Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tokyo Part 2

So here we are, the last blog.... :(

After 10 planes, 7 trains, 31 buses, 13 boat journeys, 5 minibuses, 3 cars, 1 campervan and countless other trips on boats, buses, taxis, rickshaws, scooters (yes mum we rented them) and trains, we have made it to our final destination, Tokyo! (pt 2) I hope no one is adding up our carbon footprint!

It was a bit more difficult to find our hostel as we forgot to copy the directions, but we eventually found it and eventually managed to get the hostel staff to acknowledge us and check us in.

It was my birthday and Emma had something planned as we were heading out to be somewhere for 6! Lost at 6.15, Emma needed help so decided to tell me we were eating posh nosh on the 40th floor of a nearby building! A guy directed us and when we arrived it wasn't a problem that we were 30 mins late!! The view was amazing and the food was really good too. It was an all you can eat buffet, but, a really posh one! We weren't sure if they had experienced British people at an all you can eat buffet before, but I think we filled a dishwasher with the amount of dishes we used! After I had my first round of dessert(s!), they brought out a birthday cake which was a plate full of candyfloss with a candle in it!! Excellent!

After the meal we stopped for drinks at a stand up bar. Stand up places are very popular in Japan as people are always on the go. It definitely had a local feel about it. The guy behind the bar got Emma to try Shochu which is a Japanese wine distilled from barley, sweet potato or rice (about 25% alcohol). It was pretty gross and definitely tasted of potato's!

We finished off our night at the hostel bar drinking free sake. We were surprised to see our room mates from Kyoto in the same bar so drunk with them for a bit.

Next morning we went back to Ueno park to see how the cherry blossom was getting on. A few more trees had actually started to blossom so the temples looked really nice!

Being the bargain hunting backpackers that we are we found out about a free viewing tower in the government building in the Shinjuku area. We even got a free audio guide! Unfortunately it was still a bit too cloudy to see Mt. Fuji, but great views and even better that it was freeeee! We rounded off the night with a curry! Proper job.

The next morning we got up early and headed to Mt. Fuji. We had carefully picked this day as BBC weather,, metcheck all said it was going to a sunny day. Well it was cloudy. We got to Lake Kawaguchi and couldn't see Mt. Fuji so thought it was hiding itself behind one of the hills. We headed for a view point on the other side of the lake and saw half a mountain covered in cloud. The cloud wasn't that thick so at times, the top of the mountain poked through. Anyway, we waited there for 4 hours in the freezing cold for the cloud to clear. It didn't clear, so we headed back to the bus stop with a few OK pictures.

Just as we were about to leave we got hungry and went to the 7/11 it was then we noticed the mountain had suddenly appeared! We couldn't believe our luck. BAD luck because we had been standing at an amazing viewpoint and didn't get a decent picture and GOOD luck because we actually saw the mountain, albeit a bad view.


We got up early on our last day keen to see the last of the days sights. We headed for the Tokyo Fishmarket at about 8.30 ish. The famous auction had taken place (3 hours earlier!) and people were selling the fish they had bought at the auction. As we only had a bag of chocolate covered cornflakes for breakfast (yes it is as good as it sounds) we decided to have Sushi again, for a late breakfast! We had tuna, snowcrab, eel, squid and Emma had octopus (it had tentacles on!). I was going to eat half of it but it wouldn't break down, never mind! Next time :P (for parents, thats a smiley face with a sticky out tongue!)

We then headed to the imperial palace which isn't as grand as it sounds. It was bombed in WWII so parts have been rebuild parts have been tarmacked over! The emperor still lives in the bit you cant goto which is probably the best bit. We went to a free museum there which housed gifts received from other nations. We saw extravagant gifts from Korea, Kenya, Cambodia and many other countries. Expecting the best of the best from the England we see that the Queen and old Phil had given the emporer a lace table cloth, the sort of table cloth you would see in a greasy spoon in England! How embarrassing, the gift from Wales was obviously being used in the emperors house, unlike the table cloth!!!

We went to Harijuku to see the crazy fashion folk but it wasn't happening and after a few seconds we got deja-vu, as we had already been there before and it was no good last time either!

Straight back on the subway, we then decided to be wacky and goto the Tokyo Stock Exchange as it was a free tour. It was pretty boring. Basically its a big building that they use to use before everything was computerised and now they've got all this spare space to allow boring tours! I'm pretty sure the people 'working' were actors and were just looking at screensavers!

We then went to go shopping to get the many souvenirs we had earmarked. There was also a dragon parade on the street hence the photos.

In the evening we decided to head to Rappongi which we heard was popular with expats etc. As we walked through it didn't seem that great, no thanks to the people hanging around. We splashed out and went for a TGIs anyway! As we walked in we noticed that during a persons 'birthday month(!)' they get a free desert. After our awesome meal of ribs and chicken burger, both huge, I went to the bathroom while Emma enquired about the free desert. 5 minutes later the staff were around the table singing happy birthday and brought me a free desert!! Excellent! They also gave me a birthday card with a picture of us that they took 5 minutes earlier!

Japan has been...cold (Emmas input). Its also been pretty cool with a mix of history with shrines and pagodas and modern lifestyle. The people have been really friendly and helpful when we have looked lost. I think the happy people have just been to toilet though, those seat warmers and bum washers puts a smile on anyone's face!!

So that's it. Thanks for reading, you will now all be charged for the privilege - how else did you think we'd fund our trip?!

Monday, March 15, 2010


Osaka, famous for being on Superdry t-shirts, was a very short train journey from Kyoto.

As we were only staying 2 nights we walked around town generally getting lost! We did a practice run for getting to the sumo stadium as we would be getting up early to try and get tickets!

When we got back to the hostel the receptionist told us we could get tickets from a convenience store. She gave us a note in Japanese to explain what we wanted to the people working in the store but we were told the tickets had sold out. We were a little worried but still stuck to the plan of early morning tickets on the door.

On our search for that evenings meal we came across a Yakitori restaurant which is skewered meat cooked BBQ style. But on reading the menu we were definately put off when we found out the 'meat' they used was knuckle, pork gristle, heart, diaphragm, tendons, and gizzards! Not so appealing, I think we'll leave Japan without trying Yakitori!! The restaurant also served 'underdone chicken with eggs'! A recipe for salmonella if ever I heard one!!

We got to the stadium at 7.45 the next morning and a large queue greeted us. We were given bits of paper with no.135 and 136 which meant we were in! We got the tickets and headed back to the hostel to get ready. We stocked up on some goodies to take in including a 'chocolate France' (-pan au chocolate).

We got back to the stadium for about 10.30 and were shown to our seats. The stadium is so small that although we were quit far back we had a great view. We were also pleased to have proper seats, as what they had advertised to be the boxes that seated 4 people were actually 4 pillows on the ground in an area marked out by poles only about 1.5m squared!

The stadium was empty when we arrived, as it was only the low ranking wrestlers fighting from 8.40-14.40. It was still really cool to watch though.

We were allowed to leave the stadium once so headed next door to get some beers from the convenience store. On our way back in all the top Sumo Wrestlers were arriving. It was funny to see people taking their photos and a little kid asking for their autograph.

The wrestling did get a lot better in the afternoon. They were quite a bit more vicious, and were allowed to carryout certain rituals the lower ranking Sumo's weren't. Upon entering the ring they were given 4minutes to 'psyche each other out'. Now I would say that the New Zealand rugby team do a good job of this, or boxers before a big fight, but the Sumos just crouched and then stood up again, threw a bit more salt around and then crouched again...not that intimidating! But the crowd seemed to love it! Even though this meant that it would take a lot longer to prepare for a fight that actually do it! Most were over in about 10seconds! N

It was quite clear who the Japanese favourites were, including an absolutely huge guy who the crowd loved!! He was so big he could hardly even walk to the ring, we really didn't think he'd be able to fight, maybe just stand there until the other guy gets warn out and belly bump him out the ring! But to our surprise his opponent picked him up by his giant man nappy and threw him out the ring! The guy looked completely shocked, being lifted out the ring was the last thing he was expecting!

The Russian and Eastern European Sumos were pretty good and won their 10second fights! Apparently the Japanese Sumo have had to change their approach to training as these guys are fat but also muscular!

After the Sumo we walked around Namba, including the Dotonbori and America Mura area, which were pretty cool. Pretty tired from our early start we quickly grabbed something to eat (I say something as i don't know what it was, some sort of omlette potato cake with fish shavings on top -the fish shavings were pretty gross!) and headed back.

The next morning was Kris's birthday. As Japan don't really do birthday cakes I got another Chocolate France and put happy birthday candles in them. ( and opened my presents!!)

Then it was off to Tokyo, our final destination before home!!! Holding back the tears for now!

Video of sumo! (dont worry pics below!)

The first picture is a picture of a 'Love hotel' where you can rent a room by the hour 'for a rest', at least that's what their parents think!
The 2nd picture is of the toilet robot arm and gadget functions!

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Japan is proving a breeze to get around and we found our hostel in next to no time. K's house is a pretty cool with lots of comfy sofas and being in a 4 bed dorm, cuts the risk of being in with too many annoying/smelly/snoring men!!

The weather was cold and raining but it didn't stop us braving it to go visit some old sights! Outside the hostel and every shop and restaurant is an umbrella stand. It seems the done thing to put yours in and just take someone elses as you leave as ours is never still there! Our original one was donated to us by our hostel in Hiroshima as the lady felt sorry for us leaving in the snow!

We headed out on a famous walk to the Hohashiyama which has lots of temples, pagodas and small streets to get lost in. On one of our pictures a lady was tucking into a burger, I think she realised she was in the way then offered to take our picture! In our defence she was standing next to a no eating sign!

That pretty much filled our day and in the evening we went to a cafe recommended by our hostel. We walked in the waiter said 'raemen', we nodded and our noodles and pork arrived 5 mins later, yum.

The next day we took a train to the Arashiyama district 15 minutes from Kyoto. The area had lots of nice walks- the bamboo forest being the best. We went to the main draw which is monkey mountain. Everyone likes monkeys, I think it's because they resemble humans by picking their noses, checking for head lice etc. They were cool monkeys, technically wild but very tame. We got an ace picture of 3 monkeys on a building, if only they would do the pose (hands on eyes, ears mouth)!

That evening we went for one of our best meals yet. When we choose where to eat, we go by prices on the outside and we don't know what it is until we get inside. We get shown to our table and it's our own private booth! We had a buzzer when we wanted assistance, which we didn't realise for about 20minutes! They had an translated menu for us and a few of their translations and descriptions were interesting:

Fowl's liver roasted with salt
The chewiness is attractive

Fried salted cow Tongue with mustard
We use good quality cow Tongue (phew what a relief!)

Chocolate Sunday
Vanilla ice cream, peach, cornflakes and fresh cream

Cuttlefish legs and kimchee
You feel like in Korea

Yam roasted with salt
The crispy taste make you happy

Fried salted cow Tongue with Garlic
Affinity between cow tongue and garlic is very good

There's funny translations everywhere but we noted these while waiting for our food.

We decided to get a bus pass the next day which gave us unlimited travel around the city. We headed to Nijo castle which was a nice few hours. The best thing about it had to be the squeaky floors which sounded like birds chirping. This was by design as the residents were quite paranoid about people sneaking up on them. It was impossible not to walk on a squeaky bit and it was noisy with everyone walking around. Although I suspect a ninja would be able to dodge the squeaks. The grounds of the castle were also really nice so we got some good photos.

We headed to kinkaku-ji or 'The Golden Pavilion'. It was again really nice even though it was rebuilt in the 50s due to a fire. We did see a berserk lady pushing around 2 dogs and a cat in a pram, hence the photo! We headed to the imperial palace but it was closed so wandered around the huge park.

The next day we went to Nara, the first capital city of japan. It was quite touristy although not with westerners. The big attraction is the Todai-Ji temple which houses a 16 metre high bronze Buddha dating from 752. It is housed in the largest wooden building in the world which was rebuilt in 1709 after burning down. Emma also managed to crawl through a hole in the timber which will give her good luck for life. A lottery ticket will be our first purchase in UK. It wasn't that I was too big to fit through, there was just no need as Emma had already done it(!)

There were other great sights but I won't bore you with the details, just look at the photos! There were also loads of scabby deers that were eating each others fur! Yuk. They are sacred as they believe they are messengers from god. The only message we saw coming from them was 'feed me'!

On our way back we stopped off at the Avenue of Torri gates which has hundreds of orange gates going up the hill. It made for interesting pictures when other tourists moved out of the way!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


We left Tokyo on the 'Shinkansen Hikari Superexpress' to Hiroshima, which basically means the really fast bullet train! It was very spacious and more like an aircraft inside!

We again found the hostel in Hiroshima very easily, so headed straight out to the Peace Memorial park. The first thing we saw was the remains of the A-dome which looked eerie with it's steel dome. It's the only remaining building from the time. There were a lot of tourists at the park, most were Japanese.

The museum was very interesting, we spent about 2.5 hours in there. It explained the Japanese side of the war and the events that led to the bomb being dropped. I didn't realise Einstein signed a letter (drafted by someone else) urging the American President to invest in nuclear weapon research which led to the creation of the bomb. It was factual and not biased. It was a bit graphical with fragments of clothing from victims, worst though was a preserved tongue from a victim with a disease from the after effects! A photo would have been fine!

Everything got flattened in a 2km radius and walking around afterwards it was crazy to think that after 20 minutes of walking we were still in an area would have been flattened.

We headed back through a large shopping centre and found another 100yen shop. We have made a rule to buy something at every 100yen shop we go into, so Emma bought a pink scarf (72p for a scarf!!)!!

We had our first meal disaster as the restaurant sold a very strange mix of food. It seemed to be similar to tapas but the dishes mainly consisted of the scraps from a carcass after everyone else had taken the good bits (gizzards, giblets, tendons!) We had pork skewers, boiled beef and mashed potato. It wasn't that nice so I had to get a burger to top myself up!

When we first arrived we met a guy on the train who recommended we visit Miyajima island. It looked good and transport was free thanks to our JR rail pass. Destination for day two sorted!

The main attraction is a 'Torii' which is built at sea. We also got a cable car to the top of the mountain. The cable car had an 'emergency' box which consisted of water, chocolate and nappies which we found very funny.

We visited a few temples and took a few pictures. The view from the top was excellent although a bit hazy. We then had to walk down steeply for 1 hour as we couldn't afford to cable car both ways!! It was an excellent day out and a good chance to see the old buildings. There were also deers wandering the streets everywhere which was odd. There were meant to be monkeys aswell but the only ones we saw were in a cage. Apparently there getting a bit vicious, so I'm not sure what there going to do with them!

We went for dinner with a German guy who was learning Japanese. He took us to a really nice restaurant to try Hiroshimas local dishes. He was there to help us order but they brought out English menus anyway!!

We woke up early the next morning to catch our train to Kyoto, and what did we find when we got outside? SNOW!! It was snowing quite a but in Hiroshima, but not settling, but 5 minutes into our train journey there was thick snow everywhere!! Our bodies and clothes are not prepared for that!!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Tokyo Part1

This is part 1 because we are heading back to Tokyo at the end of our trip.

We got off the plane and we were happy to see our bags again even if mine was the last one (-photo). We were checked into the country and out of the airport in about 20 minutes which was super fast! Emma went to the toilet while I got cash out and she had the largest grin when she came out. She amazed by all the gadgets on the toilet which included heated seat and a button to mimic the noise of a flush so no one can hear you going!!

We exchanged the ticket we bought in New Zealand and received our 14 day Japanese rail pass (it's for tourists and can only be bought outside of Japan).

We got on a train and headed for Tokyo! When we were on the train we realised we hadn't taken the best route into Tokyo, but never mind. We got off the train at basement level 5! After a bit of where do we go/what shall we do we decided to head on the underground which was color and number coded so pretty easy but it was rush hour so was very busy! A few people stopped to ask if we needed any help which has been the case a few times so far! The Japanese are definitely helpful!

We found our hostel easily and decided to head to Ueno park as we were pretty whacked so needed a gentler introduction to Tokyo!! Ameyoko Market was nearby so we had some lunch. It was pretty cold so we bought a can of hot tea from one of the hundreds of vending machines in the area!

Some vending machines sell beer and have a sign saying not for under 20s. With no one monitoring it I don't think the kids if Britain would adhere to the rules!!

The park had a few cherry blossom trees that were in bloom and some that were bare. We went to the 'Tokyo National Museum' which was pretty good. It had some really old cool paintings, body armour, swords etc.

As we were walking back to the train station we found the best thing every traveller would love to see... A 100Yen shop!! At 72pence that beats the British pound shops and the New Zealand and Australia $2 shops! We stocked up on massive chocolate pancakes (breakfast) and snacks.

We stayed local for dinner so headed down the street. We chose somewhere where you select your meal and pay at a vending machine and then take your ticket to the chef! 5 minutes later our noodle soup and beer was ready!! There are lots of these around and they're cheap at about £4 a meal.

We got a 7/11 ham and egg sandwich for breakfast (+ a donut) and headed to Ginza the next day.

We started at the Sony showroom in the Sony building. It was amazing! It started off with 3D televisisons, then I played 3D wipeout which was brilliant. You have to wear glasses but I don't think you can ever get around that! We had a play around with some other gadgets.

We walked across the famous Ginza Yon-chrome crossing which wasn't as big or as busy as the crossing right next to it!!

We then headed to Shibuya which was busy with shoppers. We stopped and watch the businessmen on lunch at Pachinko parlours. Which is like pinball only they have hundreds of steel balls. It's very strange but it's a national pass time apparently!

There are also lots of arcade games which are always packed with people, so very stereotypical there!

We were again knackered after a long day so went to eat at another vending machine place by us which was very nice again!!

We woke up early on Saturday to find it wet and cold again! Oh well! On our way home the night before we discovered a famous temple which is a hot tourist spot so we headed for that. Being Saturday it was rammed but we found a place to buy a Tokyo fridge magnet!! One thing we're looking forward to doing at home is putting all our fridge magnets on our fridge!!

We then attempted to go to the sumo museum, but after a long walk we arrived to find it closed!! Deciding to head to something that was based more indoors we went to Akihabara, the electronics district. The best part about this area was the Sega Worlds, huge buildings full of video games and grabber machines. You can win absolutely anything in their grabber machines, including diet pills and pillows that were far to big ever to fit through the drop hole even if you did manage to pick it up!! Some people were winning things though, although I'm not sure I'd want to, as on winning a crazy Japanese man would run up to the person shouting and banging his tambourine! Another funny site was the huge crowd of kids around a very geeky looking guy playing a shooting zombies game. The guy was taking it so seriously that he'd paid for both guns and was player 1 and 2! He kept cocking the guns as if they were real. We got the feeling he spent a bit too much time in Sega World and not the real world!

We rounded off our evening with sushi! We went to a sushi-go-round, where the plates of food are on a moving convayerbelt and you just take what you want (colour coded dishes so you know the price) or order something if you prefer. I loved it (well everything apart from the cod roe!), Kris did try everything but I don't think he'll ever be a sushi fan! I think the worse part for him was his raw tuna roll with alot of wasabi (tastes like mustard)! I really enjoyed it though, although I'm not sure I'd go for sushi at home, each dish here was only £1 so I was happy to try anything!!

Before we got to Japan we were worried that it was going to be too expensive. When we were telling people we were going to Japan their first words are expensive! The accommodation isn't too bad and meals are affordable so far!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


After our winter clothing spending we couldn't afford to do much so spent our last night in the van eating left over food but more importantly, drinking leftover booze!

The next day we woke up early as we needed get our stuff back into 2 bags and take the van back to the depot. As we both returned back from the toilet we realised the keys were in the van and it was now locked! I got the blame as I left just after Emma and closed the (unlocked) door which then decided to lock itself! So there we were, stood outside our van, Emma in her PJs and me in my shorts. It took a while to get hold of the owners, especially as when we explained our problem to the helpful lady behind reception and asked her to look on the internet for the campervan company's companies contact number, she suggested we look on the paperwork. We tend not to take the paperwork every time I goto the toilet!!

We eventually got hold of them and they asked us to look for the spare key under the back bumper. It wasn't there because.... when we (I) hit the bumper in Wellington, we saw a key fob on the floor which didn't look like a key so we left it....that was obviously the spare key! We didn't tell the owners that though!

When the owners eventually turned up they didn't have a spare key or any tools on them which was as useful as a chocolate teapot! we went looking for some wire so we could break into the van. One of the guys commented, "if I could only look in the van, I bet theres a metal coat hanger in there!". Great idea mate, heres a better one, get the keys while you're in there!! We struggled not to be too obvious about our frustration from the useless and unhelpful words leaving his mouth!

We finally found some wire and they impressively unlocked the door with the wire. We chucked everything out of the van and then they took it, leaving us and our stuff in a mess on the floor!

Luckily our hostel for the next few nights was around the corner. The next few days were spent doing not a lot! We watched tele, ate chocolate from the Cadburys factory and wondered around Christchurch (particularly the shops that sells crap for tourists, Kris loves them!! - am I not a tourist?!).

New Zealand was really cool and having the van was excellent! Kiwis are less annoying than the Aussies!

To cap off our time in New Zealand who should be on our flight out of Christchurch but Sir Cliff Richard!!! He was in Business Class of course and we were in the chicken coop, but we passed him on our way to the back! Unfortunately he didn't come round half way through the flight and sing summer holiday though, sham!

We haven't uploaded all the pictures from Christchurch yet...

Next stop, and last stop :( is the craziness of Japan.

Another thing... Skins (ignore this bit Nan) which is filmed in Bristol was advertised on tele in New Zealand by a guy with a very over the top cockney accent! We both shouted at the tele 'They're not cockneys!!', they're from Brizzle, init!!

Sunday, February 28, 2010


After a long drive we stopped for the night 10km outside of Akaroa at a nice campsite by the lake. We were looking forward to a bit of a lie in as we were going to spend the day exploring the area and watching the wildlife. Oh how we were wrong!!

At 7.30 we got woken up by the site owner warning us of a tsunami alert! In true fashion we didn't panic so had a shower, bushed our teeth and then thought about what to do! We took advice from the great Metallica and 'ran to the hills' (it was also the official advice). So there we were eating our coco pops from the safety of about 500 metres to protect ourselves from the expected 1 metre tsunami! We watched from the hill and saw nothing so left shortly after it was expected to hit the area, only to hear on the radio that the tsunami we had evacuated from turned out to be 50cm high!!! It was from the Chile earthquake so it was predicted to be bad but it's good to know that they have precautions in place. We were still advised to stay away from the sea and tidal lakes (like the one we slept next to) so never actually got to see Akaroa itself, and headed straight to Christchurch a day early.

Later that day we went and purchased our winter clothing ready for the artic weather of Japan!

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