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Our Trip Around the World, Part 2 - Japan

Our Trip Around the World, Part 2 - Japan

Old Feb 20th, 2020, 05:49 AM
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Thanks for your patience, Ileen, in following my report. I feel like it’s taking too long to get it written, but I will keep plugging along.

I loved to to hear about your interaction with the girls in kimonos. That field trip must have been great fun for them.
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Old Feb 20th, 2020, 12:12 PM
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I am enjoying your report, looking forward to more.
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Old Feb 20th, 2020, 12:30 PM
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On our way to the Kiyomizudera Temple, we stopped for lunch at a Nepalese restaurant. Who knew there was even such a thing as a Nepalese restaurant? We were certainly widening our horizons on this trip. Steve had chicken curry and I ordered an egg salad. The food was good and the atmosphere was pleasant.

A tree in bloom spread branches full of dark pink blossoms above the stone steps leading up to the Kiyomizudera Temple. At the top of the stairs to the right was a three tiered pagoda painted orange and gaily trimmed in green and blue. Behind the pagoda were wide terraces overlooking the city of Kyoto. On these terraces, lots of young girls in kimonos gathered together for pictures with the city view as a background. Kimonos were like snowflakes, I decided then. No two were alike but they were all so pretty.

Set back from this bustling foreground was the large and imposing Buddhist temple we had come to see. Constructed of heavy, dark timbers, it was founded in 778, and its great age was evident as we passed inside. Dark, shadowy spaces were highlighted by golden statues and thin taper candles that glittered in the gloom. A large gong added its deep voice to the atmosphere, as did the fragrant scent of incense. With our shoes off, we wandered around inside the building for awhile before we made our way to the large wooden stage outside. The stage, as it was called, was built like a deck on piers of timber high above the ground and, from this elevation, we could take in more of the view.

After leaving the temple, we strolled through the grounds, and spent some time watching the people who were catching, with long handled ladles, the water that spilled in a thin stream over a small shrine built into a hillside. Drinking this water would ensure longevity and good fortune, we were told. No wonder the line to partake of this water was so long!

We decided to walk back to our hotel down some of the little alleyways and pedestrian streets of the Higashiyama District , where the only traffic, besides the mobs of tourists, were rickshaws. This is a quaint historic district made up of traditional shophouses and steep winding passages. Although the section just below Kiyomizudera Temple was uncomfortably crowded, the mass of people thinned out as we made our way further along. Near a tall wooden pagoda, we were asked by two young woman if we would take their picture together. As they practiced their English on us, they were fun and full of happy chatter and we enjoyed our encounter with them. A bit further on, we got slightly lost but were rewarded for our momentary confusion by the sight of another gorgeous blooming tree, squeezed in between two quaint old wooden houses, with deep pink blossoms silhouetted against the blue sky. What a beautiful sight that was!

Back at the hotel, we were tired but happy with all we had seen and done so far in Kyoto. Already, we were looking forward to the next day and our chance to visit the famous Golden Pavilion, which promised to also be unforgettable.
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Old Feb 20th, 2020, 03:01 PM
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Really enjoying your detailed reports. It's making me excited for our trip next month. Can I ask how busy you've found the main sites as I am curious if the Coronavirus has reduced the number of tourists to a notable level or if it still feels incredibly busy? Thanks and looking forward to reading about your next day's adventure.
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Old Feb 21st, 2020, 07:31 AM
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Live to roam, thanks for following along.

Sorry, pinkpixie, but I can’t personally give you any current information regarding the effect of the Coronavrus on the crowds in Kyoto as our trip took place in March of 2019. However, I did read somewhere recently that Kyoto was experiencing a significant decline in the number of tourists due the lack of Chinese visitors.
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Old Feb 21st, 2020, 09:32 AM
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Haha sorry I missed the date. Thanks anyway and still looking forward to reading about the rest of your adventure in Japan
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Old Feb 21st, 2020, 01:15 PM
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How lucky we were to have the opportunity to visit the Golden Pavilion on a sunny morning. Covered in gold leaf, this magical building gleamed like a gigantic piece of jewelry as the sunlight touched it. The silver surface of the small lake in front of the pavilion reflected the golden image perfectly upon itself. Following the pathway around the water, we enjoyed its brilliance from every angle, but as the crowds began to thicken around us, we decided it was time to leave the park and head back to the bus stop.

Our second stop of the morning was to visit Nijo Castle, a large wooden residence built for an important shogun in 1603. An imposing and beautifully carved gate marked the entry. Some of the carvings depicting birds and flowers were colorfully painted in primary colors, while carved medallions were highlighted in gold. In order to enter and tour the castle itself, it was necessary to remove our shoes. Unfortunately, we didn’t happen to notice that slippers were provided, so we toured the large edifice, made up of six connected buildings containing thirty-three rooms, in our stocking feet. Soon, our feet were freezing and I’m afraid we rushed through the castle so we could get our shoes back on and warm ourselves up.

On the way back to our hotel, we bought sandwiches and had lunch in our room. We had been doing a lot of walking, so we decided to relax for a while and then head up to the Buddhist temple, Chionin, that was located almost directly across from the hotel. This temple, a complex of wooden structures up many steps, was the head temple of the Jodo sect of Japanese Buddhists. Unfortunately, by the time we got there it was starting to shut down. It was still atmospheric, with distant gongs sounding and heavy wooden doors banging shut, but we were sorry we didn’t have more time to take it all in.

Tomorrow, on our last full day in Kyoto, we decided we would travel a little farther afield and visit the famous bamboo forest we had been reading about.

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Old Feb 27th, 2020, 12:19 PM
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It started raining in the night, and the sky was overcast as we set out in the morning for the famous bamboo grove in Arashiyama. This was to be our last full day in Kyoto and, rain or shine, we meant to make the best of it. The train ride to Arashiyama involved a line change and was somewhat confusing until a helpful Japanese man who noticed our bewilderment came to our rescue. This man actually chased us off the train when we exited in error, brought us back on board and kept us going in the right direction before pointing out our correct stop. We found the kindness of the Japanese people to be remarkable and we were very thankful for it.

It was drizzling when we finally got to Arashiyama and began our walk toward the bamboo forest. Before long, the drizzle turned to rain but we kept on going, noticing as we went that the gloomy weather hadn’t done much to keep down the crowds. By the time we were on the paths through the bamboo, we found ourselves moving along with a large group of people and their big umbrellas. This procession made for a colorful picture but we eventually gave it up and turned back, deciding to visit some of the little shops on the main street leading up to the grove. While shopping in the Higashiyama district a few days before, we had purchased a lovely pink and purple kimono for our 5 year old granddaughter, and we hoped to find a fan and some hair ornaments to accessorize it for her. We found what we were looking for and were soon back on the train to the Gion district, looking for a place to have lunch. We were somewhat disappointed that we hadn’t been able to fully appreciate all that bamboo through the rain and the crowds, but we still were glad that we took the time to see it.

DINNERS IN KYOTO

There was an abundance of restaurant choices in the Gion district near our hotel, so we mostly relied on the advise of our hotel’s reception desk personnel when it was time to select a place for dinner. On our first night, they directed us to a restaurant just around the corner and down the street. When we had ventured out into the neighborhood earlier, we noticed this place because it had a large display of plastic food, arranged in bowls and on platters, appearing very real and almost ready to eat. Unfortunately, the actual food when we ordered it turned out to be just okay. Noodles were the specialty but the broths they were served in were bland, and nothing seemed to have much flavor. Steve had a terrible time trying to eat thick, slimy udon noodles with chopsticks but he soldiered on until his bowl was empty. I ordered ramen noodles and had an easier time of it.

On our our second night, we decided to try noodles again. This place, with the rather generic name “Gion, Kyoto Raman”, was located at 116 Tominagacho (if I have that right) and attracted our attention with its large and graphic red, black and white signage. We really enjoyed this meal. Sitting at the counter, we could watch the cooks as they chopped mounds of cabbage, onions and whatever other vegetables were piled nearby. They would then dump the various ingredients into steaming pots. Lots of different noodles must have been boiling nearby because soon everything was ladled into bowls and we were being served. So good! I had chicken ramen and Steve had some wonderful pork cutlets. We shared both dishes between us and the combination made for a really delicious dinner.

Dinner our third night at Gion Tanto, a famous okonomiyaki place, was absolutely memorable. When we walked into what looked like a little hole in the wall, we missed the sign asking us to take off our shoes. The hostess rushed out when she saw us and (nicely) indicated that we couldn’t come in with our shoes on. Shoeless, we waited for a few minutes in a little anteroom until we were shown into the dining area. Unfortunately, there was no room left for us at the long communal table with recessed space in the floor for our legs. Our table was about a foot high, so we sat on the floor with our legs curled under us. Soon, the woman who had seated us took pity on 6 foot tall Steve and brought him a little plastic stool, which helped him get a little more comfortable. In the center of the table was a hot griddle for the okonomiyaki batter. Okonomiyaki is a type of pancake, made with shredded cabbage, scallions, egg and flour. The batter cooked quickly and was cut into sections by our server. We then helped ourselves with a big spatula, adding drizzles of the sauces provided. I loved this meal. Steve was maybe not so enthusiastic but that might have been because of the contorted position he found himself in. He had a beer and I had warm sake served in pretty china. After dinner, we walked back to the hotel over a bridge and along a little river, on small atmospheric streets lite with red lanterns. Perfectly lovely.

Our last night in Kyoto it was raining, and we wanted to find a restaurant really close to the hotel. Searching on TripAdvisor, we found what we thought would be a good choice close by. When we got there, however, we found we had mixed up both the name and the location. Oh well, it turned out that we had a really good meal of dumplings and pork for under $10 at this nameless place. Sometimes mistakes just work out, don’t they?

Next, we are off to Tokyo.
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Old Feb 28th, 2020, 12:31 PM
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ON TO TOKYO

Kyoto was special, and we could have stayed there a few more days and found plenty to keep us busy. But we said goodby to the good people at the Kyoto Gion Inn and headed by taxi to the Central Station to board the bullet train to Tokyo.

The Shinkansen, or bullet train, looked like some futuristic creature with a long white snout as it came into the station, and we eagerly climbed aboard our assigned car and settled into our comfortable seats, ready for our next adventure in Japan. We had purchased a bento box lunch at Kyoto Station and were soon sampling the various foods tucked into the little partitions of the box. It was good and satisfying, and before long we were both enjoying a little nap. Thankfully, Steve was only dozing intermittently because suddenly he was nudging me awake to look out the window. There, piercing the sky on a dazzling clear day, was Mt. Fuji. What a spectacular sight! I hated to think that we almost missed it, but luck was on our side and I will never forget that brief but truly amazing view out the train window.

Again, for ease of connections, I had booked a hotel attached to the station our train came into upon our arrival in Tokyo. This hotel, the Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo Marunouchi, occupied the top floors of an office building connected to the Marunouchi Station and had a splendid view over Tokyo from the reception area. Our room was on the 30th floor and also had a wonderful view, especially at night when all the neon lights saturated the darkness with brilliant color in every direction. Thirty stories below our window, the trains came and went in constant motion. The tangle of tracks leading into and out of the station was never empty and I never tired of watching all the activity. Like our hotel room in Osaka, this room was small but well put together, with a table and two small upholstered chairs set near the window. That convenient table made a great spot for dinner, complete with a view, on the nights we didn't feel like going out for a meal, and Marunouchi Station provided lots of take-out food options. Marunouchi Station itself was an experience, as the beautiful, classic brick building of the original station sat on top of a vast underground complex of trains, metros, shops and restaurants, with multiple passageways and exits that were totally confusing at first. But once Steve got his bearings, we really had a good time wandering around, checking out all the options for shopping and dining. We sampled a few different take-out meals in our room, which we thoroughly enjoyed, both for the relaxing atmosphere and money we saved by not eating out in a restaurant. We got to bed early and slept well, looking forward to seeing more of Tokyo the next day.
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Old Feb 28th, 2020, 03:04 PM
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How cool that you got a good view of Fuji!
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Old Feb 28th, 2020, 08:09 PM
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Lucky you!! Got to see Mt Fuji sitting comfortably. Cherish the memories.
Love the Japanese train stations with all the stores, restaurants and the great way to see the daily life of the Japanese.
Just curious, did you enjoy shopping for souvenirs. I was always buying small items just to enjoy the beautiful way each thing is wrapped in gorgeous paper and ribbon.
Waiting for more.
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Old Feb 29th, 2020, 09:56 AM
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Yes, thursdaysd and ileen, our view of Mt. Fuji was so amazing. Unexpected but wonderful. Travel serendipity!

I believe, ileen, that shopping is a great way to experience a new country, whether it’s a search for the perfect gift or simply a visit to a supermarket for some snacks. And I agree that the beautiful packaging used to wrap the little gifts we bought in Japan added lots of value to those small purchases, making them even more special.
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Old Mar 1st, 2020, 11:55 AM
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TOKYO FOR A DAY

The weather on our one full day in Tokyo was sunny and pleasant, so we decided to spend it exploring some nearby areas on foot. First, we wanted to get the full view of the exterior of the classic Tokyo Station, so we walked out through the front entry and onto the wide slate plaza in front of the building. The red brick railway station, built in 1914, has been restored to its pre-war grandeur and was quite impressive, with a classic center section and wings like outstretched arms on either side. Many windows lined up in rows on the facade, and the rooftop was punctuated by towers, some narrow and pointed, some round and squat, but none rising very high above the roof line. The long horizontal line of the red brick station contrasted sharply with the tall glass and steel skyscrapers clustered around it. It doesn't really make sense, but somehow I felt like the vintage character of this classic building was not diminished at all by the multistoried structures soaring over it. Instead, I think the scene was dominated by that vintage character.

As all these skyscrapers indicate, the Marunouchi business district, where the station is located, is the prestigious home of many of Japan's premier businesses. After leaving the station, we planned to visit the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum which was situated in the first Western style office built in the Marunouchi district in 1894. After an easy walk, we soon reached the museum, another classic red brick building surrounded by office towers, not unlike the train station we had just left behind, but on a smaller scale. Interestingly, we learned that the original building had fallen into disrepair and was torn down in the 1960's, only to be rebuilt as a faithful reproduction of the original plans. Unfortunately, we soon learned that the museum was closed for the day to allow for the installation of new exhibits. Bad luck, but we were still able to enjoy the sculpture garden in nearly Marunouchi Brick Square, where we relaxed on a bench in the sun and watched the well dressed businessmen and women hurrying by.

It was close to lunchtime, and even though the museum was closed, its restaurant, Cafe 1894, was opened for lunch. We were soon shown to a table in what appeared to be a repurposed nineteenth century bank lobby, complete with fine wood paneling, carved pillars, and antique light fixtures. Although I don't remember what we ate, the atmosphere was lovely and we enjoyed our meal. After lunch, we strolled down Nakadori Avenue, a wide, pedestrian only street of high end shops and cafes. Eventually, we made it back to our hotel for a few hours rest before heading out again toward the Imperial Palace.

KokyoGaien National Garden, the outer garden area of the Imperial Palace, was only a ten minute walk from our hotel. A huge space of grass and gravel, the park covered a wide area in the midst of the city. Beautiful, perfectly pruned old evergreen trees were arranged like sculptures on the vast lawns. Steve was fascinated by the teams of three or four workers who stood on tall ladders, trimming each tree to perfection. We had decided not to book a tour of the inner Palace grounds, and when we saw the long line of people waiting to enter, we were glad we didn't. Really, just strolling around the expansive park was pleasant. Beyond the moats and the thick stone walls, we had a good view of some of the palace buildings rising above the trees, and the double Nijubashi Bridge made for a charming scene in the foreground, especially when embellished by the sight of two or three swans gliding by.

Our day in Tokyo was pleasant. We were treated to a variety of sights that presented an interesting mixture of old and new, tradition and invention, from multistory office towers to the immaculately landscaped residence of the Imperial Family, all existing side by side in a way that sets both to the best advantage. One or two more days in Tokyo would have been perfect, but we were glad to have experienced as much of Japan as we did. We loved every minute of it and came away with some beautiful memories.
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Old Mar 2nd, 2020, 12:37 PM
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THOUGHTS ON JAPAN

To say that the Japanese people were polite, kind, and welcoming, just doesn't say enough. Often, ordinary people went out of their way to help us when we appeared lost or confused. Plus, the level of customer service offered by hotel, restaurant, and retail personnel was almost always a step above our expectations. It was very evident to us that self discipline has an important place in Japanese culture. No one litters. Train stations, subways, streets and sidewalks, were all free of trash. Public spaces were shiny clean and pristine. No one shoves or pushes ahead in a queue. Painted lines on the concrete indicated where individuals should stand while waiting to board a train or subway, and everyone we saw was waiting patiently in place. Everyone seemed conscious and respectful of everyone else's space, no matter how crowded a tourist site or a busy shop became, and we appreciated that wherever we traveled in Japan. Add to that, all the wonderful sights we were privileged to see. From the busy modern districts of Osaka and Tokyo to the ancient shrines and temples of Kyoto, Japan was a very new experience for us. We found it to be so attractive, so interesting, and always so colorful.

The food in Japan was part of the adventure for us. Often, the food we enjoyed the most was the least expensive, although we never ventured into any really high end eating establishments. We never did acquire a taste for the traditional sweets, even those that were highly recommended to us. Sweet bean paste, no matter how pretty the packaging, just was not appealing. But sushi, dumplings, and ramen became favorites which we tried to replicate at home, unfortunately without much success.

The approach to personal hygiene in Japan ran the spectrum. At first, we were startled by the high tech toilets with their fancy buttons, sprays, and heated seats. Then, later in a public restroom, we were startled again when we were faced with a contraption that was literally a hole in the ground. Another aspect of personal hygiene in Japan were the face masks worn by so many people everywhere. We were told that besides the obvious health related reasons for donning a face mask, they were sometimes worn simply to cover up a spotty complexion or a lack of makeup. Also, they could provide a little privacy, a bit of separation from the busy world. In other words, you could hide behind a face mask if you felt the need.

Our last morning in Tokyo was not rushed, as our flight to Sydney, Australia, didn't depart til 6:55 p.m. We had plenty of time to check out of the hotel, and then figure out how to get to Narita airport using public transportation. Once we checked in at the airport, we relaxed in Japan Airlines business class lounge until time to board. Soon, it seemed, we were on our way to Sydney.

If you are interested in the next segment of our round the world trip to Sydney, New Zealand's South Island, and Melbourne, Australia, I will be posting it under the "Australia and the Pacific" forum.
Thanks for following along this far. I know this trip report is taking forever to write but I do really want to get it done eventually.





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Old Mar 2nd, 2020, 12:54 PM
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Still following along. See you in Australia.
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Old Mar 2nd, 2020, 07:30 PM
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Thanks for sharing your experience in Japan, one of my most favorite countries. Love everything about it. I even learned to do some origami.
Will follow you in Australia, so keep writing as many details as possible.
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Old Mar 4th, 2020, 11:54 AM
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Thanks again for following along, thursdaysd and ileen. Here is the link to the continuation of my report in the Australia and Pacific forumhttps://www.fodors.com/community/australia-and-the-pacific/our-trip-around-the-world-part-3-australia-and-new-zealand-1678324/
Our Trip Around the World - Part 3 - Australia and New Zealand

Last edited by Candace; Mar 4th, 2020 at 11:57 AM.
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Old Sep 28th, 2020, 08:54 AM
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Nice report! I enjoyed reading it. We almost did a similar RTW trip, but ended up breaking it up and doing separate trips. We were in Japan for a month a year ago (Sept/Oct 2019) and am hoping we can go back again in 2021. I'm going to go look for for your NZ tR -- we spent 6 weeks there this past winter 2020 and absolutely fell in love with it.
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Old Sep 30th, 2020, 10:38 AM
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Thanks, yestravel. I'm glad you enjoyed our report. Six weeks in New Zealand must have been incredible. We loved New Zealand, too, and would love to go back and visit the North Island someday!
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Old Sep 30th, 2020, 10:44 AM
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Originally Posted by Candace View Post
Thanks, yestravel. I'm glad you enjoyed our report. Six weeks in New Zealand must have been incredible. We loved New Zealand, too, and would love to go back and visit the North Island someday!
The SI is by far the most spectacular part of NZ. The NI was lovely, but nothing particularly stunning like I thought the SI was.
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