Japan · Tokyo · Travelling

Days 14 to 19 – Tokyo

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!

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Tennessee · USA

Week 19 – Walking in Memphis


Memphis, in the words of Marc Cohen in the song he made famous (Walking in Memphis), is the home of the delta blues. And Elvis.

Rock n’ Roll, soul and the blues

Music made this city and is a big part of why so many tourists come here. ‘Beale Street’ is the main place to hear the blues, as well as soul too. It seems pretty commercialised these days, and a lot more white than it was from what I have read. In the ‘Rock & Soul’ Museum, I learnt all about the history of the blues, soul and rock & roll and how Beale Street was a largely black community. In the days of segregation, black people bought and ran businesses here, and also played the music they loved. This music originated in the fields, where their ancestors had worked as slaves.

Beale Street
Beale Street

So much of what I have seen and heard in the south has been influenced by slavery.

The blues were essentialy created by W.C. Handy, a black musician from Alabama. He wrote and recorded what’s acknowledged to be the first blues record, ‘Memphis Blues’. Lots of other artists began their careers here, for example Al Green and of course Elvis.

The influence of Elvis is everywhere. Rock & Roll music, which he personified, was essentially black music that white people took and popularised. I’d never really thought before how much of Elvis’ music is influenced by black culture.

Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley

The Rock and Soul museum is really interesting, definitely worth a visit. You watch a film all about the blues and soul, and then they give you a self guided tour to go round the museum, it also allows you play lots of great songs too. Interesting exhibits too on Stax records and the prejudice that black musicians faced/face.

Wurlitzer jukebox
Wurlitzer jukebox

National Civil Rights Museum and Martin Luther King

One of the most interesting and moving experiences I have had on my trip was visiting the National Civil Rights Museum. Housed in the Lorraine Motel where Dr King was assassinated on 4 April 1968, the museum is a fantastic testament to the struggles that black people have undergone in the US.

The Lorraine Motel in Memphis
The Lorraine Motel in Memphis

The museum highlights various pivotal moments in African American history, included events in Selma, Birmingham and Memphis. Standing in the room where Dr King was killed was a profoundly moving experience. Another particularly emotional exhibit allows you to feel how the young people of the south might have felt when they staged a non-violent sit-in in cafes across the south, to protect against segregation. You can also sit on a replica bus of the one that Rosa Parks sat on, when she refused to give up her seat to a white person. Bearing in mind how recent this history is, it is somewhat difficult to believe this all happened.

Protestors in the Memphis sanitation workers strike in 1968
Protestors in the Memphis sanitation workers strike in 1968

I visited the museum on the day of the Trump inauguration. It felt very ironic and symbolic too, considering the things he has said about ethnic minorities. I hope America does not take a step backwards with regards to civil rights, including LGBT rights.

A quote I have always loved from Dr King is ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere‘.

Art

Of course, like every other city I have visited, Memphis has a great art gallery, the Brooks Art Museum. Bit of a journey out of town to visit but well worth it. One artist I discovered is a local Tennessee artist called Carroll Cloar. Born in 1913, he made his name painting surreal images of the southern landscapes and the people who lived there. A couple of his paintings are below.

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Wedding Party, Carroll Cloar, 1971
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Where the Southern Cross the Yellow Dog, Carroll Cloar, 1965

Next stop, Nashville.

Australia

Week 11 – Sydney

One of the things I love about travelling is visiting all of the amazing museums and art galleries around the world. One of the best I have visited is the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The history of Austarlian art is more varied than you might think, with Aboriginal art only really coming into its own in the 1970s, and white Australian art finding its voice in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Here are a few of my favourite pieces from the gallery.

Untitled (Jupiter Well to Tjukula) by Uta Uta Tjangala
Angry young girl by Charles Blackman (1958)
Angry young girl by Charles Blackman (1958)
First-class marksman by Sidney Nolan (1946)
First-class marksman by Sidney Nolan (1946)
Shopping day by Russell Drysdale (1953)
Shopping day by Russell Drysdale (1953)`
Australian beach pattern by Charles Meere (1940)
Australian beach pattern by Charles Meere (1940)
The spirit of Darwulmu at Guruwana, a scared place by Mungunu (1959)
The spirit of Darwulmu at Guruwana, a scared place by Mungunu (1959)

Sydney skyline

The skyline of Sydney must be one of the iconic skylines in the world. I have been here three times over the course of 16 years and have never failed to be awed by it. The opera house was very controversial when it was built, it was over time and over budget built it is now firmly one of the iconic buildings of the world. And what a view!

Here’s my videologue of the few days I spent in Sydney.

The sails of the opera house
The sails of the opera house
Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney skyline
Sydney skyline
Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House

Friends reunited

I’ve also had the great joy of meeting up again with two friends, who I met in very different ways! I met my friend Amy on New Years Eve in Sydney in 2004, both being rather the worse for wear with alcohol! But we hit it off & stayed in touch ever since. I’m greyer and Amy is married with two kids but we haven’t changed really.

Amy & I in 2005
Amy & I in 2016

Louisa used to be my manager when I worked in Lewes in Sussex! But a professional relationship became a friendship and when she moved back to Sydney we stayed in touch. It’s been great to see both again.

Louisa, Phil and me
Australia

Weeks 9 & 10 – Queensland

One of the daily tasks of travelling is finding free wifi, and lately it hasn’t been very easy! However, I am currently camped out in the cafe of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, using their free wifi and enjoying their fantastic aircon too! I am sure the art is very good too, have yet to look round.

The video below shows some of the highlights from my trip to Queensland,

Brisbane

I touched down in Brisbane on 2 November to some serious heat and humidity. I also met up again with my good friend Austyn, who used to live in Brighton but now lives in Brisbane. I stayed with Austyn for a just over a week and reacquainted myself with the city, which I last visited in 2000, 16 years ago. And boy has it changed. It really is a booming city, with office and apartment blocks springing up all over the place.

However, I think it is a city without a plan as the motto seems to be ‘anything goes’. Development seems haphazard and the historical soul of Brisbane is being crushed in the process. However, the area I stayed in is called Teneriffe (deliberate spelling with two ffs) and does have lots of renovated wool stores, old Victorian warehouses now converted with apartments, which gives the area a lovely historical feeling.

Art galleries and museums of Brisbane

Brisbane has some wonderful museums and art galleries. Plus they all have great aircon too! I did a guided tour of the Brisbane Art Gallery and learnt about the origins of modern aboriginal art. An American expedition to Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory in 1950 came across a community in Milingimbi, and they gathered up a series of their bark paintings. The bark paintings were then offered to Australian galleries, who had previously never exhibited aboriginal art.

Then, in 1971 in the central Australian community of Papunya, a new artistic movement began. The artists began to document the unique qualities of their homelands, which they had long been displaced from. Previous to then, aboriginal people drew their art in the sand or on bark, it was never intended to be sold. The community in Papunya heralded the beginning of the entire modern aboriginal art movement that we know today. Top aboriginal artists can sell their paintings for millions of dollars.

Untitled (Jupiter Well to Tjukula) by Uta Uta Tjangala
Untitled (Jupiter Well to Tjukula) by Uta Uta Tjangala (1979)
I also saw the first aboriginal piece of art ever to reference western art (Michelangelo’s creation of Adam), as 99% of their art only references aboriginal stories and history only.

Lizard and an emu
Brisbane Museum is great too, and I learnt about the history of the city – which is very young in fact as it was only founded in the mid 1800s.

Koalas, kangaroos, emus and lizards

Australia has some pretty unusual wildlife! It lurks around every corner. But to get a full picture of it all, I headed back to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, which I first visited in 2000. I got to hold a beautiful koala, walked amongst kanagroos and wallabies, saw a huge monitor lizard and two sleeping wombats and countless other unique Australian animals.

Me & my koala
Me & my koala
Kangaroo chillin'
Kangaroo chillin’

Tangalooma island

Queensland has a beautiful coastline and has many islands to visit. I spent the day on Tangalooma with a group of friends. It is about 90 minutes by boat and has beautiful white sand beaches and crystal clear blue water, as you can see from my photos below.

Tangalooma beach
Tangalooma beach
Bowls on Tangalooma
Bowls on Tangalooma

Cairns, Cape Tribulation and Far North Queensland

After visiting Brisbane, Austyn and I flew up to Cairns and stayed for a week in Palm Cove. It’s a very small place with a stunning beach, but a sea you cannot swim in, due to the presence or marauding crocodiles and deadly jellyfish! Strictly look but no touch. We did a great walk through the Daintree rainforest, in a great place called Mossman Gorge, owned and run by the local aboriginal community which was great to see.

Mossman Gorge
Mossman Gorge
One of the best things we did was a day trip to Cape Tribulation. It really felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, and we had the beautiful beach below virtually to ourselves. You really can’t go much further north than this, without having a 4 wheeled drive vehicle. We hoped to the local bird called the Cassowary but it’s pretty elusive so no sightings. No croc sightings either, but that was probably for the best!

Palm Cove
Palm Cove
Port Douglas
Port Douglas
Cape Tribulation
Cape Tribulation
Chilln' in Palm Cove
Chilln’ in Palm Cove
I also snorkelled the Great Barrier Reef. I saw some stunning corals and colourful fish too. The reef is definitely in trouble, and I did see some bleached coral. Hopefully all the efforts of the locals can help stabilise it and bring it back from the brink.