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Japan - Day Six – Cloverfield unmasked and shopping PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 20 October 2018 05:38

unny thing: in the morning, waiting for our guide Mike to take us to the station for our trip to Kyoto, we explored a below-level stairway (by exploring, I mean to say “dragging a reluctant JB into a new situation”). Anyway, what we found – Morlock Town!

From Shinjuku Station all the way to the Municipal building there is a massive complex of subterranean pedestrian tunnels. When we were down there, there was a flood of salarymen all flowing to the huge western office blocks. And to think of all the street level hassles we’d waded through for days – cross-streets and darting bicycles. A real waaaa-waaaa moment.

Anyway, Mike got us to the primary station and bought us lunches – such a nice guy. Then we boarded the sleekly futuristic bullet train (while chatting with fellow Americans about how shitty Amtrak was).

And then…

We were off!

How can I explain gliding at 181 MPH through dense city blocks, all while reclining in a comfortable seat. And it was quiet, the Japanese mass-texting as they always do. I shot some photos out the windows, a movie or two, but took it easy.

And then Mt Fuji! Or so I thought. At the time Mike said we should see it, I looked to the side and there was my nemesis – Cloverfield – still shrouded in fog. All I could see was the huge base and no summit, so I supposed that was it.

Then, about twenty minutes later, an oddly conical mountain hove into view. Could this be Fuji? Broken clouds slipped past the summit and nobody around us looked up from their phones. So I took some careful pictures and really studied the undulations along the crest line, committing it to memory. I’d have to check.

After a smooth two-hour ride (you’ll remember it took three hours to get the castaways to their island) we arrived in Kyoto. And Yaji-san, our delightful swan-like host, met us and taxied us to our downtown hotel.

So Kyoto is a crazy town – two major streets, N-S and E-W, with the hotel right at the crossing. It’s comparable to Orlando in size but far outstrips it in service. Where we have one metroline (sad little Sunrail) they have two subway lines (right down the middle of those streets). And as we were to find out, their bus line spans the city (well, pretty well).

There is a post office somewhere here...First thing, JB and I wanted to post those hair rods home rather than have TSE identify these cultural items as a security risk (to Americans, what isn’t a security risk?). So, with a combination of Charades and Post Office, we got our forgiving lady postal clerk to help us package up JB’s swag and ship it home.

After a nap in the room, we headed out into the early evening. It turns out that Shinjo Ohashi (the road east of the cross-streets) is a fully-lit shopping district. Stopped in one street-front joint where I got the best pork-n-rice bowl I’ve ever eaten (along with a bottle of beer big enough to immolate a German tank with). After this, we promenaded the boulevard, just taking in the evening sights, poking into every little shop. Got ice cream at an unlikely Baskin Robbins (two stories, seating upstairs with really old music coming out of the speakers (Tina Turner’s We don’t need another hero?)). Went into my umpteenth manga store (since I don’t know hardly any of it, it makes me realize how out of touch I am (“Young whippersnappers. In my day, we had the Yamato!”)). And finally, home in the room, another full day!

Just so you know Department: What I saw WAS Mt. Fuji! Checked it on the hotel computer. So I guess standing on it doesn’t make a difference – it’s more important to see it!

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Last Updated on Monday, 22 October 2018 18:28
 
Japan - Day Five – Mt Cloverfield PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 18 October 2018 20:47

e’d opted for a special day tour of Mt. Fuji through the hotel. So, of course, the day dawned cold and drizzly. Oh well, at least we’d do a day trip out of Tokyo and see the countryside.

The bus start was chaotic – between the drive and guide yelling back and forth, it sounded like a Chinese junk sinking. Finally got on the road. Even with the light rain, JB and I agree, a bus is one of the finest ways of touring. Unlike trains (where you see the backs of houses), from the bus window you’ll see people and businesses and streetlife. You can see into shops. You can see into cars. You can look at houses and down alleys. So while the guide recounted every known fact about the unseeable Fuji, we swept along, enjoying suburban (and, eventually, rural) Japan.

Kinda... sorta... maybe... Fuji...Then, while the bus swayed down a long lazy valley, the guide pointed out Fuji. And there it was, sort of, literally shrouded in mists and with gale-driven clouds cresting it like a bad presidential combover. It was like that silly monster movie where the huge creature isn’t seen, not clearly, no, through most of the movie. You could only glimpse it, see it peripherally. We never got that picture-perfect view.

But still, the day was fun. We drove up to the fifth station (the highest point cars can reach). Avoided the shmaltzy tourist shop (though still someone unloaded a bell on me. It’s still tinkling in my jacket pocket). From our windy position on Fuji’s shoulder, you could look down through broken clouds into lush agricultural plains. And above, two scrubby lava-rocked slopes led to… a hazy indistinction, nothing more.

Then down to Hakone. Apparently this prefectorate produced ninjas – stopped in a ninja-themed restaurant which was as silly as it sounds (though the food was good and the servers elven-cute). Then to Lake Ashi where we rode a pleasure catamaran which inexplicably backed he entire five-mile trip to the lake’s far end – it was like (and I wondered if it might be) that the boat was on rails.

Once ashore, we crowded aboard the Hakone Ropeway (i.e. cable car). Again, where Fuji should have loomed in volcanic glory, just a vague hint. Worse, the upper station of the lift was socked in. You could see about twenty feet and that was it. So down we went. Literally nothing to see here. With time on our hands, JB and I shared a green muffin thing that was quite good.

The ride home was long and arduous. I watched people and places scroll by. Eventually saw the blessed twin summits of the Municipal Government Building. We were dropped at Shinjuku Station and so I got to drag a griping girl – JB hates that walk – all the way home.

Now we’re packing up. Tomorrow is #1 with a bullet!

Fun Fact: Japanese bikes are usually not locked up, not that I can see it, that is. A Japanese woman at work says that there are front locks but, no, I didn’t spot any. I saw people just ride up to stations and businesses and leave their bikes there.

Fun Fact 2: Japanese ride their bikes on low tire pressures. Me, I top the air at least once a week. But sitting in cafes and watching them roll past, I noticed how many bulging tires there were. One guy actually rode past with a full-flat rear tire. I don’t know why this is – is there a Japanese racial aversion to tire pumps?

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Last Updated on Sunday, 21 October 2018 11:53
 
Japan - Day Four – Shrines and Temples PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 18 October 2018 02:52

oday after breakfast we met with Mike-san, our Tokyo guide. Nice gentlemen, older and state-side savvy so he served as a good cultural bridge. He was to provide more than capable at maneuvering us through the null space between our various attractions.

First stop – the Meiji Shine at Harajuku, a beautifully wooded park and complex. Mike explained the facets of Shintoism and invited our participation. I even paid for a charm (token? Not sure) to keep me safe from car accidents – I’ll tuck it onto my bike and we’ll see. Also sent a paper prayer to Mookie – she’s always in my thoughts. Then a long subway bomb across town to…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harajuku and its Sensonji Temple (Tokyo’s oldest). Bought JB a spoon to celebrate thirty years together. We went into the temple, pausing before the massive barrel of burning incense (you flutter your arms to draw in smoke over your affected areas, Mike noted (have you ever tried to push a cloud of smoke over your crotch hernia in public?))

After this, much more shopping. JB picked up a set of those Japanese hair rods (you know, the ones female assassins drive into the eyes of inattentive guards).  Now she needs to learn how to do it herself (hey, I learned to fold a Brompton!). Then lunch at (finally) a full Japanese restaurant, with lounging in socks around a low table, crazy-different food, cute bowing waitresses, all that. All through it, I kept and eye on JB’s hair rods, making sure those expensive things didn’t slide out. But a good meal all the same.

And now across town to Shinjuku (near the hotel) to walk to Shinjuku Gardens (like Leu Gardens with fixed Oriental dominance). Quite pretty.

Samurai  Jane with hairpins!Next, a Samurai museum that should have been better than it was – honestly it was a bit like keystone cops. Our guide barely remembered his lines and when asking for questions, was unable to come up with answers (like how swords are hammered out – really?). From here, a few blocks walk through the seedier section of Shinjuku (“Sin”juku?). Saw a man lying on the ground and several hard-bitten Yakuza-like fellows standing around him and let that be. But soon enough, hotel-home.

Trip question: Are the new people two doors down going to keep me up? Crying babies? Shouting? What next? Gunshots? And I thought Pachinko Parlors were loud. So we shall see.

Trip answer: No, they did not.

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Last Updated on Saturday, 20 October 2018 15:44
 
Japan - Day Three – Towers and Clocks PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 16 October 2018 20:35

e’d picked up a Minato City tour book from the Tokyo Met building the day before and used it to fragment out some of the longer self-guided tours into short Raymond jaunts. This being the case, we trotted through waves of morning commuters to get to Shinjuku Station to head to our first looksee – the Tokyo Tower. However, for this, we needed to hop on the Oedo Line (like London’s Circle Line, it loops ‘round the city). So it goes like this – image a triangle pointing to the left. We enter on the lower right point, Shinjuko Station. Found some sort of signage for the Oedo line and walked possibly a half-mile (through a department store and down long open-air concourses. Finally got to the escalator and down to the platform. But none of the adjoining stations (which is how you figure out which way to go) are anything like the adjoining stations we were expecting. Stood there in confusion until some nice Japanese housewife (everyone is so helpful) explained it in broken English. We’d gone to the upper-right point of that triangle I’d described and were actually on another part of the Oedo loop. We’d have to backride one station west (to the left-pointing point) and then switch trains to go back through Sandjuku (directly under our first point-of-entry). This we did. Sure, we burned 45 minutes, but we got to do a lot of subway gawking.

Finally got off at the Akabanebashi stop and walked through nice urban parks with the Tokyo Tower in a comforting loom, just looking at the people and various shrines and temples. Just a nice stroll, really. Got to the base of the tower but decided not to go in – once you’d top-of-the-towned from the Met Building, this just doesn’t compare. So back to Akabanebashi for one of the most aggravating subway maneuvers any rider faces – a two-stop journey with a long platform/train change in the midpoint. We should have just walked over.

Old and new

Got off at Shimbashi Station (where I saw more trains in one minute than you’ll see on American railroads in a week). Took a bit of time getting orientated (oddly, most Japanese station maps do not orientate north-top – they lay them out on a whim, it seems. So if you are standing before a wall-map with North to the South-West, holding your own map around and trying to orientate, well, nothing screams tourist louder than that). Anyway, this is the communications district – all the studios and networks are here. We strolled over to the original Shimbashi Station, a rail museum that was unexpectedly closed for that day (the nice old guy sweeping leaves up pulled out an Iphone, muttered into it, then showed us the “It so closed” translation – bowed and thanked him). But the station is there and we walked around it. They even had some of the old rail spiked down (the station had been sited in the 1880s and once it had been torn down, the rail had been reused in a refinery siding. Once the station was rebuilt, the refinery donated the century-old rail back to the museum). Still, had a nice broken conversation with a Japanese man about gauge (since this appeared to be narrow-gauge). Even with different languages, rail-heads can converse.

Then over to Nippon TV where they have a gigantic clock mounted to the outside wall, commissioned by Hayao Miyazaki (the animator of Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service, among many others). We had an hour until it “struck” (whatever that would be) so we hung around a nearby executive Taco Bell, sipping colas until it was go-time.

And what a go it was! At the hour, the clock began to whir and gong, the arms spun in different directions and the figures began to dance. Cannon turrets rotated towards up, music played and huge mechanical arms lifted to display inner treasures. It was a great five minute show!

Strange lunch – stopped at a “British Pub” and ordered meals. JB’s came, along with my beer, and I told her to start (she’s a slower eater). But my food (rice and curry)? Nadda. Oddly both the waiter and waitress came out to other tables, not scanning to see how we were doing (with me in the midst of my hunger strike). Finally I went in to ask. Blushing and bowing, the waitress took my order (again) and they brought me a salad (I was so hungry, I ate that). But when my curry finally did arrive, the waiter carried off my salad bowl with my fork. So there I am, trying to figure out how to eat my long-overdue meal. Went in and asked the waitress for a fork and she bowed but no fork arrived. So to hell with it; I ate my curry with the serving spoon. And it’s too bad you don’t tip in restaurants because I wouldn’t have either way. Usually the Japanese are efficient to a fault. This time they were just faulted. Still, I was more amused that angry about the goofup.

Having survived lunch, we decided to run up the subway a few stops and visit Akihabara again, just to see more of it. And while it was fun, it wasn’t quite the amazing sight of the first time. Thought about picking up a figure as a souvenir but they want serious scratch for their crafted ones. Almost got a Ryuk demon (from DeathNote) but the cost and the likelihood of his wings surviving the trip home quashed that idea. Still, I did find an English manga copy of All You Need is Kill, which I bought and will review (it’s about an inch thick!).

While going into the station, I actually stopped in my tracks – there was a poster with a man and a cat and I’ll be damned if I didn’t think I was looking right at Mookie, my late cat. It comes from a movie soon to be released, The Travelling Cat Chronicles, a sad and wonderful story (I now know) about a man who saves a street cat that has been hit by a car and eventually keeps it. But he is forced to find a new home for it after a few years. Okay, so watch for that one to show up in my reviews soon – it’s apparently been translated to English.

An easy ride home – 30 minutes across this large metropolitan area. In Orlando, half that distance will take twice as long (Chevy tough, indeed). Coming out of Shinjuku Station, I saw a man hunched over a bike, going through eerily-familiar motions – a Brompton! And red, just like mine!

After a nap that ran three hours, JB shook me awake for dinner. We were still pretty full (after all, my delayed meal hadn’t been that long ago). We went over to the 7-11, which my buddy Omar had told me worked well for fast and easy meals. And he was right. You can get a pretty good light dinner out of that place. Picked up some cold sandwiches, drinks, and after-dinner ice-cream cones. Watched incomprehensible Japanese TV while eating in the room that night. Called it an early evening – we’d be meeting our guide for a tour of Tokyo tomorrow and had a pretty early start time.

Travel Note: Everyone here are on phones. They don’t talk to other people on phones much (that is considered impolite (I wish more loud-mouth Yankee Cell-yellers would take note)) but they text like mad. On the train, everyone is head’s down. In restaurants, likewise. It’s strange and quiet. In ways, you feel like a ghost moving through crowds of face-illuminated zombies.

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Last Updated on Friday, 19 October 2018 18:01
 
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