A Travellerspoint blog

Day 9 - Nagano

We're not quite Olympians, but we tried.

(Sara) We wanted to go skiing, and what better place to do that than where the 1998 Olympics took place. We took a train from Tokyo to Nagano, then about 1 1/2 hours further into the mountains into the area of Hakuba. This is where the downhill and ski jumping events at the Olympics took place.

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We checked into our wonderful ski lodge, the Mominoki Hotel. It's a very cute ski lodge, with wood fireplaces and plenty of hot cocoa, or for everyone else but me, hot tea. They have a ski rental shop attached to the hotel, so it was very convenient. While I have been skiing a few times before, Todd had never touched a ski before in his life. We decided that he needed a professional lesson, one preferably in English! We quickly found out that all of the group lessons were full. However,Todd was very lucky in that someone had cancelled out of a private lesson, so he was able to get a 1/2 day lesson, in English no less. (His ski instructor even happened to be a nurse... just in case...) We rented our ski equipment that night so we would be ready to go in the morning!

We awoke and hit the mountain! I took off from the lift that was almost adjacent to our hotel. I had a ski area map, however, unlike in the United States, they don't have green circles, blue squares, and black diamonds to symbolize the degree of difficulty of the course. So, at every fork on the ski mountain, I had to get my map out and start comparing Japanese symbols. I was hoping not to make a mistake and go down a black diamond! I did ski about 100 feet or so of the Olympic course, just to see what it was like, then I went back to my beginner and intermediate runs. It was a really great day for skiing.

Todd, on the other hand, had a "like to forget" type day on the mountain. He spent the morning trying to conquer the mountain (aka, learn how to stop) and the mountain eventually conquered him. He states he'll never ski again, but I think I just might manage to get him back out there some day.

AAAHHHHH...THE WONDERFUL ONSEN
(Todd) Yes, I had a hard day on the slopes and barely learned how to stop, but Sara neglected to mention the hotel's onsen which made me forget all about my lack of ski legs.

After a cold, 3-hour long ski lesson, what better way is there to relax than an onsen? An onsen is a natural, hot spring bath. we were lucky since we had one attached to the hotel. I wasn't leaving Japan with at least trying it out. Since you're not allowed to bathe with any clothing, there was a mens and womens area. This picture is not one I took; it's from the hotel's website. The other guests might have been a little miffed if I brought a camera in.

Mominoki_Onsen.jpg Since the water is perfectly clear, it's hard to see where the water is in the photo. Well, its the bottom half of the pic. It's about 3 feet deep, really hot and soooo relaxing.

I walked into the changing room (yes, in the mens area) and there is a spot for your shoes and another row of shelves with baskets for your clothes. Judging by the number of shoes, there were only a few others inside. Before you're allowed in the onsen, you need to rinse so that the water stays clean. Some rinse quickly so they can soak (like me), but some bring soap and shampoo and literally bathe.

The area had 2 places to soak. One was inside and the other was outside. I decided to stay inside at first, because I didn't feel like freezing. After a few minutes of relaxing in the perfectly clear, warm water, I decided to venture to the outer bath. It was pretty cold, but once you get in the bath, you almost forget you're outside. It was a real treat after a rough day.

HOMEWARD BOUND
(Sara) We headed in to our lodge and packed up our belongings. For the next day, we'd have 5 trains and 2 planes to get us back to the United States of America. We had an awesome time in Japan, but I sure was looking forward to coming home!

Posted by thetodd 18:50 Comments (1)

Day 8 - Tokyo

5am at Tsukiji Fish Market to the Kabuki-za theater

6 °C

4AM? ARE WE NUTS?
(Todd) It's our first day in Tokyo, and we decided to wake up at 4am. Think we're crazy? Well, it's really the best time to see the world famous Tsukiji tuna auction and fish market.

We wake at the crack of dawn (well, actually before that) and catch a cab, since the trains don't run that early. When we get there, we start walking toward all the commotion. We had to dodge the oncomming workers who are all riding these forklift-like vehicles. Imagine a live version of the old video game Frogger. There are hundreds of them going every-which-way. Even the friendly guy who helped us find the auction couldn't avoid these workers. As he was showing us the way, his foot got run over and he limped the rest of the way until he pointed out the place to see the action, still smiling. The Japanese have a wonderful disposition.

THE SEA OF TUNA
While walking to the building he pointed out, we see people (I should say men) coming in and out of these warehouses. The doors all say authorized persons only. Finally we see a sign that says "Visitors."

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When we walked inside, it was quite a sight; a "sea" of tuna. Over 1000 fish on display, all tuna, flash frozen and prepared for market. There are 100 men poking and smelling and even tasting the frozen tuna. Apparently, there is a dramatic difference in the quality of each fish and these buyers want the ones with the right fat ratio, toughness and color.

Then, at 5:20am, the auction begins. Much like Wall Street, there is a bell and lots of men waving and making hand signals trying to win bids on their top fish picks. The callers stand on buckets at the front of each section of fish. There were about 12 sections total.

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Then, there was the guy in a purple shirt. He spoke a few words of English and was nice enough to give a few tourists a behind-the-scenes tour. He walked out of the tourist building and showed us another area with other types of fish, non-frozen tuna and half fish. He was trying to explain something to us, but I couldn't quite understand him.

HMMM. WHAT TO HAVE FOR BREAKFAST?
After we had enough of the auction chatter, we took a walk along the endless rows of shops selling their goods. Many of whom are barking like a carnival game worker. There were shops working on their catch. Some were slicing, some were packaging and there were even a few guys working the fish in what looked like a wood shop (saws, drills, etc).

We bought a few trinkets and must have walked by ten sushi bars. Many of them are packed (remember, its only about 6:30am) So, I have to have a little sushi for breakfast. I walk into a sushi bar, and to my surprise, it's mostly people speaking English. I guess the tourists are the only ones crazy enough to wake up this early to eat a sushi breakfast. (Crazy Americans!) The tea warmed me up and the sushi looked different than I was used to. So I asked the chef; "Is this tuna? Kore wa Maguro desu?" He replied "Hai, Maguro." I guess when fish is that fresh, it has a slightly different color that I'm used to. But it was amazing! I will have a hard time eating sushi in Florida after that. Well, we leave, and keep walking by these sushi bars. I said to Sara, "One more quick snack." After my breakfast #2, we soon leave the market. Time for Sara's breakfast, who (in case you haven't read the rest of the blog)doesn't exactly like fish.

We walked around Tsukiji for a little longer before we toured the rest of the massive Tokyo metro.

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This is one of the many specialty shops. It had thousands of camera parts and lenses

WALKING AROUND TOKYO
Later, we toured around Tokyo for a bit. We first stopped in the Ueno District. It's known for its museums and market. The market is at least 5 city blocks wide.

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We had a few good finds. The best was probably this pottery shop that had all sorts of plates, bowls, silk screen wall hangings and good luck figurines. We each bought a few things and picked up a few snacks along the way. There were food vendors all around. We found one selling little cakes stuffed with maple filling for about 20 cents each and another selling skewers of melon and pineapple for 75 cents.

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After that, we stopped in the Ginza district, which has similar shops to that of 5th Ave in NYC.

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The prices were crazy, but we had fun looking. We looked at the Sony building and a few other places, but the highlight of the day so far was definitely Tsukiji.

KABUKI THEATER
Later that night, I really wanted to experience something uniquely Japanese. While planning for the trip, I read alot about several styles of thater that are uniquely Japanese: Noh, Bunkaru (puppet theater) and Kabuki (stylized dramas.) Perfect, I thought. Sara didn't share my enthusiasm, so I went to the theater while she explored Tokyo.

The most common style of theater is Kabuki and the #1 place to see it is in Tokyo. The Kabukiza Theater is the equivalent to Radio City Music Hall for Kabuki. It opened in the 1880's and had has performances ever since. It's totally different than American Broadway. In Kabuki, there are many costumes and a lot of makeup. All the actors are male, even if the roles are feminine. Also, the actual story is not the main attraction. The art is in the acting. They say if you take a photo of a Kabuki performance every 3 seconds, each photo will look as if it were perfectly posed. Each movement has a purpose and meaning. The actions are very slow and deliberate.

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I checked the schedule and found out that the shows are 5 hours long. Yikes! Thankfully, they sell tickets for individual acts. Around 5:00, I walked to the 2nd floor to the single act ticket counter. I think I was lucky to get a ticket, because the theater was packed. After I sat down, more people entered and must have purchased standing room tickets. Most people had opera glasses and were prepared for a five hour experience.

Luckily, the theater rents earphones and a transmitter that explain things in english as they happen on stage. It does not translate the actors lines, rather, it explains the general story,what each movement represents and the importance of the music. I stayed for 2 acts. The show was slow moving, but very intense the entire time. Overall, I think American theater is more my style, but it was the unique experience I was looking for.

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While I was taking a picture of the theater, a man tapped me on the shoulder. I thought I was in his way. But in typical Japanese fashion, he was just trying to help. He motioned, as to say, would you like me to take a picture of you in front of the theater. What a nice country.

Posted by thetodd 18:49 Archived in Japan Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Day 7.5 - To Tokyo

Down the mountain and to the city


View Japan 2007 on thetodd's travel map.

COMING DOWN THE MOUNTAIN
After decending on the cable car and taking a few trains, we finally reach Tokyo. The city is very large and it has many districts. We arrived in the afternoon and had to walk a little from the station. We stayed at a great hotel called the Akasaka Prince. It is a tall building that is easy to see since it has no other large buildings next to it.

WHAT A ROOM
Our room was the best room during our whole trip. There were 2 good sized beds, a large curved sofa and a fantastic view. I should also mention the hi-tech toilet with a heated seat (which apparently is pretty common in Japan)

SUSHI TIME
After a long series of trains, we were a little tired. However, this was my 7th day in Japan and I had yet to sit down for some sushi. So, Sara and I had separate dinners. I walked to a local sushi bar, where I was the only one who spoke English. Luckily, I am well versed in sushi speak. So I asked for ni Maguro (2 Tuna), ni Ibi (2 Shrimp), ichi Toro (1 most fatty tuna) and ichi teka maki (tuna hand roll) and sake. It...was...awesome!

There are three differences I noticed from the sushi bars in the US. First, when you ask for sake, they give you close to a liter-sized bottle. I could only down about half. Also, the prices are way less (approx. $2 for 2 pieces of tuna.) Lastly, it took me a few pieces to figure out another difference from American sushi. In America, I mix a dab of wasabi in the soy sauce, then dip the sushi. So this is what I did. After the first bite, my eyes were watering and my sinuses were tingling. I thought it was just stronger wasabi than I was used to. Through my tears, I see the chef preparing another meal. AHA! He was spreading a layer of wasabi under each piece of fish, which to me was A LOT of wasabi. So, I learned, from then on, to request a smaller amount, which helped me the next morning at the Tsukiji Fish Market. I also learned the Japanese have a high tollerence for both wasabi and sake.

Posted by thetodd 03:16 Comments (0)

Day 7 - Koyasan (Mt. Koya)

6 °C
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MORNING SERVICE
(Todd) After a restful night in our room (and happy warm feet), we woke right at dawn to make it to our 6:30 morning service. The good news, is that we woke up in time for the service. The bad news, is that we couldn't find the temple. After a few munites of running around the ryokan in our slippers, we heard chanting and smelled burning incense. Lucky for us a Buddhist service has distinct sounds and smells.

After following our ears and nose, we found the temple. It was just two other guests and the two monks praying. The temple was nice, with tatami mats, a huge display of religious ornamentation and a slight fog of incense. As you would expect, the service was very minimal. The monks were kneeling, on what I would call a prayer pillow, with their backs to us. There was a lot of monotone, staccato chanting and an ocasional banging of the prayer bowl or clashing of symbols. After about 50 minutes, the monks wrapped up the service and thanked us for coming. Next is breakfast.

The breakfast was a very traditional meal with many different kinds of foods including fish, fruit, japanese pickles, and of course....rice. After breakfast we walked to Okunoin, an enormous mortuary/cemetary.

OKUNOIN
It's just after 8am as we enter the forest of Okunoin. The atmosphere was very unique. It was a beautiful day, sun still rising, a little chilly and you are surrounded by reminders of the deceased. It was an odd mix of peaceful serenity and solemn memories. The time of day was perfect, because the sun was low on the horizon and it cast long shadows through the many trees.

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There are thousands upon thousands of statues, shrines and other memorials.

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Some of the statues (and several rocks) were dressed in apron like clothes. We never quite figured out why, but I am sure there was some symbolic meaning.

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After walking through the forest for a while, we see a clearing. As we exit the forest, the rugged, moss-covered, ancient environment opened up into an enormous cemetary that was more of what Americans would expect. It was very orderly with the graves ranging from small carved rocks to elaborite shrines with polished granite statues of japanes guard lions. The whole experience was quite amazing. It was like nothing I have ever experienced.

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After Okunoin, we walked around the mountain village looking at some local shops and temples. It was a nice morning stroll that was a good end to our stay in Koyasan. Time to go back down the mountain.

Posted by thetodd 04:17 Comments (0)

Day 6.5 - Hiroshima to Koyasan

WHAT'S IN KOYASAN?
(Sara) The night before leaving for Mt Koya (Koyasan) two guests at the hotel asked Todd why exactly we were going there. They stated there was “nothing there but trees!” Perfect, I thought to myself. Time for relaxation and contemplation with the monks. Koyasan is a small village up in the mountains which consists entirely of temples and the monks that accompany them. There are about 120 temples in total, most of which provide lodging and meals for visiting guests. We set out on our trip to the mountains. We took a train back to Osaka, and then took another train about 45 minutes to Hashimoto. From this point, we took a 3rd train which took us up most of the mountain. We passed beautiful scenery, this was the first of “rural” Japan that we had seen. When we got to the end, we boarded a cable car which seemed to take us at abut an 80 degree angle up the rest of the mountain. It was a little scary if you looked down!

Koyasan_ca.._stairs.jpgLooking down at Sara from the top of the cable car

Koyasan_ca..king_up.jpg Looking up the mountain from the front window of the cable car.

WHICH SLIPPERS TO WEAR...
Once in Koyasan we found our temple for the night. A kind lady met us at the door and showed us to our room. We had to be careful that we were wearing the appropriate slippers for each room. You had to leave your shoes outside and put on slippers. Then you had to leave the slippers by your bedroom door before you enter. Also, if you wanted to go to the restroom, different slippers! It was fun to walk around in them, though they were one size fits all and I kept accidentally flinging them off my feet!

We arrived in time for supper. Our host escorted us to dinner which was set up in a private room just for us. We each had 3 trays set out for us. There must have been 20 different items in which to eat! Fortunately for me, monks don’t believe in eating fish and I was safe from accidentally putting something fishy into my mouth.

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WHAT A WARM, COZY FUTON!
After dinner we went back to our room. It was dark and rainy outside and my futon on the floor looked very comfortable. I slipped into it and to my surprise found there was a warm heating pad inside my futon. It was so warm and felt so good on my feet. From that point on, I couldn’t get out of my futon.. and it was only 7 o’clock! Good thing for me, I had an early rise in the morning to meet the monks for the prayer service.

Posted by thetodd 16:35 Comments (0)

Day 6 - Hiroshima

THOUGHTS ON HIROSHIMA
(Sara) An important stop in Japan for me was Hiroshima. I wanted to see first hand the city that emerged from total destruction to become the City of Peace for the world. We arrived in Hiroshima late in the evening and decided to get a nice dinner and a good night’s sleep for the next morning. We awoke on a grey, drizzly day; it seemed somewhat befitting of the tour that we were about to take. We walked over to the south end of Peace Park, the park that now lays on the spot of ground zero for the A-bomb. We started our walk through the park, passing numerous statues and memorials of the happenings of August 6th, 1945. We came upon what they now call the A-Dome. This building was ground zero for the a-bomb. It somehow managed to stay erect as it was exactly under the spot the bomb detonated, and was ‘spared’ the complete destruction. Twisted metal and broken bricks now comprise this remnant of that building, now left standing as a sole remnant in remembrance of that day. We continued our walk and came upon the Bell Tower memorial. I looked at the clock and suddenly got a small chill. It was 8:15am precisely, precisely the time the A-bomb was detonated over Hiroshima. Seconds later, the clock played a beautiful melody. The inscription on the stone stated that the bell rings every morning at 8:15 to symbolize the need for Peace in the world. We continued our walk around the park and then into the Museum. The walk though the museum continued to be a somber stroll, there were pictures after pictures of before and after photographs. There were survivor depictions of the events and their searched for family members. All said, 140,000 people died as a result of the bombing of Hiroshima.

For me, I could not help but feel some sort of shame and guilt. The only words that encircled within my head were “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” I somehow felt like I needed to once again apologize for the atrocities of war which my country imposed upon these people and their families. It was somewhat strange to be visiting the site of such destruction that was caused by my country. I am glad that it is now what we call history, though the world still seems to be dealing with threats of nuclear wars. I can only hope that the words of Peace that Hiroshima still spreads to this day are heard all over the world and for this history not to repeat itself.

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(Todd) I didn’t feel as much guilt as Sara, but I was still a little stunned. Some of the images that really hit me were some of the watches on display that the rescue workers found. They were shattered and burned, and the time on all of them was 8:15.

In the museum, there was another display of letters that the mayor of Hiroshima sent to world leaders whenever they were contemplating a nuclear weapons test. There must have been 200 letters that pleaded with these leaders to halt all weapons advancements. All said, I don’t think anyone has forgotten, but even with our memories of Hiroshima, there will still be nuclear weapons regardless of consequence.

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Posted by thetodd 16:31 Comments (0)

Day 5 - Kyoto to Hiroshima

(Todd) We awoke to breakfast at the ryokan. It wasn't quite pancakes and eggs, but we are in Japan to experience it all. All the food in the picture is just my breakfast. Sara had the same stuff on her side. It consisted of fish, soup and rice (suprise!) Also included were odd Japanese veggies and pickles, tofu, a salad, sweet beans and fruit

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Hmmmm? Should I eat this or is it a decoration like parsley?

(Sara) After breakfast we set off to go see another temple. This 3rd temple in Kyoto was my favorite. It was a very quaint, secluded temple and we seemed to be the only ones visiting it at the time.

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(Todd) Here is the entrance walkway. There were school children dressed in their uniforms that ran past, so I wasn't sure if we were headed in the right direction. Once I saw this first view, I just knew it's going to be worth the long walk.

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(Sara) It was very well manicured and seemed to specialize in numerous varieties of mosses.

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(Todd) This was one of favorite sites in Japan. The pictures can't replicate the feeling of being there, but I hope they help. There is absolutely an art involved in the landscaping. Everything seemed to be in the perfect place and it must have taken a generation to perfect it. Here are some more pics, enjoy.

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(Sara) We then packed our bags and went back to Kyoto station to catch a train to Hiroshima. Kyoto station itself is amazing. It's architecture is very modern, and one part of the building has an escalator that you can take straight up to the 12th floor! It's got to be the world's longest escalator! Also in Kyoto station was something close to my heart, a Cafe du Monde! I was so excited that I could eat those hot, melt in your mouth beignets that tasted exactly like the ones in the French Quarter in New Orleans. Yumm. It was so good!

We boarded the train and off we went. We arrived in Hiroshima and found the streetcar that would take us to our hotel, the Hiroshima ANA. It's a very nice hotel right across the river from Peace Memorial Park. By the time we arrived at our hotel, it was getting late. This was Day 5, and I was craving a meal not consisting of rice or miso soup. We sought out a cute little Italian restaurant that served wonderful pasta. It was a nice change.

We then headed back to our hotel and went to sleep.

Posted by thetodd 16:29 Comments (0)

Day 4 - Osaka to Kyoto

Leaving Osaka/First Day in Kyoto

9 °C

YUMMM. THE BEST BREAKFAST IN JAPAN
(Todd) In the morning, before we left Osaka for Kyoto, we were looking for a place to eat, and luckily found the Swissotel. It had an amazing buffet. There were foods of all sorts, American, Japanese, large fruit bar and freshly squeezed orange juice.

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All of it was served on fine china, but it didn’t feel too formal. It was a little pricey, 3003 Yen (about $25) but totally worth it. It was our best meal yet.

OUR FIRST RYOKAN
In our initial planning, Kyoto was going to be a day trip from Osaka. Instead we decided to spend the night. So we packed our bags and headed for Kyoto from our favorite station, Namba… Namba.

When we arrived, we dropped our bags off at the ryokan and headed for the temples. Kyoto, by far, has the most temples and shrines of any city. It used to be the capital of Japan before moving to Tokyo, so there is a ton of history in Kyoto.

We stayed at a wonderful ryokan, Heianbo. We liked it because it was smaller and very traditional. Our room was also traditional, with tatami mats and futon mattresses on the floor. We weren’t quite sure how to unfold the futon, since there were two mats, a blanket and this fluffy thing we guessed was a comforter. Luckily we guessed right. This sleeping arrangement is great if you like a very firm mattress, but Sara and I both have pillow-top mattresses at home. Even at the ritzy Ana and Hilton hotels, the mattresses are very firm. I guess that’s what they are used to.

CHION-IN TEMPLE
The first temple, Chion-in, had several buildings. One was a shrine that had a 12-foot tall golden statue and ornaments surrounding it. There was just one other person there, and he was either talking to himself or praying. It was hard to tell since he was walking around in circles.

The next building was bigger and had several monks chanting and praying. We sat in for a few minutes and watched the ceremony. There was a very monotone, rhythmic chanting at banging a prayer bowl. Outside of the building, there was incense burning, people washing there hands with water from a fountain and a few other tourists.

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FLORIDA GATOR TEMPLE
(Sara) The 2nd temple was very different than the first one. I particularly liked it because it was Gator orange! I asked them if they painted it that color in honor of our football National Championship, but they didn't understand my English. I suppose from the pictures that it has been orange for quite some time... maybe since our 1996 championship?

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We walked through the Gator temple and enjoyed seeing all of the statues and Buddhas. At the end, there was a little Japanese cafe where we wanted to sit because it was so Japanese looking. We ordered a bowl of soup and ramen to share, even though we weren't very hungry! It was a fun time.

NIGHT, NIGHT
After the 2nd temple, we went back to the Ryokan and then to a small little restaurant around the corner where you cook your food on a rock at your table. Todd of course had fishies, and I had chicken. The ever-present standby of rice, miso soup, and tea was once again at our table.

A long day behind us, we turned in at the Ryokan, climbed into our futon mattresses and went to sleep.

Posted by thetodd 16:16 Archived in Japan Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Day 3 - Osaka Part 2

Osaka Castle, Japanese Broadway and nothing to eat

TRADITIONAL BREAKFAST
(Todd) We started the day with breakfast in the Il Cuore restaurant, Salone. It was a mostly traditional Japanese breakfast with rice, fish and egg rolls. And by egg rolls, I don`t mean the fried appetizers in America. Egg rolls are sheets of cooked eggs rolled into a long cylinder and sliced into small discs. I thought it was great, and Sara was happy with it as well. After the hotel, Osaka-jo was next.

OSAKA CASTLE
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Osaka-jo (Osaka Castle) is in the center of the city. So you're walking through streets will tall buildings and suddenly you see a gold-encrusted castle off in the distance. The castle area is surrounded by a moat with 100 foot walls.

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Once inside the park, there are lots of little shops and tables for sitting, people jogging, etc. The main attraction is the castle museum, where you learn about the history of it and the many shogun who tried to take it as their own. On the roof of the castel we had a great view of the city. It was interesting to be standing in a 400 year old castle and looking out at a very modern city surrounding it on all sides.

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After the museum, we were walking through the park and I decided to get a local artisan paint me a portrait in a sort of Japanese style drawing. While I was posing, several hundred kids, all dressed in their martial arts uniforms, came running through the park. It was quite a sight to see. After buying a few souveniers, we went to see what broadway looked like in Japan.

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Mamma Mia
While in Osaka, we saw a lot of posters advertising Phantom of the Opera. It was not playing now, but we called the theater and learned that Mamma Mia was playing, one of Saras favorites. Well, the first few songs were interesting, but after about an hour, the novelty wore off for me. It was interesting to see the Japanese interpretation, but for a show that I didnt know the story behind, it was hard to get into the show.

Black Friday has Nothing on the HEP 5
Have you ever gone to the malls on the Friday after Thanksgiving? If you thought it is crowded, WOW, you have to go to the HEP 5. Imagine New Years Eve at Times Square. We quickly decided to go elsewhere.

After all the running around, we were beat, so we decided to get dinner at the local department store. Hotels and department stores are the place to find the best restaurants. At about 8, we got back to the hotel and decided to stay in. We woke early to get breakfast and head to Kyoto.

Posted by thetodd 16:14 Comments (0)

Day 2 - Osaka Part 1

Getting to Osaka, pachinko and tapas for dinner

TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE
(Sara) It’s now 4am and we’re getting ready to go to Osaka, one of Japan’s more modern cities. Hopefully the train serves breakfast. The shuttle to the station leaves at 6:30 and hopefully, we’ll get there by 1:00.

We managed to get our way back to the train station in Narita. However, getting on the train proved to be a little bit more difficult. We went up to the ticket counter and asked for a ticket to Osaka. She said "7:44" and we said "okay." Then we looked at our watches which said "7:40." Uh-oh. We ran through the station with luggage in tow and got to the train at 7:44, just in time to see the train in the distance. First Japanese lesson, trains are on schedule, to the minute. Back to the ticket counter and got a ticket for the next one in 30 minutes. This was actually our 3rd ticket, as the very first one I didn't mention was for the wrong originating station. Good thing we have the Japan Rail Pass and we can get as many tickets as we want (or need!) for free.

OSAKA BOUND
We arrived in Osaka in approx 3 hours. The train ride was great, at first it was a bit unnerving because we were going so fast! It was like a constant roller coaster without the ups and downs. The Japanese people sure do know how to make a train go fast. They put Amtrack to shame.

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We checked into our hotel, the Il Cuore, a very cute boutique style hotel right in the middle of the Namba area. The Namba area is the entertainment and nightlife capital of Osaka.

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A snapshot of the inside of our room. It was very nice, but small. To give you a perspective on the size of the room, the beds are both against walls.

We dropped off our bags and hit the streets. It was so amazing. Not only do they have a huge area of stores, restaurants, Pachinko parlors, and karoke bars on the street, they have a whole different city undergound!

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We grabbed a quick bite to eat at a local establishment. I just kept saying "chicken" and they eventually caught on when I flapped my arms like a chicken. Todd ended up with a pork dish. Both of them were very good.

PACHINKO GOOFS
Then we decided to play this Japanese game of Pachinko. There were Pachinko parlors lined all down the street with large neon signs and lots of action going on inside of them.

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Pachinko is the Japanese equivalent of American slot machines. It's sort of like a pinpall machine and you just keep shooting these small round little metals balls. Every time a ball went through a special gate, it played 3-of-a-kind cards on the video monitor. If you get 3 of a kind, you get into the bonus round. I apparently made it into this bonus round, and then didn't know what to do. Luckily, the guy next to me smiled and said "You lucky." I like to be lucky so I smiled back. Then a lady behind me said "Go Go Go" as I was apparently wasting my bonus time. So I just kept hitting the button for the balls to be played. Then, I got a downpouring of little Pachinko balls. Todd had to run and get 2 more containers as it appeared there was no end in sight!

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Eventually, my "luck" ran out. I had 3 large containers full of Pachinko balls, and no idea what to do with it. Luckily for us, we're the only Americans in sight and there were plenty of people amused by us and willing to help out. So, then we began the quest to turn in all of our Pachinko balls. A man who worked there came over to help us. We picked up our baskets and brought them over to a ball counter. We dumped them in and it counted them all up, much like a coin counter. Then it spit our a receipt. He then motioned for us to follow him and he took us over to the Redemption area. Here we handed over our receipt to the lady behind the counter. She then handed me 3 pieces of candy. I was trying to hide my disappointment on my face as I thought I'd at least get my 1000 yen ($8) back that I put in the machine. Then she handed me these Legos. Great, I thought to myself, what a great parting gift. At least I had a good time I thought to myself. Then, the man motioned for us to follow him again. He took us outside and to a new lady behind a different counter. He motioned for me to give up my winnings to the lady. Perplexed by this strange string of events, I complied. (However, when I put the legos and the candy down, he waved his hands "no.") Apparently, I should have just put the Legos down, as I "won" the candy and the Legos were a "gift." I then received about 7500 yen (about $70) and got to keep my candy winnings. YEAH! I learned that technically gambling is illegal in Japan and so this is the run around that all the Pachinko parlors use to get people their winnings. It was a really great time.

We took our modest winnings and went to have a nice dinner. We found a great tapas bar and ordered about 5 different things.

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Cheese fondue, a beef dish, Japanese pizza, Japanese hot dogs in croissants, and a fish dish for Todd. It was all very good. We were so tired by the end of it that we crashed as soon as we got back to our hotel. We had had a wonderful first day in Osaka.

Posted by thetodd 16:13 Comments (1)

Day 1.5 - On Solid Ground

Landing at Tokyo Airport, night at the Hilton and on to Osaka.

12 °C
View Japan 2007 on thetodd's travel map.

(Todd) At last, we’re on solid ground. I wasn’t sure what to expect once I got off the plane. There were obviously lots of signs in Japanese, odd vending machines with things I’ve never seen and it’s all very clean. But the one thing that surprised us the most was the quiet. There we hundreds of people walking around and waiting in lines and it was almost as quiet as a library.

After we passed immigration and got our luggage, we traded our vouchers for our rail pass and hit the ATM to get some Yen. The shuttle bus took us to the Hilton near by.

When we got to the hotel, it was about 5:00 pm local time when we checked in. We get to our room and it was ok, but we couldn't figure out how to turn on the lights. Aparently, after about 10 minutes of flipping switches, I put my room key into a slot on the wall and voila! Lights!

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We decided to rest up before dinner. Well… it was more like an 9-hour nap. So much for dinner. We both fell asleep in our clothes and slept until about 3am. We woke up and both and said “Man, I’m hungry” Unfortunately, none of the hotel’s nine restaurants are open before 6.

Posted by thetodd 11:40 Archived in Japan Tagged lodging Comments (0)

Day 1 - 16 hours on a plane.

(Sara) Todd and I had a bet on what percentage of people on the plane would be Asian. I said 75 % and Todd thought he was right on at 50%. Of the 275 people on board, crew excluded, there are 7 non-Asians. It was Intro to Japan 101. Lots of Japanese talk and pictures that everyone on the plane understood but us. But we got along just fine. J

Our flight route was another topic we had different opinions on. I looked at a globe before we left, and figured out west was shorter than east. Todd just thinks everyone flies east, and you’ll eventually get there. Ouch, I just got a punch in the arm over that last comment. Oh, yeah, by the way, you don’t fly either direction, You go North to the North pole and then South to Tokyo over Siberia. Here’s a picture of us over Siberia. The critics are right, there’s nothing in Siberia.
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Woo-hoo! We made it!

Posted by thetodd 09:16 Comments (2)

Less than 24 hours to go!

(this is Sara) I am packed! whew. I managed to fit everything I will need in one medium sized suitcase, weighing less than 50 pounds per airline requirement. I can't wait to see how Todd manages this feat!

14 hours on a plane is a very, very long time. I'm prepared with movies, magazines, computer, Ipod, travel pillow and blanket, snack (in case they try to make me eat sushi on the plane!), a Japanese-English translation book, and a tape on how to learn Japanese in 90 minutes. :)

I can't wait!

Posted by thetodd 08:39 Comments (0)

Holy Crap! 3 Days to go!!!

Buying mini toothpaste, holding our mail, final planning and about 101 other things.

With 3 days left we are starting to pack and buy all the little things for the trip, literally.

Both Sara and I bought our TSA approved, mini toothpaste, mini shampoo, mini etc. This isn't just for the plane, but also because Japanese travel is limiting to the amount of luggage you can have. If you have too much stuff, you might have to purchase send ahead service for your bags since the trains in Japan are so stuffed. So, mini tooth paste and potentially disposable clothing were some ideas to help.

Well, it's midnight and the BCS Championship is tomorrow. I want to be rested to cheer for the Gators so ... good night.

Posted by thetodd 21:00 Comments (1)

Months of Planning

It's almost go time

HOW IT ALL STARTED

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Since Sara came up with the idea to go to Japan, we've been reading and planning.

We started off figuring the places we wanted to see. We both bought a travel book and started writing down our ideas. We initially wanted to see parts of the whole country.

One idea we had was to go skiing somewhere in Hokkaido, the northern island. Sara found a site that estimated travel times from one place to another. We input Tokyo to a northern city near skiing. It looked like it would take about 4 hours to get there. Then we noticed that the time included a plane flight. Once we unchecked the include airplanes box, the time went to about 15 hours. So much for that idea.

Northern Japan swiftly gets nixed. Shortly followed by southern Japan and Okinowa. So with just the main island of Honshu, we decided to see the modern city of Osaka, visit the temples and shrines of Kyoto, experience Hiroshima, live with the monks in Koyasan (a.k.a. Mount Koya), tour Tokyo, and ski in Nagano.

So, now you need to read the rest of the blog to see how things turned out.

Posted by thetodd 23:39 Tagged preparation Comments (0)

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