WitchPig – The Stories

August 19, 2009

Japan Holiday

Filed under: Japan 08/09 — witchpig @ 10:23 am

Wendy (The Witch / Wife) and I travelled to Japan over the New Year. Here is a run down of our trip in a diary format. I highly recommend the Japanese IPA to anyone travelling; they really did go out of their way to assist us.

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20th December 2008
It is a 4am wake up call, a time usually associated with going to bed not getting out of it. My god 1/2 an hour later and the sun is getting up too. We are flying Jet Star so there is no point in being anywhere near your required check in time it is best to be very early so we can actually get on the plane. Some background information we booked these tickets on the 4th of January and since that date our scheduled departure and return times were changed three times. Better still we paid for tickets from Brisbane to Cairns, Cairns to Osaka. In the end we got Brisbane to Cairns – Cairns to Narita. Well it is in the same country so I guess that will do. For our return trip we had Osaka to Brisbane. We ended up with Osaka to Coolangatta. Once again same Country. I guess you get what you pay for without saying any more about Magdas airline.

We are at the Airport just before 5am. As we walk in the door we witness two chaps about to go a few rounds, Oh great I think to myself as I notice the check in line is a good 1/2 an hour wait with 2 staff working the counter. We eventually check in and have 10 kilograms to spare for our return trip (excellent). We fly to Cairns and arrive to a nice balmy 37 degrees with the humidity through the roof, we collect our bags and commence a sweating walk to the International airport, followed by a few of our native brethren using language that could be considered offensive for the majority of the walk. We arrive at the international and check in early, time to head for the departure lounge and commence our 4 hr wait, we spend 35 minutes browsing the duty free shops and then have a feed and play the waiting game.

Flight is on time and we take off on a A330-202 arriving 15 minutes ahead of schedule in Narita. Rightio time to look extremely out of place and make the most of it. I am accompanied on this trip by my fiancée affectionately known as The Witch. We arrive at the Immigration gate to be fingerprinted and photographed, nil issues apart from the Asian chaps that for some reason believe once they have their particulars taken the computer must pick up on their history because they immediately turn and walk back through the line towards the landing planes. Wakanano I believe is the term for my expression. My turn, G`day is returned with a barrage of Japanese, I stick fingers into scanner and smile for the camera, a further barrage of Japanese and the passport comes back stamped, I reply with arigotto and I am through off to the baggage collection point. Meanwhile the Witch has another Asian chap trying to steam roll his way back through the line of waiting people before getting to the gate and having a fluent conversation in Japanese about why she is here as a Tourist considering she has worked here and been in the Country a large number of times. Finally she is stamped and in. We grab our bags and head off to organise the train trip.

At this point it is clearly evident that the Japanese the Witch usually utters at me under her breath and mutters to her mother whilst playing 500 is going to come in very handy as next thing I know we have tickets and know exactly where to go. We call a friend of mine Mari, who was a Japanese exchange students of my sisters 15 years ago and let her know we should be at the Ryokan (traditional guest accommodation) around 9pm. A couple of minutes wait on the platform and before I know it the Witch is at the vending machine and has returned with drinks and a smile. Somebody is a little too excited to be in Japan. It is about 7.15pm at this stage of the game.
We jump on the train and a 1 hour trip sees us at Ueno Station our destination. The Witch wants to grab a cab and sit down so we can get to our Ryokan, not a bloody chance I have been sitting down all day on a Magda plane, I vote we walk it and lug our bags for the experience. So we do, a little hard to navigate with the street signs being few and far between and written in squiggles and my watch seems to think North is in the opposite direction, silly hemisphere thing. We walk 20 minutes, I carry my bags and the Witch rolls hers along making a good old racket. We arrive at the Ryokan and the chap behind the counter appears to have a cockatiel strapped to his shoulder, no, it just changed sides, confirmed it is a real one. We check in and are shown around, I notice the doors are about 3 foot shorter then what they should be. My friend Mari has arrived, greetings and presents are exchanged. The Witch is tired, I say the night is young, we hoof it down the road looking for some tucker. It doesn’t take us long to find a yakitori house for dinner. Let the taste sensations begin.

Chicken everything is on the menu, this includes kidney, skin, mince, wings and meat. I also have some Unagi (eel) and five seasons rice (combinations of seafood) we drink Lemon chuai, Grape fruit chuai and Suntory beer. Our friend Mari has been away for four days and needs to catch the train home before it is to late so at 11pm we depart company and head back to the Ryokan which has a Onsen an hour later and it is bed time right after I walk into one of the door jams that is painted black and 3 foot to low, it has been a big day but we are excited and it is Japan.

21st December 2008
8am up and at em. We have some traditional green tea after sleeping in our traditional room, I decide the sleeping is good and the onsen is good and the doors are low and the tea is not so good. We walk to Ueno station once again twenty minutes away and stroll through the park on the way. We travel across Tokyo to the Harajuka markets, yes there are a few people here the crowds are impressive, the markets are busy and so is the shopping precinct. I now learn that I am wider then most shopping aisles and it is near impossible to pass anyone in aisles without demolishing half a shop. There are a number of funky knick knacks and toys in the shops, there is also an arsenal of weaponry that catches my eye, handcuffs, OC spray, throwing stars, sie, throwing knives, batons of all shapes and sizes etc.

We train it to Tokyo itself, we walk out of the train station to wonder why these old chaps are in the middle of the road dancing around, once the cars stop dodging them we notice the other fifteen people picking up a chap that has been flattened by a car, and move him to the footpath, situation looks in hand so we are off. We get less then one block before the ambulance and fire service are on scene. We take a number of photos of Tokyo tower and the Imperial palace gardens. The imperial palace is a huge area in the middle of town surrounded by water and beautiful grounds. The backdrop is high rises everywhere and a fun run that happened to be on.

We head over to Akuabara which is the electronics mecca of Tokyo. Within about half an hour I am of the firm opinion that it may have been a mecca for me if the Australian peso was worth a little more but there is very little that is actually cheaper then what we have in Australia, the range is far greater but the instructions are written in squiggles. We train it back to the Ryokan as we have made contact with the IPA here and have to meet them for dinner at 6.15pm.

Arrive back at the Ryokan about 4.30pm we have another Onsen and change into some clothes for dinner, I pick up a few presents and we head off again. We arrive at Shinjitsu station with 5 minutes to spare that should make it easy to find the Police booth on the western side of the station considering the exits have the direction. West exit, can’t find the box with the Policeman. refer to a map on the footpath, perhaps it is just to our right we wander up and no it wasn’t there refer to another convenient map and it is just to our left we walk back tot he first one and it is still not there. We think maybe it is on the other side of the road as the lights go red and cars and mopeds start moving, we take the stairs to walk under the road and twenty metres later we find the police box depicted on the map underground. 30 seconds to spare and we have made it. The IPA contacts are present and we make introductions, we are greeted by the president and another recently retired gentlemen. They explain our welcome dinner is up near the main station of Shinjitsu 700 police work from this station out of 42000 for Japan, it is the largest station in Japan. We go into the marble building next door and it is impressive, we jump in the lift and head for the 44th floor, it happens to be the tallest one, the Witch starts talking about earthquakes and how the buildings sway. There are ten IPA members at the traditional dinner, we do introductions and exchange gifts, I gave out patches, tie pins from Qld and IPA tie pins. I also presented a Qld Region plaque and banner to the president and he returned the favour with a Japanese banner and patch. [IMG]http://i187.photobucket.com/albums/x204/adventureracer/photo1.jpg[/IMG] The hospitality, camaraderie and friendship is excellent. The food is fabulous and consisted of nabe (soup hot pot), Kani (crab), salads, sashimi, fried fish, Suntori Malts beer, red and white wine and of course Saki. My glasses remained full I couldn’t get them under a half before they were refilled. The Witch was turning bright red a clear sign that she has consumed more then 20mls of alcohol. All of the Japanese IPA had travelled substantial distances to attend the dinner with the closest being about an hour away so dinner finished at ten, [IMG]http://i187.photobucket.com/albums/x204/adventureracer/photo3.jpg[/IMG] however it was fantastic and a great welcome to Japan. We trained it back to Ueno and walked around for about 1/2 an hour looking at shops and the different night life. We returned home just before midnight for an onsen followed by some well deserved sleep.

22 December 2008
8am and we are up and moving again. Our day seems similar we walk to Ueno station through the park again and jump on the train to Shinjitsu. We validate our 14 day rail passes for the upcoming travelling. The Witch was working here and required a bank account but it has become very hard to manage from Australia so we are closing it down. We find the bank and are greeted by the staff, if you picture banks in Australia, then picture the opposite this was what it was like there was one staff member to assist with the 4 ATM’s there were two members to greet customers and direct their enquiries, there were two counter staff and then about 10 personal bankers for other enquiries and non standard transactions. These were the staff that I could see. They greet the Witch and then she explains that she needs to close the account, they can’t understand what they have done wrong and why she wants to close it, after explaining it is because she can’t use it as such from Australia and it is a burden to manage they understand a little and feel a lot better. Account is closed promptly. We then head off to a couple of push bike and sports shops the Witch use to frequent before I know it she has purchased a number of accessories for her mountain bikes, all small and all pink. We contact NAKUMURA-Son (Japanese IPA President) and he requests we come and see him for lunch in Yokohama.

We travel by train to Yokohama and meet NAKUMURA-Son he seems rushed and is apologising that he must go out to a job and we only have 20 minutes. Nakumura eats like a man possessed and before we know it he has had to leave, once again we don’t like putting people out but his hospitality is above and beyond. We finish lunch and walk to a connecting train line I have a friend only a few stops away to see.

In 2004 I and two other Qld Police Motorcyclists took a tour group of 14 Japanese across the Canning Stock Route for Yamaha. The main organisers motor bike shop is in Yokohama Minami. We train it to the appropriate station and The Witch asks for directions, even I understand walk out the door turn right and go straight until…. . The …. is you see a school and then on your right. We walk up and find a school and look up the street to see a lot of Yamaha signs it is my friends shop. We surprise Sasaki-San and the Witch has to do a lot of talking as he doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak Japanese. An hour later his wife and son arrive who came on the trip in 2004 we exchange presents before heading out for lunch it is? Pm after all. Sasaki goes all out and we dine on excellent Chinese food in Yokohamas china town. We then travel for 2 hours at a snails pace and arrive in Ginza the ritzy business mans area of Tokyo. Sasaki takes us to a Magic bar where the drinks are complimentary as the door price covers anything you could possibly drink. We are entertained for the next couple of hours by some excellent magic tricks and have a fantastic time. The Witch has a friend we were meant to meet at about 9pm, Sasaki calls her and her husband and gives them directions to the magic bar, he pays for them and they join us. We all watch the shows and drink for the next 40 minutes. It is just after 10 and Sasaki and the Witch’s friends are hungry. We leave the bar and go across the road to the 2nd storey of a traditional Japanese restaurant, no shoes allowed and the food is once again to die for. Must learn to say no somehow. We dine and talk for the next 2 hours. Midnight in Ginza and the traffic outside is at a stand still kind of like when they shut the riverside expressway on Friday afternoon at 4pm without telling anybody. We part company at midnight and train it back to Ueno for our traditional walk to the Ryokan. The Onsen closes at 1am, no problems it is 12.50pm. An onsen and then bed.

23 December 2008
Up at 8am and the Witch does the washing, as this is a process I am not overly familiar with I seize the opportunity for another 45 minutes sleep before having another onsen and getting changed. It is just after 9 and we are off again. Today we head to the Tokyo museum to get up to speed on some culture and also to hopefully catch a glimpse of the Tokyo dome where sumos are training next door. The museum was interesting but nothing special, some of the artefacts were definitely worth seeing. The sumos weren’t training but were fighting and for around $540 we could view them. That was not happening so we went across the road and purchased some Sumo memorabilia. On the train again to shopping mecca of Tokyo and also home to the busiest intersection. At the train station we booked our JR tickets for the next three days using our passes, this way we can let people know what we are doing. We go to the intersection I am standing about 40 metres from the road and realise that the people in front of me are also waiting for the green light to walk. It happens the light goes green and people start shuffling from 5 directions, we make it onto the crossing while he is still green as do another thousand or so people. This is madness how does it all work, with no one tripping and causing a pile up, one car running a red light could maim a hundred at least. We shop for the next 5 and half hours. Correction the Witch shops and shops and shops and I watch and convince her of reasons why she doesn’t need certain things. I did have some success and we still have money left. We make contact with our IPA contacts in the Fuji area and advise him of our train timetable as well as the Witch’s relatives which are the following stop. We get back to the Ryokan at 9pm for an Onsen and some time to write up some post cards and keep the diary up to date. We plan to pack and be ready to move by 8am at the latest. End result it is after midnight and we are off to bed again.

24 December 2008
Christmas Eve, woke up early (7am) – The Witch had to have her last bath at the RYOKAN, and then send her suitcase by TAKUBIN (courier service) and the check out….meanwhile, the Pig finally got out of bed. We then caught the train from UENO to TOKYO station, this was interesting…we were caught in peak hour traffic. We didn’t think we were going to fit on the train…..but low and behold….we were pushed well into the train by over a meter and could barely touch the ground. Six minutes later, we got off the train and could breathe again. There was a 40minute wait until our bullet train departed so we got some expensive sandwiches and sat and waited in the COLD COLD weather.

Finally, at 9:27 exactly, our train departed. We took some photos and got to speeds of 270km/hr according to my GPS. We arrived at Shin-Fuji station at 10:38 exactly and met our new tour guide, SHOUGO AKAIKE from IPA. He spoke excellent English, very fluent – self taught. He hired a car for the day and took us to the hotel to check in,
[IMG]http://i187.photobucket.com/albums/x204/adventureracer/photo4.jpg[/IMG]it was about 30mins away. After that, we went to an OKONOMIYAKI restaurant and had YAKISOBA. [IMG]http://i187.photobucket.com/albums/x204/adventureracer/photo5.jpg[/IMG] I found it a little difficult/uncomfortable to sit and eat on the floor.

After lunch, we drove past a YAKUZA house, it was one of the top BOSS` in Japan, who is now apparently retired. The security included infrared sensors, cameras and a bear in a cage. It was amazing but we were told not to take photos, just in case

Next, we drove up Mt Fuji but it was a little cloudy so we couldn’t see it up close. We then drove to another viewing area. After that, we drove past the Marine base and American Army base. We watched a Chinook fly overhead. We also saw them warming up a few other helicopters. After this, we went to HAKONE, it is famous for ONSEN TAMAGO – eggs cooked in the hot spring water. It was very cold and the place was about to close, so we ran up to where they boiled the eggs. Shougo bought some from the shop, they are black and warm…very tasty. The views were awesome, but it was too cold to stay for any period of time.

Then we started to drive back to the hotel. On the way, we stoped at a game centre for a quick look allegedly. I was surprised that the Witch didn’t want to play the TAIKO games, she was too tired. We arrived at the hotel about 7pm and went to the ALL YOU CAN EAT dinner….eating again. It was amazing though, different kinds of Japanese food – fish, tempura, noodles, salad, ice cream, daifuku, GOTEMBA KOGEN BEER….the desserts were the best. After dinner, the Pig had a bath in the room where as the WITCH took full advantage of the well stocked OFURO – she could try many beauty products…all of which you can buy in the gift shop (so she did the next day). When she came back from the bath over an hour later, I had given up on the weird Japanese TV and gone to bed, but the Witch woke me up again to watch some more weird TV.

Went to sleep around 10pm but we were awoken early by kids running around upstairs at 4:30am! The Witch put in earplugs and thus slept through her alarm, only to be awoken at 8:30 by reception telling us breakfast was nearly finished. Another all you can eat meal consisting of fish, eggs, pickles and rice. Go back to our room and open the presents from the hotel, they were little Christmas pens. Packed our bags and went for a walk around TANUKI Lake to take many photos. We separate so that the Witch can go get more photos before we are picked up by Mr Ito our next IPA contact.

When we get back to the hotel, Mr Ito just arrives and we sit down for a coffee, it’s about 11am by now and we sit for about an hour, not sure what is happening next. After coffee, we went to a SHOGUN shrine and temple, he is the first shogun. It is in Shizuoka area and we had to take a cable cart to get there. The wind was really strong and they warned us it may have to stop if it gets stronger, this worries the Witch a little, but what worried her more was the little “good luck charm” falling from its perch on the ground and the cable cart girl looking on in horror, we all take this to be bad luck. Obviously, we were relieved to make it to the other side but not looking forward to the trip back. We were here for almost 2 hours looking at the shrine and Samurai’s armour. I found this to be extremely interesting.
[IMG]http://i187.photobucket.com/albums/x204/adventureracer/photo6.jpg[/IMG]

Mr Ito dropped us off at the hotel around 5pm and will meet us again at 6:30pm. We go for a quick walk around the hotel and the Witch buys some things at UNI QLO- just some funky T-shirts. Get back to the hotel at 6pm and have quick showers, run back downstairs and he is waiting for us again. We go for a small walk around the city and see the police station, city hall, police headquarters and old city hall. After that, we meet Shougo again at the restaurant. It’s another all you can eat, but the food looks good! It was a long wait so the Pig and Witch go up to LOFT to have a quick look! The Witch loves LOFT but she only buys a Dog shape cookie cutter and toothpaste. By the time we get back, Mr Matsu (attached to the anti-terror unit) is there too and we meet him. Dinner is now ready. I take it easy only having 4 main dishes and 3 servings of desserts, about 15 profiteroles, 3 melon mouses, lots of DAIFUKU, heaps of TEMPURA prawns, beer, salad, sushi, etc.

It was a fun dinner, with lots of food and talking. They plan to come to Australia next year. I gave them all gifts and mementos. After dinner, we said farewell to Mr Ito. MR Matsu and Shougo came to the hotel to get our itinery. Shougo said maybe the Osaka people want to meet us and they need our schedule. They soon left so we went to do our washing and update our diary. – Now 11:30pm!

December 26th 2008
Today is a travel day for us. We were late to bed but up at 7.30am there was breakfast included at the hotel. After Breakfast we were pretty much on a train schedule, so we hoof it up the street only stopping to get a few nibblies for the day and a light lunch at one of the mini marts. The train station is just about a kilometre from the hotel so it doesn’t take too long to get there. We find the track and a few minutes later the punctual train has arrived and we are on our way. Beautiful views are to be had of Mt Fuji and the surrounding hills. Our changeover station is Kofu and the Witch finally finds her favourite Japanese food – Ichigo Daifuku – she buys the first and has almost swallowed it before paying so is forced to buy a second. This Daifuku has a cream centre with a whole strawberry in it and I can verify they are pretty tasty, well at least the crumbs were. We only have a 20 minute stop at Kofu before we are on the next train and moving, we are continually noticing more snow.

Shimosuwa is our destination and one of the Witches cousins (Hiroshimu) is waiting to greet us and yes there is a little bit of snow lying around. We head for the family home up on the hillside overlooking the town to meet in my case the relatives and in Wendy’s case to catch up as she hasn’t seen them for four years. The sun is setting and it is only 4.30pm so we head off with Hiroshima, Kazumi and their boy Ukyou, we have been dying to get to some camping shops and sporting shops so they offer to take us. I finally find something to buy namely a set of gortex leg gaiters and some kayaking gloves, both of reasonable price and extremely high quality. The Witch can’t decide on what to buy and is weighing up if she should spend more. The sports store is equally as impressive and then we meet up with Ukyou at the games centre where he and Kazumi have won a pile of lollies, trinkets and toys. Soon after we are taken for some sushi, after having a few plates I notice Hiroshima isn’t eating any of the fish dishes he replies with he doesn’t eat raw fish. Not the ideal restaurant for him, everybody else has some fantastic sushi and poor Hiroshima eats a ton of corn and rice rolls. We are back home about 8.30pm and sit around for a number of hours talking.

December 27th 2008
We awake to a small eye peering through a hole in our paper door, it seems like Ukyou wants to play. We have a nibble to eat and decide a walk is in order, we venture outside and it has snowed overnight, a little cool, very pretty and then there is ice, considering we are predominately going up hill this makes for some interesting times. We walk to the top of the hill for some great views, and then back in to town to visit a number of shrines and some very picturesque areas with the snow and water. We walk down a road that has existed since the 12th century and was the road to Tokyo, this is a narrow road full of history.

It is time for more food and lunch is on the cards, we are being force fed food by everyone and the hospitality is great but my belt only has so many notches. Tempura soba in a traditional restaurant is consumed for lunch and like 95% of Japanese food it is delicious. After lunch we walked back home and Ukyo starts to teach me Japanese. Ukyo is 6 years old and is an awesome teacher I am just a slow learner. He even goes to the extent of slowing down the pronunciation for difficult words or if I get it wrong. An hour or so into my lesson whilst we are still walking I decide it is time the teacher plays and a few bits of snow are flung around with great zeal. We finally ascend the hill to the house and play some soccer with Ukyo before heading inside to talk with a few of the elder family members. Before we know it Dinner is upon us again and we are off to a Tonkatsu Party with some more cousins. [IMG]http://i187.photobucket.com/albums/x204/adventureracer/photo7.jpg[/IMG] Another fantastic dinner and great times are had even if I can only understand a few words.

December 28th 2008
What’s that smell that would be bacon and eggs being cooked for us I suppose we should get up and be social? Another feast is had before playing with Ukyo for a while. Today we are being picked up by another one of Wendy’s uncles who lives over an hour away and we then find out hasn’t visited this family house for 7 years, this is pretty impressive. Kesanobu arrives in his V8 crown, and we all talk. Kesanobu speaks no English. Soon we are underway and the V8 roars to life, I am soon glad I am sitting in the back this may be a hairy ride. A little over an hour later we arrive in his home town for lunch it nay have taken another minute or so if he had of stopped for one red light, one stop sign or thought about giving way to a few cars here and there. Sushi is had for lunch. Then we head up the road for coffees and hot chocolate, the local girl thinks I am a giant after smashing my head into the second doorway when entering, a quick glance confirms nobody but her sore it as nobody else is in the shop. After the drinks we head to the shops and pick up some groceries. Kesnobus grammar is stronger then the Witch is use too so it is a lot harder for her to comprehend let alone interpret. We head for the family home and meet his wife. I am keen to learn about the family history in particular the crest, however it proves too difficult with the language barriers. I have a kip and Wendy keeps chatting. Some more cousins arrive and before we know it is dinner time again. Dinner was good, the beer was great then there was that evil sake stuff which seemed okay at the time. After dinner Kesanobu and I polish off 3/4 of a bottle of cognac, his English is now fantastic and we communicate but neither of us really remember what about. Nothing like seeing the oldest uncle walking into walls when your half cut yourself. Bed time due to intoxication is about 10.30pm for both of us…

December 29th 2008
We are up a bit later then normal and Kesanobu is still walking into things (oops) we are told that 1pm he will drive us down to the next uncles house who is only about 15 minutes away. The Witch and I head out for a walk through the countryside taking a lot of photos of rice patties and SOME traditional houses and bonsai. We return for a touch of lunch and then the car trip down the hill to the next uncles.

We arrive and soon meet Kazuki and family. The house is new and large, oh oh there is another one of these small people and the Witch starts acting clucky again. We sit and talk for a while before heading off to a 100 yen shop. These shops are like crazy clarks but with really good stuff. The Witch is off and before I know it she has amassed over $70 worth of stuff the scary thing is it is all for her and not gifts as I thought might be the case. About 40 minutes later and it is back to the family home we try our hand at some origami before more relatives arrive, more greetings and chats are had.

Once again dinner is upon us and we are whisked away to a local restaurant where we have a Yakiniku party? It is great to see up to four generations together enjoying each others company and these little things running around everywhere still have the Witches attention. Dinner is fantastic,.We head back to the family home and everyone comes with us. We chat and have drinks and then the lights go out and a birthday cake arrives for the Witch. [IMG]http://i187.photobucket.com/albums/x204/adventureracer/photo8.jpg[/IMG]Her birthday is on the 1st and everyone always forgets. She is taken by surprise. We all have some cake and take a family photo before it is once again 11pm and everyone has headed home. [IMG]http://i187.photobucket.com/albums/x204/adventureracer/photo9.jpg[/IMG]

December 30th 2008
What a good sleep. We have a light breakfast and chat with family until 10am and then it is off to the Train Station. We say our goodbyes and then jump on the Bullet Train headed for Nagoya. Nagoya station is huge and we finally find a map to orientate ourselves with where our hotel should be. We exit the station and with some great navigating six minutes later we are at the hotel. The room is nice enough but the window is fixed and smokers have been in here before. We head out to go to the Witch’s favourite push bike shop, the whole reason for our one night stop here. We go the 10 stations and walk for a few minutes and then discover it is closed for the next eight days for New Years Holidays. The Witch is not happy. We go back down the road and do some shopping in another 100 yen shop. I use the opportunity to sneak away farm the Witch and buy a few birthday presents for her, this solo shopping should not be underestimated when you can’t speak Japanese. We meet up again and to cheer her up I take her to a games centre so she can play Taiko drumns, it is effective. We grab some dinner and catch the Subway back. We then spend a few more hours shopping until the shops shut at 10pm. We also utilise the Apple stores computers to check our emails etc. Back to the hotel and put on a load of washing. The smoke smell is terrible still.

December 31st 2008
We both wake with sore throats and eyes, bloody smokers. We are checked out minutes later and in the fresh air. We catch a train to the main station and put our luggage in lockers we have five hours to fill in and the shopping centres with eleven levels all seem to be convenient to the train stations. I try to maintain a leash on the Witch and have some success, she buys a few things and I once again find her another birthday present. We grab a bite to eat and recover our luggage before heading off for the next bullet train. Next stop Osaka.

Before we know it we arrive and meet up with Wendy’s Brother Peter. We make contact with the local IPA and over the evening many phone calls are made and received. Due to our family commitments it is unfortunate that we can only dedicate one day to the IPA and that is the 6th of January. I am pretty sure they had made a few plans for us on the other days we are in the area. The three of us have dinner and then head off to Peters wife’s family house and we all meet/catch up. The New Year is a big thing in Japan so we count it in together and then head out the door and walk to the local temples and shrines, we grab our fortunes and luckily they are all for good luck, mine lower then the others though. We walk around until about 2am when it starts to snow. We head home and are in bed by 3.30am.

January 1st 2009
I am up at 10am and on the IPOD stealing some bandwidth and sending New Year’s greetings to a number of the Japanese friends we now have. 11.30am the Witch and her brother are awake. We sort out luggage and carry out some admin stuff before heading out at about 2pm. We go to an area in Mino as the Witch wants to see the Monkeys we see about 3 on the road in but can’t stop for photos. We then go for a walk to a waterfall and admire the natural beauty of the area. The DRIVE out proves entertaining with Monkeys everywhere and a lot of photos taken. [IMG]http://i187.photobucket.com/albums/x204/adventureracer/Photo10.jpg[/IMG] We then headed to the shops to pick up supplies before going back to the family home for New Years Dinner. About 9pm we headed into Osaka main business/entertainment area where there are a number of 24hour shops and had some good times. Bed at 1.30am

January 2nd 2009.
Up at 8am we were going to ride to Kote today which is about 40 kilometres away, the forecast is for snow and it is about 3 degrees. We decide to train it instead. Kote is about 5 degrees and sunny on arrival so we hire three Chinese style bikes for the day and pedal around the town, visiting shrines, temples and a few of the tourist things as well as a lot of the backstreets. The pushbikes are a great way to see the city. We clock up over 40 kilometres of pedalling and have a really good day, it even rained on us in the afternoon but that is no big deal. We head back to Osaka on the train and head for dinner. Dinner is fantastic and enjoyed probably because we have done some exercise today and also walked about 10 kilometres on top of the pedalling. Bed at midnight.

January 3 2009
I woke up a bit fluey this morning, we had plans of going for a pedal to some outlet shops nearby but these were quickly replaced with transport from a car. We packed our gear as we are heading to Hiroshima in the afternoon and then jumped in the car with Wendy’s brother to go to the outlet shops. The line up to get into the car park was a little bit ridiculous and this was the first day a lot of shopping areas have opened back up for the new year sales. The Witch and I legged it into the shops leaving Peter to park the car with instructions on where to meet every half hour until we will meet up. The outlet shops are of good quality and brands, the prices however seem to be of the normal shops and the word outlet has been added in for fun. The Witch picked up a few presents for people back in Oz meanwhile I got excited about a couple of items only to find they didn’t fit and never would. XXL appears to equal Medium in some shops. A few hours later the Witch had finished so we drove to another shopping mall near the train station from where we had to catch the train. We had okonomiyaki for lunch as this was my second time I must say it is a very enjoyable meal, eating food in Japan is more about the socialness of talking and eating then just the simple need to consume food. After we finished our late lunch we still had 45 minutes to kill so the Witch led the charge and hit up some more shops. We walked to the local train station and caught a train to shin-Osaka and from there the bullet train to Hiroshima. Upon arriving we exited the wrong gate and ended up on the wrong side of the train station, a few back streets later we were on track and navigating our 1 klm to the hotel. Nil issues we found the entrance and checked in hassle free. We dumped our gear and went for a wander through the streets, one thing I noticed is Hiroshima is very popular with tourists and ironically most of them are American.

January 4th 2009
Our plans for Hiroshima are to see a few things on the World Heritage List. So we wake up at 8am and are moving by half past back to the train station for a ride out to Miyagima and then a ferry trip across to the island. Upon exiting the ferry terminal I pointed out a deer to the Witch next thing I know she has busted into a sprint just to take a photo. After ten or so photos we start walking again and within the next 200 metres see another 15 deer or so. Needless to say everybody must have been laughing at her excitement to photograph the first one when there are literally hundreds of them all over the island. [IMG]http://i187.photobucket.com/albums/x204/adventureracer/photo11.jpg[/IMG]

It is low tide so we are able to walk out to the BIG ORANGE GATES and grab a few photographs, we ask another chap to take a photo of us and get chatting. He lives in Hawaii but is married to a local girl, he advises us on what we should do and see whilst on the island. Following his advice we hoof it up to the ropeway and catch the cable car to the top of the island. PHOTOS. We do the viewing platform and lucky for us the atmosphere is perfect for long distance viewing, more tourist photos are had. We then come across a wild monkey and grab some more photos. We walk to the next mountain top and then work our way down to the DIJOIN TEMPLE. We literally went down stairs for 2klm’s straight it took us 27 minutes and the recommended time was 60, which I knew enough Japanese to say `It is easier going down` to all the people coming up. After the temple we did the tourist things and the time was getting on so decided to visit the aquarium before heading home. We get to the aquarium to find it is being refurbished for our future enjoyment and will reopen in August 2010. We wander back through the villages and onto the ferry followed by the train. We then go for a walk in the opposite direction to our hotel to see what we can find and visit some different areas. We knock up another 8k:s of walking and then go back to the hotel for a shower, after that it is back into the mall area far to conveniently located just across the road and we walk around for another hour or two. Bed time is a little earlier tonight at 8.30.

January 5th 2009
Up at 7.45am the forecast is for rain and we have a bit of walking ahead of us. We head out of the hotel and go to the baseball stadium where the firies are putting on a massive display, there are mobile vehicles set up to simulate earthquakes where families hop in and sit at the kitchen table and carry out what they would do during an earthquake, there are CPR and AED demonstrations, fire trucks and ambulances. There are people repelling and climbing and helicopters winching, we walked into this by accident, but well worth it. Then we headed over to Hiroshima Castle and toured it. After the castle which comprised samurai swords and armour we head over to the A Dome, Peace Park, the statues and monuments and finally the Peace Memorial Museum, a sobering experience. From there it is back through the shopping mall area towards the hotel stopping first for some lunch at a small restaurant. The Witch is feeling the stairs from yesterday so stops off to buy some menthol heat pads to stick on her legs. We get back to the hotel at 4pm and decide to do our laundry and update our blog as well as check emails. We also contact people from the IPA regarding tomorrow’s arrival back in Osaka. Once all this is done it is 7pm so we head down to a funky store called Tokyu Hands I am already familiar with the Witch and the amount she has purchased form this chain however I need to pick up a present or two for my friend that has been minding our dog and the fish whilst we are away. We are in bed before ten and ready for our trip back to Osaka tomorrow, we only have 5 days left in Japan. But at least we are starting to get in a bit of exercise with the amount we have eaten in the first 2 weeks of the holiday.

January 6th 2008
Well we are up at 8am and today are a travel day again this time back to Osaka to meet with the local IPA. We have a few hours to kill and have already done the touristy things. It is time to be a geek for the morning. I pull out the GPS and fire it up, The Witch and I play a game called geocaching http://www.geocaching.com some describe it as a Hi-Tec treasure hunt I describe it as using multi-billion dollar satellites to find Tupperware hidden in the bush. In Police circles geocaching is sometimes well known by the bomb squad members as they far too often get called to a cache site when people stumble onto them and think they are suspicious packages. We fill in the next two hours doing some multi-caches around Peace Park, the co-ordinates take us to a number of donated items and statues we weren’t aware of. During the morning we clock up our 1000th find. We head back to the hotel around 10.30 and check out, we hoof it to the train station and there is a 7 floor shopping centre to keep us entertained, first port of call is lunch and then the Witch goes shopping again. I get to carry the bags. We bullet train it back to Osaka and meet with our IPA contacts Miyoko a retired police officer full of energy and Mia; the daughter of a retired officer. We visit Osaka castle which is basically a museum [IMG]http://i187.photobucket.com/albums/x204/adventureracer/photo12.jpg[/IMG]and then the Osaka Prefectural police HQ where we take some happy snaps and are shown a video on the OPP capabilities, the building was only completed two years ago and is 9 levels high with a heli pad on the roof. In the basement they have a convenience shop and a few other shops including a watch outlet shop where the prices were very good. [IMG]http://i187.photobucket.com/albums/x204/adventureracer/photo13.jpg[/IMG]

The Osaka IPA has 90 members which is the largest region in Japan and they are proud of their membership, they were given very short notice of our arrival and short visit time yet still manage to get 18 members together for an Izakaya party with us. [IMG]http://i187.photobucket.com/albums/x204/adventureracer/photo14.jpg[/IMG] The party was good with a lot of English spoken and Wendy and I spoke with everybody present as well as exchanging out the rest of the gifts I bought over. Mental note next time I must bring business cards. After dinner Mr KOBAYASHI took us to a local bar with a difference this bar was run by a Cuban Gentleman Who is a musical genius and actually fairly famous he played a few songs on the harp for us whilst we ate some zesty dip and chips and drank Mexican beer in Japan. [IMG]http://i187.photobucket.com/albums/x204/adventureracer/photo15.jpg[/IMG] What a great night but it was over far too quick. It is already 11pm and time to say our goodbyes. We jump on the train back to Wendy’s brothers house and arrive at 11.50pm ten minutes to spare on our rail passes, I guess we got pretty good value out of them. In bed by 1am.

January 7th 2009
Up at 8am as Wendy’s nephew wakes us as we are in his playing area and at 1.5 years old that is a serious offence. We spend the morning playing with Kaito [IMG]http://i187.photobucket.com/albums/x204/adventureracer/photo16.jpg[/IMG] and pack all of our gear in her brother’s car. I also fix up one of the push bikes for her brother by putting on a new cable for the front derailer and adjusting the gears so that it actually works again. After lunch Kaito is off to bed so we jump in the car and thumb our way through the complicated navigator that is written in squiggles but I have memorised the buttons to press and drive to Nara, the 33 kilometres takes just on an hour. We are both a bit fluey at this stage of the game and it is rather cold outside. We book into the hotel and have hot showers and then we head to a shopping centre a couple of blocks away for dinner and funny enough more shopping. It is an early night as we aren’t feeling well at all and are asleep by 8pm.

January 8th 2009
I am convinced I have a bad case of the man flu and the Witch thinks she might have a cold. I am required to do a flemmy cough every minute and a half, oh well can’t waste the day is the vote there are temples to see and a palace and wild deer to annoy with cameras. We hire some mumma charries from the hotel, these bikes are pathetic but slightly quicker then walking. We pedal for the palace and it is a joke, upon finding what looked like the palace in the distance we learn that this was the southern gate and all that remains of the palace are the grounds, there is a lot of lawn behind the gate filled with people throwing toys to their dogs, this is where the palace once stood but was destroyed by fire a couple of hundred years ago. Well in that case it is only a few kilometres of dodging traffic up hill to most of the shrines and botanical gardens. We head that way and soon find a few deer to annoy, followed by more and more of them and then realise we are in the land of the shrines there are a large number of them in the area. We also go into the botanical gardens and annoy more deer before realising there is a cache only a couple of kilometres further on top of a hill, so we park the bikes and take the hiking track to the top, this is far more enjoyable as there are very few people and there is great scenery and the land is abound in wildlife, we reach the top, find the cache take some photos and enjoy the view before hiking back down the trail and riding to the great hall that contains the worlds largest wooden Buddha. The hall itself is spectacular but is only 200 years old the one built in the 8th century was much larger, the Buddha is large and the stalls selling memorabilia inside the hall once again manage to take away from the experience. Japan has definitely capitalised on the tourist market and you can’t blame them but finding old buildings that are weathered and old quite often mean a lot more to me as they show the history then these new buildings that are refurbished and full of merchandise sellers. Personal opinion but all of it is still a unique experience.

After walking around shrines and halls for a few hours we pedal back into town for lunch and I have a cuttsa curry (pork, rice and warm curry) it certainly goes down well with the man flu that I have. The witch uses a fork and still manages to slurp her food like the Japanese claiming the slurping cools down the food, I point out she is inhaling and can’t possibly see how logically this could occur as stated, she gets the proverbials with me. (Kind of like the spoon upside down in the bottle of champagne).

We then pedal down the street and does what comes naturally for the Witch, yep you guessed it we are pedalling between shopping areas now. We do end up purchasing a number of things for our wedding at good prices, favours, invitation paper, envelopes, brides’ jewellery and other girlie things. It is once again late and pitch black we are required to engage the headlight on the bike which results in severely reduced speed due to the transformer requiring half the wheel energy to run. We make it back to the hotel and decide to pack our bags and check their weight. I opt for all the heavy stuff as my bag is the smallest and it weighs in at 17.7kgs when chock a block full. The witches bag comes in slightly too heavy at 24 kgs so we will have to post back a little as we are only aloud 20kgs. We also use the opportunity to remove a lot of packaging and tags from items which probably saved us just over a kilogram (I told you she likes to shop). We are off to bed about 9.30.

January 9th 2008
We are up early and enjoy the continental breakfast before lugging our luggage to the car and checking out. We drive back to Osaka and find a post office. Today is more family time and ensuring we are packed and ready to get home tomorrow. The Witch buys a box and we load it full of goodies to reduce the weight of the suitcase. We then spend the afternoon playing with Kaito before going out for a family dinner. Mr NAKUMURA has called in regards to trading some memorabilia, we make arrangements and I thank him again for all he has done for us. I also use the opportunity to update the blog and reply to a few emails that were requiring attention. Neither of us are feeling well and the cough I have now feels to be Bronchial based, I am more worried about the scanners at the airport not letting me through customs due to a temperature. Tonight we had dinner with Peter’s old landlord who looked after Peter and the family quiet well over the last 13 years. Dinner is at an Izakia and once again we feast and have a great time. The Japanese are so social with their eating and drinking it is great to see another close family unit enjoying each others company. Our last evening meal was definitely a good experience and like all the other parties we had in Japan a great tasting meal and the company of many friends was enjoyed.

January 10th 2009
Well we are still crook but it is our last day, the Witch wants to pick up some food to take home you know the usual dried squid and weird stuff that she likes to munch on. First off we go to Mr ISHIDA’s house this man has been awarded the keys to Toowoomba City by the Mayor 2 years ago and has hosted and assisted over 49 Language teachers from Toowoomba and put up more then 100 Aussies in his house. He greets us wearing his outback spectacular hat and no surprise his English is also very good. Peter and Wendy have both stayed in this house on their arrivals in Japan and still keep in contact so it is great to catch up with him and his wife. After this meeting we hit the shops for the Witches final Hoorah, $80 of food is picked up and I wonder where we are going to put it. We go back home for lunch and then do our final bag pack making sure we are under the limits (we are going to be within half a kilogram either way) then it is time to check the bus timetable and call home to arrange pickups etc. We play with Kaito and update our blog as well as check emails etc. What a great trip.

CONCLUSION
Japan was a great experience having the Witch who can speak the language made it a lot easier. Hiring the push bikes was the way to see Japan especially the areas outside of the main tourist strips. The JR rail pass may seem expensive but with a little planning is well worth the cost. Don’t rely on buying clothes if you are six foot tall or over. The food is fantastic and the IPA is as well. I hope you have enjoyed reading the diary notes we made on the trip. I have stayed in contact with a lot of the IPA contacts and this has helped with other visitors to and from Japan.

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December 21, 2008

からのんら – Tokyo

Filed under: Japan 08/09 — witchpig @ 8:11 am

Well we are here. The Pig is taller then most doorways but has only smashed his head once and that was on the train. The pig is also wider then most lanes in shops and has had to be very careful moving about. The witch is in her element. This is just a quick post but in two days we have caught up with friends eaten kidney, chicken skin and other chicken parts he isn:t sure about. The eel and 5 style rice was fantastic as well as sampling a number of drinks and alcoholic beverages. We have spent a day shpping and sight seeing and now we are off to an IPA dinner, 40 minute train trip across town. looking forward to dinner as well. Must skoodattle nbow.

December 7, 2008

NIPPON!!!

Filed under: Japan 08/09 — witchpig @ 10:01 am

What to do! What to do??? It’s the Pig’s first time in Japan, and I want it to be a blast for him!

As posted, the first 4 nights will be spent in the Tokyo area. We will hopefully meet with my ex-housemate, Pig’s ex-exchange student and some other friends of his.

I was MEANT to be on a diet before going over….shit, that didn’t last.

Trying not to spend any money at the moment so I can have more fun over there, the exchange rate is not very good for us….

Really looking forward New Year’s in Japan…will keep you all posted…

Well thankyou Magda

Filed under: Japan 08/09 — witchpig @ 8:59 am

Jetstar are a bunch of *&^&^. Flights continually changed now we fly to a different location to what we booked and better still we return to Brisbane after catching some form of land transport because our plane will be landing at Coolangatta. Is this an inconvenience? she says No I think it will add to the fantastic experience of public transport and a holiday where we are arriving at a different destination then where we booked. Stick with Virgin, at least they are reliable in my experience. We will pay for any transfers that you will require…Well that should just about equal half of the ticket price for each of us once we catch a Bullet train in Japan and a cab from Coolangatta to Brisbane.

Migaloo

Filed under: Japan 08/09 — witchpig @ 8:58 am

I know this isn’t PC but should I take the opportunity to try some whale meat whilst in Japan?

We have a floor for the first 4 nights

Filed under: Japan 08/09 — witchpig @ 8:53 am

We are off to Tokyo in less then 2 weeks on a much needed Holiday for both of us. Our accommodation is booked for the first 4 nights…After that we will meet with some of the Witch’s family and from there we will just figure it out on the fly. Pack light buy some stuff with our Australian Pesos and come back with more then when we left.

Awesome stuff.

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