A Travellerspoint blog

November 2009

Osaka - Castles, Big Fish and Depressed Monkeys


semi-overcast 15 °C
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On my first few days in Osaka, I stayed in a single room in a budget hotel just so I take a break from the snoring I'd been subjected to in the hostels so far. As soon as I exited the train station at Shin-Imamiya in the south of Osaka I knew I was going to experience a whole different side of Japan. It felt a little shabbier, the buildings looked worn down, the people were noticeably poorer and the Pachinko (gambling) parlours appeared far more frequently. Until this point I had only seen two homeless people in Japan (under a bridge in Tokyo) but here they could be found around almost every corner. But this being Japan, I still felt pretty safe, even as I walked down the shady alley ways on the way to the hotel. My room at the hotel was quite tiny with only a single bed, a table with a tv on it, an empty mini-fridge and a stool. It did have an en-suite but it was the size of a portaloo with a tiny shower attached to it. But all of this was expected, not only because this is Japan, but because it was so cheap. As long as I had a bed, air-con and no snoring people four feet away from me I was very happy. Needless to say, I took a long nap within minutes after walking through the door.

The hotel entrance, not a bad place considering its location.

The following day I took a day trip to Himeji just under one hour south west of Osaka by shinkansen. This is the location of the famous Himeji-jo castle. This is supposed to be Japan's most impressive looking castle. Built in the 14th Century, parts have been restored but it stands largely as it did when it was first built. Best thing about the castle is that you get to walk around the inside and all the way to the top of the tower.

Himeji-jo castle from main gate

Himeji-jo castle tower from inside castle grounds

Himeji-jo castle tower roof arches

I didn't have much trouble climbing the tricky narrow wooden stairs between each level, it was the elderly people in front of me that concerned me, alas I reached the top without a scratch. Each level of the tower has open air windows through which you could get some decent panoramic views of the town of Himeji as well as the surrounding areas.

View of the town of Himeji and the main street leading to the train station from the top of the Himeji-jo castle tower

Once you reached the very top level of the tower you got to stamp your little tourist brouchure with the official "I've made it all the way to the top of Himeji-jo castle tower" stamp.

Quite proud of my red stamp I was

All in all it was a nice day trip despite the cold. Unfortunately, I had lost my beanie in Tokyo and I was always on the brink of hypothermia, particularly in the tower because the windows were wide open on each of the four sides on each level so they acted like mini wind tunnels. On the way back to Osaka, I slept on the train for the first time in my trip. There is hardly any danger of sleeping through your destination because before each stop, you are awakened by some gentle elevator-style music just before the next station is formally announced. The Japanese have made snoozing a true art form. On trains, trams, buses, benches, coffee shops, it doesn't matter, everyone does it. They probably nap while sitting on the toilet. When I was in Tokyo on a late night metro train, almost everyone in the carridge around me was snoozing. They are obviously not in a deep sleep because there's no snoring, drooling or falling on eachother's laps and as soon as their stop is announced, they perk up and leave the train. I even saw a woman riding her bike through Himeji with two kids sitting in small baskets, one at the front the other at the back, and they were both fast asleep. It's a shame I couldn't get my camera out fast enough, otherwise it would have been a priceless photo.

The next day I decided I might visit Tennoji zoo just because it was literally around the corner from my hotel and I heard it was quite cheap (500 Yen). I'm afraid this was the biggest mistake I've made so far in Japan. I should have known it wasn't going to be pretty because of the zoo's location, the same poor area I was talking about before. The zoo first opened in 1915 and it shows it. Most of the animals looked only slightly more depressed than how I felt. The paint on some of the walls was peeling off, some of the ponds were dirty and scummy and the cages and enclosures were definitely too small. Certain big cats (like cougars and leopards) were kept in tiny cages hardly bigger than my hotel room. A few animals were pacing from side to side and I saw at least two monkeys rocking backwards and forwards (the classic signs of animal depression). Also, I swear the solitary polar bear looked like it was trying to drown itself as it swam slowly towards the wall in the meager pond with no apparent purpose. I walked through the place as quickly as I could just so I could get out of there. What makes it worse is that this is the only zoo in Japan that has kiwis (the birds that is). They have two brown kiwis and I had to visit them. I felt like the Red Cross visiting tortured political prisoners. They were kept in a dark enclosure (as they should be since they are, after all, nocturnal) and to be honest, they didn't look too sad. They were even walking around digging their beaks into the soft dirt looking for food. But I still felt like breaking the glass, placing them one under each arm and saying, "Common fellas, we're going home". I only took one photo in the zoo and it was of the front gate which really says it all.

The front gate at Tennoji Zoo, Osaka

The next day I continued the animal theme by visiting the Osaka aquarium "Kaiyukan" which is quite a big attraction in Osaka and in a completely different part of the city so I was quite hopeful. This aquarium houses sea animals from around the ring of fire, that is, the waters bordering the pacific ocean. The layout has quite a clever design with the entrance at the top of the building followed by a clockwise spiral passage leading you around the main central tank. Several smaller tanks are housed on the outside of the main passage.

Looking back along the passage, the central tank on the left with a smaller outer tank on the right

One of the outer tanks, it was circular with an artificial current flowing around the central rock formation.

It was quite crowded in some areas but never so much that you couldn't get a good look if you waited a minute or two. Though taking photos was difficult not only because of the light but because someone was bound to walk right in front of you just as your target fish swam into focus, what's the phrase, "Never work with tourists or animals", it's something like that anyway. The only issue I could have with the place was the relatively small enclosures for the seals, penguins, dolphins and sea otters, but all in all it still felt much better than in the zoo, well worth the entrance fee.

Various species in central tank

The main attraction is undoubtedly the two whale sharks swimming around in the central tank along with various other species like hammer head sharks, giant tuna and sting rays.

The whale sharks

Scuba-Santa waving to the crowds

My favourite were the jellyfish which are housed in smaller tanks towards the very end. Their tanks were illuminated by flourescent light which made them look amazing, it was quite popular so I only managed to get a few decent photos without a head or hand appearing in the middle of the frame.

Jellyfish - They looked even more amazing in person.

Jellyfish backlit with flourescent light

Brings a whole new light to the question of finding Nemo

After the aquarium, I went a couple of blocks east to the Suntory museum which also houses an Imax movie theater. I had been to the Imax theater in Auckland, but here they were showing a deep sea documentary movie in the new 3D technology format. I couldn't pass up the opportunity so I went along bought a 2-in-1 ticket to tour the museum gallery before catching the 5 pm movie session. The gallery had a special exhibition on Klimt, Schiele and other Viennese art from around the turn of the 20th century. I'm not much of an art lover, in fact I usually avoid art galleries because I find a lot of art, particularly paintings, a little pretentious, but it was nice to walk around and some of the paintings were quite impressive, plus it was old so that had me convinced.

I rushed the last couple of gallery rooms so I could head over to the theater entrance to grab my headphones (for the English translation) and the 3D glasses. The 3D glasses used for the new 3D technology are not the old kind where one lens is blue and and the other red. The new 3D movies are shot with special cameras which capture scenes simultaneously from slightly different angles and the glasses simply bring these images together. If you watch one of these 3D movies without the glasses it just looks slightly blurry. The English narration was done by Jim Carrey of all people, but at least it was in English so I didn't just have to watch and guess what was being said in Japanese. It took a little while to get used to the 3D picture because even though the screen was an enourmous 20 meters high by 28 meters wide, it felt like it had been shrunk because the it appeared to shift towards you which also meant it covered your entire field of view. I do have to say that the 3D images were quite amazing. It doesn't feel like you are watching the movie, it's more like you are actually inside the movie. Will have to watch out for 3D horror/thriller movies when they start coming out. I quite enjoyed it, but more for the novelty of it being 3D rather than the content. Heck, it could have been about the history of locomotive engines and it still would have been good (no offence to train enthusiasts).

By the time I left the theater it was dark outside which was actually rather fortunate because I got to see how the Japanese decorate their tourist attractions during the christmas season.

Xmas decorations outside the Osaka aquarium

The rest of the week in Osaka was quite leisurely, I caught up with Roddy (UK) once again before he left Japan on his way to Vietnam. We took a wander in Dotonbori which is the main centre in Osaka for shopping, restaurants, bars and of course neon lights.

This glowing start of Dotonbori, Osaka

Me in front of the neon covered buildings in Osaka

We had dinner in a Japanese restaurant where you can cook your own food, I think the style is called Gyu Kaku but I could be wrong. Mine was ok, though it had more fat attached to the meat than I would have liked (even by Japanese standards). After dinner, we grabbed a few pints from a couple of bars in the area to toast our future travels before I headed back to my peaceful private room bed... aah, bliss.

Funny photo of the week - sticker on door of hostel in Osaka, the caption reads "In this area don't take a woman who is smashed out. Play fair to advance to a women"

Next up, Hiroshima.

Posted by joshuag 03:42 Archived in Japan Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Kyoto - One Thousand Buddhas, Sake and Magical Cheese


rain 14 °C
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Having visited all the popular temples and shrines in Kyoto, I had but one last sightseeing spot to visit on my last day and this was the Sanjusangendo temple containing 1000 Buddha statues. It was only a 5 minute walk from the hostel so I waited until 2 pm to go hoping the crowds would have diminished from the early morning rush. Alas, it was still pretty crowded but I'm getting used to it now.

Sanjusangendo is a 12th century temple (partially rebuilt in the 13th century after a fire) and it contains 1000 identical life-sized buddha statues arranged in 10 rows by 100 columns. In front and around some of these columnns there are also 28 unique statues of guardian deities. Directly in the centre of these 1000 statues there sits an impressive giant buddha statue covered in gold.

The very long Sanjusangendo Temple in the middle of Kyoto

This was one of those places that when you first walk in, all you can think is "WOW", well it was for me anyway. Sometimes I'd stand and admire an interesting statue for a couple of minutes, reading the description and fully appreciating it, other times I'd stand and look at another statue for a couple of minutes just waiting until the loud western tourist would move along, you know the type, the one who pressumed everybody in a 100 meter radius wanted to hear their profound comments about the statues. I'm not naming nationalities but it was obvious to me where they were from.

I couldn't take photos in this place, even sneaky shots were out of the question, but to give you an idea here's a photo from wikipedia. It's an old photo and you can't see any of the guardian deity statues nor the giant buddha statue. That's probably a good thing because personally I've enjoyed more discovering the things that I haven't already seen a hundred times in books or on the web.

Sanjusangendo Temple (1000 Buddha Temple), Kyoto (borrowed from wikipedia, copyright expired, now in the public domain)

So anyway that was a nice way to finish off sightseeing in Kyoto.

Later that night, I caught up with Roddy who I had first met in Tokyo. After going in different directions after Tokyo we basically bumped into eachother again as he happened to be staying at the same hostel as me in Kyoto. We ended up at the bar beneath the hostel talking about our travels with a couple of Aussie girls that were there on holiday.

We all decided to try some sake (my first time) at a little "Beer and Sake" joint just around the corner. This was officially the smallest bar I had ever been to. About five stools in front of the bar about 1 meter away from the front (sliding) door.

Kirsty, Me, Cate and Roddy at Sake and Beer bar.

The woman behind the bar was very friendly and welcoming, obviously very used to the hoards of backpackers summoned in by the promise of "Beer and Sake". She was probably in her late 50's or early 60's and she didn't speak a word of English but she certainly knew what we were after. She provided us with sweets, a variety of pickled vegetables and glasses full to the brim with cold sake. To be frank I'm getting quite fond of pickled vegetables, they go really well with alcoholic drinks. The sake wasn't too bad considering it was 17% alcohol, having pickles and a cold beer to chase it down with definitely helped.

Sweets, Beer, Sake and Pickles

After we were asked to leave (closing time, not disorderly behaviour) we ventured another block away to check out another place called "Magical Cheese" - how could you not be curious with a name like that. It was actually a classy bar (leave your shoes at the entrance) that offers Fondue as its main attraction. At this place we decided do things properly so we ordered some warm sake this time.

Warm sake at Magical Cheese, it is quite a classy place actually

The bar tender was also friendly but didn't speak a word of English either (it's a recurring theme in Japan) so a woman sitting behind us volunteered to be our translator even though her English was also lacking.

Friendly Barman at Magical Cheese

Fondue Set and Various types of Sake, we had the sake with the white label.

Kirsty, Roddy, Me and Cate at Magical Cheese

What can I say about warm sake, basically it wasn't something I'll try again voluntarily. I didn't have too many problems finishing my glass but it took some guts and determination. The cold sake was much better, perhaps it was the type or quality of the warm sake that made it so bad.

Drinking warm sake - Roddy's face says it all

Of course we had to try the fondue - it was really good!

We left the place at around 3am, or it could have been 4, I forget. Had good times anyway. Luckily the walk back to the hostel was only about 2 minutes.

The next day I barely made it out of bed at 10 am with enough time enough to pack, have breakfast and check-out of the hostel. This hostel has been my favourite so far, "K's House Kyoto" has hit the nail on the head with what backpackers need and want, thumbs up to them.

So I waived goodbye to Kyoto and hopped on the next train to Osaka.

Kyoto Tower in front of train station - Goodbye Kyoto

Posted by joshuag 05:15 Archived in Japan Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Kyoto - Geishas and Chocolate Icecream


rain 20 °C
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Last few days have been a blur.

A couple of nights ago, I met three girls from Kyoto at the bar beneath the hostel. They come to the bar to meet foreigners and practice their English. I said I hadn't seen Gion (a famous suburb in Kyoto) and they offered to take me out to dinner and give me a quick tour the following night. Gion is full of shops, bars and traditional Japanese restaurants. It also has the famous back alleys where, if you are lucky, you can spot a real life Geisha or Maiko girl (Geisha apprentice) rushing to a cab or to meet one of their clients. So the next day, we met near a Japanese theater in Gion and took a small walk before dinner, sampling Japanese sweets and different types of pickled vegetables. I was quite fortunate that at the very end, we turned a corner and right in front of my eyes there was a Geisha standing near a corner with her client. I had to be a shameless tourist, walking right up to her like a paparazzi to take her photo. She didn't even flinch, must be used to it by now.

Geisha in Gion, Kyoto (photo was a bit blurry as I was still moving when I took the shot)

So now I can cross "Geisha" off my list, all I need now is to find out where the ninjas hang out.

We had dinner at a small restaurant that specialised in udon noodles and tempura, it was quite delicious actually. I'm getting the hang of Japanese food, and it's not all about sea food, there's lots and lots more to choose from. The hardest part is when you just want a snack and you have to go searching for something that you can just heat in the microwave or pour boiling water into, but all the instructions are in Japanese so it's a bit difficult unless you can find someone to translate (so far so good).

Last night I had to move to another place for one night because my hostel (and almost every other in Kyoto) was all booked out. I stayed in a guesthouse rather than a hostel which was, as the name suggests, more like a bed and breakfast. It felt really homely with a traditional Japanese look and feel. Some of the walls were made out of paper (girls dorm) and the shower was shielded from the hallway door with bamboo. It was nice staying there and the guy who runs it was really friendly and spoke near perfect English. I did however experience a first (and probably a last) whilst in this guesthouse and this was only revealed to me the next morning as I looked out the window from the top bunk on which I had just slept (see photo below)

Never thought I'd sleep so close to someone else's final resting place (at least not until I become a vampire)

Today I visited Iwatayama park in the far west of Kyoto. This place is very popular with the locals and it was packed with people enjoying their Saturday afternoon, sort of like Mission Bay in Auckland but with a large river instead of the ocean.

Bridge at Iwatayama Park, Kyoto

It was a nice and sunny day so on my way back to the train station I decided to buy an icecream cone. Unfortunately I overestimated the structural integrity of Japanese ice cream and within half a minute of it being in my hand it was flowing freely down my wrist. I didn't even try to fight it as the flow was far too much for the flimsy servillette to cope with. Luckily by the time I finished it I was only two blocks from the train station where I could wash my hands. I thought I must have looked like a messy gaijin (foreigner) during that short walk with a hand fully covered in icecream - but actually it was much much worse; As I looked up and into the restroom mirror I noticed two thick blots of chocolate icecream on the tip of my nose and chin. Oh well, the beauty of embarrassing yourself in front of hundreds of strangers in a foreign country is that you'll never have to see them ever again.

Across the Oi River at Iwatayama Park, Kyoto

Tonight I'm back in the original hostel I stayed in when I arrived in Kyoto. The hostel is "family friendly", I thought that was quite a novelty and not such a bad thing since over the first three days a Dutch family was staying here, they had two daughters about 6 and 8 years old. They were extremely well behaved and even though the younger one skipped along from place to place she did it with really soft feet and was always smiling and super silent like a ninja (the silent part, not the smiling). Tonight, however, it's a different story. There is a Spanish woman with two boys, one must be about one (in a baby's chair) and the other is probably about four. The baby is crying constantly and the older one is running around the wooden floor in the common room bouncing a plastic ball, pressing all the elevator buttons and slipping and sliding all over the place in his "pajamas-with-feet" tripping people over and knocking over rubbish bins whilst making loud car noises. The mother just sits and chats with another woman totally oblivious to the havoc her children are causing in this normally chilled out lounge area. The poor Chinese girl sitting in front of me quietly sipping her green tea is still trying to look relaxed and unbothered but I can tell she's totally freaking out (like me). Sorry but I really hate parents like that. If you can't control your children, don't inflict their menace on other people, get a private hotel room and keep them there or better yet, don't take them with you on holiday. It's not like they will remember or even appreciate it anyway. I feel like walking up to her and saying something like:

"Perdone Señora, por favor, nos salve y manda a su pinche hijo de la puta a la cama ahorita, gracias"

It's probably not grammatically correct (my Spanish is still a bit rusty) but I'm sure she'd get the picture.

The Japanese have gone vending machine mad. They have them on every second corner, down most alley ways and even at entrances and exits of all temples and shrines. They sell mostly drinks, including beer, and some have cigarettes. They even have vending machines that sell, get this, soiled women's underwear – Now, I must confess that I haven't actually seen any of the latter variety myself, but I have been told this by more than one person (for me this has got to be the epitome of the bizarre Japanese culture). These machines must only be in certain places which I have not yet visited. Strangely enough though, they don't sell food from vending machines, the only exception that I've seen was "Kit Kat" bars and they came inside a jar! Furthermore, vending machine hot drinks, such as coffee and hot chocolate, come in a can! And you thought your standard cardboard coffee shop cup got hot, try a metallic one.

Kit Kats in a jar from vending machine

Some other Interesting little things I've noticed about Japan since I've been here:

  • Tommy Lee Jones has done a huge ad campaign for a Japanese drinks company “Boss” - his face is on all the bill boards, it reminds me exactly of Bill Murray from the movie Lost in Translation.

  • Mini skirts (and I really do mean MINI) and knee high socks or boots are way in fashion. Somehow they get away with it without even a stare of disapproval from the more older and presumably conservative adults, I don't disapprove either.

  • They have awesome automated car parks. Because of their issues with lack of space, they have to improvise and improvise they have. They drive on to a small mechanical platform in the car-park building (the building being only about as thick as one and a half car lengths) then the platform automatically rotates and lifts the car up to a designated spot in the building. Looks like a baggage handling machine at an airport and it's absolutely bizzare the first time you see it. Other small garages, have a rotating platform which means they can do a u-turn on the spot or go around a tight corner without even turning the wheel - These are the kind of things Auckland needs.

  • Most toilets are high-tech, they don't only have a bidet, but also (my favourite) a seat warmer and sometimes a button which makes a flushing sound with adjustable volume - you can guess what that is for. On the other hand, in most of their public restrooms, the toilets are like long-drops, no toilet seat, just a porcelain recepticle on the floor over which you would have to squat - I have not yet had the pleasure of using one of these, but it's early days yet.

  • In a country where almost everyone follows the rules to the letter, everyone rides their bikes (at high speed) on the foot path. If you are walking along and you wander away from a straight path, your life is in danger.

High Tech Toilet in Hostel

And now for some more sight seeing photos. The middle of the week was slightly rainy, but that didn't stop me. I took a trip to the west of Kyoto to visit two of the more famous attractions, Kinkakuji Temple (the Golden Pavillion) and the rock garden at Ryoanji Temple, as well as several other smaller temples dotted around the place. I thought since it was raining, it was going to be a little quieter than some of the other temples I had visited - I was wrong.

Raining at Kinkakuji Temple (the Golden Pavillion), Kyoto

The famous rock garden at Ryoanji Temple, Kyoto (this is the original Zen garden). I sat and stared at this garden for something like 20 minutes, but instead of discovering the spiritual truth of Zen enlightenment, I just pondered on how they could rake all of that sand in such straight lines without leaving foot prints.

Silhouette of Buddha statue at Ninnaji Temple, Kyoto (actually that's me - This place was so Zen, even I started to meditate)

Ninnaji Temple Pagoda in background, foreground is palace garden taken from the Palace's verandah, Kyoto

Ancient statues (9th Century) in Ninnaji Temple museum, centre is the Amida-Nyorai Buddha - There were "No Photos" signs everywere, but it was the end of the day and I was completely alone in this museum - I couldn't help myself so I quickly scoped for security cameras and took a sneaky snap. All the other statues in this little museum were also impressive and very old but I didn't want to get greedy.

Palace Garden at the Tenryu-ji Temple, Kyoto - the pond had lots of huge Koi (fish) skimming the surface for food

Behind the scenes at the tranquil Tenryu-ji Temple Palace Garden, Kyoto - This is what it's like at most temples.

Bamboo Forest, Tenryu-ji Temple, Kyoto - The bamboo goes on as far as the eye can see.

Today is Sunday and it's my rest day - I really need it. I pulled a muscle in my foot yesterday while walking to the bus. I found out last night the All Whites have qualified for the world cup, Yay! So that's both Mexico and New Zealand through to the finals. I just hope they don't end up in the same group because I don't know who I'd cheer for if they played eachother. Unfortunately with both their track records, it's likely there will be double the disappointment. I just hope at least I get to see them play wherever I am at the time of the world cup, probably somewhere in Europe I imagine.


Posted by joshuag 22:03 Archived in Japan Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Kyoto - Temples and Shrines in the Fall


overcast 21 °C
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The trip to Kyoto from Tokyo was a mere three hours, impressive considering it is 513 kms away and we stopped around five times along the way, I have concluded Japanese transportation rocks.

Got to my hostel at around 8 pm, I can see why it is so highly rated in Hostelworld.com, it has everything you could ever want in a hostel. It's really clean, new, staff are extremely helpful and friendly, there's a laundry, a fully stocked kitchen, a huge lounge area and it has a trendy cafe/bar attached to it (beers are around NZ$6). What more could I want. In terms of comfort and facilities, it is making my capsule hostel in Tokyo look like a bus stop (though don't get me wrong, I really digged my capsule). The only thing I could complain about is the guy in my dorm that snores like a jack-hammer. I even had my ipod going with the volume on about 75% and he was still contributing to the bass. Oh well, you get that when you travel on the cheap and have to share a room.

Outside shot of the hostel in Kyoto, the "Zen" bar is on the right on the ground floor.

Talking about money, it's true, Japan is not cheap, in fact if you aren't careful (by converting EVERYTHING to your local dollars before buying) you could end up spending a fortune. But now that I'm into my second week, I'm getting the hang of the conversion and I shop around before even buying a coffee.

There's 8 beds (4 bunks), in my room... occupied by three Australians, a Canadian, two Dutch and a Pole. Aussies appear to be the majority in this hostel (apparently JetStar is offering cheap flights). The whole hostel is also constantly full of people due to its high ratings on the interweb.

My hostel bunk bed in Kyoto (was in the room first - always go for the bottom bunk near the window!)

Where Tokyo was dominated by trains and the metro, in Kyoto travelling by bus is the easiest way to go. They are easy to use, come by all the time and they seem to cover most of the city, plus you can get a day-pass for 500 Yen (roughly NZ$7.70) - good stuff when you are moving around all day. I've even got used to entering the bus from the back and exiting from the front and only paying when you get off - boy, in NZ there would be trouble if you payed at the end of your journey - goes to show the Japanese mentality on honesty.

Spent the first couple of days in Kyoto in the east side of the city visiting some pretty impressive temples. Unfortunately, there appears to be a large sweep of renovations ocurring in Kyoto and some of the temples are covered in tarpolin and scafolding. On the other hand, I think I'm here at the best time of the year for sightseeing since fall is well underway and the trees at most locations look amazing.

Path in Ginkakuji Temple, Kyoto, Japan

There are so many temples and shrines in Kyoto that you could literally be here for months and still there would be more to see. As a bonus I got to see an interesting Budhist ceremony at the Chion-in Temple. No photos allowed inside most places so hard to describe without a picture but I had never seen anything like it so I was quite blown away by the whole thing.

Monks in Procession after Ceremony, Chion-in Temple, Kyoto

Basically, I like things that are old, the older the better, so that's how I've prioritised the places I am visiting (as well as their size). It's interesting thinking about how things that are so old are still standing and how they were used by people centuries ago.

Walked through Nijojo Castle (only allowed in the hallways) - this castle was built with intentionally squeaky floors so the Shogun would know if any assasins had sneaked in. And sure enough, the floors still squeaked! But it wasn't any old squeaks, in fact, as a whole line of us walked down the hallways, it was uncanny how much it sounded like a NZ forest full of native birds.

Shogun's Palace in Nijo Castle - You can see the difference in the original and restored gates.

Ginkakuji Temple from path in fall forest

Nijo-jo Castle Garden - The Japanese really do know how to garden.

So I'd have to agree with everyone that said Kyoto was beautiful, too bad there's plenty of tourists around. Though I have to keep on reminding myself, I'm just another one of them - funny how at the start you somehow think you deserve the place to yourself. It's sometimes worth taking a longer walk than usual to visit a smaller shrine or temple just because there isn't a tour group walking behind you. Mind you, most of the tour groups I've seen are Japanese believe it or not. Good to see they like to visit their own attractions. I've decided that when I get back to NZ, I will do a trip around NZ and see my own country, especially around Fiordland. I'll also be fit enough to do the Milford track by then.

I really wish I had a pedometer on me because I have walked more k's over the last week than I have over the entire year so far.

I've just extended my stay in Kyoto for another two days, so there's more sight seeing to do, so until next time, that's me over and out.

Posted by joshuag 04:15 Archived in Japan Tagged kyoto temple shrine backpacking japanese_garden chion-in shinkansen nijojo_castle nijo-jo ginkakuji chonin Comments (0)

Tokyo - The Nightlife


semi-overcast 20 °C
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This was actually one of the first photos I took after arriving in Tokyo, I just forgot to upload it. I took it from the viewing platform on the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. I didn't see a single star the whole time I was in Tokyo, even on "sunny" days, the city is covered by a heavy haze.

After the first few days in Tokyo which I mostly spent sight seeing, the last few were more about visiting the popular night spots.

Friday night I went to Rappongi with a couple of guys from Chicago, Andrew who was staying in the same hostel and Aaron his friend who has been in Tokyo for a couple of months. I would describe Rappongi as the seedier area in Tokyo, full of loud and obnoxious foreigners and smut peddlers trying to hustle you into their strip/massage clubs (the latter guys all seem to be from the African continent so they are relatively easy to spot). We found a bar called Gaspanic without a cover charge, the only catch being you had to constantly have a drink in your hand - needless to say I nursed my drinks that night. It was an ok night mostly due to the locals we met and talk to, but I wouldn't recommend visiting this area if you want a true Japanese experience, go to Shinjuku or Shibuya instead, otherwise save yourself the airfares and just go to your local meat market clubs instead.

Gaspanic night club, Rappongi, Tokyo.

On my last night in Tokyo I was determined to go to Womb, a night club in Shibuya I had read about that's known for having the largest mirror ball in Japan, but what interested me more was that they host Drum & Bass gigs once in a while and I wanted to experience one Japanese styles. I was extremely pleased to discover they were hosting a big Drum & Bass event that very night. I had no problems persuading Ian (another guy from Sydney I met in the hostel) to come along. This guy was up for a party every night so it wasn't difficult. He didn't even hesitate in paying the 4,000 Yen cover charge (that's NZ$60 - Yikes!).

Before heading out to Shibuya, Andrew (Chicago) and Roddy (UK) joined Ian and I for some food and a few beers in Akebonobashi near Shinjuku.

Roddy, Ian, Me and Andrew in small Japanese Restaurant near Akebonobashi Metro Station

The friendly Japanese woman who took the above photo also ordered our food for us. We didn't even ask for her help, she must have felt sorry for us when she realized we were completely lost staring at the menu written entirely in Japanese. We couldn't even decide by looking at the pictures whether the meaty looking stuff was beef, pork, chicken or salmon.

We finally arrived at Womb at around midnight, the place is hidden in a small alley a few blocks from the metro station so it was lucky I had written down some directions I found on the interweb.

What can I say, the local DJs were as good as I'd ever heard, especially AKi, and the visiting DJ "Red One" (Ram Records - UK) was awesome also. Even the Japanese MC was brilliant, in fact he was one of the best I'd ever heard - always smiling and never spoiling the beats with silly repetitive rhymes like the UK MCs tend to do. It was strictly no photos inside this place and this rule was swiftly enforced by the numerous bouncers circulating the peripherals of the dance area. It still didn't stop me sneaking a few clicks when they weren't looking. I was only snapped by one of them once but I just played the naiive and apologetic tourist card.

Wicked MC Getting the Crowd Going @ Womb

The place itself was great, quite classy with three levels, main dance area and some chill-out bars where you could just hang and have conversation. The club even had coin lockers where you could put your things without the worry of them going walkabout. The laser show was also impressive and the sound system was far superior to anything Auckland has to offer.

Party People Ripping it up @ Womb, Shibuya, Tokyo (the more I look at this photo the more I like it)

We didn't get back to the hostel until 8am which wasn't ideal considering I had to check-out by 11am the same day. I have now decided if I want to make the distance on this marathon trip of mine, I have to take it easier for the next while otherwise I won't make it to the end.

After checking-out of the hostel, I took it easy while I made my way to the main Tokyo train station where I was catching a Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto. If it wasn't for the friendly English speaking woman at the trains info desk, I would never have found my train platform because the station was a little confusing despite the English signage everywhere (China is going to be interesting in this regard).

So that was it for Tokyo, nine days of hectic train and metro rides, lots of sight seeing, being carried along by huge waves of people walking along a foot path (even though I wanted to turn right two blocks ago but couldn't). It's quite amazing how safe you feel in such a huge city, you don't even feel vulnerable in the metro at midnight. Everyone that I met in Tokyo was very friendly and they go out of their way to help you, going as far as asking the stranger next to them or personally escorting you two blocks to your intended destination. I was also lucky with the hostel I stayed in, the staff were friendly and helpful and the guys I met were good fun and down to earth.

Everyone conforms here, I am not exaggerating when I say that even at lonely one lane side streets with not a car in sight, people still wait patiently at the side of the road until the crossing light turns green. It sort of feels like everyone's scared to break even a simple rule in case it results in the complete collapse of their society. Still, I have to say I love Tokyo. I will be back one day that's for sure.

Next stop, Kyoto.

Posted by joshuag 05:13 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo backpacking shinkansen rappongi gaspanic womb_nightclub womb Comments (0)

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