Back in our ‘hood’ Tokyo

As always (this was our 4th stay in Tokyo), Tokyo did not disappoint. Our apartment was huge and situated back in our favourite hood – ShinjukuGyoen Mae. We even had a table and chairs, which was an absolute luxury. 

With Sheryn’s fixation on anything electronic, we headed for Electric Town  – Akihabara, on Saturday, for an electronic overload. First stop was our beloved Bic Camera – 8 floors of absolutely everything you didn’t know you needed. Head sets and ear buds alone filled one floor! Back on street level, the main roads had been converted to pedestrian use and the place was literally humming with male gaming and geek tokyites. Thousands of people were wandering, lying and sitting in the streets all taking selfies and group pics with a backdrop of high rises covered in neon selling, manga, electronics and sex toys. Seriously crazy place!

Maid cafes are now everywhere in Tokyo, alongside Cat cafes, Owl cafes, Dog cafes and Hedgehog cafes. I was super keen on the hedgehog cafe, but couldn’t rouse any interest from my team. Ever the optimist, I kept at it, but due to resounding and consistent  ‘no’s’ from the team, we always lunched at animal free locations.

We all loved Tokyo, we love the contrasts, the bright lights, the huge parks, the temples, the neon, the orderliness, the craziness, the unparalleled service and in the midst of it – the honesty…no one touches your stuff. Handbags and phones are safe left on tables, luggage is stored at the ends of the trains and is still there when you get off, lost items are always handed in and cars, bikes and scooters are all parked around the city unlocked. Also a city of much structure – one of our head scratching moments was when we jumped off a ferry a stop early, and had to pay extra because it wasn’t the stop listed on our ticket.  Love you Japan…see you next time!

Tourists in the mist

Hoping to catch a glimpse of Mt Fuji, we reserved the last seats available on the Shinkasen from Hiroshima to Hakone (in smoking) in anticipation of snapping our award winning World Press photographs. Sadly between the fag smoke on the inside and ground level mist on the outside we sped past for the second time arriving at Odawara photoless with heavy lungs and a smokers cough.

Never mind, I bouyed the team, we’ll get a great photo op tomorrow, high in the hills of Hakone. A toy train, a cable car, a gondola, a pirate ship across the lake, a bus ride, 34°, sixty million kids and chinese tourists, all in a misty rain so dense we had no hope of seeing our feet let alone Mt Fuji. 

We did happen upon one of those great serendipitous moments though when we jumped off the toy train at the Hakone Open Air Museum. It was a fantastic sprawling park with hundreds of outdoor sculptures from around the world – truly amazing! And of course we had the best photo op ever the next day at Odawara Castle – with the Princess, the Ninja and the Samurai – so all was not lost!

Peace and cranes

So we are on the bullet train to Hiroshima and an American guy asks if we can change some US dollars for Yen. Tony said no good to us mate, Sheryn dismissed him as bat shit crazy and I got chatting to him. He is on pilgramage to create and take 1000 origami cranes to the Hiroshima Peace Park to leave at the Childrens Peace Monument. He needed the yen to buy a bento box to make crane number 974. Newly blessed and with much new wealth coming from our Kyoto offerings, I donated to Crane 974 – click this 

Peace Park was very beautiful and very moving, refreshments were obviously required, so we frequented a little Italian cafe for mojitos on the parkside daily to reflect.

Our apartment was absolutely enormous, we just ran around like kids on arrival, it even had a traditional japanese dining room with tatami mats, cushions and rice paper doors.

Decided to throw in a trip at the last minute to Myajima Island, thinking it was just a couple of stops on the tram and would be nice and quiet….1 hour later we arrived at the ferry port, to find that the rest of Japan and their extended families were there to join us.

Kyoto revisited

Snuggly sardined into our new lodging in Kyoto we undoubtably have the world’s smallest bathroom. 1.2 metre squares includes bath sink and toilet – what it doesn’t include is leg room or head room. Even by japanese standards this is small! Still, the apartment is cute and we soon adjust to our little space. Albeit it is an open door policy with the bathroom…there was no room for the Saunders thighs in that space!

We buy good fortunes, Buddhist rosaries, tie up bad fortunes, buy incense, candles, and wooden prayer plaques. We pray, wash, clap and throw endless coins into wooden troughs (good luck, health and wealth does not come cheap in these parts), we feed deer, pat cats, and bow to foxes…finally over the course of 4 days we turn our lives and luck around – we are wealthy, healthy and wise and apparently I will be a better driver. 

It is a thirsty business bettering oneself, so one needs plenty of beer and whisky stops to reflect on ones new found fortunes – rooftop bars, back alley bars, basement bars and vending machines all go a long way in the rehydrating process.

Wrapped in plastic 

Blitzed the airport, the Narita Express and the Metro to arrive comfortably just outside of 8.00pm to a warm summer’s eve of 33°.  Three double beds for mama, papa and baby bear – and some serious apartment space by Tokyo standards (I booked ‘large’ anticipating Sheryn’s luggage, but was staggered to see only one bag thrown into the boot when we picked her up from home).
Desperate for a beer, we went to grab some from the vending machines that we knew and loved from the last trip – only to find that with the impending 2020 Olympics the Japanese government are cleaning up Tokyo…the bras, knickers, toys, food, booze and the thousands of other crazy items you could previously vend, have all gone! Only green tea, water and soft drinks remain. Our local Lawsons, Family Mart and 7 Eleven have a large amount of our yen instead. 

So Tokyo is being cleaned and renovated. This already immaculate city is getting an extreme makeover: train stations are being renovated; sculptures and fountains, scrubbed and cleaned; temples and tori gates wrapped in plastic and scaffolding; copper roofs are being polished. The only unkempt thing in the city is the inside of Sheryn’s suitcase.

So after lots of laughs, a few fails, much scaffolding, much plastic, many trains, a boat trip, surviving the metro at peak hour with luggage and many hours of dehydrating with cold beers watching people – we are now sitting on the bullet train heading south to Kyoto.

Kanazawa bound

Tony refused to leave our island paradise. The lawns around his yurt needed maintaining and he imagined a little kayak business out front. However, my credit card was starting to mould up from the humidity so we were Kanazawa bound. The town bus, ferry, two local trains and the bullet were a breeze in reverse, 5 hours later we arrived. 

The 16th floor of the Kanazawa sky hotel was luxury, we had a bed (not a tatami mat), we had a buffet (not a charcoal grill), we had 6 floors of shopping below us including a food court (not a 20 minute walk to a food stall) and we had a lobby bar with staggering views (not a vending machine). But the best bit by a long shot is the ‘loop bus’ because we couldn’t get lost. With map in hand and a couple of coins, we spent a couple of days exploring. 

In between being professional tourista’s, Kanazawa threw us a couple of gems. The annual Kanazawa ukulele festival was a great find. Turn after turn of Japanese groups, playing ukulele and doing the hula in full island get up. All turns began with the Japanese version of the pacific welcome ‘aroha’. The second was the Kanazawa acapella competition. This meant 100’s of Japanese boy bands banging out American pop hits from every corner of the city for 2 days. With Karaoke as the national pastime here, there were some great pipes.

The funniest by a long shot though was the Ninja temple. Ninja’s I now realise were very small…Tony is not. 5 levels over 2 floors, 26 hidden staircases, and many trap doors and pit falls were fascinating for our little japanese tour group and myself. Tony however, kept banging his head on the low studs and getting his considerable bulk stuck in the narrow staircases, on the plus side however he was never going to fall down ninja size trap doors or pitfalls. Sadly a ninja he will never be!