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This is a collection of my blog entries related to short or long trips I, or Jennifer and I went on.
I have some master pages for some specific locations/trips:

Paris over many years | Australia over many years | Canada over many years | Japan over multiple trips | Italy in 2011 | France in 2013 | Indonesia in 2013 | Japan in 2013 | Japan in 2014 | Taiwan in 2014 | Indonesia in 2014 | New Zealand in 2015 | Japan in 2015 | Costa Rica in 2015 | Singapore in 2016 | South Korea in 2016 | Japan in 2016 | Japan in winter 2017 | Great Britain in 2017 |

Table of Content for trips:

More pages: October 2017 September 2017 August 2017 July 2017 June 2017 February 2017 January 2017 December 2016 October 2016 September 2016 August 2016 July 2016 June 2016 May 2016 April 2016 February 2016 January 2016 December 2015 October 2015 August 2015 July 2015 June 2015 May 2015 March 2015 February 2015 January 2015 December 2014 November 2014 October 2014 August 2014 July 2014 June 2014 May 2014 January 2014 December 2013 November 2013 September 2013 July 2013 June 2013 May 2013 March 2013 February 2013 January 2013 December 2012 October 2012 September 2012 June 2012 April 2012 February 2012 January 2012 December 2011 October 2011 September 2011 August 2011 June 2011 January 2011 December 2010 November 2010 September 2010 August 2010 May 2010 January 2010 September 2009 August 2009 June 2009 January 2009 December 2008 August 2008 February 2008 January 2008 October 2007 July 2007 February 2007 January 2007 December 2006 October 2006 August 2006 July 2006 April 2006 March 2006 January 2006 December 2005 September 2005 August 2005 July 2005 June 2005 April 2005 December 2004 October 2004 July 2004 June 2004 January 2004 January 2003 January 2001 August 1997



2016/07/27 Japan 2016, Trip Wrapup
π 2016-07-27 00:00 in Japan, Japan2016, Trips
This trip to Japan was the 5th one for me, and 4th yearly trip in the last 4 years. By now, we've seen a fair bit of Japan, even if there is more to see still, but at least I feel like we've gotten a good overview, from Yonaguni, to Okinawa, Hiroshima, Osaka, and all the way to Aomori which I saw 20 years ago, along with Hakodate, and Sapporo.

As for how this trip went:

  • Weather was hot and sticky/wet as expected, but we didn't get too much rain, it was just humid most of the time (and thankfully or not, after going to Singapore, Japan summer didn't feel _that_ uncomfortable)
  • We got super lucky with the weather when we did the Japan Alpen route. While in hindsight we should have spent all our time at the top and done more hikes there, it was still a great day
  • We got to stay in 3 ryokans, and while they were all different, we enjoyed them all. Not surprisingly, the one in takayama was the most authentic.
  • Seeing 3 different (and big) summer festivals in Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Osaka in fewer than 2 weeks, was a real treat, and we managed to get good viewing for all of them (except for the fireworks at Osaka). Advance planning definitely helped.
  • My week+ of advance planning yielded good results. Most everything we saw was well worth it, and the timing worked pretty well almost everywhere. There is only a complicated (and confusing) train connection we apparently missed between tateyama and takayama, costing us 1H, and for the rest, everything worked great. We did have to take a couple of Nozomis even though they were not part of our JR pass, mostly because I was not willing to needlessly arrive 1H later with an allowed train. This did mean we used non reserved seats on most trains, but because we were taking them from their first stop, getting a seat was not a problem.
  • Probably the only thing we could have done was spend one more hour in Shirakawago which was a bit rushed in 2H, but the bus schedules made it difficult to do otherwise, and I was happy not to have to worry about driving.
  • Speaking of driving, we ended up using many more cabs this time, but they did save us multiple hours of waiting for non frequent busses, and were well worth the money. In Takayama specifically, using taxis to go to the far away museums worked great, although in Tsumago, we almost missed our train because there were no taxis at the taxi stand and had to find a local to go call one for us.
  • As always, we've met many nice and helpful Japanese people, including some very nice good will guides (typically retired people who enjoy spending time out with foreigners to share their culture and practise their English). Thanks to them, we had guided tours at the Matsumoto Castle, Kanazawa Castle, a half day tour of Kanazawa, and a guided tour of the Hiroshima Peace Museum.
  • It was great to have been able to see more of Central Japan like Tsumago-Magome, Takayama, and Shrakawago, as well as hike to the top of Tateyama (3003m) during our traverse of the Japanese Alps.
  • This was also our first time with the chance to see Japanese Festivals during the summer season, and we got lucky to be able to see 3 of them:

  • Gion Matsuri in Kyoto (impressive, but many many people)
  • Hiroshima Fireworks on my birthday (we got lucky to find a good viewing spot without too many people and a very good view)
  • Osaka Teijin Festival (not too busy during the day, but super packed in the evening, we barely got to see the fireworks)
  • On the lowlights:

  • The JR pass continuing stupidity in restricting all nozomi trains makes no sense. Worst case you pay a surcharge to get on one, and require reserved seats so that you don't displace commuters in unreserved seat cars. We ended up taking a few nozomis anyway, because in some places the "legal" train only came once an hour, and was of course slower once you were on it. In other places, if you were lucky, like the Sakura from Hiroshima to Osaka, runs every 30mn (still not enough, but better) and travels as fast as the Nozomi you're not supposed to take. In our case, but random luck we were able to get on that Sakura, but otherwise I definitely would have taken the next Nozomi (we barely arrived in Osaka on time for the Tejin Matsuri as is)
  • Our guide in Hiroshima pointed out when I asked him that sadly the still current conservative government tends to ensure that a pro-japanese view of history is shown in museums and textbooks (although apparently the teacher union is able to fight that somehow). I think many countries (including my own) have done bad thins in their past, but I think each developed country has a duty to recognize its past mistakes and remember them as a way to not make the same mistakes again.
  • But definitely a low light was some of what written in the Yūshūkan War museum by Yasukuni Shrine. Making excuses for the nanking massacre where over 200,000 non fighting Chinese were killed and calling it the "Nanking campaign" with explanation why a few civilians were killed (alledgely because they were soldiers hiding as civilians) is definitely shameful to say the least. Thankfully most Japanese people I talked to, do not agree with what's in that Museum. Since it's state sponsored, hopefully enough people will eventually be able to vote for a government that will not give such an untrue and offensive image of part of Japanese's history (SEALDs is such a group|http://sealdseng.strikingly.com/]). Other countries would be much less upset if Japan simply recognized where it has done wrong, apologized for it, and moved on, like many other countries have done. Hopefully this will happen in some not to distant future.
  • The last one is a persisting annoyance: too many museums, or even castles, do not allow taking pictures inside them.
  • Obviously I still believe virtually all the Japanese people I've met are good people who ask for nothing more than being helpful, and work with an honor code that many countries could learn from. Japan is not perfect, no country is, but all in all, I still think they're doing quite well, and it was a pleasure to be able to see more places we hadn't had the chance to visit so far.

    I'll end with more funny signs I found:




    poor phone, it looks very sad if you're about to cut its line :)
    poor phone, it looks very sad if you're about to cut its line :)

    fish is sad
    fish is sad

    even the aluminum can is sad :)
    even the aluminum can is sad :)

    the onsen guides make sense, but they're funny :)
    the onsen guides make sense, but they're funny :)

    Oh, and turns out it's also legal for cars to watch TV while driving. Mmmh, not sure how I feel about that, especially in a taxi:


    Also, I feel better seeing that the cigarette vending machines now require a card that proves that you're not a minor:


    'till next time.

    See more images for Japan 2016, Trip Wrapup
    2016/07/26 Two Cat Cafes in Osaka: Cat Tail and Neko no Jikan
    π 2016-07-26 00:00 in Cats, Japan, Japan2016, Trips
    For our last half day in Japan, Osaka, we went to a couple of Cat Cafés in the Namba area. We started with Cat Tail, where I had not been before, so we fixed that:


    we got a nice welcome :)
    we got a nice welcome :)

    that cat was definitely happy to see its first customers of the day :)
    that cat was definitely happy to see its first customers of the day :)

    Jennifer then found a nice cat (a Russian blue)
    Jennifer then found a nice cat (a Russian blue)

    who found Jennifer's lap quite to her liking and spent the next 40mn there :)
    who found Jennifer's lap quite to her liking and spent the next 40mn there :)

    While Jennifer was busy renting her lap to the sweet russian blue, I went to check the other cats:


    poor thing, looks sad :)
    poor thing, looks sad :)


    weird those cats that keep their ears down
    weird those cats that keep their ears down

    usually, it means they're sad/unhappy, but I guess not with those breeds
    usually, it means they're sad/unhappy, but I guess not with those breeds



    the cat carrying a cat, is carrying a cat :)
    the cat carrying a cat, is carrying a cat :)

    in the meantime, Jennifer was still busy with her cat :)
    in the meantime, Jennifer was still busy with her cat :)

    After almost an hour, we moved to another café: Neko no Jikan. I had been there before, but only a mere 12mn just before they were closing, so it was nice to spend a bit more time. They definitely have very exotic cats, but they are not super friendly, even to their first customers in the morning:




    lion cat
    lion cat



    another lion cat :)
    another lion cat :)




    It was fun to see those cats before having to go back to the airport.

    2016/07/26 Japan Day 15: Half Day in Osaka
    π 2016-07-26 00:00 in Japan, Japan2016, Trips

    For our last half day in Osaka, in hindsight, we could have stayed at the hotel and used their onsen as Jennifer's ankle was not happy after the lot of fast walking we did the previous evening during the Tejin Festival to find a fireworks viewing point.

    I had a quickish look at the local museum of Natural History and Botanical Garden attached to it:








    The botanical garden was probably ok, but it was raining pretty hard, so that made it less interesting:




    We then went back to Osaka Namba and walked to a couple of Cat cafés before going back to Namba for an express train to the airport:



    More pictures of two cat cafés
    See more images for Japan Day 15: Half Day in Osaka
    2016/07/25 Japan Day 14: Hiroshima Mazda Factory to Osaka for Tejin Festival
    π 2016-07-25 00:00 in Japan, Japan2016, Trips

    After spending the night in Miyajima, we had breakfast in our Ryokan and bid the island and its deer, farewell:



    we took a ferry back to Hiroshima and went directly to the Mazda Factory in Hiroshima:


    We then took another Sakura train (a rebranded shinkansen), and go to Osaka as quickly as with a Nozomi:


    the front row is nice, good tables and 3 power plugs :)
    the front row is nice, good tables and 3 power plugs :)

    but catching pokemon from that fast a train, was not possible :)
    but catching pokemon from that fast a train, was not possible :)


    We then checked in our hotel and went to the Tejin Festival by Tenmangu Shrine, just next door to our hotel. There were multiple mikoshi (portable shrines) carried by hand by a lot of strong men, and they were mixed amongst other parades with colorful costumes:



    Tenmangu Shrine was a bit packed
    Tenmangu Shrine was a bit packed














    Parade highlights:

    After the parade had gone by us, we went to walk to the river where the parade would end up and start boarding boats. They each loaded their mikoshi, portable shrines:





    it's kind of cheating if they use a crane now :)
    it's kind of cheating if they use a crane now :)

    Boat loading highlights:

    Up to then, everything had been great, there were that many people being that it was monday afternoon, so I put my guard down and we didn't leave early enough or walk quickly enough towards a good viewing point for the boats going by and the fireworks. By the time we got there, the bridge I was aiming for was totally packed with people and it didn't look like we'd be able to get on it (although maybe we could have), and sadly I chose to try to get to the shore in places where the police nicely closed off all access. The next hour was a clusterfuck of us trying to get to a point that wasn't closed off and from where we could see the fireworks. Eventually after walking way too long and high pace, we got on the other side of the river at a place where we could finally access the river. The viewing wasn't great, but it was viewing at least, so we caught the last 30mn of the fireworks:

    we walked by Tenmangu
    we walked by Tenmangu


    this very nice bridge was entirely closed off :(
    this very nice bridge was entirely closed off :(






    A few fireworks bits:

    From there, we walked to the nearest train station that got us back to our hotel pretty quickly (thankfully we didn't have to do the long walk in reverse, and getting/using a cab would have been hopeless):

    the train was busy, but not horribly packed
    the train was busy, but not horribly packed

    2016/07/24 Japan Day 13: Miyajima
    π 2016-07-24 00:00 in Japan, Japan2016, Trips

    After a half day in Hiroshima, we went to Miyajima, a small island about 30mn away and easily accessible by Ferry:



    Miyajima is famous for its famous tori gate in the water, as well as semi wild deer, which are very nice and not trying to beg for your food:




    There are lots of things to see there, more than enough for a full day:



    Itsukushima Shrine os the main attraction on the island, a very nice shrine with its floating tori gate in the water, depending on the tide. It's not like quite Mt St Michel in France, but the tide goes pretty far in and out:










    Lots of wildlife happy fishing in the marsh sands during half and low tide:




    Mid vs high tide:



    The tori gate during mid and high tide:



    During low tide, the whole temple was on stilts without water underneath anymore:


    We went to the treasure museum:





    Then, we went to visit Tomyoin temple:




    Next, we went to Daishoin, which was super nice and well worth a visit:












    there was a half hidden entrance to a pitch dark tunnel under the temple
    there was a half hidden entrance to a pitch dark tunnel under the temple

    the dark tunnel had a few dim lit figurines
    the dark tunnel had a few dim lit figurines

    From there, we took a hiking path to the bottom of the ropeway up. Sadly, by then it was 16:00, which I thought was fine, but turns out in a great moment of stupidity, they close the top observatory at 16:00, and the rest of the temples close at 17:00 (not as bad, we had time to get there before then). We took the ropeway and the following gondola to the top, and had just enough time to see the temples at the top before they closed. We then made out way to the very top, where the observatory was closed, but somehow I slipped, fell, and found myself on the other side of the closed fence, talk about luck... Since I was on the other side, I went to the top to get nice pictures :)



    the temples at the top were still open for another 15mn when we arrived
    the temples at the top were still open for another 15mn when we arrived



    closing the free observation point at 16:00, what stupid idea is this?
    closing the free observation point at 16:00, what stupid idea is this?

    when the view was quite good from it
    when the view was quite good from it

    We eventually hiked back down (1.5h or so, ok but not great hike), and went to see the great Torii gate at low tide:








    and got a few more pictures at night
    and got a few more pictures at night

    nice dinner in our ryokan
    nice dinner in our ryokan

    See more images for Japan Day 13: Miyajima
    2016/07/23 Japan Day 12: Okayama and Hiroshima
    π 2016-07-23 00:00 in Japan, Japan2016, Trips

    After a good night in Okayama, we went to Korakuen, part of the top 3 best parks in Japan, and its adjacent castle, because... well... it was there :) The castle looks nice from outside, but the inside isn't essential. Still, we went in since we were there:




    lot of hungry koi fish :)
    lot of hungry koi fish :)







    Then, we crossed the bridge to go to the castle, which had a helpful "no pictures inside" policy :(





    From there, we went back to the train station to catch a Sakura train to Hiroshima. For a change, we didn't have to take a Nozomi we weren't supposed to be on as the Sakura was almost as fast and only got us there 10mn later, If the JR pass worked like this all the time, it wouldn't be as bad (but on multiple trips it would have caused us 1h delays and that's not ok)

    sadly we didn't get to ride this train
    sadly we didn't get to ride this train

    After dropping our stuff at the hotel, we went directly to the Hiroshima Peace Museum. Distance and schedule-wise, that was not the right choice, but Arturo recommended that we got a volunteer guide for the museum tour, and I figured we should start with the Peace Museum in case guides were only available early in the afternoon (as is often the case). Due to the fireworks that night, there were lots of tourists in Hiroshima and the museum was packed (they also ran out of audiobooks), so having the guide worked out great (turns out, you have to know to ask for a guide at the museum information desk, not at the TI).
    He was a very nice man and he gave us his own take on the displays, which definitely was a big plus:

    welcome to Hiroshima, this is the famous building that partially survived the blast
    welcome to Hiroshima, this is the famous building that partially survived the blast


    before
    before

    after
    after

    graphic display showing how some people actually were after the blast, with their skin half burnt out and hanging
    graphic display showing how some people actually were after the blast, with their skin half burnt out and hanging

    little boy
    little boy

    a lot of people don't know the bombs were designed to detonate in the air, for a longer reach
    a lot of people don't know the bombs were designed to detonate in the air, for a longer reach

    this poor lady got her kimono patterns burnt into her skin
    this poor lady got her kimono patterns burnt into her skin






    many paper cranes to make those patterns
    many paper cranes to make those patterns




    Thanks to Yokoyama-San, our guide, it was a very interesting tour of the museum. My take on the museum itself: sadly half of it is currently closed due to renovations, but what we saw was informative and to the point. The museum did avoid controverial topics like the events that lead to the bomb, or looked at whether the very sad and very high civilian casualties can indeed be considered to be fewer casualties than if the war had had to continue until US troups made it to Tokyo with most of the Japanese fighting to the death like they had been doing until then, or whether the emperor had a decent chance to surrender between the 2 atomic bombs, or whether the US was a bit too eager to try both bombs and didn't give he Japanese long enough to surrender after the first one.
    To its credit, the museum does mention the 20,000 Koreans that were killed in Hiroshima (and that were there as forced labour, although that "detail" isn't really mentioned).
    If you care about more details on this part of history, this post on Why didn't Japan surrender after the first atomic bomb?. this other article, claims 'The invasion of Japan promised to be the bloodiest seaborne attack of all time, conceivably 10 times as costly as the Normandy invasion in terms of Allied casualties. On July 16, a new option became available when the United States secretly detonated the world's first atomic bomb in the New Mexico desert.', which sadly sounds about right.
    This other article mentions 'The Supreme Council met at 10:30. Suzuki, who had just come from a meeting with the Emperor, said it was impossible to continue the war. Tōgō Shigenori said that they could accept the terms of the Potsdam Declaration, but they needed a guarantee of the Emperor's position. Navy Minister Yonai said that they had to make some diplomatic proposal they could no longer afford to wait for better circumstances."

    According to wikipedia: In the middle of the meeting, shortly after 11:00, news arrived that Nagasaki, on the west coast of Kyūshū, had been hit by a second atomic bomb', which strongly implies that Japan would have surrendered after the first atomic bomb, given a bit more time than the meager 3 days they were given
    I realize those are controversial topics, but they are are important in my opinion. Going back to the main topic of the effects of the bomb, and how it was horrible on the civilian population, the museum does a great job.

    Another sobering thought I learned was that the bomb in iroshima only yielded 1.5% of its potential. This is another way to say that it could have made 66 times more damage if the fission of its uranium had gone to completion! Wikipedia says When 1 pound (0.45 kg) of uranium-235 undergoes complete fission, the yield is 8 kilotons. The 16 kiloton yield of the Little Boy bomb was therefore produced by the fission of no more than 2 pounds (0.91 kg) of uranium-235, out of the 141 pounds (64 kg) in the pit. The remaining 139 pounds (63 kg), 98.5% of the total, contributed nothing to the energy yield

    The museum also roots for a world without nuclear weapons, but in my opinion, with the threat of new nations that are happy to kill others no matter what the cost to them, I'm afraid that a world without nuclear weapons is sadly a pipe dream. That genie isn't going back in the bottle unfortunately, let's just hope that only responsible nations can be left with them, and the fewer the better.

    Nonetheless, despite the museum not being perfect, overall I thought it did a fair enough job, especially in a country where historical truths are apparently not exactly free, and needless to say that no matter what side you might be on, the death, pain and suffering people of Hiroshima had to endure, is very painful and touching.

    Next, we walked to Hiroshima Castle, which obviously is not original but does look nice. As a bonus, it has an elevator inside, and AC :)





    Next, we went to Shukkeien, another beautiful garden, just next door to the castle:






    By then, it was just past 18:00, and we went to find a descent viewing spot for the Fireworks that were going to start at 20:00. This meant we eat dinner on the go instead of finding a nice restaurant, but with a forecast 400,000 people trying to go to the same place, I knew that we had to find a good viewing spot early (with the official best viewing spots likely being full many hours before the official time). The place I opted for was out of the way and required a bit of walking, but we had a superb unobstructed view, while sitting down the whole time:





    smiley faces
    smiley faces



    awesome fireworks
    awesome fireworks

    Here is a short video of the finale:

    Getting back to our hotel was sadly not a piece of cake as we waited for a bus that was cancelled without notice. In the end, we had to walk a fair bit and miraculously stumbled on a cab that took a while to get out of the mess of a crowd we were in, but we made it back to our hotel and I got this picture from our room:


    Considering that this was my birthday, I thought it was very nice for Hiroshima to have that big fireworks show just for me :)

    2016/07/22 Japan Day 11: Kanazawa and Okayama-bound
    π 2016-07-22 00:00 in Japan, Japan2016, Trips

    After a good night and great breakfast in Kanazawa, we went to the famous Kenroku-en, one of the 3 most famous gardens in Japan, so we started with a tour there. Needless to say that it was fantastic:














    We then met meeting Atsuko-San at 09:30, our nice volunteer guide from GGN (good will guide network), and she took us around famous samurai houses in the area as well as the Higashi Chaya geisha district (not unlike the one in Kyoto, just a bit smaller):





    [rigimg:1024:173*|we learned that stone inside a rope knot means "don't go there" :)]


    *Higashi Chaya District, were geishas perform (less so nowadays, but still)
    *Higashi Chaya District, were geishas perform (less so nowadays, but still)













    I was a fan of Atsuko-San
    I was a fan of Atsuko-San

    At the end of the tour, she nicely walked with us to Myoryuji Templa (aka Ninjadera) for our tour reserved at 13:00. Sadly no pictures allowed inside:



    From there we walked back to the castle which we hadn't had the time to visit yet, and found another nice volunteer guide who gave us a tour outside (we did the inside on our own, it's not as impressive):









    our friend from that morning was back
    our friend from that morning was back



    On the way out, we went to check their garden:




    And we finished our day in Kanazawa by going to the Omicho Market, before catching a cab back to our hotel and heading to the train station for a long-ish trip to Okayama (3h30 via Kyoto):






    the JR500 looks bad ass :)
    the JR500 looks bad ass :)

    but we took a nozomi instead of waiting 1h extra for a slow hikari
    but we took a nozomi instead of waiting 1h extra for a slow hikari

    2016/07/21 Japan Day 10: Takayama to Shirakawago to Kanazawa
    π 2016-07-21 00:00 in Japan, Japan2016, Trips

    After a night in Takayama, we went to see a few more things before heading out. We started with the morning markets by the river, and went to see Takayama Jinja, a former government outpost and walked through old town a 2nd time after it opened. That gave us a good chance to get hilda beef sushi and hilda beef on a stick (a local high quality beef):





    lots of big koi in the river
    lots of big koi in the river



    lots of little birdies living in old street :)
    lots of little birdies living in old street :)









    yummy beef sushi
    yummy beef sushi

    We then had just enough time to get the train station by 10:50 and take the next bus to Shirakawago, and old town village:











    we got to see live silk worms
    we got to see live silk worms











    We ended up only spending 2H in Shirakawago to having to make a bus reservation for our bus to Kanazawa, and honestly I wish we could have spent 3H but the next bus was another 2H later, i.e. 4H there. 4H wouldn't have been horrible, but leaving after 2, we got hte highlights and had more time to visit Kanazawa where were were going next after a 90mn bus ride. We started with the Suzuki Museum on his life and the pursuit of Zen, but sadly it explained very little about Zen and was generally a waste of time:


    So next, we went to the move interesting 21st century contemporary art museum, which was much more fun and has an expo about fake olympics in a city sounding a lot like a big chinese capital :)


    the fuck you olympics, very funny :)
    the fuck you olympics, very funny :)

    3 way ping pong
    3 way ping pong

    fun race :)
    fun race :)

    Some of the other expos were interesting too:




    The swimming pool was cool too :)



    We then found a nice steak restaurant where we had expensive beef prepared by the chef in front of us :) (I even managed to make a reservation on the phone in Japanese)




    nice view from our room
    nice view from our room

    2016/07/20 Japan Day 09: From Tateyama to Takayama
    π 2016-07-20 00:00 in Japan, Japan2016, Trips
    After sleeping in Tateyama, we took the first train we took that would take us to Takayama, but sadly getting out of Tateyama was long and slow, and because of a complicated train routing, staying on the direct train got us in Toyama 9mn too late and made us miss our fast train connection to Takayama (apparently we had to exit our direct train and take a connection to arrive in Toyama quicker, that wasn't obvious). As a result, we wasted an hour waiting for the next train (this time a slow one), and arriving there at slower pace:





    this is where we climbed up
    this is where we climbed up

    our first train out
    our first train out



    our next slow train
    our next slow train


    Finally we arrived in Takeyama, and went to Matsuri no Mori, the museum on the big float festivals they have. The floats are kept in a temperature controlled room, and on animated display once an hour. They were quite impressive:

    the big door allows for the floats to get in and out a few times a year
    the big door allows for the floats to get in and out a few times a year












    Next, we went to the Hida Folk Village, which was an interesting tour showing how old houses were in that region (turns out in Shirakawago where we went the next day, they had more houses still like this):















    we learned about raising silk worms
    we learned about raising silk worms

    they make little white cocoons like those, and they are unwrapped to make silk threads
    they make little white cocoons like those, and they are unwrapped to make silk threads

    Next, we took another cab to Takayama Festival Float Exhibition Hall and Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine next door, which has a fantastic replica of Toshogu Shrine in Nikko:




















    From there, Jennifer was tired of walking with the long hikes we had done the last day, so she went back to our ryokan, while I did the very well marked Higashiyama Walking Course, a very nice walk that takes you through more than 10 temples and shrines, and to the forest where they have castle ruins, and deer like animals that I sadly was not able to see during my walk:

    aqueduct that allowed a water stream to cross another water stream, cool :)
    aqueduct that allowed a water stream to cross another water stream, cool :)

    this honda fit, did not fit :)
    this honda fit, did not fit :)

    the walking course was very well marked and easy to follow
    the walking course was very well marked and easy to follow












    nice forest walk (although a lot of uphill to the castle ruins, but no animals :(
    nice forest walk (although a lot of uphill to the castle ruins, but no animals :(


    I then went back through town to our ryokan for the night. It was held by a nice family and we got a yummy custom dinner :)


    all houses used to have access to the water, but some just gave it up now
    all houses used to have access to the water, but some just gave it up now

    it had big koi fish and ducks
    it had big koi fish and ducks

    our ryokan had a very old cat that was half deaf and blind
    our ryokan had a very old cat that was half deaf and blind






    2016/07/19 Japan Day 08: Travelling and Hiking the Japan Alpen Route
    π 2016-07-19 00:00 in Hiking, Japan, Japan2016, Trips
    After arriving in Shinano Omachi the previous evening, the start of the west side of the Alpen Route, and a great night at the excellent Kurobe View Ryokan we stayed at, we gave them our luggage just before 08:00 to transfer it to our next hotel on the other side of the route (a long bus ride around the mountains) while we were going to take the fun away across the mountain. At 08:00 they dropped us off at the first bus that took us to Ogaziwa, the first leg up the mountain:

    nice view from our Ryokan room
    nice view from our Ryokan room


    it gets expensive when you add the fees
    it gets expensive when you add the fees

    The weather is finicky, and we got super lucky that day, but they had nice displays showing the weather along the route and on the other side of the mountains (where it can be very different):





    Now is a good time to mention that we got super lucky with the weather as in mid July, we could have been greeted by thunderstorms, and low cloud obscuring the view everywhere. During the busy season (in April/May just after the route opens and you can see the crazy high snow wall), people can wait 1h+ between each mode of transport, making the whole thing a lot less fun:

    but we missed out on this :)
    but we missed out on this :)

    Then came the time to take an electric bus through a long tunnel to Kurobe Dam:

    we got a funny ticket guy :)
    we got a funny ticket guy :)



    Kurobe Dam was worth almost an hour to walk around and take pictures from different angles:







    time to walk to our first cable car
    time to walk to our first cable car

    no line, yeah! :)
    no line, yeah! :)




    then we connected to the ropeway after a very quick 10mn stop to take a few pictures
    then we connected to the ropeway after a very quick 10mn stop to take a few pictures




    We finally got to Murodo, the top, by a respectable 11:30, giving us time to hike up to the top (Mt Tateyama). The hike up is about 800m of climbing, initially on ok trails, but then it turns into sheer boulder hoping and rocks and gravel that slide down as you try to walk up. Let's just say it was more difficult and took longer, but we made it up:




    we got lucky and saw a local grouse with 2 little chicks :)
    we got lucky and saw a local grouse with 2 little chicks :)



    evntually we got to the rest house at 2700m before the trail turned into rock hopping for the last 300m
    evntually we got to the rest house at 2700m before the trail turned into rock hopping for the last 300m



    almost there
    almost there

    yeah, got to the top
    yeah, got to the top

    the peak had a small shrine at 3003m
    the peak had a small shrine at 3003m


    damn, should have brought my snowboard :)
    damn, should have brought my snowboard :)





    now we only need to walk back down to the building where our next bus was going to be
    now we only need to walk back down to the building where our next bus was going to be

    sadly we didn't have a lot of time to go check out other parts of the top plateau, like the volcanic section
    sadly we didn't have a lot of time to go check out other parts of the top plateau, like the volcanic section

    back down
    back down

    to the next bus
    to the next bus

    In hindsight, it was a mistake, but we got a recommendation to stop at Midagahra and Bijo-daira on thw way down. They are likely both worth visiting, but I'm guessing they are mor impressive during a different season. When we went they were just ok. We shoud have spent more time at Murodo and done more tails up there. We managed to rush both the boardwalk (40mn in 25mn or so, and the caldera climb (25mn instead of 50mn), and caught the very next bus out, putting us a bit ahead of schedule. The caldera climb itself was pretty underwhelming, sadly:



    this was supposed to be the caldera view, mmmh, ok
    this was supposed to be the caldera view, mmmh, ok


    Next, we took the bus to Bijo-daira for a forest walk:

    big waterfall visible from the bus on the way down
    big waterfall visible from the bus on the way down


    we did the short loop, pretty muddy and hilly, but sadly we didn't see any of those birds
    we did the short loop, pretty muddy and hilly, but sadly we didn't see any of those birds



    at least we saw some cool trees :)
    at least we saw some cool trees :)

    multiple trees merged, and some trees seemed to split off into multiple ones
    multiple trees merged, and some trees seemed to split off into multiple ones

    After a 1h hike for the loop, we took the last transport back down, a cable car to Tateyama:




    bits from a former lava flow
    bits from a former lava flow

    almost there
    almost there

    And we finally made it to our hotel: Morinokaze Tateyama, where we enjoyed another nice onsen and an ok buffer dinner and breakfast:

    ready for onsen
    ready for onsen


    2016/07/18 Japan Day 07: Kyoto to Tsumago-Magome hike, Matsumoto Castle, and off to Shinano-Omachi
    π 2016-07-18 00:00 in Japan, Japan2016, Trips
    This was a long day, we had to get up early to catch a 06:48 Hikari from Kyoto to Nagoya (mostly because JR sucks, the 07:12 Nozomi would have been just fine, and honestly that was my real target, it's just because we ended up too early that we actually caught that slower Hikari, so called "bullet train"). After a change in Nagoya, we took the Shinano Express train to Nakatsugawa. From there we took a taxi to Magome, a quaint little town in the Kiso Valley where our hike started.



    connecting to our shinano
    connecting to our shinano

    shinano is pretty nice inside
    shinano is pretty nice inside

    finally arrived in Tsumago after being dropped off by our cab (there were busses but they would have taken too long)
    finally arrived in Tsumago after being dropped off by our cab (there were busses but they would have taken too long)

    I found this little guy on the ground , turns out it could fly fine
    I found this little guy on the ground , turns out it could fly fine






    we stopped for hot tea on the route
    we stopped for hot tea on the route

    you're supposed to ring the bell to scare the bears away
    you're supposed to ring the bell to scare the bears away
















    The hike was pretty in parts, and followed the road in other parts, but still, just seeing the beautiful flowers, rice growing fields and nice little towns of Magome and Tsumago was worth the trip. Sadly, despite my early research, I didn't find out that they could have sent our luggage from Nakatsugawa to Nagiso, the train station after Tsumago, so we had to take a rather expensive cab ($60, 30mn) from Tsumago back to Nakatsugawa (and wake up a taxi driver since there were none at the taxi station they were supposed to be at). Thankfully I built in enough buffer time (50mn, including a 30mn drive) that we got back to Nakatsugawa in time for our hourly express train to Matsumoto. In hindsight though, we could have gone to Nagiso, picked up our luggage and take a crappy slow train from Nagiso to Matsumoto, and have arrived around the same time.

    Matsumoto was recommended by the guidebooks for an original Japanese Castle. It's not the biggest, or the most famous, but it's one of the 12 Japanese Castles that hasn't been destroyed and rebuilt. Actually it's Japan's oldest existing Castle, more than 400 years old. We got super lucky to have Takayama-San from ALSA (Alps Language Service Association), the local volunteer guide group, who was super nice and met us at the Castle after I called him to enquire when we were in the train and found out that their guides who are usually there, are only there until 15:00 and we were going to arrive at 15:20. Takayama-San very nicely offered to come personally to the Castle to give us a tour, and with his explanations our tour of Matsumoto Castle was much more instructive and enjoyable than if we had been on our own.





    Takayama-San, explaining the castle's history to us
    Takayama-San, explaining the castle's history to us











    oh noes, poor fish
    oh noes, poor fish


    After the tour, we had enough time to catch out last train of the day at 17:55, and arrive at Kurobe View, a very good ryokan in the Shinano Omachi area (so that we could start the Alpen Route the next morning). The room was spacious and the food for dinner was both excellent and plentiful (and then some). Breakfast the next day was not too shabby either.




    nice beds, great room
    nice beds, great room


    dinner was ridiculous, so much food and so good
    dinner was ridiculous, so much food and so good



    After all this food, I went to brave the onsen:






    And then time for bed, since we had to start our Alpen Route traverse at 08:00 the next morning, not too bad...

    2016/07/17 Japan Day 06: Kyoto, Gion Matsuri Day 2
    π 2016-07-17 00:00 in Japan, Japan2016, Trips
    The Japan Guide Entry on Gion Matsuri gives details on the Gion Matsuri's festivities.

    After the huge crowds of the first night of Gion Matsuri, we went to see the float procession the next morning. We found a decent enough spot away from the huge crowds and thankfully the rain stayed away in the morning. It was fun to see those huge floats (the big ones are called hoko), some with a mast that went way too high up (probably not good during a thunderstorm), and because they are not designed to turn (the wheels are fixed), each 90 degree turn is a huge 10mn enterprise involving bamboo turn (the wheels are fixed), each 90 degree turn is a huge 10mn enterprise involving bamboo turn (the wheels are fixed), each 90 degree turn is a huge 10mn enterprise involving bamboo slats, water, lifting a flats that's way too heavy (over 10 tons), chanting, and entertainment :)





    turning this takes a long time, almost like watching paint dry :)
    turning this takes a long time, almost like watching paint dry :)


    10mn later, we're good :)
    10mn later, we're good :)

    oh noes, another one showed up, it'll take a while to turn :)
    oh noes, another one showed up, it'll take a while to turn :)







    During the day, we went to see a few things and hide from the oppressing wet heat. We started with Higashi Honganji and Nishi Honganji:












    Next, while I didn't have high expectations, I had a quick look at the Kyoto Aquarium because it was indoors and had AC. It was barely worth an hour though.

    More interestingly, the kyoto railway museum next door was quite good:


    first bullet train
    first bullet train

    that JR500 shinkansen looks bad ass
    that JR500 shinkansen looks bad ass



    I wish we got to use those seats
    I wish we got to use those seats












    I found some new orangina flavours I didn't know :)
    I found some new orangina flavours I didn't know :)






    From there, we went to the Kyoto national museum:










    It then time to head back to our room, return our rental bikes and towards Yasaka Shrine for the evening procession of mikoshi:






    poor guys, they were sitting under torrential rain
    poor guys, they were sitting under torrential rain



    After the festivities, we bought some yummy meat that Jennifer cooked in our rented apartment, and we got an early night due to our next day starting around 05:50 due to long travels.

    2016/07/16 Japan Day 05: Kyoto, Gion Matsuri
    π 2016-07-16 00:00 in Japan, Japan2016, Trips
    After our few days in Tokyo, we headed towards Kyoto for their Festival Gion Matsuri. We arrived in the mid morning via a very packed Nozomi bullet train (people were standing in the aisles for a 2.5h train ride), and after checking in our hotel, we went towards Eastern Kyoto to do a hike in the hills and end up in Kiyomizu Dera (I figured that the main attractions would be packed with people):

    sucks to ride a bullet train like this
    sucks to ride a bullet train like this

    after arriving we went to rent bikes for 2 days
    after arriving we went to rent bikes for 2 days

    Kodai-ji
    Kodai-ji






    fresh water cray fish
    fresh water cray fish

    after our hike, we arrived at Shoren-in's Seiryu-den with a nice view of Kyoto
    after our hike, we arrived at Shoren-in's Seiryu-den with a nice view of Kyoto








    and we arrived at Kiyomizu Dera
    and we arrived at Kiyomizu Dera









    On the way back to our bike, we managed to get in Kodai-ji just before it closed:





    with a view of Ryozen Kannon next door which had already closed
    with a view of Ryozen Kannon next door which had already closed

    we were lucky enough to see our first real geishas in the wild :)
    we were lucky enough to see our first real geishas in the wild :)



    Last, but not least, for the first night of Gion Matsuri: Yoiyama which is the viewing of floats in the streets. I figured it would be viewing of floats with a bunch of street vendors and that it'd be all nice and good. In real life, it was an insane sea of people, it was super hard to get anywhere, streets were randomly closed even to pedestrians by making them pseudo randomly one-way.
    The amount of crowds made this less fun than it could have been, and Jennifer really did not like the huge crowds:



    it got bad
    it got bad






    then I went to bike back to our room (Jennifer had left earlier)
    then I went to bike back to our room (Jennifer had left earlier)

    See more images for Japan Day 05: Kyoto, Gion Matsuri
    2016/07/14 Japan Day 03-04: Tokyo
    π 2016-07-14 00:00 in Japan, Japan2016, Trips
    During days 2-4, I was at Linuxcon JP of course, and gave a talk about Open Source at Google.
    On day #3, we made a reservation for dinner at Aoyama Esaki, and I noticed that TEPIA, a technology gallery, was nearby, so we went for a visit and they nicely gave us an english guide for a private tour. We then saw the rest on our own before they closed.


    spider protein fiber
    spider protein fiber

    squid harnesting device :)
    squid harnesting device :)

    flexbile 3D printed hand
    flexbile 3D printed hand

    Then, we had a nice dinner at Aoyama Esaki


    On the way back, we walked around Shibuya, for its fun crossing as well as the shopping streets:




    The weather had not been good (mostly rain almost all the time), the next morning we walked around the nice Chinzanso hotel grounds before my conference started:




    During lunch break, we went for another nice meal at another Michelin rated restaurant (2 stars): Narisawa:


    See more images for Japan Day 03-04: Tokyo
    2016/07/12 Japan Day 01: Tokyo
    π 2016-07-12 00:00 in Japan, Japan2016, Trips
    After arriving late in Tokyo the previous night, we woke up a bit early due to jetlag, and went to Tokyo station to exchange our Japan Rail pass vouchers. Great way to waste 2H (counting transport) because the counter at the airport was closed when we arrived. Thankfully it was not a huge deal because what we wanted to see that day didn't open until 09:00 anyway.
    As a reminder, I generally do not recommend the Japan Rail Pass, its limitations that disallow use of the best trains are not acceptable in my opinion. I just decided to use it this time, due to the number of times we were going to use the train this time.

    WTF?
    WTF?


    We walked around the imperial palace grounds and bit, and then headed towards Yasukuni Shrine. It's a Shinto-style shrine commemorating Japanese war dead with a military history museum on its grounds (Yūshūkan War museum):







    A few pictures taken by others:



    The museum itself had a some nice displays, but the main reason we found it interesting, is because it depicts the last 150+ last years of history, as written by the Japanese. To be honest, it was a bit troubling at times. While they did mention some things that are known to be true, and not always mentioned on the western side. For instance:

  • The US did indeed put an embargo on Japan to force them to vacate some countries they were occupying in Asia, and fully knew that Japan not having enough natural resources, would either have to yield or go to war
  • When Japan says that the US forced them to fire the first shot, at some point, you can kind of agree with that if you take the stance that Japan didn't see wh the US should dictate to them what they ought to do in Asia, or not.
  • They also explain that Japan did not refuse to surrender before the nuclear bombs were dropped on them, but that they were looking at their options and communicating with Russia and that instead it was judged that they had not replied and therefore refused to surrender. This is not much mentioned on the Western side since basically it means they didn't really have to drop the atomic bombs on the Japan. Read more: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3635822?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents and http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/12947

  • On the flip side, the entire museum was sadly very devoid of anything hinting that Japan had every done anything wrong, or was responsible in some ways for the wars it got involved in. Or other things like:

  • they make a point to mention that Japan wa an ally against Germany during the first world war, while totally forgetting to mention that they made a pact with Hitler during the second world war.
  • What's well known as the nanking massacre where over 200,000 non fighting Chinese were killed, or 20,000 women were raped by Japanese soldiers, is mentioned as the "Nanking campaign", and mentions no wrongdoing whatsoever by the Japanese :-
  • All in all, this entire story was written as Japan really being forced to invade some countries to counter the Russians, and being later victims of WWII. It was a bit disheartening, Germany for instance has done a much better job admitting their faults, knowing how they got there, and how to avoid such mistakes in the future.
  • Some displays:





    cruise missile that used a poor kamikaze pilot as pilot
    cruise missile that used a poor kamikaze pilot as pilot

    a submarine/torpedo (the pilot took it manually to its target where it would explode)
    a submarine/torpedo (the pilot took it manually to its target where it would explode)


    sadly, this probably contributed to the number of war heroes they had
    sadly, this probably contributed to the number of war heroes they had



    After much longer than planned at the museum (3H30 when the long tour was meant to be 2H), we went to the nearby science museum in a non descript building:






    Demo on how to limit the effect of earthquakes in buildings:

    Watch the demo with the balloons in the video, it's super "cool" :)


    We used the rest of the afternoon to spend a bit of time in Akihabara which was nearby, and went to Google to meet Eric for dinner:






    See more images for Japan Day 01: Tokyo
    2016/07/12 Hedgehog Café in Tokyo
    π 2016-07-12 00:00 in Cats, Japan, Japan2016, Trips
    Yeah, so Japan is known for having the crazy cafés. They started with the cat cafés, then bunny café, owl café, and now a hedgehog café.

    We came around 19:30, the hedgehogs were alert and active (they are nocturnal animals, so it's not surprising that they are sleepy during the day). The staff did have some that they left alone so that they could rest, and let us chose amongst the ones that were awake and active.
    Now, let's be fair, hedgehogs are not really meant to be furry pets, especially with strangers. The 2 I got bit me, not to attack me, but because they confused me with food (their sight is poor, they work by smell), but on the plus side their teeth are not sharp so while I was convinced they'd draw blood, they did not. One of the 2 also pooped on me repeatedly (but they have baby wipes for that).

    Was it fun? Yes.
    Are hedgehogs really the best animals for petting cafés? I'd definitely say no, but eh, we had to go check it out :)

    That being said, they're still cute and make for good pictures:




    it's a small breed, hedgehogs can get much bigger than that
    it's a small breed, hedgehogs can get much bigger than that

    mine was both inquisitive and a bit mischievous
    mine was both inquisitive and a bit mischievous

    it bit the crap out of my Tshirt but the teeth aren't sharp, so it didn't make a hole
    it bit the crap out of my Tshirt but the teeth aren't sharp, so it didn't make a hole

    I got another one after that. It didn't bite, but it pooped a lot :)



    Erik-San was there with us :)
    Erik-San was there with us :)

    Jennifer was happy with hers
    Jennifer was happy with hers

    it was much less trouble :)
    it was much less trouble :)

    she had fun :)
    she had fun :)

    One floor up, there is a bunny café, where some bunnies are a bit crazy, while others are very cuddly.

    this bunny was so soft and cuddly :)
    this bunny was so soft and cuddly :)


    Jennifer got a crazy hyper active one, so I gave her mine
    Jennifer got a crazy hyper active one, so I gave her mine


    Good fun was had :)

    See more images for Hedgehog Café in Tokyo

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