Saturday, May 15, 2010

The trip over to Tokyo

Fly from Sydney 6.00 am yesterday. A couple of hours in Cairns and then on to Tokyo where we arrived at 7.30 pm

We had our first 'rail' experience -there is a cable car that takes passengers from the 'satellite' terminal to the main terminal. Clever!

We had decided to hire a mobile phone for the month and I had reserved one online to collect when we arrived. What I didn't realize was that we arrived at Terminal 2 but the phone company was at terminal 1. One short busride later we had the phone, made contact with Paul and Joss and then waited for our busride to Shinegawa.

We arrived at the Hearton Hotel Shinegawa at 10.30 pm - a long day. However room is perfect. Thanks Rumi!

I'm having trouble uploading photos to the blog so this revised edition has no photos. Hopefully I can sort this out and post the rest of our episodes with suitable visuals.

-- Post From My iPhone

Day 1 in Tokyo

We have all slept in - the room is sooo quiet! I have used the digital toilet with some success. This is definately an improvement over our somewhat crude approach to toilet hygiene at home

Notice the control panel on the right.

Just across the road from our hotel there is a Jusco department store and the food court became our 11.00 am breakfast destination. Gyoza followed by doughnuts and coffee. We are really going to eat healthy on this trip!

After eating we browsed the department store above. The toy department allowed Laura the opportunity to drive an electric train. Note the video display showing the 'driver's' view from Laura's train

After browsing the department store we headed to Tokyo Teleport via the Rinkai Line and discovered Venus Fort, a very impressive outlet mall. You can see one happy shopper with minder.

Lots of girlie shops in a setting that doesn't bear much resemblance to DFO!!

And it's all undercover despite appearances in the photo above

Day 2 - off to Kyoto

After leaving the hotel we took a taxi to Shinegawa station and booked our seats on the Shinkansen to Kyoto. We had some time to wait and watch- every few minutes as one of these bullet trains arrived or departed Shinegawa. They have 15 carriages so when full about a thousand people per train are being whisked along in fast, quiet, clean and efficient comfort.

More Shinkansen photos

Two and a half hours later we arrived at Kyoto station which is an impressive futuristic structure that might seem a bit odd for this ancient city but is well suited to the advanced railway technology using it

More Photos of Kyoto Station

The lower levels contain a variety of restaurants - we found a great one that specialized in different types of Tonkatsu which is breaded deep fried pork. Fortunately there is absolutely no resemblance to any Aussie deep fried food!

We caught the Karasuma-Dori subway to the Hearton hotel which is right in the centre of Kyoto. Another excellent choice - very quiet, well appointed and conveniently located - thanks Rumi, a perfect choice again!

We spent the afternoon checking out the parrallel Teramachi and Shin-kyogoku shopping arcades. Interesting fashion and craft shops being patronised by lots of seriously fashionable locals

After these adventures some snacks and an early night for the weary travellers.

-- Post From Geoff's iPhone

Day 3 - Steam action in Kyoto

Another quiet and comfy night but a cold wet and miserable day. After breakfast a subway ride to Kyoto station and then an increasingly damp walk to the Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum. This is located in a huge half circle roundhouse and is home to 15 steam lomotives.

Of these, seven operate on a regular basis including the one below (a 2-6-0) which hauled a couple of carriages for a short ride.

The Non operating locos are all beautifully presented with accessible cabs.

The museum also contains some interesing displays including a cab with working controls and a movie of how to drive a loco - useful for our trainee driver

Check out more Umekoji Photos

-- Post From Geoff's iPhone

The rest of a wet day 3

After a morning of steam action we headed back to Kyoto station - an amazing structure that incorporates shops, a hotel, department stores, restaurants and of course the actual station. We spent some time exploring this interesting structure.

Time for lunch - today it's tempura!

After this we decide to head out to Arishiyama to ride the Sagano Romantic Train. I'm not sure how romantic it would have been but it was cold and wet when we arrived and as we had some time to wait before the next service we headed back to Kyoto Station for some retail therapy and then afternoon tea

I can recommend Sencha (green tea) Cappuchino, seen at lower left.

After this effort, we went and booked our seats for the return Shinkansen then back to the hotel for a quiet evening

Day 4 - Nara - Todai-ji

Fine but freezing. After breakfast took the subway to Kyoto station then via JR 'rapid' service. Definately rapid, also fast, comfotable, efficient. Travel by train in Japan is so easy - all main singage shows English translation.

Arrived in Nara then via bus to the Todai-ji temple. The main attraction is the Great Buddha Hall, which houses a huge statue of the Buddha. The hall, constructed in 1709, was built after fire destroyed an earlier, larger structure. Nonetheless it is the world's largest wooden building.

Even though half the school population of Japan seemed to be there as well, the hall didn't feel crowded (this also due to very good student behaviour!)

The great Buddha statue was cast in bronze in 752.

It is the world's largest image of the Buddha

After Todai-ji we continued through Nara Park to the Kasuga (Shinto) shrine which is surrounded by around 3000 or so bronze and stone lanterns. From this point we walked down to the Naramachi district which contains older style buildings.

More Photos of Todai-ji

-- Post From Geoff's iPhone

Day 4 - Nara afternoon

Lunch provided a new surprise - Okonomi-Yakima, which is probably best described as a cross between a pizza and a Chinese style pancake. Just the thing for a chilly day and big appetites!

They are cooked on a hot grill and stay that way as you eat them because the table also has a hotplate!!

From lunch it was a short walk to check out the Kofuku-ji temple which includes an impressive five-storey pagoda dating from 1426.

After this, some window shopping in the Naramachi district, then back to the station for the return trip to Kyoto.

After that a little window shopping then time for dinner.

-- Post From Geoff's iPhone

Kyoto - our accommodation

The Hearton hotel is located in the heart of Kyoto! The subway is 5 mins walk away, and many attractions are in walking distance

The rooms are verycomfortable, clean, spacious and well appointed. At an average cost of about $AUD 130.00 per night, it represents great value. We had a room with a really nice view towards the mountains to the east of the city.

-- Post From Geoff's iPhone

Day 5 - morning

After breakfast in Kyoto Station we caught the JR local service to Inari to visit the Fushima Inari shrine. Inari are Shinto shrines dedicated to the Kami (deity) of cereal crops and the Fushimi
Shrine is the 'head' one. It's particularly notable for the thousands of vermillion torii stretching over several kilometres.

 More photos of Fushimi Inari Shrine

-- Post From Geoff's iPhone

Day 5 - afternoon in Kyoto

Over lunch we made our plans for the afternoon. We decided to head for Toji Temple.
The Toji temple is a short walk from Kyoto station. The temple was establised in 796 and is the headquarters of the esoteric Shingon Buddhist sect.

The lecture hall contains a series of 21 wooden statues carved about 1200 years ago. Together they form a three- dimensional mandala, a concrete representation of Shingon Buddhist cosmology.

The complex also includes a pagoda built in 1644. At 180 metres it is the tallest wooden
structure in Japan.

More photos of Toji-ji

After returning to the hotel for a short rest we headed across to the Gion area for dinner. This is an area of the city where the older style of buildings and houses are preserved, or a least recreated. There are narrow streets and charming laneways disappearing to the sides. The only problem is that the discreet hand written notices and illuminted lamps don't indicate what's inside the various premises. Here is one very good reason to learn to read Japanese.

We eventually find an establishment that offers english subtitles. It is great to experience the traditional style of dining. We are beginning to appreciate why bean curd (tofu) is a Kyoto specialty. Amazingly smooth and creamy taste and texture - nothing like the packaged stodge we know as tofu in Australia.

-- Post From Geoff's iPhone

Kyoto Transport

Kyoto is a city well served by public transport. Trains on the city's various subways, railways and tramways run frequently (we waited no more than 5 mins every time we travelled) and are really cheap. We usually paid about ¥210 per trip (roughly $2.50). Train drivers and conductors all wear uniforms and have a parade ground standard of presentation, including spotless white gloves. Every train we rode in and every station we visited felt safe and was modern & spotlessly clean. There was not even the tiniest spot of graffiti, not a scratched window, nothing broken, torn, worn, dirty etc. Every station is manned by polite and helpful attendants, the ticket macines are easy to use (many have a button for English instructions). There are clean toilets everywhere. This is such an easy place to travel around in.
It was also the same the day we travelled to Nara - so convenient and fast!

-- Post From Geoff's iPhone

Day 6 in Kyoto - Nijo Castle

Its a beautiful sunny morning in Kyoto. As the castle is only a 15 minute walk from the hotel we decide to enjoy the sunshine and the attractive streetscape. The main Streets in the centre of the city are impressive wide boulevards with wide footpaths used by cyclists more than pedestrians. It's not unusual to see immaculately dressed men and women, young and old, pedalling steadily along often whilst talking on their mobiles. When it rains they just hold an umberalla in one hand. No need for that today!

Nijo was originally built in 1603 as the official Kyoto residence of the Tokugawa Shogun, Ieyasu and completed by the third shogun, Iemitsu, in 1626.

The castle contains the amazing
Ninomaru Palace which consists of 33 stunning rooms occupying 33,000 square metres. Elegant, exquisite! The palace uses 'Nightingale floors' in the corridors which 'chirp' when walked on so as to prevent undesirables (Ninja?) from sneaking in and possibly bringing harm to the person of the Shogun. This amazing design stll works fine- with all the hordes of fellow tourists walking along the corridors (shoes off) it sounded like a whole flock of nightingales!

The surrounding grounds also include a variety of gardens and ponds all this contained behind a huge stone wall and moat.

From the castle we kept walking on to Nijo station on the JE Line

More photos of Nijo
-- Post From Geoff's iPhone

Day 6 in Kyoto - Ryoanji temple

We caught the JR service as far as Uzumasa Station, then walked a couple of hundred metres to catch the 'Randen' tram that would get us closer to our destination.

These cute little trams operate on a single tracks with signals and lots of passing loops.

From the nearest tram stop the temple is only a 10 minute walk. This particular Zen Buddhist temple which was founded in 1450 features the world famous rock garden. It consists of 15 stones of various sizes on beds of moss, all of these in a 'sea' of raked white gravel. The backdrop to this garden is a wall made of clay boiled in oil, resulting in the peculiar colouring and pattern.

The temple also, not surprisingly, is surrounded by another amazing garden. Most of the green on the ground is not grass but moss, acres of it!

More photos of Ryoan-ji and the fun of getting there

By this time the members of our group were getting pretty hungry so as we walked to our next destination we keep an eye open for a lunch stop. We didn't have long to wait as we soon passed a cute little traditional restaurant. Another memorable meal (chicken yakitori and rice, soba noodles in Dashi broth with deep fried tofu skin - perfect!!).

None of us has yet mastered the art of sitting at low tables with any degree of dignity or ease - fortunately a lot of the locals appear to find it a bit of a challenge as well. Time now to head off to the next destination.

-- Post From Geoff's iPhone

Day 6 in Kyoto - Kinkaku-ji

A short walk from Ryoan-Ji brought us to Rokuon-Ji Temple which contains Kinkaku, the Golden Pavilion.

Originally built as a retirement villa for the third Ashikaga Shogun Yoshimitsu in the 1390's, the pavilion is entirely covered in gold leaf and not surprisingly is surrounded by beautful gardens. Kinkaku-ji is said to look particularly exquisite after a snowfall, but it also looks impressive in bright sunshine.

 More photos of Kinkaku-ji

We returned to The city centre by JR bus and saw an interesting method of collecting the fare. Passengers enter the bus via the rear door, take a numbered ticket from a small dispenser and then consult an illuminated board at the front of the bus which displays the fare. Passengers then pay the driver when they alight. At first we were a bit worried by this as we had neglected to take a ticket on boarding, but realized it was a JR bus and used our rail pass!

After all these adventures there was still daylight so we walked from the hotel down to Nishiki Market to buy a knife for Andrew from Aritsugu (they've been making and sling knives there for hundreds of years apparently). Whilst Aritsugu were just closing lots of shops were still open so we purchased some supplies for a 'light' dinner in the hotel room.

-- Post From Geoff's iPhone

Day 7 in Kyoto - Higashiyama district

The Higashiyama district lies to the east of the Kamo River and includes the Gion distict where much of the architecture reflects the style of old Kyoto, with narrow streets, small shops and dwellings and numerous temples and shrines.

We caught the Toji Subway to Higashiyama Station and then walked along narrow laneways to the Chion-in temple. This is the headquarters of the Jodo sect of Buddhism. The sanmon entrance gate is the largest of it's type in Japan. We sat for a while in the founders hall as the monks chanted.

There is also a small hall with an exquisite Amida Buddha

We continued on through Marayama Park and stopped for morning refreshments - green tea and Japanese sweets - the green tea is amazingly frothy and stays that way - very light and has is own distinctive taste - nothing like western tea. The sweets are made from rice flour and come in a syrup with soy flour - again, very different from western sweets.

After this we headed up towards the Kiyomizudera (Pure Water) Temple.

It is 1000 years old and is constructed on the side of a hill with spectacular views over the city. The huge terraced effect of the temple perched on huge wooden columns on the side of a steep hill is pretty impressive as well. There is a sacred spring immedietely below the terrace where pilgrims come to drink.

 More photos of Kiyomizudera

-- Post From Geoff's iPhone

Day 7 in Kyoto - afternoon

After spending time admiring the marvellous wooden Kiyomizu-deru temple, we headed back down the hill, had lunch and then headed towards the Gion district. On our way we were stopped by a group of school girls who were on their third year (high school) graduation excursion. Each one had a question for us in English which we did our best to answer. Hopefully we helped their English along a little bit - we did discover that they were visiting from Tokyo.

After this enjoyable encounter, we visited the Yasaka Shrine.

This Sinto shrine was established in 656 and was originally called the Gion Shrine. It's deities are beloved to protect from illness. This was probably the noisiest temple as supplicants rang huge bells to attract the attention of the resident Kami.

From here we headed back across the river to Nishiki Market, to Aritsugu in particular.

Whilst we couldn't work out exactly which knife Andrew wanted (from the hundreds on display) Geoff decided to purchase a knife. (actually Andrew very strongly encouaged this as Aritsugu are regarded as the best knives available in the world and they are only available from this one shop in Kyoto).

Before the purchase was wrapped it was further sharpened and the owner's initials inscribed on the hilt!!