Sunday, March 31, 2013

Japan 09

March 31

We left the Washington hotel nice and early to ensure we had enough time to get from Shinjuku to Shinagawa during rush hour with all our cases. We arrived in time for breakfast at the station before boarding our Shinkansen which swooshed through the mountains and countryside to our destination.
At Kyoto we left the train terminal on the South side and walked the long way round to the nearby Apa Hotel. After checking in we dumped cases and went to explore the massive new station building on the North side. The huge enclosed space covers 11 floors and includes hundreds of shops and stores as well as providing great views across the city. Following tea and cake in the 'Country House Café' and some more exploring we went to find some proper food. Having failed to find the restaurant we'd picked from the guide book we randomly chose 'A!Jisei' simply because we could read some of the menu. At first it seemed we were heading into someone's living room but when the waitress showed into a small room with bamboo matting and traditional low tables we realised this was going to be a more traditional dining experience. The food was absolutely wonderful, was complemented by Sake and rounded off with a bowl of tempura ice-cream! Fabulous.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Japan 08

March 30

On our last full day in Tokyo we split up again. Matt and Lucy headed northwest to the Ome Railway Park on the outskirts of Tokyo whilst we went into the heart of the city and explored the Imperial Palace East Gardens. Unfortunately we had been unable to purchase tickets for the Imperial Palace itself, but the gardens were still a pleasure to walk around. The contrast between the busy city and peaceful gardens is quite stark, and with many of the trees in full bloom the only thing missing was a bit of sunshine!
We left the gardens and exited past Nijubashi and on into Ginza. By now we were peckish so decided to try Freshness Burger; what a great idea! The food was cooked to order and delivered like it was about to be put in a promotional photo. Delicious and juicy! McDonalds could learn a lot.
Refreshed, we carried on into Ginza and explored the Sony building where all the latest toys are on display including a 4k TV for £12k. We then strolled down Chuo Dori which was closed to traffic and managed to have a quick look around Hama Rikyu Gardens with its tidal pools and field of yellow rapeseed. By now most places were closing but we figured we had time to visit the Tokyo Tower which provided fantastic views over the city at night. Finally we got back to the Washington Hotel for a curry at Ghandi's with Matt and Lucy.

Hama Rikyu
Tokyo Tower

Ome Railway Park

Friday, March 29, 2013

Japan 07

March 29

Today, I went to Odaiba with Matt and Lucy whilst the others went to Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park. The yuirkamome elevated train took us across the Rainbow Bridge onto the man-made island, past the Fuji TV Headquarters and into Palette Town. We got off to explore the Toyota Megaweb & History Garage before continuing on to the new shopping centre, Diver City, outside which is the lifesize Gundam Mobile Suit, that comes to life each hour. We walked around the Decks and Joypolis amusement arcades before heading back to Miraikan (Museum of Emerging Science) and then back to Shinbashi where we met up with the others again. After looking around Shiodome a little we decided to get some food from an Izakaya back at Shinjuku.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Japan 06

March 28

Today seemed the perfect day to visit the Skytree and make the most of those views across Tokyo - and possibly even see Mt. Fuji. Unfortunately, on arrival at Sumida we disovered a process for ticket purchasing that none of the guides had mentioned: Queue for a ticket that allows ticket purchasing at a predetermined time (3pm in our case); Queue to purchase ticket; Queue to gain access to first level observatory; Queue to purchase ticket for second level observatory (only available from first level); Queue to gain access to second (top) level observatory. Queue to get down.
We thought about all this for 5 minutes and then decided that we could make better use of our time visiting some other sights. So off we went to the zoo!
At Ueno we bought lunch and had our picnic under the sakura with the locals, then headed to see the animals. The zoo is not especially progressive and whilst the animals seem in good physical health, many of them seem a little bored or lacking stimulation. So, after seeing the pandas, tiger, elephants, giraffes, penguins, polar bear, reptiles, etc. we left Ueno via a lively food market and went North to Suidobashi. Here we strolled though the amusements and thrill rides looking for somewhere to eat. We decided to try a Hub Pub which was quite entertaining, not least when they brought our fish & chips or jacket potato meals with chopsticks. At least they had Sarsons malt vinegar!
Returning to Dome City we had a quick turn on the ferris wheel (with roller coaster through the middle) and then scoffed some delicious crêpes before heading back to Shinjuku. I then left the others, who went back to the hotel, and took some nice night shots of the skyscrapers.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Japan 05

March 27

Today saw an even earlier start to catch the Tohoku Shinkansen to Utsinomiya and then a local train to Nikko. (The others went in a similar direction to Matsushima Bay, just North of Sendai)
Although it was dry when we arrived, by the time we'd walked up through the town to Shinkyo Bridge it had started to rain. We bought our tickets and headed in to the renovation building that now shrouds Rinnoji Temple. The restoration of this temple alone is planned to take at least eight years and is indicative of the massive rolling programme that covers all the Shinto Shrines and Buddhist Temples across Japan. We continued the tour around Toshogu and Futarasan shrines and Iemitsu Mausoleum admiring the incredible decoration and literally soaking up the atmosphere. By now we were fairly wet through so we had decided to have some ramen in a local cafe and then headed back home.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Japan 04

March 26

We had an early start to get the Hikari Shinkansen from Shinagawa to Odawara. An hour later we got on the Hakone Tozan mountain railway to Hakone-Yumoto and from there it was a bus to Moto-Hakone. After getting our bearings we strolled along the ancient cedar avenue that marks the Old Tokaido (highway) towards the recently reconstructed Hakone Checkpoint (used to control traffic between Tokyo and Kyoto in the Edo period)
At Hakone Machi we boarded the 'pirate' ship and cruised across Lake Ashi to Togendai on the North shore. After a bite to eat we took the ropeway (cable car) up the mountain to Sounzan where the sulphur springs are put to use cooking eggs for tourists. The water turns the shells black but they taste much the same as normal. On the other side of the mountain we took the cable car (funicular train) back down to Gora and back home via the Hakone Tozan.
All in all a great day out even though the weather was cooler in the mountains and we still didn't get to see Fuji!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Japan 03

March 25

We left the hotel by about 10am and took the Yamanote line from Shinjuku to Ueno. We then walked along Asakusa Dori, admiring the mixture of old and new buildings, junk shops and generally soaking up the atmosphere as we became more accustomed to being in a vast foreign city.
By the time we arrived at Sensoji temple it had started to rain. We admired the repair work being done on the huge lantern in the Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate) and continue along Nakamise dori to the Buddhist temple. We had a brief encounter with several school children who were intent on practicing their English before leaving. At Asakusa station we each purchased a Passmo and hopped on the Ginza line to Akihabara. We have a look up and down Chuo Dori and pause for food at a Yoshinoya and then take some time to explore 7 floors of tech at Yodobashi Camera. Deciding that this had earned us a  reward of cake we ended up in an expensive German Tea Shop.
Leaving 'Akiba', we went South to Tokyo Station and briefly stroll through the skyscrapers of Marunouchi District and in to the International Forum. By now it was getting dark so we quickly went to look at Nihonbashi bridge (Tokyo's zero mile marker) and ducked into Mitsukoshi department store to avoid the worst of the weather. After sampling the delights of the food hall for an hour we made our way back to Shinjuku and found a nice restaurant called Tonkatsu Wako. Finally we arranged seat reservations on the Shinkansen to Odawara tomorrow...

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Japan 02

March 24

First off, we exchanged our JR vouchers for JR Passes at Shinjuku station. We then headed out into Shinjuku to look for coffee, which took us a little while. Eventually we found somewhere near the NTT Docomo tower. From there we continued walking until we reached Yoyogi station where we picked up some food and headed on towards the Meiji shrine. It was quite a nice day and there were plenty of couples getting married. We looked around the temple buildings for a while and then moved on to Yoyogi Park to find a bench where we could eat our lunch. Once we'd finished and continued walking along the path we realised where everyone else had been heading - the area under the cherry blossom trees was absolutely covered with hundreds of people having their own picnics! We strolled round the park and then Takeshita Dori before ending up in Shibuya where we stopped for coffee at Starbucks to watch the crowds at the famous crossing. Later, as we went back to the hotel we stopped for a bite at an Izakaya (where Lucy had an exciting moment with her money belt).

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Japan 01

March 22

Leaving home before 6am we manage to beat the snow and get airborne to Paris without any problems. The transfer at Charles De Gaulle is straightforward and after a quick coffee we board the Airbus A380 to Narita. The flight is very smooth but I don't manage to get much sleep. Instead I watch Wreck it Ralph, Looper and Argo and we discover that the inflight chat system thinks 'button' in a swear word(?)

March 23

Having arrived in Japan we decide to get the Narita Express straight to Shinjuku and sort out the JR Passes on Sunday. The train takes 90 minutes and gives us our first glimpse of cherry blossom and the sprawling metropolis that is Tokyo. The check-in at the Washington Hotel is from 3pm onwards, so we  grab some lunch from the combini and go to admire the views from the observatory deck (45th floor) of the Metropolitan Governemnt Building. By 4pm we are in our rooms and relaxing. Later we freshen up a bit before finding a restaurant in the hotel that sells noodles and Katsu curry, etc. and eventually to bed.