07
Jul

The hardest working girls in Tokyo

By: muttler

Can Japan get any more awesome?

Get those dirty thoughts out of your mind. I’ll get to the blog title later.

As I said yesterday, my plan was to visit the Tokyo National Museum. “You’re in Tokyo and you’re going to a museum?!” I hear you ask. Well, I am not that into shopping unless it is LP’s or toys, so yep, a museum.

The museum is in Ueno, an area of Tokyo I hadn’t been to yet. It is interesting how while it all feels like Tokyo, each district has its own feel. Ueno was no exception. A gorgeous park houses a number of museums as well as the zoo. Apparently the zoo is only so-so, so it was off to the museum for me.

Spooky

The closest museum I can liken it to is the British Museum in London. It was full of historical artifacts from Japan and over Asia. And it was sweet. This is how a good museum is done. I know we don’t have the history in Oz, but it is museums like this that make you appreciate countries with many centuries of history behind them.

This is why their religion and culture is awesome... everything is so cool looking

The highlights are the art works and of course the samurai related things. But it was all good, and it was so engrossing it threw my plans out of whack a little. I had planned to also visit the Imperial Palace gardens since I had not got there, but by the time I was done, I really only had time to get back to the hostel for my evenings plans. Oh well, they could wait until tomorrow (my last day sniff sniff).

Being my last night in Japan I wanted to do something cool. As luck would have it (and I certainly have had my share of it) I was able to do something I really wanted to do somewhere in Japan… catch a baseball game. Now I have seen baseball in the US, but this was cool, because I had heard crowds here are something else. Plus being in Tokyo I get to visit Tokyo Dome.

When I mentioned my plans to Taka, my host here at the hostel, he got excited. The teams playing were the Fukuowa Hawks, and his team the Nippon Fighters, so he decided he would come too. By the time I got back to the hostel we had a posse of 5 to head out. Oh yeah.

So Taka led the way, and along the way we picked up some beer and food. Yes, believe it or not we could take our own beer in as long as it was in plastic cups. Man the Japanese have it right. We could buy beer in there, but at 800 yen a pop, it was a bit pricey. But their idea of beer at the baseball is the coolest thing I have seen. We’ll get to that.

Welcome to Tokyo Dome

So we arrived at Tokyo Dome, grabbed our tickets and went on it.

The motley baseball crew (Taka at right)

We elected to go the OK seats which were fine with me, round a bit from first base. I was happy just to soak up the atmosphere.

I even pose like a local now

Not being the Tokyo Giants playing, the stadium wasn’t full, but I could tell it was going to be some fun. You know what soccer chanting is like? It goes on all game. This is what we were in for. But this was cooler, as each team seemed to have their own horn section leading the way.

I have no idea what kind of animal it is

We also had the obligatory mascots to add to the fun. But the best part I had heard about, but until I saw it didn’t appreciate the awesomeness of it. You know how at the MCG you have to get up and go buy a mid-strength beer? Imagine if there were beer girls with kegs strapped to their backs that came and poured you beers. Now before you say “Matt, what kind of misogynistic fantasy land are you living in?”. I give you Exhibit A…

Japan, the greatest place on earth

Yep, there are girls with kegs strapped to their backs pouring beer. You even have your choice of the Asahi girl, Santory girl, and the Kirin girl. I kind you not. Suddenly 800 yen for a beer is not too extreme. But I tell you, these girls work. Hard. They are constantly buzzing up and down the aisles. For the whole game. And the game goes for over 3 hours. By 2 1/2 hours they were spent, you could tell. But it has to be better than a stairmaster.

Look more impressed guys!

Oh, there was a baseball game going on too, I wasn’t just fixated on the beer girls. It was good in that there were a lot of runs scored, but not so good in that Taka’s team got done 10-0. Oh well. He had fun and so did we all.

Farewell, so long...

So it was back to the guest house. When we got back I had to say see ya to a couple of the girls who work at the hostel, since I wouldn’t see them in the morning. While this hostel has been pretty basic, the folk who run it have all been awesome, so it is with a sad face that I will be checking out. They have already made me promise to come back. I guess I will have to keep my word won’t I?

05
Jul

Now that’s the freshest breakfast I’ll ever eat

By: muttler

Insert "one John West rejects" joke here

Dang I’m tired today. I think the almost 3 weeks is finally catching up with me. It has taken a while. It has only taken about 12 hours walking each day and the odd mountain climb to get there, but today I was just tired as buggery. Not tired in a Bill Murray I’m tired of Tokyo way, but physically tired. Seems like my trip is just about the right length given I have only 2 more sleeps until Oz.

What probably hasn’t helped today is the lead picture. Can you guess what I did today at 7am? That’s right, visit the Tsukiji Fish Market. The biggest in the world no less.

Open up and say ahh

Now I have already mentioned the generosity and overall niceness of the Japanese folks, but the fish market proves that you would be hard pressed to find more accommodating people anywhere. Why? Well, until about 8am the Fish Market is a hive of wholesale fish activity. And here is people like me, a camera round the neck, poking around in the middle of it all.

This ain't no Queen Vic market

And by in the middle, I literally mean in the middle. At any stage you can get side swiped by a truck or guy on a motorised trolley, or slip in some fresh fish guts. These folk are doing their jobs and tourists like me feel compelled to poke our noses in. What awesome folk.

Double Trouble

Anyway, back to the fish. It is pretty nuts. Hundreds of stalls with their days catch. I didn’t arrive for the tuna auction (that starts at a crazy 5am), but this was cool all the same. Cool in a bit of an Iron Chef way actually. By that I mean sometimes the fish are dead, sometimes they are alive, and sometimes you see one get it right in front of your eyes. The eels are the creepiest. My highlight was probably seeing one vendor grabbing what he (presumably) thought were dead eels from one tub, only to have one wriggle out of his hands onto the main counter. I didn’t squeal, but I am pretty sure I did a bit of a double jump. Awesome.

Novel use for a band saw

It was also pretty awesome to see big hunks of tuna being carved up in front of your eyes. Now that is some crazy big fish.

Mmm... fish skewers

The main tradition for a visit to the fish market is to start the day with a sushi breakfast. Who was I to argue? To be honest it wasn’t on the top of my list of things to put in my body at 9am, but then I had a couple beers at that time the other morning, so sushi seemed quite fine.

Gee, the sushi is pretty fresh around here

I found what seemed to be one of the popular spots and lined up waiting my turn. It was all set menu which is fine with me. I went for the smaller collection since I wasn’t really ready to spend about 4000 yen (ie 50+ bucks) for breakfast, and in some ways I regret in now. I may never have a chance to eat any sushi that awesome again. Oh well, mine was pretty darn good.

So with a belly full of fish it was time to head off. My original plan was to visit the Tokyo National Museum, however I found out the night before that it was closed on Mondays. Doh. No probs, that could be Tuesday. What to do though? Since I was close to Tokyo Bay, I decided to jump on the monorail over to Odiaba and visit the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan is less of a mouthful). While I don’t mind shops, give me a good science museum.

NYC in the house

What is a bit odd about Odiaba and the bay area is that there isn’t really that much going on. What freaked me out was seeing a baby Statue of Liberty. Um, OK.

As-i-mo!

So I arrived at the science museum. Now I had a feeling it was the case, and the inner otaku in me was pretty stoked to see that the worlds most famous (real) robot was in the house. Yep, Asimo lives at the Miraikan.

Yes, I was in the middle of these kids. No one noticed.

Asimo did his thing early in the piece. He doesn’t really do too much but it was pretty cool to see him in the flesh (or is that metal?). He is kinda freaky to watch walk, but in a pretty amazing kinda way. Oh, he kicked a soccer ball too. He has a pretty wicked left foot. The kids seemed duly impressed (I was too, I won’t hide it).

The museum was not too bad. I thought there might have been more Scienceworks type hands on things, but nope. The science was actually pretty up there for kids, all genomes and things.

Say hello to Doraemon!

My other stroke of luck was the temporary exhibition that was on. The Contemporary Science of Doraemon. Nice! For those of you not in the know, Doraemon is a robot cat from the future and is hugely popular in Japan. The exhibition was looking at some of the things that go on in the cartoon and how they are now happening in real life. The exhibition was OK, not awesome. In some ways it just seemed a bit of a cash in on the Doraemon name, but it was entertaining nonetheless.

That took me to mid-late arvo and I was stuffed. Just plain tired. It was another hot humid day. I didn’t just want to head back to the hostel, so decided to train it back to Akihabara to peruse some shops. No maid cafes again sorry folks, just toys and video games.

So it is all winding down. About time probably, as I am just getting a bit run down. But I have something pretty cool on the cards hopefully for my last night here in Tokyo, so fingers crossed it all works out.

04
Jul

Where are all the crazies?

By: muttler

Where are all your friends?

In some respects today was a little disappointing.

Given it was a Sunday, and the typical Tokyo population is not at work or at school, I decided to go to the home of the weirdly dressed and not too shy… Harajuku. This area is known for not only a fantastic park and a couple of unique shopping strips, but more so the strange folk that come out to play (i.e. like my lead picture).

I was all geared up to see some crazy-ass people preening and posing for the cameras. But alas, it didn’t really happen. Granted it was a 30+ degree day, but there was a distinct lack of crazies. Let me backtrack.

I now pronounce you Husband and Wife (or whatever the Buddhist equivalent is)

I arrived just before lunchtime and decided to wander through part of Yoyogi Park, stumbling upon Meiji Shrine. I guess Sundays are popular for wedding ceremonies, as there was a few taking place, right in the middle of the gawking visitors. Of course I was going to take a photo too.

Bathing Ape? Meh.

I then wandered down Takeshita-Dori, the street primarily responsible for the high (or is that low?) fashion of the area. A fairly narrow strip, it is full of stores with all kinds of weird fashion. Nothing took my fancy unfortunately. I did come across the famous Bathing Ape store, but it was a bit lame to be honest. I think the hundreds of knock off Bathing Ape shirts are a bit more exciting (and a hell of a lot cheaper).

Blythe has the look in Harajuku

That led me to the other shopping street, Omote-Sando. My Lonely Planet guide likens it to the Champs Elysee, and I kinda see why. It is a lovely tree lined street full of your Louis Vuitton etc etc, and is a change from the neon lit streets of Shibuya and Shinjuku. A bit of a breath of fresh air in a way. But alas, again nothing really took my fancy. I did find a Blythe exhibition in one of the high brow shopping centres which was actually kinda cool… about a hundred Blythe dolls dressed in the height of Tokyo fashion. More interesting than the actual fashions I was seeing.

One of the few weirdos unfortunately

So I got back to the park and Jingu-Bashi bridge expecting to be inundated with lots of strange folk in interesting get up. But it really wasn’t happening. There were a handful trying their hardest, but it wasn’t all that interesting. Even the cameras were kept in their bags for the most part. A bit disappointing. Oh well. You don’t win ’em all.

Are you ready to rock?!

So I wandered back into Yoyogi park. At least there was some action there. Not quite as many young hipsters as I thought there would be, but there were a couple of bands battling it out with the park folk. Even though I didn’t understand the lyrics, I knew the main band I was watching were just a little bit emo. It seems to translate pretty easy.

1-2-3 o'clock, 4 o'clock rock.

The one thing that I struggle to understand is not the hipster kids or the “look at me I’m so weird” folk. It is the rockabilly older folk. Don’t get me wrong, I love it! It is just such a strange one. I wonder if they have normal jobs? Anyway, it was fun watching them bust some moves for a while.

Since I was on my way toward Shibuya, I decided to wander down there by foot. Conveniently some park food vendors were there, so with some Tokyo-style okonomyaki under my belt (different again… less cabbage, more egg) I legged it down. I sniffed out another record store (to the surprise of no one I am sure). Boy. Why can’t I buy LP’s like this back home? When I am filling some of my collection for 600 – 700 yen a pop (not even 10 bucks), I  know I am in the right place. Maybe today didn’t turn out so bad after all.

04
Jul

Okaerinasaimase, goshujinsama

By: muttler

Do you want to come to our cafe?

Thanks for the comments and tweets on my Mt Fuji post folks. It was a pretty big deal for me as many of you know so the kind words are much appreciated! I have pulled up really well today, just a tiny bit of lethargy, so nothing stopping me from getting out in Tokyo again.

Today was almost as monumental as Fuji. Well, not quite, but today’s destination was always going to be a bit of fun… Akihabara. My mate Glen said if I went I would never leave. Not quite, but he wasn’t far off. I felt way more affinity with Akihabara straight off the bat than Shinjuku or Shibuya.

Welcome to Akihabara

For those not down with otaku culture, Akihabara is Tokyo’s main anime/manga/video game/electronics/toy/nerd district. Otaku is the term that encapsulates those people into these things. While I am not a massive anime fan, video games and toys oh yeah. This should be fun.

Choose your toy

Let me give you some impressions why I hit it off with Akihabara pretty much straight away. The electronics I could take or leave to be honest. I didn’t see much that stood out or was particularly new. What I did love though were the many stores selling toys and action figures, and the stores selling old school (think game and watch and SNES) video games. This was way more fun than the generic department stores of the other districts and added way more personality.

It is quite mind blowing just how many action figures there are out there, but even more crazy is how many Japanese people are out there buying them. And I am talking every kind of figure possible. So what did I buy? I just satisfied myself with a handful of small Godzilla figures for my desk. They are easy to pack.

Game and Watch! Too awesome (and too expensive)

So it was great fun just trawling through those stores, just as it was great fun checking out all the old school video games. Game and Watch! Pity they were so expensive. And pity my SNES won’t play Japanese SNES cartridges as the amount of old games I could pick up for just a few bucks each was crazy.

Guns next to girls? Only in Tokyo.

I know that this culture starts to cross over into adult territory pretty quickly, particularly with the comics. Boy does it ever. I was browsing through the manga section of one store when suddenly those comics weren’t looking all that innocent. The reputation Japan has for being extreme was right there in my face.

One thing that is also extreme, but in a completely different way is the Maid Cafe scene. There are girls in maid outfits everywhere handing out flyers to visit. Now, I know what some of you must be thinking. “Maid Cafes? That doesn’t sound too innocent”. Well, they are sickly innocent. And I had to visit one.

Welcome home, Master!

The @Home Cafe was my destination. I had heard quite a bit about it and seemed to be the most popular. Like most, you are greeted by a number of waitresses in french maid costumes with “Okaerinasaimase, goshujinsama!” or “Welcome home, master!” who then serve you some kitschy, cute, cafe fare. Me, I went for an ice coffee and an ice cream waffle, complete with chocolate syrup love hearts drawn on by my maid. I am sure I was being pampered, however again my lack of Japanese and their lack of English wasn’t helping. But they were trying to be very helpful I could tell that. At one point some singing and clapping started, but I couldn’t tell really what was happening. But I just joined in anyway. It was hard not to find it hilarious.

I have an unfortunate lack of photos from this experience, as they have a no photos policy. I couldn’t even take one of my food. But it is all a way you can fork out more money for the privilege of a photo with your maid. 500 yen you say? Why not!

Moe, Moe, Kyun!

I couldn’t resist. Here is me, with tiger ears, hamming it up. I find it hilarious and not at all embarrassing. I’m in Tokyo for crying out loud! My maid very nicely wrote some english on my photo for me, although I think my name got a little lost in translation. I am now officially “Mitt” not “Matt” on both the photo and my @Home loyalty card. That adds to the awesomeness.

I wish the big Gundam was still in Tokyo

So many hours passed in Akihabara. I well and truly got wrapped up in the place. As I was leaving I found the Gundam Cafe. From the look of it there wasn’t much special except for heaps of Gundam figures inside. I was all cafe’d out for the moment, but there is still a few days left, so I might be back.

I decided to jump on the train and swing by Shinjuku on my way back to the hostel. I got wind of some more record stores so wanted to complete my day. Browsing LP’s in a foreign city is pretty sweet.

Lost in the Golden Gai

I also made an effort to wander through the Golden Gai. This is the area in Shinjuku that has all the tiny bars. And I thought there was some small bars in Melbourne. I wandered past one that could fit (and I counted) 4 people. Kinda odd, but cool. That’s Tokyo right there.

02
Jul

Mission Accomplished

By: muttler

So what did you do today? This is what I did…

Climbed a mountain? Check.

Let me start back at yesterday.

My original plan was to spend the day wandering Akihabara for lots of electronics, manga, and general otaku shenanigans. I thought I should chase up how to get to Mt Fuji however, since official climbing season opened on July 1 and I didn’t want to be stuck not being able to get there easily. It was top of my list for my visit to Japan.

So I braved Shinjuku Station again and found the bus depot I needed. So I started to inquire about buses to the 5th Climbing Station of Mt Fuji with the ticket girl. However my japanese and her english was making it a little difficult. She was asking me which bus I wanted to go on TODAY. When that clicked, I thought “hell, why not go today?!”. So I booked a spot on the bus for later that arvo and home the following day, and I had just organised the major part of my Fuji climb in the blink off an eye.

I was originally eyeballing tours to get me there and back and give me a fairly regimented climb up. The more I thought about it though, the more determined I was to just rock up and climb it. With my bus tickets, my plan was simply to arrive at the 5th climbing station about 9pm. Climb through the night, catch sunrise at the top, and come down and get an 11am bus back to Shinjuku. The perfect crime.

I had been keeping an eye on the weather and it was a bit all over the place. It did seem however that there was only a pretty slim chance of rain, so there was some hope of a dry climb (but I wasn’t counting on it).

So with my days plans now out the window, I decided to head back to the hostel, make sure I had everything for an overnight climb, and basically rest up, given that:

a. I would be doing close to 12 hours of hiking up and down a FREAKIN’ MOUNTAIN

b. I would now be getting no sleep for a LONG time.

So all packed up with layers of clothes, water proof and wind proof gear, scarves, gloves, and food and drink, I headed back to the bus depot (Mum… I did tell the folk at the hostel I was going, so someone knew). I was kinda surprised to see the bus was only half full. Being first day of climbing I was surprised I got a bus ticket so easily. Anyway off I went.

We got to the 5th climbing station on the Yoshida trail around 8:30pm… dark already. A bit unnerving actually. And it was raining. But then two bits of luck came my way.

First of all was half a dozen folk on the bus. I noticed them while travelling but was not sitting near them. What we had were 3 Brits and 3 Yanks, all preparing to do the same climb as me. So a quick how do you do and I had found myself a climbing group (you will be happy to know that too Mum). They were a great bunch of youngish folk (mid 20’s – mid 30’s) who mainly knew each other working here in Japan. One remaining guy was simply here on work and like me, met them on the bus. We had ourselves a posse.

The second stroke of luck was just as we said to each other “screw it, let’s just start hiking in the rain”, the rain stopped. I had a good feeling about this night.

Here is where I have to be thankful again for my walking buddies. While I could have done it myself, it was dark. Real dark. And there wasn’t all that many people climbing. I had visions of a long line of torches lighting the path, but that wasn’t accurate. So having a bunch to walk with helped stem any anxiety I was even on the right path!

Now, I have to say that what I type now, and the photos I include will just not do any justice at all to the experience I am about to try and describe. But I’ll try.

Now at the 7th station. Smiling.

I consider myself pretty fit. And I know that a lot of people climb Fuji each year. But man, if I wasn’t pretty fit it would be a pretty full-on experience. It is not easy at all. It took us 7 hours to reach the summit. The path changed from loose dirt and gravel, to rock stairs, to full on jutting rocks, all at a fairly steep angle. It was not the relatively smooth path I thought it might be. It was difficult, tiring, hiking in places.

Further up, still going OK. Note, it is getting colder.

The other thing to contend with was the altitude sickness. I think this is where me being pretty fit really paid off. Aside from a little light-headedness, I was fine. Some of my travelling companions not so much. 3 of them struggled significantly at times, with headaches and nausea. That slowed us down, but was OK by me as we had time up our sleeve.

Further up I go.

And so we plugged away, all the time the air getting thinner and colder. I have to say, the last hour was some of the most physically demanding stuff I have done. It wasn’t a trivial climb at all. We did have a good lightning show at times, thankfully in the distance. Then we reached the summit.

Keeping warm

Holy hell, it was cold, with little shelter from the wind. Thankfully we only had about half an hour to wait for sunrise, but we needed to huddle together to stay warm. There were a few more people by this point, but still not the crowd I expected. What was also slightly disappointing was that the general store on top was closed. Sorry, no postcards for anyone from the summit of Mt Fuji.

The crew.

We kept the spirits up in the cold waiting for the sun to poke its head up. Then it arrived.

Sunrise on Mt Fuji

I gotta say, it was pretty special. I am not sure I will ever see anything like it again. I was tired and cold, but the sun popping up was amazing. One of those moments really. No photos could ever capture it.

The crater. No alien spacecrafts I could see.

On top is the crater which you can hike around. I had all intentions of doing it however it was freakin’ cold, and I was not sure my legs could do another hour before heading down. We all seemed in agreement. So down we went.

Heading down. Yes, we were above all the clouds.

It was a strange experience going down. As we had gone up with only the light of our torches, the climb down looked both kinda familiar, but also surreal. Did we really climb up this a few hours ago? We all seemed to have the same thoughts, part due to the darkness, but now also due to the lack of sleep and altitude no doubt.

The descent took about 4 hours, a bit longer than we anticipated. Usually a different path is taken down, one of mainly loose gravel and rock that you can actually run and slide down in parts. That wasn’t open for some reason so we had to contend with the same difficult trail we came up on. It was good to see it in the daylight though. We passed quite a few people on the way up, by which time it was getting to be pretty warm climbing. Poor suckers.

So about 9:45am we were back at the start, all exhausted and tired, a few a little more worse for wear. We had a bit of a rest at the 5th station, with some early morning celebratory beers. It had to be done. The bus ride back with the folk was a quiet one though. We all seemed to get an hour or so sleep, but only enough to make us feel seedier. We reached Shinjuku, and I bid farewell. We were talking about lunch but the overwhelming sense by all of us to get rest seemed to win.

So here I am. I’m feeling OK. Tired for sure, but not as physically drained as I might have been… more the fact I have had about 1 hours sleep in the last day and a half. But that’s OK. The weather was perfect, the climb tough but amazing, sunrise awesome. I have conquered Fuji.

01
Jul

I couldn’t read a word, but it didn’t matter

By: muttler

More on this guy later

It is funny how things turn out when you are travelling sometimes.

Last night I left the blog post about to head out to watch the Japan v Paraguay game. Taka, my gracious host here in Shinagawa, said he was heading out to watch the game and that the couple of us at the hostel who were keen should come along. Me and the other guy were under the impression we were heading to some nearby bar, but we got confused when Taka suggested we pick up anything we needed from the nearby supermarket. OK we thought. So arming ourselves with some beers and snacks we wandered down the street a little further.

Lo and behold it wasn’t a bar we turned up at, but what seemed like the store/office of some local folk, set up with a massive TV and food galore. We were being welcomed by some locals to their event. Immediately we had food and drink forced upon us and were made very welcomed.

You probably know the result of the game by now. Even though Japan lost on penalties, the vibe was still OK. There was too much food and drink to break the mood too much. So while it wasn’t the bar I was expecting, it was better… local hospitality.

And thanks to that hospitality I did wake up with just a small hangover. More like just being tired really, but that happens when you go to extra time and penalties. But no matter. For the most part here in Tokyo I am not on the clock. Although today did have one important thing on the agenda. Ghibli.

My gracious hosts

So I bid adieu to my hosts and hit the train.

I still think the Pakenham line is worse

I have to say I don’t think I have experienced the true train crush yet. I did peak time last night and the crush in the train was no different to me coming home from Caulfield. What is different though is that the huge numbers of people are EVERYWHERE.

I got my way from Shinagawa to Mitaka (via Shinjuku) easy enough, and started the pleasant wander to the Ghibli Museum. It is hard to get lost really…

300m to happiness

It really was quite a magic day. Humid yes, but the sun was out and it was a glorious walk. And so I arrived at the museum.

I am not sure those of you who haven’t soaked up the animation work of Studio Ghibli will fully appreciate how special the museum is. I will readily admit that for each Ghibli film I love (Totoro, Nausicca), is another I am a little ambivalent about (Mononoke), so I won’t pretend I am a die hard Ghibli devotee. But this museum makes you appreciate every single frame of these films.

The first thing it is important to point out is that it is a museum, not some kind of Disney fun park. Hayao Miyazaki was adamant apparently that the museum be designed to just allow people to wander and soak  it up. That is what you do alright. Even the english language leaflet urges us to “lose our way together”.

There are gorgeous details everywhere. Unfortunately there is no photography inside, but actually it is a good thing. The last thing the museum would need would be everyone trying to get photos of everything. But this tap outside shows the level of detail.

It's all too cool

The museum is full of gorgeous things. A zoetrope of Totoro. Several rooms made out like Miyazaki’s work rooms, complete with drawing desks and what must be hundreds and hundreds of hand drawn storyboards. A theatre showing museum-only shorts (I got “The Whale Hunt”… bummer I didn’t get “Mei and the Kittenbus”).

There was only one disappointing room really. And I knew in advance it would be disappointing. My question to Miyazaki is… why can’t adults climb on the Catbus? I swear everyone, not just kids would be loving climbing all over that thing. But it is fun to watch the kids.

The main photo op in the museum is the rooftop where the robot from Laputa awaits. The sun was out, I was in a magical place. No wonder I am smiling a lot in this photo…

Smile Mr Robot!

None of the writing in the museum was in English, but it didn’t matter. I am not sure what any of the explanations could have added. It was just charming to let it all wash over.

With a stop by the giftshop on my way out (Ella and Jake, you will be introduced to Totoro soon), I realised I had spent longer than I thought in there. No matter though. What to do? Since I had to swap trains at Shinjuku, why not pop my head out there?

Welcome to Shinjuku

Holy crap. I now feel a little embarrassed I got lost in Kyoto train station. Shinjuku seems the mother of all stations (no I haven’t done Tokyo Station yet). It is freakin’ huge. And there seemed to be dozens of exits. I thought I wanted East Side, so found an exit and popped out.

Like landscapes, photos never do neon justice

What I got was just like Shibuya last night, but I don’t know… there seemed to be a slightly different vibe. Wandering around you can tell there is definitely more “entertainment” to be had.

I think it is that crazy metal marble gambling game. I think.

As a consequence I seemed to dig Shibuya a little more, so envisage that I would lob back there from time to time more than pop out at Shinjuku… plus Shibuya train station scares me less 🙂

So some dinner and wandering brings me back to Shinagawa, all sleepy like. Not sure about tomorrow, maybe it is time for Akihabara. Best get some rest then.

29
Jun

Welcome to Neo-Tokyo

By: muttler

My new home for the next week

Howdy all. Just a quick sneaky one as:

a. I haven’t done much today, and more importantly…

b. I am hitting a bar shortly to watch tonights World Cup game with my new team Japan playing.

Today was another day of travelling, but my last serious travel day of the trip (not counting coming home of course). It was a lazy start in sleepy Takayama this morning, not leaving until almost midday. It was nice not to rush, so it was just a small leisurely stroll to soak it in one last time and get some supplies for my 4 1/2 hour train journey to Tokyo.

Seeing now that I have a lack of photos to post today I should have taken one with my host at the Takayama hostel. Talking to her this morning was fascinating… she spent 2 years in Australia working and motorbiking around the country. She proudly showed me a photo of her on the Nullabour which I have to say was quite cool. She was adamant she wanted to squeeze in my backpack and come with me she loved Australia so much. Pity she was engaged (and planning to get married in Australia no less).

The trip from Takayama to Nagoya was stunning again, although I was happy to see the rain settle as I got further away from the mountains. It was then on to my last Shinkansen of the trip to get to my destination of Shinagawa in Tokyo.

I was a bit worried about finding my hostel on exiting Shinagawa station, however that proved to be of no concern. Shinagawa is a big station, but not as big as I expect some I am going to encounter will be. I went out the right exit (an important thing as those who have been to Tokyo train stations will tell you) and followed my instructions to arrive at the Guest House Shinagawa.

This is a fairly small hostel, and seems like it might lack a little vibe (like Takayama), but it more than makes up for it in location. 10 minutes walk from Shinagawa station gives me easy access to virtually EVERYTHING Tokyo has to offer. The hosts seem very friendly and eager to help too, so I imagine this will be a comfortable stay. Plus within 5 minutes I had teed up to go to a local bar to watch Japan play with the main guy from the hostel, so life was looking pretty good.

So knowing I had a couple of hours to kill, what should I do? Shibuya. I knew I wouldn’t have much time to wander, but I wanted to get the train system a bit sorted and start to see some neon lights, having been to one too many temples. And what better place to start than the crazy Shibuya crossing.

And I know it gets even crazier than this

I don’t think I have caught it at peak time yet, so you can probably expect another photo that is a bit more packed. But as cheesy as it sounds I got a bit of a rush being part of the hordes. I was finally in Tokyo.

So it was just a quick wander, sniffed out a good record store (yep, already), had some eats, and am now about to head off to watch some football. Go Japan. I will let you know how it goes tomorrow.

28
Jun

My last post about old cultural things, I promise

By: muttler

You meet the strangest folk here in Takayama

If you have been reading each entry (?!) you are probably getting a bit tired of all the talk of temples and shrines and monuments. Well, I am probably hitting my limit too. But that is OK, as today is my last day before I head to the megalopolis that is Tokyo.

It was pretty much a chill out and wander day today. As I said yesterday, Takayama is a sleepy mountain-side town, built for wandering the historic streets and mountain paths. So that is what I decided to do.

First was visiting the morning markets where locals sell mainly fruit and veg, but also some handicrafts. This was kinda cool, but nothing really jumped out at me saying “I’m awesome! Buy me for someone!”. So off it was into the woods.

Not a bad view to have for eternity

There is quite a nice guided walk along the east and south of Takayama. The east side takes in some temples, shrines and graveyards at the foot of the mountains. As I indicated before, while the stroll was actually quite cool, I felt as if I had run the gamut of religious places, so I was probably doing more strolling than looking. Although that said, this temple stood out, I think because it actually looked like it might have been built in the last 100 years.

A nice mountain retreat

When I hit the south, I ended up wandering aimlessly (a nice way to say “kinda lost”) in some woods. I knew there were some castle ruins, shrines, torii, and parks in there, but things didn’t really look like they did on my map. Meh, it didn’t matter.

There's a torii around every corner

Also when you made turns like this, I was just happy to be out walking…

I bet nothing is this green back home...

I ended up finding something that looked familiar and before I knew it I was back in old town. Well, if I’m here, I thought, why not try some more sake? So that I did.

Let me taste your sake

This seemed to be an entrance to a fermenting house. It didn’t seem you could really get inside any breweries, but samples were fine with me.

Faceless Sarubobo

It is worth pointing out another seemingly traditional Takayama thing to go along with the sake and woodcrafts. These faceless monkeys called Sarubobo are EVERYWHERE. You can choose a colour to represent good fortune for different things. Red is the norm but other colours bring other luck. There is also a Hello Kitty variant, but I am not sure what it brings except cuteness really.

The only other thing on my agenda if I had time was a visit to a nearby historical village called the Hida Folk village. This is a collection of restored houses from a century or two ago, but together to highlight how things were back in the 1800’s.

There hasn't been a self-portrait for a while

It was pretty nice for a wander. Although it was done for preservation of cultural artifacts, it also acts as a bit of a touristy destination as well. But like this morning, it was good for a wander for a couple of hours (I was aiming to soak up as much woods before hitting the city again).

So as I type this I am just chilling out in my hostel room. I have a nice big room to myself, which is nice for emptying the backpack out and realising I packed twice as much stuff as I needed (when I swore to myself I would pack hardly anything). It seems Takayama is not that popular with the tourists right about now, because this kinda large hostel is kinda empty. I have only bumped into a half dozen others, none of who seem up for that much (not that there is much to get up to after 6pm anyway). That is cool though as I imagine from tomorrow night in Tokyo that my pattern might move to late morning starts and late night finishes.

Oh, today did present another gem though…

Sorry, none of you are getting this in the mail

Behold another Kit Kat mail pack, what I believe is Soybean powder or something like that. There is only 5 Kit Kat minis in these packs, but don’t worry fans… I am only eating one and bring the other 4 from the pack home.

Soybean goodness

So what was this like? My favourite so far. Rather than the kinda odd but not really flavours I have had, this was more like the Japanese Kit Kat I know and love. It is a close cousin of the soy sauce Kit Kat I reckon. A white coloured chocolate that was delicious. I just worry that as it is so warm here that my kit kats I am lugging around will get a bit warped. I may just have to eat them all…

Over half way through my trip now. 8 nights in Tokyo left. Bring it on.

27
Jun

A Getaway to the Mountains

By: muttler

A getaway in the mountains

When I left you yesterday my dear readers I was about to embark on some crane making while watching some World Cup. Well you will be all pleased to know that I have perfect the fine art of crane folding.

Getting the hang of it

Here is my first bunch (thanks to great Youtube instructions). By my 20th crane I was a machine. So I popped them all in a bag ready to deliver in the morning on the way to the train station.

So morning arrived, and yep, it was still pouring. But on I popped the backpack, made a detour past the Children’s Memorial to drop off the cranes, jumped on a tram and jumped on my first of three trains. Destination Takayama.

Now this is a different Japan

Going to Takayama consisted of a shinkansen to Osaka, change to another shinkansen to Nagoya (not sure why I couldn’t get one straight through), and then my first train heading north. And what a trip. In hardly anytime we had left the city and were working our way up through mountains and gorges. While the shinkansen is cool, this was something else.

2 and half hours later and I arrived in Takayama. Takayama was a bit of a wildcard on my to do list. It lacked the “must do” elements of my last ports, but promised a small quaint town in the mountains. Checking in to my hostel and dropping my bag off I found this was indeed true. Even my hostel room oozed ancient charm…

Not bad for a cheap hostel room hey Carmel

Takayama is a world away from the cities of Kyoto and Hiroshima. Undeniably Japan, but the old is not separated by city. This is all town. Given it was late in the afternoon I just wanted to acquaint myself with the town a little (and start to sample some of the local sake). As would have it most things were shutting up about 6 anyway.

Old town

So a quick bit of wandering the old streets and it was time for some more public bathing. This time in a proper onsen. This was not a beautiful moutain top onsen, but at least it was a big bath house with natural spring waters. After a few wet days it was nice to soak.

So here I am typing up, preparing for a big world cup game between Germany and England. I have this to keep me company though…

I won't care who wins

I am sure it is not the top quality sake, but my taste test was alright. And for only 400 yen ($5) for 300ml it will do quite nicely.

26
Jun

More rain, more deer, more okonomyaki

By: muttler

Floating Torii (for now anyway)

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any wetter, I woke up this morning in Hiroshima. Yesterday was pretty damp, but today the rain was relentless. Oh well, what are you going to do? Get out there of course!

That's some low hanging cloud

Today was my last day in this fleeting visit to Hiroshima, so it was off to visit Miyajima Island and it’s famed floating torii gate. A quick train ride to Miyajimaguchi station and an even quicker ferry ride, and I was on the island. With umbrella and rain jacket armed, off I went.

First thing I guess is that the Torii isn’t floating as such. The tide helps play the illusion. Unfortunately for me high tide (and the true appearance of floating) was at 8 in the morning, which didn’t happen. So as I arrived the water was heading out, and the bottom was becoming clearly visible. But if that didn’t allow the perfect photo, it let me walk underneath it later when low tide was happening.

Sorry, not today Mt Misen

So I head out exploring the island before low tide arrived. My plan was originally to climb Mt  Misen, the tallest point on the island, and a good 1.5 hr hike. Alas, the persistent heavy rain meant that wasn’t going to happen. The low hanging clouds meant that it wasn’t going to be the greatest of views regardless (as a fellow hosteller confirmed to me later). So off I just wandered.

More temples in treetops

The island is made up of a number of small temples and shrines, that like Kyoto just pop up. But this time they are all buried in the woods of the island. Oh, and there is more deer. Just like Nara they just hang out and terrorise the visitors. Watching a poor lady have her scarf eaten was kinda funny I have to say (I wasn’t the only one watching and laughing).

It got to the point where I had to escape from the rain. And what better thing to do than… more Okonomyaki! I had to enjoy another Hiroshima special variant. The experience was not as special as last night, but it was tasty nonetheless. Oh, Templar… this is how they make it:

1. Make a REALLY thin circle of batter. I mean like thin crepe thin.

2. Put a ton of cabbage on top. Last night had bean shoots too which today didn’t. Put some bacon on it (yep, bacon)

3. Flip it over so the cabbage and bacon is on the grill. Squash, cook, squash, cook.

4. Pop some noodles (udon or soba) on the grill in a circle and let cook. Pop the batter and cabbage pancake on top. Squash.

5. Crack an egg and make it the same circle size as the pancake. Pop the batter, cabbage and noodle pancake on the egg (noodles against the egg). Squash some more

6. Flip over, paste with the magic sauce, and serve up! Yum.

After filling up on that goodness, the tide was a fair way out, so it was time to get wet some more and walk under the gate.

And you thought it was floating...

It is funny to think that 95% of photos of the torii are the magical floating photos, but that you requires perfect timing. If I want that I can buy a postcard… I got to walk underneath!

Having done that it was time to head back. Even though it was raining I did the long walk back from the train station to the hostel, weaving my way through a number of shopping arcades. Nothing too odd has jumped out at me yet, although one toy store I found made me want to buy half the stuff.

So farewell Hiroshima, I loved my visit even though you didn’t stop raining. You provided me with some spine-tingling moments as well as awesome okonmyaki and tasty kit kats. I will see if I can crack how to fold these paper cranes tonight and drop some off for me and Meagan and Ella and Jake before I head off tomorrow on an epic 5 1/2 hours of Train travel to Takayama. Speak to you next from the ancient town of sake 🙂