Japan

After Hong Kong we flew to Japan. First stop, 5 nights in Tokyo. Tokyo was fantastic. We stayed in Shinjuku, which was extremely convenient. The airport express train stops at Shinjuku, the only problem was trying to work out which direction to walk in to get to our hotel. A word of advice to anybody thinking of going to Japan – the maps on the street are always in a strange orientation (ie: up is not north), which makes it difficult to match the street map to the trusty Lonely Planet guide! Thankfully a nice “sarari man” (business man) stopped and took us in the right direction.
 
While in Tokyo we saw Meiji Shrine – the best in Tokyo according to the Lonely Planet Tokyo guide. We went to Sony Central in the Ginza shopping district, but it was a bit disappointing. We’d heard that Sony had all their new gadgets on display, including playstations and games, cameras, tvs, computers etc, and was looking forward to playing some new Playstation games, but there was really only a lot of digital cameras out to play with.
 
We also saw the Imperial Palace (just the outside of the palace), Asakusa Kannon Temple, which had some great little market stalls in front of it selling lots of Japanese souvenirs, and Tokyo Tower – which is Tokyo’s red version of the Eiffel Tower and serves as a TV broadcast tower. We also saw some Kabuki Theatre – the traditional Japanese Theatre where all the actors are male. It was interesting, but the hour and a half we saw of the 4 hour production was more than enough to get the idea. My Japanese is just not good enough to understand what they’re saying and the English translation headsets just explain the plot, rather than translating what the actors are saying.
 
From Tokyo, we went to Mt Fuji for a day. The train took about 2 hours to get to Kawaguchi, then we got a bus up to the 5th Station on the mountain. After that, if you want to go any higher, you have to walk. It wasn’t a very clear day as there was alot of cloud around, which made it difficult, if not impossible, to see the top of the mountain, but for about 2 minutes the cloud cover moved and we were able to get a pretty good view of the top of the mountain. Being summer, there was very little snow left at the top of the mountain, so it didn’t have that postcard look, but it was still amazing. We spent about an hour walking along part of the trail from the 5th to the 6th station, but didn’t go any higher than that – we plan to leave the mountain climbing portion of our trip until the Inca Trail.
 
From Tokyo, we got the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) to Osaka, which took about 3 hours. We basically used Osaka as a base to day trip out to other cities in Japan. We spent one day in Kyoto, the old capital of Japan, where we saw Kinkakuji Temple (the Golden Pavilion), Nijo Castle, and the Kyoto Imperial Palace. The Golden Pavilion is a temple that is covered in gold and it is very beautiful. This would have to be a must see if you are ever in or near Kyoto. Nijo Castle was a little disappointing as I didn’t realise you couldn’t actually get into the Castle, just the grounds around the castle.
 
We got the Shinkansen down to Hiroshima as well to see the A-Bomb Dome, Peace Memorial Park and Museum and Miyajima Island. The A-Bomb Dome is the only structure still as it was after the bombing of Hiroshima in WWII and it is surrounded with the beauty of the Peace Memorial Park. The Peace Memorial Museum is fantastic, we spent about 2 hours there. As well as lots of exhibits of items that survived the bombing, they also have lots of information about pre-WWII Hiroshima and the wars Japan fought before WWII. After the Museum we went across to Miyajima Island, a little Island about a 10 minute ferry from Hiroshima. The Island is most famous for the shrine gate that is out in the water. We saw a bit of the sunset over the water behind the gate and got some nice pictures, but the best part of the Island was watching Marc wrestle one of the wild deer to get our map back 🙂 (See photos).
 
The only thing we really did in Osaka was go to Osaka Castle. This castle was castle like on the outside, but inside they had turned it into a museum and everything was very modern, so it didn’t really feel like a castle at all.
 
On our last day in Osaka we got the train to Himeji to see Himeji Castle. It is the oldest Castle in Japan (which means it was rebuilt sometime in the 1950’s to be just like it was before and hasn’t burnt down since). The reconstruction was done very well and it did actually feel like an old castle (unlike Osaka Castle).
 
From Osaka we went back to Tokyo for a couple of days. We went across to Odaiba for a day to see Tokyo’s version of the Statue of Liberty, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, Mega Web, Palette Town and Venus Fort. The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation was fun. They had working robots on display and a working model of how the Internet works (a little simplistic, but it was fun to play with)! Mega Web is a huge Toyota showroom where you can test drive all the latest Toyota cars and see others on display. Palette Town is essentially a huge Timezone with heaps of cool games that you would only see in Japan. There was “Billiard Bowl” – ten pin bowling combined with billiards, Amanda won, 108 to Marc’s 90 🙂 – and games to practice your golf swing, tennis shots, baseball batting and basketball shots, Marc won, 446 to Amanda’s 120 :-). Venus Fort is just Tokyo’s version of shopping in Italy, it wasn’t anything special.
 
Overall, the best part of being in Japan was attempting to use the little Japanese that Amanda knows. Reading menus and ordering food was lots of fun and by the end of the trip we was able to book train tickets for the exact day and time that we wanted completely in Japanese!

Since then we’ve been to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Vancouver and are currently in Calgary, though those updates might be a little while away :).
 
Hope you are all well!
 
Keep Smiling,
Marc and Amanda

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