm). One of the best aspects of the walk were the lack of groups of school kids.... We followed signs off the path to visit a woodblook print shop and an antique shop. We bought woodblock prints at both places and at the antique shop my SO saw a scroll but judged it too expensive.

We continued our walk to Nanzenji Temple, looked around and then took the subway to Teramachi Dori and strolled through antique shops. We did not buy anything but still we reached a money crisis and could only afford 2 coffees at a bakery (no money for buns). We now were on an quest for cash and after failing to find the "card building" we went into Takashimaya and used their international ATM machine to get cash. While there, we toured the food floor and the kimono department. We bought yukata for ourselves. By the time we recuperated the VAT, the store was closing and once again we were late for dinner!?!

We returned to the hotel to drop off our packages and ask about the Takkyubin service. We were told that they need the bags 48 hours in advance to assure their arrival (ie before we arrived). Yet another reason I am not crazy about this hotel.

We began, once again, our prowl for food... We found a back alley restaurant which seemed to serve everything. The beer was great, yes we ordered 1 bottle and 2 glasses, and the menu was different from what we had seen. It was truely off the beaten tourist path.

I had a menu which included corn soup, fried shrimp and a burger (I requested no burger so they gave me french fries and catsup); the SO ordered a menu which consisted of sashimi, chicken kebabs and egg custard with mussels and grapes. It was very reasonable and quite ok. The man next to us had beer with cheese and crackers!

Day 12. Thursday: Kyoto - HOTEL GRANVIA

We went to the bottom of the station and had a 500 yen breakfast each: toast and coffee for me and pancakes with whipped cream for the SO.

We descended further and took the subway to Imadegawa station, walked south for about 15 minutes and joined the line to tour the Kyoto Imperial Palace (Kyoto Gosho) at 10.00. As instructed on the online reservation form we were in line by 9.40. Very efficiently we were admitted to the grounds and then into a waiting room to watch an English video description of the complex. It was a huge group and the guided tour (outside only) took about an hour. It was interesting but it made me realise that we made the right choice by not choosing a tour for this trip to Japan.

We then walked through the gardens and admired the cherry blossoms to Nijo Castle (Nijojo). The castle is toured without shoes and was amazing -- even with the large groups of school kids. The wall paintings are fantastic, the floors are wonderful and the garden is pretty in a stark way. A great place to visit.

We then took the bus to the Kyoto National Museum (Kokuritsu Hakubutsukan). The museum is small in size and has wonderful scrolls, woodcuts and kimono. We also saw a thousand-handed Kannon which came from Sanjusangendo Hall. The museum shop also has reasonable woodcut prints to buy (about 1800 yen). They have a unique selection of carp in the fountain (no duplicate colours, all original).

Our pockets are full of cash and the scroll from the antique shop is now not too expensive so we head back to the Philosopher's Pathway on bus 100. We guess at the right stop and are exactly correct. The scroll is still for sale and my SO is very happy and so is the antique dealer. We make a quick tour on the path to see the damage done by the rain during night: barely a petal is clinging. We were lucky to walk along the path when we did!

We board the 100 bus for Kiyomizu Temple (Kiyomizudera) and the Jishu Shrine. On the walk up I succumb to the waving cat and buy some (one for me and one for my vet)... We arrive at 16.30, so we go to the Jishu Shrine first since it closes at 17.00,
and then leisurely tour the rest of the complex. I came prepared today and buy 2 good luck charms. We resolve to get a nice dinner tonight so we head for the 100 bus again and return with our purchases to the hotel. We go to the cube and go up to the restaurant floor and enter Katsukura. They specialise in Tonkatsu. I had the ladies plate: small portions of chicken, shrimp and pork, cabbage, various pickles, egg custard, miso soup and clear sweet noodles with green tea; the SO had the menu with pork filet stuffed with cheese and bacon. It was really wonderful. They also have a branch in Tokyo. I bought the sauce to take home -- ummm how can cabbage taste that good!

Day 13. Friday: Kyoto to Paris (via Tokyo/Narita): train and plane

If you have followed the report closely you will note that my SO is indulging in consumerism. He set the alarm for 6am and we are walking to the Toji flea market at 6.30. We arrive before 7 and the stalls are mostly all set-up but we did not see any food yet. We strolled through the market with our little pad of paper and pen and bought: woodcuts, lacquer boxes, old calligraphy set with inlaid shells, and a gorgeous obi.

While there we had a breakfast of bean- stuffed pancakes and found a coffee seller with tables -- very civilised. By 11 am it was packed so we returned to the hotel, showered and checked out by noon. Since we were so organised and ready to go before I predicted, we needed to change our tickets for Tokyo. We got earlier reservations and set off to cross the station. It takes at least 15 minutes from the hotel desk to the tracks. We were loaded with bags: My carry-on still fit into my big suitcase but it was also packed with other things and I had a very large purse (ie carry-on); my SO had a suitcase, carryon and scroll.

We arrived in Tokyo Station at 3.45 pm (the time I had originally planned to leave Kyoto). We scouted for large coin lockers and found them: One for 600 yen took my big bag and scroll; one for 500 yen took the rest. Whew, we were free and in Tokyo! We walked to Ginza, stopped for coffee at a bar (the SO had cheesecake) and then we walked back to the station, retrieved our bags and made the very long transfer to the N'ex tracks. We were headed for track 4 but I noted there was a least one other track 4; we countinued to follow the signs, all in English for the N'ex tracks and then sought out track 4. Although the transfer was long and on different levels, there were always escalators. It is such a pleasure to take the train in Japan!

We arrived at terminal 1 Narita 3 hours in advance; checked our bags and sat down. The shops were not that enticing so we decided to have a snack: SO had a bowl of spicy soba and I had green tea ice cream with the works
(red bean jam and rice dumplings).

The plane boarding was a mad scene and it was with difficulty that we found space for our one carry-on in the overhead bins. The flight was uneventful but the seats were still uncomfortable. We arrived in Paris at 4.30 am and were at home with the cat from the vet's by 9.30.

I cannot wait to go back to Japan!





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Old Apr 30th, 2006, 11:35 AM
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Moxie, great report. You are an adventurous soul. I think I might feel too claustrophobic in the sand bath. I may go to Matsuyama and/or Beppu on my next trip; I will try to fit in some famous and scenic bath spots on that trip. Your description is very enticing.

I can not figure out why they make Narita such a madhouse exit from the country. The design of the airport is awful, esp. for departure. It is like herding cattle at every check point, but no one is herding. And they announce your plane is boarding by having someone hold up a little 14" by 11" sign at one end of a huge boarding area. The rest of the transportation systems in the country are so efficient and easy. It is a puzzling (and for me, irritating) ordeal at the end of a trip.

So we were at Toji together on the 21st. We arrived there at 9 a.m. We probably were next to you at some of the booths! I was the blonde w/the big sunglasses w/4 expandable Totes bags, totally weighed down by the 5 great knife sharpening stones that I really thought were a great deal.
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Old Apr 30th, 2006, 11:48 AM
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Moxie, I don't understand what you are saying about the Hotel GRanvia and the luggage service. You asked late Wed. afternoon about sending the bags to Narita, is that right? And they told you they need to send the bags 48 hrs ahead of you to Narita, is that right or am I misunderstanding? If I am understanding correctly, that is in fact my experience. If you are leaving Nartia on Friday afternoon, you need to send the bags on Wed. morning from Kyoto to Narita to assure that they are there to pick up when you get to Narita at noon on Friday. That is not a hotel problem or rule, it is the luggage service schedule. And I have been told the exact same thing by the Westin in Kyoto and the Hotel Okura when I inquired at check-in, and both are excellent hotels...so I don't think the Granvia jerked your chain on that.

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Old Apr 30th, 2006, 12:16 PM
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Wow, what a work moxie.

> we asked if they could please put their seat up during meals...

I hope they listend to you.

> a young French couple .. requested that I put my seat up at all times since it reclined more than any other seat on the plane...

Isn't that too much to ask at the expense of other's discomfort?

I hadn't noticed you live in Paris. One thing I liked about Airfrance was even at economy class, they serve free champagne, cheaper sort but still a real champange in the mini 18 cc bottle. At least that was the case until the last time I took it that was about 8 years ago.

> dumplings on a stick

emd, aren't you curious especailly when it comes to food ;-). The thing moxie bought should be dango. Those are small sticky white balls made from rice powder (resembling mochi also from rice powder but dango is firmer than mochi so it makes balls and can be served on a stick) and served typically with red bean paste, black sesame sauce or sweet/salty soy sauce. You can find it pretty much throughout the year. I will post a image later. There is a popular saying that goes "Hana yori dango" meaning "better to have food than flower (that you can only watch but cannot eat)". Want to talk about this to your Japanese teacher, emd?

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Old Apr 30th, 2006, 12:27 PM
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http://www.oiwakedango.co.jp/okashi/

Here is a image of dango (or when served on a stick, "kushi" dango, kushi meaning a skewer). With the 3, you cannot see the white rice paste balls. They are mostly covered with carious bean - sesame paste.

> Isn't that too much to ask at the expense of other's discomfort?

I'm not sure if I made the sentence corretcly. I meant to say, all the way? No way!

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Old Apr 30th, 2006, 12:29 PM
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Moxie, GREAT report!! Between you and emd, I am picking up some wonderful details. I thought I was pretty organized (bordering on being obsessive sometimes), but the two of you are giving me a new standard to strive for. Your obvious meticulous planning is truly amazing. Wow!
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Old Apr 30th, 2006, 12:43 PM
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I think moxie and I should travel together sometime. We'd either appreciate having the other one to do some of the obsessive travel plans on odd/even days so we could just sit back and enjoy the ride on those days, or we'd kill each other. Mrw should come along too, although I think he somehow just has the planning in his genetic code and it comes like second nature to him.
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Old Apr 30th, 2006, 12:58 PM
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moxie:
Thank you for the great report with tons of info and inspiration for our next Japan visit. We may also mirror some of your trip.
Aloha!
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Old Apr 30th, 2006, 01:01 PM
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moxie, I'm curious about the stemps you mentioned collecting (on scrap paper). I think emd made a reference to this in one her posts also. What exactly is this?

Thanks,
Judy
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Old Apr 30th, 2006, 01:45 PM
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Oops, that would be stamps. Not stemps.
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Old Apr 30th, 2006, 02:43 PM
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Kappa
I ate some street food in Kyoto which looks like a photo I found online - mitarashi-dango....does that seem right? There were three on a stick cooked on a grill with some thin sweetish sauce.....
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Old Apr 30th, 2006, 02:51 PM
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If it's what I think it is...You can buy a special book to collect the stamps in, I think at a temple/shrine. The stamps are from each temple/shrine you visit. Some are ink stamps, many are those things you press into the paper and it makes a mark (I have no idea what these things are called). If you'd like to have one of these books, ask at your hotel how to get one of the books before you set out. They will know better than I do. You could also use scrap paper, or a notebook, but I think the "real deal" might be nicer.

About the baggage to the airport...the Granvia and emd are right about the time required. The shipping companies all require that they be given 48 hours to get your stuff to the airport because they don't want you to end up without your bags. They usually get things delivered within 24 hours, but there are times when that just doesn't happen. For those few times that they might not make delivery in 24 hours, they require that your bags be sent at least 2 days before.
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Old Apr 30th, 2006, 03:43 PM
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and our resident aloha traveler had that problem on his recent trip I think...bags not there in time with one day, right hawaii?
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Old Apr 30th, 2006, 03:47 PM
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You will find those souvenir stamps at various places where tourists go. Possibly at temples/shrines but you are likely to find them also at train stations, tourist offices. Also recently I often see the word "stamp-rally". For a touristic promotional reasons, they organize tours of certain number of places (temples for example) for you to visit. You get a stamp at each place on a desiganted sheet of paper (that's provided at the start of the "rally") and if you collect all the stamps, you will win a prize or something of the sort.

> mitarashi-dango....does that seem right? There were three on a stick cooked on a grill with some thin sweetish sauce.

Mara, yes, mitarashi-dango is what you described exactly. Rice paste balls grilled and dipped in a thickened sweet soy sauce. The orange one on the photo I posted above is it. You can see the black grilled spots on them.

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Old Apr 30th, 2006, 03:55 PM
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Thanks again, Kappa. The ones I had seemed paler - more like these -
http://www004.upp.so-net.ne.jp/ichi/p9707900.htm
that's why I wasn't sure..

I had read that Japanese think it is impolite to eat food while walking but I did

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Old Apr 30th, 2006, 10:11 PM
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Thanks! Yes, I think emd and I would do well travelling together - I was looking for someone to take over some of the days...

KimJapan is right about the rubber stamps/ink pad but you can buy the books in stationary shops too. When I get my pictures uploaded I will show you some of the examples. The post offices have them too.

No, the rice flour balls did not have any sauce on them, nor were they grilled. The were all over in Kanazawa, and were coloured pink, white and green. In the garden you could buy trays of them and families ate them while looking at the blossoms. I did not take a picture of them

I reserved with the Rickshaw Inn just after the fall festival, ie 6 months in advance and they already had no western rooms left... I didn't look for any other place to stay there, but Mrwnrfl should have some names.

ok you've convinced me that the Granvia was not lying to me. I still am not crazy about them. I really found the hotel pretentious, maybe they all trained at the Ritz in Paris
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