A Travellerspoint blog

Tokyo (Part 2)

Sayonara Japan


We finished our tour of Japan back in Tokyo, staying in a different hostel - a 'capsule hotel' in Akebonobashi. It wasn't a proper Japanese style, self-contained capsule but more like closed in wooden bunks with a curtain drawn across the only open side. It was a 28 bed mixed dorm - the downside was we had to share a communal (smelly) bathroom with the boys, but the upside was it was more sociable than the private rooms so we met a few nice people.

Final stops for sightseeing included the Roppongi Hills Viewing Tower, which I actually went up despite my fear of heights (worth it for the view of Tokyo), The Imperial Palace Gardens, the world´s largest Hello Kitty statue and the huge pedestrian crossing in Shibuya (everyone crosses in all directions at once) , which is used in several music videos. We had another kareoke night with Matt and Kieran and his brother, in Shibuya, where Sebastian's presence was missed!

I loved Japan and am sorry to be leaving so soon. If I had to choose I would say Kyoto was my favourite place. It has been a lovely, clean, safe and efficient country with helpful, friendly people. I hope to come back soon.

On the 8th we left via Narita Airport for the long journey via Washington DC to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Not at all looking forward to 2 long haul flights back to back...

Some general observations about Japan:

- There are hardly any public rubbish bins - surprising for a country so tidy and clean.

- Cycling on the pavements is allowed (and a bloody nuisance).

- It is normal for dogs to be clothed.

Posted by Sambosonic 14:29 Archived in Japan Comments (0)


In search of Geishas and Kimonos


We arrived Wednesday morning for 3 nights. Not knowing what to do with Sebastian, and having dismissed the idea of leaving him hanging on the wall in the last hotel like a piece of artwork, I strapped him to my backpack and carried him with us on the train to Kyoto. I originally covered his modesty with a Union Jack thong but in the end we decided such a blatant (crotch-mounted) display of patriotism in people's faces on the tube, might be just a bit too offensive for such a coy and well-behaved nation, so Sebastian had to go commando. A lot of looks, pointing and a trail of laughter followed us all the way - bring a little happiness, that's what I say. At Kyoto station a middle aged woman had a rather close encounter with him as more people forced they way into the lift and she was behind me - Sebastian practically had her up against the wall. I apologised in Japanese but luckily she and her friend found it hilarious.

Not looking forward to finding our accomodation after reading discouraging reviews online, we were relieved to find it was absolutely fine and better than we had expected. '3pm' (as we've nicknamed the Japanese male owner due to his harsh insistence we arrived on the dot of 3pm), was friendlier in person and the bed linen was clean with no dubious hairs (unlike someone wrote in their review). It is another Ryokan (like Mike's) but bigger and more commercial. We're on mats on the floor again with a communal bathroom but it's all good except the lumpy (traditional) pillows that feel like they're filled with pistacio shells. Mmm comfy.

(Thursday) we went to Gion (famous historic Geisha district) but unfortunately the sightings of beautiful pink cherry blossom, numerous shrines and historic alleys was rather spoilt by grey drizzle and continual walking in the rain. No sightings of authentic Geishas which apparently is unlikely anyway as they go out mostly at night and are far fewer in number nowadays. If you are interested I'd recommend the Memoirs of a Geisha book which explains the lifestyle in fascinating detail. We could have paid to go to a Maiko dance performance but we are budgeting tightly as Japan is so expensive and that would have blown the whole day's budget on seeing women in kimonos wave fans about for one hour (sorry to sound so ignorant!). I really feel I should go as it is literally THE thing to experience in Kyoto and a shame not to jump at the opportunity... We are thinking about it...

Sophie and I started taking our anti-malarial tablets today (for South America) so we are awaiting any 'psychiatric side effects' with interest.

(Friday) I bravely went sight-seeing on my own as Naomi and Sophie couldn't be bothered traipsing round more temples, but I wanted to have a look at a couple near our hostel (that were free entry - a definite clincher for me). I also achieved finding (and successfully using) a cash machine, a post office to post back the key to Mike's hostel that I'd accidentally brought with me from Nagasaki (damn it!), and browsed a kimono shop to get an idea of prices . I then navigated my way to the shopping district to meet Naomi and Sophie in a sushi bar for lunch - so all in all a productive day. About 5 hours of walking later I was knackered so chilled out watching Japanese TV and using Internet til bed.

(Saturday) we had to move hostels as this was the difficult day to find accommodation so it was on again with the backpacks and Sebastian but luckily within walking distance to the next place. Some tourists even took photos of Sebastian on my back - without asking - what a cheek! This pointing and staring is getting tedious so I have a feeling Sebastian and I may part company in the near future. Another Ryokan - so sleeping on mats on the floor again but yay! - I have escaped the pistachio-filled pillow and have a normal (although very thin) one. Lots more walking today so my granny's hip is starting to play up - went to the 'must-see' gardens of the Imperial Palace (actually getting inside it is limited and must be pre-arranged so we had a look at the wall instead). I gave up on seeing the World Heritage designated Castle due to hip and foot pain (and it was cold) meaning I couldn't face any more walking. Indian for lunch (yes! no fish!) and a wander round Gion in the evening. Geisha sighting! (But prob not a real one - more a gimmick for promoting a product.)

Departing for Tokyo today (Sunday) - our last stop - and typically it's the best weather since we've been here - sunny! Sebastian has indeed been left behind (no room to store him in the Capsule Inn we are staying in next anyway), sunbathing on our balcony for the next occupants to enjoy. I wonder where his travels will take him next...


Posted by Sambosonic 17:48 Archived in Japan Comments (0)


Kareoke with Sebastian


Well it's lucky Osaka is mainly known for it's nightlife as we managed to do little else whilst here, due to spending most of our time in a Launderette, trying to achieve some clean clothes. This is more difficult than you would think - all the instructions, symbols, wash programmes etc were in Japanese script, our Japanese is very limited and the attendant spoke no English. Much confusion, hundreds of Yen and about 4 washing programmes later we finally had some clean pants! Yay!

To make the most of the clean pants we decided to go and investigate this legendary nightlife, and had arranged to meet Matt and Kieran - two of Naomi's friends from home - under a giant plastic crab with moving arms, in the main street. We thought this was a pretty unique landmark but apparently there are two! We went for dinner (more tofu and rice for me), then on for drinks in a tiny, old-fashioned jazz club, where there was only one other patron - a middle-aged Japanese man who looked well established at the end of the bar. Into our second round of drinks, some strips of dried something arrived and the bar man explained they were from the Japanese man, so although they had definite tentacle potential we didn't want to offend him and ate the salty strips. I have to confess I then went to the loo and promptly sicked mine back up (but did it discreetly so he would never have known). Horror - the only toilet was a squat (not easy to use for ladies at the best of times, especially after a few drinks) and I fell over trying not to wee on my leggings.

By the time I came out, the others, the bar man and the Japanese man were all deep in conversation about the resident terrapin that lived in a tank on the bar - if we understood correctly, the English translation of his name was essentially 'Erection Dave'. Ok. From that the Japanese man and I managed to have a pretty wide-ranging conversation, by using his limited English, and drawing pictures and writing in a notebook he had with him. Apparently he was a history teacher, 56 years old, with a wife and 2 sons. We 'discussed' international politics, nuclear weapons, what I thought of Japan and which countries we'd been to. I told him I found Japan clean, friendly, safe and efficient. He didn't understand efficient so I said 'not lazy' and he was amused by my implication of the UK being 'inefficient'.

Keen to try some Kareoke whilst in Japan, we moved on to a place with private rooms, (so only your group of friends has to witness your terrible singing) a huge choice of songs, tambourines and drinks service. En route we had picked up Sebastian who joined us for the rest of the night (and has come to Kyoto with us), and momentarily lost and then found Naomi who had sneaked off to buy a mochi kebab and came back looking very pleased with herself, with icing round her face. We had so much fun at Kareoke - I'm normally too self-conscious to sing but all of us had drunk enough alcohol to think we had amazing singing voices and belted out some classics until our voices ran out and we had to go home about half four in the morning. It was brilliant!

(Before my Mum gets too worried) Sebastian is half a mannequin we found randomly in the street on top of some shop rubbish - a black plastic male torso (front half only), the kind for demonstrating t-shirts in shop windows. After Kareoke we took him back to our hotel in the taxi, which probably explains why the first 2 taxis we tried to get in didn't accept us.

Back at the hotel about 5am, Sophie was disgusted by me eating sushi, but in the absence of a trusty chip pitta, it was all I could get to soak up the alcohol. Naomi and I set the alarm determined to get up at 8am to get our free buffet breakfast, but when it went off and I opened my eyes to see Sebastian straddling the table, wearing my coat, and with a terrible spinning sensation in my head, I found that Naomi felt as rough and we abandoned the breakfast plan.

Unfortunately Tuesday turned out to be hangover recovery day so the only sight-seeing we did was of a Pizza Hut Naomi and Sophie hunted down via the internet (sushi didn't quite cut it, sorry!!), and the park we sat in to eat it (takeaway only but we were desperate). This park turned out to be the local spot for dog walkers showing off their pooches' wardrobes - I have never seen so many dressed animals! It seems to be quite the thing and nearly every dog we saw was wearing some kind of scrunchie or hoodie - one even had a full office-wear themed all-in-one, and a chiua-ua (spelling?!) looked even more ridiculous than usual in a hooded jumper with little ears on the hood.

Kyoto tomorrow...

xxxxx (Everything ok at home? News is welcome!) xxxx

Posted by Sambosonic 03:05 Archived in Japan Comments (3)


Mike makes a nuisance of himself & I have trouble with the facilities


In the early hours of this morning Sophie and I were awoken from our peaceful sleep on the tatami mats by a vicious, guttural, snarling and growling just the other side of our flimsy bedroom door. It was Mike either shredding our slippers laid neatly outside the door or trying to eat his way through the door to get to us. He only stopped after a man's voice told him off in Japanese. Even to me as a dog lover it sounded pretty frightening, so poor Sophie. I reassured myself that the door was locked and went back to sleep trying not to imagine Mike flying through the plywood towards my throat. Sophie and I now hope not to need the loo in the night - there is a squat-style toilet next to our room but the western-style loo we prefer is down a steep, narrow staircase and in pitch blackness at night - pretty spooky. This means we have to weigh up the risks of accidentally weeing on our pyjama trousers using the squat, or encountering Mike (or something else) in the dark on the way to the nice toilet... hmmm....

I should say here Naomi feels sorry for Mike and thinks he gets a bad press but she slept peacefully through the 'hounds of hell' demonstration wearing her earplugs.

Later that morning I got locked in the shower room due to a dodgy lock. The shower experience wasn't the best anyway as the glass door is only frosted and pretty see through to anyone that walks down the corridor. I really needed a shower so decided to just turn my back to the see-through door, so at least they wouldn't get to see much - great plan til I found the other side was also a frosted glass window to the garage / utility room... In my concern over being seen I forgot to take a towel in with me from where they were laid out for us outside the shower room, so (post-shower) I had to pick careful timing to sneak out naked and grab one, which was when I discovered I was locked in. Without a towel. I tried calmly to free the lock for ages but got to wondering how long I would have to be missing for Sophie and Naomi to come and see what had happened. Preferring not to be naked when my rescuers arrived I decided I would have to dry myself on yesterday's clothes and put today's on. Unfortunately in my fluster I dried myself on today's fleece so it was too wet to wear. Bugger. And then I managed to get the door open - I was free!

This was a bad day for me and bathroom facilities because my shower trauma was soon to be followed by a toilet trauma: After we'd used some cheap internet in a big public building, we were taking it in turns to use the disabled loo in the lobby (as it was a western one). Whilst I was sitting on the loo I was plunged into total darkness and couldn't see a thing. I called to Sophie and Naomi to see if they could find a light switch on the outside. Unfortunately all the electrical buttons only had Japanese commands on them, so Sophie, in her efforts to help, pressed one that caused the extra-wide door to glide open, revealing me sitting on the loo, trousers round ankles. The light went on at that moment. Excellent: my humiliation was well lit. I was rather taken aback and instinctively stood up but realised that was more revealing so quickly sat back down again, pleading in a panicked voice to them to 'Do something!' In between falling about laughing, they pressed various buttons and the door shut. And the light went off again. Well we all had a good laugh at my expense and went off to hide in a Sushi restaurant - one where a conveyor belt brings the dishes past. I was cheered up by the fact it was very tasty and tentacles were totally avoidable. Sophie was well chuffed as she even managed to get chicken nuggets, chips and chocolate cake.

Don't want to bore you all by writing much more but I should briefly summarise the sights we saw in Nagasaki (other than me naked): Temple Row (I feel I should have known a bit more about Shinto and Buddhist beliefs to fully appreciate these famous, very old temples built along one road), Glover Gardens (a collection of old houses of various European early settlers / trade merchants, etc, re-assembled up a hillside, set in landscaped gardens, with escalators for easy/ lazy access - there was one called 'Walker' House, so obviously I went to visit my Japanese heritage) and the Performing Arts Museum (where they keep Chinese dragon floats and accessories for an annual festival - bit disappointing as not much there).

The cherry blossom is starting to come out now so I'm looking forward to seeing a lot more of it.

On Sunday morning we left our sweet granny hosts who'd been looking after us very well, and bade stinky Mike farewell as we moved on to Osaka.


Posted by Sambosonic 03:22 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

Nagasaki arrival

featuring Mike the dog


We arrived in Nagasaki on the 25th March and thankfully found our accomodation was almost opposite the main train station, because carrying our huge backpacks up and down the flights of stairs of the pedestrian overpass was like a gym workout in itself. After a brief horrible moment thinking we had found the hostel and accidentally booked ourselves into a brothel ('love hotel'), we were directed a couple of doors down to what was really ours. We were greeted at the door by an elderly Japanese lady (who didn't speak English) and a dark grey terrier style dog who'd come to assess whether to allow us in or not. Sophie is scared of dogs so not the ideal start. The smell of stale dog mingled with what was possibly flea powder (reminiscent of the vet's) was unavoidable as we were ushered to remove our shoes in the porch and put on brown slippers with teddies on them, for indoor use. We had booked into a Ryokan which is a traditional Japanese style of accomodation - small and more like staying in someone's house. We were shown the room which was a traditional suite with lounge section with table (you sit on the floor) and bed area with tatami mats (thin mattresses on the floor) to sleep on.

I wasn't entirely sure about the cleanliness on first impressions, nor Sophie about the smelly dog, who turned out to be called Mike, or at least that is what it sounded like whenever it was told off. Naomi tried to convince me it was perfectly clean and things were simply meant to be that colour, but I know what dirt looks like and the large brown stains all over the rug definitely didn't feature in the original design. Hopefully they were coffee and not anything to do with Mike, who as if he'd read my thoughts, smugly positioned himself next to the stack of bedding on the floor and began scratching himself with his back leg, in its direction.

Anyway, with little alternative and thinking we should try something more authentic than concrete hostel blocks with wooden bunks, we stayed. A long confusing 'conversation' followed about price, with the Japanese lady and another woman of a similar age, who seemed to run the place with her. As neither of them spoke more than a few words of English we did our best to cobble together words from the back of the guide book with gestures to explain that the Lonely Planet said it cost a lot less than they were trying to charge us. We either did a very poor job or they pretended not to understand so we ended up paying 3500 Yen a night each, instead of for the room as Lonely Planet suggests. We didn't mind too much as this seems to be the going rate anyway and at least it got Mike out of the room.

We were really tired so after that the hosts brought us green tea and fruit and we settled down with the electric heaters on for a 'culturally appropriate' evening watching Sumo wrestling on TV and browsing through the grannies' selection of Manga porn we found stashed under the tele. (For those that don't know, Manga is a distinctive style of Japanese cartoon drawing / comic, popular with children, and apparently also another type of target audience! Amusingly, the parts that people would most want to see are blanked out, presumably due to censoring laws - so the magazine end up looking like some kind of really inappropriate colouring book where you can draw in the missing bits).

Lots of love xxxxxx

Posted by Sambosonic 01:04 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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