Saturday, June 5, 2010

Day 8 Mount Fuji and Surrounds

Today we went to see Mt Fuji. It was amazing.
We left Tokyo on the bus at our scheduled time, but it seemed as though everybody in Tokyo wanted to leave Tokyo so the highway was chokkers. What should have been a 1.5 hour bus trip turned into 3 hours. It was the first day since we had been in Japan that it had been cloudy which was a real shame. The one day we wanted it to not be cloudy and it was.
We were running late so we had to skip the first stop: Mt Fuji Visitor Centre - that was a shame. We stopped in Fujiyoshida at a beautiful hotel for lunch. The lunch was an obentoo box. A traditional Japanese lunch with sashimi, tenpura and a couple of other things, some of which were nice, some not so much. I have decided Japanese lunch food is sometimes hit or miss.

After lunch we started our journey up to 5th station where we would be stopping to witness this marvellous site. We arrived just before 1pm local time and we had 40min. Not very long really. We stopped and took many many many pictures. The top was so nice as to whisk away the clouds just as we were arriving, so we could see the top, take pictures with the top and then the clouds rolled in again. We were all thankful we had worn jumpers because it was a wee bit chilly.

After Mt Fuji we were going for a boat ride on Lake Ashinoko (Ashi for short) which I imagine when it is isn't covered in fog and cloud is an astonishing site. We also went up a rope way to the top of Mt Komagatake. Again it would have been amazing during the middle of a sunny day however all we saw was fog. The fog started to lift as we descended in the rope way, however when we were at the top it was all just fog.

After that it was time to leave and go back to Tokyo. It was a great day and a wonderful way to spend Cara and Kate's last day. We were dropped off at Shinjuku - one of the largest subway stations in Tokyo (or maybe the largest not sure). We hadn't been there yet so we thought we might wander around a little. It was a Saturday night so there were people everywhere. We found somewhere to eat and something for Kate to eat and then had some food. Then we went wandering around looking at all the neon lights and TVs that they have on building. It was incredible and I bet they use tons of power.

Kate and Cara were leaving at 5am to get to the airport by 6am for their early flight to London so now came the fun of packing and oh boy was it fun. I was going to Kyoto the next day also so was also packing but didn't have quite so many problems. We finished packing at probably around 1am and decided that it was definitely lights-out time. The American boys we were sharing a dorm with had gone out again for the night. Cara set her alarm so they would get up in time and I told her to wake me up so I could say good bye :( Little did she realise that her mobile was still on Australian time (one hour ahead), that or she knows her sister so well she did it intentionally. So they got up at the alarm and got ready and then realised that it was only 4ish and they had an hour to kill. I got up and we went outside the room and chatted for a bit, before they decided to go early anyway  because they both had heavy heavy bags.

That concludes week one in Japan. Stay tuned for week two.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Day 7 Harajuku and Akihabara (aka Electric Town)

Today was the day to wander around Tokyo. First stop Harajuku. This is the trendy area where Tokyonites apparently come to be ``trendy and spendy``. We walked to Asakusabashi train station, caught a train one stop to Akihabara and then changed at Akihabara for Harajuku. The train in Tokyo was amazing. There was like a loop line and we were able to use it on our JR pass and also meant that we didn:t have to try to work out the subway. Although everything is so well sign-posted in English that it wasn:t too hard to work out really. We managed.
So we took the loop line to Harajuku, got off and followed the crowd. It was easy to see which was the `trendy street.` We walked along looking at all the shops and suddenly realised we had lost Kate. She was in an accessory shop. So we hovered for awhile looking at the shop and other stores around it until she had made her purchase and then we continued. Next we wondered into Harajuku Daiso (hyakuen shop) where everything is supposed to be 100yen although in this one it didn`t seem to be. So then we lost Kate in  a shoe shop. When we went in she was trying a pair on and although they were too small I think she was going to buy them until Cara suggested she look at everything first.
WE walked on to the end of the street looking for the Harajuku girls but there were none to be found. Apparently sunday is the best day to go, but unfortunately that would not have been possible so Friday it was. So although we had come to Harajuku to see the Harajuku girls, we did not see any. WE walked back up the laneway dodging people and decided we could do with some food. Wandering makes you hungry, so we tried a couple of mall type areas but didn:t like the look of anything. Eventually we settled on a place that did Japanese style pasta and rice. Kate had the pasta, Cara and I had the rice as we do not believe that pasta is really Japanese and we were trying to be authentic.

It was so-so. Not the worst, but not the best meal either. Then we wandered on, found a few other little streets and wandered up them. We wanted to leave at about 2pm to go to Akihabara. We almost met that deadline. We found ourselves back on the train around 2.30pm which was fine. So we got back on the loop line bound for Akihabara. Electric town here we come. This is where i thought I would get my birthday present.

So we got off the train and wandered out onto the street into nothing I have ever seen before. A geek`s paradise so to speak, rows and rows and streets and streets of shops dedicated solely to electronic goods. I was in heaven. We wandered into the first store to discover it had 8 levels of all electronic goods. Wow is an understatement.
So we wandered around. Cara had a couple of things in mind that she wanted. Me, i had no idea. I was just in awe. So we wandered and wandered and wandered. Store after store, level after level. After a while it all got the same but it was still amazing. By this time I still didn:t really know what i wanted to buy for my birthday. SO much i wanted, but i had to think of space in my bag and the fact that i didn:t have much. So i didn:t really buy much of anything. I did buy a 16gb usb memory stick for quite a good deal. Although most things do work out about the same as in Australia, they are just a model that has not been released yet. SO a newer product for the same price as an old one. DOne deal.

After wandering through lots of shops and not even seeing everything, we eventually decided we had had enough. By this time i had kind of decided that I might like a digital photo frame. I still had to think of the limited space in my bag and wasn:t completely sure that it was what i wanted. So i didn:t actually buy one, but it was something to keep in mind.

WE wandered back to the train station and then got on a train bound for Asakusabashi. After wandering around all day we were all beat and we decided that if we got dinner on the way back to the hostel then we would not have to come out again. WE decided we wanted some udon soba type thing so we wandered past the street to the hostel and kept wandering for awhile. we came across a place that did udon or so we thought. WE had to order from a vending machine and then pass it to the shopkeeper. Everything in Japan is vending machines. I swear in about 10 years time it will all be robots. haha...

So we ordered. Cara and I semi-successfully, Kate not so much. She didn`t eat much so on the way back to the hostel we stopped at a convenience store and got some 2 min noodles.

We got back into the hostel and basically got ready for bed after a long day of sightseeing/shopping. Tomorrow was an early morning as we were bound for Mt Fuji on a bus tour and had to be at the bus stop at 9am. As we were not sure where we were going we had to walk out of the hostel at about 8am. So we organised everything and went to bed.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Day 6 Tokyo Disneyland

Today was an early morning as we were going to Disneyland. We decided that tomorrow we would go to Mt Fuji and booked a tour. Little did we know at the time that my credit card failed. I first tried to use my travelex card but it didn't work. Then i tried my australian one and had been told it was successful. First of all we had to go and get money for Cara and Kate. We headed off to the post office after discovering this was one place they could get money from. While we were there, i bought some stamps. They both had trouble getting money out so we headed back to the hostel to ring the bank to find out why. I bought a phone card to call Australia while the girls logged into their account to find there was nothing wrong. Eventually they rang and got hold of the bank in Australia to find that it was mastercard that was the problem. It had gone down late the night before and was still not working.

After some sighs of relief knowing now that it was not their cards, we set off for another post office. We got directions from the hostel worker and set off for where he told us. His directions were useless and led us on a wild goose chase which involved me asking 3 more times for directions to the Yubinkyoku. thank goodness for the lonelyplanet phrase book and dictionary as my memory was not that good after 10 years.

We eventually went into the station and they gave us directions again. We walked in the right direction and eventually saw the sign. The problem now was crossing the road, that was fun as we had to cross about 6 times just to get to the other side. Don't you just love big cities. Argghh!!!

Eventually we made it inside and they both got some money. Yay. Now the day could begin. So we set off for the train station, where we would catch one train to Akihabara, one train to Tokyo adn then one train to Disneyland.

Eventually we made it and by the time we got there it was about 12.00pm. WE set off inside with the map in hand. Not knowing what to expect i was a little apprehensive as I don't really like rollercoaster ride type things too much but so as it seems do the Japanese. We went on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride which was  gentle cruise through the pirate underworld with some really good sets that looked very real. Then we set off to find some food. Not being able to decide quickly, we wandered around looking for things, eventually we settled on Fried chicken.

After food we decided on a gentle ride as we did not know yet that all rides were gentle. WE lined up for what seemed like an eternity. We took a cruise through the jungle with the whole trip in Japanese. I picked up a little bit and mostly from the guide's mannerisms but some words too. Kate and Cara picked up thank you, and a couple of others.

After this we wandered again trying to find rides that didn't have too long a waiting time. Then we stumbled on everyone sitting down in the middle of the paths. WE discovered that it was a parade so we sat down to wait. WE watched the parade and then tried to leave quickly to avoid the crowds. It wasn't to be. Most of the rides we didn't go on because the waiting time was just too long. So we wandered picking up food here and there and drinks when we go too hot as it was very warm.

Eventually we all got to the point where we were good and were just about to leave when we stumbled upon more people sitting down. Another parade was going to begin so we took the opportunity to rest our tired feet and sat down and waited for the parade.

After the parade we wandered through the castle and then went into some souvenir places. We spent awhile in there and by the time we came out we were well and truly ready to go and it was almost 6pm. We went through the final souvenir shop and then made our way back to the train station where we would get a train to Tokyo, a train to Akihabara, a train to Asakusabashi and then walk. All this on our JR passes so we didn't pay a cent for the transport which was really good. It has been a blessing having had the JR pass and they have been well and truly used already.

Finally we made it home and decided we needed something for dinner so headed out after awhile for something to eat. Wandering aimlessly didn't get us very far so we got something from the 7 eleven.

This morning we had booked a tour to Mt Fuji. I hadn't checked my email straight away as we needed to get going. I checked that night when we returned to find that my credit card had been denied. Then came the hard part of trying to check whether we were booked or not. I used the phone card we had got this morning and rang the number to find i was calling America. They told me that we were not booked and that the agency required at least 48 hours notice as it was so it would never have worked anyway. This meant we had to change our plans for tomorrow. We found another tour and booked that for Saturday instead giving them not quite 48 hours even though it didn't say anywhere that it required 48 hours notice. So tomorrow we would go to Harajuku to look for Harajuku girls and then hit up Akihabara (Electric Town).

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Day 5 Around Kyoto and then train to Tokyo

Day 5 saw us pack up and check out of the Kyoto hostel. We went off to do some shopping before we were catching the train to Tokyo. We ended up at the handicraft building which had 7 levels of souvenirs and duty-free shopping. We had a wonderful time and then discovered we had extra bags and that they wouldn't fit in our already full to the brim bags.
We hailed a cab to go back to the hostel to pick up our bags before heading to the train station. Again we caught a cab because backpacks are heavy. Mine wasn't so bad, but Kate looked like she might fall over at any given minute. We made it to the train station earlier than we had planned and were offered one train, but decided to take a later one due to needing some lunch.

We found some lunch and then made our way to the platform discovering we didn't have much more time left. We found the right platform and waited a little while for the train to come, then we were on the way to Tokyo. Not knowing where to look for Mt Fuji was a shame because it was a gorgeous day and we may have been able to see the top. The trip was quite quick and Im pretty sure at one stage all of us had dozed off.

We made it to Tokyo, then the fun part came. We headed to the information desk where they spoke english. They gave us a map and then told us how to get to the area where we were staying. We then had to get on 2 more trains, again fun especially being peak hour and all in the Major city in Japan on a Wednesday. Argghh!!!

So we found the platform, because thoughtfully the Japanese use English numbers for almost everything and their signs at train stations are all in english as well as japanese. I guess they discovered that without english, they wouldn't get many tourists. So we found the platform for the first train and navigated that, then we got off at Akihabara (more on that later), and found our way to the next platform for the local line (that was even worse). We all had huge bags on and there wasn't much space. I always thought Paris trains were crowded until I got to Tokyo. 凄いですね(sugoi desu ne)。

We got off the train and found the way to the exit and then asked on which way to Asakusabashi (where we were staying. I used some japanese but then stared blankly due to the answer in Japanese oh dear!!!). The ticket people pointed to the general area, we walked a block and were then stunned because we didn't know where to go next. I decided to ring the hostel but only had a little bit of credit left which didn't help because just as they were telling me something about the station and the 7 eleven shop i was looking at, my phone ran out of credit. Oops. So then we had a stab in the dark and travelled past the 7 eleven. After walking a couple of blocks we stopped and asked for directions in a balloon store in japanese but they didn't know. SO then we decided to get a taxi. The taxi driver was unsure but had GPS and eventually we got there, although the GPS took him in a around a bout way. we decided it was because of all the one way streets in the area. Eventually we got to the coordinates and still couldn't see the building, until the taxi turned the corner, then we spotted it. Fortunately it didn't turn out to be too expensive as we had been told taxis in Tokyo were!!!

So we walked inside to see a sign saying go the 4th floor. There was a lift, but a small lift that was not going to fit 3 people with big heavy backpacks on, so Cara and Kate went up and I waited for the lift to come back. By the time I got up there, Cara was checking us in and we could relax.

We found our way to the room and then dumped our heavy bags. After that we got a recommendation for dinner from the hostel worker (American) who gave us directions on a map to an area with lots of food places. we went out to explore. Following the map almost to the tee we walked past intially where we wanted to go, then went back deciding that it had been our intended destination. It was a fried chicken place and it was packed. We had our own Yum Cha style smorgasboard ordering something that everyone wanted. After that we were buggered and went back to the hostel.

We got back to the room to find 2 other people in there so we introduced ourselves and chatted for awhile. Having decided the next day that we would go to Disneyland we organised things for the morning so as not to wake the others in the room.
That was our first night in Tokyo.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Day 4 Kyoto to Himeji and Kobe and back again

Today was another early start. we managed to catch the same train, this time getting off at Himeji as we wanted to see a 400 year old castle. it was well worth it. we walked through the princesses' quarters and the maid's quarters. unfortunately they were doing restorations so we were unable to walk into the main castle but it was stunning none the less.

from himeji castle, we walked back through the town back to the station and picked up some souvenirs.
we arrived back at the station and got a ticket to get back to kobe.

we arrived at kobe and found our way to a restaurant. a steakhouse of all things. then we found our way to kobe ropeway which took us up the mountain to a view of kobe which was amazing although it started to get foggier and foggier from the smog. it also looked like a storm was rolling in but it never did. we made our way back to the station and then discovered we had an hour to wait for the train. we went souvenir hunting for Kate who's best friend's husband's name is Koby so she wanted something from Kobe. UNfortunately we didn't find any postcards but many signs with kate's photo.

tomorrow we are wandering around Kyoto again and then catching a train to Tokyo. its 552km away but will take about 2.5 hours. awesome.

jya ne

Monday, May 31, 2010

Day 3 Kyoto to Hiroshima and back again

Today was an early start for we were heading out to Hiroshima to see the Atomic Bomb sight from 1945.
We planned last night to get up early (6.45am to walk out the door at 7.45 so we could walk to the station). Cara has got a cold and Kate doesn't take too kindly to mornings so that didn't really happen, however we did make it.

We decided that instead of walking we would instead catch a taxi. We had been told taxi's were expensive but between 3 of us it was working out to about $3 each which is not very much for door to door service.

So we found a taxi as we were heading to the taxi rank and hailed it. I then got to use my suskoshi Nihongo to ask the driver to take us to the train station. He understood which was good and we were on our way.

We arrived at the station, found our way to the ticket office to get a reserved seat and then found some food before heading to the platform for our train. the train journey was supposed to be 1.5 hours, but that didn't include a bonus 1.5 hour stop in a tunnel due to a power failure. for a long time there was only japanese coming through the speaker but then eventually an english voice said the train was stopped due to a power failure. we decided we were better off not knowing. so there we sat. eventually we started moving again and then arrived at Hiroshima station. We headed to Tourist information where i asked if they spoke english and was overjoyed when they said yes. then we asked about our rail passes to see if they were valid on more than just long train journeys. well they aren't really but thats ok. we are getting good use out of them. well worth it.

so at the desk we also asked for the tram location so we could get on a tram and get to where we going as we had decided that was the best course of action. we found it quite easily and got on. everything here is backwards as we should know from studying it, you get on the back of the tram and then off at the front and pay as you get off. weird but good for crowds.

so we found the tram, figured out our destination, hopped on the right tram and then set off. 6 stops later we hopped off right outside our location. we walked around the A-bomb historic site which was the city hall before it was destroyed. we then headed across the road to have some lunch. Italian of all things would you believe.

after lunch we headed off towards the peace memorial park and then to the peace memorial museum where we spent much of the afternoon. i had a japanese train timetable and have figured out the kanji for Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima and a couple of other places, 9 years actually paid off. yay!

we figured out that our train back would leave at 4.14pm so we decided to head back towards the station. we also went via a chemist for Cara where we had an interesting time because after i asked if they spoke english and the answer was no, i was lost. fortunately they had a chart in english of things that were wrong so we used pictures.

then we walked through an undercover mall where Kate was in heaven but Cara and I both reminded her she had very little space. im sure it won't be long before she succumbs.

we found the tram and the way back to hiroshima station but unfortunately missed our train meaning we had to wait for an hour. that was ok. we wandered around. i bought a sudoku book from the home of sudoku and then we headed back to the station. we discovered we had to change at Osaka which proved to be interesting seeing it was peak hour and we had 6 min to get to the next platform but had no idea where we were going. eventually we found a guard and they said we could just change the tickets, which we did and then waited a little for the next Kyoto train. all in all its proving very interesting. im glad i have a little japanese because it would be almost impossible without it.

til next time,
jya matta ne.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Day 2 Sightseeing around Kyoto

Day 2 started very early as the sun rose very early. i looked at the clock and it was 5.45 Australian time which means it was 4.45 Japan time. too early to be awake. tried to go back to sleep but wasn't very successful so in the end gave up and got up to read about what the day would bring. I read about the temples and other sightseeing possibilities. Cara and Kate were still sleeping and i was still reading. at about 10am i decided that enoguh was enough adn that they should raelly get up. so eventually we got moving and left the hostel at about 11.30am. very late start for the first day and late than i liked but this is what happens when your travelling buddies have had little to no sleep for 2 days.

so we started wandering aimlessly at first and decided on a destination: the Imperial Palace gardens. we walked a fair way before we had decided on this destination so we probably took the long way around. we had a map so it was ok. along the way we saw many interesting places. one man stopped in the street to practise his english with us which was nice.

we made it to the gardens and walked through up towards the palace. it was a beautiful area with lots of people out for sunday strolls, picnics and just general lazing in the early summer sun.

we found the palace and took some photos and then decided we need a break so we found some shade to sit under and had a rest. a rest turned into probably about an hour. after awhile we decided we didn't really have time to just laze about as we were already short for time so we got moving again. we decided on a route that would take us to a few more temples and came across many more interesting things along the way. we found the temples and then decided to return back to the hostel for a little rest before the night's festivities started.

Day 1 Birkdale to Osaka

Today was the day that we would finally leave for Japan after months of planning. Cara and Kate were extremely apprehensive as they are leaving home for 2 years for the first time.
We had a late night on friday night as both Kate and Cara were both still packing and finalising some stuff. We finally made it to bed about Midnight although weren't sure why we were bothering when we would be up in 4 hours anyway.
So 4 hours came and went very quickly. we rose at 4am and got ready and then eventually left birkdale at 6.10a.m, a little later than we had wanted.
Cara's parents drove us to Coolloongatta airport where we were greeted by Cara's eldest sister and new brother-in-law. We found our way to the desk and checked in with no dramas. then we went to get some breakfast and conversed for a bit. suddenly it was time for us to leave.

this was pretty emotional seeing as though Kate and Cara both weren't returning to Australia.

we went through x-ray and then through customs without any trouble at all. we also got money back for Cara's eepc which was good. then finally the boarding call went out and we got on the plane and there we sat for 9.5hours. we thought we would never get there.

coming into land in Osaka was a beautiful sight as the sun reflected off the water as it was close to sunset. unfortunately i didn't have the camera at the ready but it was stunning. so we finally landed and with the crowd walked through immigration and were fingerprinted, then we went through quarantine where they didn't even check our bags, stamped our passport and irasshaimase, welcome to Japan.

We walked through the terminal to the train station and then tried to figure out where to validate our train tickets, we were in the right place as it turned out but not really being sure and being tired and not game enough to try japanese we walked out again. eventually someone asked if we were lost and pointed us back in the direction we had come from.
we validated our pass and then found the entrance to the platform. while we were waiting we met this crazy dude who was telling us a crazy story. we walked throuhg and then down onto the platform to wait. there was already a train there but it was not our train. so we waited about 25min.

the train finally came and so the journey began. 75minutes to kyoto. we arrived in kyoto and decided that it was easiest to get a taxi to the hostel as it was about 9pm and we were all tired and not used to heavy bags. we found a taxi and then came the fun part trying to communicate. we had the address written down and the driver thought he knew where to go. he took us to the wrong place, but then i wrote the address in half hiragana/half katakana (as i discovered this morning) and we were on our way again. fortunately it didn't turn out to be in the wrong area. we were in the right place.

so we finally checked in and paid the difference and then set off to dump our bags and then set out for food. we started walking and ended up taking a detour down a side alley. We were not having much luck when we saw the universal sign for a 7/11 which was good. we found something in there to eat and headed back to the hostel to eat it. back at the hostel we met a few english people who decided to rub in the fact that they won the 20/20 world cup. Cara and Kate didn't care, but i couldn't let that slide so i threw in a dig about them not being able to win the ashes in australia. we had a bit of a jibe and a bit of a conversation. eventually we threw in the towel and went to bed.

there ended our first day of this Japanese adventure. the language barrier is interesting but i think between cara and i we have enough to survive plus most people in a lot of places do speak some english.