Visiting Japan around New Year

It’s worth noting that if you choose to visit Japan in the few days around new year that many attractions will be shut at that time. Lots of museums and attractions aren’t open for the week around new year and some aren’t open longer.

Yokohama and the journey there

So I got the train up from Hiroshima to Yokohama on Monday the journey was fairly uneventful (I even got 2 seats for the price of 1 for most of the journey.) except when I was told to move behind the yellow line on the platform. Now this would be fair enough except firstly there was a big metal fence between me and the train and secondy the train was stopping. Even if I’d had a heart attack the train wouldn’t have hit me, and even if I’d got crazily towards the train somehow 999 times out of 1000 the train would have been able to stop in time as it was going slowly probably making the odds of something going really wrong like 1 billion to 1. This is an example of the Japanese going too far on safety.

One interesting thing to note about the Shinkansen in general is how it runs entirely on seperate track from other Japanese trains. They are narrow gauge and the Shinkansen is standard gauge (which unsurprisingly is wider) also a huge percertage of track is built either on bridges or in tunnels which is different from standard railway construction. This is because the track is new and most of Japan is built up and so difficult to find space to build new track on. That the Japanese have managed to sucessfully build a new railway like this makes technologies like maglev which allows you to run trains at more than 500km/h look more promising as they also have to be built on an entirely separate line. That kind of speed allows you to compete directly with airlines.

After arriving into Shin Yokahoma I caught a couple more trains to where I’m staying over New Year or Oshogatsu as it’s known in Japanese.

On Tuesday we headed on the train to Kamakura which is an interesting collection of Buddhist shrines and temples and it includes an 800 year old giant copper Buddha that unlike the Buddha in Nara is outside rather than protected by a building. You can also go inside this one which is really cool as well. After seeing this we went to dinner to have Okonomiyaki at a traditional Japanese restaurant that involved sitting on the floor around a low table. You even had to cook your own food as well.

After that I went back and went to bed. In the morning I got up and headed into Tokyo for the day to Akihabra. There seemed to be a lot of electronics shops (though they all seemed to be more expensive for cameras than Bic Camera in Kyoto was) and some manga stores as well. It was quite good but not amazing – probably because it wasn’t that busy around Tokyo today. After this I had some lunch before getting the train south on the Yamote line so I could get a picture of a Shinkansen. As I’ve been using the Shinkansen as a train I hadn’t got any pictures of it. But it is cool so I thought I should get one and right on cue a Shinkansen appeared. After this I headed on another stop on the train line and had a walk down to the bayside; or rather part of it as much of the bay is actually surrounded by canals. There are a lot of cool buildings down there as well as the fish Market which were worth seeing briefly. After that I returned to Yokohama for the evening meal of Kobe beef which was delicious and after that to welcome in the New Year. In the evening we sat on the floor in the traditional Japanese style and watched the temple bells being rung all over Japan. This is because the Japanese ring their temple bells 108 times to ward off evil at New Year.

The next day we headed out on a short drive to see the sea and also Mount Fuji in the distance before returning for lunch. In the afternoon we then headed out once more to Yokohama where we went on a harbour cruise and look at the, frankly garish and overly golden, temple in Chinatown.

Then the next morning I got up at 5:45am to get the train and bus to Narita airport so I could get my flight to Delhi.

Getting seriously weirded out here in India

I’m getting seriously weirded out in Delhi India by my accommodation (Smyle Inn) practically forcing me to book tours with them (and blatently saying “when are you booking a tour with us”, never seen that before.)

Many other people seem to be acting very strangely and pushing far heavier than I’ve seen before (even in South America, Thailand and Vietnam.).

PS I’ll keep you guys updated.

Arrived in Delhi

I just arrived into Delhi last night, and I haven’t had time to do anything yet. Delhi is very noisy and chaotic, and I’ve even seen a cow in the street. Now I’m off to get some breakfast.

Summary of the trip: Pacific Islands and Australia

I was always going to give some awards at the end of my trip, but so they stay relevant I am going to do some as I go along. So I’m going to split my trip into thirds. The next logical third is the Pacific Islands including Easter Island, Tahiti, New Zealand and Japan (technically its an island chain at least mostly in the Pacific.) as well as Syndey Australia. I know I haven’t posted my final Tokyo post yet, that is still to come after this one.

Best site

Milford Sound, South Island, New Zealand, Milford Sound was an absolutely stunning place to visit and it was well worth doing the excellent overnight cruise on the Fjord.

Best museum

A Bomb Museum, Hiroshima, Japan, though flawed as I covered in the Hiroshima post the A bomb museum was very good and covered the important facts about the first use of the nuclear bomb. All of the signs were also in English and the audio tour covered most of it and was available in 20 or so languages.

Best tour company

Oz Trails, Sydney for managing to organise and excellent and full one day tour of the Blue Mountains in Australia for a reasonable price as well.

Best city

Tokyo, Japan for its excellent public transport, great sites and it appears to have strong nightlife as well (though I didn’t experience it myself.). It is also a modern and vibrant city.

Best non-Family accommodation

Te’ora, Easter Island, this award has been practically guaranteed since Easter Island, but Te’ora was amazing and I would definitely go back for the accommodation, unfortunately Easter Island is really the sort of place you only go once, I recommend it to all levels of traveller, whether you stay in youth hostels (well it is a little expensive) or the Peninsula.

Best food for under US$25

Creviche in the blue restaurant on Easter Island, assuming you stay at the recommended accommodation this should be enough to go on, creviche on Easter Island was absolutely delicious.

Honourable Mention

Okomomiyaki, Hiroshima, although I didn’t speak English at the restaurant this was absolutely amazing, and was better than the Tokyo version which I had today (and haven’t discussed yet).

The Lee, Mohan and Tim award for the best burger

Burgers seem to be turning into a staple on this trip and in honour of my time in Chicago when I had four burgers in six days with the guys from Chicago (including two for two successive meals.

Burger Hut at Le Petit Village, Mooera for being absolutely delicious and a bargain for Tahiti.

Honourable Mention for South America

As the award started in Chicago, the USA is exempt so it goes to the BK Argento, Argentina.

Best nightlife

Queenstown, New Zealand, because I actually went out there, and unlike Sydney it had character and wasn’t full of non-descript hotel bars.

Best Activity

Shotover Jet, Queenstown for being great fun (especially the 360 degree spins), not too expensive for New Zealand and for finishing just when you wanted it to.

Honourable mention for the Americas

Mountain biking in Arequipa, Peru which was great fun on bumpy roads, and I even managed not to fall off!.

Friendliest People

The Japanese the Japanese, especially those I have stayed with have all been very friendly, even when there is a language barrier between us.

Best Transportation Company

Japan Rail, Japan, any train company which can make you forget to photograph something as cool as the Shinkansen because it “just works” so well is incredible, every train has been virtually on time in the entire country and the transportation system here in Japan is nothing short of incredible. Japanese trains are how it should work everywhere.

Best bargain

The free temples in Japan for often being as good as some of those you have to pay to enter.

Biggest rip-off

Tahiti for being totally overpriced for what it was. It was even a total rip-off in comparison to the utterly remote Easter Island, and Japan whose currency has gained 70% over the pound this year. This is really reflected in it only having 2.5 times the tourist numbers of Easter Island which is much harder to get to.

The Patrick Levy award for cinematography

When I went to South East Asia my friend Patrick (who doesn’t need much sleep) would watch films before going to sleep in the evening. Therefore I am dedicating this award to him. However even though films you watch while travelling are usually bad I’m giving this award to the genuinely most entertaining film.

The winner is Dan in Real Life for being the only romantic comedy I have ever seen that didn’t disappoint its genre by being a) funny and b) about real love.

Honourable Mention

The counterfeiters which was very interesting, but a little short for my liking.

Hiroshima

So I arrived into Hiroshima at 1:30pm on Saturday after having my usual lunch of rice in seaweed. First I checked into my hostel for the next couple of nights. After that I headed to the mixed contemporary arts museum. It had some moving art on the atomic bomb in the foyer and in the exhibition they had some great exhibits including a video describing the procress of life and a video of a cherry tree growing in a mans head but it had some really weird shitty ones like a video of a guy diving (yeah that’s “art” :rolleyes:).

After that I went to the prefectural art museum but it was shut so I just had a wander around town. I tried to find a cinema that was “close” to the city hall. After I found it was actually several metro stops to the south which is hardly close so I didn’t find it. The city looks nice but it’s basically like any other Japanese city. After that in the evening I had a Hiroshima pancake dinner which was delicious, ordering it was an experience too as their were no photos and the menu was only in Japanese. After this I returned to my hostel for the evening.

On Sunday morning I got up bright and early at 7:30am and headed over to Miyajima for the morning. I managed to get the 8:50am train from Hiroshima station west on the Sanyo line to the short JR ferry over to the island. This worked well and first I went to the floating shrine Itsukushima-jinja the island is famous for.

That was pretty impressive and as it was only an hour off high tide it was completely covered in water below it’s base making it look like it was floating. After seeing this I headed up to the temple Daisho-in which was very beautiful and also didn’t have an entry charge which was a refreshing change. The temple was also one of the most attractive I have seen here in Japan. After this I headed over to the cable car to head up the mountain. This was expensive at ¥1800 (£13) but worth it. The views at the top of the inland sea were absolutely stunning and it was well worth it. There was even a walk for the final distance to the very top of the mountain for an amazing view as well. After that I headed back to town on the train to take a look at the Peace Park and the museum there. That was very moving and had stuff on the leadup the war in the Pacific as well as why Hiroshima was picked and the aftermath. They also had the 1,000 paper cranes made by the girl who wanted to cure her Lukemia which was probably the most moving thing in the museum. All in all approximately 140,000 people died in the A-Bomb at Hiroshima.

There were some notable emmissions of the history though. They probably should have gone into more detail on the Rape of Nanking rather than quibbling about the number of people killed, the number is probably at least 100,000. They also failed to mention that American bombing before had been pretty hurrendous and that 100,000 people had been killed in three nights bombing in Tokyo which puts the deaths in some perspective. There was also nothing on the Americans land invasion of Okinawa where 260,000 Japanese and 13,000 Americans died in the invasion of that island chain because the Japanese fought to the death which adds a lot of weight for the justification for the atomic bombing.

Kinkakuju temple and the journey to Hiroshima

I got up at 7am on Saturday to head on the train to Hiroshima. It’s clear at this point that the New Year which is the Japanese equivalent to Christmas has begun and there is a lazy atmosphere in the air. First I headed to Kyoto station to leave my baggage before catching the slowest express bus I’ve ever caught which took 35 minutes to get to the shrine. The shrine was very beautiful and well set with a pretty lake in front of it however after a quick look around as there really wasn’t much to see I rushed back to Kyoto station (I got strange looks for walking at commuter speed through the rest of the shrine – hey I had a train to catch!) so I could get the Shinkansen to Hiroshima. I seemed to have bad luck with public transport today as I missed quite a few trains by a minute or less. I did even experience my first late train in Japan as well which was a whole 5 minutes late. The one behind was even worse at 15 minutes late! Outrageous. The Shinkansen from Osaka to Hiroshima was also even full in the unreserved section so I didn’t get two full seats to myself like I usually do and had to make do with only a single seat.

To avoid hypocracy I’m going to criticise the Indian trains in the same way that I critised the Japanese ones but so I don’t bore you like I did with bus-movies in New Zealand I’m going to do it in advance now. The Indian trains all suck for being at least 5 minutes late, it’s a disgrace.

Now I have something else to say about Japanese trains that the British actually do better. I’m deadly serious too.

Now you’re over the shock that Britain isn’t actually that bad with it’s trains I’ll tell you what it is. It’s the automated route management software that the ticket office access which doesn’t seem to easily allow you to compare train changing points on the Shinkansen as well as even a paper timetable. This means they didn’t recommend the fastest train yesterday and on Monday my journey back to Yokahoma will be 30 minutes longer than necessary. Oxford also does better with their automated display boards telling you which train to catch so you get to see what is the “next fast train” to your destination. This would be very useful at Kyoto for Shin-Osaka and Osaka for example.

Castle Himeji

I headed out to castle Himeji on boxing day morning, heading to Himeji mostly on the Shinkansen and changing 3 times on the way. Himeji is unsurprisingly another boring town though it has it’s good points. Firstly they rent free bikes to allow you to explore the town. This wasn’t that useful but did enable me to speed up to the castle (and to be a complete hypocrite I even went on the pavement like the other Japanese.).

The castle itself was actually amazing and was typically very cold. We got to explore the princesses rooms as well as the main keep and it was all very impressive. It could probably do with an update of the décor however as it was mostly pretty boring plain wood – espeically in the princesses quarters which were supposed to be very beautiful.

The main keep was well worth exploring too and it was pretty tall as well. Overall I believe the castle is being done up in January for three years now which will undoubtably fix my complaints. The guidebook also states the guided tours are good but these weren’t available today.

After seeing the castle I went to the nearby Japanese garden which was included in my ticket. This was also excellent and at ¥300 (£2) it was the cheapest as well as by far the best Japanese garden I’ve been to with 8.5 gardens in 1. All of which were relaxing, beauitful and different from each other. After this I zoomed over to the art museum on my bike but it was closed so instead I caught the Shinkansen back to Kyoto. When there I ran into a guy from my hostel and we went to the 1000+ tori walk up a mountain which is where you walk up a 1.5km path that is completely enclosed by tori and was amazing to see. It just kept going on and on and although we only went for 30 minutes it went up a lot higher into the mountains. After that I had another McDonalda before return to the hostel.

Osaka

On Christmas day I had a lazy morning (it’s Christmas after all) and then headed to Osaka. First I had a slow walk around the exterior of the castle before having some lunch. At which point I decided I was going to see the more impressive castle Himeji a little later so I gave it a miss and instead headed to the new museum of the history of Osaka. Unfortunately the displays weren’t in English but there was an excellent audio guide that covered more than enough material to satisfy me. Osaka seems to have been a city for a very long time now and it showed the cities development from an ancheint capital into the modern bustling city of today.

After that I went to the excellent aquarium though it was really cool and gave you a good look at the fish, the only problems were that given that it was Christmas day at 5pm it was rammed and the whale-sharks which were the star attraction didn’t really have enough space.

After that I was pretty tired so I haven’t had much of a taste of the city in one day but it seems to be quite a pretty and modern city from what I’ve seen so far.