Japan Travel Diary
London to Tokyo (Via Dubai)
I am writing this after having 3 hours sleep in the last 2 days and am currently on the top bunk in a capsule hostel. Hopefully I'll be able to get my words together.
The adventure started at Gatwick where after a 40 minute delay we got going. I knew it was going to be a fun flight when the people in front reclined their seats within 30 seconds of take off allowing me next to nothing on the leg room front. Severe turbulence then kicked in, but luckily I had the first series of the Night Manager to re-watch and Juna had Tangled to take our minds off it. We then finally flew into Dubai just minutes after the sun set allowing us a night time view of the man-made landscape. It was beautiful and something I look forward to seeing in daylight when we fly home.
After a 2 hour stopover at Dubai we boarded our 3am flight. I was already so tired I fell asleep on the shuttle bus to the plane. As we boarded the plane irony kicked in, playing over the tannoy was Flying Without Wings but it was then swiftly followed by I believe I Can Fly just to reassure any nervous passengers I assume. We both managed to get a couple of hours sleep before we were woken for 'dinner' at 5am. Although I can think of worse ways to eat your dinner then watching the sun rise over the earth.
Before we got to Gatwick I had done my fair share of research including how to get to the first hostel and what train to get. Turns out my map was faulty and our train was cancelled. But although it took us quadruple the time it should have to find the hostel we were helped by hundreds of Japanese locals and more knowledgeable tourists than us (not too hard to find), they were all extremely friendly and went out of their way to help. Often spotting our confused faces from afar and running up with google maps already loaded on their phones to help.
We are staying for just one night in this hostel in Asakusa before we head further into the centre of Tokyo for a few days. So we decided although we were jet lagged we didn't want the evening to go to waste and went on a quick walk around the area with our cameras and newly purchased Japanese drinks of which we have no idea of the ingredients. Am now looking forward to sleep and more traveling tomorrow!
Asakusa & Shinjuku
Day 2 started at 5am when due to jet lag I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep. Thinking Juna would be asleep I just chilled for a few hours till we had to check out, turns out she did the same. It took us just a couple of minutes to get to the station but 40 minutes to buy the right ticket and find the correct train, we went through 3 tickets and one wrong station but we finally made it to Shinjuku. Once again the locals went out of their way to help us find our way.
After leaving our bags at our hostel we were starving so jumped into the first food place we saw. It was a small, friendly ramen place with just a couple of people working. All the menu was in Japanese and the waitress couldn't speak English so we ended up pointing at random dishes. It all worked out well in the end though as I ended up with a delicious Yaki-Soba type dish. The only problem was I was given chopsticks, despite trying my best, the chef still ran from the kitchen to give me a fork to save on further embarrassment.
After exploring the area we were able to check in, although a previous customer had left with the key to our room so we just have the one. The room isn't quite a capsule hotel and I think a bit of creative license has been used to advertise the place. Still at least I have a bed, and we'll spend most of our time exploring rather than in the hostel.
Shinjuku is famous for its nightlife in Japan and it didn't let us down. To get there we went a couple of stops on the subway during rush-hour which was an experience I'll never forget, but not one I'm in a hurry to do again.
When we got out of the station the sheer size and enormity of Tokyo fully hit home. We could barely see a patch of sky through all the high rise buildings. One of those buildings was a 6 storey high arcade. The minute we stepped in it was a surreal experience. Business men letting their hair down on the dance mats, teenagers cheering each other on and many in a trance with complete focus. We chose our first game to be Mario Kart which came with a full steering wheel and pedals, luckily we both won so there were no tantrums.
We grabbed some food at a petite restaurant where it was great to sit inches away from the kitchen and watch the food being prepared.
We decided to end the night with a drink and try Sake for the first time (and my last). We selected an empty bar in Golden Gai. A region made up of 6 alleys and 200 bars with each bar having an average capacity of 5 people. By the end of the night we had been talking to a couple of Tokyo locals for over two hours exchanging what little Japanese we know with their English. One of the men lives at a temple and conducts tea ceremonies and the other an ex pro-boxer. They were extremely friendly and even wanted to know our view on Brexit!
Knowing what we're like with directions we left with plenty of time to find the station to get the last train home. Unfortunately for us we bumped into 2 American guys also heading to the station. Despite declaring they knew the way, we got extremely lost and missed our last trains and headed off our separate ways to walk home. Overall a brilliant and knackering day, hopefully more of the same tomorrow!
Tokyo Tower & Marunouchi
Today thankfully marked the end of the jet lag. Everyone in our hostel dorm was woken up at half 10 by a strange alarm which went on for at least 10 minutes. We all assumed this was indicating check out time or that they were going to come clean the room. But it turns out it was just a business man too lazy to turn his phone alarm off. The same man who kept most of us awake during the night and was the subject of a thrown pillow (not by me I must add) due to his loud and rather odd snoring, I can only liken it to a crackling radio attempting to tune into a channel, any channel.
I then braved the hostel shower, something that reminded me of my shower back home in my student house. Only difference was you had to put free tokens in for 10 minutes worth of water. But the logistical problem is that when you put the tokens in a box, this box is outside the shower cubicle so you have to get out wet and cold.
But for all its faults the hostel is very friendly and thoughtfully decorated, all by hand. This includes a poster in the washroom showing you how to do traditional, intricate Japanese hairstyles. But as most of my friends know my dexterity leads to either a pony tail or bun.
We first ventured to Tokyo Skytree Tower. The tallest tower in the world giving a 360 degree view of Tokyo. The bottom of the tower is made up of hundreds of bright, eccentric shops. Including one which sold a tennis racket made out of spaghetti and mouldy banana magnets. Of all the areas we've been to so far probably non-surprisingly this was where I've seen the most tourists but we were still outnumbered considerably by Japanese visitors.
Completely by accident we were there for the grand opening of a Pokemon centre. It was packed with kids and adults and extremely enthusiastic staff. The customer service everywhere we've been has been absolutely incredible.
The tower itself is 364m high. It costs ¥2060 to go up which, for one of the biggest tourist attractions is very affordable for most visitors. To get to the top you go in a lift, a lift that goes at 600m a second and makes your ears pop. Taking you all the way from the 4th floor all the way up to the 350th floor.
After almost an hour of taking photos of the brilliant panoramic view across the Tokyo skyline we sat down at the cafe. And here, at 600 metres above Tokyo eating chocolate cake one of my favourite songs came on, The Winner Is by Devotchka, probably my favourite moment of this trip so far.
The last stop of our day was Marunouchi. Home of the imperial palace, national museum of art and beautiful gardens. We spent a couple of hours chilling and taking photos. Tomorrow we have a full day planned; the famous fish market, Roppongi art museum and then the famous Shibuya crossing to end our time in Tokyo.
Shibuya & Tsukiji
Once again today started with braving the hostel shower. After a poor night sleep it took me ages to get ready. By the time I got to the shower there was just one shower token left, allowing me 10 mins of water. And of course despite my best efforts I ran out of time and have spent the whole of today walking around with one shaved leg, sorry Tokyo.
First stop today was the much recommended Tsukiji fish market. As we're used to having a student body clock we missed the 5am Tuna auction. But was still definitely worth the journey, the lanes were bustling with people selling the days catch, every cafe was full and there were loads of strange, exotic fish I've never seen before which you could buy. I would definitely recommend a visit, it also turns into a cheap day out if, like me, you are a vegetarian.
At one of the entrances to the fish market was a beautiful, small temple. One of the steps involved in praying is to cleanse your face but unfortunately I had to stop there as the water just made my sun cream run and I got the giggles.
From the market we then got the subway to Roppongi, home of Art and Design museums. We first checked out Fuji Film square, a free gallery and museum, something I would definitely go to again if I were to return to Tokyo. Included in the museum was an incredible, ornate large format camera and exhibition on the diversity of South America.
By this time we realised we had gotten so caught up at the market and gallery we hadn't eaten so we popped into the nearest Ramen place we could find. The restaurant was tiny, fitting around 20 people and every time a new group of customers came in everyone moved around to fit them in. It reminded me of musical chairs mixed with Tetris.
After a nap to get our energy back we headed to Shibuya. Home of the famous road crossing seen in films and on TV. It was absolutely crazy with all the lights turning green and red at the same time you had to dodge your way through hundreds of people to get to the other side. But even so everyone was still really polite and didn't push or rush.
On the way home once again we experienced Japanese rush hour, this was the first time I've seen anyone lose their temper here. As we were getting off at our stop there was a fight between two men and for a while we got squashed back onto the train as everybody moved out the way. But thankfully no one was hurt and we managed to get off. And by being generally taller than most people here I didn't feel claustrophobic at all.
Before we came back to the hostel we stopped off at our favourite arcade. Where as we were walking out a robot recognised we were speaking English and greeted us. One of the most surreal moments of my life. He ended our chat by doing a hip-hip dance and waving us off, a surreal end to another great day.
Tomorrow we leave Tokyo and head to climb Mt. Fuji before staying in the mountains for a few days so not sure when I'll get Wi-Fi again to update the blog. But hopefully I'll have lots of stories to tell.
Day 005 & 006
Tokyo Skytree and Mt.Fuji
I've decided to put the last two days into one diary update, partly because I haven't had internet access but mainly I've been climbing Mt. Fuji through the night and haven't had any sleep.
The last couple of days have been dramatic to say the least. It started off yesterday by being woken up at 6.30 due to an earthquake. Luckily the earthquake was far enough away we just felt the tremors with the whole hostel shaking. You could tell we weren't in any serious danger when the Japanese people in my dorm just carried on their day like normal, one man even brushing teeth during the earthquake.
Yesterday morning was the first time we've seen rain in Tokyo. Although a welcome relief from the constant 30 degree heat. So we put our luggage into storage at the train station and headed to the Moomin cafe at Tokyo Skytree. The experience was completely bizarre with Moomin inspired dishes and cutlery. But the oddest/funniest part is that they put a giant Moomin cuddly toy sitting at the table with you. I wouldn't recommend it for the food but I would definitely would for the atmosphere and novelty factor.
After the Moomin cafe and 4 trains and 2 buses later we arrived at Mt.Fuji. During the journey we met a couple of French girls also trying to navigate the bus route, both were extremely excited about the Euro's final and as naive as us when it comes to climbing mountains.
Depending on which route you take it should take between 7-10 hours to reach the summit. Within half an hour we started talking to Courtney, a student from Australia who is currently traveling around Asia on her own. As we were all the same age we hit it off straight away and she ended up walking the whole way with us. We started at 8pm which meant it was already almost pitch black so we had no idea what of the challenge we were going to take on...
Day 6 started as day 5 ended, climbing Mt.Fuji through the night in order to see the sun rise over Japan.
There were thousands of walkers doing the night climb all with torches and lights. At one point the group of people in front of us got around 100m ahead so I decided to lead my group. It wasn't till I got to a view point did I realise that I hadn't just been been leading my group but hundreds of people up the mountain, I could see all their lights weaving up the trail behind us. A truly unforgettable moment.
As we were starting to flag around 2am a welcome surprise paced past us, an elderly Japanese gentleman practically running to the top while carrying a boom box playing Bruno Mars' Lazy song. But unfortunately this didn't work as any kind of antidote as both Juna and Courtney started to feel the effects of altitude sickness. Thankfully, despite fully expecting to be, I wasn't effected by the height at all. But as we got higher and higher both their lungs were getting tighter and it was getting colder (around 3 degrees at the summit). We kept stopping to let them catch their breath but it meant standing in the freezing wind in darkness on the edge of a mountain.
By the time we reached the summit at 3.15am Juna was wearing every piece of head wear I packed, and I packed a whole bag of Fuji head wear in my suitcase. Yet this wasn't enough, suffering from both the cold and altitude sickness she ended up shaking in the foetal position on the floor of the food-serving mountain hut.
Luckily there were some fellow climbers with us from Mongolia and France, with the Mongolians leading an impromptu group exercise class to get everybody warm. After that and borrowing one of their body warmers Juna was feeling better, just in time for the 4.30am sunrise. It was absolutely breathtaking watching the sun peer over the horizon then slowly rise up over Japan.
After a couple of hours taking in the view we headed back down. I found this harder than coming up due to the amount of pressure on your knees when walking down over volcanic ash. Then at 10am after descending for 4 hours we were so exhausted from not sleeping for over 27 hours we literally couldn't go a step further. So we did what all the other tired climbers do, and napped on the side of the mountain. We had hit the wall just as we started walking through the clouds so we literally slept in the clouds. After an hours kip we found the descent much easier and ended up getting to the end after 6 hours.
Our hike up the mountain was then rewarded with a 3 hour traffic jam on the coach on the way back, all the other tourists were complaining but I secretly enjoyed having the excuse to catch up on some much needed sleep.
Bullet Train & Japanese Alps
Today I woke feeling completely rejuvenated after our hike yesterday and ready to travel to the Japanese Alps. This excitement quickly turned to pain as I tried to get out my capsule bed. The overly optimistic stretching I did before bed didn't work, my legs were complete agony from the 16 hours climbing. I would say I clambered out of the capsule bed but I would be lying, I crawled.
We headed for Tokyo station to exchange our Japan rail passes which give us unlimited train and ferry travel for 14 days. With an hour before our train we were both craving fatty, western food. Juna grabbed the Japanese equivalent to KFC and I risked it by getting a sandwich with about 10 ingredients, none of which I recognised. Turned out to be the tastiest thing I've eaten here, shame I can't recreate it.
Then at 13.33 we boarded our first ever bullet train. The journey was incredibly smooth for the speeds we were going and the train was great, with room for your luggage in front of you and vending machines. And even though it isn't a tourist train the conductor used the tannoy to give us a brief guide to all the cities we went through. The view for the whole 5 hour journey was incredible, countless mountains, villages and over perfectly clear rivers and lakes.
10 minutes before we reached our final destination, Takayama, we pulled into a train station. Next to us was another train with school children boarding. One girl spotted us in the window, the next thing we knew she grabbed all her friends and they all started smiling,waving and taking photos. They are not used to having many Europeans visiting this part of the Japanese Alps especially not two sun burnt British girls.
We are now chilling at our hostel, which doubles up as a temple. We will be staying here for the next 5 nights until we head to the Festival in Kyoto.
We started with a slow morning getting up at 11 to try and regain our energy from all our walking and traveling. Still in pyjamas and half-awake we explored our hostels zen garden which is a small,beautiful square garden with views of the mountains. The ambience was slightly ruined by the unbelievably loud snoring of a fellow hostel guest, but we still enjoyed the garden just maybe not the zen.
When we finally got ourselves together and got out of the hostel our first port of call was a money exchange shop. Working there were two elderly women extremely pleased to have some customers. Just before we were about to leave with our money they gave us beautifully delicate, hand-made origami animals and wished us luck for our day. It was a lovely start to a slightly lethargic day.
The area we're staying in, Takayama, is famous for its huge park. Within the park there are shrines, castle ruins and beautiful views across the villages. After a 300m, near vertical hike to the top of the park to see the castle ruins we were greeted by thousands of insects and bugs. I tried to take photos of the view and Juna tried to paint but the bugs were so insistent on biting us we ended up running back down the hill brushing them off our skin as we ran. So all in all not a hugely successful park visit but we're planning to go back when we're more prepared, with long sleeved clothes and insect repellent.
On the way back to the hostel we weaved in and out of the shopping lanes with Juna buying a 'zen carrot statue' and me resisting the temptation to buy a key ring of the village mascot; a cool, headband wearing ninja.
As the sun began to set we found our hostel. With complacency kicking in for our newly found navigation skills, reality bit us. Turns out it wasn't our hostel, just a similar looking temple,it now appeared to onlookers we were breaking in. Luckily we obviously look very British and lost so nobody batted an eye lid.
Intriguingly located in the shrine next to our bedroom is a dark stairway with an ominous message next to it. It tells you the stairs lead to a pitch-black passage under the shrine, which circles under the altar and back out again. It's meant to teach you the 'path of enlightenment'. So, we braved the darkness, hit our heads a few times and made it out. Although I'm not sure I'm enlightened yet, might give it another go tomorrow .
Just before we headed to bed we got chatting to a lovely Belgian couple traveling with their kids. They have been here for a few days and recommended a day trip to a local village which Juna and I are now planning to do tomorrow.
Takayama Bear and Folk Village
Today we were planning on taking a small train journey to the local village the couple recommend last night. But we woke up to thunderstorms and rain so decided to wait it out at our hostel/temple and give it a go another day in the dry.
When the rain died down we headed for Hida Folk Village, a 45 minute walk away.
Despite the walk looking very hill-less on the map it was far from it. I think the locals who designed the map only deem a mountain as a slight-incline.
So half way up the hill we stopped off at a tea house. It was a cosy, quiet tea house with views across the mountains and a zen garden. Although you had to walk through the zen garden to get to the toilets. Once again all the staff were extremely friendly, but when we entered they did have a slightly fearful look about them. We assumed this might be because they didn't speak English, but it turns out we were just a bit too big. Juna hit her head twice on the same light, I nearly broke the small chair just by sitting on it and the counter came up to below my waist so I had to bend down to pay. They were extremely polite but as shocked as us that we didn't break anything by the time we left.
Before we got to the folk village we made a mandatory stop, the Teddy Bear Eco Village. I've had this place on my radar since we arrived in Takayama. The village like museum is made up of hundreds of bears in all sorts of bizarre scenarios. But the most bizarre of them all, was found in a chapel like shed with two human size teddy bears getting married. Not only that, when you open the chapel doors Celine Dion's 'My heart will go on', blares out at full volume. Both Juna and I couldn't contain our laughter. Then to round off your trip round the 'village' you get a free picture of you wearing bear ears. Not sure it's one for the family album!
After the excitement of the teddy bear village and a small walk we reached the Hida Folk Village. It's made up of a lake and around 20 different houses which have been preserved from hundreds of years ago. As you go round each house gives you a piece of information on Japanese history including how they traditionally built houses, lived in the mountains, made supplies and survived the snowy winters. Although this was the most amount of tourists I've seen for days it wasn't overcrowded and big enough for everyone to take their time and enjoy. I would definitely recommend it for anyone visiting the Takayama region.
During the walk back we got distracted by a huge gold,shrine-like building in the distance. With a bit of energy to spare we headed for it. As we got closer it didn't get any clearer what it was. There were hundreds of stairs leading up to the extravagant building with barely anyone around. Planning on taking pictures of the view we climbed to the top of the stairs.
As we got to the top we saw a line of glass doors and were ushered through by a man on the other side. His English was extremely good and he explained that we were at the headquarters for a new religion. He explained the basis and meaning of the religion and showed us into the main hall. It was absolutely stunning with everything possible gold-plated and thousands of seats for you to rest and pray. The main altar at the front was at least 15m high and depicted a forest scene. He was very kind and allowed us to look around and have a rest.
As beautiful as the building was and as kind the people were it still had a cult-like element to it and neither of us were sure how to feel about it. It was all a bit odd.
Tomorrow we are going to set our alarms and visit the morning markets then hopefully take the short trip to the recommended village nearby.
Our 10th day traveling through Japan started very oddly, we were woken up by an excessively loud cat fight next to our hostel room. I'm not sure if the cats are louder here in Japan but I've never heard anything like it, but at least we were up for the morning markets here in Takayama.
All the stalls were selling locally grown produce and items made here in the mountains. We stopped off at an eclectic bakery stall to get breakfast. I played it safe with a mini-pizza type thing and Juna went for a deep fried cereal doughnut, she assured me it was delicious.
After a quick browse at the market we headed to the train station and made the short 10 minute trip to Hida Furukawa. We were first greeted by rain and fog but once that lifted you could see a beautiful, tranquil village. It's a village built in 1585 with an ageing population, but it's certainly the best retirement home I've ever seen.
Sure enough we were the youngest people there as we wandered the (thankfully) flat mountain-side streets. There were an unusual amount of Salons and not many places offering food but once we spotted a cafe we dived in. Once again we were a bit big for the place, having to duck under the doors and barely fitting under the table. So with our knees touching the table we tried to order, only problem is this was the first place with just a purely Japanese menu and no one inside speaking any English. We had a go at deciphering the menu and thought we had ordered a ham sandwich for me and a curry for Juna. When our food arrived it transpired Juna ordered an egg and cucumber toastie and I had a precarious looking egg omelette within a sandwich. I managed to eat half then filled up with ice cream from the vending machine outside after we left.
Then while exploring we stumbled upon a beautiful winding street. In front of all the small, traditional houses was a stream. It was full of hundreds of Coi fish. The biggest fish I have ever seen. To get into the houses you have to go over a small bridge, whichprovides shade for all the fish, who were gathered underneath staying out of the midday sun. Something we should have also been doing.
To keep hydrated in the incredibly humid heat we are drinking water constantly through the day. To have a break from water we bought a can of drink that has been confusing us for days. Above the drink in the vending machine it claims the can sings. Thinking we were buying some sort of berry flavour we bought one each. We were very wrong, it was the most peculiar thing I have ever tasted. It wasn't a drink, it was fizzy, bubblegum flavoured jelly in a can. And when you shook it high-pitched music played. As fun as the music was, I'm not sure when the taste will stop haunting me.
With a bit more exploring we found the 'cultural quarter' something I wouldn't expect a village of this size to have. It was made up of 4 large, wooden and modern buildings, something that stood out against the green mountainous landscape. It had stunning sculptures dotted around the gardens of the buildings. As we got closer we realised the buildings, libraries and art museums, were only open at weekends. It looked great but I'm not sure such a small, quiet village is ready for such a thing yet.
As we headed back to the station children were beginning to leave school. About 20 six year olds passed us in their matching yellow hats. They all said 'hello' in their best British accent and then giggled uncontrollably when they walked past. I loved the village, my favourite place we've seen since leaving Tokyo.
Today we wanted to make the most of our rail passes so as I got ready Juna went and asked the manager of the hostel if he had any local recommendations. He suggested the city of Gifu, about an hours train journey away.
So off we went on a rickety train down to Gifu. The train journey would have fit into a Wes Anderson film, the beige carriages rocketed through the green mountains and over the red bridges. It also constantly buzzed making it sound like a tattoo studio on wheels.
The last stop before ours was Gero. We had been going for about an hour, at this point we should have twigged, but it wasn't until half an hour after that, did the penny drop. He had told Juna Gero not Gifu. Gifu it turns out, is over 2 hours away. But as we were already on our way we decided to make a day of it, and explore as much as we could before the last train back.
Using the city map at the station we planned our route to the main park which had a cable car to the top. On our way we stopped off at their best known shrine. Not only was the outside beautifully ornate it housed a huge, hand carved Buddha. With the overall height being 13m, the ears on their own were 2m high. Once you entered the building and looked up, the sheer size was overwhelming, the Buddha itself is covered with thousands of Buddhist Scriptures carved into it, the amount of hours to create and carve it was incomprehensible.
In the blaring 32 degree heat we then made it to the park and boarded the cable car, it was fairly expensive but once we got to the top the views were worth it. By circling just 60m at the summit you could get a full 360 view of the region and mountain borders. Luckily we were there on a clear day so you could see for miles. At the very top was a small castle but we decided not to go in as it was extremely busy and the views were enough for us.
After soaking up the view and probably too much sun we headed back down in the cable car. At the front of the cable car there were stickers on the floor signalling that's where children could stand for the best view. As there were no children on board I was the youngest so decided to take up a prime position. But I soon realised that despite being the youngest there, at 5'7" I'm considered tall in Japan. So I took took a few photos and stood aside.
As we approached the landing space for the cable car, there was a huge gust of wind. They tried to dock us but couldn't, so we ended up just having to hang and swing mid air for a few minutes until the weather died down. Thankfully it did and we were able to get off and get our feet firmly back on the ground.
The train journey home landed in the middle of rush hour, although not too busy we had to stand for the first 20 minutes. As we turned around to look for seats the train jolted and Juna hit a businessman square in the face with her bag. He was very polite about it the first time, but after it happened again, we decided to look for seats in another carriage..
We have just got home after a late night walk around Takayama before we leave tomorrow morning and head to Kyoto.
Takayama & Kyoto
This morning we woke up even earlier then we needed to. As much as we are both sad to be leaving Takayama we are really excited to travel down to Kyoto and see another part of Japan.
With extra time on our hands we strolled through the morning market one last time and grabbed breakfast at a riverside cafe. Outside the cafe it claimed to have an English menu. It turns out they only went half way with the translation, with the sandwich menu offering sandwich A, B and C. I went with sandwich A thinking they would get weirder further down the menu. Even though it was a self service cafe the staff insisted on waiting on us and were extremely happy to try out their English and hear us attempt Japanese. I soon discovered Sandwich A is made up of one slice of white bread, one slice of brown and filled up with 10 different vegetables, it was delicious if a little odd.
After we said a fond farewell to our hostel/temple we boarded the 4 hour train journey to Kyoto via Nagoya. It was a perfect time to relax, listen to Kygo's new album and take in the views before we hit the craziness of Kyoto.
At Nagoya we had a mad transfer between trains. We had just 9 minutes between the two and had to get through 2 ticket barriers, get to the other side of the station and find the right track. After a mad dash with our bigger-than-needed suitcases we made it with a minute to spare.
Once we arrived in Kyoto we jumped on a local bus to our hostel. Instead of it being a temple, this time our hostel is next to one. Makes it very handy to get home when your lost! Our host is incredibly kind and lives next door with his wife and kids. He spent 40 minutes telling us the best bus routes to get all around the city and the safest areas. He has even hand painted a perfectly to-scale map of the local area on the common room wall!
After a quick look around the hostel we jumped straight back on the bus into town to see the Gion Matsuri celebrations. They go on throughout July here, with tonight considered Christmas Eve before tomorrow's parade.
We were well and truly thrown into the deep end of Kyoto. A square kilometre of roads are made for pedestrians only and the place is filled up with hundreds and thousands of people!
Many times I was literally swept off my feet by the crowds and moved without even walking, I was so wedged in. The atmosphere was brilliant, almost carnival like. I have never seen so many people in one place. Both men and women were dressed up in Yakuta, a summer Kimono, with their fans and newly purchased food. Dotted around the streets were massive floats which will be paraded through the streets tomorrow morning.
Among the thousands of food stalls selling everything you can imagine and more, were music performances and traditional ceremonies. Some of which I didn't understand but will definitely look up to learn more.
Despite all the traveling we've done today it was impossible to feel tired with everybody in such a celebratory mood. I look forward to seeing more of Kyoto in the sunlight.
We decided to start our first full day in Kyoto by going out for breakfast. Round the corner from our hostel we found a bustling Japanese cafe. When we were seated we were shown a button in the middle of the table, when your ready to order or need help you just press it and a waitress will come. What they didn't tell us, was when you pressed it, a buzzer gets played across the whole cafe. So everyone then turned around to watch us attempt to order in Japanese. I ended up with a toastie but Juna got the greenest drink I have ever seen, accompanied by a scrambled egg sandwich with a pizza on top. A very odd start to the morning, but when we asked how to get to the subway the waitress sweetly walked us all the way there, a good 10 minute walk.
Aiming for the International Manga Museum in the centre of Kyoto we took a subway (a lot easier than in Tokyo) and walked a few blocks. On the way we were able to catch the Gion Matsuri parade, huge floats being carried down the roads followed by hundreds of people dressed up and chanting. It was loud, bright and big but very enjoyable to watch as they walked past.
We then made it to the Manga museum, it houses thousands of Manga books dating back to when Manga first appeared in Japan. Near the entrance there was a workshop where they taught you how to use a traditional ink pen and allowed you to make your own postcard. A 5 year old would be embarrassed at my attempt!
I'm not a big fan of Manga myself but the exhibitions were brilliant, including the main exhibition, showing the work of famous Manga pop artist Eguchi Hisashi. He creates details in the face using the least amount of lines possible. If you are around Kyoto I would definitely recommend the museum just for the Hisashi exhibition itself. The museum is based in an old elementary school and is tastefully done with rooms dedicated to reflecting on the past pupils and principles.
After the museum we decided to explore the packed streets of Kyoto, including the Geisha District and Imperial Palace. The area is beautiful but due to the festival there were lots of people around so we might go back one evening when it's less busy.
After another day long day of walking and exploring we decided to end the night with a walk down the riverside bars. We used our trusty map and got to the crossroads of the street we were looking for. Now we just had to decide whether to go left or right. We went left. Turns out left is the red light district. After some funny looks we sheepishly did a u-turn and found the bars.
We have planned to go to the famous Bamboo Forest tomorrow and visit as many temples as possible. Hopefully it won't be as hot as today (34 degrees!)
Today we treated ourselves to breakfast at a doughnut restaurant. We have resisted since we touched down in Japan. But today I had two doughnuts for breakfast and it was glorious. Although a bit sickly I quickly polished off a chocolate doughnut swiftly followed by one completely filled with whipped cream.
To walk off our breakfast we headed to Arashiyama, which for £3.50 you can walk around the beautiful temple gardens. Only problem is everyone else had the same idea and it was packed. After being in the background of at least a hundred family snaps and nearly getting decapitated by a selfie stick we decided to leave and go off the beaten track.
Just metres from the gardens were completely empty paths winding into the forest passing shrines and temples. It was in the shade as well which was a real bonus in the 33 degree heat. We strolled through the forest taking hundreds of photos and enjoying the calm until we came to the end of the path, the bamboo forest.
A path had been carved through the centre of the forest for visitors to enjoy. The bamboo was incredibly tall and blocked all the sunlight. There was bamboo as far as you could see so it didn't matter how busy it was, you could see it from any angle.
At the end of the forest and down a few uneven steps we caught the glimpse of the main Arashiyama river. It was beautiful and for some reason a view we both said, seemed out of context we'd assumed it to be in China or Cambodia, we weren't expecting it in Japan. There were loads of people rowing especially towards the food boats floating down the river. A particular highlight of mine was when 3 women, who didn't know how to row, got stuck at the end of the current and people had to climb down to the waters edge and push them back out again. Everybody, them included, found it hilarious.
We had planned to just spend half a day in Arashiyama but it was much bigger than we thought and with lots of natural beauty spots so we stayed the whole day.
On the way back, around 10pm, we were ravenous so popped into a petrol station cafe in what felt like the middle of nowhere. But when the doors opened it revealed a cafe full to the brim with 20-somethings all on their own, working or on their laptops. It was surreal,no one looked up from their screens when you walked passed, but the cafe did delicious pizza slices so we'll probably be back.
Day 15 started off hilariously. Around 10 am when I was attempting to get out of bed (10 is early for me) Juna returned from having a shower. Although I noticed something weird, her towel was still in our room. It transpires she forgot her towel and after washing her hair just stood behind the shower curtain 'drip-drying'. Even funnier considering the hostel shower is behind a curtain in the garden.
After a good laugh at the sanity we've already lost through just two weeks of traveling we visited the temple we having been staying next too. As we were eating our breakfast looking across the temple grounds a guy who arrived at our hostel last night recognised us and came over.
His name was Nerman, from Mexico and had just finished a 6 week internship in Tokyo and is now traveling around Japan for 3 weeks before heading back to Mexico. He asked if he could tag along for the day which of course we said yes. After half an hour we realised that what he should of asked was if we wanted to come with him to all the sights he wanted to see. But in the end it made a nice change for someone else to navigate and he wanted to see a lot of similar things to us.
We first got on the train and headed to Fushimi Inari Taisha, the most famous shrine in Kyoto. The main large shrine is at the base of a mountain. With many smaller ones along the way and at the top of the mountain. Due to Mt. Fuji I feel like I've done enough mountain climbing to last a life time and especially my time here in Japan. But the other two wanted to go up, and owing to our new member I was outnumbered and had to climb another mountain.
Leading up to the top are 2000 red gates, each one donated by a business. It was brilliant as they were both beautiful and provided shade. This beauty didn't last long as the heat and steep climb started to get to me and Juna. Although as pale as us, Nerman is used to the heat of Mexico and found it no problem, even donating his fan to me so I could go a more pale shade of beetroot.
After an hour and a lot of water we reached the top. All the shrines we saw were beautiful and individual in some way. In particular, my favourite shrine was a zodiac one, which featured hand-carved statutes of each zodiac sign.
After recovering from the walk we headed for the bus. On the buses here the drivers wear microphones which get played out through speakers on the bus. They continually speak to you about the traffic and every time you get going from a red light. But our driver today wasn't very happy and kept having road rage. It was very handy having Nerman with us as he is fluent in Japanese as well as English.
Our chosen destination was the Path of Philosophy, made famous by Nishida Kitaro, a Japanese philosopher who used the journey along the path everyday to meditate on his way to teach at Kyoto university. On our way we popped in to a convenience store for some food. The first thing I saw when the doors opened was a women dressed up, head to toe, as a Geisha fulfilling all her photocopying needs in the corner. Another very odd sight but one I have come to expect after being in Japan for a couple of weeks.
As we made our way up to the Path of Philosophy standing at a cross roads was a man on a motorbike the other side who started madly pointing at us and shouting. At first confused, we realised we were being idiots. Unlike the other crossings in Japan you have to press a button here, he was just helping us find the button. After finally sheepishly crossing the road and thanking him we got to the path.
Once again it was another beautiful, peaceful part of Kyoto just metres from the main city. We wandered slowly along the riverside path with Nerman giving us recommendations on places to visit when we return to Tokyo. I'm not sure if you are meant to have an epiphany or inspiring thoughts as you stroll along the Path of Philosophy, but my main thought was to take an antihistamine as there were about 50 cats roaming the path from the nearby cat sanctuary.
We are both sad to leave Kyoto tomorrow even though it hasn't been what we expected we have really enjoyed it. Next up Hiroshima.
Kyoto & Hiroshima
This morning we woke up bright and early to catch our train to Hiroshima. The train station is a 40 minute, warm bus journey from our hostel,but just as we were about to leave and head to the bus stop the manager of the hostel knocked at our door. Not only did he then carry our ridiculously heavy bags down the steep hostel stairs but he offered us a free lift to the station with his wife as she was heading into town. I wasn't even surprised by him offering this as he's been as friendly and helpful as you can get over the last few days.
His wife dropped us off at the station with plenty of time for our train allowing a doughnut consuming pit-stop. What then followed was a set of mini-disasters, including Juna getting on the wrong train.
When we arrived in Hiroshima another minor disaster happened. As Juna was reaching in her bag for change to get the bus she heard the clanging of keys. Keys to the hostel we left in Kyoto, now 220 miles away.
With a quick email sent to the hostel owner to tell him we'll be posting the keys first class we jumped on the bus. We knew the name of the stop we had to get off at in English but we got too complacent and didn't translate it into Japanese before the journey. Unlike all the other cities we've visited, none of the bus announcements or signs were in English.
After asking numerous people on the bus, all of whom tried their best to help, we ended getting off at a random stop. Then getting straight back on again when we realised we had gone in a full circle and were back at the station. With the help of the bus driver who decided it was time to step in to save further embarrassment we found the right stop.
After finding our hostel easier than we thought, we dumped our bags and went exploring the area we are staying in. Aside from being famous for being hit by the worlds first atomic bomb I had no idea what to expect from Hiroshima. But what we saw tonight I really liked. It's a young, vibrant city and we've heard it has good nightlife at the weekends.
Midway thorough our exploring/getting lost it started to pour down. Luckily we we were right beside a 5-floor arcade. After watching two guys play a reaction game, sort-of like a dance mat for your hands, we had a go ourselves. Turned out they made it look extremely easy. All the games in the arcade have their volume up at 100% so trying to concentrate on anything with the wall of noise is a talent in itself. After a few goes we opted for something easier, Mario Kart. Thankfully I won so no one had to witness me being a sore loser just a bad winner.
As we both hit a wall of tiredness from the days traveling and shenanigans we decided to head back for an early night. As we walked down our street there was a giant tortoise just chilling in a box on the pavement. All very odd but just another day in Japan.
When we got back to the hostel, we were ready to crash into our beds. Only problem was, unlike the other places we've stayed in,you have to make your own bed. Each bed capsule comes with its own bewildering instructions, making our 'bedburgers' awake with our eyes shut wasn't easy. I'm going to sleep surrounded by two spare pillow case covers, 2 sheets and a duvet all in 28 degree heat. Tomorrow we are going to spend the day visiting the atomic dome and visiting the museums dedicated to educating people on the event.
Last night we decided to use today to see all the memorial sites and museums and then see how we felt, and decide what we want to do afterwards.
We first visited the famous A-dome, just 5 minutes walk from our hostel. The Dome was what I had seen on TV. but the surrounding area was not what I was expecting. Next to the dome is a beautiful, clear river along with beautiful plants and the atmosphere was extremely peaceful not somber at all.
Next to the dome was a Hiroshima peace volunteer, we saw them throughout the day. She had created folders filled with information in many languages which explained what happened when the atomic bomb hit and the aftermath. The information is free to read so we sat down among about 20 other travelers to read all about it. The information was extremely detailed and built further on our knowledge of the atrocity. We then spoke to the woman who provided the information, she was born 3 days after the bombing and her grandfather was killed in the attack. Despite all I've read about it, it's still hard to comprehend that this all happened just one generation ago in some cases. But talking to the woman and seeing the Dome helped both Juna and I to have a better understanding of the effects of such a horrendous weapon.
Next we decided to walk through the memorial park to visit the museum at the end. Before we went into the exhibit I popped in to use the museum toilet. Wow. As I walked down through the centre of the empty restroom, with cubicles either side, each toilet seat rose up as I walked past. I felt like I was some kind of cult leader in an alternative universe. Then when you sit down it plays you the sound of the rainforest. I know it's not the main attraction in Hiroshima but it provided some light-relief on a hard hitting day.
The museum itself was as the guide book describes ' Confronting and personal. While upsetting it's a must see in Hiroshima'. And it was all those things; horrendous photos, personal items of those who lost their lives and videos on the science behind the bomb. But it really is a must see, even after holding back the tears Juna agreed. Even though it's incredibly moving, with many visitors wiping their away tears as they went along it wasn't over-the-top and was incredibly informative.
About a hundred metres away from the museum is the Peace Memorial Hall. After you enter for free you take a winding path underground into the round hall of remembrance. The top half of the hall is a mosaic made up of 140,000 tiles, each one representing a victim of the atomic bomb attack. The hall was incredibly calm with seats allowing us to sit down and reflect and contemplate what we'd seen.
In the adjoining room was photographs and names of all those who lost their lives. For me this was when the sheer size of the devastation really hit home.
After the hall we headed to the nearby Museum of Art. It was an odd building, not very well advertised but obviously very wellknown as there were a lot of people inside. It was relatively expensive to get in but after visiting all the memorial sites we both wanted something a bit 'lighter'.
The museum included some big names including Monet and Van Gogh. But the part I enjoyed most was the temporary exhibition showing the work of Machiko Hasegawa. A female comic strip artist who broke into the comic scene at just 15. The sheer volume of work she created year after year was inspiring. She was famed for her wit and humour, and even though in Japanese the comics were hilarious and extremely witty. You could see her drawing styles change over the years but her humour stayed the same, well if anything, got (c)ruder as she got older!
After the museum, grabbing some dinner and my phone app informing me we've walked 20km today we headed back to the hostel absolutely knackered. On the way we stopped at one of Japan's millions of vending machines to get water but we had a shock, this vending machine was selling pickled fish in bottles! Luckily we weren't too thirsty and could wait till the next vending machine.
Although hard-hitting, today has been enjoyable and the museum is a must do if you are in Hiroshima. I look forward to seeing more of the city tomorrow.
After a long day yesterday we decided to take it slow on our last day here in Hiroshima. After a lovely lie-in till 11, I managed to convince Juna to visit an incinerator plant on the outskirts of Hiroshima. I had heard about the plant a while back as it's designed by one of my favourite architects Taniguchi Yoshio, who also designed MOMA in New York. We arrived there after a 20 minute journey on a bus with a wooden floor and a women who insisted every stop we went past was our stop.
Expecting a faint smell of garbage we were actually greeted with an incredibly strong scent of Soy sauce from the factory next door. Not exactly pleasant but also doesn't make your breakfast reappear.
The incineration plant is made up of glass and metal allowing you to see the internal workings. It's also on the water front with a viewing space allowing you to see across the water. At this point,Juna and I, both raised in Brighton, realised how much we had missed the sea after being inland for 3 weeks. Overall I was incredibly impressed by the building and views and would definitely recommend the short trip from the city centre for any fans of clean, slick architecture.
Next up to visit was Hiroshima Castle, originally constructed in 1589 and rebuilt after the atomic bomb. It was much bigger on the inside than it looked on the outside and had a brilliant exhibition on Samurai culture and the battles over the control of the castle through the ages. The best part though was the 5th floor viewing platform giving a 360 view of Hiroshima. And it wasn't too busy so we had plenty of time to take in the view.
Getting ready for leaving tomorrow we then strolled to the train station to reserve tickets for the 5 hour journey to Tokyo. Right next to the station is a baseball stadium with a match being played this evening. It was great to see everyone on their way to the game all dressed up including lots of women and children. What was great was all the station staff who worked in the shops were dressed up in the Hiroshima kit, it was a great atmosphere and we wish we could have caught a game before we leave.
We then had an evening stroll back home to our hostel, the best one yet, taking in Hiroshima for the last night. It was the busiest yet calmest city I've ever seen on a Friday night. Even if we did have to wade through people 'catching' Pokemon.
On our return to the hostel I realised the hot chocolate I bought to have before bed was in fact coffee and then found Juna's green painting ink leaked across her duvet and mattress. Never a dull moment.
Hiroshima & Tokyo
Sadly this morning we were checking out of our nicest hostel yet; with comfy beds, a modern common room/kitchen and 10 showers which were as nice as any hotel.
On our way down in the lift from the 6th floor, where we had been staying, an American student jumped in to go down just the one floor. Within the space of going this one floor she fitted in as many words as humanly possible. She introduced herself, where she was from, what she's doing in Japan and where we should go in Tokyo. I've never heard anyone fit so much information into 10 seconds. It was incredible, Juna and I were left speechless and unable to get a word in. She was extremely friendly and wished us luck on the next stage of our journey.
We then arrived characteristically early for our train, 2 hours early. Luckily we stumbled upon a concert in the underground walkway to the station. Everyone was dressed up in the Hiroshima baseball kit with 2 girls on stage singing and dancing. They were then followed by what looked like a Japanese motivational speaker. The crowd lapped it up and chanted with him. We felt a bit perplexed by the situation but enjoyed it all the same.
The train journey back to Tokyo was just over 4 hours. Luckily I purchased a Chupa Chup lollipop before we boarded which was so hard to open it kept me and Juna baffled/occupied for a good half an hour. The rest of the time we caught up on some much needed sleep.
We then arrived in Tokyo mid rush hour with 2 big suitcases and had to cross the main square to get to another station. Worst idea ever. By the end of it I was feeling light-headed after using 90% of my oxygen apologising to people for running over their feet.
After checking in at the hostel we spent the evening in the Shinjuku district, our favourite spot for Tokyo nightlife. Just outside the station was a crazy magician with bleached blonde hair. His comedy was better than his magic and when he pulled a member of the public out of the audience to take part he was completely out-shined. But he still managed to pull in a big crowd who loved the free Saturday night street show.
After a wander around the mad Shinjuku, which included accidentally ending up in a very sleazy area where in the establishments you had to pay 1000¥ an hour for their 'services', we made a hasty and tired retreat to the station. At the station I ended up having to hold in laughter more than ever. A poor women went down the 'up' escalator and ended up running on the spot and staying in the same place for a good minute before getting taken back up again completely exhausted.
After a long day with a lot of traveling we are having an early(ish) night. Tomorrow we are checking out the Anime District and getting food from the game themed cafes there which should be a lot of fun.
Akihabara & Asakusa
The 20th day of our travels started at 7.30am with my feet sticking out the end of the ridiculously short duvet and the fire alarm going off. I guess thankfully it was a false alarm but I couldn't get back to sleep.
The first place we visited was Akihabara, known as the Anime & Manga District. Although unlike Juna I'm not into Anime or Manga I appreciate the dedication and artistry so was looking forward to it. It started well when we went into an arcade and played a full size bongo game while dancing to the J-pop soundtrack.
We then wandered down the main street venturing into the different shops. Although I didn't know what to expect and went in possibly a bit naively I was extremely surprised. The games, comics and DVDs on display featured 99% only women and the large majority were portrayed in a sexual way. Most of the places we went into had a 'seedy' and sexualised atmosphere. We went into a DVD shop and on the floor specifically named 'foreign kids films' (we were looking for Harry Potter..) there were Japanese adult movies on most of the shelves. Juna who was really looking forward to the district felt really disheartened. It wasn't all bad just not what we had in mind, our western upbringing may have affected our perspective but we probably won't be going back. At least we found Harry Potter and I got served by the most flamboyant cashier I have ever seen, so definitely not all bad.
On our way to lunch we saw a grown man pulling along a toy Pokemon in his shoe without a care in the world. It definitely brightened our day. And we had lunch in the most brilliant cafe where you sit looking at a huge globe slowly rotating in front of you.
After a brief stop at Ueno, which has a beautiful park full of rivers with giant fish and small tortoises we headed to Asakusa. We have never seen it in the daylight and returning was definitely worth it to see its famous temple. There was a long line of people queuing to pray and there was a lovely chilled, Sunday evening atmosphere.
After getting lost and having a healthy dinner (below) we found a riverside walk which takes you through the centre of Tokyo with views of all the skyscrapers. I've never known such a busy capital city have so many quiet spots to enjoy the views. After working out what all the skyscrapers were and getting our bearings we headed back to our hostel, where we are just about to go to bed after making friends with the 2 guys staying next to us in the 10 bed dorm. Eric and Eddy from Germany who are extremely sweet, intelligent and even updated us on the price of the pound!
I am absolutely knackered as you can probably tell from the writing so for now a good night sleep and more exploring tomorrow.
Today we began by waving off our new friends Eddy and Eric as they left to make their way to Mt.Fuji. And with Juna bandaging her blister up using one too many plasters making it look like a dramatic war wound we were ready to go.
We first returned to Ueno park, home of the National Tokyo Museum which houses original Japanese artworks dating back centuries. Unfortunately we got there and it was a children (plus their parents) only day. We considered tagging along with a Japanese family but thought it may look at bit too obvious. So instead we enjoyed the free entertainment of the park buskers. There was a brilliant band made up of 3 women whose energy and enthusiasm in the heat was as good as their musical talent. Their rendition of Under The Sea was a particular favourite. The most hilarious bit came when a cute kid started dancing with the band, but temptation proved too much and he starting stealing money out of their box. This led to his mum running up embarrassed and teaching him how to return stolen money.
We've both been wanting to get a few souvenirs from Japan so we decided our next trip should be to the Skytree. A massive, mad shopping centre in the base of the tallest tower in the world. On the subway I got talking to an Australian guy who had just arrived from Korea. For the first time I was the one able to give advice on where to visit, I felt the pressure. I was extremely jealous, after Japan he is traveling through Indonesia and then around Europe.
We then arrived at Skytree and started the most successful shopping spree. We got everything we wanted including a Tokyo mascot teddy bear and some clothes. Although by far the worst purchase we made was ice-cream. We both got different flavours but had the same reaction. Despite the flavours being tasty both ice-creams had a weird fishy aftertaste. Something which doesn't go well with tiramisu flavour. After a few spoonfuls I had to throw it away.
This evening we met our friend Shiori who lives in Tokyo. We were planning to go for dinner in Shinjuku but it was too busy and crowded as it was the Godzilla Japanese sequel premiere. There was security everywhere and film fans camping out. So instead we took the subway a couple of stops to a smaller suburb and home of Shiori's favourite sushi restaurant.
The restaurant works by you taking a ticket and waiting for your number to be called (a bit like a glamorous Argos) but as our number was so far down the line we decided to visit the arcade next door while we waited. Within the arcades are crazy photo booths which make you stand in ridiculous poses then lets you edit them. Although initially sceptical it turned out to be a good laugh and it prints out stickers of the photos for you to keep (or throw away never to be seen again).
The restaurant was brilliant with the sushi conveyor belt winding around all the restaurant booths. The food was really tasty and super cheap for Tokyo, it came to £14 for all 3 of us, and you don't tip in Japan so a cheap night out all round. The weather is meant to be bad tomorrow so we're going to plan the day in the morning.
I am writing this tipsy and tired after toasting our last night in Tokyo. So apologies in advance.
We woke up on our last full day here in Japan to rain. We thought this might hopefully make it easier to leave but somehow I doubt it.
We got ourselves ready in the cleanest and most uncreased clothes we could find and headed to Harajuku (the trendy district). We first visited the main shrine there. Unlike most of the others we've seen it wasn't at the top of a hill (thankfully) and was instead set among a forest backdrop. Even in the rain it was beautiful and Juna and I managed to get through the full praying process without getting the steps mixed up.
The main shopping street was bustling with teenagers and a few tourists. All the shops were wacky with most dedicated to a specific cartoon character or socks... It didn't take us long to get into the shopping spirit including the buying of novelty socks.
We then felt we should see Tokyo's Imperial Palace before we go. By the time we got there the palace was shut but most people we have spoken to said its not worth going into the palace as the gardens are better. The gardens were huge and took us an hour to look round. They surround the castle and the moat but are full of bugs that want to bite you. It's weird having such beautiful gardens and an Imperial Palace in the middle of modern high rise buildings.
Having walked and shopped most of the day we stopped off at an independent burger restaurant. The burgers were so good Juna wanted to go in for a second one but just before she did the zip on her fanny-pack broke and she lost the courage too.
For our final night we headed to Shinjuku where Juna got her wish of more food. We watched it being made right in front of us as we sat in a small bar drinking Japanese spirits and vodka. And rather dramatically as Juna took her first bite of noodles, Celine Dion came on, all very bizarre and weirdly not the first time we've heard My Heart Will Go On this trip.
We then left to get the last train home while coming up with hypothetical reasons we can't get on our flight tomorrow. After stocking up with midnight snacks at the local convenience store we had to stumble around the 10 other beds in our dorm in pitch black to get to our beds. Hopefully we didn't wake anyone up, but from the shuffling I heard I think we may have.
Day 023 & 024
Tokyo & Flying Home
Our flight home to England (via Dubai) was at 9pm so we planned to spend the day with our friend Shiori, as she lives in Tokyo it was a sure thing we would find where and how to get the train for the airport.
Our last day summed up our experience in Tokyo. We battled our way through the busiest train station in the world, followed by the busiest street crossing in the world. But as usual it's all worth it to see the temples, the stunning scenery and meeting the lovely (99% of the time) locals.
Shiori took us all around Shibuya and Harajuku showing us all the cool stuff we didn't know existed or missed the first time.
Shiori then took us to Harajuku park, it was filled with people playing volleyball, singing and having picnics. It seemed like a perfect time to sit down and take it all in before we left Japan. Both being illustration students Juna and Shiori drew and I took some photos (which you can see on my website).
With 23 hours worth of traveling ahead of us we knew we were going to need energy and food. So we opted for over-the-top crepes. It's apparently very fashionable to walk down the main fashion lane in Harajuku eating a crepè. I ordered a chocolate brownie, banana and whipped cream crepè. It was delicious although the majority was whipped cream so I consumed my weeks calories in one go.
After a sad goodbye to Shiori and her pointing us in the direction of our first of four trains we went down to the platform. Just as the train approached Juna started stamping madly, the kind of stamping you do when you have pins and needles. Only this was triggered by her feeling a bug in her shoe. She panicked thinking it might bite her, sat down on the platform and whipped her shoe off. Luckily it was an ant. But by the time this discovery was made our train had been and gone.
To make up lost time we got on the airport express train which although a little more expensive is as informative as you can get. It tells you which terminal your flight is and the easiest route to the gate.
After a very long wait to check-in which included Juna's bag breaking we made it to our flight. I optimistically took my shoes off and buried myself under the complementary blanket and planned what films to watch. But we then experienced the emergency lighting as the electrics failed, this repeated 3 times until Nelly Fertardo blared across the speakers letting us know the electric was back up and running again. We then took off, everyone was a bit nervous but we were assured the issue was solved and sure enough we arrived in Dubai safe and sound at 3am.
We then had a five hour wait till our connecting flight home. Thankfully we got given a free meal voucher to spend at the airport, so we splashed out on a McDonalds. But as we kept flying through different time zones this ended up being our 3rd breakfast.
We then failed to catch up on sleep in some very uncomfortable chairs, looked through all our photos from the last 24 days and boarded the 7 hour flight home. After watching Deadpool, Spectre and The search for freedom the time seemed to fly by (no pun intended).
I was then gratefully picked up by my mum and Nan from the airport and managed to last till 7pm. I then slept for a solid 12 hours.
As much as I am happy to see all my family and friends I already miss Japan. I would recommend it to anyone who hasn't been. We met all kinds of brilliant people; young, old, on their own, with friends, with family and Japan had something different to offer all of them.
Japan Trip Stats and Facts:
- Hostels stayed in:5
- Longest time awake: 36 hours (climbing Mt.Fuji)
- Photos taken:Over 4000 (including ones used for my time-lapse)
- Mountains Climbed: 2
- Bullet trains: 5
- Weight lost: 1.5 Stone
- Lost maps: 3
- Packets of m&m's consumed while climbing Mt.Fuji: 6
- Films watched on flights: 4 + 2 TV series
- Distance Walked: 367.8km
- Budget per day: £15 (around ¥2000)
- Money left: £0