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Terminating in Tokyo

Cherry Blossom Adventures - Tokyo & Mount Fuji

all seasons in one day 18 °C
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Leaving our very excitable host in Kyoto, we made our way over to the station to catch the bullet train I had reserved the day before, bound for Tokyo. The Japanese capital would in fact be the last of our bases on this trip, staying here for the final four nights of this East Asian adventure.

Sitting in the reserved part of the train, we had a bit more room around us for bags which made the trip more comfortable, even if it was only for a few hours. The one thing I didn't get to do last time I was in Tokyo, was see Mount Fuji. Unfortunately, the humid summer air meant seeing it from the city was too difficult. This time we had more opportunities, and our first would be on our way to Tokyo - through the city of Fuji.

Seeing the mountain is always difficult, as the weather conditions need to be just right. Having researched when we would be able to gain a view, as we headed through the last hill before the city, we got up and headed towards the window at the door (all of the seats on this side were already booked when I requested our seats the night before). However our luck was not in, and the unseasonably warm humid air blocked the view, with us just managing to catch a glimpse of the snow peak through the haze. Never mind, there would be more opportunities!

Fuji through the haze

Fuji through the haze

Not long after, we arrived in the heart of Tokyo city. With our Japanese rail passes still valid for a few more days, and a good network of local rail in the city, it wasn't even necessary for us to use the metro initially. We got on a local train and headed to our hotel - the same one I had stayed in 4.5 years earlier. After dropping off our bags, we headed back into the city, deciding to visit the central sights, beginning with the Pokemon shop inside the station.

Pokemon Store

Pokemon Store

After taking a look inside the shop, we headed outside the station and made our way around the corner to the Imperial Gardens. It was yet another beautiful hot and sunny day in Japan, and we enjoyed a walk around this idyll in the middle of metropolis.

Imperial East Gardens

Imperial East Gardens

After a lot of travelling already, and ample time in the city, we headed to get some food before making our way back to our hotel for a break. Once it got dark we then headed back out and made our way to the Senso-ji Shrine in Asakusa. By day this a bustling shopping street and active shrine, but by night it's a more peaceful and lit up attraction.

Senso-ji by night

Senso-ji by night

After enjoying views of the beautiful complex, we headed back for our first night's sleep in the city.

Lanterns at Senso-ji

Lanterns at Senso-ji

The following morning the weather had changed completely - after a week and a half of warm summer weather, it was now down 10˚C, feeling much more like early April.

Having not been able to see Mount Fuji very well on the train to Tokyo, we planned to visit the Fuji Five Lakes area for a better view. With our Japan Rail passes ending the following day - giving us free travel on most of the trains to this area, we were trying to make the most of it, as well as using the weather forecasts in order get the best views of the mountain. Annoyingly as the weather had changed, clouds were coming in making the opportunity to view Mt Fuji even more limited.

It now looked very iffy we would get to see the mountain at all, but tomorrow looked more promising and so we gambled and spent today in the city. After having a lie in, we headed out to view some of the sights outside the centre centre - starting with the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese war dead (including war criminals from WWII) are commemorated.

Yasukuni Shrine

Yasukuni Shrine


Takeshita Street

Takeshita Street

We then headed over to the Harajuku area, heading straight out of the station and down Takeshita Street, a popular shopping street full of novelty and small gifts. After buying a few keyrings and doing a loop of the area, we then headed into Yoyogi park and towards the Imperial Meiji Jingu Shrine.

Rice Barrels in Yoyogi Park

Rice Barrels in Yoyogi Park

Heading back out of the park we then walked south towards Shibuya, and the bustling crossing in the heart of the area. We stopped at the Starbucks that looks over the crossing and sat watching the huge amount of people crossing in all directions every minute.

Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya Crossing


Tokyo Tower overlooking Zojo-ji Shrine

Tokyo Tower overlooking Zojo-ji Shrine

Our last sight for the day was the Tokyo Tower, from the Zojo-ii Shrine, where upon arrival we found a service was being carried out.

Service inside Zojo-ji

Service inside Zojo-ji

After watching part of the service, we then headed to Tokyo Bay, for views over the port area.

Tokyo Bay

Tokyo Bay

We then headed back to our hotel for a rest before we headed out for dinner. Originally we had planned to go for Ramen, and with us wanting to head to Shinjuku we found a few places to visit. However as suspected, even early there were long long queues, and with it being quite chilly, we decided to scrap that and eat at Burger King. We can always have Ramen at home!

Kabukicho

Kabukicho

After eating, we took a tour around the Kabukicho area, which is famous for it's LED lights and billboards, before heading back to the hotel for some well earned sleep.

The following morning we got up early and headed to Shinjuku station for our trip outside the city, to the Fuji Five Lakes area. The weather still looked iffy, but there was a better chance of seeing the mountain earlier. Using our Japan Rail passes for the last day, we spent an hour or so on the train heading outside the city before changing at Otsuki to a private line, that would take us the final journey to Fujiyoshida. As we headed up the valley it became clear that we would see Mount Fuji, as the huge mountain dominated the backdrop.

Mount Fuji - finally

Mount Fuji - finally

We got off at a small local station, that was clearly a tourist draw, as signs led us all the way to the Chureito Pagoda. Making the most of the views, which could be scuppered at any moment by the ominous clouds, we headed up the steep hillside towards the top. Chris paused halfway whilst I continued, in what was one of the biggest struggles I've ever faced! Two weeks of exhaustion against the strong winds in a rush against time almost seemed impossible.

The amazing view

The amazing view

Nevertheless I made it, and the views were worth it. As Cherry Blossom had come early this year, it meant that although there was nothing left in Tokyo, this area was full! Approximately two weeks earlier than normal. It meant we got to see one of the most picture perfect views that are in many of the tourist guidebooks. Our luck clearly was in! And after taking some photos, Chris had also made it to the top and we took in some of the breathtaking views.

We then headed back down to the train station, and eventually back to the city. It was a lot of faffing about, spending about 6 hours getting there and back just for 10 minutes of views, but it was worth it.

Our last thing to do in the city, was head back to the Senso-ji shrine, this time during the day, and grab some souvenirs. After grabbing some dinner we then got some sleep before our last full day on this long trip.

Shopping at Senso-ji

Shopping at Senso-ji

Having overestimated how much time we needed, we had already seen everything in the city, with a day to spare. Therefore we decided to spend out last day at Tokyo Disneyland. It had been years since either of us had been to Disneyland, and so this was a nice experience. With the sun shining, we headed out early to the park early to try and beat some of the weekend rush.

Tokyo Disneyland

Tokyo Disneyland

Starting with Westernland, we headed onto Pirates of the Caribbean and the Jungle Cruise before the queues got so long. Whilst we waited in the queue for Thunder Mountain however, the sunshine was masked by clouds, not to be seen again. The wind was picking up, as were the length of the queues.

We continued around, heading inside the Haunted Mansion and the Snow White ride, before we headed over to Tomorrowland. Japan is generally quite warm, and so the park is not built to break the wind - despite this being on a reclaimed island in Tokyo Bay, and with long queues, it meant for a freezing experience, for which we certainly weren't dressed accordingly.

After waiting over an hour and a half for the Buzz Lightyear ride, we went inside the gift shops to warm up and wait for the parade. However just before it was due to start, there was an announcement that because of the wind this would not take place - hardly surprising, but a real shame. We headed back to the Star Tours ride, luckily most of the queue here being inside, before cutting out losses and heading back to our hotel.

After two busy weeks it had been an amazing adventure, we were thoroughly exhausted and now just had the ridiculously long journey back.

With this being the peak time to visit Japan, flights were not cheap. There were two flights each from Tokyo to Beijing and Beijing to London, but taking the combination with just 4 hours to transfer was twice as expensive as that with 7. We therefore took the cheaper option, even if this did mean we would be travelling for 24 hours.

Getting up at 3am in Japan, we headed on the first train to the airport, eventually leaving Japan at 7:20am. We flew west, heading right over Mount Fuji, getting great aerial views of the iconic mountain.

Views over Mount Fuji

Views over Mount Fuji

Eventually, after circling the city for ages, over three hours later we had arrived in Beijing. Originally it was possible that we may leave some things in the city for this return leg, and use the 5 hours to sit about, to explore the city. However having seen everything we wanted two weeks ago, as knowing how much time would be wasted to get down there, we instead decided to stay in the airport.

Airport Lounge

Airport Lounge

Transferring for over four hours meant we also got free access to an airport lounge, which although wasn't the best, did give us free food and drinks. Despite not being able to connect to most of the internet, time went by quite quickly, and before we knew it, it was time to board our final flight of the trip, the long 10 hours back to London.

Having exhausted not only the entertainment, but also ourselves - despite not being able to sleep for fear of worsening our jetlag, this was a tough journey. By the end of the flight eating was a struggle, and so was staying awake. I even napped for an hour with Chris unable to wake me back up.

Sunset over Siberia

Sunset over Siberia

Arriving back in London was a relief, but having been awake for over 24 hours, also a struggle. Waiting for ages to get our bag back evetually we made it out, to find my dad who picked us up and took us home. Eventually we made it to bed - but only after having been awake for 28 hours!

Nevertheless, even with all these struggles the trip was amazing, fascinating and totally worth it!

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 13:06 Archived in Japan Tagged park temple mountain airport palace train city shrine themepark eastasia Comments (0)

Shrine City

Cherry Blossom Adventures - Kyoto

semi-overcast 23 °C
View Cherry Blossom Adventures on kmmk17's travel map.

Travelling via Himeji, by mid afternoon we had arrived in Kyoto. After being helped out of the right exit in Kyoto's huge station by some locals, we stopped by the supermarket before heading to our hotel.

Our Ryokan

Our Ryokan

After staying in a hotel with an onsen in Hiroshima, Kyoto was providing us with our most traditional hotel setting - a ryokan, a traditional Japanese style inn. Part of the reason for this wasn't just to add something traditional to our trip, but also because it was much much cheaper.

The trip itself was planned for over a year, and back in June I had had a quick look to see the status of hotels during the peak season. By then, still 9 months in advance, 80% of hotels were already booked. Although sharing a toilet and sleeping on mats on the floor for three nights wasn't ideal, it was £150 more for a Love Hotel in the suburbs, or £50 on top of that for the next cheapest hotel. Therefore we decided to rough it. It would be traditional, the location was good, and it wasn't for too long.

Arriving at the hotel, we were greeted warmly by the owner, who despite not having the best English was very chatty. After grabbing dinner we settled in for the night on our straw mats.

Inside our room

Inside our room

The following morning, after an uncomfortable sleep, we headed out for the first of our two days in the city. After sorting out our two day transport passes, we then headed out of the city to the Daigo-ji shrine, to the south east of the city.

Daigo-ji

Daigo-ji

Kyoto was coming towards the end of the cherry blossom season, and in a few days it would all be gone, but whilst we were here at least we got to see the city of Shrines covered in cherry blossom.

After arriving at the nearby train station, it was just a ten minute walk up the hill to the shrine, with the grounds covered in cherry trees. We started by heading to the Buddhist temple at the end of the complex, which is reflected below into a large pool of water. It was at this beautiful spot that I proposed to Chris.

Engaged

Engaged

After he accepted, we enjoyed the special moment before continuing with our sightseeing. We walked around the shrine itself, before heading to the hall at the entrance, where there was a beautifully landscaped and zen garden.

Zen Garden

Zen Garden

Sitting in the already warm morning heat, we enjoyed the surroundings before heading off to our next sight in the city, the Philosopher's Walk. This old canal is lined with cherry blossom, and thus was a real visual treat during this week.

Philosopher's Walk

Philosopher's Walk

It was full of people, including newlyweds taking photos, but we still managed to enjoy the views and stopped for an ice-cream pudding. Annoyingly for a city this size, there is a very limited metro and train network, with a reliance on buses. With many many people in the city at this time it made the journeys generally quite uncomfortable, but nevertheless we still managed. With it already being early afternoon, we headed to our last area of the day - Gion. We started at the Yasaka shrine in Maruyama park, which was teaming with street food and visitors.

Gion

Gion

We then headed off through the Geisha areas in the heart of Gion, before reaching the Kiyomizu-dera wooden hilltop shrine. Unfortunately it was undergoing renovation, so we weren't able to see it in it's full glory, but there were still grand views over the valley below.

Kiyomizu-dera

Kiyomizu-dera

After a busy day in the heat, we headed back in the afternoon to our hotel for a well earned rest. After sitting down for a while I went into my suitcase to grab some holiday notes. Putting them back ten minutes or so later I noticed a bug inside my suitcase. Flinching I realised it was a massive centipede! How on earth did it get there, when it was locked all day, and how was I going to get it out?

Chris passed me a bag, and we attempted to tip it from my raincoat on which it was laying, into the bag - but as soon as we moved the coat it quickly crawled deeper inside my suitcase. Panicking that it may get lost inside and crawl to lay eggs, I grabbed the coat, wrapped it up and put it in the bag as soon as I could, hoping it was inside!

Running past the hotel owner, I opened to front door and tipped the raincoat out, luckily seeing the centipede drop to the floor, but then crawling quickly towards me. After shaking the coat to remove any eggs from the coat, I quickly headed back inside making sure the door was closed. It later turned out that this bug was the Mukade - a venomous centipede that can eat mice... lovely.

Somehow managing to sleep that night, the following morning we headed out to the Fushimi Inari Shrine, famous for it's torii walk. Unsurprisingly, it was full of tourists, but we still got to enjoy walking beneath the arches.

Fushimi Inari

Fushimi Inari


Kinaku-ji

Kinaku-ji

We then headed across the city to the Golden Shrine of Kinkaku-ji, which if I'm honest paled in comparison to the similar Golden Temple of Amritsar. Nevertheless it was an interesting sight, and after stopping for frozen cola, we headed towards our next sights in Arashiyama.

Bamboo Forest

Bamboo Forest

Arashiyama is a suburb on the edge of the city, and contains several exciting places. The first was the Bamboo walk, which although pretty was pretty spoiled by so many tourists, which prevent the serenity from being taken in. We then continued our walk by heading through a park, and heading down to the riverside, where the river was full of boats, including one taking tourists for lunch with a couple of geishas.

Geisha Lunch Boat

Geisha Lunch Boat

After grabbing a bit of food we crossed the wooden bridge and headed up a hill to the Monkey Reserve. A long walk, but fun to see monkeys giving death stares and demanding food.

Monkey Park

Monkey Park


Kyoto Castle

Kyoto Castle

After a long day, we headed back to our hotel via Kyoto Castle, but with it having already been a long day we decided not to head in and instead went back to our hotel for a rest before packing our bits, as tomorrow we would be headed to the Japanese capital of Tokyo.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 10:49 Archived in Japan Tagged monkey hostel sightseeing shrine eastasia cherryblossom Comments (0)

Southern Honshu

Cherry Blossom Adventures - Hiroshima & Himeji

sunny 21 °C
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With yet another early morning flight, we checked out of our hotel early and began heading to Seoul's Incheon airport. This was our only flight not with Air China, being with Asiana Airways, and after a short pleasant flight we arrived in the city of Fukuoka, Japan.

We flew via Fukuoka, as it had the best connections to get to Hiroshima, and after getting through immigration, we boarded the short bus transfer to the station, and got hold of our Japan Rail Passes which we would be using for the next week. With everywhere being so busy, it was several hours after we had landed that we finally boarded our bullet train to Hiroshima, but nevertheless we made the train we wanted and got to enjoy the journey on this legendary train.

Bullet Train

Bullet Train

Bullet trains look so futuristic, and felt also very strange, as although travelling exceptionally fast they pivot and thus don't feel particularly faster than regular fast train travel, except the noticeable sensation of ears popping. After just over an hour, we arrived at Hiroshima station, and after buying a few snacks, we headed to our hotel to leave our bags.

Hypocentre

Hypocentre

Our time in Hiroshima was limited to just one night, and this afternoon was our opportunity to explore the city. We began by heading to Hiroshima castle, before making our way to see the sights that are connected to what the city of Hiroshima is most famous for - the atomic bombing in 1945. Starting at the plaque marking the hypocentre of the bomb, we walked around the corner to see the A-bomb Dome, the closest building to survive the bomb, and symbol of the event, surrounded by cherry blossom.

A-bomb Dome

A-bomb Dome

The trip had been scheduled to coincide with the Cherry Blossom Season. However as time was limited, and the cherry blossom takes place in just a few weeks, it was unsure where we would actually get to see it. If it came late, we would catch it in Tokyo just before we left, whilst if it came early we would catch it in Hiroshima as we arrived. This year it came over a week early, and Hiroshima was already at the peak of the blooming.

Eternal Flame within the gardens

Eternal Flame within the gardens

The immediate surrounding area of the A-bomb dome is now a peace park, with monuments and landscaped gardens alongside a couple of museums, which contain artefacts from the bombing as well as other items, such a clock counting the days since the bomb, as well as the last nuclear test.

Peace Watch

Peace Watch

Having taken a brief look around the city, we headed back towards the station to grab food, from a food court on the 11th floor of a department store overlooking the surrounding area, before checking into our room at the hotel.

View from the Food Court

View from the Food Court

The hotel itself had its own Onsen, and after having a bit of a rest, I headed up there to enjoy the heated baths. Although as it was traditionally Japanese, this did mean having to go in naked!

After a soothing bath, it was finally time to sleep before the next day's adventure. However in the morning Chris had not slept well and was exhausted from the week's travel so far. Therefore I left him to get some rest, whilst I headed outside the city towards Miyajima Island.

Taking the train south for half an hour, upon arrival almost everyone got off - evidently full of tourists doing the same, and after a quick walk across the small village I boarded the ferry that would cross the small channel to the island. Upon arrival it was clear the traditional fishing village had now become a tourist magnet, being full of little shops and cafés.

Itsukushima Shrine

Itsukushima Shrine

A five minute walk later and I arrived at the magnet of the island, the Itsukushima Shrine and it's torii gate. I had deliberately timed the visit this morning to coincide with high tide, when the gate appears to float in the water.

Floating Torii

Floating Torii

And with the local area also in full Cherry Blossom bloom, it made this one of the most pretty on the trip so far. After popping in the shops, and observing the local pagoda, I headed back to the ferry port and eventually the hotel to collect our bits.

Toyokuni Shrine Pagoda

Toyokuni Shrine Pagoda

Having rested this morning Chris now felt a bit better, and we headed back to the station to continue our journey, now headed for the city of Himeji. Himeji is not exciting enough to warrant a stay here overnight, but it does have one of the most important and beautiful castles in the country. And being just ten minutes from the station we decided to take a look.

Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle

Arriving at the palace, surrounded in cherry blossom, it was packed full of tourists, but not feeling completely better, Chris stayed outside with the bags, whilst I took a look inside. However the queues inside were long, and it took ages to get around the complex. Queuing to enter the palace took an hour, and I ended up skipping some of the sections altogether. Nevertheless it was an interesting place to visit and did look beautiful.

Inside Himeji Castle

Inside Himeji Castle

Relying on the trains, if we headed back to the station quickly we could make the next train, or otherwise we would have quite a long wait. We therefore decided to hurry and not long later we were back on the bullet train headed for the next city of destination - Kyoto.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 06:37 Archived in Japan Tagged palace train museum castle spa shrine nuclear gate bomb macabre eastasia cherryblossom Comments (0)

"I like your T-Shirt!"

RTW - Tokyo

sunny 32 °C
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Having left Dubai at a disgustingly early 2:50am (and being told by the air hostess that she loved my T-Shirt, not realising it was actually dedicated to Copenhagen, despite the red blob looking rather like the Japanese flag), I was flown over Afghanistan and the Himalayas and then China and Korea before touching down in Japan in the early evening.

By the time I worked out and bought all the transport cards for the entirety of my trip and made it to my hotel it was already 9pm...and so finally making it to bed was a relief, and I treated myself to an extra long lie in, getting up at around 2pm, after the maid had already called. However this was to be one of the many appreciations for the Japanese I was to encounter...the maid had left me all the essentials for night (sheets, toiletries, dressing gown) just outside my door without disturbing me! So lovely of her!

I then took the metro to do a bit of sightseeing that and I once again witnessed some of the Japanese behaviour, this time in terms of personal space - when a train is half full, Japanese people will automatically space themselves so that their is a single seat between each other. However when the train is more busy this becomes more difficult, and so if there are 3 people sitting next to each other (where there will be a visible gap between them) and the person on the end gets up to the leave the train, almost instantaneously, the middle passenger will move to the edge...such a funny thing to see!

Asakusa Shrine

Asakusa Shrine

I then arrived at my first sight, the Asakusa Shrine, a short distance away from the Tokyo Skytree - and the two could not be more different! One being a historical place of worship, and the other a modern commercial tower! This was then followed by a visit across town to the Shibuya Crossing, the busiest crossing in the world where people cross in any direction, fun to people watch!

Tokyo Metropolitan Towers

Tokyo Metropolitan Towers

On the second day I realised how warm it was in the city..despite being 10 degrees colder than Dubai, it was still over 30! More refreshing, but still pretty humid. I had first visited the Tokyo Metropolitan Towers, where free views of the city are available, and then gone through the park areas to see more Shines.

Yasukuni Shrine

Yasukuni Shrine

After this, I finished up at the Tokyo Tower, before eating and then going back to the Asakusa Shine to see it in darkness.

Asakusa

Asakusa


Edo Castle

Edo Castle

On my final full day I saw the very heart of the city, including the Imperial Palace grounds, which I had booked in advance and were free. For my final night I had decided to spend it in a capsule bed, which was also offered by my hotel and was only one step up from a dorm room. However being Japan, there is so much respect for others and I had an easy nights sleep before making my way to the airport for my onward flight.

Capsule Bed

Capsule Bed

The hotel I stayed in I can easily say is the best hotel ever, being so cheap, in a great location as well as friendly and helpful staff and very modern and clean - although this could easily sum up Japan in general! The small bit I have seen has been so wonderful that it makes me want to visit again, and I would recommend it to all of you!

Next stop: Hong Kong!

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Japan Tagged technology tower culture history palace city shrine rtw Comments (0)

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