Photos from our second trip to Japan, 18 March–2 April 2005 are on Flickr
Arrange to rendezvous with F at Hammersmith station, but he's a bit late in turning up because he's caught the train going in the wrong direction. I manage not to panic, but am extremely relieved to see him when he arrives. The platform is full of people headed for Easter holiday, lots of rucksacks and trolley suitcases. The trains to Heathrow are already packed, but we manage to squeeze our way on. Easy check in, but not great seats, all the window seats are taken already for Paris to Tokyo flight. The check-in lady recommends we ask at Paris again. Trundle about duty-free and come up a cropper trying to buy Yen, as there are not direct flights to Japan from the terminal we are in. Dixons sell us a rather pricey transformer (which turns out to be utterly useless) and an adapter plug for our camera's battery charger. The flight to Paris is fast and painless and full of South Africans, who are catching a connecting flight to Johannesburg in Paris. Its my first time at Charles de Gaulle airport, what a beautiful building. We disembark from the plane in glass tubes, the terminal building is lit up with neon, everything looks very futuristic and clean. The interior of the building blows me away, the roof is exceptional, its all white, metal tube struts and amazingly lit up. Its late, after 23:00. We manage to buy enough Yen for a day on our credit card, but have no idea what the exchange rate is like, because we're buying in Euro's. Hooray, I manage to get our a window seat on the plane. The seats also turn out to be the first row of economy, so lots of leg room for Francois. A nice Japanese office lady type, dressed in suit sit next to me. Fairly good flight, uneventful, the meals unexceptional. We try to stay awake during the flight, watch stupid movies, Maid in Manhattan, new Bond movie etc, read guide books and practise useful Japanese phrases under my breath. F feels ill shortly before landing and just when I thought he'd gotten the better of his nausea, he was ill, albeit very discretely as is his style. Its still light outside at 18:18. Highly efficient exit from the airport, all luggage is reviewed before we're allowed to depart the airside of the terminal, fortunately we are not asked to unpack our bags like some most people. Notice that everything's very clean. The ticket booth for the NEX is directly in front of our as we exit, the nice uniformed lady speaks English and we buy tickets. She say we will make the next train to depart, which is at 18:50, only 6 minutes to go, which meant that it wasn't too far to go. And she was right. We had to hang around on the platform for the cleaning staff to finish giving the train a once over before we are permitted aboard. Plush seats, aeroplane style, smoky windows. At the next terminal a bunch of Australian tourists sit opposite us. We are suprised and relieved to find out that this particular NEX will make a brief stop as Shibuya station, thereby saving us the hassle of commuting from Shinjuku to Shibuya. I'm relieved because crowds and distances between platforms at Shinjuku are legendary. We take a few minutes to get our bearings at Shibuya station, but soon find the signs indicating the exit for Hachinko Square. The Tokyo city atlas proves to be indispensable in figuring out our location. The crowds on Hachinko Square are large, its a bustling balmy Friday night scene. Lots of funky kids and we are dazzled by the Neon and big screens that kick Piccadilly Circus's ass. Meanwhile F has made a full recovery and has hit his second wind. I don't actually get to see the statue of the dog that the square is named for, but focus rather on trundling behind F as we push into the crowds and head for the huge pedestrian crossing. Its a long walk up a huge wide road. Lots of slightly drunk kids, beautiful and cool jostling laughing flirting, but all very polite and non-menacing. Its a struggle with the luggage, we get separated a couple of times, but eventually the pedestrians peter out and the sidewalk is relatively clear. We are pretty sure we've come the right way, but there's always that niggling feeling maybe we got it wrong. We are both very tired, but buzzing with adrenalin. Its a long walk but we are delighted when we finally spot Fukudaya Ryokan. There is an old Japanese lady and an Indian lady on reception. They are very welcoming and I fill in the form that give me, we also amend the booking slightly. Pay for the first nights accommodation. Need to pay the rest tomorrow or as soon as possible. We kick off our shoes, leave them by the step, and put on the fake leather indoor slippers, mine are dark green, F's are light brown. We are in room number 23, its up a flight of stairs and F loses his slippers a few times as we are going up, he'll hopefully get the hang of it. Amazing heavenly sight to see to huge futons all laid out. We leave our slippers near the entrance and walk just in our socks into the room. On the right is a small toilet cubicle, with its own bathroom slippers, its tiled. Then a sliding door of wood into our tatami floored room. The room smells so good, like a freshly thatched hut. There's a small cupboard, a recess in the wall to hang clothes and store luggage, a tv, a hilarious looking phone, a low table with a tea pot, vacuum flask, tea, cups, rice crackers on a small tray and this room has four rice paper shoji towards the windows. When they are open, there's another space, with a polished wooden floor, a basin, a huge widow looking out onto the street and the entrance to the bathroom. The bathroom has a bucket, a small basin with a mirror a shower attachment on the wall and a very short but deep bath. Have a great shower, really hot, good pressure. Then we venture out in search of some grub. we passed an AM/PM store on our way here and head for that. Its a bit like a 7/11 I guess. Its pretty late, so their stocks are low and there's not much of a choice left. We buy riceballs (fillings are a mystery), noodles, fried chicken pieces, litchi jelly and volvic water. The green tea in our room is delicious. The food is only so-so, we throw a lot away. Watched TV, a music show, like MTV and go to sleep around 23:00 local time.
We both wake early, I have a hard time falling back to sleep. City noises keep me awake. I get up take a shower and wash my socks and bra. Its balmy still, manage to nap some more and we eventually get up at 5:00. The hotel is still asleep, but its very light already outside. All the guests shoes are lined up neatly at the front door. We walk down a side road trying to make for the Citibank, past lots of night clubs that just evicted their lingering patrons. Lots of cuties, some very drunk. We eventually find the bank, but have no luck getting the automatic doors to open with our credit card. Saved by a local guy needing to withdraw cab fare. We are surprised at how many people are about this early. We are wearing our least good pair of shoes for the fish market. I read it's a very wet fishy place, so shoes can get a bit mucky. Easily find the Ginza line to Aoyama itchicome station, but once there we think we've followed the right signs but we can't seem to get to the platform we need, the Oedo train to Tsukiji-shisho. Eventually I ask a Japanese lady, with the help of the Tokyo City Atlas, she takes us all the way to the correct platform, fortunately she also gets on the train. Easy ride the rest of the way, lots of other gaijin at Tsukiji station. We are unsure of the right direction to take after exiting the station, but decide to follow the Japanese folks carrying large box like grocery baskets, lined with plastic that smell fishy. We get a bit lost, but find ourselves in the external market. It hardly feels like 6am, so many people about, hustling and bustling. Lots of spice stalls, see a water filled tray with fresh was wasabi roots, mini dried fish stalls in different colours, pickled vegetable stalls, brightly coloured. A stall selling huge shavings of dried bonito, like sawdust, different grades and size of shavings. We wonder around the market proper for over an hour. Its huge and overwhelming, almost no fishy smell at all. In fact its smells of warm wet tar, the filthy diesel fumes of the couriers carts and cigarette smoke. Its dark, but everywhere lightbulbs are strung along, the ceiling is high, but the individual stalls are pretty self contained spaces, a bit higgledy piggledy, like being in a shanty town. And everything is wet. The walkways are very narrow and people are trying to work, jostling back and forth, wearing aprons and galoshes Try to make ourselves as inconspicuous as possible and stay out of everyone way, but it hard to stand still anywhere, so we are constantly moving, and lose our bearing hopelessly. So much to see, the fish are incredible and so fresh, some still thrashing about on chopping boards. Fascinating tiny little shrimps, minuscule fishes, huge octopus, squid in a rainbow of colours, crabs, shellfish, an immense variety of seafood I've never seen before. People mostly friendly, one guy shoves me aside to get past, but mostly people are friendly and smile. Especially when taking photos of their stall and wares. Fantastic knives and skill, most people have what I imagine is a fish instrument of death hanging from their belts. Its got a knobkirrie on one end made of wood and a long handle which ends in a nasty looking metal hook. It gets a bit claustrophobic and my legs are tired now. We try to leave, but have to walk around the outside of the market and it's a huge place to find our way out again. When we eventually escape, a coke from a vending machine revives us and I wipe my legs clean of fishy juices with a wet wipe. Indispensable. We walk back to the external market to a sushi shop we passed earlier, with other gaijin in it, and decide it's a safe bet, as they are probably fairly used to foreigners. Free hot ocha (tea), and a very helpful welcoming waiter. All the sushi chefs, call out a welcoming message as we enter. The great waiter saves me from a clam soup when I tried to order miso soup and rice, and an English menu appears. Its really nice, cause we're tired and not up to struggling too much, but in cheerful moods. I have bonito sashimi with a bowl of rice and F has the assorted regular sushi selection. Very good, bonito is so clean and fresh, rice is super sticky and the wasabi is tremendous. F wields his washi (chopsticks) like a champ, and munches his way through the sushi, including the soy whey parcel which really impressed me. He gifted me the raw horse clam and the raw squid sushi, which wasn't too my taste either. To end the meal I said "sumimasen, agari o kudasai" as recommend by our What to Eat in Japanese Restaurants, another indispensable book. Sushi was quite cheap. When we leave, we take final turn around the external market and spots lots of really super traditional sushi places and feel kind of sorry. The place we ate it was really quite cheap and cheerful, fluorescent lighting, melanine tables etc, whereas these are wonderful wooden bar counters and stools with soft lighting and intimate atmospheres. Head for Hama Rikyu garden, which is much bigger than we expected. Fantastic old trees, peonies about to burst into bloom in huge mesh cages. Must try to come back next weekend to see the peonies all in flower and maybe more traditional sushi (v. impressed with F eating sushi for breakfast). a 300 year old Japanese black pine tree. Trees are bound with cloth? We realise its only 35 minutes till the ferry leaves for Rainbow island, so we have to whiz around the garden, it's a pity not to view the garden leisurely, but is reminds me of Hyde park in that the trees are plentiful and big, but there's not too much detail. Some parts very manicured, but not the degree I imagined it would be. The pond is spectacular though, its tidal, attached to the harbour and murky with green algae gloop. Marvellous. We cross over the bridge and past the tea house, no time for tea and sweet yet. It's a bit hazy already, very bright white light. Quite a few chaps with tripods taking serious photographs. A middle-aged couple ask me to take their photo and they return the favour. F keeps pointing out the skyscrapers around the park. We see some lovely blossoming trees. I go for a pee in the ladies, which is a beautiful wooden structure, with slates and openings to see the nature outside. What this means though is the floor of the cubicle and the water in the loo is pink from the blossom petals that have floated down. Its very pretty. We head back for the ferry that departs from the garden's pier. We are the only gaijin passengers. There's a bunch of cute little kids and toddlers on board, obviously on a day out, perhaps headed for Disneyland. We drink a horrible cold cha from the vending machines, its so bitter. On the top deck of the ferry, its very windy, the water is choppy and we get wet from the spray a few times. The kids keep running about and yelling, its too fun. We disembark at the maritime museum and proceed on a bloody long walk across Rainbow Island to Tokyo Big Site which we really should have skipped. There wasn't anything really remarkable to see and it used up my last energy. A brief siting of a lovely long haired dachshund was uplifting, but I'm really nearly dead from walking. We revive a bit at a coffee shop first, the bathrooms have a lemon smell, or maybe I'm delirious. Its so blissful to be sitting, I scandalise F buy putting my feet up on the seat of our booth. Some time around 12 am we enter Big Site. It's a strange looking place from outside, like upside down pyramids, but the actual halls are down in the basement. Its a huge place. A Japanese band is on the band stage, all dressed weird in black and playing loud freaky music. We strike it lucky by going into the most creative hall first, when I still have some energy. I'm starting to be too tired to stand an look at things. Enjoy the first hour and half, but last 3 ˝ hours are deeply miserable, unbearable pain in my legs and very hungry. Really regretting physical state, cause not really able to enjoy the art. Eat naan and curry and coke which saves my life. So many cuties, crowd watching is a pleasure. See really funny guy with a huge carbunclish phallic looking "instrument" that houses a speaker that he plays and sings along to some popular local tracks. Traditional dancers. They're so passionate. Very funny. I practise my phrases: "Suki desu" (I like it) and "Kawaii" (cute). Most people blushing and grateful for comments. Lots of the same stuff, but I really like the guy who painted Octopus love scenes and some of the textiles really amazed me. People energy and enthusiasm really amazing. Some people are obviously professionals, illustrators, designer and the serious hobbyist and then joe public who just made something, a statement. Too much cute manga style stuff though, a lot of the same stuff. F buys me two lovely pins (which turnout to be giant buttons) of swallows, also buy a lot of postcards. A bit distraught by the time F is finished, he always take longer. My feet and shines are cramping badly, I start blubbering and need to sit down, its all a bit too much and then I have a spectaculour nose bleed. Aargh, feel completely hideous and sorry to let F down. Figure it's a nasty combo of tired, mother nature, and time-shock body pushed to the limit. We catch the driverless train (Yurikamone Line), F is ambushed by his fatigue and nods off mid sentence. It's strange and he's missing the amazing sights going over the Rainbow Bridge. I keep waking him but he keeps nodding off. Incredible views. Easy interchange at Shimbashi onto the Yamonote line to Shibuya. Walked straight home, streets slightly less crowed, but is early still and they are just getting warmed up, but we were asleep on our feet. Blissed out to be back at the hotel. A very hot bath is followed by a killer nap of 2 hours. We force ourselves awake at 8pm, I feel unwell since Bigsite, worried I might have a cold, my skin hurts, I'm all shivery and emotionally frail. Sore throat threatening. Is this the dreaded SARS? F calls Joe, Yoko's friend after lots of language prepping in the room. We arrange to meet next Friday for a rendezvous at his restaurant. The Indian lady at the reception shows me where the hotel's onsen is (hot bathes for soaking in) and she recommend Denny's for dinner. We are actually headed for a Japanese fast food joint called Yoshinoya and a look around Shibuya at night, but I'm too knackered so we go to Dennys. Its serves mostly western food with a Japanese twist. Our meal is safe, but boring only redeemed by the amazing fresh juice, kiwi and mango. We buy some coke, water and another of those jelly desserts. Earlier today we tried our fist green tea ice cream. Interesting. Watched telly, sublime climbing into the super clean crispy cool sheets and sleep 23:00 to 04:30. Try to nap again, but no good. Have a cup of ocha.
Napped again, and watched some early morning telly. We left hotel early and walked along the back of Fukudaya, where we found the bus stop indicated on our map. Several young Ginko trees newly planted on the sidewalk. On Dogen-zaki we have breakfast at a small diner, took photos of the waxworks, but inside there's no waiter only a vending machine that spits our a ticket. We're a bit flummoxed but a beautiful funky Japanese man with some serious alcohol still on board from last night and a cheerful smile helps us out. He reminds me of the "Hairy's" in the Otomo comic. I showed him the picture on the camera's small screen of what we wanted and he found the button on the machine we wanted. So we ordered two Japanese style breakfasts, pay the machine and two tickets are spat out. We sit at the counter looking out over the street. On the way here we stopped to look at the fish in the tank at the Fugu restaurant. The fish looked a bit mangy. Shortly after we are seated, a waitron emerges, took half of our tickets and gave us cups with cold ocha. There are huge jugs of cold ocha on the tables and tiny booths. The breakfast is a set, grilled cold salmon (with some nasty bones), a bowl of sticky rice, a bowl of hot miso soup with sea weed and tofu, some steamed watercress-like vegetables, pickled seaweed, roasted nori strips and a bowl of natto. The waiter showed me where we can get rice refills, in a huge rice cooker in the corner. The cool guy and his friends finish their breakfast and leave all saying "bye-bye" to us. Cute. Francois tried the natto first and in a way I was a bit sorry, because I was to chicken too after he did. It looked pretty nasty with all those little gooey sticky strings, like melted cheese. F said it had a salty, soy sauce, seaweedy mushroomy taste, not a clear taste in particular, but very strong and lingering. The texture put him off too. He ate lots of rice afterwards. After breakfast walking along Dogen-zaki, F realises its not as warm as he though it was and it worried about being cold all day. We've unfortunately come too far to easily walk back to the hotel so we decide to buy him a sweater somewhere. I'm too hot, flushes. We find a shortcut on Dogen-zaki through Mark City mall to Shibuya station. It has a spectacular entrance with a sculptured wave-like tunnel of angle blue perspex and mirror boxes. There is a sea of commuters further along inside the mall. We are headed for Harajuku and its an easy commute with the Yamanote line. Schoolgirls on a Sunday in uniform? Maybe they weren't real schoolgirls. Some of them had terrible knock-knees, something I see a lot, strange when combined with the elegant and fashionable outfits. No fruits just hanging about the station just yet, but I think we are too early anyway. Its around 8am. We walk to Yoyogi park where the Meiji Shrine is. There is a huge cedarwood Torii made from Taiwanese cedar. Its huge, a tiny old gardener is sweeping leaves off the wide gravel avenue that leads under the Torii and onto the shrine eventually. I'm sure he'll be busy for an eternity before the job is done. It starts to drizzle slightly, but we are protected by the enormous forest of trees on either side of the avenue, they nearly completely cover the road even though its very wide, like a four-lane highway. The trees are mature, some are maples and we had no idea they could get so big or tall, like the oaks in Stellenbosch. There are quite a few ladies in traditional kimono's, with white tabi socks and sandals, which have a clever little plastic sheath to protect the delicate sandals from the dusty gravel as well as keeping the socks clean and dry. We walk under a second Torii, this one of local yew and quite a lot smaller. There is a display like a billboard advert of sake drums stacked on top of each other. All the kimono ladies turn in at the Meiji Shrine inner garden, but we head on for the shrine itself. We've timed it perfectly, it's a hugely popular tourist destination and its practically empty. As you stand in front of the main entrance there is a hut when you can purify your hands and mouth with water before entering the shrine. Cute little bamboo dippers to scoop up the water with. On the right another hut, but empty except for white zigzag paper strips hanging from the rafters. The entrance is spectacular. There is a man in elaborate uniform sitting very still in a open room. Later we saw a traditionally dressed man greet him and exchange something in a formal ceremony. The woodwork and carpentry is incredible on the huge doors and gates. Priests or people attached to the shrine wander about dressed in all white traditional outfits with strange black hats. Incredible camphor tree in the huge courtyard surrounded by prayer wall. Here prayers or wishes are written on wooden plaques and hung on the wall to be presented by the priests to the gods. There were quite a few in English and German. To our delight a wedding party starts to enter the courtyard we are in. Fabulous costumes. The bride walks under a huge red umbrella held by a priest, all very solemn, but all around men in suits run around like mad taking photos. Very formal walking to beating drums, a small party of guests very glamorously dressed. They disappear into a part of the building not open to the general public. We go up to the final courtyard which is very elaborate and small in comparison to the large and stark main courtyard. Here the worshippers, throw coins noisily into a collection box, clap their hands to get the attention of the gods and pray. There are stalls selling charms in little silk sachets. There are charms for exam writing, safe driving, healthy baby etc. As we leave, realise that the shrine is rapidly starting to fill up with tourists. We head off for the gardens, buy F is not very happy because he's getting cold. There is a little wooden hut where we buy our entrance tickets from a lady. There is a bundle of green sticks or reeds each about a meter long on the counter and I ask her what they are for. She indicates they are for the crows, who we can hear squawking in the trees. There is a profusion of blooming azaleas and blossoms behind the trees, but we follow the path to the empress's fishing pond. There is a formal tea house, full of those kimono ladies we saw earlier (I suspect the tea house is by appointment only, a long sloping lawn down to the jetty on the pond. On the lawn are huge manicured round azalea bushes. The pond is full of huge fat koi fishes, they swarm to the jetty in the hopes of an easy breakfast. Skim across the surface of the water with their gaping mouths. We don't see anyone else while we are in the garden except for the crows. Lovely stroll around the garden, including a peak at the iris section, for which the garden is famous, but they won't bloom till June. The irises have been very carefully tended and laid out in a massive bed that resembles a river, lots of twists and turns, and leading down to the fish pond. It will be a spectacular display when they do bloom, pity we miss it. I use the loo and its one of the squat variety, my first attempt which goes ok but its hard on the knees. After the garden we walk past the Meiji treasure house, but don't go in. We do buzz into the shop, but don't hang around too long. We head back to Harajuku and have a cup of coffee at the beginning of Omotesando, more for the pleasure of sitting down than for the coffee. We backtrack a bit to get to Takashita dori, the fashion alley. Loads of people inspite of the drizzle. The look and feel is a bit like Camden market and Neals street, expect that it's a narrow pedestrian alley. The costume shops catering for the fruits are amazing, frilly maids uniforms, pink and baby blue Alice in Wonderland dresses, scary goth outfits. Francois buys a Japlish long sleeve t-shirt and feels a lot warmer. I also buy a transparent yellow brolly. They seem to sell disposable everything here. We try in vain to find Takuya Angel and probably waste nearly an hour looking for it. We ask several people and it turns out we must have walked passed it quite a few times, it has a small sign and its up a flight of stairs. To my huge disappointment though its not open, after all that extra walking. We go into a book shop on our way back to Omotesando, selling mostly manga, cd and dvds, all Japanese though. The sales staff, are constantly chanting hello, welcome etc. Its very noisy but very cute at the same time. We don't buy anything, but F does try to find a cd he's looking for. Omotesando is a huge boulevard, very beautiful and wide with mature trees crowding out the light. Its posh too, like Knightsbridge. First we go to the Ota Memorial Museum of Art, its in an street off Omotesando. It's a small museum, we have to lock up our dripping umbrella in the stand outside the door, it's a very clever device. We also have to exchange our shoes for slippers which we place into little lockers with keys. The museum is so clean, I guess its only really possible to have a cream carpet when you insist the patrons swop their shoes for slippers. It's a small museum, lots of woodblock prints, many coloured demanding serious skills. Very impressive. Legs already very tired again. As we leave we notice that there are slippers in large size, which would have probably helped F considerably. Next stop is Kiddyland, a huge 5 story toy shop. F goes ape over all the Ghibli stuff and wants to buy all the little dishes and an Totoro tetsubin (iron teapot). Lots of Heidi merchandise too, very nostalgic. The shop is a merchandise heaven, each character or film is represented they even have a Disney section. Mobile phone cover and accessories, towels, bedding, toys, cutlery, sweets, pencils, toothbrushes and hairbrushes, jewellery, aprons, slippers, cds, and incredible array of products. We are hungry now, so we walk past the Oriental Bazaar and head for a conveyor belt sushi restaurant that Yoko recommended. Sushi is great, but almost gag when I eat a raw hamburger sushi F picked, mostly I think because of the slimy white sauce that coats my tongue. Ick. Watch the sushi chef make natto and raw quails egg sushi, but it still looks horrible to me. Fascinating to watch the sushi being made. Quite a bit envious of those people who are able to order directly from the chefs, instead of just take from the conveyor belt. The chefs call out a greeting every time someone leaves or arrives. There is a hot water tap and box full of green tea bags. A bowl full of ginger. Delicious lunch and very reasonably priced. Back to the Oriental Bazaar, it full of other tourists. They have some really nice stuff, lovely crockery but I don't want to buy this stuff so early on in our trip, besides I might find it cheaper at the 100 Yen store. I buy a packet of paper balloons and a dragonfly tetsubin from Iwachu. We walk the length of Omotesando, it's a long walk and I'm really tired. The shops are so posh, all labels like Chanel, Issy Miyake, Yves St Laurent etc. The result is of course some incredible window displays and stunning architecture. The buildings are amazing, some understated and some very show off, but the trees is what makes this boulevard so really amazing. We withdraw some money at a Citibank cashpoint. We are headed for the Nezu Museum of Art, but we only get there at 15:30, its only open till 16:30.The garden looks incredible, its still drizzling so we decided to do the museum really quickly. It renowned for its painted screen collection. I like the wisteria screen most of all. The screens are covered in gold leaf and then painted onto. The ones with only trees and plants are my favourite, they are remarkable for their naturalism and restrained compositions. There are also hunting scenes etc. The screens are made up of two separate screens. We finish the museum and head out into the garden and its exactly as you imagine a Japanese garden to be. There are lots of little tea houses and tiny rooms, but most are not open to the public. The garden is on many levels, lots of sculptures, mature trees, mossy. There is a fish pond and many paths to follow. Its getting quite dark, as the trees shade out the remaining light and the clouds get heavier. Many ladies wearing traditional kimono. We take a lot of photos. In the shop we buy some postcard and a sheet of Miffy stamps. Next we are headed for Aoyama Cemetery, but we turn off too soon into the first graveyard we find only to realise it can't possibly be the right place because its too small. We spend quite a bit of time here though, there is a black cat. Find our way back to the road and across a bridge over the highway, but I'm pretty miserable by now, the pain in my feet is really bad from all the walking today. We search for the foreigner section in the main graveyard, which is huge. We stopped at a major intersection of roads bang in the middle of the graveyard I think, but we have to make a guess as to where the foreign graves are. We get lucky and find it, F is looking for a grave of somebody in particular, but we can't find it. We decide to head for Tokyo hands to sort out our battery charger, they are open till 8pm. Break down on the way to Tokyo Hands we walk the wrong way out of Shibuya station. Feet are agonising. F finds an ice cream place to sit down in called Sweden. Other couples are eating amazing little ice-cream dish with green tea ice cream and dark red beans, but the menu is only in Japanese, but there's a picture of it at the till so F orders us some. It is green tea ice cream served with a hard jelly-like sweet rolled in powdered macha with a dollop of sweet red beans in a thickened sauce. Eventually we find Tokyo Hands, where the battery charger issue is sorted out, fortunately the transformer can already handle the reduced voltage, all we need was an adapter. Hooray. F looks at a robot and talks with the sales guy for ages, who speaks with a heavy American accent, his English is excellent though. I spy a seat on a bench behind one of the many demonstration tables where customers are making stuff under the tutelage of DIY-master. These guys are making lamps with washi, all the materials are supplied and they just construct it, but still is pretty neat. We buy some more postcards, which we must send off soon. Decide to walk back to the hotel and find a place to eat on the way. Very tired now and cold. Happily we find an amazing place to eat. I'm reluctant to go in anywhere, being to tired to have to struggle to figure out the menu and order etc. All goes well though, it's a small place only enough seats for about 15 patrons .We sit at a bar that runs the length of the place, its all in red, low lighting. The staff give us beer and leave us alone for awhile while we consult our What to Order in Japanese Restaurants. They have pictures in the window of gyoza, and the basic menu in the book comes to our rescue. We order yaki (fried) gyoza and suii (boiled/steamed) gyoza, spring roll and bang bang chicken. Delicious and filling and the staff is super nice. Behind the bar counter is the kitchen, so we watch the food being prepared. Its so great. Walk up love hotel hill, and even go in to one to look at the pictures of the rooms available. They aren't really kooky or weird enough for us to want to part with 4,700 Yen though. Apparently the love hotels in Tokyo are pretty tame compared to elsewhere. I'm holding out for the Hello Kitty Love hotel one day. We buy melon Haagen Daz, dried squid, bananas, water and F gets another jelly, he's addicted. This one is a fruit cocktail with cubes of jellied coconut milk. We think we might be lost, but find our bearings again and approach the hotel from behind. Relieved to be back and decide to try out the onsen. The lady at reception brings a sign to hang on the door for us to indicate that its occupied. Its lovely and hot, steam billowing out of the door. We take of our yukatas and slippers and sit on the little plastic stool in front of the taps on the wall and proceed to shampoo and scrub ourselves clean. Then after a thorough rinse we climb into the bath. Its stainless steel and big enough for both of us to sit with our feet stretched out and backs against the side. The water comes up to our chins. We wait until we look like we've been boiled and then head back to our room where I pass out on the futon. Sleep really well, but wake up once with back pain and notice that feet feel bruised. Worried about that, but then again we did walk for 12 ours today.
Woke up early again. Sorted out our stuff and struggled to wake F. Felt sore all over and realise I have a possible cold on board, but Codis seemed to do the trick and I felt better, if a bit fragile. We're of to Ghibli today and F is almost popping out of his skin with excitement, but at the same time he is sympathetic to how bad I feel. Our first trip to Shinjuku station where we catch the train to Mitaka. Pleasant walk down Dogen-zaki and then through Mark City again. Its overcast today, but not drizzling. Its an easy commute with the Yamanote line to Shinjuku. We hunt for the Odakyu Sightseeing service, and find it quite quickly, but purely by luck. We arrange our tickets for the Romance Train for Tuesday and ask a lot of questions about the Hakone Weekday pass which we also purchase. The Japanese lady is very helpful and speaks very good English. Next we search for a place to have breakfast, but go on a wild goose chase up and down lifts and elevators trying to get into the depato which has a coffee shop. I get really irritable again, and we end up in Starbucks with no view. Some horrible pastry but at least I'm sitting down. The main problem was that we were in the heart of the departo capital and they only open at 11:00, we could probably have found somewhere better, but I was too tired to search. Caught our train to Mitaka, very easy commute, slept on the train. At Mitaka it took a bit of wandering around the bus station before we spotted the Ghibli bus stop. The little crowd of kids smiling from ear to ear was a dead giveaway It has its own ticket machine and three officials in uniform assisting with ticket purchasing, getting people to queue orderly underneath the brightly coloured awnings and herding them onto the buses. There was quite a queue and we had to wait for the next bus. It's a short ride, supposed to be a fifteen minute walk from the station, but we pass by park that has the most amazing sculptures, later we find out it's the same big park that Ghibli is in. Feel really sorry we didn't go for a walk around the park later, but we were too knackered. At the museum we hang back a little and enjoy the brightly painted building, we make the mistake of not checking out the Totoro entrance, and forget to go when we leave. Bummer. As you enter the complex, staff are greeting and directing you, we present our MyBus receipt and our passport, and receive our tickets, mine has a film strip with three frames of the robot in Laputa and F's has Sen in the river god's onsen room. The main entrance has a fantastic fresco of flowers and fruit and Ghibli characters. At the counter are wooden platforms for even tiny kids to stand on so they can be served. Sweet. We leave our stuff in a locker in the pretty courtyard, F finds a mysterious little paw print in one of the floor tiles. And in we go. The first stop is the permanent exhibition room, the most amazing zootrope ever and all kinds of neat displays, where you have to peep through keyholes and open shutters and crouch down to appreciate something from a four year olds perspective. The display go some way to explaining how animation works. There are a few short films, one in particular about fishes eating other fishes, looping, which is excellent, but I can't remember the rest. Lovely Joe Hisaishi music. It's a delight to watch the zootrope and to marvel at how clever it is, so much happening and so many clever little details. Next back out in the main hall again which is four floors high, with a huge skylight up top. There's a spiral staircase going up only and a bridge connecting two parts of the building. Also a bureau and you discovers sketchbooks in the draws that you can peek at. Its fun being in a museum where you can open things and touch and discovers stuff. There is a low doorway and I go through it while I wait for F to finish looking at the permanent exhibition, it lead through and even lower doorway and a super tiny sofa and chair. A bit like being in Alice in wonderland. Then we went up the spiral staircase and found the life-sized catbus, a soft toy jungle gym for the under sevens. I spent ages just sitting here watching the cutest little kids, dressed like little dolls, playing till their fringes were glued to the faces with sweat. All their little shoes lined up in row at the edge of the installation, they could climb inside and on top of the bus and slide down the nose in the front. And there were those little black puffballs soot sprites from the beginning of Totoro, grapefruit sized and perfect to throw and collect. Too fabulous. The sun broke through the clouds and we took the opportunity to bask in it and appreciate the roof garden in the extra light. The roof garden is accessed by another spiral stair, and there's a huge replica of the robot from Laputa set in the small garden. There's also a copy of the cube from the heart of Laputa with funny writing, very solid. Lots of other people also taking photos while the sun was out. Back inside we discovered the bookshop, all around there are secret doors leading to nowhere, doors with mirror behind them. A lot of fun. Also got to fully experience the joys of Japanese loo's, most loo seats in Tokyo were warmed, but those in the Ghibli museum were rolls Royce's! I got to rinse, blow dry, make the seat warmer or cooler and play the recorded flushing noises to mask any tinkling sound I might be making. I tried everything twice. Tee hee. Bathroom fittings were wonderful too, taps and basins were French design style. There is a lovely little patio just outside where the catbus is parked, with sculpted insect like benches that have a handle you can turn and it makes a rattling clinking sound with big glassy eyes. There's also a water fountain with a platform for smaller people to stand on, but I had to suppress many a giggle when the over-zealous (intentionally?) water fountain soaked some poor thirsty soul. Looked in the background painters room next, walls plastered with pictures and notes and a desk with watercolours squeezed out onto a palette and reference material all around. Then through a room that contains all the original bound storyboards from all the Ghibli films so far. Hundreds of leather bound volumes. Then into the animators room, where there's a desk covered in reference materials and pictures and bits of pictures and all kinds of knick-knack like old phones etc and lots of little demons, stress demons, fat little cupids peeping out, very cute, but very funny too. This room shows more of the cell process, there's desk for sketching, tracing different frames in a sequence to suggest movement. There's also a bit that shows how the colourist works, who were traditionally women. Lastly the drawing and conceptualising room of the director. It's a cluttered space, full of dusty old leather-bound books, oddities like globe world maps, fishing gear and all manner of antiquated equipment. The walls are plastered with pictures, photos and sketches, it's a very atmospheric space. All the rooms have a single window looking out onto glorious trees. Then there's a few more hanging pictures on the walls and the very crowded shop. Lots to discover here too, but we decide to hold back from buying too much stuff, because Kiddy Land seemed to have more choice. I do buy 6 Totoro pin badges. We have lunch, but on our way to the restaurant we realise there's a huge queue of people waiting already. So we opt for the much shorter fast food queue. We end up having pretty good hot dogs and what looks like cold tea. The tea is actually cold roasted barley tea and tastes quite hideous. Its almost impossible to drink, but we realise that we may have to just gag the stuff down, because its not possible to pour it away. I am so very conscious of not doing the wrong thing here, people just exceptionally polite and pc. We are watched a lot of the time and the garbage is even more scrupulously separated here than in Germany. So we gag the tea down, rather than make a faux pas. Later I notice next to the plastic, paper, biodegradable, tin and glass bins a smaller one for disposing of unwanted fluids. Drat! In the temporary display, there is a focus on the fantastical moving machines in the Glibly movies, lots of diagrams and even a short film. The was a model of a human powered aeroplane, like the Kiki's Delivery service. There were quite a few mini documentarys on tv screens including showing how the bicycle-plane works. There was also a model of the mine from Laputa, amazingly detailed. We watch the movie in the theatre on the ground floor, its called Mai and the Kittenbus. Very cute, but the cinema is equally amazing, the windows are pod shaped and a cover slides over them so the room is pitch dark. The film is only 15 minutes long. When we come out we've done the whole museum, F buys a bunch of books but agonises of which to get and I sit in the corner to tired to really pay attention to anything anymore. Fortunately its been less walking today, but I've still not recovered fully from the last few days walking, plus I definitely have some kind of cold, which isn't making itself known except causing me to feel seriously fatigue and cold. Can't be helping my energy levels much. We catch the bus back to the station, but its quite late already, we've been at the museum 6 ˝ hours. On the way back we travel a slightly different route and I see a liquor store with a wonderful window display. At the station I tell F about it and suggest we walk back if he's up to it to look and find out if they sell South African wine. We neglected to bring a gift for Joe and I think the wine might be a good idea. F agrees and we make the short walk there. The shop sells an astonishing variety of saki, some beer, hard liquor and wine. Lo and behold we find a bottle of KWV 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon! On the train to Shinjuku F falls asleep and I pick a restaurant in the neighbourhood for us to eat at. There's a place called Suzuya that makes great tonkatsu, which I'm very curious about. When we exit the station its starting to get dark, the neon is just coming on and it looks amazing. F points out the video screen on the Studio Alta building, its huge. We spend quite some time trying to pin point the exact location of the restaurant, its on a very small block in the map of the Lonely Planet guide and we only have the kanji character to match it with. Just when we are about give up, as we're tired, irritable and hungry I spot the little entrance on the side of a building. In we go. We are seated at a table, it's a small venue again, dark wood and great atmosphere. We order ice cold beer and from the well used picture menu. The tonkatsu is amazing, basically its pork cutlet that's breaded and deep fried so that the meat is moist and tender and the coating ultra crispy. Its served with shredded raw cabbage and rice. We eat like there is no tomorrow and use up copious quantities of the spicy sauce. We are also given a tray with pickles. After supper, we decide to wander around Shinjuku, after replenishing some of our energy. It's a bit seedy, but there are lots of people about. We walk down a pedetrianised street, some people are selling manga cheap. The pachinko parlours and arcades are deafeningly noisy and garishly coloured, lots of lights. There's a lot of dodgy DVD/video shops, pink movie parlours, hostess bars and all nude bars, pantyless pubs. Cringetastic but not scary. We did find one shop that gave me the willies, it sold only cute puppies in little glass cubicles and it wasn't a pet store, because that's all they sold. I always feel bad seeing animals cooped up even in reputable pet shops. Lots of dachshund and chihuahua puppies, but sickening really they being sold like accessories. Plenty of trendy girls perusing the wares. I flee feeling horrified and wait outside for F. We head of back to the station and have a rather easy commute with the Yamonote line back to Shibuya. At Shibuya I'm so tired again I suggest we try to figure out the bus system and the bus stop for Fukudaya is really near. We find the bus stop number 17 and there's a but collecting passengers. F quickly figures out how to ask if its going our way and struggles a bit with paying, but we're on. The digital information board inside the bus show the next stop as being close to Hotel Fukudaya, so we relax. Short walk home, but first buy a jelly and Pocari Sweat, an isotonic drink that F has developed a liking for. Great shower first, then we watch tv for awhile, especially fascinated by a program for learning to speak English.
Wake up around 7, and have a hot bath. Clean the room and pack our stuff into our bags, which we will leave with the hotel manager. We are only taking our two small backpacks. We also confirm with the hotel that we will be away for one night and then back for five more. We trundle down the back route toward Shibuya via the love hotel hill, we need to withdraw enough money for Taisekan and then some. It's a nice walk, we go past this little restaurant that keeps catching our eye, its got an English sign telling the story about the "strange Jap-man and his fish". We want to try it out if we can. F photographs the love hotels and we see a funky young couple checking them out, she seems to be very picky. I pick up a fat discarded manga comic and we decide to take it with for the train. Breakfast at Starbucks again! At least this time its on purpose, we have some time to kill before the shops open at 10, so we take up a position in the glass window two floors up looking out over the major pedestrian crossing in Shibuya opposite Hachinko Square. Unfortunately we're not really early enough to see the serious crowds and people traffic jams, but we're feeling pretty laid back today. We write postcards and decide what to do with the time we've got left this morning before we catch our train this afternoon to Hakone. Went to have a look what's on sale in the 100 Yen Plaza, must remember to go back for fake laquerware, crockery and cheap fans. We also find a store called Sakuraya, where we burn the photos on our flashcard onto a blank cd using a self help machine that works a bit like an ATM. Too cool. F flips out a the cool electronics in the store. We look at tiny little digital cameras. On our way to Tower Records we see an amazing looking dim sum restaurant on a corner, the bamboo steamers are piled up on top of each other and steam is billowing out of the shop. It's a bright and sunny day today. At Tower we check out the English sections, there's a good selection of European and independant American comics. On the dvd floor we find the original Ghibli section, relieved they are authentic as we've already seen pirate copies in other reputable looking shops. Plus there are loads of Russian and Czech animation including Yuri Norstein. Lots of cools stuff, but F is very reluctant to buy because none have English subtitles. I get annoyed about that, as I find it highly unlikely that they will every be release in the UK, as the market is so small for that kind of thing. I also find three Joe Hisaishi cds, but F says we can only buy one, probably a good thing as they're not exactly cheap. Its getting really sunny outside, we buy macha ice-cream milkshake from a Haagen Daz shop. They really do make the best green tea ice-cream, its such a funny taste, but great. We have a leisurely commute to Shinjuku again. We ask at the Odakyu Sightseeing counter what the obento is like on the train and we actually get an honest answer, that is not so delicious and bit expensive. If we have time we should go down to the foodhall in the Odakyu depato and buy our obento there. So off to the 2nd basement of the depato. Ah, heaven. I walk into the best food hall I've ever gone into. It seems never-ending, miles and miles of immaculate food displays, (when I die, please God make my afterlife look like this). The shops is divided up into sections, tonkatsu, tempura, sushi, sashimi, yakitori, sweets, world cuisine's just a mindboggling variety. Its really hard to make a choice of obento and it takes along time. Counter staff are constantly calling out their wares, beckoning to you, offering samples to taste. We try dried fish, skate, whole dried shrimps which are crunchy, but not fishy like a bokkom and not nearly so salty. F buys two beautiful Japanese sweets, little green plum like shapes, but look more like little bums. They come in their very own little boxes. Saw bags of tiny little flower-like hardboiled sweets, must remember to get some. We buy a copy of the local English newspaper The Japan Times to read on the train. We were still a bit too early so we waited on the platform for some time. I was a bit disappointed when it turned out we got the flashier EXE business type train instead of the cooler sounding Romance Car. After the passengers disembarked the doors closed and the cleaning staff, dressed in pink outfits from head to toe went to task. When they were done. The seats in the train swivelled to face the direction of travel. Amazing. Our seats weren't great because we only had half a window, which ruined our enjoyment of the view. The scenery was very modest though, we travelled for a long time through suburbia and then farmlands and through towns. There weren't too many serious stretches of forest or nature. We opened out bento boxes and had lunch which was delicious, but we'd ended up buying too much food, and felt a bit stuffed after. Plus I struggled through hopefully my last bottle of the bitter cold tea. The sweets were amazing though, small whole yellow green plum inside. The journey was over quickly, we alight at Hakone Yamato station, we're the only gaijin about and wait for the Tozan train to turn up. Lots of school kids milling around the station in little sailorsuit uniforms with straw hats. The Tozan train is a small train and wow does pass through some breathtaking scenery, right through the forest and then up and up against the mountainside. It climbs up and up and goes through several switchbacks, that's why there are two drivers. We snigger at the sun shining brightly through the drivers pink glowing ears. We arrive at Miyanshita station at around 15:15 and walk in the direction of the main road down a steep walkway. The hotel has a terminal building on the highway about 5 minutes walk further down the road, there's a rowdy crowd of people we saw on the train also waiting there, We are all bundled into the funicular car, there is a strong smell of alcohol, We are all squished in to the car, and even though we are last on the seats are very politely offered to us. Everyone smiling, looking forward to the hotel. The view from the funicular is incredible, the incline is very steep to the river gorge below. The hotel location by far exceeds my expectations, its incredible. We walk across two bridges over the roaring fast flowing river, through a very pretty traditional garden and into the main entrance of the hotel. Here we take our shoes off and put on the hotel slippers and we are shown to our room by our maid. She is wearing a modest kimono, but very pretty, she is middle-aged and make sure we understand everything with the little English she speaks. On the way to our room she points out where the communal onsen are. Our room is much larger than I ever expected. There is a small carpeted entrance hall with a sofa and table and some cupboards along the wall, this is where we leave our slippers. There is a smaller shoji room to the right, but it can be opened to make one huge uninterrupted space. It has a low table, a window with a spectacular view over the mountain and river below, a cupboard and four small safes for leaving personal belongings in. On the left is the larger room with two long low tables and those legless chairs, a pillow with a backrest. There is a scroll on the wall, an ikebana flower arrangement with orange lilies and another window also with a view over the mountain and the river. The maid shows us the cupboard where two yukatas with obi are and white tabi socks for us to wear. There is that delicious smell of tatami here too. There is a part of the room to the left of the entrance hall that comprise the separate toilet (western style with heated seat), a minibar fridge, that we refrained from opening, a dressing room, with mirror and toiletries and a wood panelled bathroom. Most of this section wooden, the floor and walls and doors. The bathroom is rough concrete, but mostly wooded, with small stools to sit and scrub up on before rinsing and a gorgeous deep, but not very long bath. The water runs down a wooden chute and then into the bath. Lovely warm light. The maid asks us what time we wish to eat and we agree 18:30 which is the latest serving time. We change into our yukata's and enjoy ocha and traditional sweet before we head of for our first bath in the onsen. I go into the ladies bath and F heads off to the men's. In the ladies, you leave your slippers and step up onto a platform. There is a table with cold barley tea and cups and also a vanity mirror with toiletries and hairdryer etc. Down the wood panelled steps to the room where you disrobe and leave your belongings in basket and take your small hand towel with you. Through the steamed up glass doors and into the indoor onsen. Along the dark stone walls are taps and soap and shampoo dispensers. You take a wooden stool and a bucket and splash yourself wet, then scrub up as if you really mean it, then rinse. Only after putting the stool bucket back do you head for the hot water. There is a older lady and a young girl who is being scrubbed by her. Inside the onsen are two cuties and there is someone washing in the far corner too, but I can't see because I've left my glasses with my other belongings. It takes me a while to figure out how the taps work, but I eventually get the hang of it. Everyone is friendly but keeps themselves to themselves while washing, friends chat but everyone relaxed and amenable. Slide into the small indoor section of the pool, into only separated by a glass wall just below the level of the water from the outside pool which is twice as big. The pool is lined with rough volcanic rocks also dark like the walls, looks like granite. The water is great, not too hot and after a bit I head outside through the glass doors. The two cuties are sitting out here now, but on the side of the pool with only their legs in the water. They are like dolls their figures are so lovely. There is a much older lady in the water, and she starts trying to ask me questions but it turns out nobody speaks much English and I can't speak much Japanese. We just smile at each other in the end. The outside bath has a roof and a little island in it for putting your handtowel on. Only half of the bath is completely open to the elements, but its delicious out here especially when it starts to drizzle. I'm really sorry I don't have my glasses as the view of the mountain must be dazzling, its so bright with the new spring leaves. Miraculously F and I finish at the same time and meet in the hallway after bathing. We are all dressed neatly in our yukata and tabi socks and over-kimono jackets. The view from our room is of a maple and sakura covered steep mountainside. And from close to the window you can see down to the huge river, the roaring sound is very loud when the windows are open. Our maid arrives to serve dinner pushing a trolley laden with trays, we retire to the entrance lobby to talk about tomorrows itinerary, but really we are feeling awkward and just want to let her get on with it. She comes and goes a few times and then beckons us to sit down. Earlier she had given me a copy of the menu in English which I had perused with interest along with a foreign guests manual to ryokan etiquette. She disappears and we start the aperitif which is apricot wine, in an exquisite honey coloured crackled glass. The rest of the meal is a bit of a blur, there were so many tiny dishes with the morsel displayed with great skill and beauty. Halfway though the meal the maid popped in again to make sure the heated soups were ok and brought a few more heated dishes. There were some great tastes, but I did figure out that I'm not crazy about fu, a spongy wheat substance that's coloured and cut out into shapes. The sashimi is good, the miso soup also delicious and the firefly squid just amazing looking. There is bottomless ocha again. Dessert is a little green tea jelly with a red bean and sugared cherry. I do manage to spill an entire container of soy sauce all over my yukata at one point, the lid was stuck tight and I was trying to open it when it popped open and the contents spilled over the yukata. I was so embarrassed. I had to change and call the front desk to explain "accident yukata soy sauce", but our maid was only very kind and too the soiled yukata and promptly returned with fresh ones. The telephone was underneath a highly decorative embroidered cloth. Lovely little iron pots on wooden stands with a little lit coal underneath providing heat, a bit like a fondue. After dinner we watched some tv, discussed our plans for tomorrow and tried out the bath in our room. It was great. A bit later some men arrive with our maid to layout the futons, which are stored in a cupboard in our room, all the sliding doors have a single huge letter painted in calligraphy in black ink. F falls in love with the soft sheets. The bedding here includes a sheet to cover the futon, a slip to cover the rice husk pillow, and a fitted sheet that nearly completely covers the duvets (it's the same at Fukudaya just a bit less posh). We fall asleep to the sounds of the river.
Wake up at 5:30, it just getting light, be we want be at the baths by 6:00 because we've requested breakfast at its earliest slot which is 7:00. There is a light rain filtering down, the bath is great, but maybe I hurry just a little, not wanting to be late as I am back in the room before F. We have time to pack our stuff and I remember my jewellery in the safe. Breakfast is punctual, in fact I met our maid coming out of a room in the corridor and she smiled and said good morning, she may have been surprised that we were up and bathed already. Breakfast was Japanese style, great little whole grilled fresh water fish, pickles, rice, miso etc. We linger over breakfast, enjoying the luxury of the room and the views from the windows. We check out at 8:15, but spend some time walking around the garden, admiring the small fox shrine near the mini waterfall, and the formal garden over the bridge, we even walk a short way up the hiking trail to get a better view of the hotel. Then we get the funicular, this time all on our own back up to the main road. We walked around the town a bit, it still drizzling so we buy some disposable raincoats. We catch the Tozan train again headed for Gora but we get out to see the Hakone Open Air Museum, but decide not to go in as its raining constantly and its really quite expensive. Back onto the Tozan train, one stop to Gora and then the funicular to the Hakone Art Museum to see the famous mossy garden and take tea in the traditional tea house. The garden blows us away and looks a million times better than any photo can show. It's an established garden, manicured and perfect. Mature trees, a stream that runs through it. We are delighted to borrow the museums complimentary umbrellas which are huge and posh. Proper macha tea, frothy and pungent and lovely sweet served by a cutie in a kimono. Wonderful sitting in the tea house enjoying the 180 degree view of the garden and watching the softly falling rain. We notice the unique and beautiful guttering system called a rain chain, it's a link of chains or decorative tube shapes made of copper that direct the flow of water downward from a gutter above. So pretty to watch the water dripping down. At the end of the line of the funicular we catch the ropeway, the weather is getting worse as we rise steeply up the mountain. We are sharing our car with several Japanese ladies on a daytrip. They chatter away and become quite animated as the car starts to sway in the high winds. The view from the car is almost zero, we are supposed to see Mount Fuji from here, but even on a clear day that's not always possible, so not too disappointed. Looking down just before our next stop, we can see the little roads, huts and milky green streams and puddles where they harvest sulphur from the mountain. We arrive at Owakudani, but have to shelter in one of the horrid merchandise shops. Its impossible to walk outside the wind is blowing so hard and the rain is almost horizontal, visibility is very poor too. We decide to hang around and see if the weather improves. None of the foodstalls look great, it's a tacky tourist place, we make a run for the building closest to the path that we were hoping to take up to the sulphur springs where the lucky eggs are boiled. They turn black in the sulphur water, but are supposed to add a year to your life for each one you consume. Its less crowded in this building and while we debate our options we eat deep fried chunks of potato, but really delicious. the weather seem to calm down a bit and our courage is bolstered by a bunch of ten year olds who make a run for the path. So we reckon if they can so can we. We baton down the hatches, don our raincoats and head out, it's not nearly so windy now, and the clouds are lifting a bit, but we still can't see all that far either side of the path, but we can certainly smell the sulphur fumes. Funny sign on the way up of side effects caused by sulphur inhalation. We meet up with the kids at the end of the path, where they are munching on eggs. We buy a bag of lucky eggs, they come in 5's only and try one each. They don't taste funny at all, but their shells are marbled with black. The really dark eggs are sold as gift packs only. We hurry back down the mountain and are soaked, head for the cablecar down the other side of the mountain, we buy a box of Japanese sweets for our journey. We end up in a car on our own, and travel high above the trees, swaying in the strong winds with almost no view, just a bit of the trees. Rain is coming in waves. At the end of the ropeway we have to wait for the next Pirate boat to travel across the lake. F has enough time to draw it on a post card. Very grateful to be inside during our crossing, the boat really is a replica of a pirate ship, gaudily painted, with pirate models and sails. Bizarre. The visibility on the lake is also very poor, nevertheless the cheery compere, probably recorded, ask us to look left at the landmark and then right at the another all along the length of the ride, even though we can barely make out the banks of the lake never mind the features. At Hakone Macha, very miserable, hungry and still cold and wet. We spend some time in the tourist shop looking at the junk on sales hoping the rain will die down, but it doesn't. I'm cold and wet and F works hard at convincing me to walk the Cryptomeria avenue, but I'm keen to do it anyway. Nowhere looks good for a bit to eat so we keep on walking. Go into some more tourist shops near the Hakone Checkpoint and we buy a sample of the lovely wooden inlaid marquetry. Its hard to admire the Crytomeria avenue in the rain, and even harder to take decent photos. F seems really disappointed. It's a long walk along the trees, and somehow we miss the shrine on the way We decide to push on and walk the old Tokaido road as originally planned. This turns out to be a big mistake, its an old stone road, not smooth and its like walking up a riverbed. Its much further that we thought, steep in places and it getting dark all the time. We give up after an hours hard walking when we are near a shop and the main road. There is a bus stop next to the shop and a fifteen minute wait for the next bus. We are both soaked, very tired and hungry. The bus is very punctual, and I've never been so please to see a bus before. A couple that were in the small shop/restaurant also get on. It's a half hour ride to Hakone Yumoto station. At least its warm and dry. At the station search in vain for convenient snack food, and eventually convince F to pay extra for the Romance car with its plush seats instead of catching the commuter train. I sleep the sleep of the just on the train and F wakes me up as we pull into a station, we are almost at a stop when he say we are at Shinjuku, it's a mad scramble to get our bags and jump out of the train. We head for the exit and only after leaving the train station and walking out of the depato do we realise that we are not in Shinjuku, but actually about 20 stops too early! And we've lost our romance car tickets! Very worried and confused. We buy new tickets and catch the regular commuter train to Shinjuku, only standing room left and the 45 minute journey it feels like an eternity. Back in Shibuya we catch a bus to Fukudaya, check-in again and leave our luggage in the room. Then back out to AM PM for some grub for dinner. Collapse into a hot bath and the futon and watch tv and polish off a whole packet of edamame (soybean) crisps. Delicious. Sleep very deeply.
Wake up early again, but very well rested. Unfortunately mother nature is paying me a little visit, so that affects my mood, making me a bit irritable. We spend ages in our room, sorting out our stuff, and arguing about whether we should go to Kamakura today or wait to see if the weather gets any better tomorrow. We try to figure out the weather report, but we're not to sure. Sod it, we decide to go anyway and its an easy commute from Shibuya to Shinagawa. We arrive at Kita-Kamakura station around 9:00 and are pretty hungry, but these no convenience stores nearby so I share the riceball I bought in Shinbuya on our walk to the station with F. F buys a tourist map, but I think it's a daft thing to do as we already have some any good maps already. It takes us a little while to get our bearings but then we are off to the first temple, Engaku-ji. Its one of the 5 main Zen temples in Kamakura, some parts date from 1282. It really a bit complex with garden and many buildings. It borders reach far into the hills, but unfortunately large areas, some paths and several buildings are under renovation, which kind of spoils the mood. We do walk all the way to the gnarled garden right at the top, there are quite a lot of stairs and several mini temples or shrine that won't let you in unless you pay more admission fee. After this we walk across the railway tracks and head for the Tokei-ji temple. It probably one of my favourites so far and our confidence is starting to grow that maybe the weather will stay dry and mild to day. Tokei-ji, starts our quite narrow, but widens as it climbs up against the hillside. There are several levels of carefully tended graveyards toward the back of the complex, gorgeous red maples and lovely headstones. My favourite grave marker is a small mound lined with flint stones with an ancient looking bonsai growing out of it. At the furthest part of the graveyard there is a small group of Japanese ladies being shown around by a guide. They are standing on an small elevated part of the garden, which has rather steep stone steps leading up to it. A spectacular red maple is on display and when they move on we also go up to have a look. The view over the graveyard is beautiful, but we soon notice a whiff of cigarette smoke and F spots the culprit first. At the only grave on this little landing, a cigarette has been lit and left so smoulder as an offering to the deceased. We are amazed, it must have been left by the party who where here just before us. On other gravestone we have already see unopened tins of cooldrink or beer, and some burning incense, but this is our first cigarette offering. Huge old gingko trees crowd out the light, and its immensely tranquil here. The garden is lush and extremely well tended, parts are gravelled paths through foresty bits and other areas are formal gardens. We notice that the leaves of the bulbs which have finished flowering are knotted to make them appear neater. There are several people working in the garden, some just sweeping leaves up and making the paths neat. I suspect many of them are volunteers as it must be good for their karma. It must take an immense amount of time to keep the garden looking so effortless perfect yet imperfect. Tokei-ji temple is the one that considers a women divorced from her husband if she lived there for 3 years as a nun, back in the bad old days of course. Reminds me of an article I read about the "Narita" divorce phenomenon, apparently when certain Japanese women get the opportunity to travel the world and see how women are treated with greater independence elsewhere, if I remember correctly, then promptly divorce their husbands when they get back to Japan. In all the garden we were today we saw these marvellous white wild irises bloom, not the floppy variety, but more like an orchid, maybe they were orchids. I must find out. Behind the temple building near the entrance, is a bamboo grove, like the one we saw in the movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Its lovely hearing the rush and rustle of the leaves in the wind. At the small temple, there's a collection box to throw coins in before clapping to gain the attention of the gods. It starts to drizzle, and decide to stop in at the shop serving tea. We have probably our most expensive cups of proper English tea ever. It's a posh place, at the counter is an stylish old man with one of those long stringy white beards watching over the water which is being boiled in glass tubes over Bunsen burners. The tea is by far the best cup of Darjeeling I've ever had and its probably wasted on a philistine like me. We sit in a glass walled annex to the building and look out on the narrow garden. At least its warm and dry and we are sitting down. Next stop further along the road is the Jochi-ji temple. It has a lovely long flight of stone steps leading up the entrance. All these temples are built up in gorges that cut into the steep hillside. Under a gate near the main entrance is a lovely sakura tree still in blossom and a crowd of Japanese tourist marvelling at its prettiness. It has already covered the surrounding ground with a pink carpet of blossoms. This temple was founded in 1283. It has a very tranquil garden, some really awesome trees and a bamboo grove. Again there is a graveyard toward the back, some even cut into the stone, grave is shallow man-made caves. Decorative rock carved ornamentation. There is even a passage way cut by hand through the rock face that leads to a second higher level graveyard. There are several small shrines in alcoves of the rock face and one even has its own mini torii. One of the buildings has a particularly beautiful rain chain, which is dripping silently in the drizzle, but the weather does seem to be improving, we aren't using our umbrellas at all. As we exit the garden another mini debate about whether we should follow the hike we had planned originally or just follow the tourist route through the town. We take the hike and don't regret it for a minute. It's a long walk, quite a lot of it uphill, under old trees with spectacular roots, on compacted red brown clay earth. The trees form a canopy overhead and we can hear a zillion birds chirping away. It's a pleased release from the constant crow squawks we've grown accustomed to. The hiking train is deserted, but it takes us higher and higher up the hill, in parts we use the roots as steps in steep sections. At one point we come across a older Japanese gentlemen coming for the opposite direction. We greet him and he beams to see other people enjoying the walk. Occasionally through the trees we enjoy views across the town. We start to hear kids playing noisily and suspect there might be a school group walking ahead. Actually we arrive at a shrine, where they are picnicking and it also signals the end of the hike through the trees. We walk up to the shrine, I think its Kaizo-ji, and two little girls around 11 years old come up to us and greet us in English, ask our names and where we are from. As we walk away we hear them mimicking my long sing song way of saying konichiwa, which I picked from watching Ghibli movies. They laugh and giggle and I resolve to listen more carefully the next time a native speaker says it to me. Next thing an eagle swoops low and fast in front of us trying to make off with someone's bento lunch. We are amazed, but it soon becomes clear that eagles are very plentiful in this area. We find a vending machine further long the path in the middle of nowhere and buy a couple of bottles of Pocari Sweat. Our next stop is down a very steep road, it the Zeniarai-benton temple. Here if you wash your money in the sacred well in the cave the god will reputedly double your money. It's a funny little place, the entrance is carved through a rock from the road, a good 20 meters. Then you enter into a kind of natural courtyard under a number of torii gate crammed next to each other. There a small koi pond with a bridge, leading to small shrines against the rock face and several stall and huts selling charms and trinkets and sweets. Inside the cave itself the roof is hung with bunches of paper origami cranes. Some have lost their colour and others are so new the colours are almost neon. It's a lovely sight. There a quite a few teenagers washing their change in the little plastic basket provided in the sacred well. The temple has quite a commercial feel about, which I find a bit at odds with its ancient look and traditional torii's and buildings. As we leave we encounter an elderly Japanese gentleman who has just finished the steep walk up hill to the entrance to the shrine, he is out of breath but seems so happy to have made it all the way here. We head down the way he has just come, down a steep tarred road, cars whiz by occasionally and a few scooters too. As we near level ground again we find ourselves walking in a posh residential neighbourhood. Incredible well kept gardens, traditional style houses and very posh. There's a funny little dog tied up outside what looks like a small gallery and tea house. Then we find the turning for the fox-shrine. I've been looking forward to this one the most of all. It's a long walk back up towards the hill, eventually we see a series of torii gates with bright red flags attached, the path under them turns into shallow steps that become steep as we climb up to the temple. And the torii gates continue, like a tunnel up the hill. Its so amazing and every now and then there is a stone statue of a fox, some suckling little foxes and all wearing bright red cloth bibs. There is a small purifying well, with bamboo scoops to wash our hand and mouth with. The shrines and temples are delightful, everywhere tiny white porcelain foxes, stone foxes, stone shrines, everything lushly overgrown with moss and creepers. We are the only people at the shrine except for the caretaker. Its amazingly quiet and tranquil. We pause on the steps that climb up against the rock face behind the temple to enjoy the view of the grounds. It's a small temple, but all over are these tiny little white foxes, as if some child has abandoned her dollhouse in the forest in the middle of some game. We are starting to feel tired now and F seems to be worse off them me for a change. We started what turned out to be a very long walk to the Daibutsu or Great Buddha. We were following the signs very careful and had to ask for directions once just to make sure we were going in the right direction. Somehow we must have missed the final sign, because the road we were walking down suddenly ended and then we found ourselves at a main road. There were lots of shops about, and F went in to one to ask which direction we should go for the Daibutsu and the staff just pointed left along this main road. At the end of the road were a lot of tourists and a most definitely a temple of sorts. We went in and admired the exquisite formal garden with ponds and bridges and searched for the statue of this great Buddha. After a while we put two and two together after we noticed the row upon row of small identical statues. We had somehow missed the Daibutsu completely and ended up at Hase-Dera temple. All was not lost though, as we were very hungry and tired from the long walk, we enjoyed a lovely lunch in the canteen, which has a spectacular elevated view over Kamakura. We could even seen tiny surfers catching waves in the sea. I had pinkish colour sticky rice with black sesames and for dessert we had syrupy rice balls on sticks. Several cups of ocha too. I'd been looking forward to Hase-dera to, it has a fantastic collection of statues of Jizo (protector of travellers and souls of departed children). There are literally hundreds and hundreds of identical little statues lined up, some wearing red bibs and others little knitted red hats. Here and there are small toys and baubles hung around the neck of a statue. We are amazed at the beautiful gardens, the complex is on many levels again, lots of stairs and small gardens. A huge prayer well too, near the canteen. There were a couple of peonies blooming, which were shaded by traditional rice paper umbrellas. Just before leaving, as we have to hurry to squeeze in the last few temples before closing time at 4:30, I notice the some people enter a cave cut out from the rocks, it's a small space with a low ceilings and candles and incense are burning. I find F, who is taking photos of the garden and take him to look too. All along the dark stone walls small alcoves have been carved from the rock and tiny white statues of Jizo are placed in them. There is a multitude of these tiny little statues and then I notice a passageway leading through the rock to another even smaller room, also filled with tiny statues, placed wherever they can stand on the natural cracks in the rock walls. The passage continues and we stop in the smallest room so far, which is tomb sized, and there a shelf has been carved out of the rock and hundreds of these statues are placed in neat rows. All throughout the cave is lit by candles, and incense hangs heavy in the air. The ceilings are very low and F has to crouch most of the way. The passage continues and leads out back to the garden. What an astonishing sight, so pleased we didn't miss it in our haste. Now we head off at speed for the Daibutsu, is not far from Hase-dera and we are there a few minutes later having walked down a shopping street. The Buddha is huge, and wonderfully serene looking. There are quite a few people about and we take the obligatory tourist photos, a couple ask me to take a photo of them standing in front of the statue. The Buddha statue is beautiful and its copper is that wonderful green colour, its possible to actually climb inside and up to its head, but we're not really interested. It Kamakura's most famous sight, completed in 1252. It sits out in the open, surrounded by a low roofed veranda, some mature trees and plenty of open space to admire it in from all angles. On the one wall are a pair of huge sandals, presumably for the Buddha should he ever need to go anywhere. They appear to be made of straw and look really rustic. The Buddha was originally housed in a hall, but the building was washed away by a tsunami in 1495 and it has been enjoying the sunshine ever since. The drizzling had dried up earlier in the afternoon, making for much more pleasant walking. We agree it would be wise to catch a local train closer to town, where we still want to walk up Wakamiya-dori, which leads to the Hachiman-gu temple. On our way to the station we stop at a sweet potato emporium, selling sweets and ice cream made from the spud. The ice-cream is delicious and almost ousts green tree as my favourite flavour so far. We walk all the way up Wakamiya-dori, which a long neat gravelled pedestrian road lined with flowering azalea bushes and sakura trees. Its very pretty even in the fading light, and a rickshaw guys tries his marketing pitch to persuade us into his rickshaw. We decline his offer many times over until he gives up on us. At the Hachiman-gu temple is a famous old stone bridge, its highly arched and was allegedly for the use of the Shogun exclusively. The temple and its grounds are pretty deserted already, but we have a look at the main shrine and admire the gingko tree at the foot of the stairs, under which a notorious assassination took place in 1219, making it a pretty old tree indeed. It has these wooden stalagmites hanging down, pretty eerie. Its draped with those zigzag paper chains indicating holy status. We walk through the forest to the left of the temple past the huge sake barrel display, which also has a few more modern donations in the form of beer kegs. Here we make a mistake again with the walking, deciding to walk to Kita-Kamakura to catch the train back to Shinagawa, and hopefully finding a few more temples that are still open. The walks turn out to be very far and mostly uphill along a busy highway, so not much to see, also all the temples have closed their gates already. F is really tired. We buy tickets for the train and hang around for a while on the station. Back in Shinagawa and suggest we stay on the Yamanote line and get out at Harajuku to have Shabu-Shabu for dinner at a place off Omotesando recommended in the Frommers guide book. It very unhelpfully says in its directions, look for "Café De Rope", turn left into the alley way and walk straight down. We came unstuck when it turned out Café De Rope does not have a sign outside to identify it with. So we end up walking all the way to the Oriental Bazaar before we realise this little problem then its back and forth until we think we figure it out. A bit beside ourselves with fatigue, but F says he's really hungry and the place looks neat. Its down a long narrow alleyway with funky looking cafes and restaurants on either side. We find Genkaya Shabu-Shabu kan and go in, the jovial waiter shows us to a table explains the menu. We order the shabu-shabu, which is bottomless until our allotted time of an hour and half runs out. We are seated at a small very private booth for two, around a table with a hot plate, on top of which there's deep bowl boiling away with a huge chunk of kelp in it. Two pitchers of beer turn up, instantly reviving us and platters of almost shaved thin blood red slices of prime beef. We are also served a plate of veggies: cabbage, leek, enoki mushrooms, clear noodles, tofu and shiitake mushrooms. There is a choice of dipping sauce, soy with citrus or thicker whitish ground sesame sauce. While the stock is bubbling you take a slice of beef, swish it around for a few seconds, (the swishing noise is supposed to be where the name of the dish comes from), whip it out and into the sauce of your choice to cool for a few seconds before gobbling it down. F chomps his way through a beef platter at lighting speed and manages another whole one. There's a button on the table your press to get your waiters attention. Cool. We also have our veggies replenished a few times. It's a fantastic dish, a lot like fondue just better and F really seems charmed by it. The beer starts to make everything fuzzy. The restaurant is a really lovely place with a very relaxed atmosphere, probably aided by the fact that no one is watching us and we can muck about and make mistakes as we go. When we are stuffed to the gills we pay and leave. Buy some more jelly for F and some snacks and a manga in a convenience store. Back on Omotesando we decide to walk down Takeshita-dori, on our way to the station, and I spot a Daiso 100 Yen store, which we go into briefly, its closing at 21:00 so we only browse for about ten minutes. F buys me a little picture book of dacshunds. We catch the bus from Shibuya station and back at Fukudaya we both pass out.
We wake up as late as we like, we've decided to take it much easier today, perhaps even skipping few items in our planned itinerary. We're tired and we want to be fresh and rested when we meet up with Joe, Yoko's friend at his restaurant tonight. First thing we call the restaurant and arrange to have map faxed to the hotel later today. Then we head out along the back roads to Sakuraya to burn yesterdays photos onto CD because the flashcard is nearly full again. We catch the Ginza line for Asakusa, its quite a long way, when we get there its sunny, no sign of rain. We walk in a random direction and by now I'm ravenous for breakfast, we cruise around looking for somewhere and end up in a donut buffet coffee place. Its full of locals, but its really a big mistake. The donuts are yuck and the coffee is bitter. When we finish, we stand on the sidewalk figuring out on our map where we are, when a Japanese businessman asks in very good English if we need any assistance. He points us in the direction that we want to be headed and we're on our way to Senso-ji temple. We walk down one of many 'shopping arcade' streets, lots of curious stalls selling food and trinkets. Saw my first Sembei (savoury rice crackers) stall, where there's this guy with yukata style jacket and bandanna around his head is barbecuing fresh rice crackers over coals. They bubble and puff up and go a caramel brown colour. We also saw the most elegant Fugu restaurant, beautiful lit fish tank with fine healthy looking specimens. A big contrast to the Fugu place on Dogenzaki in Shibuya, with its huge comical fish head billboard and murky fish tank window front. Lots of school kids in uniforms milling about, girls with white socked thick ankles, reminding me that they are sometimes know an daikon (as in the radish) ankles. We find ourselves about midway along Nakamise-dori, so we make our way to the main entrance, Kaninari-mon or Thunder Gate. It's a huge structure, lavishly carved with a huge deity scowling on either side (God of thunder and wind). Unfortunately they are protected by a fine mesh, which does obscure the fantastic colours and detailing a bit. Hanging from the centre of the gate is a massive lantern and lots of teenagers in school uniform taking pictures of each other. Nakamise-dori is a spectacle, on either side are stalls running the length of the street leading up to Senso-ji temple. Brightly coloured, lots of red, selling all manner of stuff, edibles, toys, traditional items, novelty items. I buy a pair of two toed boots made of fabric with a rubber sole. They're really ugly, navy but super quirky. I later figure out they are used by the rickshaw men. I'll have to splash some colour on them when I get back home and they'd only be good for sunny days. We also bought another of those rice balls on a skewer covered in sticky syrup. Because of our leisurely pace of doing things today, we only got to the temple quite late, around 10am, so it was quite busy with tourists, local and foreign. There's another huge gate before you enter the temple compound and lots of little shrines. Francois was accosted by several Japanese boys, and had to answer their questions (in heavy accented English) while they furiously scribbled down his answer. I moved around and enjoyed the spectacle and squirming body languages. Later both of us had to sign the back of several exercise books as proof of them having practised their English, even though only one chap asked the questions. Lots of bowing and 'tank you'. Cute. The temple was noisy with chatter, the sound of coins clattering into collection boxes and huge flocks of pigeons hanging about. There was crowd of girls surrounding one of the school kids who had a little brown gerbil on a leash. Exclamations of 'kawaii'. I buy my fortune, boldly going up to the fortune wall where there are lots of other people buying theirs. I chuck my coins into the slot, pick up the hexagonal container, rattle it around a bit and wait for one of the chop sticks to fall out of the little hole. The characters are easy to read on the stick, but finding its matching character on the tiny drawers in front of me is proving tricky, because lots of the paint has faded from use. I have to ask two girls who are finished looking at their fortunes for help, simply say 'sumi masen' and show the sticks character. They quickly find the drawer that my fortune is in and I thank them for their help. The drawers are filled with many pages that the fortune is written on, fortunately with a quite good English translation. Unfortunately my fortune is all bad:
Number 15 Bad Fortune
"Every year your servants with get fewer and fewer and you will be alone. Even if you stay in bed for a long while you will never get well. Its to dangerous for you to bring the boat ashore. Just like a dragon loses its treasure ball you will lose your hope.
Your wishes will not be realised. A sick person will never recover. The lost article will not be found. The person you are waiting for will not come. Building a new house and removal are not good. Making a trip, marriage, employment are bad."
So I follow the instructions in our guidebook and tie it along with hundred of other bad fortunes in a knot on wires strung on racks specially for the purpose of rendering bad fortunes null and void. Thereby causing the opposite of the fortune to come true. It seems you can only have good luck in the end, but at least it was hugely entertaining. Theirs one of though hooded cauldrons with incense burning and people wafting the fragrant smoke over themselves. We cleanse our hands at a really beautiful water fountain, with those little bamboo cups to lift the water up with. We're both pretty self conscious when we do things like the incense and hand washing. Feel like such tourist and impostors. Inside the main building with its elaborate roofs and deities there are fewer people, their coins clattering into the collection boxes, hands clapping and then bowing. We wander around the small garden to the left of the temple. At one of the smaller shrines we light a candle, I thought it was the temple for the protection of women, but it turns out to be something else. We make enquiries about going into Dempo-in, the private enclosed temple garden which is not open to the public, but its possible to get special visiting permits. Unfortunately there's a function on so its not possible for us to take a look. Feeling pretty tired already, but we are heading now to Kapabashi-dori where the catering and restaurant industry do all their shopping. Curious shops filled to brim with beautiful ceramic dishes and stainless steel woks. Shops devoted to hand made knives and trinkets to enhance food displays. I'm really feeling to tired to really enjoy this experience. Its taking all my concentration just to keep moving. The shops selling plastic food displays are really works of art. We are shopping for one to take home, a nice big bowl of ramen with chopsticks lifting noodles out. We are astounded by the high prices so ended up not buying one, but we really regret it later. We should have splashed out. I did buy a few things in a food store, bulk green tea bags, dried squid and other dried seafood snacks. We do spend ages trying to find a tea pot in one store that's having a sale, but end up leaving without anything. We were both charmed by the beautiful pottery and glazes. But we are tired and its lunch time, so we start searching for Owariya, a famous soba noodle restaurant. Another wild goose chase, we asked several people on the streets, I'm also in tears again, not wanting to go into any other place. Just before we start a major fight, we spot the tourist information and we go in to ask for help. Turns out we were looking an the wrong end of the road, a the place is very near to the station. The stupid map indicates it wrong in the guidebook. We think we've found the right place, but ask an elderly gentleman if this is the right place by point to the kanji in our guidebook. He puts on his reading glasses which were in his pocket, reads out book, lifts his glasses off and reads the sign above the restaurant. He does this twice before confirming that yes this is indeed the right place. We are very grateful and after much bowing we enter the restaurant. We are seated at a little table and almost delirious at the pleasure of not being on our feet anymore. We order cold soba and hot soba. I have zairo soba, cold noodles on a bamboo rack in a square lacquer dish, with a dipping sauce, spring onions and a huge hot tempura style shrimp. Francois has ten nanban, a hot soba noodle dish, served in a broth with leeks and one of those huge tempura shrimps. We eat with relish, slurping our noodles furiously and drinking lots of green tea. Near the end of our meal the waiter brings a small tea pot with hot water in it. We can't figure it out as its not just clear water, it's whitish. What's What In Japanese Restaurants to the rescue again. It turns out to be a little of the water the noodles are boiled in which I'm supposed to add to my now depleted dipping sauce so I can drink it. Yummy. Made us laugh. We headed for the station after paying and made our way back to Fukudaya for a rest and hot bath, Japanese style. When we got back the little old lady is at the reception. We change into our yukata and head down to the bath, but the little old lady beckons to us and after much misunderstanding she shows me the bath is still being refilled and won't be done till around 4pm. So we go back upstairs, lounge on our futons and watch tv. We get a call on our room's phone and it's the little old lady telling us the bath is ready. We head down and there she is in reception surround by handful of boisterous grinning kids, her grandchildren who have also come to use the bath. She tell us we must go first and that we mustn't rush. We scrub up and climb into the hot bath and feel our tired bodies relax in the heat. Its blissful. Afterwards we nap and then get ready to go to Joe's restaurant Cento Cose, which is only a couple of blocks away. Amazing that the one guy we "know" and are supposed to meet up with is so close to where we are staying. Suprising coincidence. We are not really very good with hanging out with strangers at the best of times, its not really our thing, so on the way we decide on a number of topics we can talk about. This is mostly for my benefit as I'm usually hopeless when I meet new people and have to make conversation. People don't realise I'm actually quite a shy person. It's a nice walk, and thankfully cooler in the evening air. We walk along the highway and traffic isn't too bad, but we are fascinated by the multiple levels of the roads, like huge endless bridges over the city and diving into tunnels under the ground. The restaurant is only about 15 min walk away and we find it easily, its on a lovely little canal. When we get there Joe is on the phone, but we are taken into the restaurant up some stairs. It's a quiet night, only two other tables are taken. We have a bit of a communication breakdown with the waitress, my What's What in Japanese restaurants doesn't cover Thai and the menu is only in Japanese. The restaurant is seriously off the beaten track. Eventually the chef comes out as he speaks English and a very old English menu is found. We end up having a very good menu and bit challenging. Joe comes up and we have a very good time together telling him about our trip so far and how much the Ghibli museum inspired us. He's so charming, with long grey hair that flops over his face and an infectious smile. We had bought a bottle of KWV red wine in Mitaka and we gave it to him as a thank you for agreeing to see two complete strangers. He was an immensely gracious host and the food was fabulous. We had a really spicy chilli glass noodle salad with tiny little pink-brown Kamakura shrimps, some deep fried prawn cakes, fresh springrolls wrapped in rice paper (not deepfried, raw veggies), glutinous crab soup with enoki mushrooms and a huge platter of prawns in coconut sauce. Handmade coconut ice cream for dessert. When we told Joe how much we loved the rice balls on stick covered in sticky sweet syrup he recommend we keep our eyes open for the kind that is encrusted with ground black sesame seeds, claiming it's a serious delicacy. We didn't stay too late, perhaps leaving around 9pm but an awkward time for us when we wanted to pay the bill and Joe insisted that the meal was on the house. We were really treated by him. One of the things Joe insisted we do before flying home was visiting Roppongi Hills and he was delighted we had Tonki's on our list for places to eat at. He as amazed at the traditional dishes we liked eating, like sushi (very early for breakfast), tonkatsu, miso and green tea ice cream. He also though that we had done a lot since we'd arrived. It was a cool evening and nice walking home. We watched a bit of tv and I went to sleep early.
Woke up early and made out way to the Koishikawa Korakuen gardens. It was such a long train journey, first to Ikebukuro and then to Korakeun. Exciting the station we see this huge roller coaster that puts the one in Blackpool to shame, a truly horrifying site. Also we are right at the Tokyo Dome baseball ground and there are queues of people seated in neat rows outside the ticket booths, they've obviously been waiting some time. The dome is a huge white building with a curious quilted looking roof. We're unsure of how to navigate to the Gardens entrance and unfortunately end up walking the wrong way around. Skirting around the station we are on a pedestrianised raised walkway, we can see into the garden but not how to get into it. We eventually reach ground level, but find that all the gates on that side are closed, so we have to keep walking around it and sometimes around skyscrapers which are in the way. Bit annoying, because my feet hurt already and this feels like unnecessary walking, but there doesn't seem to have been any sign indicating the way to the garden from the station so must just be bad luck. We eventually get into the garden. It's a garden designed for strolling in, one of the oldest in Tokyo, but considerably diminished from its original size. Its not so big on the wow factor, but then we have already been spoilt by the gardens in Hakone and Kamakura. Much of the landscaping looked very contrived, but most of the garden in classical Japanese style. My favourite part is a plum orchard with a 'lake' of irises and rice paddies and a Wisteria trellis standing in it. The Wisteria trellis is raised on different levels so one can see the wisteria from above, eye level and from below. A narrow plank bridge is next to the trellis leading over the irises and rice, it's a staggered zigzag and rather beautiful in its simple elegance. Lots of water features and ponds and great old trees. Many stone steps leading up to viewing points, but lots of these were cordoned off, probably no longer safe for stomping up. When we are done here, we head back to the station and head back to Ikebukuro to check out the Seibu Depato, the food hall has some pretty amazing stuff, but I'm once again just concentrating on moving and finding it hard to stand still for long. The fish market is amazing, so very fresh, but all so ingeniously packed. Little cling film tubs filled with firefly squid and greens we've never seen before. More variteys of mushrooms on sale then I though imaginable. We buy a bag of roasted green tea at one of the posh counters. The sweet section is like a boutique, our mouths hang open and we get completely carried away. The designs, packaging and colours are exquisite. We buy several things to try and feel pretty triumphant when we find the black sesame rice balls that Joe recommended. Some the last sweets we bought are a persimmon jelly and a green tea jelly. In the food halls we get some lunch, yakitori skewers and some other bits and pieces but not of it turns out to be any good really. We trundle about, but I'm getting upset, the pain in my feet is bad. We make our way up to the roof terrace of the depato and sit on a bench and eat our persimmon jelly. Its in a little rectangular sloped side tub, with a tiny white spade to eat it with. Nothing like western jellies, very textural, made from real fruit, grainy and intense flavour and not overly sweet. So utterly relieved to be sitting down, we cheer up after a bit, especially watching the little kids play on these huge fluffy mobile soft toys, with saddles, mostly fantastical animals, and moving slowly with a small steering wheel for the child to hold onto and direct the toy with. Japanese children are incredibly cute. The whole terrace seems to be huge playground, there are jungle gyms and an ice cream and sweet stand. Later when my energy picked up again, we browsed around Loft, a homewares store and bought a tea caddy. Francois was fascinated by the pet shop, but I find them really depressing. He was taking photos of a ferret. As we leave through the food hall in the basement back to the station we notice a stall at the entrance, there's a guy with a bell, clanging away and annoucing away vigorously in Japanese. We figure out they are selling tea, which is being scooped, weighed and seal up right there. Lots of people are buying, so we figure we should check it out, maybe it's a special offer or something. Turns out we buy to bags and the lady after much struggling manages to tell us its "new leaf". The first pickings of the tea season. Pretty cool. Next we head for Ginza, which is largely pedestrianised on weekends, lots of people, bit like Oxford street. We're both quite irritable from the train journey, going back and forth, but when we get inside the Sony building we're mesmerised by all the stuff to look at and try out. Its amazingly designed interior, lots of big screen tv's to try out with chairs, watching movie trailers, laptops, pda's, and an entire games floor, just ask for the game you want and it gets loaded. Very noisy here, and fun to watch but I search for a place to sit down and end up on a stair well. Francois spends a long time browsing. When we leave the Sony building we walk on, past the Kabuki theatre, check out a few shops, including another really cool sweet shop where we buy a little flapjack with bean paste inside and a bag of those tiny pastel coloured blossom sweets. The boulevards are really wide and the block are big. We are headed for the World Magazine Gallery, a place with magazine that you can browse and the promise of sofas and seats. Its closed, which is pretty disasterous, but be keep going and start looking for a tempura restaurant that should be just a bit further on. It's a cheap chain, but supposed to be pretty good. We end up eating well, but I'm feeling a bit ill from fatigue and a throbbing headache. We head back Shibuya after our late lunch, and the crowds are immense, but the atmosphere is really funky. We've gotta do some shopping, first stop Mandarake. I end up leaving Francois here for an hour and head for the Tower Records to buy the Joe Hisaishi CD I wanted. I also have a sneaky green tea ice cream from the Haagen Daz shop nearby. I get off the wrong floor in the Tower, so have to take two escalators, which is annoying. Fight my way back to Mandaraka and down the stairs, several flights with those stupid flashing lights in my eyes making my head ache worse. Francois still not finished, I help him to decided and find a few comics I want. We pay and then when we get outside he's having second thoughts and has to go back to get a few more books he'd really wanted. I wait outside on the sidewalk, its cooler now, and the neon lights are beginning to come on. Next stop is Tokyo Hands, and when we get there we go to a café on one of the floors and have a huge strawberry ice cream and expresso. The sundae is ridiculous, exactly like the picture on the menu. Very red and white with real strawberries. Its kinda funny, tastes ok too. We bought another tea caddy, some post cards and some kitchen things. Our last stop was the 100 YEN store, bought lots of stuff here too, but quite businesslike shopping, because we're tired and I've been once before scouting for cool stuff. There's a cute girl with a brown daschund puppy in her arms, almost camouflaged against her, Francois takes there picture. We walk back to the station to retrieve our stashed shopping in a locker. At Hachinko square there are several buskers and bands trashing out their music, its very lively. Then headed for Fukudaya, walking through Mark City, amazing view over the pedestian crossing at night with the video screens constantly changing. Balmy evening. We buy grub from AM/PM, dried squid, juice, jelly and snacks, including an incredible packet of Edamame chips. Early to bed, but first a nice soak in the onsen. I watch a period drama on the telly, lots of ladies in kimonos and a beautiful maid gets murdered by eating a poisoned sweet during a tea ceremony. I get quite sucked into the plot and enjoy it. The black sesame sweets are very rich and tasty, a bit like I imagine eating sea sand. Bizarre. We save most of it for tomorrow to have in the park.
Must still update
Thank goodness for F. He managed to set the alarm last night for 5:30 giving us plenty of time to get our packing sorted. I passed out last night, seconds before my head hit the pillow. It was hard getting up, and it took ages sorting out all our loot and clothes and books and stuff. We were all packed up and out of the room just after 7am. The little old lady who works here was on the desk and she bid us farewell and thanked us for staying and gave us a warm smile and a deep bow. Put our shoes on for the last time and trundled out the door with all our luggage. We decided to walk down Dogenzaki-dori for the last time towards Shibuya. Its a lovely sunny day, lots of crows about and OL and SM on their way to work. We take the shortcut through Mark City mall to Shibuya station, and battle our way through the crowds. The bag I'm pulling on wheels is still damn heavy as its full of the comics and book we bought. We're not sure where to get tickets for the Narita Express, but we ask at the first JR information desk. We are very lucky, we will just have time to get tickets and onto the platform for the 8:09 train. I'm really relieved, because not all trains stop at Shibuya and I had nightmare visions of having to struggle across Shinjuku station. The train pulls up on time as is the norm and we trundle very gratefully onto the train, park our luggage and recline in the aeroplane style seats. There's a SM sitting opposite us, but we politely ignore each other. Its an uneventful 1 and half hour ride, but we do get to enjoy the scenic views from the train, as it was late at night and already dark when we travelled this way last time. Saw lots of rice paddies and farmers sloshing about. At Narita we check in and go through security, into the terminal and look for a spot to have some breakfast/lunch. Its been a long morning already, and I'm really disappointed to discover all the cool restaurants I'd been reading about in the Narita Airport info book are actually on the top floor of the building on the other side of immigration control. Rats. So we end up eating in this horrible canteen style place, cold soba noodles and prawn tempura soba ramen. Not great, but we were hungry. There is a lot of smoke hanging about too. In the duty free shopping we got two packs of these hectic looking seafood rice crackers with whole dried squashed seafood in the crackers. One is for F's office and one for the chaps at Toms Deli where I buy lunch everyday. We also bought a box of Japanese style green tea sweets and a variety sweet box. Later F has a cup of coffee and minds the luggage while I try to use up a chunk of Yen that's left over. F is being really cranky about me spending any money, so its best if I do it alone. I got some boxes of green tea Pocky, a kind of sweet pretzel that's 3/4 coated with a chocolate or creamy flavoured fondant. The airhostesses from Malaysia Air were buying loads of them, so I reckoned they must know something I don't. The Malaysia Air ladies were beautiful, immaculate hair and nails, so elegant and with fantastic wasp like waists. They were sandals on their feet and the uniforms are highly patterned, looked a bit like batik. I also got some dried tuna chunks, like fish biltong, a bag of whole small dried/deep fried crabs in their shells with sesame seeds stuck to them. And a bottle of water for the flight. Our flight left on time, we managed to get great seats being so early, the first row of seats in economy that give extra leg room. We were seated in the middle of the plane, and we had a seat open next to us. It was a long flight, watched Two Weeks Notice, a Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock movie, also snatches of MacGyver, which was cringe-tastic and Frasier which was really funny. Also saw The Emperors Club, with Kevin Kline which was awful. Had to watch the films with English subtitles as all the movies were only available in dubbed French or Japanese. Meals weren't too hideous, but far from great and with an eternity between them. Most people slept on the plane, but we made a point of staying awake. I played quite a lot of solitaire on the games section of the console Landed at Paris slightly early, got to admire the incredible design of the terminal buildings. The wait to board the plane felt endless and we were really tired at this point. The flight to London was quick and painless, we landed shortly after 7pm. We made the fast time ever from exiting the aeroplane to walking through our front door in an hour and a half. We were home by 8:30pm. Incredible. Maniac taxi from Hammersmith to Ancill close, the guy drove like a bat out of hell. Opened the door to piles of post and familiar smells. Its so nice to home again. The gardens being putting in overtime, everything's grown inches since we left. It feels like we've been gone a lot longer than 10 days. We only manage to unpack our loot before passing out on the bed. We slept like rocks.