A Travellerspoint blog

Tokyo II - Return of the Gaijin

For info - "Gaijin" means "foreigner"; namely me...

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Toured Osaka, in the rain, mainly to see Osaka Castle. I am starting to get the ABC (Another Bloody Castle) syndrome you get when travelling old countries that have that kind of thing. Those who have been to Europe / Ireland will know what I mean. Still Osaka Castle is not a bad one, having had a huge battle in the 1600s to capture it after the Shogun died, as well as being bombed to hell in the war since it was Imperial Japanese Army HQ. Great story, will tell you about it sometime.

Other than the castle though Osaka is a pretty basic and working class city, not really a tourist place, but trying to cater with loads of bars and clubs. Even found a proper pub. One thing that is a highlight at night is the river front, which is lined with multistory blocks of restaurants and the biggest, flashiest advertising I have ever seen. All you need to do to bring the city to a halt is switch off the power.

I have now worked my way back to Tokyo and will be doing some day trips up north, but won't get a chance to stay anywhere there. Great day today, and spent most of it wandering around the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, much of which has been archaeologically excavated and restored since I was last here.

Winding down over the next few days and will fill in my time nicely at my own pace. The new camera has been great, and managed to get some fantastic pics. I have only uploaded a small sample of the best ones, but the best thing with the digital is you can take heaps then pick and chose what to keep. To date, I reckon I have done over 1500 photos.

How is the weather there by the way, as I sit in 30 degrees in my shorts...?

PS. By the way, the Shinkansen is the best way to travel, Osaka to Tokyo (500km+) in 2 and a bit hours. And from 2020, there will be a Maglev one that runs between Osaka and Tokyo even faster.

Posted by VP28802 23:35 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Where am I...?

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Been a bit on the go since Kyoto. Did a couple of days there, and took in the Kinkaku-ji (which means Golden Pavilion, and is hence gold in colour), the Ginkaku-ji (which means Silver Pavilion, and is not silver in colour), and some of the 10,000 tori gates at Fushimi Inari. Mind you, these visits were accompanied by almost everyone else in Japan. Also went to a ninja museum (the real deal, had some really cool original ninja gear and great history, plus some cool sword and archery displays).

All the schoolkids who think their English is superb and are confident enough to speak to you seem to want to practice their English. So when I talk back to them in Japanese it gets some funny reactions. Sometimes it takes a couple of seconds for them to register that I actually replied in Japanese. Usually they stop their English and switch then.

Went to stay at a Buddhist temple the other day for an overnighter. Imagine a uni town, with about 40 small unis, where all the students are Buddhist monks in training. Plus all the spin off industries like shops that sell lucky Buddhist charms (guaranteed to ward off 99% of all known household demons), clothing (these guys don't wear orange, they have all sorts of colours according to their student year rank), and vegetarian food (all the Buddhists are vegetarians). Lucky for me I found a place that sold fried pork cutlets and other goodies. The temple food was OK, but the monk's life is definitely out.

This place also has temples and shrines everywhere, including a cemetery that has been is use for over 1000 years and has a heap of Japanese historical leaders buried there. Its strange to see a cemetery amongst a forest of 500 year old trees over 100ft high.

In Osaka now, and its a bit like being in Blade Runner (for those who know them film). Very flashy and electric on the surface (don't know what would happen if the power got cut off), but there is a real underworld just off the main drags. It's the first place I've seen with any graffiti (all the other places have been nearly spotlessly clean). Real entertainment hub, and not really a tourist town, unless you're looking to buy. And you can buy pretty much anything, if you have the right money. Not exactly illegal, but most of it wouldn't be available at home. One place I saw, but didn't visit, was a target shooting cafe, where you can pop zingers off between courses. Looked like airguns from the ads.

Not much obvious in the way of crime, though the coppers here are pretty strict. Saw a foreign guy arrested for a forged rail ticket at a rural station the other day. Rail staff called the boys, and they responded - three cars, four uniforms and two plainclothes. Didn't exactly rough him up, but they weren't gentle. Spoke to the station staff later on (was I getting involved - no way!) and they told me that among particular foreign ethnic immigrant groups, rail ticket fraud is rife, and they stamp it pretty hard. Anyone complaining about the ticket inspectors in Melbourne have nothing to complain about, trust me.

Food is still great, and weather is pretty fluid, between hot and sunny to hot and rainy to hot and humid. Sometimes altogether. Had some octopus balls the other day as well (what??? I hear you say). Not as bad as it sounds. Little pastry balls with slices of octopus and vegies cooked on a grill. There's never a dull moment with the food, though I do draw the line at eating anything that winks back at me.

Touring Osaka today and back towards Tokyo in next few days. Winging it from tomorrow on, so dunno what'll happen.

Posted by VP28802 16:20 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Anyone for earthquakes...?

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Yep, had my first earthquake this morning (not from anything I ate, a fair dinkum one). About 0630, just getting ready for brekky, and all of a sudden the whole room started to shake. Almost like being on a ship in a moderate swell. Then I heard the creaking of the walls, and it really did seem like a cabin on a ship, swaying and creaking. Except I was looking out across Tokyo from the 19th floor of the hotel. Hmm, thinks I, if this goes on much longer, something might have to be done. Best do it with pants on too (made sure I had clean underwear like mum always said - 'you never know if you'll be hit by a bus or something'. So I thought I couldn't be rescued from an earthquake zone in dodgy clothes. After making the effort, it all stopped after about 5-10 minutes. Could still see the chain of a crane in a construction site nearby swinging away, but all ended up OK. 6.6 on the scale apparently so a proper quake, too.

Finished the excitement with brekky, then off to the Shinkansen to Kyoto. Got in about lunch time, checked into the hotel and wandered again. Kimonos aplenty once again, except Kyoto is more laid back than Tokyo, maybe because they have had more practice being the old capital for long.

Had my time with a geisha this arvo as well (not what you would think, either). Very traditional, tea ceremony to start with (see pics). She's a 3-year apprentice (2 more years to go to be a full geisha, where she gets to wear a black kimono - no joke, it's the equivalent of a black belt in karate).

Touring Kyoto tomorrow, more temples and history here than you can poke a stick at. Wandering round this arvo and there is a whole shopping area in a closed off street which has a bunch Buddhist temples dotted along in between the shops. They were all built in 500-600 AD in different spots, then the shogun in 1560 decided he wanted them all moved to the one spot so he could keep an eye on them (the Buddhists weren't always the peaceful little blokes in orange robes during this period in Japan), so where they are now is when they were put there in 1560s.

Sake time now, I'm off.

Posted by VP28802 03:57 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Typhoon day

First days of the summer, aye...(get it? Summer-aye? Samurai? Ah forget it...)

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Wandered around Asakusa last night, looks great at night. You can also see the place from my hotel window (hence the name 'Asakusa View Hotel').

(And for Rick: it's not 6500 yen, it's more like 65,000 yen - he'll know what I mean)

Went to the Tuskiji fish market, which is where all our tuna ends up now, with 25% of the world's tuna catch eaten in Japan. Also had whale bacon there, not bad but a bit on the fatty side. Not as good as dolphin apparently, (but then neither is koala, which horrifies them here if I say that).

Big news today is the typhoon (= tropical cyclone) that hit further south which is expected to be in Tokyo by tonight as a category 1. Heaps of rain apparently but no one here is all that worried, so I won't be.

Also yesterday went to Senkaku-ji temple where the 47 ronin are buried. Short story: in 1730 something, last days of samurai, and a local lord was getting a visit from the Shogun (bloke in charge on Emperor's behalf). Protocol minister ahead of Shogun was supposed to educate the lord as to what his duties were, and in return receive a fairly hefty payment (i.e. bribe) for doing so. Trouble was, this particular lord was not a believer in bribes, so didn't pay up - hence minister snubbed him and refused to give him his protocol instruction, and kept bagging him every day. Finally, old mate has had enough, and stabs the minister one day - didn't kill him, but big ruckus then ensued, ending with lord's traditional suicide as punishment. His blokes then got all uppity, and after having been given a direction not to get any payback basically get banished as ronin (being they are now out of a job), Two years of plotting later, the 47 ronin bust in to the minister's house in a well planned aggravated burglary, kill the minister, and take his head to Senkaku-ji temple. Head goes to the priest (they still have the receipt) and all 47 then commit suicide and are buried at the temple. The end.

Got shown how to make proper sushi as well, so any raw fish, I can do. Not bad when it's done right, either. And proper wasabi that blows you nose hairs off.

Big news here is the new government bill to allow Japanese Self Defence Force to operate in foreign conflicts under set criteria (basically if its a threat to Japanese stability). Getting a lot of support at the moment. Hakone volcano is the other big news, no one is allowed there at the moment and could go off at the drop of a hat, no one is really sure. Lots of people reckon earthquakes etc are more common now, too.

Heading to Kyoto tomorrow on Shinkansen, so probably couple of days till next post.

Posted by VP28802 00:59 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Made it, complete with plane and cabin crew...

Absolutely nothing happened on the flight; probably go down as the most mundane and ordinary flight in aviation history

overcast 25 °C
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Finally arrived in Tokyo after stinking hot stopover in Singapore. Weather is great here, mid 20s, with a touch of sunburn on the bonce necessitating the purchase of another hat (cause I forgot to bring one).

So after sleeping well on the flight over, hit Japan at 0730, at the hotel by 1000 only to be told they only take check ins at 1400. Able to leave all the gear there and went for a wander through Asakusa district where I am staying.

Usual Tokyo thing, which you can see from the photos: modern day city surrounding pockets of 1000-year old temple complexes that managed to survive the war (which we won't mention; I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it).

Also went to Shinjuku which is the gadget / geek heaven of all things electronic - remember that 'new' camera I got before I left? It's about 3 years out of date here now. Go figure.

Down at Asakusa Temple doing a walk through, heaps of local lasses all dolled up in the kimonos (see pics). Also managed to dodge all the bloody rickshaws which have been resurrected and doing a roaring trade in Asakusa.

Food's great as always, there's even a fugu fish (Wikipedia - look it up) restaurant just down the road, not sure if I am game enough yet.

Language is fine, even been told it's great - but then the Japanese excel at being polite even when they really think you're a dick...

More later, will upload some pics.

Posted by VP28802 02:28 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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