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Table of Content for japan2013:

More pages: May 2013 June 2013




2013/05/21 Visiting Japan Day 1: East Kyoto Temples, from Fushimi Inari Taisha to Ginkakuji: Silver Pavillion
π 2013-05-21 01:01 in Japan, Japan2013, Trips
We arrived the previous night through a train from Tokyo. We had to deal with the you can't take any Nozomi, the actual fast train that runs every 10mn, but have to wait 30mn for the next slow train that will get you in Kyoto a whole 1h+ later from the JR Rail Pass, I was mad enough after having paid $1200 for those passed that I took a Nozomi anyway and we eventually got to Kyoto not too late, so that we were able to get some sleep before the next morning (yes, the controllers in the train weren't super happy, but at this point, and after having paid so much for the pass, I just wanted to get to our hotel and sleep and wasn't willing to wait 1H extra when there were perfectly good artificially forbidden half empty trains going by after 10mn). It's my fault, I believed everyone who told me that the JR Pass was great, but we ended up paying a lot, we even paid for the upgraded first class, and the restriction on Nozomi trains made the pass pretty worthless to us.
I sent a letter to JR, which I'm not sure got anywhere, because it really was not a good way to start our trip with people who otherwise were super nice and helpful during our whole trip.

Jennifer was quite happy with the Japanese breakfast at the Kyoto Hana hotel with seaweed salad, the best breakfast ever!


I had plans that day for visiting the east side of Kyoto, although we started with picking up electric bikes I had booked (best plan ever for Kyoto). Our bikes had a 5KWh Li-Ion pack which was good for about 20km of assisted riding. We almost emptied them on the first day :)


Kyoto is full of temples, knowing which ones to see is hard since you neither can nor want to see them all. Using the rating on japan-guide.com is a good start. Next, you'll want to avoid the temples that ask for a bit too much money to visit them. Not that there is anything wrong to charge a bit to handle visitors, but some charge more and have less to see. Some even charge more than once depending on rooms or sub-temples, some of which really aren't that special. Also, keep in mind that it's easy to get temple fatigue, so more is probably not better.

After getting the bikes, we started with visiting the Kyoto train station. Turns out the views from there weren't that fantastic, and the sky garden were so-so, but I suppose if you're already there (we weren't), why not? We should just have skipped it to have more time for the rest of the day.


Happy Terrace Indeed!
Happy Terrace Indeed!

We were supposed to go see the nearby To-ji and its pagoda, but I just forgot. So next, we biked to Fushimi Inari Taisha Temple, it's one of the best temples ever. It's a bit out of the way, but not a big deal with electric bikes (actually faster than taking the bus). It was great to visit, soo many gates. We took them all the way to the top, which maybe wasn't quite worth it since the top had no view whatsoever, but oh well. Either way, the temple was great.





we got 'assaulted' by school children who wanted to practise their english with us :)
we got 'assaulted' by school children who wanted to practise their english with us :)


many gates...
many gates...


you can buy/sponsor your own gates
you can buy/sponsor your own gates





Next, we went to Tofuku-ji Temple, just a bit north from there. It wasn't bad, but they were a bit greedy on entrance fees (multiple fees for seeing multiple parts of it). To be honest, it wasn't bad, but it's skippable:




Next was Kiyomizu-dera, higher north, just before the beginning of Philosopher's path. It was quite popular (we had to abandon our bikes and finish on foot through a street full of things for sale :)










From there, we went up to the Philosopher's path starting at Nanzeji Temple.


big, this is
big, this is


the rock garden rocks ran away?
the rock garden rocks ran away?



aqueduct
aqueduct

Next was Honen-in, very nice and quiet. I think we got in right around the time it was supposed to be closed:




And Ginkakuji, Silver Pavillion, was last (by then we were running late and were pressed for time, everything closes between 16:00 and 17:00 or 17:30 if you're lucky):






if they had fish, they must have died from eating coins :)
if they had fish, they must have died from eating coins :)



Quite frankly, due to time lost in the morning with the train station, and hiking for over an hour at Fushimi Inari Taisha, we were running late, and we had to rush the last temples a bit, which defeats the purpose, but that's all we could do since the next day was going to be on the opposite side of Kyoto. The electric bikes thankfully allowed us to book it from temple to temple, but we didn't really get to enjoy the Philosopher's path, so we did so on the way back when everything was closed, although we managed to sneak in a few temples to have a peak (the grounds that is, not the inside of buidings of course):







friends!
friends!






that duck was fat and to lazy to move :)
that duck was fat and to lazy to move :)


ok, it was closed, but you could see :)
ok, it was closed, but you could see :)

After that, it was time to go for dinner, which we did around Gion, in streets totally packed with restaurants. It took quite a while to look at them and pick one:




And that was it for our first long day, which isn't bad considering we had arrived just the previous night and were still jetlagged :)

2013/05/22 Visiting Japan Day 2: Nijo Castle, Emperor's Palace and Western Kyoto Temples
π 2013-05-22 01:01 in Japan, Japan2013, Trips
For our second day in Kyoto, we started with freshly charged bikes and went to Nijo Castle, waiting for it to open at 08:45 since we only had time to see it until our guided tour of Kyoto Palace started at 10:00 (getting from one the other took a little while, even with the bikes).

We randomly stopped by a temple on the way to Nijo Castle. Unfortunately, Nijo Castle doesn't allow any pictures inside its rooms, so I only have pictures from the outside.




it was schoolkid week, they were all over :)
it was schoolkid week, they were all over :)






it had nice gardens
it had nice gardens

We then rushed to the Kyoto Palace to get there just in time for our guided tour (in English, no less). The guide was very good, and the palace was very nice to visit (much much nicer than the Tokyo Palace tour which is totally something you can skip):

The palace is inside, it's big :)
The palace is inside, it's big :)











On the way to the west side temples, we found some random ones on the way :)




We then went to Daitoku-ji which actually houses several sub-temples which each charge their own admission. To be honest, with the rest of what we saw, this was neither worth the time, nor the money, but eh, we were there, so we looked and paid the multiple fees:

















Next was Kinkaku-ji, aka the Golden Pavillion, arguably the prettiest and most popular temple in Kyoto:


a little break before that :)
a little break before that :)









From there, we totally skipped Ryoan-ji since we didn't need to see another temple which was mostly known for its rock garden (thanks Arturo), and we went Toji-in, off the beaten path, not well known, but quite nice and worth the visit. Among other things, it had a great garden.










Last was Ninna-ji, which unfortunately was half closed that day, but what we did see was worth it.










we are so very sorry that we're working on the grounds
we are so very sorry that we're working on the grounds


the cable, in case you're wondering, is a lightening rod
the cable, in case you're wondering, is a lightening rod





By then, it was 17:00 again, so most temples were closed, but Kitano Tenmangu closed at 18:00, so we went there to see the plum trees, but it had much more:








plums were there, but not in season yet
plums were there, but not in season yet



While biking back to our room, we found a grocery store, and ended up getting dinner for ourselves :)


dinner! :)
dinner! :)

By then, I had also returned the electric bikes from Rent a cycle Kyoto Kenbunroku

2013/05/23 Visiting Japan Day 3: Arashiyama neat to Kyoto: Togetsukyo Bridge, Monkey Park, Jojakkoji, Bamboo Groves, Nison-in, Saga Toriimoto Street, Otagi Nenbutsuji, Daikakuji, Tenryuji and back to Kyoto and to Nara
π 2013-05-23 01:01 in Japan, Japan2013, Trips
For our third day in Kyoto, while we hadn't seen everything in Kyoto, especially all the temples, but quite frankly I think we had seen enough to get a good idea :) so I elected to go to nearby Arashiyama after a recommendation, and that was a great tip.

Arashiyama is just outside of useful biking range (we'd have killed our batteries going there and back), so we took a train there, and we walked to the non JR Arashiyama station which had a bike renter with electric bikes (the others weren't electric, and considering how far we had to go for some things, electric definitely helped).

We started by going to Togetsukyo Bridge towards the Monkey Park, although I got lost with a bad map and we ended up at a random temple where the people were super nice in helping us even if we kind of walked into a church asking how to get to disneyland :)





Eventually we did get to the real monkey park. They had signs explaining how not to aggravate the monkeys in the forest, and not to ake them feel threatened, but somehow that didn't quite work out and poor Jennifer got attacked by a monkey that scratched her leg pretty well (poor thing still has a scar today).
One we got to the top, we could feed the monkeys from inside a cage for our protection probably more than theirs :)

they were afraid of attacking me, but they went after Jennifer when she wasn't close enough to me, and starred at them when she was worried instead of turning her back and walking to them
they were afraid of attacking me, but they went after Jennifer when she wasn't close enough to me, and starred at them when she was worried instead of turning her back and walking to them


cute baby
cute baby


even the small ones learned to pick up food :)
even the small ones learned to pick up food :)




After the monkey park, we went to see the rest of Arashiyama, and got to see a lot more temples: Bamboo Groves, Jojakkoji, Nison-in, Saga Toriimoto Street, Adashino Nenbutsuji, and high up the hills for Otagi Nenbutsuji and its many cool statues. On the way back down from top of the hill, we stopped at a nice sake shop on Saga Toriimoto Street to get and buy some samples for Jennifer :)










This wasn't bad, but Otagi Nenbutsuji ended up being better even
This wasn't bad, but Otagi Nenbutsuji ended up being better even

After some amount biking up hill, and only thanks to a combination of google maps and OSM offline on my tablet, did we get there (the local Japanese maps and directions were limited to say the least). I was very out of the way and well worth the effort:






After being off the beaten path, we went to Daikakuji which was used to be a vacation residence for the emperor (very nice and worth seeing):


nice wall paintings with gold leaves
nice wall paintings with gold leaves



you can get to all the rooms without setting foot on impure ground
you can get to all the rooms without setting foot on impure ground





Tenryuji was last, just by the train station. It's supposed to be very nice, but it was being renovated, so there wasn't that much worthwhile seeing, especially after having just come from Daikakuji:





There was more to see in Arashiyama, probably 2 days worth at more leisurely pace, we got to see most of it, and it was definitely a worthwhile sidetrip from Kyoto center. The electric bikes were absolutely a lifesaver to cover that distance, especially for going uphill.

After Tenryuji, we took the train back to Kyoto, and from there to Nara where we spent the night to be onsite for the next morning's activities.

2013/05/24 Visiting Japan Day 4: Nara: Todai-ji (temple with the great Buddha), Kofuku-ji temple, a 6h tour and walk through Nara
π 2013-05-24 01:01 in Japan, Japan2013, Trips
From Nara station where we slept, we went to our Ryokan for the upcoming evening/night: Hotel New Wakasa where we dropped our luggage and met Mino-San, our guide for the day whom I was able to book the previous night and was thankfully able to meet us the next morning to share her knowledge with us and give us a great 6H guided tour of Nara Park, the temples, and finishing in old town where Jennifer got to enjoy sake tasting :)

The week we were there, was also "schoolkid visit everything" week, so we saw many everywhere :)



Todai-ji, which houses the great Buddha
Todai-ji, which houses the great Buddha




it's supposed to be good luck to go through this hole in a pillar
it's supposed to be good luck to go through this hole in a pillar

yes, it is big
yes, it is big

We then continued our tour of the park and its sights, with Mino-San's lead:












Eventually came time for a nice lunch:



Speaking of lunch, Nara Park is known for deer which are used to being fed, and can be very hopeful and begging. If you have something that looks like a rice cracker in your hands, it might be eaten :)

This is why they have this emblem for Nara
This is why they have this emblem for Nara

first, they look cute and all
first, they look cute and all

oh, there are more :)
oh, there are more :)

this one knew where the rice crackers came from :)
this one knew where the rice crackers came from :)

hello, pet me and I'll eat your map :)
hello, pet me and I'll eat your map :)


some school kids started being overwhelmed by the attention a bit :)
some school kids started being overwhelmed by the attention a bit :)


And back to our visit to see more of Nara Park and we finished outside the park:











And after parting ways with our guide (thank you), we went to sake tasting, and learned about neko cafes, cafes where you can pay for some amount of time to interact with cats if you don't have your own (not a bad idea actually):



Later, we walked back to our Ryokan through a nice park, and deer feeding locations to use up the crackers we had bought:








nice and quiet after everyone has left :)
nice and quiet after everyone has left :)

From there, we headed to Hotel New Wakasa, our great ryokan for sunset from their terrace, dinner served in our room, onsen, and some good sleep, not excluding a nice breakfast served in our room the next morning too.








Yum!
Yum!


And sleepy time after dinner:


And a nice breakfast the next morning:


Bye bye Nara, we'll remember you :)


2013/05/25 Visiting Japan Day 5: Nagoya: Nagoya City Science Museum, Toyota Museum of Industry and Technology, and Scmaglev and Railway Park
π 2013-05-25 01:01 in Japan, Japan2013, Sciencemuseums, Trips

This started with a fast direct train from Nara to Kyoto (just 40mn) and a quick Nozomi ride from Kyoto to Nagoya with the now typical bullshit "how about you wait 20mn to take that other just as fast train that will also do the same stop, but isn't called Nozomi and isn't any more or less full than this one leaving now".


Once in Nagoya, we found lockers where to put our luggage (that was kind of a tight fit):


And a cab later, got ot the Nagoya City Science Museum. It probably is only worth 1 to 2H at most since it's all in Japanese (I knew that). Unfortunately Jennifer doesn't quite share my phylosophy about it being "efficient" when visiting something that was less worth our time but still worth seeing, so we ended up spending a bit longer than necessary there.






it was more funny the first time when she was looking inside and pushed the smoke in her face :)
it was more funny the first time when she was looking inside and pushed the smoke in her face :)

Next, we took another cab to the Toyota Museum of Industry and Technology, which would have been worth more time than the 2H or so we had, but we made the best of it. The first part of the museum was when Toyota (then Toyoda) was in textile way before they ever got into cars. They had impressive machinery on displays along with demos:







We were hurrying at the Toyota museum a bit so that we could get to the Scmaglev and Railway Park, which is definitely a not miss. We had just a bit over 1H there, but that was enough to see the highlights:




Shinkansen simulator
Shinkansen simulator

this is why they're called bullet trains
this is why they're called bullet trains


After the Scmaglev and Railway Park, we went back to Osaka train station and had a bit over an hour to burn, so we looked at the building in the train station and went to the top to see a few city views before taking our train out to Kamakura:




It was a bit too short, a longer day would have been better, but Nagoya was definitely worth the stop. Thanks to Arturo for recommending that we stop there.

2013/05/26 Visiting Japan Day 6: Kamakura
π 2013-05-26 01:01 in Japan, Japan2013, Trips
We arrived the previous night from Nagoya (sun sets early due to the offset timezone, so you're better off travelling late day/early evening, and stayed at the Sotetsu Fresa Inn Kamakura Ofuna, which while small was very conveniently located.

Since we slept virtually on site, we started with the quiet Temple of Engaku-ji:







Next, we went to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, a major shrine in the area, and it was definitely impressive.






After that, we walked back up to Jufukuji, as our gateway to the hiking trail to Daibutsu (the great Buddha in Kamakura). To be honest, the hike wasn't fantastic (we were expecting better views), but pleasant nonetheless:

we got attacked by school children with questions again :)
we got attacked by school children with questions again :)








We finished by visiting Hasedera temple, which is also a great temple with statues, and an unusual cave you can visit.









From there, we took a train to Enoshima and got on the nearby island to spend the rest of the afternoon.


ika on a stick, almost beats ice cream!
ika on a stick, almost beats ice cream!

fugu contest :)
fugu contest :)


view from the island
view from the island






When we were done, we went back to our hotel to collect our luggage and travel to Hakone (we even got to use a hanging monorail for that trip), and picked up some food by Ofuna before going to Hakone. You had to order your noodles by clicking on a vending machines with what kind of soup and ingredients you wanted. It was a challenge, but Jennifer prevailled ;)





The cool part (for me) is that I had been to Kamakura during my 3 day visit of 1997, and quite frankly had forgotten pretty much all about it. After the fact, I found some very old analog pictures I had, and found out some looked kind of similar to the new ones :)

2013
2013

1997
1997

2013
2013

1997
1997

2013
2013

1997
1997

See more images for Visiting Japan Day 6: Kamakura
2013/05/27 Visiting Japan Day 7: Hakone
π 2013-05-27 01:01 in Japan, Japan2013, Trips
While we spent the night at Yomugo Fujiya by Hakoneyumoto, close to Hakone, but we got kind of a late start for various reasons, and then the train that goes to Hakone was another 1H or so. As a result, we only got to Gora station close to our Super Fancy (and expensive) Ryokan in Hakone. They picked us up on a black mercedes, and dropped us off directly at the open air museum to save us time and took our luggage to the hotel.

We only spent about 1H at the open air museum, and it's worth more time, but I was mostly interested in having a look and keep more time for the Hakone loop and the next train back to Gora to take the connecting cable car and start our loop.

it was a nice breakfast, but it cost us
it was a nice breakfast, but it cost us

back across the river flowing from Hakone to get to the HakoneYumoto train station towards Gora
back across the river flowing from Hakone to get to the HakoneYumoto train station towards Gora

view from the very slow train to Gora
view from the very slow train to Gora

finally made it to open air museum
finally made it to open air museum






oops, the chute didn't open :)
oops, the chute didn't open :)

inspired from MC Escher?
inspired from MC Escher?




Time to go to Gora and the cable car up to do our loop. We went to see the sulfur and nauseous gases, including the sulfur pool where they boil eggs that also turn black in the process. We got our black eggs like some good tourists :)
Once we were done with the top, we went down the other side towards Asahi lake, for a cruise across to the town, where we picked up some sake, visited the local sights and walked to the Palace detached garden:




then gondolas up from there
then gondolas up from there





finally got to the top
finally got to the top

we got black eggs cooked in the volcano water
we got black eggs cooked in the volcano water

and the way back down connecting to the pirate ship
and the way back down connecting to the pirate ship




there was a cable car with a view up there, but covered in clouds
there was a cable car with a view up there, but covered in clouds








Eventually we got to Kuzuryu Shrine before taking a cab back to Gora Kadan to save time and enjoy more time there:



they all have huge containers of sake
they all have huge containers of sake



Once in Gora Kadan, we did our best to enjoy the great facilities there:



I went to check out the beautiful onsen
I went to check out the beautiful onsen

this is where you wash yourself before goign in the main bath
this is where you wash yourself before goign in the main bath

out there
out there



Our room was great of course:


very comfortable raised futon. Almost a bed really
very comfortable raised futon. Almost a bed really


our private patio wasn't bad :)
our private patio wasn't bad :)

if relais et chateaux said it's good, it must be :)
if relais et chateaux said it's good, it must be :)

Then came time for a really good dinner:












After dinner, we got to enjoy our private bath:



And a shot from just as good breakfast the next morning. Jennifer complained that she only had 30mn to enjoy it (we had to get an early train out to get to Tokyo in time to meet our guide that afternoon.


Gora Kadan was definitely a great experience, probably more than Hakone itself, even if its price was a bit up there. Eh, you only live once :)

See more images for Visiting Japan Day 7: Hakone
2013/05/28 Visiting Japan Day 8: On our way to Tokyo, with a stop in Odawara to see the Castle before a half day visit in Tokyo with a free Tokyo Guide
π 2013-05-28 01:01 in Japan, Japan2013, Trips

On our way back from Hakone, we stopped at the Odawara Castle between train changes, to visit the castle.

early train out
early train out

changing to a better train at HakoneYumoto towards Odawara
changing to a better train at HakoneYumoto towards Odawara



view from the castle
view from the castle

Odwara Station
Odwara Station

Another forbidden Nozomi
Another forbidden Nozomi

Next, we went to Ueno station in Tokyo for lunch to meet a nice local volunteer, Zama-San who spent the afternoon with us to show us around. We started with Ueno Park, and eventually went in the science and nature museum there which is quite good. We got there a bit late, so it closed up on us before we could see it all, but what we saw was nice:





this guy was good
this guy was good

the nature museum was good, too bad it closed a bit too early for us
the nature museum was good, too bad it closed a bit too early for us





Zama-San then took us to Kappabashi street to see many plastic food samples (used by restaurants), fantastic knifes, and then we walked to Nakamise Dori and Senso-ji Template by Asakusa to finish the day.









this looks real :)
this looks real :)











Thanks to Zama-San for taking us around.
On our way back, we stopped at Ueno to have dinner (Kaiten Sushi) before picking up our luggage from a locker and go to our hotel where we be stayed for the following 3 days while I was at the linux conference.


long day :)
long day :)

2013/05/29 Visiting Japan Day 9: Hotel Chinsanzo in Tokyo
π 2013-05-29 01:01 in Japan, Japan2013, Trips
By day 9, we were finally in Tokyo and stayed at Hotel Chinsanzo where I was for my linuxcon conference, where I was to attend and give a talk.

Turns out that Hotel Chinsanzo is a super pretty hotel used for weddings and receptions, and has a great garden that is a small Japan condensed, so here are a few pictures:











2013/05/30 Shinjuku Neko Cafe
π 2013-05-30 01:01 in Cats, Japan2013, Trips
While in Shinjuku, I noticed a Neko (cat) café, and figured we should go check it out. That was another one "only in japan", albeit on the other side of the spectrum. People who can't have cats but love to interact with them can go to a café where you pay by the hour to go play with them.
I loved the idea, although cats aren't dogs, most of them weren't attention starved and you couldn't find many that looked like they were enjoying being pet or purring. To be honest, it's understandable, most cats can only take so much attention in a given day, and a lot don't even care for it that much (ours at home does, but not all of them do).
Anyway, we went for an hour to check it out, because it was fun to check out :)


ears down didn't look like a very happy cat :)
ears down didn't look like a very happy cat :)





you could buy a bit of cat food and get guaranteed attention. Cats are sluts when food is involved :)
you could buy a bit of cat food and get guaranteed attention. Cats are sluts when food is involved :)

they had nice fancy breeds, even if most didn't seem super friendly
they had nice fancy breeds, even if most didn't seem super friendly

some of those cats were quite pretty
some of those cats were quite pretty

others were fun to look at :)
others were fun to look at :)

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2013/05/30 Visiting Japan Day 10: Evening in Shinjuku, Robot Restaurant, Neko Cafe
π 2013-05-30 01:01 in Japan, Japan2013, Trips
The second night of my conference, we had no planned event, so I used that evening to go see the Robot Restaurant with Jennifer. After getting to Ikebukuro which was the harder part (the hotel is in the middle of nowhere), getting to Shinjuku was a quick train ride down.

We started by looking around Shinjuku at night before going to the robot restaurant:

Shinjuku
Shinjuku

Patchinko machines sure got fancy since last times I saw them
Patchinko machines sure got fancy since last times I saw them



Tobu and Seibu are absolutely huge department stores, you could spend hours in there
Tobu and Seibu are absolutely huge department stores, you could spend hours in there

And eventually we went there for our scheduled show. What can I say, it's crazy stuff, it's ridiculous, it does have scantily clothed women dancing, the food is pretty bad (better not to eat it), and the experience is well worth it, and something you won't get anywhere else. Jennifer wasn't exactly going to get a whole lot out of the women dancing, and she loved the crazy show nonetheless.


the colors, my eyes!
the colors, my eyes!

more colors!
more colors!




those giant ass robots are indeed giant!
those giant ass robots are indeed giant!







For a better idea, see some videos:

  • : Giant ass robots
  • : Watch the tank
  • : More crazy dancing with just about everything
  • On our way there, I had noticed a Neko (cat) café, and we went to visit it

    they had nice fancy breeds, even if most didn't seem super friendly
    they had nice fancy breeds, even if most didn't seem super friendly

    for more pictures, go to Shinjuku Neko Cafe

    Those were a fun few hours in Shinjuku for views and "only in Japan" stuff :)

    2013/06/01 Visiting Japan Day 12: Nikko
    π 2013-06-01 01:01 in Japan, Japan2013, Trips
    Nikko was our day trip out of Tokyo, we had to get up early to get the only direct 07:30 train from Shinjuku/Ikebukuro and got there in just under 2H. The owner of the pension nicely picked us up at the train station, took our luggage and dropped us off at the first temple to save us some time, super nice of him.


    Tosho-gu was by far the most awesome temple we had seen anywhere in Japan. It's a great thing we saw it almost last, because it would have ruined all the other ones. The amount and quality of various art on the temple is just mind blowing. I'm not an art guy, but it was difficult not to appreciate this gem.

    It was a bit early for Jennifer, but she was able to rest a bit in the train
    It was a bit early for Jennifer, but she was able to rest a bit in the train

    Ready to start our temple tour
    Ready to start our temple tour

    It's _that_ high :)
    It's _that_ high :)


















    the art is absolutely beautiful
    the art is absolutely beautiful


    On the way out, we went through an open market and two more temples:












    We then took a bus to lake Chuzenji to see Kegon Falls, the lake, a nature museum, and some quite snack by the lake while enjoying the views:


    Kegon Falls isn't bad, but if you've been to Yosemite or Maui, it's a bit less impressive :)
    Kegon Falls isn't bad, but if you've been to Yosemite or Maui, it's a bit less impressive :)




    that monkey was trying to scare me off. I held my ground and it left :)
    that monkey was trying to scare me off. I held my ground and it left :)





    The bus ride down was fun, it was a fantastic road I would have loved to drive with the right car, and went to Pension l'Escale for the night where the owner, Fujita-San (Kaz) also cooked for us. The dinner was quite yummy and he was a great person to talk with (luckily in English since my Japanese was a _lot_ more limited than his English).




    We were happy that we were able to sleep there and only worry about the 2H+ train back early the next morning.

    See more images for Visiting Japan Day 12: Nikko
    2013/06/02 Visiting Japan Day 13: Tokyo tour with Toda-San: MET views, Edo Tokyo Museum, Asakusa/Nakamise Dori, Mori Tower, Subayashi Jiro
    π 2013-06-02 01:01 in Japan, Japan2013, Trips
    After taking an early train from Nikko, we went back to Tokyo and went up the MET for some views. We then met Toda-San, our tokyo free guide (nice volunteer who likes to spend a day out showing the town to foreigners and speaking with them) and went to the Edo Tokyo Museum together, passing next to the Sumo arena. After that, we walked back to Asakusa via Nakamise Dori and all its shops and got to see the temple open this time. Eventually we headed back towards Mori tower for good views with our guide, before having dinner at Subayashi Jiro, one of the sons of the famous Jiro who is still serving the best sushi in Tokyo at 85 years old. We finished the night by going back to Mori tower for night views.

    Pretty bullet train on our connection back to Tokyo from Nikko
    Pretty bullet train on our connection back to Tokyo from Nikko

    The lobby of the Hyatt we left our luggage at before going out to the MET for city views
    The lobby of the Hyatt we left our luggage at before going out to the MET for city views




    On our way to the Edo Tokyo Museum, we went by a sumo stadium





    The Edo Tokyo Museum was a nice museum on early history of Tokyo, back when it was called Edo instead of Tokyo





    nice way to get around in style
    nice way to get around in style



    nice little lunch in the museum
    nice little lunch in the museum

    with Toda-San
    with Toda-San

    Next, we walked towards Asakusa to see it during the day, with some views of the Tokyo Skytree on the way. This time we were able to get into the temple.






    Next, we went to a nearby park before going up to the Mori tower for some great views:





    you can actually walk on the roof of the Mori tower, for a great view
    you can actually walk on the roof of the Mori tower, for a great view






    After the Mori tower, we went to Subayashi Jiro for some very good sushi (albeit very expensive, $700 bill for two). You don't actually know how much yo'ure going to pay in advance since it depends on what they're serving that day, and there are no prices the entire time, even for drinks or options. You only get a piece of paper with a number to pay at the end. It's the Japanese way I guess :)


    Subayashi's dad, who runs the famous Sushi-ya in Ginza that the movie is based on
    Subayashi's dad, who runs the famous Sushi-ya in Ginza that the movie is based on



    The 'apprentice' who had been there for a mere 17 years or so :) Thankfully he had spent time in Australia and spoke English well
    The 'apprentice' who had been there for a mere 17 years or so :) Thankfully he had spent time in Australia and spoke English well


    it looks the same, but it's not :)
    it looks the same, but it's not :)

    it comes from a pretty big shell
    it comes from a pretty big shell


    needless to say that this just melts in your mouth, no chewing required
    needless to say that this just melts in your mouth, no chewing required





    more sushi, oui!
    more sushi, oui!







    finishing with the fluffy tamago omlet
    finishing with the fluffy tamago omlet

    the unknown bill until the end at least includes a picture if you wish :)
    the unknown bill until the end at least includes a picture if you wish :)

    After dinner, we went back to Mori tower for some great night views, before heading to our hotel for some rest:





    2013/06/03 Visiting Japan Day 14: Tokyo Skytree, Akhabara, Ginza, Sushi Mizutani, more Ginza and MET nice pictures
    π 2013-06-03 01:01 in Japan, Japan2013, Trips
    On our 3rd day in Tokyo, we started by going to the Tokyo Skytree (highest tower when it was built and much higher than the Tokyo Tower), but you see there was a line to get a ticket to let you come back to another line 3H later, so that you could then stand in line for 30mn to buy a ticket that would let you stand in line to get to the elevator that took you to the middle floor where you could stand in line to buy a ticket to go to the top.
    You could buy tickets online but only with a Japanese credit card we didn't have (clearly tourists lose out there). I was kind of pissed, but I took some tickets, and we took a subway back to Akihabara where I was planning on going later. Jennifer went to enjoy some noodles while I went to scour a few geek stores :)
    Today Akihabara doesn't really have anything I can't buy at home, but it has lots of stores that have what you need right here, including all kinds of electronic parts, so it's generally cool :)

    I'd have spent more time there, but I had to rush out to make it back to the skytree just in time for our timeslot to go stand in line to buy tickets (only 2H in Akihabara, barely enough...), and we got there by just 3mn which allowed us to go to the top and enjoy about 1H there before having to come back down and go to Ginza.
    The unfortunate time pressure came from the fact that our second sushi dinner at Sushi Mizutani in Ginza was at 17:00. We got there for more hand made overpriced Sushi deliciousness (unfortunately they don't like pictures while they're working, but the chef will take one with you before you leave if you ask). That sushi bill was a bit cheaper than the previous day (we also had a little less) and it was also excellent. Mizutani was also a disciple from the original Jiro.

    After dinner, we finished the evening in Ginza at the Sony showroom, and Don Quijote, a 24H store that has everything you need and don't need day or night in a super compact space. Amazing how compact it is :)
    Oh, on the way back we went back to the top of the MET for a few night pictures there.


    After going all the way to Tokyo Skytree just to pick up tickets to come stand in line later...

    we went there first, but by the time we got there, it was already too late, there was a 3H wait. Grr...
    we went there first, but by the time we got there, it was already too late, there was a 3H wait. Grr...

    I elected to go to Akihabara to see a mix of anime, fanboys, maid cafes, and of course computers and electronics:

    Maid cafes, we'll get back to this the next day...
    Maid cafes, we'll get back to this the next day...


    dual screen android phone, where have you been when I needed you? :)
    dual screen android phone, where have you been when I needed you? :)


    Gamers was both weird but kind of worth seeing
    Gamers was both weird but kind of worth seeing

    pictures in the elevator. No comment...
    pictures in the elevator. No comment...

    Some singer of the day, till she turns too old and gets replaced with another one
    Some singer of the day, till she turns too old and gets replaced with another one



    even the urinal is a video game, you play with your stream (no kidding)
    even the urinal is a video game, you play with your stream (no kidding)

    old consoles from the 80's
    old consoles from the 80's

    oh my, this brings back memories :)
    oh my, this brings back memories :)

    there were buckets of electronic stores with all kinds of components
    there were buckets of electronic stores with all kinds of components

    But before long, it was time to hurry back to the Tokyo Skytree for our ticket buying time. To be honest, I could have done without the extra running around, it was unnecessary extra stress, but we got up too late, and got there too late, so now we had to deal with the ticket buying bullshit.
    We got back there in time to go stand in line 30mn to buy a ticket (with 3mn to spare), and after 30mn queueing, we got a ticket that would allow us to go stand in line with our ticket another 30mn to get up. A line to go stand in line to buy a ticket to go stand in line, yeah!



    finally, we got to the top.
    finally, we got to the top.






    Ok, it was a pain to get up there, but the view from that high up was interesting. In theory, you're supposed to stay there and shop and do local things while waiting for your turn, but we didn't really do that:



    By then, it was more than time to go to Ginza for our sushi reservation at Sushi Mizutani



    I wasn't supposed to take pictures inside as I found out later, but got a few before I was asked to stop. The chef did however agree to take pcitures with us at the end:



    can't argue with that outburst of happiness :)
    can't argue with that outburst of happiness :)

    Next,we wwent to the Sony showroom and walked around ginza some more, finishing at Don Quijote:





    Before going back up to our room, we went to the nearby MET for some night pictures before going to bed:




    2013/06/04 Visiting Japan Day 15: Our last day in Japan with more Tokyo touring
    π 2013-06-04 01:01 in Japan, Japan2013, Trips


    After packing up, we started with a visit of the Google Tokyo office, and had lunch with a couple of cowrkers as well as a quick visit of the buildings.

    From there, we went to see the Emperor's palace on a 75mn guided tour. In hindsight, that was a mistake, it was totally not worth it and we should have spent more time at Google. The imperial east gardens redeemed the visit somewhat. The former imperial palace in Kyoto was much nicer to visit IMO while the Tokyo one was a Japanese only tour and the location was a bit sterile, despite the guide who actually seemed to be a comedian but his humour in Japanese got lost a bit for us :)









    From there, back to Akihabara to try a maid café as recommended. It was overpriced but lighthearted fun, and we spent the rest of the time in Ikebukuro at Amlux (Toyota showroom), Sunshine City, and walked through a huge department store, Seibu, before taking a train back to Shinjuku to get our luggage and a bus to Haneda airport.






    while most of their food looked bad, the ice cream was quite good
    while most of their food looked bad, the ice cream was quite good









    if you say so, by the way for next time, it's sympatique :)
    if you say so, by the way for next time, it's sympatique :)





    And that was the end of 15 crazy sightseeing days in Japan :)

    2013/06/05 Visiting Japan Trip Wrapup
    π 2013-06-05 00:00 in Japan, Japan2013, Trips
    As a wrapup for our trip to Japan, it went great. Considering I only had about a couple of weeks to prepare almost the entire trip (as you can imagine, knowing where to be, for how long, how to get there, and have everything lined up like we did, isn't done by just hoping off the plane and wondering "where should we go tomorrow". As a matter of fact, some hotels, I had to book early and in some places I got there too late, or got the last spot.

    I was thankful to have learned some Japanese, and while I did not remember a lot of it, I was able to relearn a lot in just a few weeks with pimsleur tapes in just a few weeks, and have enough Japanese to survive in places where I couldn't expect locals to speak much or any English.

    I'll finish the tour with a few random pictures on these topics.

    Japan has hilarious signs, even if you can't read Japanese:

    the very sorry sign is very sorry and sad
    the very sorry sign is very sorry and sad

    don't mishandle the deer in Nara :)
    don't mishandle the deer in Nara :)


    Japan still rules for vending machines, available almost everywhere (although that's a lot of trash and there were very few or no places to recycle containers :( ).


    common sight, lots of choice
    common sight, lots of choice

    Orangina, score!
    Orangina, score!

    A fully digital vending machine (all pictures were changeable drawings on a screen)
    A fully digital vending machine (all pictures were changeable drawings on a screen)

    And of course, you can't talk about Japan without talking about trains:

  • The train system worked really well, especially if you have google maps with transit directions. It was a lifesaver in giving us complex routings between trains from multiple companies. We did complex trips and connections thanks to that. I cannot imagine how they would have happened without google transit navigation
  • While JR train service worked quite well and was indeed reliable and on time, the JR pass is just not worth it if you're planning on doing long trip including bullet trains, unless you have all the time in the world. Being forced to arbitrarily wait for a later train due to the "you can't take any Nozomis" restriction is just bullshit. In many cases, it will also not save you money. I was ok with that, since I bought it for convenience, but once I figured out that it made travelling harder and aggravating due to the Nozomi restriction (I wouldn't hate JR as much for this if you could just pay an upgrade fee, but they make you pay full fare, or $220-ish per ticket for Tokyo-Kyoto).
  • Note that there are competing train systems to JR and they are usually faster, so if you don't have a JR pass, you can easily pay for them instead without feeling bad (for instance Tobu for Kyoto-Nara and Tokyo-Nikko).
  • The bullet trains look and sound mean, but they are artificially limited to 280kph (290 in places maybe?), so they are slower than the TGV in France or its siblings in Germany and Italy. That was disappointing a bit. Then again, an extra 20-30kph doesn't matter as much when you have trains that leave every 10mn (like the Nozomis).
  • The train displays were colorful and clear
    The train displays were colorful and clear


    Gotta love the nose :)
    Gotta love the nose :)

    of course they had slower trains too
    of course they had slower trains too


    good luck with that if you don't have transit navigation on your phone, it's only one map out of 3 different systems.
    good luck with that if you don't have transit navigation on your phone, it's only one map out of 3 different systems.

    this one makes it easy for tourists not to get lost :)
    this one makes it easy for tourists not to get lost :)

    other train companies could learn from this, it shows you exactly where to stand for your wagon
    other train companies could learn from this, it shows you exactly where to stand for your wagon

    Other random things I noted and tips:

  • The Japanese were still super helpful and nice with foreigners.
  • For the most interesting parts of Japan, stray off the beaten path a little, we found some cool things when we started getting to hard to find temples that weren't really on the map. Of course, at that point, speaking some Japanese is definitely recommended :)
  • getting a licensed guide in Nara was a definitely worth the money. Free guides, well it depends what you're looking for, obviously they're not licensed professionals, they're volunteers. I personally enjoyed the two we saw in Tokyo, it was nice to be able to interact with locals a little bit and chat during the day, even if it meant that we'd do a bit less that day (quite frankly, considering how much we did most days, that was ok for a change). But we'd never have seen so much in Kyoto in 2 days with the electric bikes had we had a guide with us, so if you have time to prepare, and you're an efficient distance covering tourist, keep that in mind :) (yes, I know that less can be more :D).
  • If money is not object, they have really good sushi. Who would have known? :)
  • Yes, ryokans are a must do. We only had time for two since you shouldn't go to a Ryokan if you're planning on doing late sightseeing or need to leave early in the morning (ahem, we kind of did the later, but never mind).
  • For places like Kyoto and Harashiyama, you just must rent electric bikes. Bikes make getting around so much easier than taking the bus, and because it's hilly, and you'll be biking quite a bit for a full day like one of ours, electric bikes will totally make a difference.
  • Ok, apparently when we were there, it was schoolkid week, but there are definitely places where you'll be gently assaulted by school kids who will ask you scripted questions in English for their homework, and maybe take a few or many pictures with you. We played along :)
  • While Japan isn't quite the country for "you've never seen this anywhere and you'll never see it at home" electronics anymore, it still has some cool things, and Akihabara is still a must see.
  • Japanese people are really worried about cleanliness, floors especially but not only, but for some reason you couldn't find soap in virtually any public bathroom. That just didn't make sense.
  • While I'm usually fine respecting most local customs, having to remove my shoes multiple times a day, sometimes more than once in a single temple visit, was a big pain in the ass for me due to the time it takes me to take my shoes in and out and lace them properly (I have wide feet with special inserts). That was not fun... OF course Asian people cheat and have fake shoes they can slip in and out of (almost slippers) without even bending over half the time...

    I stopped counting how many of those we went through, they were my nemesis :)
    I stopped counting how many of those we went through, they were my nemesis :)

  • As Jennifer remarked there are lots of little jobs that people take seriously. Note that they usually get a uniform and even white gloves. One example amongst many.
  • to be honest, I felt a bit bad for the guy, but I guess it keeps more people employed
    to be honest, I felt a bit bad for the guy, but I guess it keeps more people employed

    And that's it for Japan. Again, we had a great time, we got to see way too much in too little time, and hopefully we'll get to go back.

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