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Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Hotel Washington Plaza Takayama

(Takayama is also listed as Hida Takayama to distinguish it from the other places called Takayama in Japan) 

This hotel was very much a standard 'business hotel' one that would be used by business, generally men, as they travel for work reasons. Therefore it was quite cheap at around $90AUD a night.

I deliberately booked this hotel as it was opposite the Railway station. Walking out of the station I could see the red katakana sign before I saw the hotel! Being able to read katakana was helpful and then saw the 'English' sign above the door. The location was fantastic, not just the convenience of being close to the train station, but right next to the train station was the bus station from where the bus for the Hida-no-sato folk village departed. Takayama is quite compact so the historic old part of the town was just a 10 minute stroll down a mainly pedestrian street away.

When I booked this hotel it was listed as having 'free wired internet' but they seem to have upgraded and the room had free wifi. It was a standard business hotel room, there was a kettle but only green tea sachets, no coffee. It offered breakfast for an extra fee with western options as well as Japanese.

Optional Extras
Nothing really, the main selling point of this hotel was its location and price. I was quite happy with my choice as I could easily walk to the places I wanted to see, come back to the hotel for breaks, it was convenient and basic. 
When I was looking at accommodation in Takayama I noted there were more expensive (and nicer) options they were mainly ryokan style accommodation. If wanting more of an authentic Japanese experience then that's an option, a business hotel is still an authentic experience as this type of accommodation is widely used, not as nice but practical and more affordable for those travelling on a budget. Travel in Japan need not be horribly expensive.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Kobe (My old hometown!)

Kobe is a city in the Kansai region and a port city, as it was a major port it was one of the cities in Japan (Yokohama was the other) that flourished once Japan began to open up to the west. (A small historical aside here, Dutch and Portuguese traders first set up trading posts and settlements in the 16th century it was at Nagasaki on the southern island of Kyushu. By the 17th century the shogun who controlled Japan expelled most of the foreigners, only a few were allowed to remain on a small island near Nagasaki called Deijima. Japan was then shut off from the world for the next 200 years. By the mid 19th century with the arrival of the American Matthew Perry and the 'black ships' Japan was forced to open up to the west. Japan itself then went through a major renewal with a new Emperor and a move to Tokyo as the new capital, and the Meiji Restoration as it became known proceeded to learn, change and adapt to the west, and that included trade. Thus endth a brief history lesson!)

Kobe was opened up as a trading port in 1868 (I looked up the date!) and with trade came non-Japanese who lived and settled in the city. This makes Kobe rather unique in my opinion, it has a very strong multi-cultural tone to the city in comparison with the rest of Japan which is very homogenous. Small towns and cities in particular, it's not usual for people who live there to have had no contact with a non-Japanese person, to have never seen one. On a trip to Kyushu with some work colleagues (all westerners) I had the rather off putting experience of a family driving past in the car as we walked along the road and one of the adults in the car lifting up a toddler and pointing us out for the toddler to look at! His first sight of westerners! We waved!

Enough of my tangent, so Kobe opened up to the west and with the new settlers, they also brought along their architecture and customs. Much of the old settlement, as it was on the more level ground near the sea, was destroyed in World War II bombing raids. (Kobe was an industrial city as well as a port so a major target for bombing raids) A few buildings survived.

These buildings were situated along the 'kaigan' which in Japanese means beach, this was right on the water, now with land reclamation it is set back from the water, there's a 4 lane road, an elevated expressway and a park behind where I took this photo, then water.

This is the chocolatier Morozoff founded by a white Russian (a supporter of the Tsar so he found himself in danger and left when the communists took charge). Dimitri Morozoff ended up in Japan, established himself in Kobe where there was already a foreign community and began his confectionary business. It's credited that Morozoff in 1936 introduced to Japan the custom of selling chocolates for Valentine's Day. It was marketed to the foreigners in Japan. (A Japanese friend of mine was quite shocked when in conversation I said to her that Valentine's Day had a vague connection to St. Valentine. She thought it was just a day invented by a chocolate manufacturer to sell chocolates. In Japan only chocolates are given for Valentine's Day, and only men receive them, women give them but receive nothing! There's even something called 'giro chokoreto' which is obligation chocolate when a female worker is obligated to give chocolates to her male co-workers for Valentine's Day!

Women did complain and then an artificial day called "White Day" on March 14th was established where men were supposed to give cookies to women. (My Japanese friends said if they had girlfriends they could be somewhat racier and give white lingerie!) Regardless it seems more chocolates are actually given than cookies reciprocated!)

As more foreigners settled they left the plain near the port and moved up to the northern part of Kobe and settled there. This is the Kobe Mosque, it was built in 1935 (it was designed by a Czech and based on Turkish mosques. Keeping with the multicultural theme!)The Islamic community in Kobe began raising money for a mosque in 1928, and it was completed in 1935, it was the first mosque built in Japan. (Yes research again!) It seems it was built with very a very strong foundation and a basement as it survived undamaged from the bombings in World War II and also the 1995 earthquake.

On the same road is the catholic church, when I first arrived in Kobe the old church, which had survived WW2 was still standing but it had been badly damaged in the earthquake. The church was built in the style of Notre Dame (Paris) with two towers or turrets at the front, the earthquake had split the towers down the middle and there was a huge gap. It took the Kobe catholic community several years to raise the money for a new church, unfortunately the old historic church was eventually demolished and a new church stands there now.

In the same area of Kitano but further up the mountain is the Jain Temple. The Jain are a branch of the Hindu religion. The Kitano area has a large Indian population who are now third and fourth generation Japanese born, the families mainly are involved in the pearl trade as wholesalers. This temple was built by the community in 1986.

The Kitano area also has a synagogue but it wasn't in the vicinity of where I was walking so no picture. But it does illustrate what a diverse area Kobe and particularly the area known as Kitano was and is.

Sightly further away is Chinatown, the only Chinatown in Japan. Kobe has a large Chinese population, the second highest amount of registered foreigners, the highest amount are ethnic Koreans many of whom were brought to Japan in the 1930s when Japan occupied Korea. Their descendants are still considered foreigners and the main Korean neighbourhoods are away from the city centre part of Kobe.

All in all Kobe is a really interesting city, a terrific place to life and its diversity makes it different to other cities in Japan.

Saturday, 25 April 2015


Well not while I was there! After Takayama I went to the city of Kobe, its main claim to fame was that it suffered a major earthquake. This year is the 20th anniversary of that quake, on January 17th 1995, at 5.46am a large earthquake, which had its epicentre on nearby Awaji Island, hit Kobe. (There is a visitor's centre over the epicentre, I have been there and you can see the cracks of the fault lines)

The earthquake was devastating not just because of its magnitude but also in that it ruptured the gas lines in Kobe, so many people were killed in the fires that wiped out whole neighbourhoods, the road were blocked the fire engines couldn't get close to fight any of the fires and there were people burnt alive in their home. With open gas lines the fires were fed until they lines could be manually shut off, unlike Tokyo which has automatic shut down of the gas lines incase of an earthquake other cities didn't at the time since the Japanese believed the next major quake was due to hit Tokyo. 

I came to live in Kobe after the earthquake but it was still fresh enough in people's minds that I was constantly fascinated to hear 'earthquake stories' of what life was like in Kobe during and after the earthquake.

This clock is on a building in Kitano, it stopped at the precise moment the earthquake it, and it remains as a memorial of the quake.

This is the Earthquake Memorial site at Meriken Park. Meriken Park is a large pier built on reclaimed land and opened in 1987. (I read the sign!) It's called Meriken Park since it was situated near what had been the American Consulate. The whole port area was damaged by the earthquake as well as the recreational pier. But access to Kobe from the water was the only way that supplies could come into Kobe in the aftermath of the earthquake. The rail-lines were buckled so trains couldn't come in and the expressways had sections of them that had collapsed, the city for all intents and purposes was completely cut off from the rest of Japan. So ships were used and disaster zone strategies put into place to unload those ships. According to people I spoke to, as the weeks went on and the people of Kobe would tire of living without water and heat (if their buildings were undamaged) they could also take a ship across the bay to Osaka and stay in a hotel for a weekend to shower, be warm live in First World conditions again.

From the memorial looking back into Kobe, the elevated expressway can easily be seen, sections of the main arterial expressways collapsed so that it wasn't possible for vehicles to enter the city. Overland by foot was the only way in. One of my work colleagues had been working in another part of Japan and came to Osaka to volunteer with the relief effort. (The Kobe earthquake was the first time that large scale volunteerism came to be seen in Japan) My colleague was American, she explained how volunteers were given backpacks with firstaid materials, they then caught the train as close as they could get to Kobe from Osaka and then walked the rest of the way into Kobe.

Elevated expressways in Japan are constructed in such a way that if there is an earthquake then only sections will collapse and so can be repaired quickly. This is the main road onto and off Port Island (an artificial island just off the city centre) during the earthquake a top section collapsed onto the road below, cutting off any vehicular access to the island. The only way on or off the island was the pedestrian crossing so people piled their possessions onto bikes and then evacuated to relatives' homes in other parts of Japan. Since I ended up being housed in an apartment on the island by my employers one of the first things I asked was how did the buildings fare? Quite well it seems with little damage but it being an artificial island water rose up a through the ground a phenomenon called 'liquefaction' there are still marks on some buildings showing how high the water rose. The island residents had no water, no electricity and no gas which is why some decided to evacuate. As described to me, the stream of people with the possessions loaded onto bicycles was like a scene from a refugee movie, or a war movie with civilians trying to find refuge. The residents that remained had their electricity and gas reconnected within weeks but no water for 3 months. Water trucks would come and people filled up large water bottles and then haul them home.

Earthquake stories did fascinate me as to how a First World modern city was reduced to Third World conditions in a matter of minutes.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Hotel Unizo Ginza Itchome

Tokyo, Japan

A review of the hotel I stayed in, in Tokyo. It was the Hotel Unizo (part of a chain there are others in Japan) Ginza (the area of Tokyo) Itchome was the specific zone in Ginza, it's zone 1. I booked this hotel through

Price As it was an hotel in central Tokyo the price was quite reasonable, the exact amount I paid I'm not sure until I get my credit card statement as the website price didn't include taxes. Japanese prices are always pretax, when you pay for something the consumption tax gets added on then.

Location The hotel is situated in Ginza which is in central Tokyo and also the area with the exclusive stores, you'll find a Cartier, Tiffany, Louis Vuitton all within a 5 minute walk. I selected this hotel as I wanted one close to Tokyo Station, this hotel was either a 10 to 15 minute walk from the station or one stop on the subway and then walk from the subway station. I experimented with walking vs getting the subway and the walking was quicker. Getting the subway involved walking through Tokyo station to get to the Ginza line, catching the train then navigating Ginza station's labyrinth of underground shopping areas to exit at the correct spot. All in all it took longer!

The Ginza area is more expensive but it is convenient, there were plenty of places to eat, coffee shops etc including a Subway nearby if you weren't quite up to the local cuisine!

Facilities This particular hotel offered a 'Ladies Floor' so I took up the offer and asked for a room on this floor. It offered extra security, the whole hotel had swipe cards which only allowed you access to your floor, with the Ladies Floor once you left the elevator there was another door you needed to swipe to enter that floor. The Ladies Floor offered a Ladies Lounge which included a Laundry Room, useful and I ended up using it while reading in the Ladies Lounge waiting for the laundry cycle to end.

The rooms were nicely equipped with kettle, tea/coffee (be warned if not American, there is no milk provided. They follow the American system of using whitener in coffee so that's what's offered. I think coffee whitener is revolting, so bought my own small amount of milk from the convenience store for my morning coffee) The room had free wifi, as the TV only offered Japanese stations for free having wifi filled in the news and entertainment gap!

The pink bag on the righthand side was a nice little extra touch for the Ladies Floor. It contained a rug (for your lap) and extra nice tea.

The wooden tray thing on the bed was a laptop table you could use when in bed, and a nightshirt to sleep in was also offered.

Small bathroom to go with the small room, again nice touch with various toiletries in the box on the ledge.

Summary I was quite happy with my choice of this hotel. It is new having just opened in January 2015, good location, easy enough to find, compact room but I expected this considering the price and location. I would happily stay there again.
Takayama tourist (I wasn't the only one!)

After arriving the previous day, this day was the one where I would submerse myself in the traditional aspect of Takayama. It's a relatively small city/town and the centre of it was easily navigated on foot. Staying near the train station I had a short walk into the historic part of town that had the traditional buildings, beautifully preserved and easy to find. 

The traditional street scape areas were full of tourist this particular morning and it was a week day, I imagine that on the weekend the crowds would be even heavier. I even found the bus parking area where the tour buses parked while the tourists wandered around the town centre. It was full of buses that morning. Having a swarm of tourists all in the street areas made it difficult for me to take photos, since I wanted the streetscape not the tourists! Made plans to return around lunchtime as I reasoned tourists would need to eat so they'd be in restaurants and not so many in the street! 

The amount of tourists did bring to mind Venice (Italy not the LA beach!), it's loved to death by tourists but it means that a visitor's experience of Venice tends to be of crowds, very few locals who make a place more real, therefore it just slips into more of a theme park experience for the people who visit. That was my impression as well with the traditional streets of Takayama as the buildings were souvenir shops and restaurants catering for the tourists. The souvenirs were sweet and tasteful and include things such as exclusive sake stores but it just gave a very touristy vibe to the whole area rather than the naively desired by me 'traditional Japan'.

This scene amused me, as there were tourists (this was a group of Chinese tourists) around a cherry blossom tree all taking the same picture!

I thought this old willow tree was amazing so had to photograph it to share.

Trudged up a hill to a park that had been the site of the Takayama castle (it was destroyed in the 17th century so not there anymore!) Looking for cherry blossoms but the cooler zone meant there weren't any, it was still too early, but I did get a nice view of the town and the Japanese Alps beyond. 

The results of my quest for traditional and no tourists! Even waited for one to move to other side of the street to get this shot! This was a home for a wealthy family.

On the edge of the traditional areas, shops and restaurants. Infront you can see the large gutters for all the rain and water from melted snow, these huge deep gutters are common in Japan due to the high rainfall especially in June which is called the rainy month.

I did get some cherry blossom pics, again on the edge of the old district for fewer people!

This is one of a few souvenir shops opposite the railway station. These types of souvenir shops are commonly found in Japan either near or in railway stations so that Japanese tourists can buy their souvenirs for family and workmates. Each town/region in Japan has their particular food speciality, from what I could see Takayama's was red radish. (Not sure, at first I thought beetroot, but I looked at what is in the packets and it wasn't beetroot but maybe red radish) Japanese tourist are required to bring back 'omiyage' (required as in more of a social obligation, it's not a law!) whenever they visit a new place either on holidays or on day trips, food tends to be the main omiyage, particularly food that is a local speciality so these souvenir shops are conveniently located for the traveller so pick up a few things before they board their train!

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Not the only gaijin in town

When planning this trip I thought about going to a part of Japan I had never been. I like old and historical and had heard about the folk village next to the town of Takayama. Takayama itself I read had a well preserved historic quarter. These are quite rare in Japan, due to the rush to modernise late in the 19th century, the damage from heavy bombing in World War II and then the rebuilding efforts after the war. Various Japanese castles are 1960s era replicas (Osaka and Hiroshima castles) due to the originals being destroyed during the war.

So rather naively I thought that as Takayama wasn't on the Shinkansen tourist route (Kyoto, Hiroshima, Osaka(Nara)) and more difficult to get to, I would be the one representative of a western tourist in amongst the Japanese tour bus groups. I was very wrong! 

It was a long and windy train journey through the Japanese Alps to Takayama and on my train were not one but 2 western tour groups complete with guides. One was a group of Italians on a tour of Japan and the other were a group of Brits doing the same. My non reserved seated carriage was a noisy affair with the jolly Brits but even they quieted down as the journey wound its way into the 2nd hour and counting! All up with the Shinkansen 2 hour trip to Nagoya, changing trains there and then the "Limited Express" which took 2 hours and 20 very long minutes, it was a time consuming journey to get there!

Once I had arrived, found my hotel, (chosen for convenience as it was directly across the road from the train station!) I caught a little local bus to the folk village Hida-no-sato. I'd come looking for old and historic and that's what I got.

The folk village was put together to preserve the uniquely local buildings from the area as villages were flooded for hydroelectric plants. The buildings were dismantled and then rebuilt in a village environment on a hillside outside of Takayama.

The small hut on the water's edge is an ice hut. During winter the lake would freeze and ice was cut from it wrapped in straw and stored in the ice hut for later use.

I sighed when I saw this sign to remove your shoes before entering. I'm so out of practise for being a tourist in Japan, I didn't wear slip on shoes!! Rookie mistake, mine at least didn't have laces, just straps and luckily velcro ones at that but still a pain when entering and exiting the houses!

Old Japanese houses had a fireplace in the centre of the room, the rooms were separated by screens but they could also all be opened up to create larger areas or rooms.

This house was unusual for the area, it belonged to a nearby area which received less snow. It has the hallway (what looks like a verandah) open to the elements, the area close to Takayama receives heavy snowfalls so the outside hallways are enclosed. Old Japanese houses had the hallways around the building not internally.

The different houses showed various aspects of traditional village life. This was for pounding rice.

In the winter with snow on the ground sleds were used to transport goods over level ground. They were either pulled by oxen, horses or as the picture shows by humans. This was the biggest for the heaviest loads the "Daimochi" 'dai' is a superlative for most.

These 2 rocks aren't all that interesting to look at until you read what they were used for. They were used to judge who the strongest man in the village was. Contenders had to lift the stones, the were deliberately round so that arm strength and grip would settle the outcome as to who was the strongest as both were needed to lift the stone. The bigger stone weighs 93.75kg and the smaller 75kg.

The houses have steep thatched roofs so that in an area of heavy snowfall the snow would slide off.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

On a clear day you can see…….

Mt Fuji!

Leaving Tokyo and going south (ish) to Nagoya the Shinkansen (the bullet train) passes by Mt. Fuji. When the day is clear it's possible to get some really good views of it from the train. Make sure you sit on the right hand side going away from Tokyo and the left hand side if you're travelling towards Tokyo. Mt Fuji is quite an unmistakable shape (that of a volcano) and depending on what time of year you see it may or may not have snow on it. The summer months you just see the mountain and it's also the climbing season where recreational climbers do the once in a life time climb to the top. (The day trippers actually climb from halfway up, you catch a bus to station 5 and then walk from there!)

As it was a clear day I positioned myself at a window seat on the right hand side of the train and was rewarded with many picture opportunities. Now they can be a bit hit and miss since the train is moving through built up areas, I also ended up with pictures of buildings, another train, train stations as well as 3 really good photos.

It is said that everyone should climb Mt. Fuji once in their lifetime. To do it twice is to be a fool. I've done it once so no need to repeat the experience again! I'll just gaze at it from a distance!

Friday, 17 April 2015

Forest in a city

Tokyo does have several large parks but the grounds of the Meiji Shrine are less landscaped and more forest like. The Meiji Shrine entrance is located just near the Harajuku station and so it's easy to include a visit to the shrine when roaming around Harajuku.

This picture inspired my title to this post. I stopped to photograph the Japanese maple in the centre of the picture. I love Japanese maples in summer and in autumn, the summer colour is this bright shade of green and come November the leaves turn an amazingly vivid shade of red. The landscape looks wonderful with all the splashes of red among the woodland settings.

The Meiji Shrine is the major Tokyo Shinto shrine, over the new year period where Japanese people visit shrines to pray for a good year. The Meiji Shrine over a three day period (January 1st, 2nd and 3rd) has over one million people visit. It's really difficult to visualise that number, the courtyard in front of the shrine where the people come to pray is so full of people that, as my Japanese friend explained, everyone is crammed in so tight all you can do is shuffle forward millimetre by millimetre.

One section of the courtyard/quadrangle. The 2 girls wearing the orange pants are shrine maidens, their jobs are to assist in the ceremonies. Shinto priests are male.

This is where the crowds at new year are trying to shuffle forward to, the area in front of the altar. There are large boxes that people stand in front of to pray and then throw a coin into the box. I had to take this photo from a distance as no photos or videos were allowed up close. The picture has one of the security officers whose job was to make sure this no photos ban was enforced. While I was up near the praying area, a group trying to take a photo were asked to stop and move away. I was polite and went down the steps to take my photo!

This is one of the pillars up near the praying area. My Japanese friend explained to me that with the crowds being so large at new year most people can't get up near the altar and the boxes you place money into after completing your prayer. So what they do instead is try and throw a coin to land in one of the boxes in front of the altar. Those small black marks on the pillar are the indentations coins make when thrown with a great deal of force and end up hitting the pillars instead of landing in the money boxes. All of the pillars in front of the altar boxes are covered in these dents. When I first came years ago the lower part of the pillars had clear plastic shields on them, I noticed that they're not there any more.

All Shinto shrines you can find these wooden tablets. You buy a blank one and then write your desire or wish or prayer on it and hang it at the shrines for the gods to read and maybe grant what you asked for. In the past I've had Japanese friends translate them, generally they are requests to pass exams or find a partner. These ones I noticed had things written in a variety of languages as international visitors are writing them as well.

All Shinto shrines have these large gates as you enter. Mainly they are a red or orange colour but this shrine has its gates made in a particular style and from cypress wood. This is the largest gate of this style in Japan. The Meiji Shrine was destroyed by allied bombing in World War II and these gates were rebuilt in 1975 using wood over 1000 years old. ( I read the sign!) The circular motifs across the top is the chrysanthemum seal of the Japanese Imperial Family.

The Shrine was built to honour the Emperor Meiji who was the emperor that pushed for the modernisation of Japan in the late 19th century. After he died in 1912, the building of a shrine to honour him was put forward as a national project. The original shrine was finished in the 1920s, destroyed in World War II and then rebuilt with public donations and reopened in 1958. ( I looked this up!)

As you walk towards the shrine one of the first things you pass are these barrels of sake. Sake barrels can be found in major shrines (little neighbourhood shrines don't tend to have them). The barrels are made from straw and I'm assuming that various sake breweries have donated a barrel to the shrine as it looks as though those are brewery names on the barrels. The sake barrels are offerings to the gods.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Harajuku I'm here!

Woke up to bright sunshine on Day 2 in Tokyo. First stop was the Apple store, yes another disaster, now that I travel with enough electronics to run a small school I also need adapters. Being the experienced, organized traveller that I am I made sure I packed the correct adapter for Japan. Or so I thought…….

Battery was running low on my laptop went to plug in power cable, took the adapter out of my suitcase only to find that the adapter had holes for 2 prongs and my laptop charger had 3 prongs! I can charge up everything else, iPad, use my hairdryer, charge camera batteries, all have 2 prongs, not the laptop charger. Grrrrrr!

As it turned out making the decision to stay in Ginza was perfect, right in the shopping area with Cartier, Tiffany, etc way out of my price range but the Apple Store was 2 minutes up the road! Checked the opening hours as most Japanese stores open at 10am, as it turned out did the Apple Store. Got there at 9.50am and there was a queue outside that went around the corner, the Apple watch was launching wasn’t it! I waited, went straight in at 10am, helpful shop assistants sold me adapters I could use worldwide and I was back online with my laptop.

Then it was time to play tourist, and back to Harajuku I went to the trendy teen (young adult) area that is well known for the alternate fashion that can be found there. 

Takeshita Street is a narrow pedestrian street that’s the most well known, it does have small laneways off it that have small fashion shops as well. I’ve been before so knew what a young hangout it was, it’s also now become very much of a stop on the tourist trail. I saw the most amount of western tourists I’d ever seen in one spot just walking up and down Takeshita Street. There were also crowds of Japanese Junior High School students on their school trip to Tokyo. They were in their uniform wandering around.

 It is interesting to have a wander around but the real show isn’t on a weekday, but rather on the weekend when all the cos players dress up and congregate in the area and the nearby park.

A few outfits to select from!

Even for a weekday around lunch time the street was really crowded, I can’t image that it would be possible to even move on a weekend.
It rained all day!

Survived the trip from the airport to Tokyo station in rush hour, (a touch dramatic for an opening sentence? I maintain that the whole trip required endurance and strength of character!) I have a flair for the dramatics!

As I had booked a hotel reasonably close by, my 2 options were to either catch the subway one stop or walk (into the unknown since I had never stayed in this particular hotel before) After the nightmarish train trip from Narita due to rush hour train commuters the thought of diving into the subway whilst it was still rush hour was not appealing at all, even for one stop! Even the fact it was drizzling wasn’t enough to send me down into the depths of the subway.

Therefore it was an obvious choice to walk, even if it was into the unknown. My previous trips to Tokyo I had either stayed with a friend of mine out in the suburbs or in a hotel in Shinjuku, the area around the station and Ginza was a blank page to me. Prior knowledge of how things work in Japan helps, Tokyo station is enormous so knowing what exit you need to take makes it less daunting. I knew I needed the Yaesu Central exit, found it, then Yaesu St, which on Google maps looks like a little side street but actually is a major road, with a large median strip down the middle.

Found the hotel without too much trouble but it was 9am and check in time was 2pm. This was Japan I didn’t even bother to try and negotiate, this is the country of ‘rules are rules’ so left my suitcase and headed off. First stop was Shibuya, I love people watching at the Shibuya crossing (the famous 5 way crossing, watching people cross is like watching them do a choreographed dance with each person moving in a specific direction) There’s a Starbucks there across from the station, their seating area is up on the next level with windows  looking out on the crossing. Didn’t manage to get one of the prized window views directly overlooking the crossing but still managed to enjoy the show below me.

Having been fed and coffeed up, next stop was to the neighbourhood where I used to stay at my friend’s apartment to take ‘nostalgia photos’ for my friend who’s since left Japan. 

And what did I find in the small garden across the road but tulips!! I love tulips and these were huge and beautiful so naturally I took photos. I put my umbrella down, my camera got rained on but I have pretty tulip pictures!

There’s a GAP store in the main shopping area where I used to be a regular thanks to their terrific sales. Thought I would pop in again for old times sake, just to see what they had. Annnnnnd sales were on, grabbed a great bargain! Winter jumper reduced to 1,990 yen, 30% off and I ended up paying just over 1,300 yen which works out to around $15 AUD. 

Here it is, judge away at my fashion choice but I like it and IT WAS $15!!!!! Plus it's soft and warm.

Love the Japanese customer service too, it was raining so my bag got a plastic cover!

(Dear reader (readers?) I bet you thought you were going to get pictures of Japan, instead so far it's tulips, a jumper and a shopping bag! Quality picture content right here!)

Next stop was Shinjuku, I wanted to check out Tokyu Hands (a ‘lifestyle’ department store) where I would buy assorted Japanese paper goods. Ended up taking the wrong exit out of Shinjuku station (another enormous station with multiple exits) and by that stage I was tired and fed up, it was 1.30pm so I could return to the hotel to check in.

Checked in, rested up and then ventured out for a few hours in the late afternoon so headed off to Harajuku, just so I could indulge my need for cutesie things so “Kiddyland here I come!” Kiddyland is on the main road called Omotosando and is 4 floors of cartoon characters, complete with one floor dedicated to Snoopy (still huge in Japan) Disney and of course the Japanese cartoon cutesies. There are other Japanese souvenir type things as well, doesn’t everyone need origami crane ear-rings, no? Just me then. And a Jiji the cat from the movie Kiki’s Delivery Service. Love his sarcastic one liners. 

So acquired a few things, on the way back to the train station it had now begun to really pour with rain. I saw a group of young people queuing outside a small shop. Fascinated I went to look at what they were waiting in the rain to buy and wanted it so much they were prepared to line up for it. POP CORN was the answer, gourmet popcorn is what these young people were queuing in the rain to buy! I’ll add it to my “Only in Japan” list!