A Travellerspoint blog

January 2020

220120 Hakuba we are coming!

Judy’s birthday and Let it snow............a week of falling over awaits!

overcast 4 °C
View M and Triple J in Japan again on Jochester71's travel map.

After a seemingly long train trek from Kanazawa to Hakuba in the Nagano region we made it to our apartment, home for the next week! A supermarket trip to acquire the basics and necessities and a little walk around our immediate area to find our locals!
Seemingly we have traversed countries and landed smack bang in little Australia. The restaurant staff are Australian........our hosts are Australian, the staff at the ski shop are Australian.......we are quite disappointed as the cultural side of Japan has just disappeared! That quick! The last Japanese we heard was at the last station, 20 minutes away! It’s like an Australian bubble in Japan.
Today is Judy’s birthday, so we’ve booked a luxurious dinner at Mimi’s an Italian restaurant. We arrive dressed in our finery- snow boots, trousers, thermals and puffer jackets and the waiters, and maître de speak with Italian accents.......English speaking of course. Wtf? Where are we? We don’t know whether to say gracias, prego, arigato or thanks mate.
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The meal was delicious. We giggled our way through, eavesdropping on the nearby tables.....beside us, the American dude, with his much younger second wife and his son, who called his new wife by her first name. The table behind us with the loud Australian woman talking about how wonderful Aspen is in winter and everyone should go there........Judy said she felt like she should maybe talk Cantonese......she did, I made it up, and we lost ourselves giggling. Giggling until we cried! Birthday cake, candles, a hushed happy birthday tune and we were in that spot again. The one where our stomach skin actually was close to bursting and letting our innards fall out! We waddled to the car to get home!

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Skis at the ready......lessons booked, tomorrow we ski ( or in Mick’s case, snowboard!)

Posted by Jochester71 14:14 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

210120 The Ninja Temple and sake, with a Geiko on the side

I freaking love this place

rain 5 °C
View M and Triple J in Japan again on Jochester71's travel map.

First stop today is Myouryuji Temple. Simply known as the Ninja dera !....today’s history lesson......the temple was built in 1643 in the Edo Period. The Shogun at the time, built many temples and fortified them so that if someone was going to attack, they had vantage points and places to hide warriors. At the time buildings were only allowed to be 2 stories high, so this Temple has 2 stories visible from the outside, but inside it is actually 4 stories with 7 levels......23 rooms and 29 staircases!! It was simply amazing! Probably one of our highlights! In 1162, a fallen samurai decided not to kill himself as was the custom of the times, but rather spend his retirement forming the country’s first ninja school, the Togakureryu. Between 1336 and 1600 the ninja culture peaked. Those times were defined by constant wars, so ninja skills were a plus for survival. Most ninja were not disgraced samurai , but seemingly ordinary peasants and farmers who learned the ninja art as a way of protecting their property. Women also became ninja, or kunoichi, and infiltrated enemy strongholds in the guise of dancers, concubines or servants where they would carry out assassinations or gather information. Starting in 1603, Japan’s stable and peaceful Edo period made ninja skills less important. The practice began dying out, but the art “ninjitsu” continued. There remains one man in Japan today who is believed to be the last real ninja left. He was to sought from the age of 6 by his father and studied chemistry, weather and psychology in addition to the physical training.

So there you have it.........less Bruce Lee and more lower class skills that came to be. Samurai were sworn to allegiance until death, usually by their own hand if needed whereas ninja were able to work for various people.

Anyhoo, back to our temple........, there were trick staircases ( two doors, looking the same) slide one stairs go up, slight right stairs go down, hidden stairs behind everything, a tunnel off the well that is said to lead underground to Kanazawa Castle, light stairs- the back of the main stairs from outside had shoji ( the white paper) so if enemies approached the guards saw their shadows and speared their feet or knew they were sneaking inside! It really was well worth the visit! I think Jack wanted to stay!

It was a rainy day so next we went to look at Kenrokuen Garden, which is listed as one of the best Japanese gardens in Japan, and it is! Even if you aren’t into gardens, the lay out, the ponds, streams, perfectly manicured trees are magnificent. We couldn’t work out why some had rope trees attached......it is so that when the snow falls, the weight of the snow doesn’t break the branches on the trees. The garden was started in 1676.......just imagine what some of these trees have seen? The changes in people, way of life, good and bad , hard to imagine! Even Jack enjoyed it........he actually loves history and the like so is a great little ( or not so little) traveller to have around! We also noticed that sometimes his sense of direction is better then ours!
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Walking back to the markets we pass another Temple, Ishiura Jinja Shrine. It had rabbit like pictures of a cartoony thing everywhere! It turns out it is a fictional figure called Kima chan- it is the oldest temple in Kanazawa, built around 1500 years ago! It is said that this Temple grants you the wish of your soulmate so is very popular with girls! It was very kawaii ( cute!)
Off for more curry udon and then the boys went wandering and Judy and I went to visit the Higashi Chaya area, once an area that houses geiko and maiko ( and still does!) there are beautiful tea houses and all kinds of cool stuff.....first up we find little sweets filled with matcha flavoured soy beans....like pancakes on the outside sandwiching the filling! Worth the 10 minute wait! Then we find a sake tasting shop.........yup! Sake acquired and off to explore more!
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We went back for a rest and then dinner, yet again! This is the Machiya we stayed in! Totally gorgeous right?

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Posted by Jochester71 13:34 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

200120 Kanazawa here we come

Finally made it to the Castle !

rain 7 °C
View M and Triple J in Japan again on Jochester71's travel map.

We pack our expanding suitcases. Not sure how but they seem to expand during travel, whilst clothes inside them seem to shrink! Weird travel phenomenon!
Off to traverse the trains again and on our way to Kanazawa......a beautiful little town we visited last time! Judy’s first visit so we are all excited yet again!
Upon arrival we met Kazuyo and her husband who own our little machiya that we are staying in. They took our luggage for us so we could explore before our check in. Off we walked towards yet more markets, the Omicho Markets. I remember these fondly- coloured and flavoured local beers, gold leaf Icecream, freshest sushi and sashimi and lots of crab! We wandered up and down the littles roads, and side streets our senses all aware of the delicacies around us! It is indeed cod season, with cod testicles for sale everywhere. Maybe we are only noticing it now as we know what it is! It’s relatively cheap......still not enough to buy some more. Judy, Jack and Mick headed to a little restaurant with curry......Japanese curry is sweet and delicious whilst I was hankering for sushi!
Next stop was the Kanazawa Castle Park. A huge expense of gardens and free space with a moat, and watchtowers! Such an impressive building. Whilst it has been heavily renovated the woodwork and crafting is spectacular.....even for a person who knows nothing about carpentry. The angles are actually diamonds, with 2 angles at 80 degrees and the other two at 100 degrees forming a diamond shape for all Roof beams are arched, and there is not a nail in this building at all. The smell of the cypress and other woods is so nice.......I smelt uprights a few times to soak it up!

All along the main building connecting the two corner turrets are open sections along the edge, below the windows. These were opened to drop stones on invading warriors. Windows all had slots for gun holes ( clearly later in history). We remarked how much Micks dad would love it- there are examples of the building method everywhere and it’s slightly lost on us non carpenters.
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We made our way back to the Machiya to check in. It’s called Soufuen, and we were met by Kazuyo who was in her kimono. They are so tiny.....maybe I need to live here for a while and thin down. Travel does nothing good for my waistline. She showed us around the house, so confusing as cupboard doors and actual sliding doors all pretty much look the same. It was and is like a mini maze! It has been lovingly restored with some modern amenities perfectly mixed with ancient building techniques. Exquisite indeed.
We sit at the table ( on the floor, no chairs) and she makes us Traditional way and serves us a sweet each. So beautiful and humbling. We bid her farewell and excitedly argue about who is having the first bath.
The bathroom is traditional in that you sit on a teeny wooden stool and fill a wooden bowl with water. You wet your body with the shower. Soap yourself up from the bowl then pour the soapy bowl over you, and rinse of with the shower. You are now clean and cleansed to enter the bath. The bath is a traditional goemon-buro, made of iron. In the old days you burned firewood underneath.......added a few vegetables and voila- boiled human! Well it’s all true except adding vegetables! It was soooooo beautiful and deep!
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We argue over who has the first bath then head to Korinbo for dinner. Korinbo is an old part of town with restaurants at every door!
exhausted yet again it’s time for sleep! Judy and I are on the floor in futons and Mick and Jack are in Western Beds. It was settled with the toss of a coin! I won!

Posted by Jochester71 15:45 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Kurashiki and Kobe 190120

The most expensive beef we will eat!

overcast 9 °C
View M and Triple J in Japan again on Jochester71's travel map.

We are officially tired and exhausted. I have a habit of packing as much as possible into our trips.......the easy ones are where you travel and sight see all day, early dinner then back to the accommodation to rest and recharge. Unfortunately I love sake! So invariably we tell each other how tired we are, then see a sake bar on the way home, and stop......briefly sometimes!

Last night we all proclaimed we were exhausted.....however, we had planned to travel for a day trip today to Kurashiki and Kobe. The former for their beautiful old canal area, the latter for much needed ( jokes!) food and the famous Kobe beef.

Off we went, now old hands at the stations and transferring.

Here I want to tell you 5 amazing things about Japan, that no one else does or has:

1. Their toilets. Some are relatively simple. Some are not. They play music for privacy, have three flushes ( normal, large and eco), warmed seats ( seriously never loved sitting on a toilet seat so much!), bum wash, front wash, shower and blowdry! I love their toilets and each one you visit is like a new exciting adventure....sometimes with pressing time issues!

2. Stations and trains or Shinkansen ( Bullet trains)
Such an orderly ( and sometimes confusing) system.
People here love lining up. You line up, almost in perfectly straight lines to wait for a train or bus or anything really. If it isn’t a straight line it means the crooked ones are probably tourists! There are even lines and feet pri ted at most station platforms.
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3. Food and packaging. Everything you see displayed or packed is almost a work of art. They do use a lot of plastic, however their recycling is second to none. Did you know that all of the medals for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics were made from recycled materials, collected from everyday citizens? How remarkable! Of all the Olympics, I am most excited about watching Tokyo as it will be timed to precision, impeccably clean and run smoothly! Also, unlike many other countries......they are actually already ready!

4. Respect. This one is probably the most Second you arrive in Japan you sense a completely different culture and attitude to the world, themselves and those around them. It is amazing and endearing. I cannot imagine Australia ever being so polite. Respectful. Humble. We are too rude, too selfish, too self centred. I have always had a love and admiration for all things Japanese. I can’t even remember how it started as I didn’t come here until 2018, but I did half a Japanese degree when I did my law degree, and dropped it halfway as both were a lot of study. Do I regret dropping it? Yes. But at the time I couldn’t work and do a double degree and attain the marks or knowledge I wanted. I’m going back to do language study ( having found an online course with tests and online tutors) as I really want to be back to semi fluent by next year when we return. Please Australians.........start to think of how your actions affect yourself, world. ( I’m included in that by the way!)

5. Jaywalking. It simply does not exist in Japan. If the sign is red, you don’t cross. Simple. Again, only people doing it will be tourists.

Back to Kurashiki, and the trains we take to get there. It is a long journey but once we arrive we are excited once again. Upon arrival we make our way directly to the historical Bikan quarter. We know we are getting close as it’s Sunday and the Main Street is rather quiet, until we turn a corner and see tourist shops, tourists and more tourists! Ugh......photos are a nightmare with tourists......we battle on!

The canal area and quarter is just so picturesque. Canals lined with weeping willows Kurashiki is also famous for its jeans.......many, many jeans shops with a major jean manufacturing area.
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The area is so pretty that no photo will do it justice......I tried! We slowly walked around and looked tiny little streets filled with shops, food and people!
During the Edo Period (1603-1867), Kurashiki was an important point along the distribution route of Japan's most important commodity, rice. Large quantities of rice from the surrounding area were brought into Kurashiki and intermediately stored there in storehouses before being shipped to Osaka and Edo. Because of the city's importance in the rice trade, Kurashiki was put under direct control of the shogunate, and the city was even named after its many storehouses (kura). Canals were built to allow boats and barges to navigate between the city's storehouses and the nearby port.

Sooooooooooo beautiful and a lovely change of pace from the bustle of Osaka! Onwards we march towards the train station to make our way to Kobe.......now, I’m sure most of you know what that means! Grade A5 marbled Kobe beef! Yesssssss! We are exhausted ( officially now!) and decide on an early dinner. Judy and I discuss the merits of a word that combines lunch and dinner......brunch means breakfast- lunch so we decide on “lunner” a combination of lunch and dinner.....it might catch on, then we will be famous for inventing a word!
So arriving into Kobe we have researched and found a highly recommended restaurant called Mouriya Sannomiya! We can attend in 30 minutes so we decide to find a bar.....it is 4pm.......they don’t open until 5pm.........really? On a Sunday? So thirsty we arrive at the restaurant! Our chef will cook our meal on the teppanyaki hot plate! It is so clean and sparkly, as if it is brand new.

We decide on our meal.......this is about to be Jacks most expensive meal ever. Given the kid loves steak we tell him it is exceptionally better than our usual stuff and to savour each bite......don’t just throw it in and swallow.
It was nothing short of amazing! A bottle of sake for Judy and I, coke for Jack and beer for Mick! We watched intently as the meat was brought for us to inspect. The thing with Kobe is that they all come with a certificate showing a print of the cows nose ( like a fingerprint) and the lineage cow. The date of birth and death are printed there. Kobe isn’t available in Australia ever, so if you ever think it is, chances are it isn’t!

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We finish and wander back to the station to train back to Osaka. The manhole covers in Japan and tiles embedded in streets are sometimes amazing! We discovered some such tiles! We also saw some houses ( apartments for sale!) and got back to the station where there was a huge line up for waffles......we ordered a box of 7.......Judy chose the strawberry one! She took a bite and exclaimed it amazing......then promptly dropped it on the ground! Goodbye waffle!

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Dotomburi was a hive of activity yet again! As tired as we were, Mick and I saw a little sake bar and had a bedtime drop!! Luckily, our next door Melonpan store was closed!!

Posted by Jochester71 13:43 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

My 49th birthday in Osaka 180120

Jo means castle in Japanese......apt!

sunny 11 °C
View M and Triple J in Japan again on Jochester71's travel map.

Waking up in Osaka, Japan for my 49th birthday was quite delightful! Toasty warm in the apartment and the sun was shining outside. Even though the sun was out, and bright, it was still chilly! So many locals walking around wearing just a business suit and shoes, or thin trousers and thin coats. We look like we are already in the snow with scarves, beanies, puffer jackets, snow boots! We are at least warm so looks don’t. Punt ( do they Michelle R. Hehe)
We were meeting Moe this morning, a guide we had last time in Kyoto, and I was so excited about seeing her again! She arrived right on 9am and we scurried off towards Osaka Castle. Interesting fact, we see a sign that says Osaka- Jo. Jo means castle........who’d have thunk it! Perfect I thought! Perfect place to spend the morning. The Castle itself was built in 1583 on the former site of the Ishiyama Honganji Temple, which had been destroyed by Oda Nobunaga thirteen years earlier. Toyotomi Hideyoshi intended the castle to become the center of a new, unified Japan under Toyotomi rule. It was the largest castle at the time. However, a few years after Hideyoshi's death, Tokugawa troops attacked and destroyed the castle and terminated the Toyotomi lineage in 1615. Osaka Castle was rebuilt by Tokugawa Hidetada in the 1620s, but its main castle tower was struck by lightening in 1665 and burnt down.

It was not until 1931 that the present ferro-concrete reconstruction of the castle tower was built. During the war it miraculously survived the city wide air raids. Major repair works gave the castle new glamor in 1997. It has an informative museum about the castle's history and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. There was a huge amount of people there.......knowing how much I love tourists I was a bit miffed! We had the option of an elevator to the 8th floor, or stairs. We chose stairs. Wisely. The line for the elevator was extreme and we would have been waiting quite some time. Stairs were found and up we went.......now I’ll be honest, until the 5th floor I was totally ok......yes, getting my exercise in, this was a great idea. However, something happened to my legs around level 6.......... I just did that thing I do.......I trick my brain into thinking we are nearly there by only looking down at the steps. That way, I don’t see how far it is to go! Worked a treat, viewing level accomplished......just don’t speak to me for a minute whilst I concentrate on breathing! Wow! What a reward! The views are breathtaking.......to think that 437 years ago someone had the skills to build this! So, so beautiful, even though it has been destroyed and rebuilt since it’s original days. I love that Japan has these amazing buildings, shrines and temples and they just build around them. But, they absolutely leave the grounds intact so there are these historical green havens everywhere dotted through towns and cities.
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We left the beautiful gardens and entered our favourite place.....the underground! Off we went to see Shitenno Ji temple. A vast area of many buildings, the beauty and perfectly manicured gardens and gravel. So very peaceful. We saw the food stalls and were happy to eat more okonomiyaki. If I haven’t yet described it , and it does vary from place to place, but basically it is cabbage, pork strips and egg cooked on a flat hot plate, then they add okonomiyaki sauce ( like bbq sauce) , mayonnaise and bonito flakes! It is delicious and although Moe insists it was invented in Osaka ( she’s born and bred!) I have been told it was actually invented in Hiroshima......however, both places had great okonomiyaki! ( and she’s probably reading this!!)
By this time Moe was leaving us and we were to see her again this afternoon for a food tour through Osaka! We bid her farewell and Judy and I decided to go to a yarn store we’d found close by. We wanted to buy some Japanese yarn.......oh dear me..........as we left Mick he asked if I needed cash......I’d responded no, as I had our card! Wow! The most amazing yarn store, no one spoke a word of English ( which is fine, I get by!) but silks, wools, hmmmmmmmm.......suffice to say my packing skills are now needed!
Off back to meet the boys, rest our aching feet for 10 minutes and off we go on our food tour. We meet Ralph ( can’t actually remember his name, but from Netherlands), Kyle and Kyle, two actors from Canada, Moe and the 4 of us! We head straight to Kuromon markets! We had already been here yesterday but it didn’t matter.....it is so amazing here I could spend a week here! Then we see it......Moe quietly points it out to me....and I just had to try it........whale meat! It was actually very similar to beef. I said to Mick it didn’t taste fishy.....he said it was a mammal ! He wouldn’t try it but he knows I’ll rarely say no to a new experience! Next up was sushi! We each got a huge tray of tuna, salmon and fatty tuna! Oh soooooooo good!
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Onto Takoyaki ( octopus balls ) which are apparently from Osaka ( again!) okonomiyaki, yakitori ( skewered everything and deep fried), then onto a special restaurant where the owner travels to 3-4 markets everyday to get unique and different foods and fish.
Moe very kindly said we could eat it, then she’d tell us what it was. Ok, I agree as sometimes knowing what it is turns you off and it tastes delicious. We had jellyfish, fish head ( pulling the meat out!), FUGU ( puffer fish) which tasted like a rubber band, and this cream coloured stuff which was kind of spinny like Intestines...but Moe told us it wasn’t so.......it was kind of sweet, and really creamy, and to be honest really quite nice. We all tried it, except Jack. Then she made the big announcement....it was COD TESTICLES! The colour drained from all the men’s faces.......some put their hands to their mouth.....Moe, she thought it was great! Didn’t expect to be eating fish nuts tonight but anyhoo! Next up the fish head was served. Moe asked who wanted the eye. Apparently the best part......oh, it’s my birthday so she said I should have it.........I was primed, feeling like I was on “ I’m a celebrity get me out of here” ........then just before I put it in my mouth she said to spit out the hard bone around the ball once in my mouth. I lifted it up......a long tendril of snotty stuff ran from it to the plate......I gotta be honest, I wasn’t filled with anticipation.......I put it in my mouth and......oh shit..........this won’t go down.....there it is a har.......ewwwww.......a hard...........ewwwww........ohmygocddddddddddddd I can’t swallow it.........ewwwwwww..........luckily Moe rescued me by passing me a napkin........ewwwwwwww! I really think it was mind over matter but alas, I’m still a fisheye virgin! Saving it for another special occasion!

Wandering through Dotombori and it is soooooooo busy! This place never sleeps. I have been heading downstairs early in the mornings to see the people heading home from the bars and clubs....quite amusing when they’re so drunk, and I am so sober!

Cheese tart was our dessert and they were so good! We ended the tour but decided to head to a sake bar for a sake together. We laughed a lot, the other guys on the tour were really lovely! Sake acquired, group photo taken, we all parted ways with hugs, and headed off to the different corners of Osaka.

Thanks for a great birthday Osaka! I’ll be seeing you next year for Sakura Festival!

Wow! Firs
wool store
Food tour- markets,

Posted by Jochester71 03:56 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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