Warning, this post contains lots of photos of food and trains ... we apologise in advance ...
It’s been far too long yet again but summer is nearly over (for us) and we’re back to school next week so we’ll provide you with a two for one offer and tell you a bit about our Japanese adventures and our recent meanderings down the Mekong and along the southern coast of Vietnam. This will be against a backdrop of a bloke in flip-flops sitting on what was once our windowsill but is now a rather precarious bit of scaffolding and drilling and hammering what is left of our back wall. By tonight we shall probably have no wall at all but a splendid panoramic view across the river where we can watch the boats chug up and down in the moonlight. Personally we’d rather have a wall but the way the bloke’s hammering I don’t think we have much choice. In Vietnam, if something needs doing, it needs to be done with a hammer. I suspect they ice cakes with a hammer. And iron our shirts with one too.
Anyway, I digress. We had a splendid couple of weeks in Japan exploring Tokyo, Kanazawa, Hiroshima, Nara, and Kyoto. It really is an extraordinary country and one that quite often takes your breath away. At the risk of boring you all senseless we’ll be painlessly brief about where we went and you can then look at some pictures.
Tokyo is a city that is really hard to get your head around. There is no real centre to it and it is, instead, made up of a myriad of districts, each with their own character and flavour. Amongst the best places we visited were:
• Tokyo Sky Tower (the tallest tower in the world)
• Senso-Ji Temple (beautiful),
• Imperial Gardens (better even than Grandma’s front garden)
• Ame-ya Yoko-cho market (delicious pancakes and fine country and western clothes)
• Tokyo National Museum (very museum but in a very good way)
• Ueno Park (tranquil)
We also threw ourselves head-first into Japanese cuisine. This is quite a challenge for vegetarians but Jill was in heaven with her sushi, fresh fish and bento boxes, all of which are beautifully presented and almost an art form in themselves. It was a great city!
Kanazawa, WNW of Tokyo for the geographically minded amongst you, is a very traditional city with a few 21st century bits thrown in for good measure. Here we stayed in a traditional Ryokan guest house and wore fancy kimonos, slept on proper Japanese beds and bathed in really cool (but very hot) shared baths … which is much better than it sounds. Sights included:
• Kenrokuen Garden (better than Grandma’s back garden)
• Myoryu-ji (the Temple of the Ninja, and a building that has 7 floors in the place that looks like it only has 2. It was very cool.)
• Naga-machi (the Samurai district)
• Normura-ke (a beautiful traditional Japanese house from the 19th century)
• Higashi-no-Kuruwa (the old Geisha district)
Hiroshima is a city dominated and shadowed by its past but it is also a very laid back and welcoming place. Highlights included:
• The Peace Memorial Park (extremely moving but, ultimately, very uplifting)
• Miyajima (a short train ride and ferry boat ride took us to this very peaceful island with the dominant O-torii gate)
• Adachi Museum of Art (a quality train ride through the hills took us to this beautiful art gallery and a garden even better than Grandma’s front and back gardens put together)
• A visit to the mighty and magnificent Hiroshima Carp baseball stadium to see the Carp hammer the Dragons 3-0. It’s a bit like rounders from what we could figure out.
Nara is a small town with a huge history and we spent a really relaxing couple of days here ticking off a few temples and deer watching. They’re everywhere and just wander aimlessly about. A bit like Knole Park in Kent but it’s a town. The temples of choice were:
• Todai-ji Temple Complex (including the Daibutsu-den, which is (probably) the largest wooden structure in the world, and is truly spectacular, especially (obviously) if you like wood. It also has a 53-foot bronze statue of the Buddha inside.
• Kasuga Taisha (a peaceful temple with pathways leading to it lined with over 2000 stone lanterns)
• Kofuku-ji (with an impressive 5 storey pagoda)
Kyoto is the temple mecca of Japan and was Japan’s capital for over 1000 years. There is so much to see here that you just have to close your eyes, point at the map and have a lucky dip. It’s also a very cosmopolitan place and we really liked it here. We arrived in the middle of the Gion Festival with street processions and a collection of enormous floats pulled by ropes and men. Not quite the Notting Hill Carnival but close(ish). Anyway, our lucky dips included:
• Ginkaku-ji (the Temple of the Silver Pavilion, which was indeed very silver, and had a beautiful garden)
• Kinkaku-ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion, which was indeed very golden and very spectacular)
• Sanjusangen-do (a 400 foot long hall with 1000 golden statues of the many limbed Kannon. It was genuinely magical)
• The Philosopher’s Path (a beautiful peaceful 2km wander past loads of great shrines and temples. We were in Kyoto just as the maple trees were changing colour all along this route and it was absolutely beautiful)
We ended up back in Tokyo and caught up with Satsuki and her mother. Satsuki was Daisy’s exchange partner when she went to Japan a few years ago and it was so lovely to see her again and meet her mum. They took us up the Tokyo Tower (a bit like the Eiffel Tower), and then back to Asakusa for some delicious noodles and a wander around the backstreets. Satsuki is like our 2nd daughter and she is just the best. It was a perfect end to an awe inspiring trip.
Just a few other things.
• The Japanese trains are brilliant. Especially first class! As you know, we both love a train or two and the Bullet Trains were particularly good … but also the small train to the Adachi Museum which you can look out of the front of and watch the driver … very exciting. Indeed, so exciting were the trains that I got stuck on one after Jill had got off in time and I didn’t in Osaka. I had to wait until the next stop, get off, and make my way back.
• Jill loved Bento Boxes, which are what the Japanese usually eat for lunch, and are beautifully presented and delicious sushi and other delights all packed in a box. Alas, there were no vegetarian options.
• Cheap sake is very strong and gives you a massive headache, as we found out when two old blokes shared some with us at the station in Hiroshima.
• We found the world’s largest rice scoop on Miyajima island. It was, indeed, very large.
• I was close to visiting the Pokemon Centre, but not close enough.
• The Japanese like pickles and they’re a different class from piccalilli or any other such pickles. And the Japanese also like displays of plastic food outside their restaurants. This is handy as you just point to the plastic food of choice and you get the real stuff!
• Whenever we had our fortunes read Jill always got a really good fortune and I always got a really bad (and I mean dire) one. Everything from fortune sticks in the shrines, to bits of paper in the temples, to rolling dice in the museum … I had seriously bad fortune.
• Did I mention that we had a brilliant time and really loved Japan?