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Japan – Tokyo – The Goddess of Liberty and an Earthquake

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Our second full day in Tokyo was equally as unexpected and crazy as the first. 

As mentioned in my previous post we were staying in Asakusa so our first stop was to the bustling Senso-ji temple which is surrounded by colourful market stalls selling everything from Hello Kitty purses to paintings and chopsticks. This had a more traditional feel to it than other areas of Tokyo and although there are more impressive temples in Japan, I would still recommend paying it a visit to soak up the busy atmosphere. 

Senso-ji temple

Whilst in Tokyo, which I forgot (!) to mention in my previous post, we visited Tsukiji, the famous fish market. To really make the most of it and see the best bits you need to get up at 5am – but we just didn’t have the energy! It was still full of people buying, selling and munching on fresh fish and sushi. Again, prepare to be squeezing past people and definitely don’t eat before as it’s a great place to have a meal. Even if you only have a short stop in Tokyo, if you love fish, this is a must see.

Anyway back to day two. After we had visited the temple we had a stroll (and a sit) in the beautiful Shinjuku-gyoen which is a lovely park full of greenery and a nice place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Following this much needed rest we decided it was time to get another culture hit so we headed to Ueno which is home to the Tokyo museum – nestled in the middle of another gorgeous park.

It was in this park that I experienced two major events.

The first was eating possibly the largest corn on the cobs I had ever seen in my life (those of you who know me will know how happy this made me – I love corn on the cob) and the second was even better – a dog skateboarding all by itself. Unfortunately I was too busy stood with my gob wide open in disbelief that it zoomed away before I could take a photo! It ran with its front paws on the skateboard and its back legs on the ground then leapt on and skated until it slowed down. It then took its back legs off and started to run again before hopping back on.

corn on the cob

Howard looks very grumpy because I have once again asked him to pose for a photo (he hates photos).

After we had munched our way through several interesting delights at the food stalls (not a fan of squid balls though have to say) we headed to the Tokyo museum. It wasn’t very expensive to go in and Howard was very excited about seeing the Samurai swords! There was also a part dedicated to other countries of the world and it was the first time both of us had come face to face with a real life Mummy from Ancient Egypt.

Tired out from another busy day we headed back to the hotel. A quick change and this time we decided to get the Monorail out to the waterfront. We were both so glad we did this for our last night as it was not only a great way to see the city, but being out by the water and looking out to all the lights of the city was very romantic. What made us laugh was the ‘Goddess of Liberty’ statue with the ‘Tokyo Tower’ (looks like the Eiffel Tower) in the background.

We had an amazing meal at a restaurant called Gonpachi which was based on the fourth floor of Aqua City. We had a typical Japanese set menu which included fresh sashimi and sushi – the perfect way to end our trip.

Tokyo restaurant Tokyo restaurant

Lying in bed that night we were discussing natural disasters – everywhere we went in Japan there was always evacuation maps in public spaces to help guide people in the event of an earthquake, and all hotel rooms had signs on the back of the door with emergency instructions.

Howard made a point of saying that a natural disaster could be quite an exciting experience, to which I immediately told him off for ‘jinxing us’ and that it would be my worst nightmare.

3 hours after falling asleep I was woken up by the feeling of the room shaking pretty hard and a loud rumbling noise filling my ears. Clutching onto him I squeaked ‘OH MY GOD we’re having an earthquake!!!’

My ever calm boyfriend replied ‘I know, it’s fine, go back to sleep.’

Go back to sleep?! My heart felt it was about to come out of my chest it was pounding that hard. Just as I was debating getting under the desk for protection it all went still.

Needless to say I didn’t get much sleep that night, which wasn’t ideal as it took us precisely 23 hours to get back to our flat in Wakefield from the hotel.

However, apparently Tokyo experiences 300 earthquakes a year, so it was hardly surprising we felt one!

Japan was an amazing experience, a country so clean, efficient, friendly and kind – with prices that actually won’t break the bank and breathtaking sights, it would be daft not to go.

 

 

tokyo
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Japan – Tokyo – Pet Meerkats and Sushi

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Tokyo was our first and final destination in Japan and I loved it for all its craziness and diversity.

I didn’t realise until I got there, but Tokyo is the biggest city in the WORLD. Not only is it full of amazing skyline buildings, fabulous shopping centres and not to mention crowds of people, it also has a lot of tradition and culture too.

We stayed in a great location – Asakusa which was near enough to all the main attractions yet within walking distances to the older area with traditional temples and markets – where you can pick up all your souvenirs like we did.

Our hotel, Tokyo Inn Asakusa Kuramae Kaminarimon, was really good value too – £45 a night it was quite compact, but most hotels in Tokyo are, and had a complimentary breakfast included. What amused me was when we arrived the lady at reception insisted I picked 10 ‘free presents’ which included hair grips, bath bombs and soaps. This was a really nice touch, but I’m not sure 10 was completely necessary for just three nights!

Hotel Tokyo gifts

Tokyo breakfast

Breakfast was certainly interesting but definitely edible…

One of the highlights was our visit to Shibuya where, like a typical tourist (much to Howard’s horror) I followed our guide book’s recommendation and headed to the Starbucks above the busy crossroads that are directly in front of the station. These are the busiest crossroads in the world and it’s great to watch from above and take some snaps.

Shibuya crossroads

Shibuya crossroads

 Shibuya is also home to the famous statue of Hachiko, the faithful dog who continued to wait for his owner at the train station for 10 years after he died.

Statue of Hachiko

Shibuya, is very loud, full of shops blaring out Japanese pop music and large crowds. I would definitely recommend paying a visit though – we had a fabulous sushi lunch just up a side street from the cross roads. It was definitely cheaper than Yo Sushi!

Tokyo sushi

If you’re already in Shibuya it definitely makes sense to head onto Harajuku which the Lonely Planet describes as Tokyo’s ‘catwalk’ and definitely visit Takeshita-dori its ‘neighbourhood’s famous subculture bazaar’ which is full of the most random shops selling everything from little girl style clothing (but for grown-women) and other fancydress-esque items that are actually worn on a day-to-day basis.

It was in this area of Tokyo that I spotted one of my favourite sights of the whole trip – a lady cradling two meerkats in her arms, one wearing a top hat. At first glance I thought it was a ferret but I quickly realised it was in fact the animal I was used to just seeing on the comparethemarket adverts.

Meerkats in Tokyo

pet meerkats 

Japanese meerkats

We did so much in Tokyo I can’t fit it all into one post, so stay tuned for another coming soon! x

Okinawa beach
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Japan: Okinawa

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I had always planned to write the next stage of our Japanese adventure today, and as it turns out, Okinawa is unfortunately already in the news.

Okinawa is a tiny island south-east of Japan and is often a key place for local holiday makers to head for some relaxation and sunshine – hence why we decided to treat ourselves and fly there for 4 days.

Please be warned though; as it has become clear from today’s events, May – August is rainy season in Okinawa and storms and typhoons can happen. Okinawa has today fallen victim to Typhoon Neoguri which has left two people dead and others injured according to the BBC. This is terrible news and I am thinking of all the lovely Japanese people we met and hoping they are all safe.

We also experienced a mix of weather during our stay but we were lucky to get some sunny spells too. I would definitely recommend flying out there. It took 2 hours from Osaka airport and on the way there we flew with Peach airlines and came back into Tokyo with Jet Star. It was roughly about £130 return each – a bit on the pricey side but well worth it for some peace and luxury.

We stayed at the 4* Sunmarina Hotel in Onna-Son which was about an hour’s drive on the bus from Naha airport. At around £100 a night it wasn’t exactly cheap, but compared to hotels in the UK for that price, it was a palace.

The lobby was lovely, with at least half of it made up of water with fish swimming in it. There was table tennis, a pool table, tennis courts and crazy golf. It was bang on the beach, had a lovely swimming pool and was near to some really gorgeous restaurants.

Sunmarina Okinawa hotelOkinawa beach Okinawa beach Our favourite restaurant was one we stumbled upon our first night. Coming out of the hotel and turning left, we walked away from the busier strip and came across Shige, an AMAZING Tapanyaki restaurant that can’t be beaten by any restaurant in Okinawa. Not even the number 1 rated (on Trip Advisor) Jam could beat it.

Strangely enough I cannot find this amazing restaurant on Trip Advisor anywhere, it is on my to-do list to add it on.

It is a family run restaurant, as we walked in the mother and her children scurried away out of sight (which was a shame) and we were left alone with the chef (dad). I was a bit dubious at first although we could see that some people had recently left as the tables were being cleared away.

We had a fantastic meal of scallops, steak and cocktails. The meat melted in your mouth and the chef, who was also our waiter, was very attentive and lovely, despite his English being limited and our Japanese even worse, we received everything we wanted. Total cost – about £25. For a beautiful meal that was very, very filling. The only disappointment was when we went back on our last night to find it was shut!

If you were put off Japan by rumours the country is very expensive, think again. We found very affordable, amazing places everywhere we went.

Shige restaurantWhilst most of our days in Okinawa were spent eating or sunbathing we did also take a trip out on a boat to go snorkelling. Although we had had some sunny days the sea was freezing and I was very grateful of the wet suit I was given.

Of course nothing is ever simple for me and I did really struggle to get it on – much to the diving instructors amusement. There is nothing less undignified then standing in a bikini trying to pull on a wet suit that is just a tad too small for you. In front of the whole boat.

Why I didn’t think to take myself off into the changing rooms I do not know. However after much tugging from both the diving instructors and Howard, I finally managed to get the bloody thing on and was able to pose for a few rather unattractive photos.

Snorkelling in OkinawaSnorkelling in OkinawaSnorkelling in Okinawashell

Have you ever been to Okinawa? What did you like best about it?

Memorial Park Japan
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Japan: Hiroshima

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During our time in Kyoto we spent one of our days visiting Hiroshima.

Although this was by no means geographically close, the super fast Shinkansen made it very accessible and we reached it in under 2 hours, making the most of the last day of our Japanese Rail Pass.

I had always wanted to visit Hiroshima due to my fascination with WWII history. As most of you will know, on the 6th of August 1945, the World’s first Atomic Bomb was dropped on the city.

The effects were devastating. It’s only when you go and visit the city yourself that you can even begin to imagine how truly horrific it must have been. 166,000 people died in the first 4 months following the bomb, this number increased in the years to come as radiation poisoning caused incurable diseases such as cancer.

Arriving into Hiroshima station it is fairly easy to get to the Peace Memorial Park – just come out and turn left and head to the tram stop. Once you’re on the tram you can’t miss it.

The first sight that hits you is the Atomic Bomb Dome. Everyone inside this building, when it was the Industrial Promotion Hall, was killed instantly due to the bomb being dropped almost directly above it. Surprisingly, the building was one of the few that stayed standing. Although at the time many of the locals weren’t happy about it – a decision was made to keep it as a memorial of the devastation.

As we walked around the Atomic Bomb Dome we came across a man who had survived the blast. He was openly talking to people and sharing folders full of information that he had put together. It included photos of his grandparents who had died as a result of the ‘black rain’ which fell after the blast and caused severe radiation poisoning. Although he was offering tours around the museum, he was more than happy to stand and talk, and to educate. It was an honour to meet him.

Atomic Bomb Dome

Visiting Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park, which houses the museum, was a sobering experience – especially the museum. I wasn’t quite mentally prepared for how I would feel walking around. I didn’t speak to Howard whilst I was there, we both walked around separately.

The museum was silent and rightly so. The information, the photos, and the sights it displayed were extremely shocking and upsetting. The numerous pieces of children’s burnt and shredded uniforms, each accompanied with the story of their death, was really, really hard. One case even showed burnt skin and finger nails which was actually the most shocking part of the museum.

The story of a girl, Sadako Sasaki, who died when she was 12 really touched me. There is a sculpture in the park that was created especially in her memory.

Sadako developed leukaemia when she was 11 in 1955, after she survived the initial blast 10 years previously. She believed that if she created 1000 paper cranes (like swans) she would survive. Sadly Sadako died before she could finish her task and as such her sculpture is of a huge crane, with thousands of paper cranes in glass cases behind it.

Crane memorial sculpture

Another key aspect of the museum was an education into just how many nuclear weapons Britain, America, North Korea and other countries actually have. Japan has none and is campaigning for other countries to do the same, to avoid such devastation from ever happening again. It definitely gave me a lot to think about, and I would recommend spending at least a day in Hiroshima to anyone considering visiting Japan.

Leaving the museum, we walked around the park, which is lovely. The rest of Hiroshima is a typical Japanese city, full of modern buildings, busy roads and lots of culture. It’s amazing to see a city that has been completely rebuilt and full of life.

Hiroshima Memorial Park

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Japan: 5 Things to do in Kyoto

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Kyoto waFushimi Inari shrine s definitely one of my favourite places in Japan and I felt that three days there wasn’t quite enough to do the city justice.

Upon arrival, Kyoto could be just another city, but dig deeper, walk a little further (ok quite a lot further – wear comfortable shoes) and you will stumble into a place full of history, tradition and culture.

My top 5 things to do in Kyoto are as follows:

1) Fushimi Inari Shrine. This is one of the most unique set of temples I have ever seen. What can only be described as a tunnel of bright orange wooden columns, weave around the shrines. It is free to get in and only two stops from Kyoto station. Leave a good few hours to take the time to walk around and make the most of all of it. It is extremely unique and very special.
Inari temple

Fushimi Inari Shrine
2) Take the train and head out to Arashiyama’s Bamboo Grove. Once you get through the real tourist trap area, you can find (albeit brief) moments where you’re alone in the bamboo jungle. We both really enjoyed visiting here, I’ve never seen so much bamboo in my life and there were some beautiful Japanese gardens.
Fushimi Inari Shrine

Arashiyama's Bamboo


Japanese Garden

3) Read Memoirs of Geisha first, then head to the Gion district and soak up the atmosphere of bustling activity. Shops selling strange bean-curd sweets (my work friends were NOT appreciative of these) and if you’re lucky you may spot a real Geisha. We were exceptionally lucky in that we visited during the month of April which is the spring blossom festival in Kyoto. This meant that the annual Geisha dances were on twice a day, we bought tickets (£50 for two plus access to the tea ceremony) and it was definitely an experience…

Geisha tea ceremony

Japan tea ceremony

tea ceremony in Gion

4) Eat some of the best food you have ever had in your life!

Firstly, an amazing place to experience Izakaya (a bar which serves Japanese food) is the basement of Suishin near Kyoto station. Here we sampled raw horse meat (I must admit it was delicious) had beautiful sashimi and sushi and the best calamari I have ever eaten! We ordered a LOT of dishes and several glasses of plum wine for about £40. It was amazing, the photos don’t actually show all the food we ate either.

Our other amazing meal was in the centre of Gion – we splashed out and spent about £90 on a truly fantastic meal of about 5 different courses. Our main course was the delicacy of cooking raw beef and vegetables in a tasty bowl of broth. Our waiter had lived in London for most of his life and so was able to explain to us what everything was in perfect English. He recommended dipping the beef, (once cooked) into a bowl of raw egg. On seeing my concerned face he laughed and said “raw egg in England not so good, in Japan, all good!” Erm, ok.

Always keen to try new things, despite my reservations (I am prone to a spot of food poisioning) I followed his suggestion and tried it – to be honest it was actually quite nice!

 

Food in Suishin, Japan

 

Japanese foodMeal in GionMeal in Gion

Meal in Gion5) Finally, if you’re exhausted from all the sight-seeing visit Kyoto Imperial Palace Park. Take a picnic and just take some time to chill out. It really is a lovely place to spend a few hours – especially if the weather is nice.

Kyoto Imperial Park

Shinkansen
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Japan – Arriving in Kyoto

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Arriving in Kyoto the weather was a completely different story to Takayama.

Before leaving for Japan we bought a Japanese Rail Pass – for about £162 each which were valid for a week once first used. This was a fantastic option as train travel in Japan can be quite expensive and this allowed us unlimited travel across the country. If you’re planning on going to Japan, please note you CAN’T buy this pass once you’re in the country! It must be bought BEFORE you go – and make sure you leave enough time for delivery!

Anyway, we arrived in Kyoto fairly rapidly thanks to the super speedy Shinkansen and despite being in several feet of snow only a matter of hours previously, we were greeted with glorious sunshine. It was time to ditch the wellies and raincoat, and pull on our summer clothes – finally!

Shinkansen

It actually took us about 20 minutes to get out of the station – it is HUGE. Several times bigger than London St Pancras and so much more confusing.

Our hotel was very nice and the reception staff were very friendly – although they did practically force us to get on the free bikes as soon as we arrived! Before we even had checked in the receptionist insisted (she really was persistent) that we left our bags, and before I knew it we were being shown to a rack of bikes.

“But I don’t WANT to go on a bike right now” I moaned quietly to Howard.

Jumping on the bike I proceeded to instantly topple over, causing the bike to clatter to the floor, much to the alarm of the super polite receptionist.

A few minutes later my seat had been lowered (so I could actually get on the saddle) and we were cycling through the crowds of a busy city that neither of us had a map for, or had a clue what we were doing. Everyone else seemed to be cycling on the pavements so we followed suit. However, due to my terrible lack of balance and co-ordination, trying to avoid the many pedestrians on the roads was just too much of a disaster waiting to happen. Climbing off I started to push the damn thing when Howard (sensing my silent rage) suggested we just head back.

The receptionist looked very disappointed (and surprised) to see us back so soon but agreed to finally take us to our room and let us check in, phew.

The room was lovely – I would recommend the hotel (Kyoto Dai-Ni Tower) as it is very close to the station which makes it handy for those wanting to explore the outskirts of the city (see examples in my next post). We also received free tickets to go up the Kyoto Tower but sadly due to time constraints we never actually made it up there.

Be warned however – you will be persuaded to make use of the free bikes – but in hindsight, once you get onto the back roads and have a map – it is a great way to get round Kyoto!

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Japan – Shinhotaka Ropeway

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Moving further north in Takayama, Howard and I found ourselves in 8ft of snow. No seriously we did. There was even a snowman.

Jumping off the bus I was instantly relieved once again that I had bought those emergency wellies. I couldn’t believe how cold it was either, good job I had bought layers as that was all we wore for the last two days in northern Takayama.

snow

If you look behind me you can see the big mound of snow by the bus!

One of the highlights of our trip was our visit to the Shinhotaka Ropeway, which, if you get chance to go, GO!

Being crammed into a cable car full of people was actually quite unnerving as I was half expecting the cable to snap at any moment and plummet us all down the mountain. Howard and I were the only English people there, but everyone was extremely friendly (as were all the Japanese we met) and a couple even ‘adopted’ us during the trip. Telling us the best places to stand and asking us to pose for photos with them so they could show their children once they had returned home.

Japan

The lovely lady who took a shine to Howard and I

Japanese friends

More Japanese friends!

 

deep snow

I wasn’t joking when I said 8ft of snow

Of course, after another busy day, it was only right that we each had an onsen to recover. This time the pools were much bigger and there were even outside areas so you could bathe whilst looking out at the mountains. It was beautiful.

onsen

Outside onsen