Japan · Travelling

Days 30 to 35 – Hiroshima, Kobe and Osaka, Japan

Days 30 – Hiroshima

Hiroshima is known throughout the world as the first place to have an atomic bomb dropped on it. It happened on 6 August 1945, during WW2, and three days later the city of Nagasaki was also destroyed, leading to Japanese surrender to the Allies.

A few years after the event, the city debated how best to remember the visitors, and they decided to create the Hiroshima Peace Park, along with a museum dedicated to showing the world what happened. I visited the museum and it was as moving as you might expect. You walk through galleries showing the impact of the bomb, on the people and the city. Photographs taken during the event show groups of stunned people with all their clothes blown off and the skin scorched. Buildings blown away. Children’s toys scorched. Houses turned to rubble.

The most poignant artefacts are the things that were left behind. A child’s tricycle. School uniforms. Lunchboxes. All presented in the museum for us to remember the impact of what happened that day.

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By the end of 1945, due to either casualties on the day or people who died due to the effects of the bomb, it is estimated that 140,000 people died, with countless other families ripped apart and ruined.

I also learnt why Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen. It was because the American military were looking for sites that would have the biggest impact, where the blast would spread the widest and have the greatest casualties.

The museum is set in the grounds of what they call the ‘hypocenter’ which is the area directly below where the bomb exploded. There is one building now known as the A-bomb dome that remained standing and has been left as reminder of the horrors  of nuclear war.

Hiroshima is a fascinating place and a testament to the hours of war. Whilst it is not easy to see, I think if you visit Japan you should come here.

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Day 31 – Hiroshima

I visited a fantastic art gallery today, the first one in what feels like ages! I have been really unlucky as nearly all the galleries I wanted to see have been closed for one reason or another. I am always amazed how small regional galleries can have the most amazing permanent collections and the Hiroshima Museum of Art is no exception.

It contains works by Van Gogh, Chagall, Degas, Manet, Rousseau, Munch, Modigliani and Picasso to name just a few. If these works were in a major gallery you would queue to see them and be surrounded by crowds. Here I had them virtually to myself. Always check out local galleries where you travel, you never know what you may see! I also visited a second great art gallery in Hiroshima, with works by Dali as a highlight.

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In the afternoon I visited the rebuilt Hiroshima Castle. It was originally built in the 17thC but like everything else here was destroyed in 1945. It has been rebuilt with a museum inside, explaining the history of the castle. You can climb up to the 5th floor and enjoy views across the city. As you can see from the video it has been raining a lot today, in fact it has not stopped raining since I arrived! It is the rainy season after all.

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Hiroshima Castle

Just to end I wanted to share this photo below which is a genius idea but which I have not seen anywhere else. Locakable umbrella holders. Loads of galleries, museums etc have them, to stop everything being dripped with water, you simply insert your umbrella and lock it, taking the key. Since the Uk is obviously the wettest country in the world, why don’t we have them!

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Day 32 – Kobe

Today I headed east to the city of Kobe. Apparently it is famous for dead meat but I chose to ignore that and headed the wonderful Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art. As luck would have it there were having an Impressionism exhibition, I couldn’t believe my luck! I couldn’t take any photos but they had a wonderful exhibition including works from Monet, Picasso, Sisley and my new favourite artist, Maurice De Vlaminck. It is interesting how the collection came to be. The owner of gypsum production company, in the 1970s, decided to start collecting art so that his workers had a more pleasant environment to work in, and he amassed this amazing collection for them to enjoy. It now is touring Japan for us all to enjoy. What a wonderful employer.

The gallery also has a great permanent collection, including some Japanese impressionist paintings from the early 20thC, a movement I had not been aware of but which I loved! Particularly an artist called Heizo Kanayama.

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Outside the gallery there are also some great sculptures, including a big apple and a large girl!

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I then strolled along the harbour front to Meriken Park. Whilst parts of the walk were nice, Kobe is one of these cities that has dedicated itself to the car and sacrificed the pedestrian, building a monstrous two tier freeway going right through the harbour front.  It may have been built after the large earthquake that happened here in 1995. I only vaguely remember it but the monument in Meriken Park says that over 6,000 people died sadly. Meriken Park also contains the iconic Kobe Port Tower, shown below.

Day 33 – Osaka

A short hop east to the city of Osaka. Signs up everywhere warning people about security measures in place for the G20 summit next week, glad I am not here then! Plus I might accidentally see the Trump.

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Osaka Castle

Weather is a lot nicer here, cooler and no rain. Headed out to Osaka Castle in the morning, along with every tourist in the city it would seem. Climbing eight floors to the top you get some great views across the city. Running out of steam I headed to the river and the lovely Nakanoshima Park, marooned in the middle of the river on an island and very peaceful. After nearly five weeks away, travelling around on trains, planes, buses, subways, taxis, by foot I am starting to flag a little! So I lay on a bench and looked at the clouds for an hour and it was great.

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The Running Man

In the evening I headed south to Dotonoburi, a crazy, neon canal-side area of Osaka with shops and restaurants. There is a famous advertising sign called the running man that all the locals go crazy for and take endless selfies in front of. I don’t know why. There was also a man dressed as a wolf, dancing on the front of a boat to Michael Jackson songs, sailing up and down the canal. I don’t know why.

Day 34 – Osaka

A very lazy day today, feel like I am running out of energy! Plus it was super humid and that is the worst kind of weather. Anyway I spent the morning at the Apple store, trying to fix an issue with my MacBook, then wondered through the side streets of Osaka, visiting a few little community style temples that no tourists ever come too and it was great.

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I then headed back to to the riverside park I went to on my first day here and snoozed by the river. Lovely.

In the evening I sampled the local speciality which is called Okonomiyaki. It is a kind of vegetable based pancake, cooked in front of you on a hot-plate. The veggie option was cabbage, eggs, potato, cheese, with a mayonnaise topping with some other stuff I wasn’t sure of! But it was delicious.

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I then visited Osaka Tower and went up the tallest building in the city to see nighttime views across the city, a nice way to end my last evening here.

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Osaka Tower

Day 35 – Osaka

Today is my last day in Japan, and in Asia. I have not visited Asia for quite some years. I think the last time I was here was way back in 2005. I really love the culture and people and energy of this continent, it is everything I wanted it to be. Challenging, awe-inspiring, welcoming and a world away from my everyday life.

I am heading off to Hawaii tonight, but I just wanted to end with some thoughts on my time in Japan.

Life in the land of the rising sun

  • Japan truly is the friendliest country in the world. It is also the politest and most orderly. Everything you have heard is true. I like and respect order and efficiency and this country has it in bucketloads!
  • The Japanese people have embraced technology, without forgetting their culture and history. Technology like robots, sushi conveyor belts and self parking car garages sit alongside Shinto temples, kimonos and origami. This seems to be true of both young and old.
  • There is a real respect for older people, which is great to see and sadly lacking in many countries.
  • It is the tidiest country with the fewest bins. They have hardly any public bins, yet the place is sparkling!
  • There is a strange attitude to smoking. There are loads of signs telling you that you can’t smoke in the street, and yet you can still smoke in bars and restaurants.
  • People cycle on the pavements more that then road and you just have to get out their way quickly it would seem!
  • The attitude to tattoos is similar to the UK in the 1950s. In my current hotel it says you can’t use the spa if you are drunk or have tattoos. They pretty much equate the two together. They seem to have a view that tattoo=criminal. As much as I obviously look like a Yakuza overlord,  I just used it anyway #rebel.
  • The trains. Oh the trains. Not ONE SINGLE TRAIN I used was even one minute late. I will leave that there for you to consider.
  • The Japan Rail Pass is a brilliant idea and a great cost-efficient way to get around. Highly recommended.
  • Plastic. The Japanese, and Korean, people love plastic and plastic bags. The UK is certainly way ahead in our environmental outlook that’s for sure.
  • My final note I am sure to be back here one day, there is so much more to see. Aloha, I’ll see you in Hawaii.

 

 

 

Japan · Travelling

Days 25 to 29 – Nara and Kyoto, Japan

Day 25 – Nara

Today I jumped on a plane and flew 650 miles south to Osaka. Not that I am staying there, as I then got two trains to the city of Nara.

Nara was the capital of Japan in the 8thC and has a legacy of beautiful temples and shrines. It also has a crazy number of wild deer roaming the streets. They have become so tame that they’re not phased by anyone and hilariously scare tourists by trying to steal food out of their bags. They have also developed this amazing trait where they all have learnt to repeatedly ‘bow’ to people to get food off them. It is quite surreal to see it, a few clips in my video above.

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I didn’t get to my hotel til 3pm so did not have much time to explore. However I did visit the Daibutsu Grand Buddha in Todai-ji temple. The buddha was built in the 8thC and is housed in the largest wooden building in the world. The buddha is 15 metres tall. It really was awe-inspiring to see it. It was however insanely busy with tourists – a few clips in my video!

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I also lucked out finding a great Japanese curry restaurant that had a veggie menu! It also served the most amazing dessert, pictured because it was so good. I going back tomorrow for sure. In fact I am thinking about it now 🙂

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Day 26 – Nara

Learning my lesson from yesterday, I was up and out before the bus and train loads of tourists arrived. It was also raining which I hoped would deter them and it seemed to thankfully.

I started my day at Kofuku-ji temple. It was moved to Nara from Kyoto in 710 and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Attached to the temple is a museum showcasing some of the artefacts associated with the temple, including some stunning buddhas. The temple has burnt down at least 4 times over it’s history but amazingly a lot of the statues and artefacts have survived.

I then headed over the stunning Kasuga Taisha Shinto shrine. Japan is full of both buddhist and shinto shrines. I am not sure which is the largest religion here. Either way it has left Japan with some amazing places to visit. Founded in the 8thC, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is built at the edge of a forest with literaly hundred and hundreds of stone lanterns lining the pathways. They are only lit twice a year at special ceremonies but stunning to see them nevertheless. Luckily for me the place was pretty empty and I had time to slowly walk round and talk some great photos and video footage.

I lastly visited the Isui-en garden, a beautiful example of a traditional Japanese garden. Again, I virtually had the place to myself, so I could sit and feel tranquil! I then trekked back into town, expecting the usual where the hell can I eat moment, but actually found a great sushi conveyor belt restaurant with a decent number of veg options. Result. Tonight I am returning to the Japanese curry place with ‘that’ ice cream!

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Day 27 – Nara and Kyoto

My lat day in Nara and I wanted to see one of the four National Japan museums that is in Nara, as it was closed Monday. I was pretty much the first person through the doors at 9.30am which is always a great feeling! The museum houses some amazing buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Each one I look at and imaging owning it 🙂

A Bodhisattva and a thousand armed Kannon
A Bodhisattva and a thousand armed Kanon, 9thC

A quick whistle stop for an early lunch at the sushi restaurant I went to the day before and the waitress even remembered me, and that I was veggie!

I jumped on the train for the 45 minute journey north to Kyoto. The city was previously the capital of japan, and similar to Nara has many amazing shrines and temples. It is also astonishingly full of tourists. I think the book ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ by Arthur Golden is to blame as the vast majority seem to be American.

Anyway I decided I need to go to some slightly quieter places, so I go the bus up to a beautiful old Japanese house and garden called ‘Shoren-in’. It backed onto a bamboo forest, and had a lovely garden with a pond and carp. It then started thundering which only added to the great atmosphere. And rain usually means less people too. I got chatting to the gardener who told me that the fish, which were huge, were only 5-6 years old and that they can live to be over 50 years old!

Bamboo forest
Bamboo forest

I then trundled back into town and through the famous ‘Gion’ area, where most of the book is set I think. It is the older part of town, with lots of small lanes to discover. I then sat by the Kamo River for a while watching herons and cranes dip for fish, before heading back to my hotel.

Crane on the Kamo River
Crane on the Kamo River

In the evening I broke my ‘I won’t go searching for veggie restaurants’ rule again but this time it was spectacularly with it! I ate at a fab places called ‘Pettirosso’. The owners were an Italian Japanese couple who set it up because they had travelled the world and struggle to find the veggie food they liked, so they set up the restaurant in Kyoto so other travellers could eat great veggie food. And boy am I glad they did, as it was easily the best thing I have eaten this trip 🙂 Happy Ben.

Day 28 – Kyoto

Today the full force of the Kyoto tourist industry hit me! I employed the trusted technique of getting out early to beat the crowds, only to discover everyone else had the same plan. Add into the mix commuters and bus loads of school kids and it is a recipe ‘oh for God’s sake, I cannot be bothered’ so I sat in Starbucks for an hour whatssapping with my bestie as it seemed more fun! And it was.

When I finally did get out I headed to the famous Kinkakuji golden shrine. As beautiful as it was, the much promised serenity the guidebooks assure was somewhat spoilt but the hundreds of people trying to get a selfie in front of it. I took a few shots and headed off.

The rest of the day I wondered through the small lanes and alleys of the city, through Nishiki Market, where I had some top-grade matcha tea which was very green and very nice! I also ventured to the top of Kyoto station, which seemed an unlikely thing to do but they have built this great viewing platform up-top so you can see across the city and across to Kyoto Tower.

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I ended the day at a vegan place called Ain Soph. Whilst not as great as the place I ate at yesterday, to have two veggie/vegan places in one city is welcome indeed!

Day 29 – Kyoto

My last day in Kyoto. After the early aborted start yesterday I had a lay in! I went to the station to book my onward trains and then headed to a lovely quiet temple called Higashi-Honganji. Rebuilt in 1895 after a fire, the main hall is claimed to be the largest wooden building in the world. Thought the temple in Nara said that too. Someone’s lying….

Anyway it was lovely and tourist free so I hung out there for a while in the shade as it was about 30 degrees today. Then I walked up to the Imperial Palace and walked around the grounds and the gardens.

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Kyoto Imperial Palace
Kyoto Imperial Palace
Kyoto Imperial Palace

In the evening I walked up to the Kiyomizu Shrine, with great views across the city. I also wrote a wish and claimed through a hole in a rock! All part of a mission to grant any wish! Can’t remember the name of the shrine but I was very scared I would get stuck in the hole! Most Japanese people are considerably smaller than me, and one lady watching laughed the entire time I was doing it! In fact you can see her laughing in the photo. Bitch.

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I ended the day at a sushi conveyor belt restaurant, cheap as chips as ever. I have enjoyed Kyoto, as touristy as it is. Onwards to Hiroshima tomorrow.

Hokkaido · Japan · Travelling

Days 20 to 24 – Hokkaido, Japan

Day 20 – Tokyo to Hokkaido

I left Tokyo today for a more sedate pace of life. I jumped on the Shinkansen train to Hakodate, which took about 4.5 hours. Riding the bullet train is a quintessential experience of travelling in Japan. I did what most Japanese people do and bought myself a bento box to take with me, and amazingly I found a VEGAN box! It was so beautifully presented, with carved vegetables, different types of rice, beans pulses, and other things I had no idea what they were, but it was tasty!

Of course the train was perfectly on time! I then changed onto a local train for a short hop down to the port of Hakodate. It reminds me of towns I visited in New Zealand funnily enough. I arrived at 3pm and headed up the nearby mountain by way of the cable car. It is pretty quiet here, and so much cooler than the south, about ten degrees cooler in fact which has been a welcome change. I found a park and lay on a bench and had the place to myself and it was wonderful.

Mount Hakodate
Mount Hakodate

Hakodate is really just a stopover for my journey tomorrow up to the main city of Hokkaido, Sapporo. But it does have its charms. I wondered through the older area of the town, a few schoolkids said hello to me and I ended ups at the supermarket for dinner – a running theme of this trip so far! I also discovered the oldest concrete electricity pole in Japan. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. How lucky I am to have seen that. I like visiting smaller more out of the way places, as you get a truer sense of what it is like to live in a country. Electricity poles and everything.

The oldest concrete electricity pole in Japan
The oldest concrete electricity pole in Japan

Onwards to Sapporo.

Day 21 – Sapporo

Local trains in Japan are quite different from the whiz-bang-whallopp Shinkansen bullet trains, but they are still pretty good, though slightly reminiscent of British Rail in the late 1980s. It bizarrely took almost as much time to travel from Hakodate to Sapporo than it did to go from Tokyo to Hakodate, and if you look on a map you’ll see how outrageous that is!

Sapporo is the largest city on the island of Hokkaido and perhaps most famous for beer! It certainly is very laid back and so much quieter than Tokyo! The weather is about 10 degrees cooler too. The level of English is also noticeably less and therefore the old Google Translate app has been coming out a lot more. The hotel I am staying in is great as it has its own Onsen (Japanese spa). On the first day I went down twice and floated in the soothingly warm water, it was amazing!

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I also discovered a great Indian restaurant called Jyoti. It was like being back in the UK, loads of familiar curries and can breads to choose from and more importantly loads of veggie options! To round off my evening I stumbled across a fantastic five night outdoor free dance festival called ‘Yosakoi Soran’. It is an annual event apparently and celebrates a particularly energetic group style of Japanese dance and it is amazing! If you watch my video you’ll see some examples. The coordination and costume changes are stunning.

Day 22 – Hokkaido

Today I spontaneously decided to go on an adventure! Within ten minutes of waking up I decided to go see some of the island as the weather was good, so I grabbed my rail pass and headed to the station.

My ultimate destination was a town called Furano. The journey itself was lovely, trundling through the Hokkaido countryside, with rivers and mountains. The place I ended up at was an area famous for lavender and flowers. It was a long journey but was beautiful. I was a little early for the full effect of the fields and fields of lavender but what I saw was still great. You can buy lavender everything – lip balm, ice cream, cakes, pillow cases, perfume, you name it! The area is also famous for its melons.

Hokkaido flower fields at Farm Tomita
Hokkaido flower fields at Farm Tomita

I did have a funny experience too, whist looking at the nearby mountains. There seemed to be this low lying white cloud hanging around one particular mountain. Whilst sitting there pondering why it hangs around that mountain especially, it suddenly dawned on me that I was staring at an active volcano!!!?!

I ended my evening back at the dance festival and got myself a front row seat! After all that sitting I thought I should indulge in the Onsen experience once again which was a soothing way to end day 22 🙂

Day 23 – Beer and the eternal frustrations of a vegetarian abroad

Bit more of a lazy day after yesterday’s exertions. I started the day by booking my onwards train trips, from Kyoto to Horishima, then to Kobe and lastly to Osaka. The lady who helped me at the station spoke perfectly English which in Hokkaido seems to be quite unusual. I then took the old green line streetcar to find a veggie restaurant that I had seen recommended online. However, a tale as old a time proceeded to unfold, as I walked for ages to try and find it. But couldn’t

It has happened so many times that I have decided to stop trying to search out veggie places anymore using Google maps. It frustrates the hell out of me! I am just going to try and find veggie food in normal restaurants and chance my luck. Today was the second day in a row that I ate from a 7/11 store! Literally just rice and edamame.

I then walked over to the Sapporo Beer Museum. The brewery was set up in 1876 because the Japanese government were trying to develop the island of Hokkaido, as it was largely just agricultural in the 19thC. They had originally chosen Tokyo as the base but decided to bring it up here. You can walk around the museum , look at the history of the brand and see some interesting advertising posters (all using women to advertise the beer!). Apparently it is the most popular beer in Asia. I bought myself a limited edition  classic beer and sat on a bench and enjoyed a nice chilled brewskie! (I don’t drink beer much).

Sapporo brewery
Sapporo brewery

I then headed back to what has become my daily ritual and relaxed in the Onsen. I took a few photos (highly illegal) of what it looks like. Basically there is a single sex bathing pool with hot spring water. Then there are individual cubicles where you can wash, shower, shave, brush your teeth, you name it. I have noticed that Japanese men like to come down later in the evening and it is their evening regime to sit in the pool and have a shower before bed. It is a lovely relaxing way to end the day.

Day 24 – Otaru, a garden and a museum

My last day in Hokkaido today. I started my day in the sunshine at the Sapporo Botanical Garden. It was lovely and quiet, the only other occupants were a group of al fresco painters and some very noisy crows. It seems that people here are a bit scared of crows, there were signs up saying they cause mischief and to be wary of them! That’s why I like them.

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Sapporo Botanical Garden

I then headed to the nearby Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art. It wasn’t modern so much, a lot of the paintings are from the 18thC but it was a great gallery nonetheless. I then immediately broke the rule I set myself yesterday and tried to find a veggie restaurant I saw in a leaflet. Big mistake. It was closed. That really is it it now. Never again.

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Sapporo Modern Art Museum

I decided to see a bit more of the island and jumped on the train to the nearby town of Otaru. It used to be a busy fishing and trade port, but that industry died off years ago. That left the town with a series of canals and docks that became redundant and in need of repair. Luckily for us tourists the town regenerated the area and now it is a lovely area for boat rides, cafes and shops. I visited the local museum which was lovely, and I had it virtually to myself. I like to support local galleries and museums, sometimes they are not amazing but if you don’t support them, they won’t be around! Support your locals museums people 🙂

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Otaru

Tomorrow I am flying down to Osaka, then staying for a few nights in the old city of Nara. I have really enjoyed Hokkaido, the peace, the pace of life, the countryside and people. I definitely got stared at way more up here, as there are significantly less white people and less English is spoken. I do however like going to more out of the way places, and seeing the less obviously touristy side of country.

I ended my evening watching the start of the new series of Tales of the City! I have such an affinity with this series, having read the books when I visited my good friend Liz who was living in San Francisco, way back in the day. In fact we visited the inspiration for Barbary Lane last year on a trip up to the city, which is actually called Macondray Lane.

Watch it, it’s great!

 

 

Japan · Tokyo · Travelling

Days 14 to 19 – Tokyo, Japan

Day 14 – Busan to Tokyo

On day 14 of my trip I said goodbye to Korea and headed over to the land of the rising sun – Japan. I had some amazing views of Busan as I took off, see my video. It isn’t very far to get to Japan from Korea, only two hours flight from Busan to Tokyo. I had to pick up my SIM card and rail pass which was pretty easy then I jumped onto a train into the heart of the biggest city in the world! And boy does it feel big!

I immediately felt a difference in the people. On the train there was none of that Korean shoving to get a seat. It was so much more orderly and respectful. I arrived into Tokyo station at rush hour with a large suitcase which was as much fun as you can imagine…! However there are so many rail lines it is actually pretty easy to get around.

First thing I did when I got to my hotel was laundry! I literally had nothing left to wear.

Day 15 – Finding my way around

I just checked and I walked 23,000 steps today and it is only 6pm! I decided to do some sightseeing today and book some of my onward tickets. I have booked a ticket up to the island of Hokkaido in the north next week which I am really looking forward to. I bought myself a ‘Suica’ card for the metro and set off exploring. A few dead ends to start with though, as the Museum of Western Art is closed the entire time I am here and the National Museum was insanely busy so I thought, no. I should’ve known better than to turn up at 12 noon. Going to have to do that another day.

Bonsai trees
Bonsai trees

I did walk around the gardens off the Japanese Imperial Palace which were lovely, and also the Gojo Tenjinsha, a shrine in Ueno Park surrounding the National Museum. I also stumbled across a display of flowering bonsai trees which were beautiful. I know keeping and pruning bonsai is a Japanese art form, the people looking at them were fascinated by the trees.

I then headed on the metro down to the Shibuya district, with the famous crazily-busy pedestrian crossing that seems to appear in loads of films. I tried to go to a conveyor belt sushi place for lunch but like everywhere else here it was crazy busy so I bought some cooked aduki bean rice and salad from a shop and headed to the park instead!

Golden temple door
Golden temple door

Veggie food here is certainly no picnic but it is a little better than Korea so far. In the afternoon I visited the forest park that contains the Meiji-Jingu shrine. There was also a beautiful garden with water lilies and irises so I decided to eat my lunch there in the relative peace. Tokyo is fun but you need to escape the noise sometimes.

Meiji-jingu Gyoen
Meiji-jingu Gyoen 

Finally I visited the famous Harajuku district. This is the area where all the trendy young things hang out and shop, so I was in good company. I went to a vintage shop and bought some sunglasses, as I lost both my pairs already!! It was a really interesting sight, seeing all the crazy outfits everyone was wearing, especially after the conservative nature of Korean young people.

Day 16 – Museums

Learning my lesson from yesterday, I headed out early to the National Museum of Tokyo. I was very glad I did, as for the first few galleries I had the place to myself. The museum is actually four galleries in one, with an entrance fee of about 600 yen which is about £5!

Second century Indian buddhas
Second century Indian buddhas

The main gallery has artefacts from Japan including some amazing buddhas, masks and some wood prints images. Similar to Seoul Museum, it was incredibly well presented and laid out. I also went to the museum cafe and after explaining to the waitress that I don’t eat no meat, she found a special tofu burger meal I could have which was very kind of her, and delicious too! The other galleries focus on Asian art in general, with stunning Indian buddhas from the second and third centuries being my highlights. Overall I spent five hours there and it was fantastic.

Japanese masks
Japanese masks

In the evening I checked out the Akhihabra district, otherwise known as Electric Town. Well it was quite the assault on the senses. I looked round some of the game arcades, which were pretty funny, as they were packed with middle-aged businessmen playing retro games, presumably reclaiming their youth after a busy day in the office. The area is also full of ‘maid cafes’. Which is kinda what they are, lots of young women dressed as maids standing in the streets with menus trying to tempt (mainly men funnily enough…) into the cafes, where I think they put on performances and food comes in ‘kawaii’ style – cute. On the flyer I was given the highlight were teddy bear shaped omelettes!

Japanese anime
Japanese anime

 Day 17 – Closed, closed, closed

Well the lesson of the day is to check museum websites before you travel. I went to THREE art galleries all of which were closed. Closed. Closed. What were the chances I turn up when all three are closed to put together new exhibitions. After the weeping stopped, I headed over to the Roppongi district. There is a great art complex there called the National Centre for Art and there was a fabulous Austrian art exhibition on celebrating 150 years of diplomatic relations between Japan.

Now, I would not normally consider Austrian art to be high on my agenda, but boy was I wrong, it was fabulous. Gustav Klimt is probably the artist from the exhibition you are most likely to have heard of (‘The Kiss’) but the whole exhibition was very interesting, concentrating on the 19thC and early 20thC. I also discovered two fantastic new artists, Hans Makart and Egon Schiele. The painting below is ‘Sunflowers’ by Schiele and I love it! The most famous painting in the exhibition was ‘Portrait of Emilie Floge’ from 1902 by Klimt, another stunning painting.

Day 18 – Shinjuku, Harajuku and Asakusa

Today I decided to mop up a few of the remaining areas of Tokyo I had yet to visit. I started with Shinjuku. There is a beautiful garden there called Shinjuku Goyen, free to get in on a Sunday and the perfect place to lie down on the grass and do nothing!  Shinjuku is more famous for its nightlife, so I am heading out there tonight to see what it has to offer.

Shinjuku Garden, Tokyo
Shinjuku Garden, Tokyo

I then got the metro over to Harajuku, made famous by Gwen Stefani perhaps, Harajuku girls. Anyway, it is very trendy and hip. I visited the Kawaii (cute) monster cafe for lunch. Oh my. I guess it is more for kids but was fascinating anyway to experience it. The cafe itself is a crazy, neon, OTT visual experience, and the staff put on shows, complete with cute dancing monsters.

Monster Cafe, Tokyo
Monster Cafe, Tokyo

Finally I headed east over to Asakusa. This area contains the oldest temple in the city, Senso-Ji. As it was a weekend it was packed. It is very touristy, lots of things to buy, lots of street food stalls, but interesting nonetheless. It reminds me of what I saw in Korea, a less sanitised version of the city.

Senso-ji temple, Tokyo
Senso-ji temple, Tokyo

Day 19 – Robots

My last day in Tokyo and I looked to the future. Literally. I visited the Museum of Science and Emerging Innovation in the Odaiba district. The best part was watching a demonstration by ASIMO, the resident football-playing and dancing robot! It was really interesting to see how human they had made it, and what it could do. ‘He’ could also jump on one leg! The museum had lots of interesting exhibitions, including using cells in medicine and space exploration, where you could look round one of the actual living pods used on the International Space Station.

Robots in the Museum of Science and Emerging Innovation
Robots in the Museum of Science and Emerging Innovation

Nearby there was also a huge robot thing which my friend Dom reliably informs me is called Gundam, and it is based on some cartoon or something that was popular once. Anyway it was pretty impressive, and it looked like a transformer. Another oddity in the area included a replica of the Statue of Liberty (not full sized). The area also has fantastic views of the city, as all as of the ‘Rainbow bridge’.

I have really enjoyed Tokyo, everyone is so friendly and welcoming and willing to try and speak with you. This goes for everyone who works for the rail system, anyone in a cafe or restaurant, anyone who works in a shopping centre, a 7/11 store, you name it. It definitely is the friendliest and politest country I have ever visited. The most efficient too!

Tomorrow I have my first experience of the Shinkansen trains (bullet trains). I am travelling five hours up to Hokkaido in the far north of Japan. I can’t wait!