A Travellerspoint blog

June 2005

Osaka & Himeji

sunny 31 °C

Arriving in Osaka, we were warmly welcomed at the Yamatoya Honten Ryokan with tray after tray of various delicacies, generally quite fishy; raw fish, fish dumplings, fish soup, fried fish and so it continued. We were stuffed by the end of it all! And for breakfast, guess what, more fish :) It was a pleasant experience, but we were glad we had only ordered that treat for one night!

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Our meal in Osaka

The hotel is diagonally opposite Dotonbori Street, one of the livelier areas in town and we had views of it from our window on the 9th floor. I spent some time trying to pick tattoo'ed men missing fingers, supposedly a sign that they are members of the Yakuza, the Japanese maffia who call Osaka home according to our guidebook. Well, none were seen from such a height, but we did spot one or two tattoo'ed men while wandering the streets. Don't worry, I didn't test my very limited / non-existent ninjutsu skills on them.

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The view from our room

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Fancy puffer fish for dinner?

Osaka Castle was our first port of call as far as tourist attractions were concerned. The structure is quite impressive with the arched walls and grand building inside. Inside the main building is an exhibit spread out over 6 floors. Really, the interior of the building is about as exciting as an average department store, I guess somewhere along the line the original was 'renovated'. Conveniently, it does have an elevator, but inconveniently (for us), it is only supposed to be used by disabled people. The view from the 6th floor is quite nice though and not bad after you recover your breath.

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One of the walls of the Osaka Castle

Not quite as nice as the view from the Umeda Sky Building though, where we headed the next day. 175 metres and 40 floors up, their Garden Observatory (no, there's no garden up there, just a few plastic plants) offers some fantastic views of Osaka. The place feels a bit like a spaceship with suitably spacy outfits for the various staff up there.

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Not far from the Umeda Sky Building, we stopped for lunch at a little cafe, which as far as we could tell was called 'Cafe Bar', though that could be due to our lack of Japanese. It was a very pleasant place with good food at reasonable prices and a couple of very friendly hosts. Their English was broken, but they seemed to enjoy the opportunity to make conversation.. conversations like

'where from?'
'Australia'
'aahhh, you have ..' *she makes some hopping hand motions*
'you mean kangaroos?'
'aaah, yes, kangaroos, hahaha'

and so it went on. In fact it was quite pleasant and nice to have people take some interest. Kind of like the guy in Tokyo who approached us and started an interrogation routine; just to finally explain that he was practising his English!

Another stop in Osaka was the Folk Art Museum, not too far from our hotel. Lots of objects created by various Japanese craftspeople. Some nice pottery, weaving and bits and pieces.

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Osaka Folk Craft Museum

Himeji lured us away from Osaka for a day, primary attraction naturally their World Heritage listed castle. Three metro stops and a Shinkansen later, we were presented with a quaint looking tourist bus bound for the castle. Instead, we hopped on the nearest public bus (because we've had such good experiences with them, ehem) and before too long found ourselves one stop too far. Oh well, at least it only cost a fifth of the tourist bus. Janelle was particularly pleasantly surprised that the temporary art exhibition she had previously seen on some flyer in Tokyo was in fact in the Museum we were now walking past. So, first stop was the Himeji Museum of Art. The exhibition was actually rather impressive with various takes on nature by contemporary Japanese artists. We particularly appreciated some charcoal drawings that at first glance looked like photographs, very impressive. Nice to appreciate some good art now and then. But ok, back on track and back out of the eirkon (that's Japanese for air conditioning), we headed up the hill to the castle.

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The Himeji Castle is a great place to visit, though there is no elevator, leaving six flights of stairs needing to be climbed. The interior of the building is original with weapon racks, toilets and all sorts of other interesting nooks and crannies (dunno what a 'crannie' is actually, but there definitely were nooks) to look at on the way up. Just mind your head if you're anything over 140cm.. Outside the main building, the grounds are pleasant to walk around, though most likely more pleasant on a less hot day. There's a well that supposedly has a story attached to it that is the basis of the movie The Ring (see previous post from Tokyo) - if you want to scare yourself, you should watch this Japanese classic sometime.

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And that concluded our stay in Osaka. I don't think we felt we needed to stay much longer, though it was a pleasant enough time. Onwards and upwards (if North is up, which it in fact quite often isn't on maps here) to nearby Kyoto.

Posted by Peter 05:21 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

Nikko

semi-overcast 25 °C

Next stop on our tour of Japan was the small town of Nikko, home of the World Heritage listed Nikko Shrine and Temple complex and the National Park. We were waiting for the hour long bus ride to our hotel mentioned on the internet when Janelle noticed a courtesy bus of theirs picking up some other guests. We talked our way onto that courtesy bus and 5 minutes later we arrived at our hotel, baffled as to why the regular bus would have taken an hour. Turns out my directions were for another Hotel Kanaya in the not so nearby town of Chuzen-ji.

The Hotel Kanaya is a beautiful old building, (1873) quite rightly noted in our guidebook as an 'architectural delight', with impeccable service and beautiful garden view rooms. There is a long list of famous people who stayed at this hotel, with photos dating back a hundred years plastered all over the walls.

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The view from our room at the Hotel Kanaya

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Shinkyo Bridge, just down the road

We went down the road for lunch in the pouring rain and soon came across 'The Little Yakatori Bar'. It would seem this place is notorious among travellers. It has several glowing guidebook reviews tacked on the wall and inside the whole place is plastered with notes and business cards from people who have eaten there. I think the main highlight is that it serves vegetarian food, which isn't necessarily easy to come by. We found the food reasonable, but not nearly as exciting as the glowing advertorials would have you believe. The old lady was very friendly though and the atmosphere was pleasant. Naturally, you can now find a Travellerspoint card on the wall as well ;) Interesting to note is that all the other nearby restaurants seem to be copying The Little Yakitori Bar's tactics now, making a big deal out of their list of international diners.

The primary attraction in Nikko are the numerous shrines and temples and the various buildings and gardens are truly awe inspiring to behold. It was handy wearing sandles for this excursion though, as it would have be a royal pain in the you know what taking off your shoes every time you need to enter a particularly important place. What more can one say about looking at temples? Scary looking statues, lots of incense burning, golden buddhas and such things. Some pictures below should give you an idea. It's a very enjoyable place to visit.

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Exiting the temple district, we decided we would take the bus up the mountain to Chuzen-ji, where the other Hotel Kanaya is located. We made some dumb choices regarding transport, passing up the option of a shuttle service the hotel runs, opting for a regular bus instead. Little did we realise it would come to 1000 Yen a person each way. Oh well, such is life. Oh, I forgot to mention the other lure of the mountain, namely wild monkeys.. Anyhow, halfway up the mountain, nearing our final destination, we experienced a moment of confusion when the bus pulled up at a very scenic lookout offering people the chance to get off. Strangely enough, we decided to get off and see what there was to see, despite the protests of other passengers on the bus. A very nice view mainly, but also a chair lift up to err.. an even nicer view, this time of the lake and town we were trying to get to. Ok, that sightseeing need taken care of, we returned to the bus stop to complete our journey. And it turned out the next bus would be here in, let's see, an hour! argghh .. Perhaps to torment us while stuck on this block of cement with nothing but a toilet to entertain us, there was an interesting sign stating not to 'approach the wild monkeys with food'. Unfortunately, no monkeys were available to approach. So, there we stood for a while in the drizzling rain waiting for the next bus. A friendly lady said it was a twenty minute walk to Chuzen-ji from here, but we decided to wait anyway. Either way, by now it would be roughly the same time waiting or walking. Then they came, first one crossing the road, then a swarm. At least a dozen hairy, red faced monkeys (don't ask me for the species) were wandering around the place, some with young. Naturally, I took note of the sign and didn't approach them 'with food', instead approaching them with my camera - hey they're monkeys, they're clever right? Later we spoke to an Australian who had been attacked by a gang of vicious furry monkeys, so this perhaps was not a very wise move on my behalf - note to kids, don't sneak up on monkeys.

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Waiting with us at the bus stop

Oh, and Lake Chuzen-ji and the nearby waterfall were also well worth the trip. See the pics below.

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Now, we're being bulleted to Osaka at 300 km/h. I must say, these Shinkansens really do make you feel like you've entered a warp zone of some sort. A very pretty warp zone too..

Posted by Peter 18:44 Archived in Japan Comments (5)

Tokyo

overcast 25 °C

Despite promising weather forecasts, our second day in Tokyo turned out to be only slightly less damp than the first. The Lure of the Giant Pandas was too much to resist by now, so we made our way to Ueno Zoo. Sure, there were snakes, giraffes, zebras, turtles, even a giant turtle, but let's face it, we were here for the pandas. Ling Ling and Zhuan Zhuan, the two pandas who call this zoo home, were asleep when we walked past, so we decided to have a look at some of the other animals and come back. Wandering amongst the school children, we strolled past the gorillas, tigers, lions, elephants and other animals. But we could only be distracted for so long and so we headed back to the pandas' neck of the woods to see if they had woken up. Though both were still snoozing we watched for a while and were very pleasantly surprised when Zhuan Zhuan finally decided to get up for a spot of lunch! We were very pleased :) What a beautiful creature. We're glad we stopped by for a visit.

But animal loving aside, how can Tokyo be properly experienced without a few shopping trips? Shopaholics would find no cure here. The numerous department stores are packed with goods from every corner of the globe. Anything you want can be found, providing you look in the right area. It seems whole districts are devoted to one particular profession. For instance, a whole area with practically nothing but 'Hair and Make' shops, or the rather famous electronics district Akhabara with a sufficient range of tempting gadgets and gizmos. Yes, that's a real word, my spell checker says so. We thought we may have ended up in the 'Star Wars' district at the Tokyo International Forum, but it turned out to be a convention of sorts.

Star Wars Convention

Star Wars Convention

Shibuya Intersection

Shibuya Intersection

Tokyo is a fascinating city. Bustling to its brim with activity, and yet it feels safer than any other large city I've been to, including Melbourne. People are polite, the advertising isn't. Visiting various areas of Tokyo, it is interesting to compare the differences in the suburbs. Shibuya, in Western Tokyo, with what seems like 100 giant TV screens all shouting for attention, is the bustling crazy Tokyo most imagine the city to be. In contrast, Ginza in Central Tokyo, though busy, is refined and kind of feels like an open air hushed library. The street was closed down to traffic while we were there, so people were wandering the street freely.

We visited Yoyogi Park for their flea market on Sunday. Surprisingly, no purchases were made here, but it was entertaining wandering around listening to Japanese punk music and enjoying the street performers.

Market at Yoyogi Park

Market at Yoyogi Park

Afterwards a visit to the Senso-Ji Shrine in Northern Tokyo, not particularly far from our hotel, was a necessary stop. Though packed with tourists, ourselves included, there are still enough worshippers here practising their rituals. Fanning the incense smoke over themselves, tossing coins into the giant offering area and going about their routines. The construction itself is a magnificent sight to behold and a pleasure to walk around. The nearby stalls provide some good colour as well.

Returning from the shrine, we noticed there seemed to be quite a few scantily clad Japanese men walking around in matching outfits. As we headed further away from the temple, we noticed more and more of these men gathering. Before we knew it, we were in the middle of a procession of some sort, fully equipped with a creepily masked man, an old guy on a horse and what must have been a very heavy shrine.

Men standing around in costume

Men standing around in costume


Bored

Bored


Strange costume

Strange costume

We have enjoyed our stay in the Hotel New Izu. The staff were very friendly, even presenting us with a gift of two pairs of chopsticks on our last day! Not much was ever on TV, apart from The Ring one night; that's the American adaptation of the original Japanese movie, dubbed back into Japanese. If only they had English subtitles. :)

Heading out of Tokyo on the Shinkansen, by now we were ready for a change of scenery.

Posted by Peter 07:04 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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