RTW Day 12 – First time driving in Japan to Churaumi Aquarium in Okinawa

Today was the day we achieved the whole purpose of the side trip to Okinawa, visiting the Churaumi Aquarium. This was the largest aquarium in the world until 2005, so it’s a pretty awesome place, but first…

IMG_2383We had to drive there.

This was the first time I’d ever driven overseas before, and to say that Kathryn was apprehensive, is a bit like saying that Apollo suffered a bit of bother. While she was giving out the nervous vibe, I was pretty excited. In reality, driving in Japan is the same as driving in New Zealand. You drive on the left, all the cars in New Zealand are from Japan, and with GPS, you can’t really get lost.

So I only got lost once. Took the wrong turn. The GPS tells you about five times about the turn, and I took one turn one traffic light too early. No dramas. Kathryn was stressed, but she played it cool. Only about $50 to rent a car for the day, which is good value.

We made it to the aquarium, and we were starving, so we decided to have a buffet lunch for $15 each. You’ll notice the mistake we made, which was around the word buffet. I think buffet is a universal word for a disappointing experience. Name a buffet that’s been awesome. Exactly. Well continuing in the tradition, this was also pretty average. I had Okinawan Pork which was like a garlic pork. T’was OK.

IMG_2408We finally finally entered the aquarium. Cutting to the chase, the Whale Sharks in the main tank were amazing, as were the Manta Rays. Words and pictures and videos don’t really describe being there in person. A bit like when you see home pictures of people scuba diving, the photos of fish always look average compared to seeing it in person. Sorry. You’ll just have to use your imagination.

The aquarium is massive, and contains all the normal exhibits with other fish and crabs and things. Didn’t see a section dedicated to Jellyfish which makes me very happy. No one likes Jellyfish.

We then headed outside to see the free exhibits, which were the manatees, turtles, dolphins, and a beach. There was a false Killer Whale, which is a type of dolphin that Kathryn is absolutely in love with. I actually didn’t see her for about 15 minutes while she just watched this false Killer Whale. The Wholphin we saw in Hawaii is the offspring of mixing a False Killer Whale and a normal Dolphin.

We finally rounded out the day checking out Emerald Beach. This is one of the top 100 beaches in Japan, and looks very beautiful. So nice that you could swim in it. And in November, the water was pretty warm. There were big signs though saying “No Swimming”. Turns out there were six types of venomous animals in the sea that could really ruin your day. Some you can suck the venom out, others, you squeeze it out. This wouldn’t happen in New Zealand!

 

RTW Day 11 – Flying Peach to Okinawa

So today was the first of many low cost carrier flights we’re taking on this trip. Today’s one was from Kansai Airport to Naha, the capital of Okinawa.

IMG_2350We caught a couple of trains from Fukuoka, to Kansai International Airport, the airport of Osaka. One of the recurring problems Kathryn and I have is to do with being certain when travelling. I have a bad habit of appearing more certain about things, such as where stations are, or what to say, or what we’re eating, than I actually am. This annoys Kathryn to no end. In return, I think I’m more accepting of not knowing things. I give it a go, and sometimes I’m right, and sometimes I’m wrong. We’re working on aligning our expectations!

I know no one wants to read about the dramas of a couple of people travelling, but let’s be honest, it’s not all awesome Instagram shots of awesome people in awesome locations, most of the time it’s waiting, or catching stinky local buses, or wondering if you’ve got enough change to buy a chocolate.

We arrived at Kansai Airport super early, like 5 hours early. Well ya’know, just in case. It’s a pretty big airport, with about 40 shops which we walked around. There’s two terminals, Terminal 1, the normal developed terminal, and Terminal 2, the low cost carrier terminal. This is about a 10 minute bus ride away to the back part of the airport. There’s only one airline that departs from Terminal 2, Peach.

IMG_2356I like Peach, I think they’ve got pizazz. Does anyone say that any more? Kathryn hates them like she hates Jetstar. Low cost carriers are easy to figure out – follow their rules. That’s it. Peach has a couple of rules, no more than two carry on bags, and no more than 10kg. They have scales at the line to check in. Easy. We were going to risk it, but then we saw lots of foreigners putting on their jackets and stuffing them full of books and other heavy things. Deciding we didn’t want to do that, we purchased another bag, and stuffed all the heavy things into there. We purchased some checked-in luggage for $17 each way, and we were sorted. Considering the flights were only $50 each way for a 2 hour flight, there’s a good reason people use low cost carriers.

Naha Airport in Okinawa also has two terminals, the normal terminal, and what appears to be an old shed, which they all the LCC Terminal. It’s so cheap, instead of having a conveyor belt for luggage, it’s just a guy who drops your bag in a spot.

We then caught a monorail (exciting!) to Naha to stay in our hotel. This hotel was only $112 for two nights, which is actually silly cheap. And what we got was awesome. A big double bed, a massive room, good size bathroom, free breakfast, working air conditioning, it’s really amazing, and great value.

We walked to the nearest convenience store, and the warm wind was blowing, just like Hawaii. The people were relaxed, I saw a couple of Hawaiian t-shirts.

I like Okinawa already.

RTW Day 10 – Nagasaki isn’t suck-y!

We were going to spend the day in Huis Ten Bosch, but after spending 4 hours there last night, we’d had enough. So in a change of itinerary, we decided to head to a couple of hours south on the local train to Nagasaki, a nice city, that just happened to be the site of the second nuclear bomb attack.

IMG_2329Local trains are slow, but are really nice to get the vibe of a place. We caught the train on the Sunday, yet it was filled with teenagers in their school uniforms. You know it’s hard core when they’re off to school on a Sunday. There was a group of old women next to us, gossiping about all the sights. There was an old lady behind us looking like she was talking into a Bluetooth headset, except she didn’t have one. That was weird.

Finally, we made it to Nagasaki. The main reason we came here was to check out the sights related to the Nuclear attack, such as the Nagasaki Peace Park, the Hypocenter, and the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. But on reflection, it’s a bit unfair to tar the city with just that one incident. It was basically the only port open to foreigners back when Japan was sealed off from the world, so it has a big western influence in the architecture. It’s surrounded by beautiful hills on three sides, and makes for a really nice city to explore. I guess what I’m trying to say is after being to Nagasaki, this place isn’t defined by the fact it had a Nuclear bomb dropped on it.

The Nagasaki Peace Park was dedicated to the people who were killed or injured from the nuclear blast. 70% of the people were women, children, and elderly, and the way those people died was horrific. The statue has one finger pointing towards the sky and the atom bomb, and the other hand is searching for peace. It’s a very sombre and poignant place. While Kathryn and I were quiet and respectful, we did encounter a gaggle of Chinese tourists who were loud and jovial. Kathryn thought harshly towards them, but I suggested that they might have had a different context to the bomb, that this was something that ended the war against the Japanese for them, something they suffered greatly from.

IMG_2331We then went past the Hypocenter, which was the exact spot the bomb was dropped. Nagasaki wasn’t the original target, it was Kokura. It just so happened that when the plane was over Kokura it was cloudy, so they decided to aim at the secondary target, Nagasaki.

We then walked to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. This was a pretty sombre and sad museum that showed horrors that happened. There was one fragment which was a skeleton of a hand fused into a glass bottle. Just awful stuff. The images of people basically on fire were terrible. And the stories of the survivors drinking the oily water because they were so thirty were just heart wrenching:

Desperately thirsty, I went to draw water but found an oil-like substance floating all over it. People told me that the oil had rained down from the sky… But I wanted a drink so badly that I gulped the water down just as it was.

We then headed to the station to do some exploring. Nagasaki and the area around it appear famous for their Mandarins, or Mikan, so I bought bags full of them for cheap!

We then caught the Kamome, or Seagull, train from Nagasaki to Hakata Station, in Fukuoka. While on the train, the guy next to us was reading softcore pornography, then decided he’d had enough of that, and switched to his laptop so he could view some hardcore pornography.

RTW Day 9 – The fake Amsterdam – Huis Ten Bosch

IMG_2265Today we left Shin-Osaka bound for the south of Japan, a weird amusement park called Huis Ten Bosch. We caught the Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka to a place called Shin-Tosu, which was a new Shinkansen station literally in the middle of nowhere. Most of the time the Shinkansen stations have massive department stores attached to them, this had nothing. We then transferred to the Limited Express Huis Ten Bosch, which is a train specifically designed to transport people to Huis Ten Bosch. Best thing about the train, you can see the driver and the front of the train, which is awesome.

We walked to our hotel, Hotel Nikko Huis Ten Bosch. At $140 a night, this was our most expensive hotel room in Japan. The room itself was massive, with two big single beds. Strangely, there was no internet. Most Japanese hotel rooms only have wired internet, and a tiny amount have wireless. In fact, the best internet we’ve had on the trip was the first couple of nights at a hostel!

IMG_2279We then headed to Huis Ten Bosch. Kathryn thought that it would be free, which makes very little sense to me, considering that even going to a temple shrine costs money in Japan, everything has a price here. Because we entered at 5pm, we got an evening ticket for $40 each.

Huis Ten Bosch was designed to be a full size replica of Amsterdam buildings for Japanese people who didn’t wanted to spend all their money going to actual Amsterdam. So it’s all a bit of a caricature of Amsterdam, but in classic Japanese style, so very clean, very polite, very orderly. Probably not the same as real Amsterdam at all, except in the actual buildings.

As night fell, we headed towards the Palace Huis Ten Bosch. This is a massive mansion, that then decided to do a night lights show using Japanese punk music. It was very surreal.

 

There were a few attractions in the park that you could enter. We entered a Haunted House, which wasn’t really Kathryn’s thing. It was a super dark movie theatre, where you listened to a creepy horror story, which was pitch black, except for the occasional flash of something scary on the screen. Kathryn didn’t respond well to this, and I found it to be scary, though the scare factor was somewhat diminished by the fact it was all in Japanese, and I didn’t understand any of it except the occasional scream, or screech sound.

We then wandered around the theme park, in much the same way that you wander around Disneyland once you’ve been on all the rides. We ended up walking for 4 hours, which is quite a bit of walking around a fake Amsterdam. It said online that there would be fireworks at 8.42pm, so we hung out in the rain waiting for 8.42pm to come, and then lo and behold, there were no fireworks. Never trust anything written online, including this blog.

RTW Day 8 – Kyoto temples, gates, chicken, and station

In a slight change of itinerary from our original plan, we decided to head to Kyoto today. It really was an easy decision considering we didn’t really like the hotel in Osaka we booked. We walked the 30 minutes to Osaka Station. Confusingly, there are at least three railway stations in the middle of Osaka all next to each other, JR Osaka Station, Umeda Station for trains, and Umeda Station for the subway. Easy. We caught the local train bound for Shin-Osaka Station, then the Shinkansen bound for Kyoto.

IMG_2236Kathryn watches a YouTube vlogger called Alli Speed (used to be Alli Trippy, formerly married to Charles Trippy), who recently visited Kyoto, and recommended going to the Fox Shrine, or Fushimi Inari, and so we did. From Kyoto Station, we caught the local train to Inari Station, and saw the temple.

Fushimi Inari is famous for Torii, or red gates. Japanese companies donate these gates with their names on them to the shrine in exchange for good luck in business. Or something like that, I’m a little bit rough in my story telling. It’s a nice walk through the gates, and very peaceful compared to Tokyo and Osaka. When you’re constantly surrounded by people like ants, in the train stations, the subway stations, the department stores, it’s really nice to be in a place that’s relatively still, calm, quiet, and peaceful. I’m not suggesting we live there, but sometimes it’s nice to take a time out.

IMG_2245We then caught a couple of subways to the next destination, Nanzen-ji Temple, once again, on Alli’s recommendation. We found it to be lovely and peaceful, with perfectly sculptured gardens. The rock gardens are a personal favourite of Kathryn and mine, the way they look like rocks in a river, with the water flowing around them is very peaceful. Monks go out every day and rake the currents around the rocks, without leaving footprints, which is very impressive.

From here, we’d had our fill of nature, so decided to head back to Kyoto Station. But first, it was time for lunch. We saw a little cafe, and sat down. Turns out there were two sections, and we sat in the smoking section. A smoking section, in a cafe! This was literally disgusting. This isn’t just standing downwind of one person smoking at a bus stop. Not even the same as hanging out with the smokers outside of D4. This was a cafe filled with people smoking, and that smoke wasn’t going anywhere fast. We had some pizza, spaghetti, and other things, but we left in a hurry, so quickly that Kathryn didn’t even finish her meal.

IMG_2252All major city train stations are massive, but Kyoto Station’s architecture is really awesome. As you come up through the subway, the space opens up into this massive covered area, with an open air roof 10 stories above you, and escalators taking you up a terraced space.

From Kyoto, I intended to show Kathryn how easy it was to reach our local subway station. Just catch the Shinkasen to Shin-Osaka Station, transfer on the subway line to Umeda Station, walk to Higashi-Umeda Station, then transfer on another subway line to Minami Morimachi station.

Yeah, it sucked, and had lots of transfers. Really, the area of Osaka we picked didn’t have too much going for it. When you’re used to public transport being on your doorstep and taking you anywhere, walking for 20 minutes to a subway station gets pretty tiring.

RTW Day 7 – Making instant noodles, and Kathryn hates Yokohama

So we left Tokyo bound for Yokohama today. I think Yokohama is a bit like the Porirua of Tokyo. It’s right next door, people consider it so close that it’s the same city, though people who live and visit can see it’s pretty different.

IMG_2208The two things I wanted to see in Yokohama was the Cup Noodle Museum and the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum. These seemed the most cheesy tourist attractions in Yokohama. For luxury, we decided to catch the bullet train the 10 minutes to Shin-Yokohama station. If you’re ever in Japan and catching bullet trains, you’ll notice that most of the bullet train stations start with “shin”, which is new. What this means is that they created a new train station, often in the middle of nowhere, which is the bullet train station. It’s not a problem, just don’t always expect the station to be right in the middle of the city. We caught the train bound for Sakuragichō, getting off at Yokohama, because we wanted to see Yokohama right?

When we got off, Yokohama Station is located in the middle of a spaghetti junction of roads. It was pretty industrial. We then stumbled through the Nissan Global Headquarters, and saw all the new Nissan cars being made. There’s a huge focus on electric cars, including some awesome racing cars, and some really awful looking one person cars, that were closer to scooter than to car. We then walked past a soccer field, and then a bunch of apartments in the middle of nowhere. It was around here that Kathryn decided she hated Yokohama, because of how awful the experience was in travelling from the station towards all the tourist spots. I suggested it may be our Google Maps navigation, but she wasn’t interested in excuses.

IMG_2206Eventually we made it to the Cup Noodle Museum. It was an amazing looking building, a massive white square with wooden stairs, very clean and modern. Inside you purchase an empty cup, decorate it with pictures you like, then get to select flavours for your cup noodles. I selected Cheese, Spring Onion, Garlic, and Chilli. On reflection, I regret picking Cheese. I could probably pick it out.

Before we left, we asked what was the best way back to Shin-Yokohama station. Turns out we should walk to Sakuragichō Station, and catch the train directly back to Shin-Yokohama. So turns out we did get off at the wrong station, then walk through a crappy industrial/residential area, instead of going the normal way. So that was good news.

In Shin-Yokohama, we found the Ramen Museum. This was designed to look like a 1950’s Railway Station, with various Ramen shops. Ramen, is Chinese Noodles, often cooked in a Miso or Pork broth, with slices of Pork and sometimes an egg added. Kathryn’s not really a fan of pork, but she was a trooper and had a try of the Ramen anyways. It was super rich, and tasted like eating pork fat. Probably not the best thing to get a person who doesn’t like pork to try. But good on her, she gave it a go! It also came with an egg, which sounded exciting, until you ate it. It was brown, salty, and tasted like pork fat. Not the normal flavour expected from an egg.

So based on food that was not the best (and cost like $30), a crappy walk, and a bad vibe, Yokohama gets a thumbs down from us.

IMG_2224We then caught Shinkasen bound for Shin-Osaka. Osaka is a familiar city to us, and based on this, Kathryn treated us to a Taxi ride from the railway station to our hotel. While she was enjoying the ride, I was trying to communicate with the taxi driver where our hotel was. I showed him the address, which meant nothing to him. After a while, we finally managed to communicate where the hotel was.

The hotel, while being the most expensive yet at $105 a night, was a bit of a dive. A classic business hotel that was dated, small, and smelt a little like smoke. Certainly not our best pick. Alas, can’t win them all. We went out and explored some of the shopping malls, including HEP 5 which has a whale in it, and then settled for the night.

 

RTW Day 6 – The long trip back to Odaiba Tokyo

Before getting into the blog, the TV show in the hotel room is determining how fast something must go past a school girl for her skirt to flash. A guy running at 30kmh wasn’t enough, a scooter at 60kmh wasn’t enough, but a Ferrari at 120kmh was enough. So another hard hitting news report from Japan.

IMG_2138Anyways, I use kayak.com as my online trip organiser. In Kayak it said that we were departing Sapporo at 6.36am, and therefore, we decided to get up a couple of hours earlier at 4.30am, so we could have a shower, do all our packing, and be prepared for our travel.

Turns out, the train tickets I actually reserved were for 7.30, so that was a bit of difference. Sapporo was a scorcher today at 18 degrees and sunny, so I was happy that when we arrived yesterday it was cold and snowing, because warm is a bit clichéd for Japan at the moment. Warmth really is our enemy in Japan. We’re not designed for hot weather, and our clothing system really goes from warm, to super warm, so when it’s anything higher than 15 degrees, we start sweating, and getting angry at each other. Faces all red and flushed, and not in a good way.

Today, all the trains were painless, on time, and pleasurable. No dramas to report.

IMG_2161We did decide to stay in a different but familiar part of Tokyo, Odaiba. After Khaosun Tokyo Ninja provided us a tiny room with a damp towel smell for about $60 a night, we decided to spend $75 and stay in a hotel instead. We ended up staying at the Tokyo Bay Ariake Washington Hotel. Apparently I had ordered a smoking room, but after asking the person at the front counter nicely, we were upgraded to a massive four person non-smoking family room for no extra cost. I can still flirt with the best of them. As did Kathryn, throwing out the old “your English is awesome” compliment.

Odaiba is an artificial island, which means there’s lots of space to walk around, and for massive crazy architecture. The Tokyo Big Sight, or conference centre, looks like four upside down pyramids, and is a favourite building of mine.

Before heading out, we had dinner at McDonald’s. As a person who loves novelty food, this place will be the death of me. Now they have fries which you squirt some sort of cheese liquid over. It looks as appealing as how I described it. Add that to the Cheese powder you shake over a Chicken Fillet, and the Japanese obsession with Cheese flavour aligns perfectly with my delight in enjoying it.

IMG_2185We headed towards Venusfort, which is a shopping mall for women. Designed to replicate Venice, it’s super cheesy. We’ve been here a few times before, and the feeling of walking around and seeing all these familiar sights is quite nice. I spend all my time at work thinking about the future, so it’s nice to do some reminiscing for a change. We came into Venusfort so Kathryn could once again find some Crocs. I say once again, because like a three-yearly ritual, we come to Tokyo, Kathryn tries to find these leather sandal Crocs, they don’t have them (since they’re only sold in America), and then we move on. I’m not sure why she’s so obsessed by Crocs.

Finally, we walked a bit further to another shopping mall, Diver City. This is famous for having the only life sized replica of a space robot, Mobile Suit Gundam. It’s a big robot about 18 metres tall. It’s cheesy and awesome.

RTW Day 5 – A european style canal in Otaru, central Sapporo, and getting drunk at a Beer Garden

Today was our first, and only, full day in Sapporo, and because we’ve been getting up super early, nothing is open. For those of you not familiar with Japan, everything opens around 10am, and therefore closes around 8pm – 10pm. Because we were up at 6am, nothing was open.

IMG_2074However, it was snowing, which was terribly exciting. Coming from hot and humid Tokyo, to see snow falling, white outside, with crows flying around, was either really serene, or the start of a terrible horror movie. It seemed serene to me.

We decided to take a 30 minute train ride up the coast towards Otaru. Otaru is a seaside town, famous for nothing in particular, except a canal. This canal has been done in “European style”, and therefore, is a tourist attraction. Wanting to kill a couple of hours, we decided to catch the train to Otaru to see the canal. Otaru also happens to be near one of Japan’s first Ski Fields, however, instead of that, we went and saw the canal.

The canal was … canal like. Imagine a river, made of sea water I presume. That describes the canal. Kathryn was underwhelmed, considering the train had taken about 50 minutes to get here. We left Otaru, never to return again.

We then caught the train back to Sapporo, and decided to see some of the central sites of Sapporo. One of the main tourist attractions is seeing the Sapporo Clock Tower. This was ranked the third most disappointing tourist attraction in Japan by Japanese tourists. I’d really hate to see what number one and two were, based on what we saw at the clock tower. It’s famous because it’s quite an old building in Sapporo. Kathryn thought it was an inside joke of the Japanese people. I think it’s a bit like the L&P bottle in Paeroa, it’s famous, but really only to New Zealanders.

IMG_2088We then went and saw the Sapporo Tower. This was modelled on the Tokyo Tower, which itself was modelled on the Eiffel Tower. The net result is a lot of towers that all look like each other. From here we made our way to a game arcade in one of the main shopping streets.

Game Arcades are a bit like Timezones in New Zealand, except massive in size. There’s one game where you try and topple over a stack of candy by adding more candy next to it until the pile of candy topples over. I spent about $14 trying to win about $3 worth of candy, and ended up with about $1 worth of candy. So that was a sound investment.

From there, we were exhausted from walking everywhere, so we took a brief stop at the hotel to have a nap and recharge the batteries, before heading out to the Sapporo Beer Museum and Sapporo Bier Garten.

Turns out that yesterday was a Japanese holiday (who would have known!), and because the museum is normally closed on a Monday (which yesterday was), they decided to close the museum on a Tuesday (which is today) instead. So that was disappointing. I did try and call them up and they answered, which I assumed meant that they were open, but I was clearly wrong. Turns out my emergency Japanese doesn’t exactly cover actual conversations that need to convey meaning.

IMG_2105What was open was the Sapporo Bier Garten. Basically this was a giant beer hall that served unlimited beer and lamb for about $40 each. Based on those prices, we needed to eat two plates of lamb each, and about 3 drinks each before we made our money back.

The problem with New Zealand is that certain things are restricted, so when overseas, people tend to indulge in those things. Fireworks are banned pretty much all the time, so when overseas I tend to buy them, and behave inappropriately with them. Same thing with all your can drink alcohol. That’s not a done thing in New Zealand because of Alcohol and Health laws, so when overseas where you can do this, there’s a natural inclination to overindulge. Which is what we did.

However, to ensure we didn’t sully the good name of New Zealand, we made sure we chanted and proclaimed to all people we walked past that we were Australian, specifically from Cairns. Who knows what will happen when we actually meet an Australian couple from Cairns, we’ll then have to pretend we’re from Adelaide instead.

RTW Day 4 – 310kmh, near Asthma and missed connections and Sapporo

Buying a Japan Rail Pass is relatively expensive at $750 NZD for two weeks, so it’s important to make the most of it. We decided to visit the far north of Japan, to the island of Hokkaido, specifically the main city of Sapporo. This involves taking three trains, a bullet train, a regular train, and an express train.

IMG_2056Leaving Tokyo at 8.20am, we caught the Hayabusa Shinkansen. This is an extremely fast, yet relatively boring train ride. Because the Shinkansen is optimised for speed rather than viewing, it’s mostly tunnels. Tunnels tunnels tunnels. However, it is quick at 310kmh, and the trip to Shin-Aomori, 700km away, took a couple of hours. The equivilent trip in New Zealand would take about 10 hours by rail, so it’s a little quicker here.

While it is quick and mostly on time, this once, the Shinkansen was about 5 minutes late. Since we only had 10 minutes to make our next connection, we were a little stressed at Shin-Aomori station. We sprinted down the stairs from the Shinkansen line, ran towards the next platform, sprinted up and down the stairs, and made it to the Super Hakucho, with only a couple of minutes to spare.

However, this train unlike all others we’ve experienced in Japan, must have been running on local time, as it was about another 10 minutes before it actually departed. So that was good news that we sprinted just in time to wait on the train while it appeared to do nothing in particular.

Finally we departed. The most exciting ad boring thing about this train is that in goes through one of the largest tunnels in the world, 53km long. Engineering wise it’s amazing, but for views of Japan, not so much. Just before we arrived at Hakodate to transfer to the next train, Super Hakucho decided to become dead Hakucho, and not move at all.

IMG_2054It’s times like those that I wish I knew more Japanese. When a train stops in the middle of nowhere, and a guy starts talking on the train for ages, then you know that something bad is happening. About 10 minutes later, the train then departed the middle of nowhere, bound for the next train we were to surely miss.

Thankfully I know the smallest amount of emergency Japanese, so I asked the guy next to me if he spoke English. He didn’t really, but I asked him if he was going to Sapporo, and he was, on the same train as Kathryn and I. So in the end, we just decided to follow him like white on rice. No racist analogy intended. In 2015 the Shinkansen will go all the way to Hakodate, meaning that this annoying slow middle train gets cut out which is good news.

The next train was Hokuto, from Hakodate to Sapporo. The views from this train in the beginning are amazing. As it’s November, there’s a light dusting of snow on the hills, which soon become mountains in the distance, which then turns into an endless sea. But no need to wax poetic about it, it just looks very peaceful, relaxing, and desolate. While that doesn’t seem that exciting compared to Tokyo, when you’re surrounded by people on a train, with someone brushing against your bum, sometimes it’s nice to relax, and know that all of Japan isn’t like that.

RTW Day 3 – We saw Mount Fuji from Tokyo Skytree and bought Miracle Fruit

Tokyo is about four hours behind New Zealand, so getting used to the time has meant me being up at 6am, and going to bed at 9pm. Today we took advantage of the early start, and started walking at 7am from Asakusabashi towards Oshiage, where the Tokyo Skytree is.

The Tokyo Skytree is the largest tower in Japan, and one of the largest towers in the world. Heck, it’s even bigger than the Auckland Sky Tower, as hard as that is to believe. It opened at 8am, so we thought that we’d be the first people to be there. Turns out because it was a sunny Sunday morning, we were there with about a thousand other people. However, the lines moved quickly, and 30 minutes later, we caught the elevator up 350m to the first viewing platform. The cost was around $20 each.

DSC_0013The highlight was being able to see Mt. Fuji. As per the previous post, Mt. Fuji is a shy mountain, so getting a glimpse of it today was amazing. Tokyo is a sprawling metropolis, with over 8 million people, but the views from the Tokyo Skytree are amazing, on a clear day you can see about 70km in all directions.

From Tokyo Skytree, it was time to have breakfast. We weren’t in the mood to walk any more, so we caught the subway to Asakusa. Asakusa is a famous tourist site, so we knew it would be a great place to go for that famous Japanese cuisine, McDonald’s. I had a Chicken McMuffin which was surprisingly confusing. It was a bit like having a Bacon and Egg McMuffin make love to a McChicken, and then someone threw in some mustard and ketchup for good measure. A weird combination.

We then decided to head to Shimokitazawa. From Asakusa catch the Ginza Metro line towards Shibuya, then catch some weird local line a few stops towards Shimokitazawa.

But before that, we needed to buy some travel moisturiser since the one I packed was literally empty. Not figuratively, like the emptyness of one’s soul, but literally, as in, why did I bring this empty container over from New Zealand. We went into a massive department store, and asked for the moisturiser. The experience is that the shop keepers sit you down at the table. The pricing was about the same as New Zealand. Then they offered heaps of additional products for $5 more, which you can’t say no to. Then they take your cash while you’re still sitting, and come back with a receipt. Then they offer you Ab Smoothing cream. Which I thought was a little rude, because, how do they know my Abs need smoothening? They might be smooth as already! I guess she guessed my physique through my t-shirt. Rude.

Anyways, we were then taken over to the tax refund counter. If you spend more than $50 in one transaction, you can get the 8% Consumption Tax (GST) back. But, you can’t use the goods in Japan, and they wrap them in a special bag, and put a stamp into your passport. However, we did save $4 so that was worth the hassle, said no one ever.

We then made it to Shimokitazawa. This was one of my favourite parts of Tokyo. It’s like the Petone of Wellington, quieter, but cooler, and quirkier, and more normal. There’s lots of second hand clothing stores that Kathryn didn’t enjoy, because she hates the thought of someone else owning something before her. It makes her physically ill, because she’s that fancy.

We then met up with a friend in Harajuku. Harajuku is big, full of people, and tourists. I didn’t enjoy it much. I did enjoy going to the massive Daiso 100 yen store, and if you’re reading this, then note your gift from Japan will more than likely come from this store. A keyring if you’re lucky. Because nothing says love like a gift worth around $2.

Last but not least, I stumbled upon Miracle Fruit at a Japanese supermarket. This fruit temporarily changes the taste receptors on your tongue so that sour tastes sweet. I ate a Lemon which was indeed sour before the fruit, and tasted like a sweet Orange after the fruit. It was amazing, a miracle indeed!