A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: jasbar

Day 7

Kurashiki

rain 19 °C
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When packing for Japan we decided to include a few boxes of Carman's muesli. Sometimes when travelling all you want to do is get a quick breakfast in your tummy and get on with the day. So it was time to break out the muesli. What was hilarious was we forgot to pack anything to eat it in or with figuring we'd just use the cups they give you in the rooms to make coffee. Ok that worked but unfortunately this being Japan, like the kid in the matrix, we soon discovered there is no spoon.

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Time for some ingenuity, we went downstairs to the convenience store (named love drug convenience)

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and got some ice creams in the hope he'd give us some spoons. Nope wrong again we got wooden popsicle type sticks to scoop it with. Fuckit that'll do, and we managed to scoop our cereal into our mouths and get on with our day trip to Kurashiki.

Inauspiciously it started with much confusion on the train when we got off at the wrong station. We were in the first carriage and because of the rain and the windows being misty we couldn't see what station we were at. This was one of those rare times we didn't work out the number of stations between embarking and disembarking so were a little out of our element! But we soon got that sorted and arrived in Kurashiki on the next train.

The main attraction of Kurashiki is the ancient merchant quarter, called the Bikan historical area. It was really quite beautiful. It's a small area of preserved merchants houses alongside a canal. By the time we got there it was raining but not unpleasantly so.

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After wandering around for a bit we decided it was time for lunch. We searched around and everything looked good but we kept looking to see if something looked better. Eventually in one of the back streets we found the place we wanted to eat at. There was a bit of a wait until a table became free (always a good sign) and eventually we were seated. We both ordered a set which consisted of tempura, udon noodles and a seafood rice mixture which had mussels in it. Accompanying that was a local malt beer called doppo, which was modelled after german beer.

Needless to say the ensemble was just amazingly good.

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After lunch we checked out Japan's first modern art museum, the ohara. It contains masterpieces by El Greco, Monet, Matisse, Gauguin, and Renoir. Needless to say Vanessa was in her element, she loves that stuff. :D

With that done, we wandered around a bit more looking at the shops. Bought a nice bottle of local sake which is 70% alcohol (save that for tokyo!). And called it a day.

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Posted by jasbar 01:29 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Day 6

Okayama


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We both awoke to muscles protesting loudly to the punishment we'd subjected them to the day before. Before this trip the most exercise i'd been subjected to was the steep (but short) hill on the way to thai restaurant near work. In any case it does feel good getting amongst it and waking this tired body up and it surely must also be doing the blood clot a world of good too! Though it will be a lot easier once I shake this cold. Thankfully the cough is gone and now it's just a runny nose I have to worry about.

There's not really that much to do in Okayama, our plan was to use it as a base for short day trips but one of them was put in the too hard basket due to the infrequency of the public transport to it. So the first day we decided to go see the famous Korakuen garden which apparently is rated one of the best in Japan.

Not really much to say about this sort of thing so I'll leave it to the pictures.

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Once we had finished in the garden we decided to check out the castle. (yes they also have a castle). It's a castle that was rebuilt in the 1950's and wasn't as impressive as himeji. In the end we decided to just be happy with a look from the outside and skip going inside. Also I had a feeling the princess was still in another castle.

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So the only thing left to do for the day was go see something Vanessa wanted to see, the Yumeji art museum. Suffice to say once inside I had a cursory look at each of the paintings before finding a nice comfy couch to read my book from while Vanessa looked at everything in far more detail than my attention span can handle.

Once that was done it was time to hit the hotel and spend the rest of the day chilling. We just read our books and watched some more dexter on the netbook to recharge our batteries.

Posted by jasbar 00:48 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Day 5

Himeji Castle

20 °C
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Day 5 of the trip arrived with a sniffle and a splutter. My cough has turned into flu like symptoms and I am having visions of being snatched off the street by over vigilant japanese health officials and forced to wear one of those silly masks. The only thing worse than getting a cold/flu while on holiday is doing it in a country that appears to be full of hypochondriacs. In a country where it's bad form to blow your nose in public it really does make it awkward to go out with a nasty cold.

In any case we kicked off the morning with the free buffet breakfast which consisted of a couple of sausages, a few pastries and a slice of pineapple accompanied by a few topped up glasses of orange juice. Then it was time to check out of the hotel and hit the castle.

Our hotel was on the opposite side of the station to the castle, with the station about half way between so our plan was to go to the station, put our backpacks into a locker and then head on to the castle. When it was time to head to Okayama we'd just have to come back and pick up the bags and jump straight on a train. We didn't think they'd fit at first as the doorway is narrower than the storage area but we managed to squeeze them in and could now get on with the touristy stuff.

As you walk up the main boulevard that leads to the castle you soon start seeing glimpses of it through the trees. It was amazing to learn that where the station is used to be the outer wall of the castle. Unlike alot of other castles in Japan which have been rebuilt in modern times, himeji has actually survived the tests of time and is most impressive.

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We pay our entry and start by walking around the outer baileys and courtyards. There are plenty of signs explaining the various aspects of the castle and what their role was during sieges etc. Before long it was time to take off the shoes and begin the climb to the top.

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There were something like 6 flights of "stairs" to the top. Now these stairs were more like ladders and wearing my slippery compression sock with my huge feet on these tiny little stairs sure made it interesting. I made Vanessa follow behind me so if I fell I'd have something soft to land on.

What really struck me about the place was how crap it would be to live in it :D. It's actually quite small inside the main donjon and would have been quite stark.

Once we got to the top I was most disappointed to be told the princess was in another castle.

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Next up was the gardens next door called Koko-en. If there is one thing the Japanese do well is they know how to do a good garden.

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What was cool was while we were there some couple in their top gear.

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By this time the combination of that punishing climb and my cold/flu had taken it's toll and I was ready to get on the train and move on to Okayama. So we picked up our bags got our tickets and headed on.

Once we got to Okayama it was only a short walk down to our hotel (Kooraku hotel). We checked in and rested our aching legs before gathering the energy needed to go looking for food.

We left the hotel and walked for ages and the only places we could find were izakaya's (pubs) basically. Oh and a mcdonalds. After 40 mins of fruitless searching we said fuckit and had maccas and it was shit but at least we could now just go to bed.

Posted by jasbar 00:04 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Day 4

Bye Takayama on to Himeji

overcast 13 °C
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Up at 6am we decided to check out the jinya mae morning markets in old town. We jumped in a taxi and got dropped off directly at the markets. The air was very crisp and we were both chilled to the bone but it really did add a certain charm to the whole atmosphere. The markets are a small number of stalls where the farmers wives sell their produce every morning. Vanessa bought an apple the size of her head!

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Before leaving the markets we decided to try some mystery food on a stick we saw the locals buying. Turned out to be these warm glutinous balls that were quite soft and chewy. Funnily enough they tasted like vegemite!

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We spent the next 2 hours wandering around takayama looking for somewhere to eat breakfast (and get out of the cold). Unfortunately as it was a sunday nothing was open before 9am and most of the restaurants weren't due to open until 11.30am. Still it was nice walking around while the streets were empty (kind of eerie with the fog).

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Just when we had given up and decided to eat rice crackers we came across a small window that sold hida beef sushi on a huge rice cracker. It was basically thinly slice fatty beef, hit with a blowtorch for like 3 seconds and then put on a thumb of rice. Two of these were then place on an oversized rice cracker plate. It was truly delicious, we ended up going back for seconds. Before leaving we picked up some takeaway sushi for eating later.

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Appetite sorted we headed off to the north end of takayama where there are a cluster of temples and shrines.

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Had a bit of a wander, took a few photos and then it was time to go back to the hotel to get our bags. We were booked for the 12:45pm train to himeji our next stop. We decided to give the green cars a try (first class) which really aren't that much different to the regular non-reserved seats. The trip is around 4.5 hours all up which includes a train change at nagoya. I spent the first hour catching up on the travel diary on the netbook with the rest of the trip spent watching tv shows on the netbook.

The train change at Nagoya was a bag of lol's. Only 10 mins to find the next platform (of which there are 18 altogethor, we arrive on platform 3). It's a big corridor of platform signs all of which are in kanji, so we start to panic and run to the end where there is a big board showing all the trains and we find ours but again the platform number is in kanji. Vanessa finally asks someone who tells us we have to exit this part of the station to get to platform 16. So after two failed attempts to exit the station (turns out when you have 3 tickets for the journey you put them all in the gate at once and it keeps what it needs and spits out the rest) we finally manage to get on the correct train to finish our journey to himeji.

By this time I am actually starting to get sick. I have a dry cough and am now feeling that head fuckedness you get when sick. We drop our bags at the hotel and grab a quick bite to eat. I get seared whole squid and chips, vanessa gets chicken with shallots and bean sprouts and we split a gyoza. All washed down with a few beers and a cold sake. It was time to find a chemist, get some cough syrup. After much pantomine and fumbling with phrasebooks we managed to get some medicine. Although for all we know they might have given me some hemroid ointment that is to be applied externally or even better has a massive warning beware may cause anal leakage. My acting never was very good.

By this time I am well and truly ready for bed but getting back to the hotel room we realise the air conditioner is broken and it's very hot. Luckily the windows open so we open them up and go to sleep in our very tiny bed. Not even the drunks laughing from a nearby balcony could keep me from falling asleep.

Posted by jasbar 14:29 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

Day 3

Takayama

sunny 22 °C
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After a restful sleep it was time to pack the bags and get ready for our trip to takayama. But first breakfast. The room came with a free breakfast so we headed down to see what we could find to eat.

On offer was a mixture of japanese and western fare. The japanese fare was clams in soy sauce sitting inside a triangle of rice. We try to be adventurous with food while travelling but clams first thing in the morning is something I wasn't quite up for so corn flakes and pastries it was.

Breakfast out of the way it was time to see if these tickets actually worked so we headed across the road to the station. The guy stamped both tickets and we made our way to the platform. We boarded the train, picked a random seat and prepared for the trip to takayama.

The trip to takayama is around 90mins by train and contains some of the most beautiful scenery you could hope for. During autumn the trees are awash with colour and there seemed to be something to look at the whole way. I managed to not play with my iphone or my computer for the duration of the trip.

We arrived at takayama around 9.33am expecting to meet the shuttle bus that would take us to the hotel. Unfortunately the bus runs every hour on the half hour which meant we either wait for the 10.30am bus or we take a cab. We went with the latter, which thankfully only cost 1120yen. We dropped off our bags and grabbed the shuttle back to town which left at 10.10am.

First on the agenda was the hida folk village. This is basically a preserved village from the edo times set in the mountains amidst a beautiful forest. Essentially what they have done is taken intact buildings from around japan and moved them to this locale as a sort of museum of japanese architecture.

The village is around 3km's from the centre of takayama up in the hills. You can either take a bus or walk and we decided to brave the walk. We find when travelling some of the best things to see are the things you find accidentally while on the way to somewhere else. This was no exception, we took a little detour on the way up the mountain and found these quaint little stores. We first stopped at a pottery store and bought some platters, chopstick holders and a few cups. Next was a kimono store where vanessa bought an obi.

We arrived at the village and paid our 700yen entry fees and proceeded inside. It really was a beautiful sight. There is a lake as a centre piece in which you can see coi carp trying to beat the swan to the breadcrumbs other visitors were throwing into the water.

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We wandered around the village for a good couple of hours looking at the various buildings and seeing what life might have been like living in a village during those times.

By this time we were getting hungry and footsore so decided it was time to head back. Now the whole time walking around the village we could see in the distance a massive shrine (world shrine). And there were hundreds of people on it's step so we debated whether we had the energy to go check it out or give in to our stomachs and head back to town for lunch. We decided to go for a look at the shrine and so began the next leg of our journey.

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After about a further 25 min walk we arrived at the shrine only to be turned away and told to come back next week as there was a private ceremony on. (50th anniversary of the grand autumn festival). By this time it was around 1.30pm so we'd been on our feet for around 4 hours straight. With this in mind we decided to take a cab back to town and managed to hail one out front of the shrine.

First priority was getting something to eat so we entered the first place we saw directly across from the takayama station. Probably not the best idea in hindsight. Menu was pretty limited and we both went with a slice of pork on rice that came smothered with mayo. It was alright I guess but there was probably much better on offer if we had looked a bit harder. We washed it down with two suntory malt beers and prepared to check out old town.

Old town is an area of town where the buildings have all been preserved. It's basically a small block of merchant shops set amongst narrow laneways which were quite packed with peopls checking out their wares. We wandered around before taking up the offer of free sake testing inside one of the sake breweries. The sake we tried was quite pleasant, but we decided to gamble on a different bottle to take back to the hotel with us. (a bit too fruity for my liking)

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Old town is not very big so once we had wandered around for an hour we decided it was time to head to the hotel and chill for a bit. By this time it was 3pm and we were quite exhausted. We took the free shuttle back to the hotel, checked in and promptly crashed out on our beds. That night we didn't have the energy to go back into town for dinner so ate at the hotel. The japanese options were far too expensive (5000yen for sushi etc) so instead we went to the lounge bar and had bar food. Which was not particularly satisfying but got the job done. Time for an early sleep.

Posted by jasbar 03:35 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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