Archive for June, 2017

Wednesday 14 June Tokyo to Brisbane

We woke to another overcast and drizzly day. After a leisurely last breakfast in our luxurious hotel, we finished our packing, checked out of the hotel and made our way to the Main Lobby. Our transfer to the airport was in a luxury 7-seater Japanese vehicle with a cheerful, knowledgeable Japanese driver, Miyashita, who pointed out various landmarks, slowing down for photo opportunities where he could. We travelled past the Tokyo Tower, over the Rainbow Bridge where we could see the Tokyo Port and Harbour and onto one of many freeways, passing Disneyland to Narita Airport, which took about an hour.
When we entered the Narita Airport and found the Singapore Airlines check-in area, we were greeted by a charming young lady who printed our baggage labels all the way through to Brisbane and we then took our suitcases to the check-in counter where they also printed our boarding passes for the two flights.
We found Narita International Airport to be as large as we thought it would be, but nowhere near as crowded as we had anticipated. We cleared Immigration and Security and had a leisurely 20 minute walk to our gate. Fortunately located in close proximity to our gate was a café where we were able to get some lunch and a drink.
At approximately 1.45pm, we boarded the aircraft, a Boeing 777-300, for our 2.45pm flight. We were lucky enough to have 3 seats for the two of us for the 7hours 15minute flight to Singapore. The flight was comfortable, although Sandy’s in-flight entertainment system wasn’t working, which wasn’t a problem as she was happy to read her book. We arrived in Singapore at approximately 9.00pm (Singapore time) and made our way to the Ambassador’s Transit Lounge that we had been given free entry to and enjoyed a snack, a cuppa and a relaxing armchair for a couple of hours.
Originally our next flight was departing from Gate B3, which is in the centre of the airport complex, but on checking the flight details after the gate hadn’t opened when we thought it should have, we discovered that our gate had been changed to the furthest end of the terminal, which meant a brisk walk to the gate.
Our flight boarded at 12.15am for our departure at 12.45am on an Airbus A330 to Brisbane. By this time of the morning we were quite exhausted, so decided not to have a midnight snack and opted to have a sleep. We managed to sleep on and off for a total of almost 5 hours, which was unusual for us both.
Our flight touched down in Brisbane on Wednesday 15 June at 10.15am, about 15 minutes early and we were surprised to discover that we were the only flight being processed through Immigration and Customs at that time, so the process was very quick. We came out into the Arrivals Hall not expecting to see anyone there to pick us up as everyone was at work but we were delighted to see Steve’s Dad, Don (who is now retired) and our gorgeous little Henry there waiting for us. Henry came running with a smile from ear-to-ear and threw himself into our arms for big cuddles!

Tuesday 13 June – Adventures on the Tokyo Metro

We woke this morning to light rain so decided against our plan to go exploring on the Hop On and Off Bus and instead opted to go adventuring on the Tokyo Metro. Eek!
Armed with our Metro Map, rain jackets and umbrellas, we head off down to the Nagatacho Station, which was across the road and a different line from the one we returned on yesterday afternoon. We found the Purple Z line, bought our tickets from the ticket machine, found the right platform, got on our train, got off at the Oshiage Station, walked through the huge Skytree Town Shopping Centre (which takes up two blocks) and found the entrance to the Skytree Tower. Big tick for us.
The Tokyo Skytree is a broadcasting tower and is 634 metres high, the tallest tower in the world and the second tallest free-standing structure in the world. We bought our tickets and headed to the elevator, which took us at a speed of 600 metres per minute up to the Tembo Deck on Level 350. It was quite misty with rain but we did get some photos. We then headed further up to the next Observation deck area, the Tembo Galleria on Floor 445 and walked up the spiral walkway to Sorakara Point on Floor 450 at a height of 451.2 metres. We took some photos there before heading down to Level 340, which had a section of glass floor. After more photos we headed back down to the ground floor and walked along the street so that we could get a photo of the Skytree Tower from the outside. The misty rain certainly restricted what would have been spectacular views, but the views we did get were much better than the mist that almost totally obscured our view from the Pearl Tower in Shanghai last year.
We found our way back to the Oshiage Metro Station to the A Rose (pink) line, bought out tickets, found the platform, got on the train which was waiting, then we waited in the station for 30 minutes, with the occasional message being relayed in Japanese but as none of the other passengers seemed concerned, we sat there before finally deciding to get off the train and speak to the Metro attendant we saw on the platform. He told us “train stop – accident” and pointed to our Metro Map to show that we needed to get two different trains to get to where we wanted to go.
So, we headed back to the entry gate and got a refund for our tickets, purchased new ones for the first section of our journey on the Z Purple line for 5 stations to Mitsukoshimae, where we changed trains to the G Orange line, which involved buying more tickets from the ticket machine. We found our way to the platform but needed to ask someone using the” pointing to the map” system and them nodding to say that we were on the right platform and were about to get on the correct train. The reason that we were not sure, was because the trains are operated by different companies and are identified by a stripe along the whole train, of the colour corresponding to the line eg the Z Purple line has a purple stipe. However, the train that we were about to get onto did not have an orange stripe, but the whole train was orange!
We then got off the G Orange train at the station we had intended to get off when we originally set out at the Skytree Tower. By now it was raining and the A4 map that we were given by the hotel concierge proved to be useless as it only had two street names on it, neither of which corresponded to the streets that we came out of the station onto. Just to add to the confusion, none of the other streets in the area had names. So, we headed off in the direction it looked like we should go, and eventually stopped at a café and went in to ask if anyone spoke English and asked them what street we were on and how should we get to the shop we were looking for. We were surprised to discover that the three staff members who looked at our map could not work out where they were on the map so that we could get our bearings. At this point we decided to turn on the data on Sandy’s phone and use google maps and headed off, following the instructions, but after walking about a kilometre, and it giving us instructions to make another turn and walk for a further 930 metres, we looked ahead and it was going to be a further 1.5 kilometres to get to the shop. At this point it was raining fairly heavily and we decided to head back to the station and forget about the shop – 0 out of 10 for us! Although we didn’t find our shop that we were looking for in the famous Ginza Shopping area that we were in, we did come across a McDonalds, so on the way back to the station we called in there and had some French fries for a late 2.30pm lunch.
We went back to the station, Shimbashi, found the G Orange line, bought tickets, found the platform, got on the train and travelled for 3 stations and we were back at our Akasaka-mitsuke station and in 5 minutes we were back at the Hotel, pleased with ourselves that we had managed to find our way around the Metro.
When we arrived back into our room, we discovered that Richard did not have his hat with him and remembered putting it on the tiny seat in the corner of a small upstairs dining area at McDonalds and thought it must have fallen on the floor. So, we decided to go back and get it as it is his favourite hat and we would not be able to replace it, so back to the station, tickets, platform, train for 3 stops in the start of the peak hour crush, walked to McDonalds and lo and behold! there was his hat, which had obviously been picked up and put neatly back on the seat he was sitting on. Big smiles! Back to the station, tickets, platform, train for 3 stops in the squeezy peak hour crush, walked back to the hotel and arrived in our room at 4.10pm after some wins and some losses using the Tokyo Metro!!!
We didn’t get very wet and hadn’t needed to use our rain jackets, as our umbrellas were quite sufficient.
We started our packing and then, because it was still raining and we didn’t feel like walking down to Chiyoda in the rain, we went down to the Garden lounge for a lovely last dinner overlooking the hotel’s Japanese Gardens.
We have enjoyed our visit to Tokyo and although it is said to be a frantic, high-tech 24-hour city, we found some tranquil backstreets and old temples to explore away from the crowds.
We enjoyed our three extra days sightseeing after our tour finished – thanks so much to Alison for her suggestions.

Monday 12 June Tokyo – Kamakura area

We met our Local Private Guide, Toru in the Lobby at 9.00am and we walked down to the local Metro Station, which took 5 minutes. Toru purchased our tickets and we boarded a Metro train and got off after 3 stops. It was at the end of the Peak Hour, so when we boarded the train, there was a white-gloved “Pusher” there to push people onto the train – needless to say it was crowded on the train. Toru then purchased our tickets for the JR Train to Kamakura, which took one hour.
Kamakura is a historical city on the coast, southwest of Tokyo. Kamakura became the political centre of Japan when Minamoto Yoritomo chose the city as the seat for his new military government in 1192. The Kamakura government continued to rule Japan for over a century. Today, Kamakura is a small city, which has numerous temples, shrines and other historical monuments, as well as sandy beaches that attract large crowds during the summer months.
From Kamakura Station, we walked along a tree-lined raised walkway in the centre of the road, which goes from the beach all the way to the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, which was founded in 1063. There was a Torii Gate at the end of the walkway and another one as we entered the Shrine complex. There was a long laneway that crossed over our path that Toru told us was where they hold horseback archery competitions in September each year. We walked up several stone steps where the 3rd Shogun was killed and up to the Main Hall. We saw a portable shrine used for local celebrations – it can be carried on the shoulders and the priest and parishioners walk with it. We saw a squirrel on the Bridge and some ducks in the Lotus Pond.
We walked back through a long laneway to a different exit and then using back streets/laneways with lovely little houses and small gardens, we made our way to the Hokoku-ji Temple. The Hokoku-ji Temple is a small temple of Zen Buddhism and has a beautiful bamboo grove behind the main hall. A narrow pathway leads to a tea-house through the bamboo and there was a lovely garden with a mixture of landscape garden and a dry stone Zen garden. There was also a garden with moss and some stone Buddhas and we saw a gardener up a ladder trimming a Sanshuya tree. We saw the Main Hall with a Dragon on the front – the dragon has the power to control the water so that the temple would not burn. Next to the Main Hall was another hall for practicing sitting meditation.
We once again took to the interesting back lanes to meet up with the main road where we could catch a bus back to the Kamakura Station. While we were waiting for the bus, we saw a large group of women wearing kimonos heading up to the Temple. Toru asked them what they were doing and they told him that they were shop owners of Kimono shops and they were attending a function.
We caught an interesting crowded local bus that took 20 minutes, stopping frequently on its journey to the station. After a short walk from the station, Toru took us to The Garden House, an outdoor restaurant where we had Japanese style Pizza and Vegetables, which turned out to be salad. The meal was delicious and we sat at a table under the trees, chatting to Toru.
After lunch we caught a local train for a 25 minute journey to Hase Station and then, because the main street was extremely crowded with people heading to the temples, Toru once again took us via back street/lanes to the Kotokuin Temple to see the Great Buddha. The bronze Great Buddha Statue is sitting cross-legged and is 13 metres high and weighs 121 tons. It was cast in 1292, and was housed in a wooden temple, which was washed away in a great tsunami in 1495. Since then, the Great Buddha Statute has been sitting in the open atmosphere. Even in this crowded area, there was an air of tranquility while we stood and gazed at the Great Buddha.
We walked for about 20 minutes to the Hasadera Temple, which is built on the slope of a wooded hill and the Main Gate had Pine Trees and a Red Lantern. We saw a pretty little garden with some ponds and the Jizo-do Hall with hundreds of small statues of the Jizo. We saw the Gold Buddha in the Amida-do Hall.
The Kannon-do Hall is home to the statute of the 11-headed Kannon, Goddess of Mercy, each representing a different phase in the search for enlightenment. The 9.18 metre tall, gilded wooden statue is regarded as one of the largest wooden sculptures in Japan.
From there we went into the Kannon Museum, which had treasures including the thirty-three Avatars of Kannon and the eleven headed Kannon Buddha. Then we made our way to an Observation Platform where we had great views of Sagami Bay – Toru told us that the Yachting Races would be held here for the Olympics. We sat in the garden for 10 minutes, having a drink of water, because by then it was quite warm, before walking down to the beach. We saw several small fishing boats pulled up onto the beach and lots of people enjoying the fresh area and paddling in the small waves. The sand was quite brown, so we didn’t take off our shoes or go paddling ourselves.
After a wonderful day in Kamakura, we headed to Hase Station and caught a local train along the waterfront for 30 minutes to Fujisawa, where we changed to a Rapid Service train and returned to Tokyo via Yokohama and Kawasaki. We changed trains again onto the Ginza Metro Line for the last leg of our journey to Akasak-mitsuke arriving back at 10 minutes to 6. As this was the station we came back to last night and we new our way out of the station, we said our goodbyes and thank-you to Toru, who has been a wonderful guide with excellent English skills and an interesting person to talk to. We exited the station and walked for 5 minutes and we were back at our hotel.
After a quick shower, we went up to the 40th Floor to the Bella Vista Restaurant for dinner overlooking the fairyland of lights below us. Richard had char-grilled fillet of pork and Sandy had char-grilled lam cutlets and then we had a splurge and had dessert as well – a delicious meal after a wonderful day in the Kamakura area.

Sunday 11 June Tokyo – Nikko National Park

Our tour officially ended after breakfast this morning, but we had said goodbye to most of the group last night and a few at breakfast this morning. We are staying in Tokyo for a further three days to do some sightseeing/adventuring on our own (with some suggestions from Alison).
We had organised a tour to Nikko National Park for today with Viator before we left home. We were collected from our hotel in the Waiting Lounge on the Banquet Floor at 7.50am by their local tour company, Sunrise Tours for a full day excursion to Nikko National Park. The bus took called in at 4 other hotels to pick up passengers and then took us all to the central bus station where we were given our tour identification stickers and told what boarding gate we needed to go to.
Our bus left at 9.10am and we headed north, travelling by air-conditioned coach with our English-speaking guide, Kumiko, who was absolutely delightful. Along the way we passed lots of condominiums and apartments as well as lots of baseball diamonds and soccer fields, which had adults and children playing their Sunday sport, beside the Sumida River. We soon left the City behind and were in the mountainous area with beautiful scenic countryside and the usual Rice Paddies etc. We were making good time, unlike yesterday’s highway holdup and we stopped for a comfort break and then as we entered Nikko township, suddenly the traffic stopped and it took us about 40 minutes of stop-start to finally make it to the Toshugu Shrine’s Parking area. During the hold-up, Kumiko passed out some sheets of Origami paper and taught us how to fold a Samurai Helmet.
We headed straight to the Toshogu Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage site dedicated to Shinto worship, and heard about its interesting history. Toshogu Shrine is a mausoleum of a respected monarch, who ruled Japan in the 17th century. It depicts the Five elements – Earth, Wind, Water, Fire and Sky. We saw some iconic carvings depicting the ‘hear no evil’ proverb. The complex consists of more than a dozen buildings set in a beautiful forest. We were amazed at the lavishly decorated, gold-leaf embellishments and opulent chambers during our visit to the monument and other buildings. This was done in a way not seen elsewhere in Shrines in Japan, where simplicity was the norm in shrine architecture.
Among the many buildings at Toshogu, there was a five-storey pagoda in font of the main entrance gate; a group of storehouses; the renowned Yomeimon Gate, which had recently been renovated; the Honjido Hall which features the “Crying Dragon”, to name but a few.
There were hundreds of people there and we had to line up after taking off our shoes to get a glimpse into the Main Hall. To our surprise a priest invited our group via one of the Shrine maidens, into the Main Hall to view the Shrine with its elaborate and ornate carvings and gold trimmings. This was unusual as we have never been permitted entry into any of the Main Halls, specially not when there was a formal blessing taking place. Needless to say, photos were not permitted.
We were given some free time to wander around taking photos and wondered what it would be like without the Sunday crowds (even our guide said she had not seen this many people there, unless it was a special Shrine day.
We were then taken to a local restaurant for lunch – we both had a bowl of rice topped with several pieces of crumbed deep fried pork and egg and a lovely sauce.
After lunch, we visited Lake Chuzenji and Kegon Falls. We travelled up the side of the mountain on the Irohazaka Road, which is a winding road that has 48 hairpin bends and is 11.5 km long. There are two roads – one way up and one way down, both of them giving us wonderful views down to the valleys below. Our first stop was at Lake Chuzenji, which was created 20,000 years ago by the eruption of Mount Nantai (2484m) and blocked the river. The lake has a circumference of 25 km. and the water reaches a depth of 163 metres. We were able to see Mount Nantai (which is a very similar shape to Mt Fuji) from our lakeside stop, although its peak was partly hidden by cloud.
From there we drove a short distance to the Kegon Falls. Lake Chuzenji drains through the Kegon Falls, which is 97 metres high and is considered to be the park’s most beautiful waterfalls. We got some great photos from several vantage points including taking a lift down 100 metres so that we could view the falls from the base. The lift shaft had been bored through the cliff. The scenery around Lake Chuzenji and Kegon Falls was breathtaking.
At 4.10pm we left the Nikko National Park and headed back to Tokyo and we were making good time and were expecting to be back to Shinjuku (a suburb of Tokyo) where the tour was ending, by approximately 6.00pm. However, due to a traffic accident we found ourselves parked on the highway and then moving very slowly, which meant that we had to have a comfort stop at Hanyu after 2 hours, further delaying our arrival at Shinkjuku until 7.30pm.
Our lovely day ended with one last adventure. When we arrived at Shinjuku, we walked to the Metro Station, bought two tickets using their ticket machine, found our way to the platform and boarded our train, which pulled in as we arrived on the platform. It took 9 minutes to get to Akasa-mitsuke, our stop, and we exited the train, found our way to the correct exit of the underground station and walked back to our hotel, feeling very pleased with our first solo travel on the Tokyo Metro, arriving in our hotel room at 8.05pm after a great day in Nikko National Park. (Thanks Alison for suggesting it)

Saturday 10 June Tokyo – Mt Fuji

This morning, we met the others in the foyer at 7.50am for our visit to Yamanashi prefecture, home of Japan’s iconic Mt. Fuji. What a day… what a big day! We headed south-west out of the city centre and with the bumper-to-bumper traffic it took us 1½ hours to get out of Tokyo. After going through a 1.6km tunnel, we came into Kanagawa Prefecture, which is all mountains – we have never seen so many mountains and beautiful countryside.
We stopped for a comfort stop after we had been travelling for 2 hours – what an experience that was! We pulled into a place just off the highway that was huge – there were cafes etc and dozens and dozens of buses and several cars and when we walked across the huge car-park to the toilet block, we were shocked to see a huge line with a at least 100 women in it waiting to get into the toilet block (even the men were lined up for the men’s toilet block) but we were quite surprised that the line moved extremely quickly. When we got into the toilet block, we discovered that there were about 80 toilets and there was a big board up on the wall with lights showing which toilets were free, plus there was a lady there beckoning people to each row to keep things moving more quickly. After getting off the bus, walking across the big car-park, lining up and getting back to the bus, the whole process took less than 10 minutes.
We passed through the Yamanashi Prefecture where Haruhi pointed out the Experimental MagLev Train line that Japan is working on and expecting that it will be in operation in 2027 and that it will be capable of reaching speeds of up to 500km per hour.
Not long after that we had our first sighting of Mt Fuji!! The driver wasn’t able to stop as we were on a highway, but we were able to get photos out of the bus window…. Mt Fuji, in the sunshine with some clouds but none of them were hiding the mountain! Yayy!!
Mt. Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan, is a 3,776 metre high dormant volcano and straddles the border of two prefectures, Shizuoka and Yamanashi. With a beautiful cone shape, Mt. Fuji is world-famous as a symbol of Japan. On clear days it can be seen from Tokyo and Yokohama. Visibility tends to be better during the colder seasons of the year and in the early morning and late evening hours.
Mt. Fuji has long been the centre of mountain worship of ancient Japan. Today, it is a popular mountain to climb, and many people climb Mt. Fuji to watch the sunrise called Goraiko from the top.
Our driver took us up to the Fuji 5th Station up a winding road with hairpin bends and along the way we saw lots of bicycle riders – there was some sort of an event there because when each cyclist reached the top of the 5th Station, there was lots of whistles blowing and a bell being rung. I thought of our son-in-law, Steve and the other Smiddy riders for Cancer Research and I thought this would be a great place for them to do their next Smiddy Challenge!!
It took us 3 hours to get to there, but it was worth it because we had the most amazing views of Mt Fuji from the 2,300 metres above sea level 5th Station. The 5th Station had some restaurants and several souvenir shops, as well as the Komitake Shrine, which had an Observation Point where we had views of Fujiyoshida City and Lake Yamanaka, although that side of the mountain was a bit hazy. The Mt Fuji 5th Station is also the last chance for climbers to stock up on supplies at reasonable prices before they head out.
After taking lots of photos and checking out the souvenir shop, it was time to head back down this magic mountain and make our way to our lunch stop. At the foot of Mount Fuji is an area known as Fuji Five Lakes. As the name suggests, this area holds five lakes that were created by Mount Fuji’s volcanic eruptions: Lake Kawaguchiko, Lake Saiko, Lake Motosuko, Lake Shōjiko and Lake Yamanakako. We travelled past some of these beautiful lakes to the Fuji View Hotel for lunch. As the name suggests, we had views of Mt Fuji, which by now, was draped in clouds as though it were a hat. How lucky we were to have seen this majestic mountain earlier!
We continued our journey, stopping to visit Iyashi-no Sato Nenba Park, which is a restored village that was damaged by flood in 1966 and was reconstructed. Iyashi-no Sato stands on the western shore of Lake Saiko. The village is now an open-air museum and traditional craft village that is made up of more than twenty thatched roof houses that have been converted to shops, restaurants, museums and galleries. We had views of Mt Fuji, which would have been spectacular with the Lake in the foreground, but the mountain was now shrouded in clouds.
Our next stop was at the Itchiku Kubota Kimono Museum. Itchiku Kubota (1917-2003) was the artist who revived the lost art of Tsujigahana silk dyeing used to decorate elaborate Kimono. In his early twenties he was inspired by a fragment of Tsujigahana textile exhibited at the Tokyo National Museum, that he devoted the rest of his life to recreating and mastering the time-consuming silk dyeing technique. We watched a video about him and his techniques and then we were able to go into the museum to see some of his absolutely stunning Kimono on display, showing the themes of nature, the universe and the seasons. Also on display were parts of his unfinished masterpiece “symphony of Light”, a huge work comprising of 80 kimono that together form a picture of Mount Fuji. We were not allowed to take photos but we have put up a photo of a picture. The building that housed the museum and the souvenir shop were Gaudi inspired.
We boarded the bus again and headed towards Tokyo at 4.00pm, enjoying the beautiful scenery in the mountains and coming across another traffic jam for several kilometres. We stopped for a comfort stop at a much smaller roadside convenience and arrived at our restaurant at 6.30pm. We have discovered that while Japan has super-fast trains, this particular highways appear to be easily congested.
We had dinner at the Jojoen Ebisu Restaurant, which has a Yakinuku style of BBQ where we cooked our own meat – fine slivers of beef, on a rack over an open flame built into the centre of our table. We enjoyed the company of another couple who live just outside Ipswich, with the amazing 38th floor views overlooking the city of Tokyo, watching the city turn into a fairyland of lights.
We got back to our hotel at 9.00pm after a fantastic day, tired but very happy that we got to see Mt Fuji!!

Friday 9 June Tokyo

After a good night’s sleep and breakfast on the 40th floor overlooking Tokyo City, we met up with the others in the Lobby and headed off on the bus for our first stop, Meiji Jingu Shrine. We passed the Akasaka Palace where the royal family live, all except the Emperor and Empress, who live in the Imperial Palace. We also passed the construction site for the Main Stadium for the 2020 Olympics.
We enjoyed our visit to the Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo’s most famous shrine, dedicated to the sacred spirits of Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken. Emperor Meiji was the first emperor of modern Japan. He was born in 1852 and ascended to the throne in 1867 at the peak of the Meiji Restoration when Japan’s feudal era came to an end and the emperor was restored to power. During the Meiji Period, Japan modernised and westernised itself to join the world’s major powers by the time Emperor Meiji passed away in 1912.
We entered the shrine grounds under a massive Torii Gate, which leads to a lovely forest. There are approximately 120,000 trees of 365 different species that make up Meiji Jingu’s forest that were donated from prefectures across the entire country. At the middle of the forest stand the Meiji Jingu’s buildings. The Main Shrine was under renovations – the copper-plated roof was being replaced. On either side of the Main Shrine stood huge Camphor Trees – on the left side were two inter-twined trees referred to as Husband and Wife, planted in 1920 and on the right hand side was another huge Camphor tree, which had a big fence with hundreds of votive tablets attached – people write prayers and gratitude on these wooden tablets and attach them to the fence and the priests pray for them every morning.
They had an Exhibition of Japanese Suiseki Masterpieces, which are uniquely shaped stones from hundreds of years ago, together with a display of Bonsai trees, including two awesome 200-year-old azaleas – the trees ranged in age from 200 years to 350 years old.
The shrine is a popular site for Japanese weddings – we were very lucky to see a Wedding Procession, led by the Shinto Priest and followed by the Bride dressed in traditional white Shinto wedding kimono and the Groom dressed in traditional black Shinto wedding attire, followed by the family.
Afterwards we went to the Tokyo Tower, the second tallest artificial structure in Japan at 333 metres high. It is the world’s tallest, self-supported steel tower and is 13 metres taller than the Eiffel Tower. It is a symbol of Japan’s post-war rebirth as a major economic power after its completion in 1958, until 2012 when it was overtaken by the Tokyo Skytree. We enjoyed the spectacular views from the Tower on this sunny day, with just a few clouds.
We then drove to the Asakusa area, about 20 minutes north west and had lunch at Asakusa View Hotel Restaurant in the Benifuji Room, which had a view of the Skytree Tower. Asakusa is one of the most popular old town Tokyo districts. It is where some of Tokyo’s best-preserved ancient structures are located, including the Sensoji Temple – a 7th century Buddhist temple that is considered to be the most popular in Tokyo.
We visited Sensoji Temple where legend says that in the year 628 two brothers fished a statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, out of the Sumida River and even although they put the statue back into the river, it always returned to them. Consequently, Sensoji was built nearby for the goddess of Kannon. The temple was completed in 645, making it Tokyo’s oldest temple.
We visited the Kaminari Mon Main Gate, the Hozo Mon Middle Gate, the Five-storey Pagoda, the small garden and the Main Hall of Kannon Temple – the Kannon Buddha can’t be seen as he is behind a curtain. There were so many people visiting the temple, where there were lots of opportunities for them to pray, make a wish etc. and many of them lined up at the Temple to do that.
Then we wandered down Nakamise, a shopping street that has been providing temple visitors with a variety of traditional snacks and lots of souvenir shops – some quite nice and others somewhat tacky.
On our return journey to our hotel, we drove along Kabashi Street, which is an entire street full of kitchen goods and plastic food samples for businesses.
We arrived back at our hotel in time for a quick cuppa and then had showers and got ready to meet the others at 6.20 in the lobby for our short journey to our local Japanese Restaurant, Akasaga Zipanga for dinner. After dinner, the two of us walked across the road, via a walkway over the road, to the Big Camera and wandered around the 8 floors of everything electronic that you could think of.
We enjoyed our walk home on a beautiful night with colourful lights on all the buildings and lots of people around, as it is Friday night.

Thursday 8 June Kanazawa to Tokyo

We were up early this morning to finish packing our last-minute things and put our suitcases out for collection. We had breakfast in the Lido Café and the weather was overcast and raining lightly. We
disembarked the beautiful Caledonian Sky for the last time and the staff were there to say goodbye and wish us well. We identified our suitcases on the dock and one of the staff loaded them onto an Express Luggage truck that transported our luggage straight to our hotel in Tokyo and they were delivered to our room – great system!
Our bus took us to Kanazawa Station and we followed our guide through the busy station to the Shinkansen platform 11 and we lined up on the markings on the platform for Carriage 2 – we love this system as the Shinkansen zooms into the station and stops exactly in the right position so that our door was right in front of where we were lined up.
We had 5 minutes for about 80 people to board the carriage and the train left the station at exactly 9.46am as scheduled. Yesterday our guide told us that if her local trains are running late, up to 3 minutes, she gets a text to advise her of the delays as this doesn’t happen very often.
Japanese bullet trains, known locally as Shinkansen, are among the fastest in the world and routinely reach speeds of close to 200mph (320 km/h), easily linking major cities throughout Japan with one another. The Shinkansen uses a Body Incline System to tilt the train so that we didn’t feel as though we were going around corners. They also have a long, specially shaped nose on the leading operations car, which reduces the noise when going through tunnels.
The Shinkansen are known for their safety – no fatal accidents in history; pressurized cabin comfort – relatively silent cars with spacious forward facing seats; record-setting punctuality – trains depart on time to the second; and fantastic cultural touches like heated toilet seats. The Shinkansen are said to be by far the easiest and most exciting option to see the amazing Japanese countryside.
The Shinkansen that we were on was the Kagayaki, which has 12 cars, is the fastest train category along the Hokuriku Shinkansen departing Tokyo and Kanazawa in the mornings and the evenings. There are several Shinkansens but we were interested to hear about Dr Yellow, which is a Shinkansen that travels every 10 days without passengers and its job is to monitor the wires that supply 25,000 volts of electricity to the train and also electronically check the tracks. People love Dr Yellow, especially the children, who see it as being a hero.
We sat back and enjoyed the sights during our 2.5 hour journey on the Shinkansen between Kanazawa and Tokyo, only stopping at Toyama, Nagano, Omiya and Ueno. APT had organised lunch boxes and apple juice for us, which were quite tasty.
We arrived at Tokyo Station at 12.20pm to a sunny day with just a few clouds. Some of our cruise group were taken straight to the airport for their onward flights and the rest of us went for a tour of the Imperial Palace East Gardens and some of them will be transported straight to the airport when we reach the hotel, so we are not sure exactly how many people will be joining us for the 3 day Tokyo City stay.
The Imperial Palace East Gardens are the former site of Edo Castle’s inner circle of defense. None of the main buildings remain but the walls, entrance gates, some guardhouses and the moats still exist. We entered through the Ote-mon gate and the Hyaku-nin-bansho Guardhouse and wandered around part of the Gardens, which are 210,000 square metres, enjoying areas like the Ninomaru Grove, a woodland area and garden pond with a lantern and a little tea house. We saw the most amazing Iris Garden that was the loveliest part of the gardens – it has 84 different varieties of Irises grow in this garden. These varieties have been carefully maintained since they were donated by the Iris Garden of Meiji Jingu Shrine (which we will be visiting tomorrow) in 1966 when the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace were being created.
We were then taken on a sightseeing tour around the city through the business district, the Ginza area, past the fish markets, which are the largest in the world, over the Rainbow Bridge, through the Daiba area and finally to our hotel.
The Hotel New Otani Tokyo, which will be our home for the next 6 days, is a large hotel, with a main building and garden tower and garden court building – it has hosted numerous heads of state and has a 400-year-old Japanese garden.
After meeting Kristen, who will be our guide for the next 3 days, checking in and getting organised in our beautiful room, which is on the 30th Floor in the Garden Tower and has a beautiful view over part of the city and down to the Hotel’s Japanese Gardens, we managed to upload the past 7 days of photos.
Then, we went to explore the hotel’s Japanese Gardens. With a history of more than 400 years, the garden has in the past been the property of various Samurai Lords. The 10-acre-ground features several ancient stone lanterns, two red bridges over carp ponds, a stone Zen garden, a huge waterfall, as well as several restaurants. While the hotel and gardens are in the midst of this busy city, we were amazed at the quiet and peaceful atmosphere.
The New Otani Hotel is huge! It has the Main building with 17 floors, the Garden Court with 30 floors and the Garden Tower, which we are in, with 40 floors. There is a Banquet Floor with several Banquet Rooms and Boardrooms/Meetings Rooms, a Wedding Chapel and Wedding Hall as well as a huge Bridal area with dressing rooms etc AND a Shopping Arcade with lots of shops, a doctor’s clinic, a pharmacy and a dental clinic. Although there are 39 (that is not a typo) different restaurants, cafes and bars to choose from, we decided to have a light dinner in the Garden Lounge overlooking the beautiful Japanese Garden Waterfall – the food was delicious and the view was superb.
What a lovely start to our 6 days in Tokyo!

Wednesday 7 June Kanazawa

This morning we arrived in the port of Kanazawa to an overcast day with light rain. Kanazawa is the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture, on Japan’s central Honshu Island.
We boarded our bus, with ladies in Kimonos on the pier to welcome us to Kanazawa, and we headed off to our first sightseeing venture – the Omicho Market, which was established in the middle of the 18th Century. We followed Junko around the market of more than 170 shops, with her pointing out various fish stores that sell fresh fish and seafood caught in the Sea of Japan, vegetable stores that sell fresh vegetables, fruit stores, dried food, clothing stores, restaurants and cafes. We were then given some free time to wander around but had to be careful not to get lost in this colourful and lively market place.
Our next stop was to the Hakuichi Gold Leaf Manufacturer, where they had Gold Leaf on the floor and we stood on the squares for good luck. They told us about the tradition of Gold Leaf, which they have produced since 1953 and supply 98% of Japan’s needs. The history of Kanazawa Gold Leaf dates back to 1500s, but it was the Meiji Period (1868-1912) that saw the rise of Kanazawa’s country-wide reputation for Gold Leaf production because of the superiority of its leafing technique and the excellent quality of the water used in the manufacturing process. We were amazed to learn that the Gold Leaf is only .0000001mm thick.
We were then taken upstairs to a workshop area, where we were able to have “a Gold Leaf Experience”. We were given some cards with various designs on them eg Japanese Fan, Japanese Lantern, and some Gold Leaf that we used to make the “picture” by carefully rubbing it onto the card, and then a paint brush to dust of the excess Gold Leaf.
We were brought back to the ship for lunch and then headed off to the Kenroku-en Garden. From the entrance we could see what was left of the Kanazawa Castle, two storehouses and the Ishikawa-mon Gate, which dates from 1788 and faces the Kenroku-en Gardens.
Kenroku-en Garden, which used to be the spacious outer garden of Kanazawa Castle, has an area of 11.4 hectares. The name Kenroku-en literally means “Garden of the Six Sublimities” – spaciousness, seclusion, artificiality, antiquity, abundant water and broad views, which are said to be the six essential attributes that make up a perfect garden.
We strolled around Kenroku-en grounds, which had lots of water features, bridges, teahouses, trees, flowers, stones, viewpoints and hidden little nooks. Water is diverted from a distant river by a complex watering system constructed in 1632 to Kenroku-en’s various streams and ponds including the two main ponds in the garden, Kasumigaike and Hisagoike.
We saw the Kotojitoro Lantern, which is over 2 metres tall and built with two legs instead of one, is on the banks of Kasumigaike Pond and is a symbol of Kenroku-en. Below Kasamigaike Pond, there is a fountain, which is one of Japan’s oldest and is powered by the difference in elevation between Kasamiggike & Hisagoike ponds, which causes water to shoot out 3.5 meters high.
We saw the Karasaki Pine, which is the garden’s most amazing tree. Planted from a seed, it now stands very tall next to Kasumigaike Pond. There were also lots of azaleas and irises and we were surprised to discover that the azaleas were the same colours as the ones that Richard grows in our garden at home. We thought they were going to be much more exotic!
The gardens apparently have glorious seasonal differences, including lovely colours in autumn and snow-covered landscape in winter. They use “yukizuri”, meaning “snow hanging” which is a method of protecting the branches of the pine trees in the garden with ropes attached in a cone shape to the trees to prevent the branches from breaking from the weight of the snow.
From there the bus took us to Higashi Chaya Gai Geisha District, which was established in 1820 as a pleasure district. We followed Junko around the streets while she pointed out various wooden buildings that used to be Geisha Houses and are now guesthouses, shops, cafes and restaurants and then we were given free time to wander around on our own.
We were brought back to the ship at 5.00pm and had a late afternoon tea before heading to our cabin to finish packing and to get organised for dinner. After a lovely dinner with our usual group, we went to the Lounge for a special presentation of a slide show of our cruise, put together by Dot Robertson, our Tour Director with photos that she and some of the other staff had taken of all of us, out and about enjoying ourselves on this wonderful cruise.

Posts and Photos

I have put the past two days posts up but I still can’t manage to put the photos up, so I will have to put about a week’s worth of photos up when we get to our hotel in Tokyo. Sandy

Tuesday 6 June Matsue

This morning we arrived in Sakaiminato Port and our tour to Matsue Castle left the ship at 8.45. Matsue is the capital city of Shimane Prefecture, in Southwest Japan. Known as the “Town of Water”, Matsue is beside the Sea of Japan where Lake Shinji and Nakaumi meet, in the middle of Shimane Peninsula. Matsue was a former feudal stronghold and is a castle town with many canals and has one of the twelve remaining original castles in Japan. Matsue and its surrounding areas are rich in cultural assets and historical sites, and many of Japan’s most ancient legends are set in the area.
Our bus took about 45 minutes and along the way Junko gave us interesting facts about the area and Japan. We had a beautiful drive and went over the Eshimo Ohashi bridge which is 45 metres high and 1.5km long. We could also see Daisen Mountain, which is the highest mountain in the Chugoku region and it is known as Japan’s second Mt Fuji. Daisen Mountain has 60 temples and a ski resort for the winter. We drove past solar panel farms – they are a new source of energy for Japan – and we also saw lots more rice paddies. Rice is eaten by all Japanese at least once a day, sometimes 3 times a day, and because the groceries are done on foot or by bicycle, they get their rice delivered in 10, 15 or 20kg bags and of course, they can now be ordered online.
As we got closer to Matsue, we saw lots of vegetable growing areas for ginseng, which have to be covered with roofs as they don’t like the sun and we saw other vegetables growing too. All the agricultural land is privately owned, but sometimes a community owns it together. Coming into Matsue City, there were lots of tall buildings to house 200,000 people.
Matsue Castle (Matsuejō) is one of only twelve original castles in Japan. Its main tower has survived to this day through fires, earthquakes and the anti-feudal demolitions of the Meiji Period. It is sometimes called the “Black Castle” or “Plover Castle” after its darkly coloured exterior. Matsue Castle was completed in 1611 and most castles in Japan were dismantled at the start of the Meiji Period, but thanks to a citizen’s group led by a wealthy farmer named Katsube Motouemon, and a former Samurai of the Matsue Domain named Takagi Gonpachi, the Castle Tower was the only one in the San-in region to be saved. It is now the beloved symbol of Matsue.
We climbed up many stone steps to enter the Main Keep of Matsue Castle, which is perched on top of a hill and surrounded by a moat and thick walls. Major renovation works were commenced in the 1950s to preserve it. Inside the main keep is a museum, which has displays of period arms and artifacts. We took our shoes off at the entrance to the Main Keep and climbed up many wooden stairs (original stairs) to the 5th level – the Castle has 6 levels but the top one is not open to the public. We had magnificent views on this beautiful sunny day looking out on all four sides towards the mountains and the whole of Matsue. We climbed down the steep wooden stairs one step at a time and stopped at the 3rd level and the 2nd level for the museum displays. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Matsue Castle.
We were then driven in the bus about 10 minutes to the Horikawa River Boat Cruise around Matsue in small boats that hold up to 10 people. Boatmen and boatwomen drove the boats around the moat and narrow canals that form the Horikawa River. We went on the inner moat and part of the outer moat that remain as they were when the castle was constructed. When we boarded the boat we had to take our shoes off and leave them at the front of the boat and crawl under a canopy and sit on a mat on the floor. During the 50 minute cruise, we went under 16 low bridges that our little boat with its canopy just fitted under, four of which were very low and involved the boatwoman signaling us, and us lying down so that she could lower the canopy to fit under the bridges. It was all a lot of fun, very peaceful with lovely views and when we returned to the landing dock we crawled back off the boat and put our shoes back on, laughing with the other groups as they got off their boats.
We boarded our buses for the 45 minute drive back to the ship for lunch. We had lunch out on the Lido Deck enjoying the view with our usual group.
After lunch we boarded our buses again for the 25 minute drive to Daikon-jima Island to visit the Japanese Garden, Yuushien. Our words will not be able to describe this absolutely stunning ten-acre garden. Yuushien is said to be a “Miniature Garden of the Land of Izumo”, a pond-centred Japanese-style garden that reflects the scenery and traditions of the Izumo region. The Peony flowers bloomed in April and May so they are finished now, but we were delighted to discover that Yuushien has a Peony House that is air-conditioned and kept at the perfect temperature all year round, so we were able to see the most amazingly beautiful Peonies!
As we wandered around the garden soaking up the beauty and taking many photos, we saw two men trimming Pine Trees by hand, one leaf at a time, to complete the perfect shape. We saw Irises and the most amazing Moss, which was kept at the right humidity by constant misting. We saw a waterfall tucked away in a corner of the garden and a stream that “babbled” its way over rocks down the hill to form a pond, which of course had a lovely red Japanese bridge over it and we also saw a beautiful Zen garden.
Our visit to this stunning place was completed with a visit to their amazing gift shop with lots of hand-made items.
When we arrived back at the port, some of the local tourist bureau greeted us with gifts from Sakaiminato and then shortly before the ship sailed away, we were asked to come back down to the pier so that the children from the local elementary school could give us a gift they had made – two origami in a lovely gift bag and then when we were back onboard, we were treated to a song and dance performance by the children from the local elementary school and the local high school. They were absolutely adorable and they waved goodbye to us until we couldn’t see them anymore.
Tonight was the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail Party followed by the Captain’s Farewell Dinner – we sat at our usual table with our usual group – Alison & Nic & Dave, Liz & Pat, Barb and us. We shared the Moet champagne that was in our cabin when we arrived on the ship and we had a good night with lots of laughter as usual.
Another wonderful day in Japan!