Monday, October 11, 2010

Big in Japan!

For about 25 years or so (ever since I saw Shogun on TV when I was a kid) I have been fascinated by Japan and always wanted to go there.
Today, that dream came true. Read how this trip will unfold right here.

Friday September 24th
After a truly horrible week (where I felt my energy was all gone and I was close to that famous wall), the date for my Japan trip finally came. With minimum preperation I set out to Landvetter airport to catch my flight at around 5pm towards Narita Airport outside Tokyo (via Frankfurt).

It was the first time I went with a Japanese airline (JAL) and the were some differences (which of course makes sence since it's Japanese); like getting both chop sticks and fork/knife with dinner, the guy in the security cartoon looked asian instead of caucasian (duh!) and they served green tea.

Saturday September 25th
Arriving at Narita (after about 14 hours of travel) everything went very smooth and I was soon waiting for my train to Tokyo. There I saw for myself what I had only heard of before, the lines to board the train:
Yes, that is correct, no pushing or shoving when the train arrives at the station, it's slow and easy where first in line also gets to board first.
It's looks very strange, but of course it's a much better system than everywhere else in the world.

Anyway, after about 40 minutes I get to my station, change to the subway, walk a little bit - and I am at my first hotel here in Japan; the Ginza Capital Hotel.

My hotel room (815) might be one of the smallest I've been in - but I know already now that it won't be the smallest on this trip...

After a quick shower and new clothes, I set out again.
I went first for food and pretty much just went into the first place I saw. It turned out to be a Italian restaurant - Japanese style. The food was OK and might have been the first indication that this trip will cost a bit when it comes to food. We'll see if that's true later, I guess.
At this restaurant two Japanese women started to talk to me in a very broken English. They asked where I came from and I understood that one of them had been to Stockholm three times. Why she's been there, I never could figure out. They also pointed at me and told me I was big. And then she made a sign with her hands showing sideways - not length-vise. Thanks for that! :-/ But I smiled to her and lied; yes, I am big and it's very good. Japanese women!

After dinner I headed up and down the streets to have a look at Ginza by night, which was nice.

Some reflections this first day;
They drive on the left side here, but don't have those great arrows in the streets where to look for traffic like they do in London. This can be a trip more dangerous than I expected...
I was of the belief that most signs were in both Kanji and English. This is not the case. Some are, but far from all that I wanted translated. And I am sure the percentage won't pick up outside Tokyo...

On my way home to the hotel room I bought some Japanese things (soda & snacks) to help me in the struggle against the jet lag. The snacks turned out to be potato chips, just as I wanted, but the Japanese Coca-Cola turned out to be Ice Tea. And my back up "must-be-Fanta" turned out to be Ice Tea as well... Did I mention I don't like Ice Tea? Anyhow, I got some water here as well from the plane trip.

I'll be in Tokyo for one more day before I head for Osaka. Not sure what I will do tomorrow, but I will ponder over it before I go to sleep.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday September 26th

Since the jet lag was screwing me over anyway, I got up at 4:30 to go to the near by, world famous, fish market. Luckely for me I told the guy in the hotel reception where I was going and he told me it was closed today... So I went back up to try to sleep some more. Maybe I'll go there tomorrow.

Having tried for several hours, I finally fell asleep at nine and woke up about three hours later.
I got up and ate some noodle soup in a restaurant (which was pretty OK). Then I went to Yoyogi Park, a place where apperantly a lot of Japanese people dress up as they want - not what the dress code says, like 60's rockers, anime characters, cybergoths and so on.
I walk around the whole park without seeing anything special (nothing more than I expect on a normal street). Either I looked at the wrong place or they were scared off from the normal masses having their Sunday Park day. Eventually, on my way out, I found the 60's rockers and they were dancing like crazy to high volume 60's American rock.
There were a few gangs dancing, but I liked these guys, they called themselfs "Lebels". Hehehe, irony ftw.

I went to the next park and to the Meiji Jingu, a Shinto shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji, the one who stood behind opening Japan up for foreigners at the end of the 19th century.

The gate at the beginning of the park:
The shrine itself:

After visiting that old building I headed for a newer one; the World Trade Center to see Tokyo from above. The view from the 40th floor was stunning.
The Tokyo Tower, a replica (but not an exact copy) of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. For some reason the Japanese paint their radio towers red & white including this one.

Other views from the WTC:

After this I was tired and hungry so I went back to Ginza for something to eat. I walked close to an hour before I found what I was looking for, a Sushi restaurant. I think it was a really fancy place, but staying on the cheap side of the menu, I got away with 2200 Yen (about 200 SEK) and that's including a Sapporo beer on draft.
So was it better than Swedish sushi? Well, yes, it did taste a little better, but seeing that this was suppose to be one of "Tokyo's finest sushi restaurants" it wasn't that big difference.
But I will try more sushi places on the way so we will see where the medium experience ends up.

It has started to rain so I went home after this. On my way to the hotel, I picked up some more stuff in a convenience store like Pepsi (don't trust those japanese sodas anymore), water, chocolate (tasted as it should) and something I thought was popcorn (but was more like corn...something - didn't taste good at all).

Additional story:

There is a lot of buttons on Japanese toilets. I tried the bidé function today (for the first time ever) and the experience was... uhh... interesting.
Yeah, that's all I am going to write about that.

Time to finish the book I am reading at the moment; "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym" by Mr Poe himself.
Good night!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Monday September 27th

Time to leave Tokyo for this time and head out for a one week tour outside the capital (and to go to some other, older, capitals).

I have bought a Japan Rail Pass, which gives me free access to all JR trains around the country for a week. Funny thing, this pass can only be bought by foreigners.

A proof of Japanese efficiency when waiting for the train to leave; the doors of the train didn't open until five minutes before departure time - and we still drove out from the station on time. These queues the Japanese form really works. :)

I was really excited for this train ride, my first on a Shinkansen, Japanese express trains. This one was a HIKARI and makes the 550 km distance in three hours despite several stops on the way.

The start of the trip made me a little disappointed though, I had expected The Kick, G forces pushing me to the seat and everything outside the window going to a blur. High hopes, yes - and they didn't come true. But it was noticeable that the train was going faster than any other train I had ever been on. So of course it was cool :)

Some of the non-blurriness:
Something I never though of before was that the Japanese landscape has a lot of hills. It just goes up and down in layers...
I hope I will get better pictures on that on another train ride.

One thing that was different was that the train personnel always bowed to the passengers every time they entered or exited a train car.
I want to see them do that in Sweden!

During the train ride I started reading - and finished - Neil Gaiman's "Odd and the Frost Giants". Luckily the book was so short! ;)

After arriving in (Shin-) Osaka, I went to my hotel, the Hotel Monterey Grasmere Osaka - and almost got lost looking for the reception, where was it? Oh, there - on the 22th floor. OMG, I seem to have reserved room at a very fancy hotel, here is a peak on the reception (way in the background) among relics (they had a museum there as well) plus two restaurants and who knows what else.

My hotelroom (2718) on the 27th floor:
and the view:
Very nice indeed!

But no rest for the... tired/spoiled/goodlooking. I went out again almost eminently so I would be able to look at some attraction before the day was over.
Even though it had started to rain, I decided to go to Osaka Castle, the building I had read so much about in my youth - and now I finally got to see it!

A side note about the Japanese; they really love their umbrellas, as soon as there is a hint of rain, everyone pops one up. They are everywhere!

Here is the outer moot:
and the inner (without water these days):

Headed for the large port (on the inner bailey)
and there it was:
Osaka Castle!

It was really nice to see with its white colour and ornaments and stuff all over!

I also went inside and looked at the view from the 8th floor:

There was also a museum on the inside which was nice.

Going back towards the hotel I went through Shinsaibashi, a place with youth culture and clothing (hey, I openly admit it, I try to be younger than I am) and in this part of the town there is a looooong street with roof above with a massive amounts of stores, called Shinsaibashisuji shopping arcade:
Note that this goes for as long as you can see - and this is only a fifth of the street - at most!

After that I came to the hotel - and time for a rest. Finally.

Tomorrow I think I will head over for another ex-capital; Nara.
Life is good.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Tuesday September 28th

Woke up at four from a text message from someone who didn't know I was in Japan and after that I couldn't go back to sleep (I will be sleeping with the phone in silent mode from here on so don't worry if you want to send a message).
So first I started to read a new book, William Gibson's classic novel "Neuromancer". I've read it several times already, but this time it will be in English. Not sure why I never done that before.
But after a while I decided to head out early instead, I had a full day in front of me and might as well get a early start.

I took the train to Nara, an old capital of Japan (which is celebrating its 1300 anniversary this year).
Nara Train station.

I walked to the Nara Park (and walking I was doomed to do this day - I walked for hours and hours in this park...), which is famous for several temples, old houses and stuff - and its deers.
These animals walk freely in the park and gets food from the tourists and could be very pushy sometimes in their quest for it - and still they were not fat. Wonder how they do it?

Obligatory deer photo:

But returning to the buildings...
The most impressive was the Todaiji Temple which had a mighty big gate in front of it:

and then the temple itself:

Inside where were severals statues, among them Japan's largest Buddha statue. It was huge!
(note the old man in front of it).

This cultural exchange has been interrupted by a new toilet story:

I wanted to use the facilities in this park and found this toilet:
Seat? We don't need no seats in this country!
In my efforts of testing new things (and me really needed to go) I tried it out, but realize midway that I had my back towards the toilet paper. Luckily it all turned out well in the end anyway (later note: I actually encountered this type of toilets in other places in Osaka as well - apparently they have both kinds).

Anyway... Back to the interesting things; in the park there were many a things, one of them were lanterns. Not so interesting you say? Well, in this part of the park there were lanterns everywhere:

Lanterns - and deers, of course:

After killing my feet several times over, I decided it was enough walking in this place and headed back to Osaka.

A funny thing I noticed on the train platform was this:
A train for women only (at certain times of the day). Never seen that before, maybe not a bad idea?

OK, we are back in Osaka!
I went straight to Kaiyukan, one of the largest aquarium of the world.

I seriously don't know why I always visit aquariums where ever I go. I don't care that much for fish or water animals - and if you have seen one aquarium, you have pretty seen them all.
So what new things did this bring to me? Not much, however I enjoined the layout of it, you went up to the 8th floor and walked on sloping floors downhill. And since many of the tanks were very deep, you could see the same tank several times on different levels. That worked out neatly.
I also liked the Whale shark. It was probably the biggest fish I have ever seen. Real nice. :)

OK, so I have to do one more toilet story today, sorry for the perhaps inappropriate topic, but I blame it all on the Japanese.
So I went to the toilet here as well - and the seat was warm! And I don't mean "someone was just sitting here" warm, it actually was heated. Very strange! And nothing I really liked.

However one cool thing they did have; when I washed my hands, they had this sink where the left outlet was liquid soup, the right was water - and closest to you, there was a dryer! And of course they all where activated with sensors.
You gotta love the Japanese and their ingenuity!

On my way back to the hotel I wanted an ice cream and the only flavour this place had was... green tea.
Uhhh, it didn't taste absolutely horrible, but I only ate half of it. And I am not going to buy me a new one any time soon.

A side note about Osaka, something that I noticed yesterday when I arrived here, but it was confirmed again today. For some weird reason the Osaka people ride their escalators on the right side, while in Tokyo they ride it on the left side. *shakes his head*

Back at my luxurious hotel, I have discovered that they have a church build inside it - which is also on the 22th floor!
Apparently this hotel is popular to get married in.

Time to enjoy my last night in this hotel!
Night all!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Tuesday September 28th - a small update

Tuesday September 28th - a small update

So after a while I got hungry and went out looking for something open at 9:30 pm.

I found this great place, no clue of the name, not far from my hotel. The waiter could speak a little English but was unable to translate the menu (they did not have an English nor a picture menu) so I told him to just bring me something with meat. "Meat! What ever you recommend" I told him. And a drought beer. The beer happened to be a Kirin and then they came in with a small grill and some unspecified meat pieces for me to put on the grill. And some cabbage. Plus rice.

I was sitting right next to like 20 bottles of sake, so I ordered some of that as well.
Cold or warm? - The way you drink it! (cold)
Small or large? And I actually took a small, since I was a) alone and b) going to Kyoto in the morning.
This is the small I got:

But of course I drank it up, Kanpai!

The food was very good and so was the sake.

Just wanted to tell you that.

Maybe I should have taken a large?

Kan. Pai.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Wednesday September 29th

Time to move on to Kyoto!

Remember those "female cars" in the subway/trains? When going with the subway this morning I suddenly realized I was on one. I was in a hurry when I jumped on it so I didn't notice it. Embarrassing to say the least. So I jumped off at the next stop and changed car. *blushes*

Anyway, at the train station I took the Hikari to Kyoto

and carrying all this luggage onboard made me realize I have made a mistake when planing this trip (I will put that on the "didn't have time to prepare-list"); it would be better to stay in once place (like Osaka) and go on day-trips to the nearby cities (Kyoto is only 13 mins with train) instead of have to bring all your luggage with you all the time. I will try to make Kyoto my base of operation instead of changing city all the time. More on that when I know myself.

Anyway, Kyoto; the old capital of Japan. Where to go first?
Well, the hotel is always a good start; Hotel Oaks Kyotoshijo (room 718):
It seems good enough.

But where to now?
I decided to start with Nijo castle, an old palace that used to be the residence for the Tokugawa shoguns when they were in town.

The main entrance:
and the entrance to the building where the Tokugawas stayed and used as an office:

To be able to go inside and do the tour you had to remove your shoes. I liked that. :)
An interesting detail was that all the floor was of "Nightingale design" - it squeaked as you walk on it. This was to prevent anyone sneaking in during the night.

The castle garden was really nice as well:

After this I went to Kinkakuji, where they have a golden temple which is suppose to be very beautiful - and it was:
The building is painted with a gold/yellow paint and looks really different. The whole park in which it reside is also a remarkable sight. It seems like they have put in a lot of effort to make this place as peaceful and beautiful as possible.

A side note here is that the battery in my camera died, but I have one more. lets just hope it will be enough for the rest of the trip. I haven't come halfway yet!

I had time for one more thing to see today so I went to the Imperial Palace/Garden. It was a nice big park where people was jogging, walking the dog and doing normal park stuff, but unless you took a special tour you couldn't really see anything other than grass, trees and pebbles.
However I did went to the information disk and asked if this is where the emperor lived (this town & palace felt like it should be his permanent residence), but no - he lived in Tokyo - and funny enough, when he was in Kyoto, he didn't live in the Imperial palace, he stayed in another palace in the park.

Picture-vise this mean that he doesn't stay here:
He stays here:

I walk home from the park and stopped for some food at the Beer restaurant Lion. I had some stewed ox tongue (which was good) and drank some beer; to all, I can recommend the Yebisu Half&Half - that's half their lager and half their "Yebisu Black".
A funny detail at this restaurant was that each table had a button you could press when you were ready to order - or you wanted their attention. Not a bad thing to have! :)

A note I made today was how the buses work here (it's probably the same all over Japan, but this is the first time I ever gone by bus since I got here);
You enter the bus at the rear door end and exit from the front. And you pay the fare when exiting. Never think I have ever seen this system before...

OK, I am off to fix with my hotel reservations for the rest of my Japan train trip.
See you tomorrow!