The Travelogue Thread

JimCorrigan

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This is for people to put their travel diaries, so as to not clutter up other threads, like some dick Canadian has been doing of late. :mrgreen:

Do them however you like, bit by bit, individual posts, with pics, sans pics, whatever.

I'll start by putting my Japan trip in here that I am currently on. People shouldn't be afraid to put their own travel experiences in between posts of other members. In fact, it could make it even more fun that way. :)

All JimCorrigan's Japan posts and photos copyright jimmylikescars.com 2017
 
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JimCorrigan

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The travelogue thread

The travelogue thread

(* taken from Random Thoughts thread https://forums.finalgear.com/off-topic/random-thoughts-9185/page-6095/#post2427808)

2 hr ferry, followed by 9 hour flight.

At least it's for a vacation in Japan.

Sayonara, bitches!

(* taken from Random Thoughts thread https://forums.finalgear.com/off-topic/random-thoughts-9185/page-6095/#post2427875)

Just landed at Haneda airport a little over two hours ago. Pretty straightforward through customs, baggage, and finding the right train to take us all the way into the Tokyo district where we will spend the first two nights. I've already spotted the sort of subtle but beautiful woman (with pouty lips and nearly almond shaped eyes) that made my experience here in a past life so interesting.

My wife couldn't even wait until the hotel: we plowed into a convenience store and each ate onigiri. Damn, have I missed Japan.

Oh, that hotel we're staying in? It's a capsule hotel. I had memories of the classic salaryman capsule, which I cannot fit in, but this one is geared towards tourists and is actually pretty cool. I wouldn't want to spend much of my trip this way, but this is accommodating my lovely bride who wanted to give it a go. Sadly, it means separate rooms so no sex action tonight. Oh well, I can always pretend she's soaping up with the Japanese girls on her common floor bathroom. :evil:

Pictures of the "room."



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Speaking of accommodating my wife: on the slate for Tokyo Day 1 tomorrow? Hello Kitty Land.

Yeah, shut up.
 
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JimCorrigan

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The travelogue thread

The travelogue thread

(* taken from Random Thoughts thread https://forums.finalgear.com/off-topic/random-thoughts-9185/page-6096/#post2428096)

Japan Day 1. Tokyo Day 1. I forgot to post this last night because I was drunk.

Woke up at 5 am local time because jet lag. Wife and I met up from our respective cubicals at 8 (men and women are sequestered to different floors in these hotels), and we headed out to explore the Asakusa district we were in. We headed towards the Senso-ji Buddhist temple, and on the way spent a few glorious hours wandering the Asakusa shitamachi (low city), or basically one giant marketplace. Yes, it's a tourist attraction filled with tchotchkes, but two seconds within the throngs and you quickly learn it's also as authentic as a schoolgirl's outfit, and offers plenty of chances (especially in the early morning) to partake in freshly made delicacies for breakfast, including the delightfully simple but still "totemo oishi" melon-pan, as well as red bean-filled pastries. On the northern fringe of the market/southern entrance of the temple grounds, we stopped into an authentic little noodle shop for hearty meals of udon, mine accompanied by tempura'ed egg and fish. I missed you, Japan. More on that later.

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The temple grounds... nothing really special. It's easy to get jaded on any travels if you plan for too many monuments, and the purpose of this morning's adventure was the journey, not the destination. There are far grander/more historically important sites we will see on this trip, so we didn't spend much time with the temple proper.

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The afternoon? Well... as I eluded to yesterday, this was to satisfy my beautiful wife's cuter tendencies... we took the 90 min plus trains west to Tama for Sanrio Puroland. The less I say, the better, except that I possibly got a toothache from all the sugary sweetness, and I am not referring to food. It was also strange being possibly the only foreigner, and one of the few adults without children. Note to self: never let my wife ask me again to hold a place in line while she wanders off. I have never felt more the pedophile in my life. It made her happy, however, so that was worth it.

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By the time we got back to Tokyo's Asakusa district, it was late. Fortunately, there was an izakaya on the same street as our cubicle hotel. It was there that I became reacquainted with sitting on a tatami mat, eating a variety of small dishes and consuming copious amounts of Kirin Classic. My wife enjoyed the dichotomy of the intimate seating with the boisterous and jovial dialogue from the nearby drunken customers. I just smiled wryly and got drunk myself.

Tomorrow (well, actually today, since I posted late) we leave via shinkansen for Hiroshima. If you thought our time in Tokyo was ludicrously short, you would be correct. Which is why we will close our trip with 4 more days of Tokyo.

Japan is one of those placed I would love to visit....weirdness factor alone.

So how does that work language wise? I've been told most Japanese speak little to no English, and most foreigners obviously don't speak Japanese, how do tourists communicate?
Although not as cosmopolitan as other Asian capitals, Tokyo, and Japan as a whole, is accommodating to foreigners, in that its inhabitants will genuinely try to help you out. Also, all the major street signs in major cities, and all train/subway/metro (there are more rail lines here than you could possibly imagine) have english subtext. Having said that, be prepared to learn at least some basic phrases and get the best possible rail map you can find, otherwise you are screwed. My personal recommendation is to make the effort to learn both the hiragana and katakana alphabets as well (it's much less intimidating than it looks). I wouldn't bother with Kanji unless you are planning to stay beyond a vacation.

You are correct, though, in that the overwhelming majority of Japanese do not speak much English (even the less educated will understand some basic phrases as it is on the curriculum throughout elementary and secondary school), but again, in major cities like Tokyo people employed in anything linked to tourism (metros, police, restaurants, major shops) you will find communication fairly straightforward.

Yes, Japan is on my list.

Also, just speak SLOWER AND LOUDER :p
I speak japanese (albeit at a primitive level), but yes, when attempting to speak english it's not about volume or speed.... just make sure to use as few words as possible so as to minimize confusion.

TIL, there's a theme park for hello kitty.
Sanrio Puroland, and it's for all Sanrio characters, of which HK is simply the most famous.
 
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JimCorrigan

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The travelogue thread

The travelogue thread

(*taken from Random Thoughts thread https://forums.finalgear.com/off-topic/random-thoughts-9185/page-6097/#post2428209)

Japan Day 2 - Hiroshima Day 1.

Got up extremely early in order to make it to Tokyo station (undergoing massive renovations, presumably for the 2020 Summer Olympics) and board the shinkansen.

Problem: we have a JR rail pass that you can only buy before you arrive, but you can only activate after you've landed in the country, and only at select JR offices. Which means you cannot make reservations until you've activated it. We bought a 2 week pass for our 3 week trip because the sum total of one week will be spent in Tokyo, therefore the added expense of the pass during that period would be wasted. We are travelling on high speed (and bloody expensive) trains for precisely 2 weeks of the trip. Hence, we go through the process of having it activated this morning, and then make our successful reservation for the 1st leg of the journey to Shin-Osaka, but our planned train from there to Hiroshima was sold out, as was the next available (to us) train one hour later. This meant we would eventually arrive in Hiroshima two hours later than planned, affecting our itinerary. Ah well, it turns out we would spend the downtime between transfers booking the rest of our trains for the entire vacation, so not all was lost.

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The shinkansen's green cars are so named not for some environmental movement, but because they are a) by reservation only (so no standing room) and b) more luxurious by way of quiet, and more spacious (the latter mandatory for this 5-foot-11-inch westerner), and we all know that short of a car, trains are the best way to travel and see the countryside.

We bought bento boxed lunches and enjoyed them en route to Shin-Osaka.

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Fuji-san.

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Osaka was not on our itinerary, merely a transfer station between bullet trains, but oh what a station it is. In addition to the aforementioned JR train reservations for the next 2 weeks, we also explored the seemingly countless shops for locally made foods and gifts. Japan came across this concept honestly, as its roots extend from pre-unification, when these islands existed as culturally isolated individual fiefdoms. This legacy has proven to be outstandingly beneficial for its tourism industry.

On the train from Shin-Osaka to Hiroshima, we enjoyed prepared sandwiches, and then dove into this bad boy (purchased from Shin-Osaka station).

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It's called a cheesecake, but in reality it's more like the best sponge cake you've ever tried, which was like water in the desert to this poor lactose intolerant bastard. Damn, that felt good.

Meanwhile I am reminded of another of Japan's fine examples of their cultural superiority: many travelers in the same car are enjoying beer, sake, or wine. For the uninitiated, you can buy alcohol virtually anywhere (beer can be found in select vending machines), and it is perfectly acceptable to consume it on these high speed trains. I was already aware, but elected against this today, as I personally felt having any alcohol on my breath when entering the Peace Museum would have been disrespectful.

We arrive in Hiroshima at 3:20 pm, and to our hotel via dentetsu (streetcar) just after 4. The original plan for today was the Peace Museum and all the affiliated sites in the Peace Memorial Park, but having done this (almost exactly) 15 years ago, I know that this museum (which my wife has not seen previously) demands a slow, patient course, and the 90 minutes remaining available to us before its closing would not suffice. In order to do it justice, these would be postponed until tomorrow. However, we could still take in the grounds and its many landmarks, which became especially poignant while the sun was setting.

Female students' memorial.

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The cenotaph.

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From the other side, framed by the Peace Flame and sculpture designed to look like two hands cupped together, upwards. Museum in the background.



Children's memorial.

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Children internment memorial.

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The "A-Bomb Dome", as it is now referred to (blast radius was 150m above and 600m to the side). Originally built in 1915 (designed by a Czech) and used as a business/trades exposition until its transformation.

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Tribute to a famous children's literature author from Hiroshima (he died before the war).

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Peace bell.

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Afterwards we had a nice dinner just off the park, then strolled through the Hon-dori shopping arcade where my wife a) nearly bought a Japanese toy poodle, and b) did manage to purchase a used, authentic Chanel bag when my back was turned. I won't get into the vulgar specifics, but trust me when I say a) my wife almost never spends on extravagances, and b) it was authentic and cost her only 10% of the purchase price when new.

As a man, I'm always being told I have a primitive desire to re-enter the womb...

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Hiroshima was a pretty, pleasant place to be when I was last here 15 years ago, despite its horrific moment in history. It remains so this day. I could never live in Tokyo, but I could (in another life) see myself settling in Hiroshima.

Tomorrow will be a packed day with mixed emotions, given the itinerary.

Did you get to visit Akibahara?
Been there many times when I lived here 15 years ago. We will definitely go back when we return to Tokyo towards the end of the trip. Any requests?

On top of that, annunciate.
Absolutely.

@ Jim. God damn it Jim, you're a doctor, not a hello kitty spokesman.

I hope everyone heard Bones in their head. :D
:lol: We need a Hello Kitty smiley.
 
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RdKetchup

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Many attachements are failing :( (everything following "Children's memorial.")
 
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JimCorrigan

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Many attachements are failing :( (everything following "Children's memorial.")
That's because I had to do this in stages. The photos are from my iPhone and so I'm uploading them directly to FG via tapatalk. Copy/paste works fine for the text, but not the photos. So I had to manually upload them all again. Should be working fine now. :)
 

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Good thread! Keep them coming Jim, this thread will probably cause me to visit Japan at some point, so for any Kaiju movies this event inspires let it be said by the monster himself you at least deserve a producers credit.

Also those pod hotels, why in all that is decent and holy do they do not have those on overnight ferries over here? Seems like a great idea, you can fit 3 of those on the space one cabin (aka a broomcloset for ants!!!!) takes up now, and you have the same, if not more space to sleep.....you would need to take your shoes inside lets a drunken Englishman pees in them, but that's the only niggle I see.
 
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JimCorrigan

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The Travelogue Thread

Japan Day 3 - Hiroshima Day 2.

Our current hotel (the Dormy Inn) has a complimentary breakfast, nighttime freshly made ramen, public hot tubs, and shuttle back to the JR station. I can't recall the price, but my wife is rather frugal, and the room is comfortable if small (not unexpected), so I know it's not much.

That breakfast? Yeah, not your typical Motel 6 "continental" in either quality or quantity.

Fucking delicious.

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My wife had to go and ruin it by eating natto. I'm adventurous and willing to eat/drink anything once, but even a decade and a half later I am unwilling to give this fermented soybean concoction another chance.

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The rest of the morning was spent at the Peace Museum. Turns out it's undergoing renovations and due for a grand re-opening next year. This might explain some exhibits I recall from 2002 that were noticeably absent today, and it would also account for the horrible crush of people and little space to accommodate us all.

Having said that, the efforts to renovate/update were already bearing fruit. Some of the exhibits were new/redone in a still more captivating way. Non-flash photography is allowed, but I personally refuse to take photos in here. Something's are better left to see and feel as the curators intended, otherwise it loses its immediacy.

FYI: the museum focuses entirely on the atomic bomb dropping in Hiroshima and its after effects, so there is no proselytizing the war nor is there made mention of the unspeakable (literally, it's removed from their school curriculum, sadly) horrors committed by the Japanese soldiers onto other Asian peoples, most notably the Chinese and Koreans.

Despite the seemingly narrow focus, this is a rich source material from which to develop an entire museum, and the narratives have significant impact. Exhibits as they currently exist provide capsule summaries for the actual bombing, accounts from survivors and the families of those who perished (complete with hundreds of donated items) as well as a brief but relevant explanation of nuclear fission, radiation, and radioactivity.

I'm won't say anymore other than this is a must-see/must-learn for any visitor to Japan. Period.

We spent the early afternoon trying to shake ourselves of our somber mood by wandering aimlessly through downtown, before embarking a boat to Miyajima (island). Miyajima is a world heritage site and another tourism Mecca for Japanese and non-Japanese pilgrims alike. It has a rich shinto history complete with multiple shrines, its famous floating torii gate, and jizo statues which date back as far as the 6th century AD. It's also home to the world's largest rice paddle (yeah, no big deal there, IMO), and the most aggressive deer here in the known universe. Seriously, did they mate with monkeys? The horns have all been clipped from the males to prevent injuries. The island is small and domesticated enough so there is little in the way of natural predator for said deer.

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It's not hard to see why Miyajima is a destination success, as there is something for everyone. Outdoor shopping arcade along Ometesando, replete with locally made momiji manjyu and (new since 2010) locally made beer. Isolated sandy beaches. Multiple ways to scratch your nature walk itch up to the observatory and other must-see locations up on the peak, and the aforementioned shinto pilgrimage spots. Due to the high tourism load, it's not uncommon to spot young attractive Japanese women in colourful kimono regalia roaming the streets, their appearance competing with the island's natural sites. It's gorgeous.

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Those are my wife's fingernails, before anyone asks!

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It takes at least one full day to fully explore Miyajima, but you could make a pleasantly relaxed holiday of it should you stay in one of the local hotels for longer. Unfortunately, due to schedule changes resulting from yesterday's train reservations, we were left with 3 hours. Even with missing the folklore museum due its closure for the day, it was barely enough time to appreciate the shopping arcade Ometesando and contrast it with the older, more historical architecturally appealing Machiya, Goju-no-to five-story pagoda, and Itsukushima shrine. We never had a chance to hike up one of three mountain paths or take the rope way to Misenyama. I had a sad, but not too much, given the overcast weather all day would have severely hampered the peak's true beauty in observing both Hiroshima Bay and the city proper.

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Still, it's the unplanned excursions which are always the most evocative, and we got precisely that on this trip. Walking up Takikoji towards the Daisho-In temple, we stumbled upon a modest appearing home that doubled as a tiny, barely advertised cafe. We stepped inside and were treated by a pleasant sixty-something homeowner who doubled as the sole employee, waiting on us and preparing a delightfully refreshing snack of whipped matcha green tea and Japanese cakes. It's hard to convey the special feeling from this unexpected encounter, but the intimate setting (there was only one other pair of people present) and classic home decor (tatami mat room) certainly helped. My wife and I will both remember this as much as anything else.

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Frankly, this also gives us another reason to come back some day in the future. Yes, we both love being in Japan so much we would consider it a second home/semi-regular vacation spot. Hiroshima is thankfully a much slower paced city than Tokyo or Osaka, but nearby Miyajima is even more laid back, and its natural beauty combined with the well worn Japanese flavour only making it more gratifying.

Under the cover of darkness, clouds now open with rain, we made our return trip to Hiroshima and headed straight for something I had been anticipating for over 15 years. Okonomimura: 3 full floors of hole-in-the-wall joints whose sole purpose is to serve you their versions of Hiroshima's adopted dish, okonomiaki. A delectable thin-batter "pancake" made thick with ramen noodle, bean sprouts, lettuce, egg, special sauce, and whatever else you happen to order on top of it. Mine was embedded with shrimp and squid. My wife had hers topped with large Hiroshima oysters. Both satisfied deeply.

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Tell my colleagues to find a replacement: I may never leave Hiroshima prefecture. But, alas, I will begin the slow march eastward tomorrow with our journey to Kyoto. This should be outstanding, made more so by the fact that Miyajima gave signs of the first sakura blooms.

Good thread! Keep them coming Jim, this thread will probably cause me to visit Japan at some point, so for any Kaiju movies this event inspires let it be said by the monster himself you at least deserve a producers credit.
Thanks! :)

Also those pod hotels, why in all that is decent and holy do they do not have those on overnight ferries over here? Seems like a great idea, you can fit 3 of those on the space one cabin (aka a broomcloset for ants!!!!) takes up now, and you have the same, if not more space to sleep.....you would need to take your shoes inside lets a drunken Englishman pees in them, but that's the only niggle I see.
:lol:
 
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JimCorrigan

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The Travelogue Thread

Japan Day 4 - Kyoto Day 1

Another day, another amazing complementary breakfast at the Dormy Inn in Hiroshima.

Forgot to show the Hiroshima hotel room.

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Do you mean like this, gaasc?

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And it's not all Japanese either. Behold! Awesome french toast with strawberry syrup.

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We then took advantage of the free shuttle to the shinkansen station, and found we had plenty of time to kill. My wife suggested we look around the gift stores of the station, so I went straight to the Hiroshima Carp (Japan League baseball team) store. Shockingly, the jerseys fit me, but the cut didn't look so great, so no go.

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But it's all good, because beer!

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I loved Hiroshima (again), and want to come back (again). The town itself is attractive, and much more laid back than the uber-metropolises, and it's nestled in a beautiful region as well.

Random thoughts while whizzing away through the countryside:
- I love shinkansens so much it's almost a disappointment to have to disembark. I imagine this is what first class air travel feels like, minus the tin-can sensation, horrible food, and lack of any real scenery to appreciate, unlike on a train.

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- As in most temperature controlled places in Japan, it's still too warm for my Canadian blood. That's fine, I have a solution. :mrgreen: (too early in the day? Who cares? I'm on vacation, dammit)

"For relaxing time, make it Suntory time."

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Arrive in Kyoto, transfer from bullet to local trains, make our way westward towards the Arashimaya hill district for our one night sojourn in a ryokan before spending the rest of our time in this city in a more conventional hotel. Waste 20 minutes because I forgot to transfer from one local train to another at one point.

Kyoto might have the densest concentration of UNESCO and world heritage cites of any city in the world. Thank the Americans for deliberately avoiding bombing this city during the Pacific Theatre. Kyoto's old world feel is genuine and without comparison. The old capital still has it.

Tenryu-ji temple and gardens.

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Okochi-sanso (private estate of esteemed period actor Denjiro Okochi). This is arguably prettier than the previous temple, especially with its well manicured, quiet walkways, clear views eastward across Kyoto, oh, and the included sit down of matcha and cake.

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Bamboo grove.

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En route back to the ryokan, we stumbled onto what should be a tacky display, but is actually quite pretty. Kimono Forest at Randen tram station.

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The appeal of a quality ryokan is its first class service coupled with their built in onsens (natural hot spring baths). The latter are found throughout Japan, this being active, volcanic geology. This is a traditional Japanese getaway. It's also a short term one, because they tend to be prohibitively expensive. Still, it's worth it for an experience like no other. Ok, so bathing buck-nekkid with old men might not sound all that appealing, but the relaxation aspect is unparalleled. So is the feeling of a private multi-course meal and holy shit you mean I get to drink all the beer and sake I want for no extra cost?!

This particular ryokan (Kadensho) amps up the traditional feels with its all tatami floor mats, and optional yukata robes. It also offers the option of 24/7 private onset rooms, so you can bathe in privacy, provided you can find an open one. Otherwise yes, it's public, gender separated bathing.

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So yes, we spent the evening in a private hot spring bath, enjoyed a meticulously prepared Japanese feast, and then had massages. Because we're on vacation, that's why.

Tomorrow it's back to (only slightly more) reality, and a move into central Kyoto. But thanks, Arashimaya, for a wonderful opening tilt.

Okonomiaki = <3

I bet the one made in Japan is even better than the one I had here.
I can pretty much guarantee it. Not only is it far and away superior to any reasonable facsimile I could locate in Vancouver, but it is widely regarded as better than any other in Japan.
 

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JimCorrigan

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The Travelogue Thread

Japan Day 5 - Kyoto Day 2.

Jet lag still prevalent, both myself and the missus woke up around 6 am. Carpe diem and all that, we went down to the private baths to see if we could access a different, better room than the last time.

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Turns out we were not the only inhabitants with the same idea, but we still were not disappointed.

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Ok, I am now well and truly relaxed.

7 am - Next up, breakfast.

IS THIS WHAT YOU MEANT, GAASC?

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Goodbye, Kadensho.

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9:30 am - We checked out of Kadensho, left our bags, and proceeded to re-enter Arashiyama to climb what is affectionately referred to as "monkey mountain", for obvious reasons. The climb is steep, but relatively short. The payoff is a decent view of Kyoto, and oh, these guys.

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FYI, WE are the ones in the cage, not the macaques.

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Katsura river.

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11:30 am - Baggage in tow, we leave Arashiyama to return to Kyoto city centre, and locate our place of stay for the next 3 days. It ain't no ryokan, let me tell you, but it has comfortable beds, and plenty of amenities, including a small TV built into the wall of the soaker tub (that I am just not built for).

2 pm - Fushimi Inari Taisha, another famous shinto shrine. "Inari" refers to the god of granary, and also the fox itself that is felt to be its totem animal. This place is famous for the (quite literally) thousands of torii gates that make up its many pathways. You can simply enjoy the base level shrine and affiliations, or you can make way towards the summit of a mountain. We got halfway before we decided to give up because the views were towards the west, not the east, and not as stunning as from Arashiyama. That, and we had another appointment to keep.

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The writing is of no spiritual significance. Merely recognition of sponsorship for the individual torii gates (which is why they are only on the reverse side of the gates).

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5 pm - private witnesses to a truncated tea ceremony, and an opportunity to learn how to make our own matcha. Worth it for the zen-like experience alone.

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6 pm - Gion district, famous for its old, wooden machaya merchant homes, and geisha tea houses. It's architecturally unique compared to the rest of Kyoto, and it serves as the city's nighttime entertainment hub. Thousands of people are crammed into the streets, shopping for wares, or hoping to catch fleeting glimpses of a geisha (or as they refer to themselves, geiko), or more likely, their meiko apprentices. Warning: these ladies do not stop for pictures, so be fast and at the ready. We saw one, but only from the back/ did not catch her face. She moved with such speed and deliberation that I felt like I was in a dream sequence or just saw a ghost (again, referring to the movement, I cannot comment on the make-up).

For a popular nighttime area, Gion is unlike any in most other Japanese metropolises: it has a unified, very subtle quality to its storefront adverts and street lined lanterns. Very pleasant place to spend an evening.

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Oh, and the Kobe beef used in many of the restaurants is pretty damn good, too.

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Late night snack in Gion.

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BONUS: Japanese car for Rick sighting...



It's small, weird, and the right colour. The engine is at least 661 cc, since it's not on a kei car plate.
 
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JimCorrigan

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The Travelogue Thread

Japan Day 6- Kyoto Day 3.

The original plan was to spend the day in the ancient capital of Nara, soaking in both the natural and cultural history.

Plans change. We slept in. My wife wanted to see the old imperial palace, and we needed to check out Nishiki market. By the time we finished the market, it was already 3 pm, and we barely made it in time to the Imperial Palace grounds for the self guided walk and tour. I miss Nara, but having seen it a long time ago helps lessen the blow. So does my wife's promise that we will return (we both love Japan just way too much) within x years and plot a different course. Regardless, the slower pace today was arguably necessary. She found a unique knife shop in Nishiki that carved her (Chinese) name into a blade, and as usual, we ate our way from one stall to the next. Although we did also stop at a English cum Japanese home for afternoon tea and cakes. Dinner was wagyu beef shabu-shabu in the lovely Ponte-cho walking only street. It was amaze balls.

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Proper stately Japanese luxury.

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Rickhamilton car sighting - this one IS a kei-car.

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English teahouse.

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Nishiki market.

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They're sharpening my wife's new lightweight carbon steel kitchen knife.

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Engraving my wife's name.

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Dried fruits galore. I'd never heard of wolf berries before (first picture).

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Roasted black beans (used to make a killer tea).

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Hey, if this sake is good enough to serve to the President of the United States, it's probably good enough for me.

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Imperial Palace. Not bad, but utterly underwhelming and not worth it.

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Plum blossoms fading out, cherry blossons just starting to bloom.

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Ponte-cho at night.

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This is how easy it is to miss a storefront on Ponte-cho if you aren't paying attention. That narrow storefront leads to a 5-star shabu-shabu restaurant. We didn't eat there.... reservations were required.

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Luckily for us we found this nearly as good (and half as expensive) shabu shabu place a block away on Ponte-cho, off an alley that I thought could not exist, given this "street" itself is actually an alley. Broth flavoured with a dried fish caught off Nagasaki, and soy milk. Mixing dishes include some broth, white onion chive, and if you elect to add it in, some yuzu (Japanese delicacy orange, not for consumption as a fruit) spice. Add in some tofu, whole wheat ramen, and warabi-mochi (made from bracken starch, not gelatinous rice), and you have a happy, satisfied couple.

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Info for the interested traveler to Kyoto: skip the Imperial Palace. Waste. Of. Time. Too many other gorgeous places to visit over this.

Top tip no.2: Beer and sake here are brilliant. So are spirits. Wine... is not. We like muscat grape flavoured teas, but in wine, not so much.

Tomorrow will be a full throttle day of historic sites, and a nice bonus: my wife has planned to get dolled up in a kimono, as do many tourists (esp other Japanese) when they visit historic sites within Japan.

MOAR BEER!

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JimCorrigan

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The Travelogue Thread

Japan Day 7 - Kyoto Day 4.

Spent the entire day in the Higashiyama section of town (literally translates to "eastern mountain"). My wife got dolled up in a gorgeous kimono near Kiyomizudera, and I promptly got, er, something something in my pants. Already near the eponymous Buddhist temple, which is *THE* UNESCO-approved temple to rule them all. It's even better when the blossoms are in full bloom (they are just starting now, but nowhere near full splendour), but still no less magnificent. I acknowledged earlier how easy it can be to get temple/shrine overload, but this one needs to be on everyone's list of places to see in this wonderful city.

Alleyway to the kimono rental shop.

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Kiyomizu-dera.

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Jishu-jinga, where people try and have their prayers for love answered.

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Lunch - green tea cold soba and tempura.

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Afterwards we slowly made our way through the crowded but utterly charming restored streets of sannenzaka and ninenzaka. The literal translation for sannenzaka is "3 year hill", but contextually it's actually sai-nen-zaka which means "praying for easy baby birth", named after 16th century Nene, wife of Hideyoshi Toyotomi who would climb up this street to Kiyomizu-dera to pray for a child. Ninenzaka' meaning is much more direct, translating to "2 year hill", referring to the second year of emperor Tenno's reign (807 AD) in which it was constructed. The street is a treasure trove of historical mercantile layout and new world tourism, with plenty of genuine tea shops to sit in for a relaxing bowl of matcha and sweets, not to mention the oodles of stores specializing in Kyoto specific omiyage. There is also no shortage of damn good, high quality unique restaurants.

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Case in point: due to previous research I knew to look for a poorly labelled tea house called Kasagi-ya. It would appear that the awareness level for this place was directly proportional to the distance the person from whom you asked for directions lived from it, as it was well known to local shopkeepers, and the only patrons apart from ourselves appeared to be well known to the few employees. The outside was so non-descript as to fool the untrained eye (re: my own) into thinking it was nothing more than a local residence. There's no Harry Potter style magic once inside, either, as the small two dimensional exterior perfectly reflects the tiny interior's third dimension, only the staff are immediately welcoming (if a bit shy) and happy to serve. The excellent matcha, coupled with perfectly made red bean rice cake and mochi in such a quiet, unassuming locale on a small, narrow street with more than 1200 years of history, contrasting the noisy bustle of people just an arm's length opposite the small wooden walls, brought forth a sense of tranquility with each sip. Highly recommended. Would have another go given the opportunity.

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Conversely, we later visited the, ahem, Hello Kitty Saryo teahouse, because 33 year old Asian wife. The decor is heaven to a nine year old girl (and evidently any Asian woman regardless of age) but the food was overpriced and not at all special. Unless you have someone in your party you need to placate, you can skip this one. However, without it we would never have noticed adjacent to it was a small official Studio Ghibli memorabilia store.

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Emerging forth on the north end of these two ancient arterioles, we proceeded to what some might call Kyoto's prettiest street, Ishibei-koji. I won't deny its loveliness, and the fact it was mostly barren of tourist traffic made it seem that much more special... but I can't authoritatively give it that exclusive qualifier. What I can say is we finally got our geisha (meiko, actually)* and mygoddam! Even before I could utter something stupid like "whoa" or "threesome" my wife started gushing with praise of how pretty she was.

She could entertain us anytime. :mwf:

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* okay, given that she was actively posing for pictures at the direction of an older woman makes it highly unlikely that she was a true geisha or meiko. She was more likely a model or model in training, but the true geisha are said to be among the prettiest women in all of Japan, and given both my wife's reaction as well as my own, I think she likely makes an excellent visual representation.

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Then came Maruyama-koen, a park with some pretty scenery, but also begging to be in full blossom bloom. It is also home to the colourful Yasaka-jinja Shinto shrine, where we partook of a vendor selling fresh street side oden.

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Sadly, it was too late in the day at this point to explore either Chion-in or Shoren-in Buddhist temples, the former looming large even from streetside, and the latter known to have both a beautiful garden and bamboo forest. However, we certainly had no shortage of memories from the day's adventure, so we left satisfied.

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After my wife returned the kimono to the rental shop, we bussed back into central Kyoto and decided to celebrate our day of traditional clothing, food (minus cartoon character themed teahouse, that is) and shrine visitations by doing the complete opposite: we ate dinner at McDonald's. I had some burger with an egg in it, shaka shaka fries (basically McD's fries where you shake them with an added seasoning in a bag), and a cherry blossom flavoured soda that should be renamed "fizzy diabetes." I felt no different than when I sample a local McDonald's back home, i.e. my innards felt raped. What was more odd was seeing the Kyoto locals who view this place as somewhere to study, or read quietly. Maybe they were all in varying states hyperglycaemia and were rooted to the spot, I dunno.

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Why'd we do it? Because we could, that's the point. The menu is simultaneously unique and familiar all at once, and we tend to stick with overwhelmingly traditional local fare on our vacations whenever possible, so why not throw in the occasional western diet curveball just for (fatty) shits and (flatulent) giggles?


Kyoto Tower (near Kyoto Station, city centre).



This, along with Day 1, were my favourite days in Kyoto. You can spend weeks here just trying to "do it all", but you'd leave a bleary eyed, shrine'd out mess. Better to sample what this historically rich city has to offer and leave it wanting more. It's been here a long time, and will still be here upon your return.

Tomorrow we head into uncharted territory: places I never had the chance to visit 15 years ago. Three smaller towns nestled among the Japanese alps. My Japanese will probably get the acid test here. Thankfully, there will be much more time to travel shorter distances and achieve more depth with local culture and cuisine.

And no mothereffing McDonald's.

Wow.
Even the beer cans are gorgeous! :lol:
You seem to be having a great time. :D
We are! :)

FYI: the cans change with every season, per manufacturer.

Keep them comming :) A couple of years ago we did Tokyo -> Kyoto -> Osaka -> Tokyo so it's fun to see someone else experiencing many of the same things.
Yeah, it's been a long time since I've been here, so even though this past week was many things I had done previously, it mostly felt all new to me. This coming week, though, I am really excited about.
 
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CrzRsn

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Never really had an interest in Japan before, but damn, I want to go now.
 

Misrabelle

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Yeah, same. I love cherry blossoms though.
It's on my list, but there are still other places I want to get to first. Unless I can work it in as a stop over on the way to some other destination...

Canada is very high on my wishlist currently. Then of course I have friends all over the place that I want to return to visit....
 

JimCorrigan

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The Travelogue Thread

Japan Day 8 - Kanazawa Day 1.

Today is a great day, because trains!

Morning noodles in Kyoto station with all the commuters. You use this vending machine tovpay/select your choice via ticket, and hand it over to the staff inside.

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Standing room only.

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The ticket officer told us our train was on platform zero. I could scarcely believe such a thing existed.

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It really does! Where's 9 3/4?

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Our destination is Kanazawa, some 2.5 hrs by train north east of here, near the mountains and very close to the northern coastline. In a country famous for its affinity to seafood, this region stands out. It's not rural by any stretch, at 460,000 people, but it IS smaller than what we've become accustomed to on this trip.

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It's also (at this time of year) damn cold, due to the features I mentioned above. After our arrival on JR Express Thunderbird no. 85 (I never get tired of saying that), we ate our way through stalls in the Omi-cho market place, having fresh eel, mackerel, scallops, sea urchin, and then crab croquettes and a local form of mochi as dessert, the name of which currently escapes me.

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When you lineups of locals for sit down restaurants in a marketplace, in the middle of the afternoon, you know it's got to be for fresh sashimi. We will likely try this tomorrow.

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Sake! Yes, they offered samples, and yes, I partook.

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Next up was the Nagamichi/Chuodorimachi neighbourhoods, otherwise referred to as the samurai district. Yes, you heard that correctly. Kanazawa is one of the few cities that has managed to preserve some of this precious heritage. You would think in a nation rife with historical monuments and lore there would be no shortage of proof of samurai way of life, but sadly, this isn't the case. Regardless, this area is very different from the bustling main streets, with short mud and rock walls lining the small alleyways and many beautifully tendered gardens. Despite this facade, most homes here are less than ancient, private residences (I saw one brand new house, with the frontage just being constructed), and some are used to hawk grossly overpriced wares, ranging from shameful tourist garbage to delicious local delicacies intended as gifts (omiyage).

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Japanese sure were short in the 16th century.

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There was, however, one specific reason to visit this area: Nomura-ken. This Nomura Family samurai home served as a museum of sorts, with a small but impressive collection of items (including body armour and weaponry), and a gorgeously preserved garden.

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Thank you for your service (read the English).

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It was an early evening when we decided to wrap up and head back to our tatami based room (yes, we are sleeping traditional on the floor for the next few nights). Tomorrow will be a lot of walking to see the the main attraction for this town.

Last note on attractions: local woman driving a manual GT86. Love that.

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Yeah, same. I love cherry blossoms though.
It's on my list, but there are still other places I want to get to first. Unless I can work it in as a stop over on the way to some other destination...

Canada is very high on my wishlist currently. Then of course I have friends all over the place that I want to return to visit....
Cherry blossoms are stunning, especially in full bloom. So far, all we've managed to see are individual trees, so we're waiting for later in this trip to get the full effect.

As for Canada, British Columbia is the place to be. :cool:

Never really had an interest in Japan before, but damn, I want to go now.
Glad to be of service. It's truly worth it, especially if you put in the time beforehand.
 
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