And that, dear reader

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Shopper

Brings me to the end of yet another fabulous (for me – hopefully fun for you) travel adventure with my cameras and my hubby – singular, that would be bigamy and biga him too.

Japan has left impressions, as does any country, but in mostly good ways:

Hospitality and kindness; from the evening we arrived when we were escorted to our hotel by a kind stranger who realised we were lost, to the minute the smiling bus station attendants relieved us of our bags for our last departure, I have been struck by the gentle courtesy of this culture. Nothing seems too much trouble, and I find it hard to think of my fellow Aussies extending this kind of graciousness to tourists.

Efficiency: the shinkansens stop within centimeters of the place they are meant to, the bag concierge service from hotel to hotel, finding a left-behind new iphone within 30 minutes of a train arriving and leaving, travelling between locations 700 kilometers apart in only a few hours.

Aesthetics: meals served next to a zen garden on your table, meals assembled with delicacy and beauty in different lacquer bowls, gardens that speak of the care that tends them, cafes with just one beautiful object to add that touch.IMG_1082

Respect: Bowing to trains when they arrive in the station, “thanks for visiting our store” pealing out if you go to any shop, “thank you very much” following you when you leave, standing aside to let alighting passengers out first.

Honesty and integrity: asking you to put your change on the counter and the sales person taking only the right amount while looking at you carefully to make sure you don’t think you’ve been cheated, a young waitress chasing me down the street to return the $6 pair of reading glasses I left on the table, putting the right amount of money into the black box on the bus and getting off, knowing you’ve put in the right amount.

Friendliness: on the occasions we had to interact with our hosts multiple times, I have been struck by the gentle friendliness: sharing my photos with one hotel owner, she presented me with a hand made card, being invited to a multi-lingual party at our guest house in Kanazawa. Genuine friendly greetings as opposed to the “Have a nice day” accompanied by a plastered-on smile; their service comes with genuine care, and you don’t tip – that would be the highest insult.

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It all seems a world away from what I have experienced elsewhere; countries where the national past-time seems to be to develop elaborate schemes to rob you, countries where people are so paranoid they feel like they have to carry guns, where you get an uncomfortable feeling walking down dark roads. Oh, I’m sure Japan has its own share of deceit and crime, but the overwhelming feelings I am left with after visiting, are of comfort and safety and welcome – gemütlichkeit as the Germans would say.

I heartily recommend it to you, and hope that the Japanese can hold on to all these delightful aspects of their culture. It makes me vow to be a better host to tourists in my own country instead of cursing that they are in my way.

So, dear reader – if you’re still with me, please let me know how you found travelling in Japan, with or without me. I’d love your take on this interesting country.

Looking for more

Asakusa shrine strikes my fancy, and there is a cherry lined park along the banks of the river. Hubby has caught a lurgy – in my most optimistic fashion, I say “Good it’s on the last day, not the first?” I leave him slumbering, miserable. I figure out where various things cherry blossom may be: Kuritsu Sumida Park by the river shows promise, and the Asakusa shrine and district are not far from there.

Two stops on the Ginza metro line and one on the Skytree line and I am disgorged from the subway along with a million others. I try to stay out of the way while I orient myself: difficult to do with the masses going in one of two directions, but working my way diagonally whenever a space opens allows me to find a spot to park myself. Round the corner to the river, to be greeted by the sight of a giant golden – something… The locals apparently refer to it fondly as the golden poo (T**d actually), and I must confess, whoever decided this was an objet d’art has a scatological sense of humour. It’s decorating the Asahi Tower, the Japanese beer empire, but I don’t think it says much complimentary about the drink.20170329-IMG_6418-10

Next to it is the Skytree – another phallic homage to the erections of man. I sometimes wonder, if women rule the world would we out-do each other with great holes in the ground? Sorry – I do have some strange thoughts sometimes – no offence intended boys or girls.

Anyway, I figure if I follow the flow, I’ll manage to arrive at Asakusa shrine, and so it is. What can I say? It’s a Buddhist shrine dating from 684. To enter, you go through the Hozomon gate, protected by some fierce guardians, though they are safely contained behind a fence – safe from pigeons that is. As with any place of worship, the approach to the shrine is full of merchants, anything from worship tokens to food to collectables are on show in Nakamise st. The temple complex is brilliantly colourful, as are the ladies clad in kimono, celebrating the weather and the season.

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Last minute decision before we leave is to see the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Well, not the palace itself, that’s the Imperial Family’s domain. T’would be a bit like going to London and wandering about Buck Palace while the Queen’s at home: wouldn’t happen!

Anyway, the gardens may be worth viewing, and maybe a glimpse of the imperials themselves? No, but as I am entering the garden, having been vetted by the guards outside, I hear some rather vigorous battling going on behind a screen of shrubs, accompanied by the sounds of blows and “OOmphs” Intriguing to speculate what all that is about, and I guess it’s ninjas in the employ of the emperor whacking each other with sticks and swords. (Not the turtle kind – the human black-garbed kind). I’ll never know.

The East Imperial gardens are vast, and beautiful, like all Japanese gardens.

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I only get as far as the Koi ponds, and then I’m entranced. As I’ve said before, I’ve fallen in love with Koi as a photographic subject: so tricky to get right, but so rich in colour and diversity. Meet the Koi.

Once more I’m blessed: this time with a white swan in the moat outside.

 

And then reluctantly I return to collect my husband, pack my bags, and ready myself for the Claytons Business class that is Jetstar: to be affronted when I get to Queensland, because I have too much carry on baggage for my next domestic leg in economy. Business class, schmusiness class, this is Jetstar here, and NO allowances will be made. We have to check my precious plum liqueur contained only in the satchel that W has been carrying – if the bottles break in transit the leprechaun is getting it in the ear!  Tired from my sleepless overnight flight, I swear NEVER again, no matter how tempting the fare.

 

 

 

Last Legs

Well, we’re on the home run (literally) we’ve ditched the bags again, and are travelling light to Tokyo. Man – the Japanese have efficiency covered!! I swear, I always want to send my bags ahead from now on.

We arrive in Tokyo to rainy and COLD, it’s only 9 degrees (balmy in comparison to Hakone!), and I think the weather pixies may have done their last favour. But no, over our last three days, the weather goes from cold and wet, to balmy and sunny – in fact, our last day is cloudless and 14 degrees – so warm I have to take off multiple layers. Bless you weather pixies.

W normally has a yen (hee hee – didjageddit?) for raw fish, though the temperature lends itself more to tempura. None-the-less, we’ve heard about the fish markets and it’s only about 20 minutes away on foot, so we trot off to see the fish in action: closed. It seems to be a holiday because there is no fish, nada except for empty trucks parked everywhere. It certainly is huge, but it sure ain’t bustling. It’s a bit of a relief to me – never having been a fan of fish markets or butchers shops. More recently at the Sydney fish markets, all I can think of is how soon there won’t be any more fish in the sea, because all those incredible tuna, swordfish, etc will have entered the maw of the ravenous beast that is the human consuming machine. Yeah, I said it before – cover me in moss and call me a greenie. We wander around the outer Tsukiji market, where the fish are sliced, not bartered (battered), thronging with people here to savour sashimi sliced in front of your eyes.

The one thing that appeals to me is white strawberries – I am perverse, aren’t I? We contemplate other Tokyo attractions: Sky Tower? No, not really; we’ve had a view over Tokyo from the Government building when we first arrived. Disney world? Definitely not. We (well, it’s really me that decides) settle on catching cherry blossoms.

We take a hike to Ueno Park, where the cherry blossom fever is starting. There are a smattering of trees in full bloom, with most of them budding nicely, though we will miss the full Monty – or is that the full Cherry?

It hasn’t stopped the crowds – under every blooming tree there are a million blooming tourists (well, I am prone to exaggeration), wielding selfie sticks and fake smiles. All along the promenades, tarpaulins have been spread on the ground, and there are groups of picnickers sitting under the trees already, starting their Hamami parties early. We’re going to miss the weekend unfortunately, when the locals come out in full strength in kimonos and have their cherry blossom parties.

At the lake I am diverted from blossoms by wildlife..

We carry on to Gyoen Park in our old neighbourhood of Shinkuju, a huge and very beautiful park with about the same number of blossoming trees. I spy a couple of bright red ladies having their own private celebration; 20170328-IMG_6050-54they might be Art students on assignment, since one has a camera and the other is throwing red cloth around with gay abandon; they look very funky. Of course I can’t resist, nor can the man on their other side, so I take a photo of him taking a photo of them… It doesn’t take much to amuse me…

We had intentions of following the directions of ‘Visitacity’ which has spelled out an itinerary again, but after Ueno and Gyoen parks, W is a bit worn out, and we repair to our hotel in Ginza.

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Unfortunately, hubby has contracted something, and spends the last hours in Japan mostly in bed with streaming nose and cough starting… So I have to do some late minute things on my own. He’s more or less over temples and shrines, anyway, so I leave him dosing up on sudafed.

What to do in Hakone when it’s snowing?

 

Go to an OPEN AIR museum of course.

In contrast to yesterday morning, the day arrives with snow: great fat flakes of it drifting out of the sky, great blobs of it slipping splat off the roof, pillowy drifts coating the trees, and slushy piles on the road. Soooo pretty.

We take our time, there’s no rush, and finally head off to the Hakone Open Air Museum, to check out the art. I know, I know, quite mad really, but hey, it looked interesting from the train.

The road is so slushy they have to break out the snow ploughs to move it, cars are creeping along at walking pace, and the bus is chocka-block full of people. No joy even getting on. So we take the next bus – Hakone Free Pass not valid, so we decide to hang the expense and just take it. One stop later I realise the bus won’t take us to the right place (long confusing sign language with bus driver, pointing to a map of the bus lines, with the doors open to the very cold elements while he explains to this fool foreigner. So we hop off, paying the fare. What is it with us and buses here? Anyway, you’ve probably had enough of bus stories if you’ve read my previous blog, so lets skip to happy.

The Museum is awesome, even in snow and rain. If anything, some of the sculptures look more interesting with droplets of rain dripping off their noses. I know how they feel.20170326-IMG_5899-09

In the grounds is, of all things, a Picasso museum, a well-curated exhibition of art pieces that are not so well known, but are fascinating: etchings, pottery, sketches, and some beautiful glass reproductions of some of his more famous paintings, which showcases them in luminous and three dimensional colour.

The sculptures in the gardens are abstract as well as figurative, dotted about in what in summer must be luscious, colourful surroundings. The blossoms on some of the trees hint of what it will look like in a week or so, but I kind of like them now, in the grey.

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Above the cafe where we take a short break to thaw, is a photographic exhibition of Japanese artists pictured amongst their art. The works range from quirky to erotic, to sublime.

It takes us three hours to meander through the park, and it’s well worth the effort of juggling umbrellas and cameras at the same time.

Hindsight is such a great thing hey? We could have visited yesterday instead of chasing clouds from east to west, but there it is – we wouldn’t have seen snow-laden statues, and that’s been fun. I’m not going to do this over hindsight…20170326-IMG_6358-34

We may not have seen everything Hakone has to offer, but we’ve seen some of the best, and now it’s time to warm up the extremities back at the hotel.