I sit here at the end of my first proper holiday in nearly a decade, my long awaited honeymoon and a trip to a place that has literally been the land of the rising sun for my entertainment since I have been a child.
and what did I think of it?
Japan did not disappoint in any way, the culture, the people, the city’s, everything lived up to my dreams
I could have wandered forever through the country and indeed never have I more wanted to pack up a ruck sack and travel as I did after seeing the green of my first bamboo forest.
The Japanese have taken so much of the west to their heart, but they have made it brighter and more Kawaii and in doing so have made it theirs, all the time maintaining their own gorgeous traditional culture.
Some of the things that made Japan so amazing could only exist in Japan as frankly we in the west sometimes just cant have nice things as we demand our right to screw them up, and thus we cant do crowding without pushing or have clean trains that don’t stink, I’m aware that I might find it hard to live with some of the rigged social normals the Japanese do, but its still a wonderful country.
We WILL go back
I approached Japan with some trepidation food-wise as I can’t read the language and also fish stock tends to be put in to a huge amount of the savoury things. However it seems that it is not hard at all to find stuff, and in the major cities there is a real vegetarian/vegan movement (they have meetings and get-togethers and all sorts)
The best app for finding good places to eat was Happy Cow which found all the places to eat we could want. Although you do have to apply a bit of sanity to its directions as they are not allways right
Japanese restaurants and places you sit down to eat in tend to shut down between about 4:30pm and 5.30pm and those that do not tend to run a much reduced menu so that is something to be aware off.
Vending machines serve nearly all your drink needs be it a morning coffee or a full bottle of whiskey and all at a good price (starting at 100yen), nearly everything else is handled by the Family Mart chain of stores, Family Mart is also where you will find the cash machines.
Curry and great ramen at T’s TanTan Tokyostation hidden inside Tokyo station meaning finding it the first time is a bugger and you can’t get to it for free as its behind the ticket barriers, but well worth a diversion or to plan your travel round.
With a rich tangy taste I ended up having 2 of these at one sitting and the memory still makes me drool. found at http://www.hanada-rosso.net/
At the time this had to have been the best vegan pudding I have ever had, and would give most none vegan puddings a run for their money found at Cafe Atl in Osaka (a very nice place if a bit pricey )
Also at Cafe Atl A light pleasant orange flavoured beer went down very nicely thank you
The best place we went in Osaka was Paprika Shokudo which not only serves amazing food and puddings to die for, but were chatty and helpful with suggestions on other places to eat along our travels, I could have eaten there every day!!. They served the greatest pudding I have had since becoming a Vegan, but I did need a lie down after wards
These slabs of fluffy tofu have a very similar texture to omelets (and you do have to be careful as there are pre done omelets in the shops) they make great fillers for bread or anything really and can be got from just about any shop (we made a lot of sandwiches with them)
Osaka is WAYYY better than Tokyo from my point of view. Tokyo is like a massive London but with cultural differences, Osaka was like nothing I had ever been to before, it felt like a different country (yeah yeah I know it already was a different county, but Osaka FELT different). As a child of Skegness I have always loved cheap neon and that gaudy fun feel, and this was everything I could have wanted, busy like a festival but not pushy or filled with drunk idiots or thieves, it was an utter joy to wander round.
Kyoto on the other hand was pure history and culture (plus all the tourist trappings that always surrounds such things) and as the two cities are only a short trip between each other they are a good to compare as a set.
Normally in a western country this many people would be nasty grumpy and pushy, here there was no indication of that, people were aware of those around them and did not hold up traffic, made the whole experience better for all.
The Tsūtenkaku Tower a well know land mark which helped with the chaotic navigation of Osaka
Behind this door were two of my personal bucket list items, an amazing traditional Japanese garden off a tradition veranda, and a Nightingale floor but alas no photos inside, you can see details about them here
Panoramic of the Gardens at Daigoji Temple, Japan put on a perfect day for us with few people around and no queues to wait for anything (happy sigh). Note: the pop-up image for this may take a while to load as its 8Meg
We decided that a trip to the fun Fushimi Inari Shrine was in order as it is one of the really popular temples attracting millions of visitors a year
The Torii or Gates start here
Tokyo is far cleaner and safer than you would expect even if you have been told about it, women walk seemingly unafraid down dark alleys and litter seems to be an endangered species, but you do have to be more aware of your surroundings, several times I turned round to discover my lack of attention had lead to a queue of 10+ people waiting for me to get a grip and start moving again.
As a city Tokyo was the first one I had been too that felt much larger than London, unsurprising at its population is 13.4 million vs London’s 8.5, we went to at least 5 districts that could have easily passed for the city centre and all of them were packed.
We barely touched on what Tokyo had to offer (avoiding all traditional culture in Tokyo on this trip), however the artificial island of Odaiba was my favourite day
Akihabara anime central for the WOOORLLDDDD
Living space in Tokyo was a strange mix, rooms and such were very small but they seemed to confine this to only certain areas: corridors, pavements and gardens were all spacious and appear in the strangest places, it made walking through even the poorest areas a pleasant and sunny experience.
The gateway to the massive Meiji Shrine, we never got past the outskirts on this trip but next time we will dedicate the time it deserves.
This is a SEGA foot massage machine in an arcade, you get little plastic bags to put your feet in to keep everything clean and it works really well (but I have to say I could not follow the instructions)
Now this is how you do a show trailer!!! the whole set lit up
I have seen these before but this was the best use of space and the first flip one that I have ever Seen
At the end of 2015 a major financial commitment I had been servicing for 5 years finally finished and with the aid of my awesome wife’s bargain hunting abilities (who knew you can get nice rooms for £20 per person a night) we decided we would combine our missed honeymoon and our first holiday in 6 years and go to Japan, this is a record of that trip.
You will have to forgive my selective observations, the world interests me in different ways.
We started out at 6am on Tuesday, with a very twitchy Mark, twitchy from the idea that I have multiple clients and taking a holiday had disrupted them all. It had taken til 3 am to reach a stage I was at least comfortable with the idea of not completing every job that I had outstanding, however my clients had been very supportive with only the odd self-centred manager attempting a form of guilt trip (a special thank you to both LAN2LAN and Bluewave who both covered for me really well)
The Lufthansa planes were clean and nicely on time (if only they could get your meal choices right and that 50% of their staff are rude), and Frankfurt airpoint had a good free wifi enabling be to answer a few more emails and start to let go. before I get on the fun stuff I’m just going to make a point that this twitchiness was something that had to be got over, this holiday was not only the first holiday in 6 years, but the first proper one for even longer. As had been pointed out by many of my long suffering friends I had become a little work centric (read obsessed) and not only was this holiday a dream trip and belated Honeymoon but it was therapy :)
Right! On with the interesting stuff.
As a tourist arriving in Japan internet was a must. Thankfully not only can you get prepaid sims out of vending machines but with a couple of days notice you can get a mifi with unlimited data (I had a few slowdowns but on average I was using about 3Gig per day) I would heartily recommend the company I ended up with, they are called http://www.globaladvancedcomm.com and you pick your mifi up at the airport then drop it back in the same place with a pre paid envelope, simple and fast.
We did all our traveling via public transport, both the tube and train systems are clean and cheap, we did not bother with the travel cards as if you are doing less than 1000 yen worth of travel in a day it is cheaper to just buy tickets as and when you need them, all the city’s we travelled in had English tube and rail maps and everything is well sign posted (there are a lot of sign posts but the one you want will be there somewhere)
As far as navigation on foot went, I found Tokyo to be a dream, what I would call a dirty grid, in that there are big blocks of building surrounded by major roads, but each block was a chaos of tiny streets and mad shaped buildings, so finding roughly where you want was easy but narrowing it down to the actual building was more an exercise in orienteering than following an address (Google maps has a whale of a time and gets things wrong about 40% of the time)
On money: the 100 yen coin is your friend you need them for far more than you would think so if you see a change machine (and there are lots round ) make sure you use it.
Living ancestors: if everyone is walking slow with no obvious sign, try looking down, you will often see a tiny old person and I do mean tiny (maybe up to my waist) DO NOT PUSH PAST most of these people are older than God and have seen many things (including a nuclear bomb fired at their country) and deserve a bit of patience.
Bullet train : called the Shinkansen, this train costs about the same to ride as a British train ticket bought at the station but for the same money, you get a clean fast on time train with nice facilities and tons of leg room.
That’s it for the general stuff, will post specific stuff in the next few blogs
The third flat we got via AirBnb was by far the poshest but as it was new we got it at a discount, it was 10 floors up in a tower block and had all the mod cons such as an auto fill bath and one of the cool tables with heaters built in
The power sockets surprised the hell out of me, they use Type A only so no earth, none at all (WTF), if you need an appliance with an earth you have to do this extra screw-in earth cable (shudder), but for the rest of us don’t bother bringing a power adaptor with an earth pin ( type B ) as it wont fit.
Tactile paving in Japan is far more widespread and uniform than for example in England and very obviously for the blind, with raised lines for travel and raised dots for intersections or danger areas, you see it in all tube stations and a huge number of pavements next to major roads
Given my freelance and paranoid status the chances of not bringing my work with me was nill, but thanks to my love’s understanding nature (and the fact she sleeps 4 hours more than me per day) I was able to deal with most issues before they became a problem, a great aid to this was the fact that Japan is 8 hours ahead of the UK, so I had those four hours to get stuff done before clients came in for the day, and finding things fixed BEFORE they come in gives every client that warm loved feeling.
Even from a distance mount Fuji looked amazing (at least I think this was mount Fuji, it was in the right place)