Monday 13 August 2012

Travelling and Reflections

Well, it's the end of the holiday.  Today has consisted of a lot of travelling.  Up at 04:30 to make sure I get to the airport early, having to check in at the airport (longest leg of the trip was codeshare so no online check in), a long flight and a lot of waiting.

At Narita Airport, quite out of character for me, I actually felt like breakfast.  So here is the last thing I ate in Japan

Ramen and Green Tea
Just the thing I needed to set me up for the day.

The flight itself went ok.  This particular flight was operated by All Nippon Airways and this was the first time I've flown with them.

Experience was good and I'd say the food was better than Lufthansa.  When boarding, after the staff scanned my boarding pass, they called me "Mr Snowden" - Definitely formal and courteous.  The cabin was set out in an rather strange way.  I'm used to a 3-4-3 seat configuration.  This one was 2-4-3.  Getting the window seat on the side with 2 seats certainly made things seem quite spacious.

Definitely one I'll consider next time.

Time passed quite well thanks to plenty of music and a copy of Big Finish "Project Destiny".  I seem to be getting used to long flights and flying alone.

I'm currently in Germany, kicking the crap out of the Wi-Fi hotspot and writing this update.

On reflection, this has been a nice holiday.  The weather was hotter than I anticipated, Hitomi and Kyle definitely weren't exaggerating!  The heat and humidity did make things a little uncomfortable, I think next time, if I visit in August I might book a hotel.  Reasons being 1)  space 2) hotels in Japan seem to have very good AC.

Even though it's been nearly 2 weeks I think I did about as much as I did last trip (8 days).  I think this worked out well as last time I was very rushed.  This time things were much more leisurely.  It's been nice seeing the neighborhood that Kyle lives in and seeing what things are like outside the city.  Staying in Shibuya was nice but it was always bustling.

Going to Hiroshima had to be one of the highlights of the trip.  Getting to see more of the country, getting attacked by deer and getting to visit Seto.

Overall, I've really enjoyed the time I spend in Saitama, Tokyo and Kansai.

Now, to wait for my flight.  Once I get home I'm probably going to sleep for a solid day!  My return flight is quite well timed as I arrive home when I'd be going to sleep anyway, this probably helped with jetlag last time.


Askukasa and Tokyo Sky Tree Tower

As this was my last day in Japan, the day was spent doin the last of the main things I wanted to do this trip. Unfortunately due to various constraints, I was unable to go to Nikko. This I didn't mind too much as I've seen and done some incredible things and on the last day I got to go to the Sky Tree Tower.

First stop of the day was Asukasa. I'd decided early on that if I had enough money remaining that I woud buy my mother a silk yukata (the word "kimono" has often been used but these days the yukata has generally replaced the kimono). Locating the shop I'd purchased my yukata from turned out to be relatively easy.

If anyone is in the area and is interested in buying one, the shop is called "Fujiya" and . The owner spoke excellent English and seems to cater to westerners as well as locals.

Next we searched for the Sky Tree Tower. This actually proved quite easy as it is the tallest structure in the area - just head in it's direction, it's not hard to miss. The only issue we encountered is that, due to it's size, the distance could be quite deceptive. We thought we were getting quite close but were still quite a distance from the tower.

Getting close... or are we?

As Kyle wasn't particularly interested in going up the tower, wee agreed that he'd keep himself entertained while I went up the the viewing deck. Upon arrival I was issued with a numbered ticket telling me to go to an entry gate at 17:30. It appears that the tower is so busy that this timing system is required just to buy tickets. As this was something that I really wanted to do, I took the ticket and went to find other amusement while waiting (it was only 13:00 at this point).

The area surrounding the tower

As none of us had eaten, that most important of affairs needed to be sorted - lunch! Trying something new, we went to a place called "Pepper Lunch". This restaurant served hot rice in a heated metal dish. The idea is that you control how cooked your meat is and then add your desired sauce when ready.

We also found a convenience store where we could buy wash bags. Reason being the Yukata need to be washed in one (when machine washing) to prevent damage.

At 17:30, after much queueing, I finally purchased my ticket and ascended the lift fto the main viewing floor. This is around 300 metres, same as the upper deck at Tokyo Tower. The views were spectacular and due to the time, I was able to see Tokyo in both daylight and the dark. As there were additional queues for the upper deck, I opted to forgo it. Sky Tree, in my opinion, was certainly wirth the 2000 Yen for admission.

Views from the tower

Illuminated tower

The days events complete, I headed back to get an early night. The following will be a long day!

Sunday 12 August 2012

A Quiet Day

The following day was fairly quiet.  As neither of us had the energy for a particularly big adventure (and we needed to wait for some registered post that morning) we chose to spend the afternoon in Misato.

One of the things that I've enjoyed about this trip has been the opportunity to spend time in a Japanese neighborhood.

For lunch, we headed to the LaLaPort shopping mall at Shim Misato (not sure if it shoud be Shin, but it's romanized as Shim on the train station sign).  We headed to a restaurant called "Stone Burg", somewhere Kyle had heard good things about.

Stone Burg is seems to be a Japanese take on an American steakhouse with a Western theme.  The verdict - pricy, but worth it!

Later I had another go at Kareoke.  I honestly expected the police to burst in and arrest me for murdering music!  From this experience I can determine that I REALLY can't sing!

Musical murder aside, it was another enjoyable day.

Friday 10 August 2012

Back in Tokyo

This is my second day back in Saitama, I was a little too tired to update the blog at the time.

Wanting to avoid the incredibly long journey (losing a day and a half) by coach we opted for the Shinkansen this time round.  Unfortunately, Waiting until 14:00 for the train meant spending most of the day waiting in Hiroshima station (to make sure we didn't accidentally miss the train)

No photographs that day, but there wasn't anything to really get pictures of anyway.

Returning to Tokyo really made me realize the differences in climate between the Kansai (where Hiroshima is located) and Kanto (where Tokyo and Saitama are located).  It's hotter in Kansai but it's a dry heat.  Kanto is much more humid.

On the first day back, there was work that Kyle needed to do so I did my own thing for most of the day.  Original plan was to go back to Asukusa, however, due to my famous lack of direction we decided against this.  Instead I went back to Akihabara - somewhere much easier to navigate.  So I hopped on the Musashino line to Minami-Nagareyama and from there hopped on the Tskuba Express to Akihabara.  Fortunately this was an express so I was able to skip most of the stops.

Akihabara: First priority was to grab lunch.  It was 14:00, I hadn't eaten and my stomach was growling.  Venturing off the main street, I found a nice little restaurant.  Given the recipe was all in Kanji and Katakana (my Katakana still needs a little work, got Hiragana sorted) I used the old "pointing at pictures" trick.  Using this process, I ordered a chicken ramen and some gyoza.  Suitably fueled, I went back to the figure shop I saw on the first day and bought an evangelion figure.

Mari Illustrious Makinami
The figure I bought was Mari Illustrious Makinami from the second "Rebuild of Evangelion" movie.  Mari is a new character introduced in this movie.  Mari is a pilot (and appears to actually enjoy piloting an eva) and is, well... nuts.  When first piloting an eva (and fighting an angel), one of her lines was "Shit! This would really hurt, if it wasn't so much fun!"

I still had plenty of time so I had an extended wander around.  I stumbled upon the Tokyo Anime Museum, but much to my disappointment I found that it was closed for temporary works.  The fact the sign was dated Februrary, made me a little suspicious.  When going up the floor of the building where the museum was located, I stumbled across an interesting little typo on the Lift:


In the evening, we met up with Tony, whom Kyle has known since University, and his friends.  The evenings entertainment was a horror themed bar.  Tokyo has some great theme bars.

The food followed a suitably spooky theme and the drinks resembled something out of a mad scientists lab.  Definitely creates an atmosphere.  It's a unique experience performing something akin to an experiment when  making a cocktail or drinking beer from a lab style flask.

Of course I don't know what I'm doing - that's what SCIENCE is all about!

The experiment is to determine how much beer Dan can handle!
Definitely an entertaining day.

Next up is a trip to Omiya.

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Oh Deer!

Before todays visit to the island of Miyajima I was warned that the deer could be... bold.  By bold I mean they started trying to eat Seto's wheelchair when he and Kyle were last there.

One of the deer grabbed the bag I was holding and proceeded to tear open the box of coffee sachets within.  All I could do was watch in stunned silence as many onlookers clearly gained amusement from the ongoing spectacle.

Do NOT trust this deer!
The journey to the island went well enough, taking only 25 minutes by ferry.

Miyajima is home to a famous shrine.  This particular shrine is unique as it has a Tori out in the water.

At the shrine I decided to add to my ema collection and get another omamori.  This time it was one for finding ones life partner.  Unfortunately, upon returning to the hotel I discovered my second piece of bad luck.  I'd managed to lose the omamori.  I think the Shinto Gods are trying to tell me that I'm going to be single forever.  Zetsubou!

The island also featured a nice aquarium.  It's relatively small (certainly not on the same scale as The Deep, in Hull) but nice.

Furthermore, when jumping between Kyles room and my own (sorting out who has the correct souvenirs for when we check out) I discovered that I had managed to lock my keys in my room.  This is really not my day!

Despite the slight mishaps I had a great time today.  As we are returning to Misato tomorrow this was our last day with Seto.  Meeting Seto again has been great.

For the return to Misato we're travelling by Shinkansen this time.  i don't think I could survive another overnight bus and I fly back on the 13th so I'm going to make the most of the remaining time I have in Japan.  Time to swap the dry heat of Hiroshima for the humidity of Misato and Tokyo.

And lastly, a little proof that the Deer do in fact steal and attempt to eat whatever they can get away with:


Monday 6 August 2012

I skipped a day - Kimono Time

in the day before the trip to Hiroshima, we visited Askukusa.  Boasting a large shrine and traditional market place in the middle of busy Tokyo, this provided an opportunity to see one of the many interesting facets of the city of Tokyo.

I'm visiting another shrine - this is becoming a habit!
As this area is close to the Sky Tree, it provided an opportunity to get a closer look at it ahead of a full visit.  I'm planning on seeing the observatory when we get back from Hiroshima.  As Kyle doesn't have a head for heights I', going to do this one alone.

Tokyo Sky Tree, seen from Askukusa
While touring the market, we found a stall selling Kimonos.  I couldn't resist - I'm going to post a picture of me wearing it later but for now, here it is!

A cotton Kimono
Another enjoyable day.

On to Osaka and Hitroshima

After spending a few days in Saitama we've moved on to the next leg of the tour.  Hiroshima.

The reason for going to Hiroshima is to visit Setoguchi San (せとぐち さん).  For those who didn't follow the "Seriously Shinto" blog, Seto is a friend of Kyles whom I met when I was in Tokyo back in February.  I was a little nervous about meeting Seto last time but was happy to find out that he thinks I'm cool.

In order to save costs for Kyle and to see a little more of the countryside of Japan, we opted to travel by coach (Willer Express).  Here are a few samples of the pictures:

Because the coach trip is actually 2 separate journeys (Tokyo to Osaka, Osaka to Hiroshima) we got to spend a little time in Osaka.  By a little time, I mean enough time to frantically try to find the bus terminal and then enough time for a nice relaxing dinner.

As it turned out, the bus terminal was in the Sky Building.  Sky building is a landmark building complex featuring an observatory at the connection between the 2 main towers.

Osaka Sky Building

In the part of the complex named "Fun Fun Plaza" there is access to the observatory along with a large number of restaurants (レsツラン) in the basement.  After selecting a suitable venue, a nice meal of Katsu Curry and Plum Wine (that plum wine is powerful stuff!) we had plenty of time to wait while checking in.

If you are thinking of using this cheaper alternative to the Shinkansen please bear in mind that all announcements are in Japanese.  That being said, the staff spoke good English and were very helpful and friendly.  I think this service is quite popular with both locals and Gaijin.

After arriving in Hiroshima I can safely say that there is a reason I don't do overnight buses/coaches.  I can't sleep in an upright position!  I have the same problem with airline flights.  All being said an done, we got to our destination and it didn't cost the earth.  If you need something a little more comfortable, Willer seem to offer a range of seat types (certain coaches have improved seats) and this goes up to what I can only describe as a "first class style reclining pod".

Following our arrival we had some time before checkin (try checkin is at 14:00 and we arrived at 06:00) so after grabbing some breakfast, we dropped our bags off at the hotel and did a little exploration.

We managed to find a small Shinto Shrine near to the hotel, providing Kyle with an opportunity to expand his ever growing Ima collection (and to have a chat with the priest of the shrine).

August 6th was the anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city of Hiroshima so we journeyed to peace park to attend the somber ceremony and to pay our respects to the 140,000+ people who died during and immediately after this attack.

Unfortunately, a group opposed to nuclear power chose to use this rememberance day to launch a protest - something I found rather disrespectful and distasteful.

For a long time I've believed that nuclear weapons are an incredibly bad idea, but anyone who thinks they are a good idea should go to this place.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is the reality of nuclear warfare - over 70,000 lives wiped out in an instant and a further 70,000 died in the immediate aftermath.  I hope we never allow such a weapon to be used again.

After this somber visit, we went to the Starbucks in the NHK building (they have an office in Osaka) and proceeded to consume our respective body weights in iced drinks (this certainly made me wonder how much  I've managed to undo my recent weight loss).

Finally we were able to checkin, grab baths/showers and freshen up ahead of meeting Seto.

After meeting Seto we visited the war museum, bought a new hat to add to my collection (I didn't bring any of mine and I burn easily!), grabbed dinner from a street seller and went to a nice little bar Seto knows.

One of the bar staff is an old friend of Seto's so we spent the evening chatting away and downing long island ice teas.  Suitably fresh, we called it a night and headed back to our respective abodes.

So far, this is proving to be a very nice trip.

Friday 3 August 2012

Day 3 in Japan - So Hot...

I've been a little lax in keeping this thing up to date.

It's the start of my 3rd day.  At the time of writing, it's Saturday morning in Japan, and Friday night in the UK?  Time zones are difficult to get used to.  But another thing that can be difficult to get used to - the heat.

The day I arrived was the hottest day of the year so far, the second day was only slightly cooler.  I was warned that August is an incredibly hot month in Japan but I really had no idea.  Those who may have seen some pictures I posted before from Japan of the ubiquitous vending machines will start to realize why they are there.  The ability to grab a cold bottle of water has been a Godsend.

Didn't get up to much on day 1, mainly settling in.

I went back to Akihabara on day 2.  In one of the stores I saw I well made Yu-Gi-Oh! figure that I've decided to purchase.

Getting from Misato to Akihabara, I've found that the most efficient way is to go to Shin Misato station (Mushashino line, 1 stop) and then get the Tskuba express to Akihabara.  Only problem there is that Tskuba Express is not part of Japan Rail so I can't use my JR pass on that leg.

In the evening we grabbed dinner at a nice traditional style restaurant.

On the way back I noticed that the Seven Eleven had some Melon Bread (メロン パン) - Something I can never resist!

Things are getting off to a slower start from before as last time there was a lot to cram in to 8 days.  This time round the pace is much more relaxed and there's a little more time to get used to the warmer conditions.

During the night (while we were talking to Setoguchi San in a skype call) I experienced my first earth quake. Given that this occured just seconds after not using the correct honorific, I did wonder if the 2 were linked.  Earthquake was a small one (Likely a 2), small ones are quite commonplace.

Most of today is going to be getting final preparations in place for going to Osaka/Hiroshima.  Going to get the overnight bus tomorrow.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Frankfurt and Beyond

It's currently around 10:00 in sunny Frankfurt, which means I have nearly 4 hours before my flight to Tokyo.

Seeing as I'm in Frankfurt again (and my departure gate is exactly the same, given that it's next to the exact same pretzel bar) I've decided to grab a beer and a pretzel while I wait.

The good news so far is that there is free WiFi for half an hour, which I'm currently using to post this and check a few email/social network updates.  Afterwards I expect that I'll shell out for paid hotspot access in an hour or 2 just so I don't go completely crazy.  As I recall, last time it seemed quite reasonably priced (and is provided by T-Mobile and Deutche Telekom).

Bad news is that I've found that keeping a big box of batteries (for my camera) in my hand luggage wasn't a brilliant idea.  Hasn't stopped me getting anywhere but at both Manchester and Frankfurt the security staff did want to check what they are.  On the way back, they go in the suitcase!

Anyway, I'm relaxing now while I wait for my flight.  For those who are interested, I'm flying on one of the new A380 SuperJumbos.  I flew on one last time I went to Japan and I have to say they are really comfortable and certainly quieter than anything I've ever flown on before.  Hopefully I should arrive fairly refreshed.  At least I hope I do as I'm landing at 08:00 - got a full day ahead of me!