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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 :)

See more images for Shinjuku Neko Cafe
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 :)


    More pages: May 2013 June 2013