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
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
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.
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
Cherry blossom in Japan
To Japan from New Zealand
This was a day that we thought that we didn't have, as when Adrian first did the booking, he'd missed out 31st March! We both slept some, but the bedding was far too hot, and of course we had a 4 hour time change. We were surprised when we came to at 5.00am that it was light, and there was a clear blue sky. In fact it was a glorious day. Unfortunately it was peak time when we went down to breakfast, which was inclusive in this hotel and was superb. We had to wait in a queue to be seated, but by the time we'd finished, at 8.00, the place was almost empty. There was an impressive choice of both western and Japanese food, which was a self service buffet. What a shame that the other hotels we're staying at don't include breakfast. Back in our room, we sorted ourselves to catch the 9.00 shuttle bus back to the airport in order to catch the train into Tokyo (about 50 miles!) We had been amused at our loo, which had a 'bottom washing' button, but we later found that this was quite normal and that most toilet seats were heated too - what a contrast with Japanese ‘squat loos’ often found in public toilets!
At the vast airport, we succeeded in finding the right place to buy rail tickets and then found our way to the platform. The train came on time at 9.48. We were pleased that announcements were in English as well as Japanese. At first there was a lot of greenery and trees as we went towards Tokyo, with rectangular plots which we imagined were paddy fields. It was strange that yesterday it was autumn, and today spring! It felt rather like travelling up to London from Newbury as the nearer we got to the centre, the more built up it became. We arrived at massive Tokyo Station, and were pleased to find the platform very quiet. By the time we'd ascended 3 floors to the main part, it was really busy. It was a very long way to the exit for the taxi rank. When we emerged from the station, it felt rather like being in Times Square in New York. We had to wait for a taxi, and then we had a silent driver to take us to our hotel. We passed a lot of trees in blossom in parkland, and spent much time waiting at traffic lights, which was unfortunate, when taxi fares run by time as well as distance! We arrived at the Akasaka Crystal Hotel, in a narrow street lined with eating places, and got out to unload our bags. It was then that the taxi driver spoke - 'Money money'! The entrance to our hotel was by a lift to the first floor where the tiny lobby had a desk. The young girl didn't really speak English, but she did tell us that we couldn't book in until 2 o'clock. It was now 11.30, so we had to do a bit of sorting to leave our bags and go off until later. We needed to eat, as it was past lunchtime to us! We walked along the street, but all the menus were only in Japanese. We tried one just along the road, an atmospheric place where a girl led us upstairs. The menu was in Japanese too, but a young waitress came with a translation and tried to explain to us. Everything came with pork or chicken - there didn't seem to be any vegetarian options. We both chose a noodle dish - a 'soup' with noodles and a pork dumpling separately. Adrian's was a bit spicy, and eating the noodles was a bit difficult with a spoon so I resorted to chopsticks. We drank Japanese tea, which came in a thermos on the table.
Now it was time to go in search of the cherry blossom, which was the main reason for us coming to Japan. It's only out for about a week, and we'd heard that we'd got it right, as it depends on the weather. Adrian had done a lot of research into the Japanese part of our trip, and had worked out an itinerary. The entrance to the Akasaka-mitzuke station was right where we were, although the walk to the platform was a very long way. There is a labyrinth of passages underground, but we found the right way, and boarded the train to Kudanshita. When we emerged at street level, the cherry blossom hit us! It was prolific and just amazing. So were the crowds - the Japanese were there in their thousands. We had been prepared for that, so we just had to go with the crowd! The beauty of it hit me, and I was quite overcome. I felt a bit like I did when we first visited the Grand Canyon. I'd had a dream for many years of seeing the cherry blossom in Japan - and here it was, and on a perfect day too. The route took us past wide Chidorigafuchi Moat, with cherry blossom lining either side. People were out in little rowing boats below - when we passed the queue for them it was enormous!
We have discovered today that when you change trains, just because they are shown as the same station it does not mean the platforms are close. Otematchi Station, where we changed trains, is a good example - the distance between the exit barriers of one line and the entrance barriers to the next is 500m – and that does not include the long distance down to the platforms. We were both exhausted when we arrived back at our hotel. We stopped at a little bakers where we bought a well deserved cake to share. We found that our room had been well cleaned - including 2 new pairs of slippers and two clean Kimono dressing gowns! We ate at a tempura restaurant really close to our hotel. It was a very genuine place, packed when we arrived. We sat at a counter, and both really enjoyed a meal of various seafood items with rice, having tea poured for us repeatedly. When we came out, it began to rain, and everyone dashed about as if it had never happened before! We bought a bun for tomorrow's breakfast.
Saturday 2nd April More cherry blossom and temples in Tokyo
It didn't feel so hot in the night, so a better sleep. We both had a bath in the tiny bath before eating the pleasant bun we'd bought yesterday for breakfast. As the forecast was for a cooler day today, I wore my down coat for the first time this trip. We bought a sandwich for lunch again at Lawson's then at 9.30 set off on our first train of the day. We felt a bit more 'au fait' with things today as we bought our day ticket. We travelled to Ueno on a packed out train which brought back my days of strap hanging. We did get a seat after a while, when the train had got less crowded. The journey to Ueno, although a long way, was very quick and soon we were making our way into Ueno Park. There was masses of cherry blossom here, and it was another place where people came for their Hanami (cherry blossom festival) picnics. The ground beneath the cherry trees was covered in hundreds of blue groundsheets. It all seemed very organised, with tidy recycling collection places, and signs with 'dos and dont's'. You weren't allowed tents or tables, but some people had been inventive and used cardboard boxes as tables. If the groundsheets were left unattended, the 'clearers' removed them. There was no sign of any litter. There were crowds of visitors as there had been yesterday, and again the atmosphere was really pleasant and happy. We located a picnic area, with small round tables to stand at. We sat on a low wall to share a nice 'pain au chocolat' for elevenses.
We made our way through all the crowds to Senso-ji temple, where we sat to eat our lunch in a designated picnic area, which unfortunately had recently been watered. There were many young ladies in their kimonos, with their white socks and fancy 'flip-flops'. There were a lot of shrines in the large temple area, but I liked seeing a little Japanese garden. There were large carp in the pond. Near here there was a stall with free green tea, which was a nice touch, even if the tea was rather tepid.
We made our way towards the Sumida River, where there were more cherry trees and more picnic parties lining both banks. We walked across the river, looking to the tall Skytree Tower beyond. It would have looked better with a blue sky, as today was sadly grey, but at least dry. There were all sorts of food stalls here too. At one the waitresses were dressed in smart kimonos with enormously thick platform sandals, so the girls just crept along.
Now it was time to make our way to Skytree Station, which was along many ordinary streets, far removed from all the crowds. When we reached the station, we ascended an escalator and found ourselves in a large supermarket! It was now 3.15, and we were feeling pretty weary. The way to the part of the station we wanted was a long road walk. When we reached our platform, we weren't sure if it was the right train, and got on and off about 4 times! The Tokyo underground system is even more complicated than ours - OK if you know what you're doing! All went well - the train was very uncrowded. The station we alighted at was a different name, but adjacent to ours. Suddenly we were back, but called in first at a massive 'Bic Camera' store for Adrian to buy a new mouse to use on the plane (no bluetooth allowed). I couldn't believe 5 vast floors of electronic things, but we were successful. It was 4.30 when we came back to our room, having asked reception to book a taxi for 6.00am tomorrow for us to go to Tokyo Station to catch the Bullet train to Kyoto. We decided to go back to the tempura restaurant almost next to us for supper, but it wasn't so good tonight – the batter wasn't as crisp. We then walked to Lawsons to get something to take for breakfast tomorrow, but they hadn't got anything to appeal to us, so we had to make do with some packaged buns from another shop. We came back to our room to the daunting task of sorting our bags for our trip to Kyoto, leaving our main bags at Tokyo Station.
The alarm went at 5.00 am and we ready for the taxi to Tokyo Station at 6.00. The polite lady driver had already arrived, with her lacy seat covers. We had to pay extra for the taxi coming to pick us up, as we knew. We checked out and said goodbye to the pleasant staff. This hotel had been fine, just that the room was so poky. It was a miserable, wet morning and everywhere was very quiet. We passed some cherry trees in bloom on our way to the station. Tokyo Station was a nightmare! It is massive, and first we needed to find lockers to deposit our large bags while we went to Kyoto for the night. Not knowing where to go, we asked an official, but he, trying to be helpful, directed us to the left luggage department, which we didn't want! We luckily found some lockers ourselves, and sorted our bags, while a chap slept it off opposite. We had to use two lockers, and follow the system, which used no keys. Now with only our light luggage we had to find the right line and platform, and resorted to asking a uniformed man. We were glad that we had plenty of time before our train left at 7.03 and weren't rushing.
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. The train left on time, but ran so smoothly that I hadn't realised we'd left. It stopped at another station, and I wondered where the people had come from, as again, it was so smooth. We ate the buns we'd bought last night for breakfast. Adrian was really happy, as he'd always wanted to travel on the Bullet Train. We both would like to have seen Mt Fuji, but that didn't happen with today's poor visibility. The sun did try to break through, but didn't ever make it. The landscape couldn't be called exciting. It was a long time until we got out of the vast city of Tokyo (38 million people), where we did see some cherry blossom, but then we passed through flat countryside with crops growing - notably rice. We passed a few more large cities, and there was a nice mountainous stretch, then after 2¾ hours s (514 Km – 319 miles) we pulled into Kyoto Station. This was big, busy and frenetic. As well as all the crowds, there were announcements in a high pitched shrill gabble. Somehow we managed to find our way to the underground, where, with the help of a nice man, we bought our one day tickets. We were only travelling 2 stops now, which was lucky, as the train was packed. Our hotel was close by. It had a large entrance lobby, a bit different from our last hotel! It was 10.15, and book-in wasn't until 12.00, but we could leave our bags. We had to transfer stuff so that we only had with us what we needed. A luggage attendant waited while we did so. Now, with just our day stuff, we made our way back to the station, climbing down the six flights of stairs we'd ascended earlier! We got to our line and platform to await the next train. The set up was like Singapore, with a wall in front of the track, and opening doors where the doors of the train would arrive. This train was packed too, but we did get a seat. We were pleased to find that when we reached Keage (having changed trains) there were escalators to get up to street level! When we came out, cherry trees lined the street Adrian had done an enormous amount of work at home to organise this part of our trip. He had worked out an itinerary, which we followed, cutting out many extras. We were planning today to walk the Philosophers walk, but first we unexpectedly came to an area with lots of cherry trees in blossom, and of course lots of people. This wasn't even on his list! The path went up an incline, with rail tracks, so we just enjoyed that first. It seems it was the Biwako incline built in 1890 and was part of the Biwa canal to take boats from one level to another, but sadly we didn't have time to explore it.
I'd hoped to write the diary on the train, but found it too bumpy. We pulled into Tokyo Station at 4.40, and that's when the real hell began! As dear Uncle Ali used to say, if you don't like it, don't travel! We found our way somehow to the lockers where we'd left our main luggage. While Adrian worked out how to retrieve the bags, I needed to dash off to the loo, which was a really long way away, and then had a long queue. When I finally returned, Adrian was very worried as he thought that I must have got lost in this massive station. Now, with all our luggage, we had to catch a bus to Haneda Airport. Nothing told us where to go, so we traipsed around all over the place. We asked one person after another, crossing roads at the infernal pedestrian crossings with their long waiting times. When we did reach the bus stop, a sign said that it had moved! Back over all the roads we had to go. Finally we got there - and it was half an hour to the next bus! We'd missed one in all our chasing around. At 6.05, we were at last on the bus to the airport. A bonus was that as it was now dark, we saw some of Tokyo lit up - Tokyo Tower and the 115m Odaiba ‘Ferris’ wheel were really impressive. The bus reached the international terminal, after going round and round in circles to two domestic terminals first. We then had the hell of trying to find where the shuttle bus to the hotel stopped. Adrian got a trolley, and we traipsed up and over to reach ground level twice before we finally got to the shuttle bus stops. Two drivers I asked chuckled, then looked up a timetable - and told us that there were no shuttle buses to Mystay Hotel until 10 o'clock! (it was now 7.15). Our best bet it seemed was to take a taxi. This meant up and over again, and down to the taxi rank. By then I was really losing it, but we did get to the taxi rank, and when we'd worked out the procedure, got a taxi to our hotel. A 'puppet like' receptionist booked us in, and sure enough, shuttle buses only run in the morning from this hotel! We took all our stuff up to our room, coming straight back down for something to eat at the 'cafe', our only option. Unbelievably, the girl told us, (when we managed to understand correctly), that they were closed until 8 o'clock! Back to our room we had to go, where we revived with a cup of tea - all we had. We went back down at 8 o'clock. The menu was limited, but we ordered fish and chips, with a beer/wine. Although a bit 'packaged, it was what we needed. We ordered breakfast for the morning and came back up to our room.
We were up before 6 o'clock to get ready for our flight home. Breakfast was an interesting selection of Japanese and western food. We were intrigued by 'egg winding out' and 'squirting vipe kelp'! We were ready plenty early for our shuttle to Haneda airport. It was a very grey and wet day, and people had their umbrellas. We arrived at the airport at 9 o'clock, which was too soon to book in, but it wasn't long before we joined the long snake of people waiting to do so! We were in the queue for 45 minutes before it was our turn. Our male assistant was really pleasant. Our e-ticket said 2 check in bags each, so we'd packed my 'sausage' bag as luggage. He said it was only one bag each, but as our e-ticket said two, let us have it. The airport was calm and quiet after the frenetic trains and buses. Our departure lounge was really close, so by 10 o'clock we were there waiting for our 11.40 flight.
Adrian changed our spare money back, and with the change we bought a tea/coffee which we had with a small croissant brought from breakfast. The odd coins left went into a charity box for world wide disaster fund. We found a plug for the computer and Adrian read through yesterday's diary. Our flight left on time. We had 'twoer' seats near the rear of the plane, which were quite spacious. We could see Tokyo as we took off, before going into cloud. The sky cleared again as we came to the coast, and we then flew over a sparsely populated island in the Sea of Japan. When we came to land again, it was over Russia, not far from Vladivostok, which excited us both. Whenever we did see land, is was vast icy wastes with winding frozen rivers, but after our really good veggie meal, we were asked to put the blinds down. This always annoys me, when it is daytime. I felt like a naughty schoolgirl each time I pushed up the blind to look out! We flew over Siberia, and I wanted to see it, not snuggle down to sleep like other passengers!
We utilised our time doing some of the website, after our hectic time in Japan, but had to stop when the battery ran out. I then watched a very moving and beautifully acted film called Hana's miso soup, in Japanese with subtitles. I also finished reading the book 'Malala', certainly a remarkable girl. Nearing home, we flew over Finland, landing on time in sunshine at Heathrow at 4.30pm, which was 12.30 am to us! I was told that there was a wheelchair for me, which I didn't really want, but we were glad to have the buggy ride afterwards, as we avoided all the massive queues for passport control. We collected our luggage, and on walking out, there were John & Jackie to meet us. It was lovely to think that we had no more trains or buses to catch! It felt a bit chilly, but we enjoyed seeing all the daffodils as we were driven back to Hermitage. It was good to see some spring colour in the garden after another really fantastic trip.
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!