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First trip to Japan

Blinky

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Oct 5, 2012
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596
So a late night flight out of Melbourne on Singapore Air in Business Class. Check in and boarding very smooth. No first class upgrades available, but J class on SQ is very acceptable indeed. It was the old seat configuration, so a bit fiddly to set the bed up, but still comfortable and heaps of room.

“Book the Cook” worked well for us, and the food, wine and service were, as you expect from Singapore Air, exceptional. Slept comfortably for several hours after dinner.

Arrived in Singapore at about 5am, and headed straight for the Silver Kris Lounge where I had a glass of champagne, much to the disapproval of my wife (who’s been known to have a bubbly or two early in the morning at the Melbourne Cup). Didn’t eat at all in the Lounge as our lunch would be served soon after take-off. I have not yet had the opportunity to experience a F lounge, so this one sits on top as the best lounge I’ve visited.

Slightly disappointing is that when I booked about a year ago, it was on A380s, a breathtakingly beautiful aircraft. All changed to Boeing 777, fine planes, but not the same buzz.

Anyway arrived at Narita late yesterday and connected with our hotel transfer. Got to our hotel in Shinjuku without any problems, although one thing freaked me out. We were on a tollway, with barriers at each toll point. The car approached each toll point at over 100kph and I nearly screamed, expecting the car to hit the barrier. Naturally the barrier came up a fraction of a second before the car raced through. Such faith in technology.

So today got up early and went for a walk around strangely (to me) deserted streets just before 7am. Peak hour starts in Melbourne before 6am. Not so it seems inTokyo. Walked down to the local supermarket where I bought wine and beer (as I always do when travelling) at roughly 10% of the price at the hotel. We have 4 nights in the Keio Plaza, the largest we’ve stayed in, and comfortable enough. Room not large, but this was expected.

Had a very good buffet breakfast and headed out. Purchased a day ticket for all train lines for an eye watering $A20 each and went first to Shibuya. One of the things my wife wanted to experience was the “Shibuya Crossing”. A ridiculously overcrowded pedestrian intersection is a tourist attraction, and rightly so. We successfully got there with the help of google maps.

Next to Ginza, where I had booked lunch at the two Michelin starred Dominique Bouchet Tokyo. A very small restaurant of around 20 seats, but only 4 occupied today. Seven courses and almost beyond compare. Expensive, but half the cost of a similar meal at dinner. Walked around Ginza a bit before catching a train to Roppongi Hills shopping centre, where my wife proclaimed that she was familiar with all the brands on display there, and she wasn’t prepared to spend good money at them (she is the prudent, frugal one). I said I will find her a Two Dollar Shop somewhere, before getting a whack.

Anyway back to our hotel where we had a light dinner and drinks on the 45th floor Sky Lounge overlooking the Tokyo Gherkin (I was amazed Norman Banks didn’t design it).

So a good day, but exhausting. We are big city people, but Tokyo is overwhelming. Our local Shinjuku station is the third busiest in the world, with the other two being in Japan. We got where we needed to, but it was nerve wracking. We were planning to spend tomorrow catching trains around the city to take in other “must sees” like the Imperial Palace, the Meiji Shrine and Tokyo Tower, but decided to book a tour. We did 25k steps each today, and while that’s good on one level, we are on vacation. We will get back on time for me to see how this election unfolds.

So Sunday is a day trip to Mt Fuji and surrounding (I wonder if I will be able to climb to the top from fifth station?) before catching the bullet train to Kyōto on Monday.

So far, so good. Will post photos later.



 

Blinky

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Oct 5, 2012
Messages
596
Oh, one major negative. Station staff were unhelpful. When I asked which platform to go to I was given a terse “platform 2” when there were several platforms 2. People who saw us puzzled and confused, on the other hand, were wonderful, with a couple even walking with us until we were on the right path. Something I would do for tourists in Melbourne, but still very welcome. Well done Tokyo people.
 

love_the_life

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If you are using public transport a Suica card is better than a day pass and you can use it in other places like on the buses in Kyoto.
Love Tokyo and Japan!
Looking forward to reading more.
 

Blinky

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Oct 5, 2012
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596
We will be picking up a 7 day JR ticket on Monday (green class, of course). I knew of that Suica pass but as it was going to be needed for two days at most (now one) I didn’t bother.
 

Major

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Hope the weather is kind for your Mt Fuji visit
 

LadyC

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Enjoy Japan - one of my favourite destinations. That's a bit odd about your experience at the train station. Some of the stations, as you say, are very big!
 

suze2000

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I have a relative who is living in Japan, just outside of Tokyo proper. He loves the place, but when he arranged to meet us at Shinjuku he warned us that it's a large confusing station, and also that we should be aware of our surroundings and belongings as it's one of the few places in Japan where petty crime can be a problem.

However there are two outlets of a delicious and fun way of eating called Nabezo in the area. We had a lot of fun there - they serve shabu shabu, which is essentially very finely sliced meat noodles, veg etc which you boil quickly in a broth before enjoying with rice and large amounts of sake. Hard to find, but worth seeking out if you want to try something I've never seen in Australia.
 

drron

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Shabu shabu has been in Australia for a long time.We had it in 1995 at Sono restaurant in the Queen street mall-now closing but it has a branch in Portside now.

Hope you enjoy Japan.It is a fascinating country.
 

Blinky

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Oct 5, 2012
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596
Okay, second full day in Tokyo. As I said earlier, we booked a full day bus tour. Well bus and a lot of walking. After talking about 25k steps yesterday, it’s over 18k today. But we both feel well. I don’t think I mentioned it, but I’m nearly 68 and my wife 69, so no spring chickens.

First stop was Tokyo Tower, which was fine, and we loved the views from the observation deck. Our guide, who was charming, but read from her script, pointed out that Tokyo Tower was 50 ft higher than the Eiffel Tower. And of 1% of the significance in my view. Although Godzilla might disagree, as he often tries to destroy it,

Second was the Meiji Shrine. What a tranquil, cool and wonderful forested place in the middle of Tokyo! Well worth the visit. We saw a Shinto wedding procession while we were there. Breathtaking. I have a daughter getting married next year. I will show her a video of this and say “that’s how you do it”.

And for those of you who have been on bus tours, it’s the same people who delay departures, at least at the first couple of stops. The evil looks they get usually means they don’t continue to do so, as it turned out.

Walked through the Imperial Palace East Garden, which was great until an EVENT, which I will cover later. Another peaceful part of Tokyo.

Next was a drive through Ginza, which we experienced the day before, and a visit to Shogun (forgot his name) gardens in yet another tranquil part of this city.

We then took a river cruise to Asakusa which turned out to be the highlight of the day. Firstly this part of Tokyo is more Bali than Ginza, with gritty shops, bars and lanes. Even better, it was the day of a Shinto celebration. Locals were dressing up in religious garb following shrines carried by young weightlifters through the narrow streets, with drums and chanting. Fantastic. My wife and found a bar and had an Asahi each before catching the bus back.

Anyway, the EVENT. There were a lot of Americans on this tour. Mainly nice. Anyway we were walking through the Imperial gardens behind the guide at a snails pace. One large and agitated American charged up to the guide, put his hand up as a stop sign, interrupting her commentary and yelled out “will you stop racing through this, I’m trying to take photos”, followed by other abuse.

Now, an aside. My wife knows I have a very low tolerance of bullies, particularly those who pick on hospitality and tourism staff who are unable to defend themselves. She started to move away knowing what was coming (not much of a bodyguard). While others looked around embarrassed I said, loudly “what the hell are you talking about, we were walking slowly”. The guy looked at me seething, but silent. A mate of his said “we just wanted to take photos”. “Good for you, do you want to see mine” I responded.

The bully walked towards me and I said firmly “yes, what” before he walked off, as all bullies do. My wife was also quite a few meters away.

Anyway travellers, stand up to bullies, they are inevitably cowards.

Tomorrow Fuji. I will not talk about the election....
 

Blinky

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Oct 5, 2012
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596
Day three: Fuji and surrounds.

We have a pretty good batting record against the weather gods recently. Saw Vesuvius on a bright sunny day, a cloud not to be seen; got to the observatory on Jungfrau on the first clear day for a week; climbed to 4000m in Nepal to see the clouds clear at sunrise and display 15 or so monstrous peaks. So we simply had to see Fuji in all its pristine, picture postcard majesty.

Okay, a cloudy day, but so what? We left early, the clouds would clear. Er, no. So the dark clouds cover the whole mountain. No bother, we are going up 2000m, which will surely be above these stubborn clouds, and see the wonderful peak. Er, no. Visibility 20m in fact.

Okay, not giving up. When exploring some of the places around it’s base, the clouds would eventually burn off. Er, no. Our very nice guide unhelpfully pointed out that an invisible Mt Fuji happens two out of three days, a partly visible one sometimes and the picture perfect one almost never.

Never mind. You still must go on the slight chance you will actually see it, but more importantly, it’s a bloody nice drive. We also took in Oshino Hakkai village, a tourist trap for sure, but a good one.

We then went to the quite impressive Shiraito Falls and a shrine of some sort (seen enough for 5 lifetimes). The drive back was a stop start event resulting in a 7pm return rather than a 5.30pm one. A surprisingly good day despite now having to pretend someone else’s photo of Fuji is all mine.

Off to Kyōto on the Shinkansen tomorrow. More adventures to follow.
 

Julesmac

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Mar 11, 2007
Messages
354
We stayed just near Shibuya. Arrived by train early evening, spent ages wandering around lost, eventually got to our hotel. We used that station almost every day and not once in the 7 days could we ever find that first night exit again! I was so impressed by how Japan just functions - all those people to navigate around and they don't get cranky or rude, just kind of thread their way through. Don't stop though or I think you'd be mown down and be just a smear on the floor.
 

love_the_life

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Day three: Fuji and surrounds.

We have a pretty good batting record against the weather gods recently. Saw Vesuvius on a bright sunny day, a cloud not to be seen; got to the observatory on Jungfrau on the first clear day for a week; climbed to 4000m in Nepal to see the clouds clear at sunrise and display 15 or so monstrous peaks. So we simply had to see Fuji in all its pristine, picture postcard majesty.

Okay, a cloudy day, but so what? We left early, the clouds would clear. Er, no. So the dark clouds cover the whole mountain. No bother, we are going up 2000m, which will surely be above these stubborn clouds, and see the wonderful peak. Er, no. Visibility 20m in fact.

Okay, not giving up. When exploring some of the places around it’s base, the clouds would eventually burn off. Er, no. Our very nice guide unhelpfully pointed out that an invisible Mt Fuji happens two out of three days, a partly visible one sometimes and the picture perfect one almost never.

Never mind. You still must go on the slight chance you will actually see it, but more importantly, it’s a bloody nice drive. We also took in Oshino Hakkai village, a tourist trap for sure, but a good one.

We then went to the quite impressive Shiraito Falls and a shrine of some sort (seen enough for 5 lifetimes). The drive back was a stop start event resulting in a 7pm return rather than a 5.30pm one. A surprisingly good day despite now having to pretend someone else’s photo of Fuji is all mine.

Off to Kyōto on the Shinkansen tomorrow. More adventures to follow.
You might get a good view of Fujisan from the train. Two good viewing spots.
 

Blinky

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Oct 5, 2012
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You might get a good view of Fujisan from the train. Two good viewing spots.
Yes, that was what I was hoping for, but alas heavy cloud all day.

So farewell to Tokyo. I doubt we will return because we have too many other places to visit, but if we find ourselves there again, we will be better prepared and will enjoy the experience I’m sure.

Before leaving, off to Shinjuku station to convert our voucher into JR passes. My wife gets annoyed by my insistence in setting out early, but nevertheless we both set out at 7.30am for the 10 minute walk. Initially went to the wrong entrance, but soon found it, and a short queue at 7.50. My the 8am opening there would have been 20 people. As we were walking out at 8.10 there were 40 or so in a very slow moving queue. I resisted a justified “told you so”.

As we purchased green class we booked seats for the 11.03 train, went back to the hotel and packed. We could have walked back down to the station and caught a train to Tokyo Station, but we didn’t pack light and caught a taxi, which was about 2500 yen. As an aside about the only places in the world I’m confident I won’t be ripped off by cabbies are Japan and Singapore. I’ve been ripped off in many cities, including Adelaide a few weeks ago.

Speaking of Adelaide, as much as we enjoyed the exuberance, chaos and magic of Tokyo, it will be great getting to a place roughly the population of Adelaide, Kyōto. Anyway, the Shinkansen was awesome, and we hit Kyōto early afternoon today.

Now for a mini rant. What is it with these tourist “maps” with no scale, no compass direction and misleading perspective? The map we had showed our hotel, Kyoto Tokyu, about a 10 minute walk away. Even if you go to the right exit, this won’t happen, but we went to the wrong one because what looked east on the map was bloody west. And this map showed the hotel on one side when it was the other. We have already discovered that backtracking and crossing roads in Japan is no trivial matter.

Anyway, a decent hotel with the expected small room. Found a supermarket, stocked up with beer and wine for our three night stay. Tomorrow we head for the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove (look it up, it’s almost too good to be true) and surrounds. A 600 yen bus ticket gets us there and it’s only a few kms away. Our hotel would have been happy to organise a tour at the cost of 8000 yen each, or over $200 for the both of us.

But tonight we cross the road from the overpriced restaurant in our hotel for the Royal Host Restaurant where we may have to wait, but it will be a fraction of the price and more filling I reckon. I’ll report back about it tomorrow.
 

AIRwin

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Tomorrow we head for the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove (look it up, it’s almost too good to be true) and surrounds.
The bamboo grove was as dense as the crowds along the footpath when I visited last year so hope it'll be more tranquil and zen for you!
 

Blinky

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Oct 5, 2012
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The bamboo grove was as dense as the crowds along the footpath when I visited last year so hope it'll be more tranquil and zen for you!
So do I. Firstly, rain is predicted, which I reckon would make the experience better and reduce the number. Secondly, I’m trying to get my wife out of the hotel at 7am. She’s using the “have to wash my hair” line. We shall see.
 

Drakecula

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I loved my visit to Japan a couple of years ago. Enjoy Kyoto, the bamboo grove is pretty amazing. And all the temples! This TR is making me want to go back. :)
 

love_the_life

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Yes, that was what I was hoping for, but alas heavy cloud all day.

So farewell to Tokyo. I doubt we will return because we have too many other places to visit, but if we find ourselves there again, we will be better prepared and will enjoy the experience I’m sure.

Before leaving, off to Shinjuku station to convert our voucher into JR passes. My wife gets annoyed by my insistence in setting out early, but nevertheless we both set out at 7.30am for the 10 minute walk. Initially went to the wrong entrance, but soon found it, and a short queue at 7.50. My the 8am opening there would have been 20 people. As we were walking out at 8.10 there were 40 or so in a very slow moving queue. I resisted a justified “told you so”.

As we purchased green class we booked seats for the 11.03 train, went back to the hotel and packed. We could have walked back down to the station and caught a train to Tokyo Station, but we didn’t pack light and caught a taxi, which was about 2500 yen. As an aside about the only places in the world I’m confident I won’t be ripped off by cabbies are Japan and Singapore. I’ve been ripped off in many cities, including Adelaide a few weeks ago.

Speaking of Adelaide, as much as we enjoyed the exuberance, chaos and magic of Tokyo, it will be great getting to a place roughly the population of Adelaide, Kyōto. Anyway, the Shinkansen was awesome, and we hit Kyōto early afternoon today.

Now for a mini rant. What is it with these tourist “maps” with no scale, no compass direction and misleading perspective? The map we had showed our hotel, Kyoto Tokyu, about a 10 minute walk away. Even if you go to the right exit, this won’t happen, but we went to the wrong one because what looked east on the map was bloody west. And this map showed the hotel on one side when it was the other. We have already discovered that backtracking and crossing roads in Japan is no trivial matter.

Anyway, a decent hotel with the expected small room. Found a supermarket, stocked up with beer and wine for our three night stay. Tomorrow we head for the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove (look it up, it’s almost too good to be true) and surrounds. A 600 yen bus ticket gets us there and it’s only a few kms away. Our hotel would have been happy to organise a tour at the cost of 8000 yen each, or over $200 for the both of us.

But tonight we cross the road from the overpriced restaurant in our hotel for the Royal Host Restaurant where we may have to wait, but it will be a fraction of the price and more filling I reckon. I’ll report back about it tomorrow.
Boy, I must be OCD. I convert the JR voucher on the first day, and before leaving home have already created an itinerary and printed out the list of dates, train numbers/names and times, so that I just hand it over and get all the tickets at the same time as exchanging the voucher. In busy times, we have had to make the odd change to planned times (and even once we couldn't get a seat in the Green car) so I feel better knowing I have everything organised at the start. Can always change the reservations if we need too.
Anyway enjoy Kyoto. If you are using the buses, the #101 from memory is excellent for tourists. All the stops are shown in English on screens and it's just push the button to get off. The trains are not great there and it can be a bit hard to get around if you are not sure where you are going.
 
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