Turning Japanese - out and about

Trip Start Jan 27, 2006
Trip End Sep 09, 2006

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Monday, May 22, 2006

PHIL : Obviously we didn't just eat and drink and hang about on the sofa and watch American Idol (Go Katherine, Taylor is a Pub Singer) and sleep and have drunken you 'n' me against the world chats 'til three in the morning and drink and eat. Oh no, we got off our widening butts and went travelling again. Without Rie to translate. She did book our hotel though, a delightful Ryokan (traditional Japanese house with yummy futons, where we had to leave our shoes in reception and paddle around in slippers - great news for us, not sure about the receptionist).

First off, Kyoto on the Shinkansen (Bullet train). Grasping our Japan Rail Passes, we set off at breakneck speed to the ancient capital of Japan. On normal trains this would take 16 hours. On the Shinkansen it took 2 and a bit. There are three types of Shinkansen. The Kodama (meaning 'effin fast'), the Hikari (meaning 'dizzy spells') and The Nozomi (meaning 'nose-bleed'). Terrific fun.

Kyoto is beautiful. Lush green mountains surround the city on three sides encircling serene temples, breathtaking landscape gardens, wide tree-lined boulevards, tranquil canals and walkways. But there is also the modern city, with the wonderful Nishiki market (Kyotos pantry) and the spectacular Station as highlights.

There are 140 temples with the city alone, 18 of which are World Heritage Sites. For this reason alone we suspended our 'No More Bloody Temples' rule first instigated in Vietnam after a pointless afternoon around Hue - sorry all our Vietnamese readers, nothing personal, we'd just had enough. Or thought we had.

On day one, we decided to take a leisurely walking tour of some of the best temples and walkways the city could offer. The start of our tour was only a couple of kilometres away from our hotel, so we decided to potter through the city at our own pace. Four hours later we reached the first temple of the tour. Well, Kyoto gets you that way. No need to rush, is there ? Three more hours and our feet were screaming for pizza. What were we to do ? Deny them ?

Rie had booked us a private bath spa at the Ryokan and so our aching feet were in for a treat - a huge bath full of minerals awaited us on our return, so hot it made your skin pink, you could then cool off with showers and lovely products - we rotated this hot and cool for about 40 mins and came out relaxed and squeaky clean! Just love the Japanese!

Day two, we took the bus. A quick and very busy tour around the most popular of the temples, Kinkaju-ji, and then a short walk to the Zen temple and garden at Ryoan-ji. The latter is world famous amongst zen gardeners. It has 15 rocks placed in some raked gravel and is supposed to be the epitome of this school of garden design. If you like that sort of thing. Very serene, but not a busy-lizzy to be seen.

From Kyoto, we jumped on another Shinkansen to Hiroshima.

Everyone konws that Hiroshima was the city levelled by the worlds' first atomic bomb. What we didn't know was that the city and its people have become a symbol for peace and a driving force behind the call for an end to nuclear weapons.

The city was forever changed by the bomb. More than 140,000 people were killed; thousands more have suffered the after-effects since, dying from radiation poisoning, cancer, leukemia.

The Museum is fascinating. It is clear there is huge hurt, but the overarching theme seems to be that - no matter why this happened or who was ultimately to blame - this type of atrocity cannot happen again. The stunning and simple memorials are for the people who died; the message is to look to the future. Every year on the anniversary of the A-bomb, the Mayor of Hiroshima sends a letter to the Head of State of each nuclear power pleading with them on behalf of his people to give up nuclear weapons. It is impossible not to agree.

We made a special trip to Ginza, a suburb of Tokyo on one of our tourist days. This is of particular importance because Sam's Dad visited Tokyo after the end of the Korean War. Here, in the bustling market streets of Ginza he bought Mum a jewellery box, which still has pride of place in the bedroom in Grimsby. Mum and Dad were not married then and celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last year, so this was a lifetime purchase. Ginza is now full of designer shops with huge pricetags, but the jewellery box remains priceless......

Ian and Rie took us to the park in Tokyo, which is unlike any park we have ever visited. Now it is not for us to suggest that the Japanese are exhibitionist - the fact that they invented Karioke is neither here nor there..... So what did we witness in the park? Gangs dressed up as bo peep (Phil's particular favourite - he talked about her for days), draculas, punks, live bands rehearsing, classical musicians, a group of guys dressed like Elvis dancing to a sound track, oh and millions of dogs prancing around in tracksuits. It was absolutely bizarre, no time to feed that ducks, it is all about posing - they are just the most out there bunch you could ever wish to meet!

Our final touristy bit was day in Tokyo's playground - Toyota have a showroom here with Formula 1 cars, simulators and a mini race track, there is a cinema, mega shopping opportunities and 115m big wheel, which we waited until sunset to try out - it was fantastic.

All in all whether you are in or out in Tokyo, you just have the most amazing time.
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