A Travellerspoint blog

Japan Day 15 – Travel home


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Time to go home!

We spent the morning packing and uploading pictures and got to the train station early.

The Narita Express is a special set of trains that provide direct access to the airport and some major stations. You’re dropped off right in the airport so it is much less hassle than usual airports.

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The only issues we had getting to our gate was that my passport didn’t scan and we had a poster wrapped in a bag that every attendant kept asking what it was (no weapons please basically).

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We spent some time shopping while waiting for our plane, but resisted the urge to buy a 3DS or Wing Zero Gundam models.

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And then we were home!

It was an amazing trip and we’re going back very soon!

Posted by alopiparo 22:07 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo airport train Comments (0)

Japan Day 14 – Travel to Tokyo

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This was our last full day we had and we spent a few hours of it on the Shikansen to Tokyo (2.5 hours).

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After a short walk to the hotel we dropped off our bags for them to hold (we were early so we couldn’t check in yet) and went to get lunch. When we went back and checked in they upgraded us to a tatami mat room where we dropped our stuff before heading off to Shibuya.

At Shibuya station we saw the Hachicko statue, a neat wall of art of shibas and then watched the famous Shibuya crossing in action.

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We didn’t stay there long before leaving and figuring out how to exchange our PASSMO cards to get the remaining money on them so that we could spend it. Made our way back to Akihabara to spend a bit more time shopping.

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When we took the train back to our hotel we accidently exited at the wrong exit of the station and passed by Shinjuku “Time’s Square” where ABZ was doing a first time airing of their new music video (all hand-held single shot) that was a cover of “Never My Love” by the Association.

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I was exhausted so I rested at the hotel, but Tore went back out and grabbed some Krispy Kremes for late night snacks.

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Posted by alopiparo 21:46 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo train shopping Comments (0)

Japan Day 13 – Hikone Castle

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We hadn’t planned very well for our free day so it took awhile to decide where to go (there’s so many options!). Finally we decided on Hikone Castle and took the train up there.

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On the way we reserved seats for our trip back to Tokyo and the airport and then stopped to get tourist information. After a quick lunch at a shopping mall we walked to the castle. Early on we noticed a cute mascot all over town and quickly discovered it was Hikonyan, the town mascot!

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Despite having visited a few castles already Hikone felt very different because it was complete and mostly original so we were walking through the actual twisting pathways to reach the top.

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The castle was open for you to go up into it and it was really awesome (with a very steep staircase!) to see inside.

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After trying to wait to watch the bell being rung (I guess we misunderstood the times or something) we headed down to the gardens at the base and enjoyed a stroll before heading back to Kyoto.

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Posted by alopiparo 21:24 Archived in Japan Tagged garden castle hikone Comments (0)

Japan Day 12 – Kyoto Bike Tour

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This day was a tour around Kyoto by bike. We walked to the Kyoto Cycling Tour Project by Kyoto Station and met our guide Julie.

Our first stop was the Higashi Honganji temple where we’d stopped the day before and she explained its history to us.

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From there we went over the Kamo River to the Gion district and the Tatsumi-bashi Bridge over the Shirakawa canal.

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After that we bought some mochi at one of her favorite shops and headed to the Heian-Jingu shrine that was built after the Meji Restoration (relatively new in terms of most of what we saw). There we took picture with tourists who’d rented costumes and chatted with our guide about anime.

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We spent some time at the Kyoto Imperial Palace gardens enjoying the weather and taking a rest. We tried ate our mocha (good) and tried milk tea (ew) before heading back out and meeting some more tourists in costumes.

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Julie dropped us off at a hotel near the Nishiki Market and we went and grabbed lunch at a hole in the wall sushi place she recommended. We spent most of the rest of the day shopping and then resting back at the hotel.

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Posted by alopiparo 21:05 Archived in Japan Tagged bridges kyoto bike Comments (0)

Japan Day 11 – Travel to Kyoto

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We spent most of this day travelling. First we took the bus (the local kids had fun making faces at us at the stop) to Nagiso station.

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Then we took a train to Nagoya to get on the Shikansen to Kyoto. Kyoto station is massive and we spent a fair amount of time exploring it and ate at a Chinese restaurant on one of the top floors.

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We then walked to the hotel stopping at the Higashi Honganji temple to admire the large hall.

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We dropped stuff off at the hotel and headed right back off and took the subway back to Kyoto station to then take the JR to Fushimi Inari where we climbed halfway up.

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Unfortunately with the rain and the sun setting we decided we weren’t up to the full climb and headed back down. It was extremely peacefully and solitary on the way down surprisingly considering how many people we’d seen around.

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We met another couple from America there when we were taking our Jiji picture and they showed us their Piglet travel companion.

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Finally we went back to Kyoto station where we sated our homesick craving for hamburger and chocolate chip pancakes. When we were leaving the station we stopped and watched some groups performing martial arts.

Posted by alopiparo 17:13 Archived in Japan Tagged kyoto train Comments (0)

Japan Day 10 – Tsumago

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We spent most of this day in Tsumago just resting and relaxing. When we woke up it was very cold so we stayed in and read until around 11.

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Not far along a Japanese fellow probably in his 50s stopped us to practice his (very good) English and asked where we were from, how we found this place since it’s a Japanese tourist town (his second time visiting), took a picture of us and for us. We saw him a bit later in town.

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We made our way up to the local temple Kotokuji and looked around.

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Nearby there was what looked like an abandoned school which we wandered around outside and totally made ourselves look suspicious.

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Behind the school we found a shrine up the hill and wandered around there. It was extremely quiet and peaceful.

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Realizing we were hungry we went back down to the town and got some soba for lunch and looked in the shops, although we didn’t buy anything. There were tons of dogs all over the place: Golden Dachshund, Dachshund with a wheelchair, Golden Retriever, Labrador, Akita, Shiba, some terriers, one in a baby carriage with clothes on, and two others with it in clothes walking.

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We ran into the guy we’d met in Kanazawa from our local area on our way back to our inn for the evening. We rested for most of the evening and at dinner talked with a couple from Hawaii and another from Scotland.

Posted by alopiparo 16:38 Archived in Japan Tagged landscapes mountains tsumago Comments (0)

Japan Day 9 – Travel to Tsumago via Magome

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This was one of our favorite days. We took the Magome-Tsumago trail (a well maintained section of the Nakasendo post trail).

After forwarding our luggage to Kyoto using the excellent luggage service and bringing only two backpacks, we made our way to the train station. There we had one of our most memorable conversations with a train station employee where using a lot of gestures and Nos we eventually found out that the platform our train was arriving on was split and two trains would come in from different directions and we wanted the right half.

The train ride was beautiful, as were most that we took in the area.

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Our train stopped in Nakatsugawa where we were catching bus to Magome. While there we exchanged cash for coins for bus fares and wandered around the station. An older lady stopped us and asked us to write “Thank you” and sign our names onto a square poster-thing. We didn’t understand what she wanted, but she handed us a pamphlet.

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When we went to wait for the bus, the driver of another bus came over and gestured at the times to tell us it had already left, our guide book was wrong. So we went into the Tourist Information Center and a nice lady there showed us where we could get food and we ended up having a local dish and watching a recording of a Noh play while waiting.

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Got on the bus, helped a guy from Argentina who was confused about boarding, and then we were off. It was a pretty trip, with several older locals getting on and off at several stations, but most of the bus was tourists for Magome.

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I think this was the day where we had the most interactions with other people despite being in one of the remoter areas. We ran into the guy from Argentina again while going through Magome, then met a guy who asked where we were from and insisted that Los Angeles was all about getting shot (creeped us out), and then when we started the hike we passed an older Japanese fellow who said “Gokurousandesu” – basically “Cheers for the hard work”.

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The hike was absolutely gorgeous and completely peaceful. Tore was amazed at how green and wet everything was. Lots of uphill before finding the downhill.

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At various parts we were walking around people’s homes and at others we’re in the middle of the woods. There was even a temple out in the middle of nowhere. We saw almost no one the entire time.

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Midway we stopped at a shop pretty much in the middle of nowhere (but on a road) that had an icecream display out front. We were confused when we walked in and it unfortunately looked like we’d interrupted their lunch break. They took pity on us though and served us one. It was some sort of yummy melon flavor.

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Eventually we made it to the other end and took a quick walk through Tsumago on the way to our inn. Once there we rested and had dinner where we chatted with John and Mary from the UK for a couple of hours.

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Posted by alopiparo 16:16 Archived in Japan Tagged landscapes mountains travel hike tsumago magome Comments (0)

Japan - Day 8 – Matsumoto

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Leaving Takayama, we traveled to Matsumoto via bus. The road was very windy and by the end we were both a little bit carsick, but it was a beautiful drive again.

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Once we got to Matsumoto, we dropped our bags off at the hotel as we were two hours early for check in and found a local place to eat. From there we started walking to Matsumoto Castle, which was very close, but stopped at Yohashira Shrine on the way. It was pretty, but the pigeons were extremely aggressive, so we didn't stay long (they went after a man thinking he had food).

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Matsumoto Castle was gorgeous. It even had the seeming obligatory swan out front. We saw one at every castle we visited and at the Tokyo Imperial Palace.

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We didn't go inside as it cost money and we only had limited time in Matsumoto, which we needed to spend doing laundry, so we headed back to check in at the hotel.

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We did laundry for a few hours, which unfortunately didn't turn out too great as we had forgotten just how awful coin dryers can be, so we ended up laying all of our clothes out around the room to air dry overnight.

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I also ended up not feeling very well and took a nap while Tore was working on using a hairdryer for the heaviest clothes (ie. jeans). But after I'd woken up and we ate I felt a bit better, so we headed back out to the castle to get some night photos.

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Posted by alopiparo 11:24 Archived in Japan Tagged travel matsumoto Comments (1)

Japan - Day 7 – Takayama

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We left right after breakfast to explore the town. Our first stop was the Miyagawa Market by the river which felt just like the booths at Japanese festivals back home, except with a lot less people since it's daily. We spent some time in and out of the shops there, partially to keep ourselves warm as there was a chill in the air.

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When we reached the end of the market, the old town area was just across the street, so we continued on there, poking our heads into shops. Apparently horses are believed to be very lucky in the area, and we found a print meant to be hung on your wall facing in. The idea is that the horse will bring you good luck. It was only 500 yen, I love horses, and it was pretty, so it was an easy purchase, other than worrying about how to get it home.

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After old town we ended up in front of the Takayama City Archives Museum which was free and surprisingly interesting. We couldn't read many of the signs, but when we wandered into a more traditional sitting room with books on the table, Tore started reading one that was in English. Apparently, Takayama and Denver, Colorado are sister cities! The book was in both English and Japanese and was 50 year yearbook of the relationship between the two which we enjoyed skimming.

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Upstairs was a display area of what I assume were the types of desks and computers used and then various artifacts of Takayama's history. On the way back down the stairs I noticed the old-fashioned fire buckets.

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We exited and were looking at the map trying to decide where to go next when an older lady started trying to talk to us, but sadly we couldn't understand a thing she was trying to say. Finally we realized we were right near where we had planned to go next, up a hill towards Shoren-ji Temple and Shiroyama Park. On the way up to the park we stopped to play with the leaves which were falling in the wind.

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Shoren-ji Temple:
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Shiroyama Park:
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Dariyuji Temple:
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After the park, we came down the opposite side of the hill and started the Higashiyama Walking Course in reverse through many different temples and shrines.

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(That last one is a postman delivering mail.)

Nishikiyama Shrine:
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Soyuji Temple:
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Zennoji Temple:
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Hokkeji Temple:
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Surprisingly there was a hostel right along the path between temples:
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Tensoji Temple:
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Weary of temples, we noticed Higashiyama Shinmei Jinga Shrine on the map and despite our hunger, hiked up the hill. We were glad we did as it was extremely peaceful and beautiful.

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Sogenji Temple:
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Unfortunately we only made it about halfway as we were extremely hungry so we took the "subway" (aka. tunnel under the street), glanced at the entrance to Tounin Temple, and then headed down the main street to find food.

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Hida Takayama’s long-legged giant statue (Ashinaga Zo 足長像) and Takayama’s long arm statue (Tenagazo or 手長像)

After lunch we decided to try out another hike called the Kitayama Walking Course up to what the (bad) map said were the Ayuzaki Castle ruins. On the way there we passed by Takayama Showa Hall which had all types of vintage stuff.

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I think this sign is a warning for construction that there are telephone lines in the ground there?

Despite not seeing any ruins along the Kitayama Walking Course, it made for a very pretty walk at the end of the day.

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We wandered back into the city for a bit for some dinner before heading back to the inn.

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This bridge can be seen in the poster for the anime movie we saw in old town. It seems it was set in Takayama.

Posted by alopiparo 19:19 Archived in Japan Tagged takayama Comments (0)

Japan - Day 6 – Shirakawa-go and Takayama

sunny
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After breakfast we headed upstairs to grab our stuff and head out for Shirakawa-go and Takayama. I was surprised though to hear a ringing, Mat from Inside Japan was calling to check up and see how everything was going.

We walked to the bus at Kanazawa Station and were very glad we had forwarded our luggage. The drive was gorgeous.

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Shirakawa-go was very pretty, although it was much more modern than I had expected. The houses are protected landmarks, but all around them and inside of them people are still living normal lives, so there are new houses/buildings next to them, cars, etc.

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Before we started the hike up to the observation point, Jiji got his first special picture.

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The hike up was fairly challenging, but we survived and enjoyed the view from the three main places to see it (at the top of the road, by a little shrine, and the official viewpoint).

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We headed back down and started to wander in search of food.

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I found a place for us to eat via the internet and after eating we headed out of the village towards the bus stop.

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Before we tried to go into the historical village, I stopped at the restroom and Tore waited outside. When I came out he was attempting to have a conversation with about 5 or 6 old Japanese ladies and they were all having a blast.

We didn’t make it into the historical village because it cost money and we only had about 20 minutes free before we needed to wait for the bus so we wandered around for a bit.

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The bus ride to Takayama was more relaxed, I didn’t take many pictures. In Takayama we walked to the hotel and stumbled on a huge torii and followed it up to the Sakurayama Hachiman Shrine next to Takayama Matsuri Yatai Kaikan where they house several of the festival floats.

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After that we tried to find the inn and walked around in circles for almost an hour before we finally found it. After dinner we took advantage of the baths, although it was awkward a bit as they were communal.

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Posted by alopiparo 06:03 Archived in Japan Tagged travel bus takayama shirakawa-go Comments (0)

Japan - Day 5 – Kanazawa Tour

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It had started raining the evening before, which was one reason why we chose not to explore the area much. It rained all night and we were afraid it was going to continue, but by the time we left with the guide it had stopped.

When we went down for breakfast we first forwarded our luggage to our hotel in Takayama. With some careful pointing and use of Google Translate on both sides, it all got figured out just fine.

Afterwards when we went to get our food, we stood around confused for a moment as the area where the trays were didn’t seem to be the start of the line (it was being served at the Seattle’s Best area in the lobby). A fellow in front of us who looked local spoke up, in perfect English, and told us where to go. After a breakfast full of pastries, we met with our guide Kumi-san and talked for a few minutes and then went to buy all-day bus passes at the front desk.

First for the day was a walk to the Samurai District where we saw several houses of various ranks of samurai.

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We then took the bus to the Omicho Market.

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We took another bus to an older area of town and went into a nice little ceramic shop. It started raining right as we left, so we pulled out our jackets. The owner of the shop saw Tore and I without an umbrella and brought us one for free, someone had left it behind it sounded like. Tore still ended up putting on his windbreaker over his backpack as well, but we managed.

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From there we walked to a gold leaf shop where we were able to see a lady doing the final steps in the process of making gold leaf ready for selling in stores. She even handed us a little bit to eat! (Apparently it helps digestion?) We explored around that shop for a bit before heading back out.

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Thankfully it had stopped raining while we were in that shop. We next took a bus to one of the Geisha Districts (Higashi) where we saw some geisha leaving and then enjoyed the beautiful buildings. We went into a felt craft store to see the style of old geisha houses and then a jewelry shop to see a gold store room. We had lunch at a former geisha house where the proprietor’s mother had been a geisha (apparently customers still would come in and ask about her).

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After we finished lunch we left and took a bus to the Kanazawa Castle. Large and white, most of it has been rebuilt fairly recently and it originally was built during/near the peaceful Edo period, so it actually never saw a battle. On the bridge, we saw the fellow who had helped us in the morning with breakfast. It turns out he’s actually from the same place in California as we are!

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Next we went over Kenrokuen garden next door where the stone lantern that the city is known for is located. Several of the trees were already being supported by ropes and wood for surviving the heavy winter snowfall. Some areas also had beautiful moss as the ground covering instead of grass.

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Across the street is the 21st Century Contemporary Museum of Art where we saw Leandro Erlich's "Swimming Pool" and some other interesting, and not so interesting, displays.

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Tore accidentally lost his bus ticket at the museum, so we walked to Oyama Shrine.

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Next we stopped by a cat "café" where cats live and you can go pet them, but we stayed outside and just looked in as it was pretty crowded and we wouldn't have been able to clean my clothes well enough to not bother Tore's allergies.

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We then spent a bit of time at the Toki Game Arcade where the first floor was dedicated to crane games and the second was for “Women Only” as they could rent costumes and there were around 15 photo booths which could Photoshop you, where high school girls were taking pictures.

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Our last stop with Kumi-san was Animate, an anime store in the shopping street behind our hotel. We spent quite a bit of time in there trying to find shows we recognized, but unfortunately they had very little merchandise from shows we had seen. I did think that the mini-wall scrolls they had for character portraits were genius though. No need for a full-size one. The store on the first floor had "trendy" clothing styles.

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Posted by alopiparo 05:05 Archived in Japan Tagged tour kanazawa Comments (0)

Japan - Day 4 – Travel to Kanazawa

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Started the day off by waking up super early due to having gone to bed so early. That meant I was able to get the photos in order to be ready to upload them at Starbucks! We went after a quick breakfast and then rushed to the train. After some stress and asking multiple people for help, we made it just fine. Our train was one of the Shinkansens, or bullet trains. It happened to be a double decker as well. We had some amazing views along the way.

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We made the transfer to our second train just fine as well with only a couple of questions asked.

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When we arrived in Kanazawa at Kanazawa Station, we had some food at a bakery. Then when we tried to get to our bus, we got lost at the station as the guide didn’t specify where to catch the bus (East/West exit of the station), but a lovely Australian noticed we were confused and sent us the right way.

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The bus was ridiculously crowded, but we made it to our hotel fine and crashed, just eating sandwiches from the Seattle’s Best in the lobby for dinner.

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Posted by alopiparo 02:41 Archived in Japan Tagged trains tokyo kanazawa Comments (0)

Japan - Day 3 - Ghibili Museum and Park/Zoo

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Our free day, we had the Ghibli Museum reserved for noon, so we explored a bit more around the area of Sensoji Temple which we had missed. We then made our way (on our own!) to the train station for the museum, which was outside of “central” Tokyo (but actually more towards the center of the overall city) .

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We had a nice walk from the station to the museum and stopped at a great smelling bakery for a snack and then wandered over to the museum.

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The museum was awesome. We got to see a special film and wander around for a couple of hours. The central hall looked like that of From Up on Poppy Hill, there was a Cat Bus room for all of the kids to crawl around on a huge plush version, and on the roof was an iron guardian from Castle in the Sky!!!

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After we were done there, we decided to wander down the road to the zoo (Inokashira Shinzen Bunka Park).

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After that we headed back to the hotel, edited some photos, and then passed out.

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(We bought Jiji at the Ghibli Museum and he's now joining us on our adventures each day!)

Posted by alopiparo 00:43 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo museum ghibli Comments (0)

Japan - Day 2 – Tokyo Tour Part 2

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After the Meji Shrine, we went across the street to Harajuku to tour the smaller, original shopping street. There were a lot of interesting stores, including (funnily enough) Claire’s, Wolfgang Puck Express, and Sanrio.

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From there, we went for a brief stop at the Imperial Palace and were able to see the front gate and it’s bridge and one of the guard towers up close. It was really cool, and one of my favorite places we went I think.

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We left there via Tokyo Station.

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And made our way to Akihabara (The Electric Town) to shop/browse since we like anime. Unfortunately however we’re not really interested in figures and couldn’t find much else of interest (that we could read/understand). We said goodbye to Hiroko-san and then went to McDonald’s for dinner as we were pretty tired and to figure out what to do next.

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After some thought we decided to stroll down the main street of Akihabara a bit more and see what we could find. We found a store selling all of the old consoles and games and spent a bit of time there. The other interesting place was a Pachinko Parlor (Japan’s main gambling game) which we stumbled into accidentally as there were several Evangelion statues/posters. There were some games (which looked like Pinball) upstairs, so we decided to see what was downstairs. There was a huge wall of sound down there from all of the machines running and we quickly made our way back up.

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We decided to head back and then went to explore Sensoji Temple a bit at night after a stop by to see how the Skytree looked.

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Posted by alopiparo 04:41 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo tour Comments (1)

Japan - Day 2 - Tokyo Tour

Part 1

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Day 2
Busy day! The lovely Hiroko-san was our guide for the day. She took us around Sensoji Shrine, to the Post Office for an ATM and then introduced us to the rail system to Tsukiji Fish Market.

Sensoji Shrine:
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Tsukiji Fish Market:
The outer market at Tsukiji Fish Market

The outer market at Tsukiji Fish Market


Tsukiji Fish Market

Tsukiji Fish Market


Tuna being cut with a saw at Tsukiji Fish Market

Tuna being cut with a saw at Tsukiji Fish Market

We then went to the Hama-rikyu Gardens where Hiroko asked a couple having their engagement photos taken if we could have a shot as well.

Hamarikyu Gardens:
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300 year old pine tree at Hamarikyu Gardens

300 year old pine tree at Hamarikyu Gardens


The supports for the 300 year old pine at Hamarikyu Gardens

The supports for the 300 year old pine at Hamarikyu Gardens


With Hiroko at Hamarikyu Gardens

With Hiroko at Hamarikyu Gardens

On our way to the train station, we saw a few more fun things.
For Courtney and Suzanne-
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At McDonald's
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Under a skyscraper
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We happened to see the Miazayki clock and stopped for a few minutes.
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And met the Tokyo police mascot!
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Then we ate at a local ramen place before jumping on the train.
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Next was the Meji Jingu Shrine dedicated to Emperor Meji where they were having their annual festivals for children having made it to age 3, 5, and 7 (Shichi-Go-San), and the festival for the establishment of the Shrine in 1920.

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Time to head to Kanazawa! I'll finish day 2 later.

Posted by alopiparo 16:52 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo tour Comments (1)

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