Wednesday 30th March Farewell New Zealand; hello Japan
We were up just before 6 o'clock, when the alarm went off. Even so, it was a last minute rush to be ready for our 7 o'clock shuttle bus to the airport. We had a really chatty pleasant Asian driver who constantly asked questions, particularly of the young Australian honeymoon couple, but also of us and the other passengers - a Chinese couple. He related to everywhere talked about - he had either been there or knew someone living there.
Auckland airport was more hellish than anywhere we've been. Despite being early in the day, it was packed out, and there were queues for everything - self check in and self bag drop then security. There was more 'shop grot' than anywhere too.
On boarding the plane for our 9.45 flight, we were surprised to find that we didn't have a window seat, which we usually have. Not surprisingly, most of the passengers were Japanese. We always order vegetarian meals, but the salmon or scrambled egg of the 'normal' meals would have been a better option this time!
The 11 hour flight passed very quickly, with us both watching various films. In fact we landed a bit earlier than we'd expected.
It was 4.15pm local time when we touched down at Tokyo Narita Airport (8.15pm to us). We always book special assistance for me, which I don't usually use, but this time, as we stepped off the plane, there was Nosaka with a wheelchair with Rosemary Bower on a label! I was ready to decline, but Adrian said to take it. This was probably a good idea, as the amount of walking exceeded any airport we know! It also meant that we had no waiting for immigration or passport control. Nosaka checked through (and corrected) our immigration forms, so it was all much easier than it might have been. We collected our bags, then made a long journey downstairs to try to book the train into Tokyo tomorrow (Narita Airport is about 50 miles out!) Adrian gave up on this though, as the queue was so long. Nosaka then wheeled me back up to where we could catch the shuttle bus. He was a very pleasant chap, and jokingly said he had given us a good first impression of Japan. After a few minutes, we were on the bus for the journey to the Narita Tobu Hotel, only a short distance away, but with many hold-ups at traffic lights.
We both agreed that apart from the Japanese writing (although signs were generally in English too), the airport could have been anywhere. We did notice very many Japanese wearing masks over their noses and mouths.
We were pleased to find that we had a very spacious room - on the 12th floor and overlooking the airport. Adrian took a photo of the red sun before it disappeared into misty cloud.
View from our window of Tokyo’s Narita airport
Thursday 31st March Cherry blossom, cherry blossom!
Our first meal in Japan in our busy street
We walked right down to where a motorway had been built, so that it had to be negotiated. The blossom on the other side wasn't so prolific. Hundreds of people were sitting on picnic rugs on a very brown lawn in the park.
We now made our way to the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace - another 'must see' place. Just before getting there, a man came up and gave us a leaflet on the gardens in English, which was really helpful. The gardens were grand, but after seeing the cherry blossom took a while to impress us! There was some more cherry blossom here, and also camellias and iris japonica (Japanese irises of course!) Many of the fine species of trees were named - and in English too - we are very lucky that English is the other language for things to be written in. There were still plenty of visitors here.
The glorious cherry blossom by Chidorigafuchi Moat
We found our way out of the gardens (there weren't many exits), and then searched for the best way back to our hotel. We located an entrance to the station we wanted, but once again had a mammoth trail underground before we found the right line. It was rather like the London underground, so I felt quite at home, remembering my teenage years.
The station exit was right by our hotel, so we went now to book in. The girl we'd seen before fetched another girl, who spoke some English, but not fluently. She asked if we'd like our room cleaned. As we're staying for 3 days, we were a bit puzzled but think that she meant what time would we like it cleaned.
When we got to our room, it was really tiny - none of the spaciousness of last night - and much more expensive, but it is in central Tokyo. We wondered where we would put our bags! There was a double bed, but no storage space or wardrobe. There was a fridge, a kettle with cups on a shelf, and a 'portable' safe! The bathroom even had a tiny bath, and lots of 'goodies', including a 'sleep well' lavender spray - maybe to overcome the rumbling from the trains!
Later in the evening, we went in search of supper. No shortage of eating places, but everything was written in Japanese only! A place took our eye, so we ventured upstairs to it. It was a good choice! Busy with Japanese customers, we were shown a menu in English, and chose a dish for 2 people of 7 different raw fish. It came on a large basket platter, lined with shredded vegetable, and all labelled - but in Japanese! With soya sauce, It was all very tasty. We drank a Japanese beer, and also had an 'appetiser' which the waitress said each customer had, but it came with a cover charge. It seemed to be tuna in 'gravy'!
Different aspects of the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace
Afterwards we enjoyed walking back along the bustling street, calling in at one of the little stores to buy a bottle of wine for another day! It had been a good day!
Super seafood meal
Friday 1st April Shrines and more cherry blossom
The duvet was really thick again, so I hadn't slept much. When we were both awake at 4.00am, Adrian suggested putting the Kimono dressing gown over us instead, left in the room for us with the slippers, and that was much more comfortable. I'd wondered what use a Kimono dressing gown in such a small room would have!
We ate quite a good breakfast, using extras brought with us from yesterday's breakfast!
We'd decided to visit the parks south of us today. Unlike yesterday, things didn't go well at first. We wasted much time. First we went back to the hotel to get my caggy as the day didn't seem as warm as yesterday. Then we had an unsuccessful trail for an ATM machine as we needed more money. None seemed to work.
Finally we went into the station. We needed to buy a joint day ticket, as we were planning to use the two different rail companies. This caused us problems, as we didn't know how to go about it. We found an assistant to ask, and he came out of his office, opened up an 'out of order' ticket machine, and sorted it for us! That is typical of the way we have been treated here.
Now we took a train to Shibuya Station. When we reached street level, we looked out to a 'Picadilly Circus' place. The thing to see here was the way that all pedestrian lights change together, and masses of people walk across the street in all directions.
We joined them, as we were still looking to get some money. Nothing worked. Adrian asked in a bank, and the helpful assistant directed us to a bank which he said would work for us, but we didn't find it. After much wandering about, we located a 7/11 store with an 'International' ATM, and that did work, even if it gave the money in large denominations.
We returned to the station, feeling quite tired before we'd even started, especially as it was a great long trail to our platform. Things still didn't work out, as we weren't sure which train to go on. It's difficult when everything is in Japanese, with just a quick flash of English. We let a train leave, as we thought it wasn't ours. A lovely young Japanese lady, seeing that we were both getting stressed, asked if she could help, and ran off to confirm with the stationmaster that the next train was ours. (both directions seemed to be using one platform, as the other one didn't seem to be in use.)
We now took a packed train to Meiji-jingumae station, where, after miles of trailing along passages and up escalators we climbed loads of steps to emerge opposite Yoyogi-Koen Park. There was a huge entrance arch into a wide path lined by massive trees.
All cross the street together!
We needed to sit down, and finally found a rough concrete seat to sit on and revive with the drinks we'd brought with us. It was now 11.30, and we'd left the hotel at 9.30!
We walked on through the fine park, which housed the shrine of the Emperor Meiji. This was a grand affair, where you weren't supposed to take photos, but Adrian already had! The emperor and his wife had been greatly esteemed. There were masses of enormous trees in the park, many of which had been planted in their honour, but we only saw one or two of the supposed 600 cherry trees.
Entrance gate to Yoyogi-Koen Park
On the wide drive
We now had some street walking to get to the next park. The roads were very busy and confusing, but we triumphantly found our way to Shinjuku Gyoen Gardens. These were lovely and a great success. It was a vast open park, with lots of trees, including masses of cherry trees. People were seated all over the large brown lawn on rugs, enjoying picnics, and surrounded by beautiful cherry trees. We joined them to eat our sandwich lunch bought in 'Lawson's'! this morning. It was wonderful to be part of this happy crowd, using my caggy as our mat. There were lots of small children playing with balloons and bubbles or just running about. It was a lovely atmosphere. A friendly man got chatting to us, wanting to know where we came from and asking all sorts of questions. He took our photo for us.
The shrine of the Emperor Meiji
Straw wrapped barrels of sake offered to the Emperor Meiji
We now made our way to Kokuritsu-kyogijo station for another train ride, this time to Shiba Park. When we reached it, there were again a lot of cherry trees. Dozens of groundsheets were spread on the ground, with just one or two young people sitting on them. We didn't realise at the time, but of course this was for Hanami, the cherry blossom festival. We climbed up a great many steps to where more people were gathered. Several small children were scampering down the almost vertical slopes.
Shinjuku Gyoen Gardens
We could see Tokyo Tower from here, but the sky had become grey, so it wasn't that good a view. We walked through the Buddhist shrine of Zōjō-ji where they were setting up a lot of stalls for Hanami.
Hanami in Shiba Park
Now it was time to make our way to Onarimon station, and to catch two different trains back, with all the traipsing around that that entailed!
Tokyo Tower and the Zōjō-ji shrine
Strap hanging on the underground
Saturday 2nd April More cherry blossom and temples in Tokyo
Flight path New Zealand to Japan
We came to an area with temples.
Fun in Ueno Park - note the litter bins
We found our way out to the lake, where more people were picnicking under the cherry trees. There were a lot of birds on the lake, including coots, herons and tufted ducks.
Pagoda of Kaneiji Temple
Flame of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Having had our fill of atmosphere here, we made our way back to Ueno Station to catch the train to Asakusa. This train was busy too, and so was the place when we alighted. The street was packed with little shops and tempting eating places. It was a fun, touristy area. There were rickshaws with the young 'drivers' running along pulling their passengers.
Shinobazu Pond in Ueno Park - Tokyo’s most visited park
Busy street in Asakusa
On a bridge across the river there was some sort of display by ladies in flamenco costumes, but it never really happened.
Kimono clad waitresses
Crossing the Sumida River
Strange place to find flamenco dancers!
Looking up to Skytree
Sunday 3rd April Bullet Train to Kyoto
The train actually arrived early, so we found our way to our numbered seats (Adrian had booked places on the train). He was a bit anxious until the route came up in English and knew that we were on the right train.
Our bullet train to Kyoto
We then joined the crowds walking towards Nanzen-ji temple. There were lots of shrines and temples, including Eiken do Zenrin-ji, on the way, and lots of people and lots of blossom!
Cherry blossom lines the Biwako incline
We were both feeling rather weary after our early start and all those stairs. We found a little cafe which was decorated with displays of old cameras, and was playing classical music. The menu was rather limited, but we ordered an egg/tuna toasted sandwich. Really we just wanted to sit! A nice waiter refilled our glasses of water several times! The food was OK, and 'interesting' - mine like an omelet sandwich! The real joy was the waitress, who was a Japanese 'Sybil' from Fawlty Towers!
After lunch, we got to the 'Philosophers walk,' a 2km walk beside little Lake Biwal canal, bedecked with cherry blossom all the way. There were crowds too of course! There were some little food stalls here and there. We bought a 'jam waffle' from a stall where we watched them being expertly cooked.
Memorabilia in the cafe
Having enjoyed the Philosophers walk - the one thing I'd wanted to do in Kyoto, we made our way uphill towards Ginkaku-ji Temple. The crowds continued, as did the stalls. It cost 500 yen (£3) each to enter the 'palace', but in fact, you only visited the gardens.
We followed a set route, along with everybody else. Nobody said anything about it climbing rough steps way uphill, and then back down again! It was a different garden though, with lovely trees, and much moss - very Japanese.
On the Philosophers Walk, Kyoto
Back out in the busy street, we both tried a 'green tea icecream'! We drink green tea at home, but hadn't realised what a big thing green tea is in Japan. All sorts of things are made from it.
We walked back down the pedestrian street, hoping to get a taxi when we reached the road. Our luck was in, as the traffic was stopped, and a taxi driver indicated that he was free. We wanted to get to the Imperial Palace, 5 or 6 km away. Our driver was willing, but with very little English, the journey that followed was most amusing! He had no idea where we wanted to go, and thought that it must be a hotel. Thank goodness for a tablet! Adrian found our route on it, and directed the driver, using every trick we could think of. It worked in the end, and we got there, but it sometimes felt a bit like playing charades!
The actual palace isn't open on Sundays, but we wanted to see something of the gardens. These were vast, a rather elegant park, with several areas - we entered near the baseball playing area. We followed some of the extra wide drives, but preferred the little windy paths under the trees. After all the crowds, this was beautifully peaceful. There were a few people about, and just one or two sitting under the cherry trees - a pleasant ending to today's 'tour'!
We found our way out and to the station to catch the train back to our hotel. After all the stairs we had to climb up to get out of the station, we both felt weary, but had energy enough to call in at a little shop to buy a bottle of wine before getting to our hotel. When we booked in - a girl had already fetched our bags for us.
Our room was very much larger than last night's - we even had a settee and a wardrobe. We enjoyed a well earned cup of tea (green of course!).
There were two restaurants downstairs in the hotel, one Chinese and one Japanese. We thought that we'd try the Japanese one, so later we made our way down there. It looked a bit smart, but after a short while, we were shown to a table. We sat there for several minutes, but nobody came near us. We both felt rather uncomfortable, so got up and left. We tried the Chinese restaurant, but that didn't look very friendly either.
We walked out into the street. We passed one or two eating places, but with everything written in Japanese only, it was difficult. Then we saw a sign to 'restaurants and cafes', and walked down into a sort of underground mall. We settled on a sushi restaurant, and it was a good choice! This certainty had character. We had lots of different sushi items between us, and it was good. We walked back to our hotel, calling in at a shop to buy a 'bun' for breakfast.
Imperial Palace Gardens
Super sushi meal
Monday 4th April A castle, a shrine and the 1.56 pm bullet train to Tokyo! Phew! And that was the easy part!
We were awake early and ate our sugary bun for breakfast. We hadn't brought the computer with us, only the tablet, so had no music and couldn't do the website or photos.
We booked out of the hotel for the start of our busy day, when everything was hard won!
We had a slow start, as Adrian was 180° out on direction, so we had trouble in locating the bus stop to got to Nijo Castle. We'd found a 7/11 store to use the international ATM.
The bus was just as packed as the underground, but had the added problem of the interminable waits at traffic lights.
We reached Nijo castle, one of the many World heritage sights, found the entrance and paid our money. Then we had to follow the 'route', along with all the other hundreds of people!
I was pleased to have had our rushed visit, but we had to get on so came out and found our way to the bus stop. We had just missed a bus, so we had a long wait, and time was running out. At least this bus wasn't so busy and we even got seats.
We got back to our hotel and collected our bags.
Then we went to the underground and bought tickets to Kyoto Station. Once there, we found our way to the JR (Japan Railways) terminal to get the bullet train back to Tokyo.
We found the way to our platform with 20 minutes to spare!
Once we got on the train, we ate the sandwiches we'd bought this morning, and at gone 2 o'clock they tasted good!
There was heavy cloud, but visibility was mostly better than yesterday, so the scenery looked more interesting. I saw lots of cherry trees in flower. Most importantly, we did get a brief glimpse of Mt Fuji! We'd been looking out, although we didn't know exactly where to look, when there it was! Almost immediately it got engulfed in cloud again.
The tour of the palace became purgatory for me, as we slowly walked around the vast place, with everybody dawdling. There wasn't much to see - large Japanese murals with birds and trees, and a few figures. I find it difficult walking around National Trust properties unless I go at my own speed, so here I just wanted to get out, but couldn't, as we were following the 'route'. No photos were allowed. There was little else to see, and I found it too much.
When we did get outside, it had rained, and anyway, there was nowhere at all to sit - all steps were barred off. We did walk past an attractive pond area with nice trees and huge rocks.
I spied some seats at a little outdoor hut - but this was really the smoking area. Nevertheless, we still sat down to revive with our tea/coffee.
Outside the grounds, we found our way back to catch the bus to Kinkaku-ji. When this came, it was more packed than ever. When we thought that the bus was full to overflowing, even more people squashed on!
Put your shoes here!
We came to the massive palace and took off our shoes at the entrance - little room to do this, and you were shouted at if you stepped on the carpet to take them off. I wish that I'd been wearing slip-ons!
The entrance to Nijo Castle
The rock garden at Nijo Castle
Kimono girls pose for a photo
And when we'd made the trek to the temple, there were long queues to pay. We only had a short time, so we each got in a queue. My determination won out, and I paid the 400 yen each to see this 'golden temple'. The sight of the golden temple surrounded by a pond with beautiful trees reflected was something to behold, but once more we had to follow 'the route'. This went up a long stretch of steps and back round. Assistants were noisily directing everyone - not the way I like to visit somewhere, and I won't miss that!
Umbrella reflections in the bus window
Kinkaku-ji - the Golden Temple
The best we could do of Mt Fuji through the train window
This is what it could look like
Tuesday 5th April From Tokyo to Hermitage - the end of a fantastic trip
Our flightpath from Tokyo to London
Japan and Japanese (Tokyo, Kyoto)
Always crowds of people
Very long waits at traffic lights
No jay walking - always wait for green light
People seemed happy
People were obedient
Some ladies ran with little steps
Many young ladies were wearing kimonos
'Hanami' had enormous crowds
Very orderly, no litter
People were very polite and helpful
English was the only other language used
Cities were massive with non-stop tower blocks
Most toilets had heated seats and 'bottom washing' buttons
In contrast, there were Japanese squat loos
There weren't many pet dogs
Many people had high pitched voices
Some Favourite places and things
Abel Tasman National Park & Cape Farewell
Akaroa & Banks Peninsula at the start of our travels
Takerie Gorge railway, Dunedin - fabulous scenery
Stewart Island - lovely day when all went well
Peter's lookout to Mt Cook
Catlin Lake - our own idyll
Haynes Hardware Store - 'museum' in a shop
Hinds - chap with old cars and 'bits'
Milford Sound- amazing waterfalls in the rain: observatory
Oraka on Mahia Peninsula - quiet lagoon overnighter
Wanganui - paddle steamer on Whanganui River
East Coast beaches near Gisborne - Tolaga Bay, Tokomani Bay, Waipiro Bay