A Travellerspoint blog


A day in the clouds..

overcast 20 °C
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The clouds last Sunday morning could not deter us - armed with our "Hakone Free Pass" and 3 friends (Kim, Bel and Anita) we headed West towards Hakone to enjoy mountains, beautiful green forests and amazing views. In theory these views include Mt Fuji - or Fuji-san as it's called here, which translates to Mr/Ms Fuji - but unfortunately the clouds reduced visibility to next to nothing! Initially this upset me a little as we have still yet to see this iconic mountain at all- but the clouds were so low and mist-like that they really added to the experience and made the whole place even more atmospheric.

We started our exploration of Hakone by taking a pituresque but slightly packed train which wound its way up a mountain. About halfway we hoped off to take a look at the "Hakone Open-Air Museum."This ended up being one the highlights of the day for me and Matt, in fact maybe even one of our favourite things in Japan so far. The museum is a breezy sculpture park with views on misty mountains and forests, and which houses works by the likes of Rodin, Moore and Picasso. It also has indoor art galleries, a beautiful tower/work of art whose walls are a glass mosiac, and a foot-bathing area! We highly recommend taking the time to have a wander around this beautiful and refreshing museum if you are in the area.


Next, we continued on the pituresque train-ride (after some confusion that lead to us going back a stop by mistake), then took a "cable car" which was actually a funicular train and then a "ropeway" which to my great relief turned out to be cable car. What a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon: floating over misty forested mountains.. until the mist got so think that we could hardly see the cable our car was attached to! And then, just as we cleared the clouds, we looked down to see what appeared to be a mining wasteland on the side of the mountain with steam spewing out of it. This and the slight rotten-egg smell of sulphur told us we were our next destination: an area of volcanic hot springs.


We had a quick wander around the barren hillside - just long enough to take in the bubblihg hot pools of sulphuric water fed by hot springs, but not so long that the sulphuric fumes got the better of us - signs everywhere warned tourists of the potential deadly nature of the steam! All we suffered from was slight nausea beacuse of the smell, and we even survived long enough to buy and eat some black-shelled eggs. These eggs are boiled in the bubbling volcanic water which turns their shells black and also endows them with life-lengthening properties - each black egg that you eat apparently extends your lifespan by 7 years!


Content that our lifes would now be 7 years longer (except for Matt whose egg-allergies mean that eating one of the black eggs could actually shorten his life with immediate effect, or at least make it uncomfortable for a few hours!) we continued our cable car ride down the other side of the mountain. We alighted at a town on the shores of Lake Ashi - a scenic lake set amoung mountains from which you can usually see Fuji-san but the clouds thwarted us again!

Still, we got to cross the lake on a pirate ship!! Kistchy perhaps, but the 45 minute boat trip appealed to the child within! We attempted to spot some red tori in the water (gate -ike Shinto structures) and saw 2, but neither were as impressive as we'd hoped!


Once we got off our pirate ship (complete with a distorted map of the UK with Scotland bigger than England which delighted Matt) we took a short walk down an old "Cedar Grove" and imagined ourselves Samurai back in the day!


I had wanted to try out an onsen (naked hot spring experience - single sex mind) but it was getting late and the others wanted to head home so we hoped back on a funky train - funky because the front is all window - and chatted about how succesful the day had been for the hour-long train ride home!


Posted by meli1984 08:22 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Kamakura capers

sunny 27 °C
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Just SW of big bustling Tokyo is the beautiful and tranquil coastal town of Kamakura.. tranquil until sunny weekends when hordes of Japanese daytrippers descend on it to enjoy its temples, views and general zen-ness. Last Sunday, a perfect day of clear blue skies and bright sunshine, we joined the Japanese tourists and decided to explore it ourselves.

Kamakura is famous for its many Zen temples set in a stunning background of green forest and Japanese gardens. Highlights include beautiful wooden Zen Buddhist shrines such as those at Kencho-ji, Engaku-ji and Tokei-ji temples. The latter temple used to be a refuge for women who wanted to divorce their husbands - the husbands were not allowed on temple grounds and if the women stayed for 3 years then they were granted a divorce - this was the only way they could get one at the time. We spent the morning wandering around temples, taking in the beautiful structures and carvings, and above all enjoying how green and airy the temple grounds were. It made such a difference from the very urban experience of our everyday life here.


At some point near lunch we bumped into someone who teaches for the same company as we do and whom I'd met at our training days. We had a quick chat and then parted ways because Matt and I went to have lunch at a local Soba restaurant. Soba is a very healthy and very yummy kind of noodle which is made of buckwheat - a particular favourite of Matt's. We then headed to the next temple where we bumped into Marina again while gazing at a Zen garden.


The three of us spent the rest of the afternoon exploring more Zen temples, a museum and a Shinto temple. The Shinto temple was a bit brighter and brasher than the Zen ones, but still magnificent in its own way. One thing I particular love about Shinto temples are the written prayers on wooden tablets. For a small fee you can buy a wooden tablet called an Ema to write a short prayer or wish on, and then hang it up with everyone elses. Apparently the practice originates from the mediveal times when wealthy people would donate a horse to the temple when making a large request to the god of the shrine. If the request was of a smaller nature it was customary to give a picture of a horse, and these pictures evolved into the Ema we see today, many of which still have a horse drawn on them, although pictures of other animals, arrows etc are also popular these days. In any case I always find it touching to see hundreds and hundreds of written prayers hanging together, each and every one representing something very personal and very important to the person who wrote it.


After indulging in some ice-cream we caught a train to the other side of Kamakura to see another famous temple, called Daibatsu, which houses a giant Buddha - and his giant flipflops nearby! While the architectural style in Kamakura (and indeed in all Japan) is very different from Thailand, some of the Buddha statues we saw in Kamakura were very similar to those in Thailand. At one point both Matt and I audibly gasped as we saw a Japanese man rub his hand on the head of a Buddha statue, only to remember we were no longer in Thailand where it would be inconceivable to touch a Buddha statue's head!


By then the clear skies had covered over and it was threatening to rain, but Matt and I decided we wanted to check out a nearby sea-side town called Katase and nearby island called Enoshima before heading home. Katase wasn't all that exciting, but would make a nice trip to the beach in the daytime, and it is perhaps a little exagerrated to call Enoshima an island as it is connected to the mainland by a short big bridge. We did a quick tour of the usual sea-side shops and restaurants, grabbed a bite to eat at very funky hippy cafe and then headed home in time to get a good night's sleep!

Posted by meli1984 06:45 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Further escapades in Tokyo: Oeno and Akihabara

Tokyo National Museum, Oeno Zoo and camera shopping :)

sunny 27 °C
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We were on a mission today: to find a replacement for the lost/stolen camera, and see a little more of Tokyo while we were at it.

The search for the camera began (and indeed ended) in Yodobashi Cameras in Shinjuku, but from there we decided we should see if we could get a better deal in Tokyo's reknowned Akihabara Electric Town which as a short hop, skip and train away! Akihabara is an area which has become famous for its many many electronics shops - ranging from teeny tiny stall-like ventures to big, shiny, neon-lit affairs. In recent years, other areas of Tokyo have also become (smaller) electronic hubs, and internet sales have also added to the competition but Akihabara is still going strong. It has made-up for the short-fall by spreading into the manga market too - now side-by-side with the electronics stores you can find throngs of shops dedicated to comics of all kinds (from the very innocent to the very, erm, not-so-innocent). The sheer volume of comics they house, and the fact that they seemed even busier than the electronics shops, are testament to Japan's love affair with manga.

After checking a few shops we realised the best deal yet was at Yodobashi Camera so we decided we'd pick up the camera on our way home, and in the mean time we headed for Oeno, just one stop away.

Our overall view of Oeno was a pretty pleasant one: it has a bit of a cultural vibe - due to the many museums there - as well as a sort of "pleasant sunday stroll" feel - due to a nice park, a zoo and generally leafiness. We first headed to the Tokyo National Museum which houses the world's largest collection of Japanese Art. The grounds and various buildings of the museum were altogether lovely - though this was probably enhanced by the clear sky and bright sunlight which was causing mini-rainbows by a fountain. There was a temporary Leonardo exhibit and many many Japanese were dutifully queuing for an hour in the blazing sun to get a glimpse of some masterpieces. Being blazed Europeans we skipped the Leonardo extravaganze ("been there, done that.. in Italy no less!" Aren't we brats?) and headed to the permanent collection.


All in all I think it was a perfect museum: floor 2 was titled "Highlights of Japan" and it offered just that - a collection representing the history of Japanese art with just enough pieces for each era to give us a real feel for it without getting to the yawn stage. We saw very early pottery art, Buddhist art, kimonos, armour and swords, woodblock prints, fans, masks and screens - just about everything you imagine when you think of Japanese Art!


After this cultural and educational visit, we decided to go somewhere that appealed more to the children within us: the zoo!!! First stop in Oeno Zoo: the giant panda. He (or she?) is a much loved and very famous inhabitant of the zoo, and we saw him munching away at bamboo inside and away from the sun (clever animal! Do pandas ever get skin cancer? no! now you know why!)


We then wandered around looking at lions, tigers, elephants, birds, monkeys, gorillas, bats, polar bears, sea-lions, penguins, prairie dogs, otters and something called a "lesser mouse deer" - google it, they're very cute! Some of the enclosures seemed a little small but most of them were decent-sized. That said, we reckon one the tigers was clearly going insane from cabin fever, as were the two polar bears, which was very sad to see. But we were cheered up by watching the monkeys and prairie dogs (who seemed very happy and active!) and also two rather cute squirrels!


On our way home we swung by Shinjuku to buy the camera so we are now proud owners of a beautiful and technically exquisite Sony T100! Which means hopefully you'll be getting some fantastic photos of our excursion to Kamakura tomorrow!


Posted by meli1984 08:20 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

A laid back couple of weeks

Weekends as usual

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Nothing too exciting to report, but here's an update for our more avid readers..

The weekend before last had a night out in Machida (city v close to where we live) on Friday and on Sunday we attempted a trip to the beach - I say attempted because we took a rather round about way! We met up in Tokyo with a few fellow teachers (Kim, Bel, Ken - and later we were met by Anthony) only to realise none of us knew exactly where we were headed! So we jumped on a train to Chiba and eventually found our way to a stop that we thought had a beach nearby. At the station we asked our way and eventually wandered down to what was being touted as a beach: it was no more than a slimey bay with a little sand, surrounded by factories and industrial buildings and complete with locals in wellies digging for clams. As none of us particularly wanted clams for dinner (especially clams from toxic water no doubt), we headed one stop furthur down the train line. There, after more wandering, we found a lovely park/beach area sort of place.. which was also housing a day-time rave in a mini-arena area! It was very surreal to see people dressed for clubbing and dancing away to thumping tunes in the middle of the day. After some ramen for a much needed lunch we lay on the beach for a couple of hours chatting :) no photos though as this park/beach place was where the camera was lost!

This weekend we celebrated another teacher's birthday (Colin) on Friday by going to a yakiniku (absolutely delicious type of restaurant where you grill meat on a small bqq at the table, yum!) and while chowing away on bbq'd beef we decided it was time we sampled some Tokyo night-life. So Saturday night we headed into Shibuya, Tokyo to party the night away with Ken and Bel. We had planned to go to a club called "Ruby Room" but at the last minute we were (easily) convinced by Matt to go to "Womb" instead - more expensive maybe but DJ mag rates it as the 7th best club in the world, it has the largest mirror/disco ball in Japan, and that night 2 well-knowned Djs would be there. We had an absolutely rocking (or should I say techno-ing) night! It was very very packed so we mainly hung out in the "lounge" area, where we enjoyed the mixing of an excellent local DJ, and we were also close to the club's vending machines! That's right, the club had a vending machine that served beer and these amazing fruity drinks - I am particularly fond of the grapefruit variety! We eventually crawled home at about 6am, tired but armed with many an anecdote! Sunday was spent, predictably, sleeping!!


PS If you are wondering how we are taking these photos: using my old 2 megapixel camera.. still does the job :)

Posted by meli1984 07:12 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

CyberShot R.I.P.

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Some sad news today. For the time being there shall be no more pictures of our travels, because our trusty and reliable old friend, my sony cybershot digital camera, has been lost.

The cybershot is still out there, it's just that somebody else has the use of it. Strange thing is, that the person who took it abandoned the camera case it was in.

Anyway, our blog must go on, so we are already eyeing up the replacement: a Sony T100. Good prices for cameras in Japan!

ps. should you wish to contribute to the "new camera" fund, and thus keep our blog as pretty as can be, please send cash by carrier pigeon to:

"new camera" fund
Pigeon Hole "Matt and Meli"

Posted by meli1984 07:06 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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