Japan Journal #6: Catch up time

We’ve not been posting lately (sorry!), because on top of travelling we were both sick – bleh. Being sick while travelling sucks.

Luckily, we found/ran into some good things. One hotel actually had meds ready so when Ed asked where to get Tylenol they just gave us some.

Later we were able to find more ourselves, I also tried some lemon tea. Ed’s pretty much all better now, I’m still on the last crappy parts of sniffles and coughs.

What else happened other than being sick? A lot.

We were in Osaka for 5 nights, and used it as a hub to make a few day trips. We went to Nara and saw the deer and had an amazing Kaiseki meal at a more traditional style restaurant. Total class.

We also took a day trip to Kobe – that was the day that really took me out as it rained all day and once back I was down for the count. But before that we got to see a very interesting town, a hint of Europe in Japan. And we had an amazing Kobe beef meal. So incredible!

No we’ve landed in Kyoto. After our first full day, we’re excited to have a few more days to explore… it’s more relaxing to not have to move out bags for a few days, stay put for a bit.

Big sigh of relief.

We’ll go back to our regular posts on what’s been interesting as of tomorrow.

 

Japan Journal #5: Riding the Shinkansen

After a very short flight from Naha we landed in Fukuoka. We got off the plane, picked up our bags (which was stalled by a little girl playing on the baggage claim track), got a taxi, arrived at the station, got our tickets and boarded our train in about an hour’s time.

Our first sight of the station, or rather, first sight of the exterior, was worrying. It was such a zoo that our taxi had a hard time getting in and getting us a spot. Once we unloaded and stepped inside, the first sight of the interior was just as nutty.

It was expansive, crowded, and at first glance, all in Japanese. After wrestling with a map to no avail, we found the ticket counter. The machines wouldn’t accept our card (but had a pretty easy to use English menu if you have the cash for it), so we lined up for a ticket, which also ended up being fast, despite the line, and easy.

Once we stepped out of the ticket office, we suddenly noticed the gate signs flashed between Japanese and English, so we were able to easily find our train – as in less than 2 minutes after buying our ticket we were standing waiting for it to arrive.

The sight of the other Shinkansen got us excited – such amazing trains! As we were walking I saw one I assumed was ours and pulled out my phone. It arrived in a smooth, quick and quiet glide before us – a very impressive display for us eager to ride our first Shinkansen.

We were happy to find that in our non-reserved seats we had room for our luggage and it wasn’t overly crowded. Also, there’s decent time to board and get sorted, especially at major stations – and the Japanese are very good about letting people get off before they get on.

We were even happier when we got moving. Smooth as silk, relatively quiet (for a train moving like this), and super, super fast.

Insanely fast.

From Fukuoka to Hiroshima, the view was astounding. Such a fun ride!

Quick tidbits for anyone looking to ride the Shinkansen:

  • The stations have English and are very easy to navigate
  • If you’re worried or still having issues, they have customer information staff that speak English quite well. They have tiny little desks with “i” on them.
  • Getting tickets is pretty easy, so is getting your JR Pass, and that makes life very easy (make sure you start that process before you leave! Ask your travel agent).
  • There is room for luggage on the non-reserved seats.
  • They take time at each station for you to get up and leave, and the Japanese are very good at waiting for everyone to get off before they get on (mind you, other tourists are not).
  • There are trays and it is okay to eat on the train.

 

Japan Journal #4: The Many Sides of Hiroshima

(By Edward)

After alighting briefly at our hotel, we took a quick street car followed by an also-quick walk to Hiroshima Castle, a faithfully restored structure surrounded by gorgeous cherry blossoms and home to a multi-level museum full of ancient works and an amazing view from the top level.

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Also home to one stubborn pigeon that appears in every angle but this one.

Just a few minutes walk away, you pass by the ED-ON towers – two neighboring 8-story buildings where you can buy just about every type of cell phone, hair curler, digital toy or electrical appliance ever conceived, and… it’s right there. The A-Bomb Dome, so named since it remained standing and even retained the distinctive dome despite having been almost directly below the bomb.

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I really didn’t think you’d be able to get this close to it.

People stop to take photos or just stare, but it’s just part of life for the locals – framed by a river and a moving peace memorial on one side and metropolitan bustle on the others. Case in point, just a side-street away is a 6-level ascent into madness of claw machines, animated gambling systems, cosplay photo booths and just about every other entertainment contrivance you could imagine.

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Sadly, Rockruff would not get in the Pokeball…

And that’s just on the fringes of Hon Dori, a winding multi-street covered arcade of high-end shoes, trendy coffee shops, eclectic restaurants and all manner of other storefronts.

Hiroshima, then, is a lot like Japan and in fact humanity – resilient, many-faceted, and home to far more complexities than you could take in over the course of a single afternoon – which, sadly, is all the time we have here.

Japan Journal #3: Kokusai-Dori

We saw it for the first time yesterday as we drove back to our hotel. Glittering shops all done up in neon lights, ridiculous colours, loud music. It was nutty, it felt more like Niagara Falls than what we were expecting of Okinawa.

Today we went and walked it. Most of the shops sold the exact same thing, most of it food or kitsch. We tried out a few snacks (most were really good, just very rich!) and stopped to eat at a cafe.

Some of the shops were definitely insanely bright and we went in a few and looked around, but didn’t buy anything. This was mostly just a fun trip to explore. It does seem to mostly sell to tourists, so if you’re looking for you’re kitsch and a fun time in the neon lights, def check it out!

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A bright shop

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A treat shop

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Kokusai in the evening, by car.

Japan Journal #2: Spur-of-the-Moment Memories

(By Edward, to save logging in-and-out on Caitlin’s devices).

We’ve had two fantastic days so far here on Okinawa, and the biggest single experience, that we have been looking forward to for months, has exceeded all expectations.

That would be the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium – being so closed to such a diversity of sea life, and especially having the enormous whale sharks swim past and even ABOVE us, was really an experience.

But, some of our most memorable experiences so far have been ones that were, if not completely spontaneous, definitely spur of the moment.

After the aquarium yesterday, we stopped at an observatory attached to a resort with an underwater viewing area – fast-walking to make it just before last admittance, seeing the amazing range of sea life, and then high-tailing it back through a tropical rainstorm was all kinds of cool.

You can almost taste the sea water!

You can actually taste the sea water!

The day before, we had a similar experience at Shinto-jo, the castle in Naha. Last admittance was 5:30 – we arrived at 5:27, and the parking attendant radioed ahead to a security guard who must have been in his 70s – who proceeded to RUN uphill all the way to the ticket office, taking shortcuts behind historical buildings, to make sure we got in on time. THAT is something I won’t forget anytime soon!