Japan – November 2018

April 9, 2019 12:43 am



Tokyo is a quick 9.5 hour flight from Vancouver. Joe of course snoozed the whole way while I watched movies. Japan is another country where you are fingerprinted on arrival but this time I aced it. We found our way via bus to our hotel area – 2 hours away! By then it was 6 PM, dark and we are tired. And due to a travel agent (that’s me) screw up, we went to the wrong hotel. Right chain, wrong location. With instructions on a 45 minute train to the other side of Tokyo, and we easily found our way. We checked into the correct hotel and went for a bite and a well deserved Gin&Tonic / red wine. Very long day.


We enjoyed a few days on our own in Tokyo and adjusted to the time change. Our hotel is beautiful and we are enjoying the heated toilet seats again. The Hotel provides a loaded cell phone for your use during your stay which came in handy. We did not sleep long but hit the road running. We explored and got lost, over and over. So many TOMY toy machines! Pachinko machines in Casino very bizarre. The people of Japan are so kind, respectful, quiet and sweet.










We encountered heavy rain a few days which really put a damper on things. Our lunch restaurant was not great today plus people were smoking in it which is odd, since you aren’t allowed to even smoke and walk. (They do have outdoor smoking areas too.)


Views of Tokyo from the viewing tower next door to our hotel:


That evening we found our way to the Beatles tribute show. It was so good! The band, all Japanese, sounded very close to the Beatles yet they said they couldn’t speak English. Basically they were saying the words but not always correctly. It was very entertaining!



Sign and device in the ladies washroom. ?


We explored the hotel district near our hotel. Christmas is starting to appear! The tour group all arrived Wednesday and we meet our guide and group over a fantastic Japanese dinner. It is a very small group of 15 of us.


Our Tokyo Tour with the Gate 1 group began November 6. We visited the East Garden of the Imperial Palace where Samurai warriors lived from the 17th to 19th centuries.



Then made our way to Asakusa Kannon Temple (Sensoji), the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. We shopped along Nakamise, a major shopping area.













And lastly for this day, we visited the Meiji Shrine honouring the first Emperor of modern Japan and his Empress.


Our group had an enjoyable dinner at a nearby Japanese style pub. We dined with ‘The Russians’, a couple from New York that would be friendly one day and ignore you the next. Gary took 1.5 million very posed pictures of his wife, Lana over the span of our tour. ?



Friday we enjoyed breathtaking scenery as we drove south to Hakone, Japan’s most famous National Park. First stop was at the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum near Lake Kawaguchi. The kimono exhibits of artist Kubota Itchiku were amazing! No photos allowed inside but the grounds were beautiful!









We continued along the scenic roads of rural Japan and caught only a glimpse of the elusive Mt Fuji in the clouds.









The mountainsides were in full fall glorious colours everywhere we looked. It was a highlight for me! Later we took a gondola up the Hakone Ropeway to the Owakudani Valley’s volcanic zone.



Legend here is if you eat an egg cooked in the bubbling pools, (the water was black from the sulfur) you would prolong your life by at least seven years. No, we didn’t try one.


Next we hopped on board a boat cruise around placid Lake Ashi. It was cold out!  








During the drive back our guide Akane San told us some Japanese history and shared her personal stories.  Her she is praying.



We watched a live Summo Wrestling match. Loved the history! (Note: In Japan, ‘San’ is inserted behind all names or occupations. We were Paula San and Joe San and that’s what are name tags said. The bus driver would be ‘Driver San’, our guide ‘Akane San’ or ‘Guide San’ if you forgot her name.)

Saturday November 10

Today we got to go to Tokyo’s busy Tsukiji Fish Market, the largest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world! (We visited the old section which is more popular than the new section).













Next we had a culinary demonstration by a Sushi Chef. We learnt how to make our own sushi and then we enjoyed it for lunch afterward! Very fun and we dressed the part.










On to the Ginza district, Tokyo’s most upscale shopping, dining and amusement area. The shopping! The lights! The games! Onward to Akihabara shopping district, electrical equipment shops, computer shops and animation studios – world famous! The streets everywhere are SO clean, even though there are no garbage cans! (You are expected to carry your garbage home with you.)

                  Our images were transferred right on to our coffees!


We travelled by bullet train to Kanazawa. (We were only allowed an overnight bag on the train so Gate 1 shipped our luggage ahead to the next hotel.) Kanazawa had winding cobblestone streets, Samurai and Geisha houses, lavish gardens and a open-air market.



Joe and I, along with our tour buddies Ann and Dave, enjoyed a little Sake tasting. It is an honour system tasting bar with 9 types of Sake to try. We (mostly) had little sips of each type. I find it strong tasting but we sampled some smooth varieties and had fun! We got to keep the tiny Sake cups. 



We walked through Kenroku-en Garden, one of Japan’s most gorgeous gardens complete with elaborate water fountains and designs. The garden was breathtaking and our November timing was perfect. In preparation for the heavy snow, the branches of the Karasaki pine trees are protected from breakage by attaching ropes in conical arrays to the trees. ‘Yumizuri’ it is called and is a sign winter is coming. This made for great pictures!



In Kagaonsen, we had a amazing experience! We spent the night at a traditional Ryokan (inn), where we dressed in yukata (bathrobe) to wear to the onsen (hot spring spa.) We wrestled with going to the ‘no clothes allowed’ spa but were glad we did it. The baths are segregated and you must first sit on tiny stools and thoroughly wash before entering the spa. We dressed in Kimonos again for dinner together and had a fantastic full course Kaiseki Dinner with regional specialties. 



We stayed in authentic Japanese rooms with tatami mats and slept on a futon bed. Incredible!

Today we traveled to the UNESCO Site of Shirakawa-go, known for its village of thatched roofed farmhouses.

We walked around the historic village of Ogimachi and the ruins of its medieval castle. From the observation deck, we were had an amazing view of an entire settlement of thatched style houses. Picture perfect!

Off to 16th century Takayama, and its well preserved Old Town. The Yatai Kaikan Hall housed the intricately designed wooden floats and was fascinating. We wished we could see them wheeled out for a festival! Maybe next time…

We spent the night at a scenic mountain resort.


Our morning walking tour through Takayama included Edo-period shops and houses. We enjoyed the morning market along the Miya River with farmers and craftsmen selling their goods.



        The many flavours of Kit Kat bars – so popular in Japan! 



Time to board the express train to Nagoya where we changed and boarded the bullet train to enchanting and historic Kyoto. Kyoto was founded in the 7th century and was one of the early capitals of Japan. Our hotel room in Kyoto was more ‘compact’ than other hotels. We expected to have smaller rooms all the time but didn’t, so this was no surprise. However there were some complaints from others. The lamps however, were huge! Lol



In Kyoto we saw the Kiyomizu Temple. It was amazing to watch the school children pose for photos in Japan. Their lineup was well rehearsed and only took seconds!



The sacred waters are said to bestow health and longevity. I looked for a diving board haha.



Scarlet Johannsson had a scene in Lost in Tramslation on these stones



The ancient streets have many old wooden storefronts and tea houses. The Zen Buddhist Temple and gardens of Kodai-ji’s were lovely.



We participated in a Zen meditation taught by a monk followed by a traditional Tea Ceremony. We really enjoyed taking part of these Japanese rituals. 








We had some free time in Gion, Kyoto’s most famous geisha district.

Loved the ‘do not touch Geishas’ sign! The wooden markers indicate how many Geisha’s live in that residence and their status. 








Just outside Kyoto is the Arashiyama bamboo forest –  very cool! 



We loved our ride in a traditional Japanese rickshaw! 



The Kinkaku-ji Temple, or “the Golden Pavilion,” is covered in gold leaf! Joe bought a tiny bottle of the gold leafs. 



Another great meal!



We loved it when we visited a Kyoto-style home and were dressed in an authentic kimonos! The kimonos were personally selected for each of us by the owner. 













The 8th century Imperial capital of Nara has some of Japan’s oldest Buddhist temples. 



This wooden Todai-ji Temple is where we found the Daibutsu (Great Buddha) bronze statue; it’s 50 feet high!





The Nara (Deer) Park had over 1,000 tame deer roaming freely in the park! They were super tame and anxious to eat the cookies you could purchase. If you held the cookie in the air, the deer would all bow in unison! 








The beautiful Kasuga Grand Shrine had over 3,000 antique hanging stone lanterns. 










Back in Kyoto we had a delicious Farewell Dinner with our Gate 1 group that featured a traditional Maiko (Geisha)! She was beautiful and danced elegantly. She is 18 and has been a Geisha for 2 years. Joe played a game with her. She left our dining room ahead of us and when we were leaving she was in the lobby, waiting for her taxi. Some other diners spotted her and gathered all their relatives from inside and out and swarmed around her for a picture. Apparently Geishas are used to that, as Geisha sightings are rare, but she clearly looked uncomfortable.





Today our guide Akane San helped us find the correct train to Osaka as our tour ends here! But first she took me to a convenience store where she found something I had been looking for. One day on the bus she told us the first Nintendo game ever was made near Kyoto and that it was a simple playing card game where you matched the symbols. To me, that sounded like the best souvenir of Japan ever, having purchased many Nintendo electronics and games over the years. But damned if I could find it. Enter tour guide extraordinaire and she found me 3 packs! So the kids and us each have one!



Osaka: November 17 – 20 


Population 2.6 million

The sun is shining in Osaka!  This hotel room is slightly bigger but the pillow and bed are a killer – so hard! I stuffed my spa robe in my pillow which helped a bit but not much. Osaka is a bustling city. We are in a cool area with tons of restaurants and jazz/blues bars (American music).



We went for Kobe beef and it was very good! Had to have Kobe in Japan, so now we are on a rice diet as we are broke! Lol







We took a river cruise down the Dotombori River. Along both sides of the river over 30 stores and restaurants were available for us to stroll through. 



The side streets malls in the shopping areas are many and they go on forever!


We visited a great fish market in Osaka. Everything is so fresh but pretty expensive!


For a better view of the city we went up Umeda Sky Building (Kuchu Teien Observatory). The observation deck is 170 metres up and is on the bridge connecting two towers. Amazing views of this massive city.



We enjoyed the slightly gritty Osaka and her unique shopping areas. 



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