A Travellerspoint blog


Nikko and Departure


This, finally, is my last post about my trip to Japan. There are several day trips to be taken out of Tokyo, but the one that appealed the most to me was to go up to Nikko, a place which Tokyoites go to for the mountain air. It is a smallish town, north of Tokyo, and a pretty big deal in Japanese history: it has had religious significance for centuries and is the burial place for an important early 17th century shogun (i.e. ruler of Japan), Tokugawa Ieyasu. His grandson caused half a million workers to labour for a year and a half to construct a shrine (Toshogu) in his honour. I, er, wouldn't pay the entry fee to go in.

Nikko is also in a very pretty location - the main street of town runs up to the hilly national park which contains the various shrines and temples

The town itself, not so pretty. On my way up, I spotted a place that gets raved about, Hippari dako, so popped in for some chicken skewers: it is very much a cafe aimed at the Western tourist, and they've been there in their thousands, judging by all the business cards left behind.

Immediately before the National Park is the Shinkyo Sacred Bridge


The story goes that the priest who brought Buddhism to the area, Shoto, wanted to get across the river and called upon the gods for assistance: they obliged by providing a pair of snakes which formed a rudimentary bridge. This is their material (and man-made) substitute.

The path up is tree lined, and would be gorgeous with a layer of snow:

Priest Shoto is still around to greet visitors

Five Storied Pagoda

Quite a lot of the space around the temples was established as a zen garden

I found a wee path snaking off up through the trees

and wondered where it would lead. Turns out that I got to the very top of one of the hills and found a very undistinguished looking shrine, with absolutely no sign to indicate what it was about (subsequent googling suggests it is the Takino-o Shrine)


I walked down a pleasant path which went down another side of the hill - the road back into town was iced up, to the point that I managed to take an extremely inelegant tumble. Before I caught the train back, I thought I'd try a different place to eat, what looked like a Japanese family restaurant opposite the railway station. Here I tried gyoza for the first time

They're delicious - a fried dumpling crescent, with a very light filling which had a delicate taste of garlic as its major flavour. Don't know why I left it to my last day to try them out, but am glad I did and have had them several times since coming home (including a particularly interesting variation involving shrimp, basil and chilli at Riverstone Kitchen).

Next morning I had to leave my hotel at 10:00 and had a mid afternoon flight from departure from Narita, so just went and hung out at the airport for a few hours, eating rather more than I should have. The travelling wasn't quite over when I returned to Auckland - I had liked the look of the Toyota Crowns so much that I'd checked a few out on trademe, and had an appointment to view one. After a quick drive up and down the motorway, the deal was done and I had a road trip back to Dunedin. I'm no mechanic, but the car just felt right. Even my brother, who is a mechanic and thought I was crazy to buy a car in such an impromptu way, seemed to be quietly impressed. All I know is that over the next couple of days, I drove it from one end of the country to the other and it never used a drop of oil or water or missed a beat.

Posted by NZBarry 04:19 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Tokyo II

semi-overcast 12 °C

Lunch was delayed: what I took to be some sort of interesting looking eating house turned out to be a temple. the Denso-in Temple (I think - there was no sign, but that's what my studies of the maps reveal) - it was a nice peaceful spot on top of the hill behind my hotel, so I hung around a bit


Plans thwarted, I decided to see what was down here


Another temple, it turned out, but a very new looking one, with quite a lot of green space around it


and some guardians at the gate


Nearby, I found a couple of rather large buildings - this is the Mori Tower


I went in and discovered there was a restaurant on the 42nd floor, so decided to check it out: very posh and exclusive, but I went in and had a coffee anyway.


Down in the lower decks, they had some more reasonably priced eateries, where I was able to have a delicious tonkatsu


One of the big drawcards for me in Tokyo was Akihabara, which is supposedly the best place to check out electronic goods, particularly hifi. I found it to be a bit average, to be honest - a few buildings devoted to a handful of brands (McIntosh was very evident), but not a friendly vibe and the kit was jam-packed in. I was better off in a Bic Camera or Yodobashi - huge megastores with all sorts of electronic stuff, where I spent hours, checking out stereos, playing with cameras, trying on headphones: it is still a surprise to me that I came home with so little from them (although I did make an error with the exchange rate - I thought I was going to make a fortune selling a particular electronic gadget on trademe, until I realised I had moved the decimal point one digit too far, so that they seemed to be a tenth of their actual price. oops!). The ones at Ikebukuro seemed particularly enormous, and here they had a Yamada Denki as well.

I spent my last few days in Japan in the Sakura hotel in Ikebukuro - it seemed a good idea to have a change of location. Ikebukuro is quite a razzle-dazzle sort of place: major shopping across the tracks from where I was staying, including the weird Sunshine City mall, and then lots of bars, clubs and the like between where I was staying and the station. Everywhere was festooned with overbright and garish neon. One of the reasons I'd chosen to come here was the so-called gyoza stadium and the ice cream stadium at Sunshine city, but when I got there, I found it was inside a children's amusement park (Namja Town): I watched for quite a while, but no single adult went in, so I decided it was not for me.

One unexpected benefit of staying in this part of town is that it has quite a few record shops, actual vinyl records, I mean. Between them all, they had a very significant collection. If I hadn't been worried about the need to carry them all home, I'm pretty sure I could have bought several times the number I did accumulate.


These shops weren't all at Ikebukuro - I spent a day down at Harajuku, and found some more. I actually went down here because I was curious about the cosplay scene (where people dress up in costumes and then play out the character they've adopted), but saw nothing - apparently it is a Sunday only thing. But people do come here for one other thing, and that's the shopping. This is Takeshita street, the one that caters to young fashions


I did walk up it but, unsurprisingly, there was nothing there for me. There is a parallel street, Omotesandō, which was much more satisfying: a tree-lined avenue (often called Tokyo's Champs-Élysées) with some cool coffee shops, very upmarket international brands and the Oriental Bazaar, which had a nice collection of traditional Japanese clothing, crafts, ceramics and the like.

Posted by NZBarry 06:12 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo Comments (0)

Tokyo I

overcast 10 °C

I was finally ready to do it, to hit the big smoke, to throw myself into the madness that is Tokyo. Quite coincidentally, the hotel I had booked was on the train line in from Yokohama, so it was a simple matter of jumping off at Shinbashi station and then, according to the directions I had carefully written, walk for quite a long way. I was actually there before I believed it possible and, for a hotel in the centre costing $100, the Shimbashi Atagoyama Tokyu Inn was much better than I expected. It was surrounded by convenience stores, machines selling beer and what seemed to be hundreds of restaurants. The biggest coincidence of all was that it sat directly beneath the NHK Museum, something I'd actually decided I would never find because Tokyo is so big.

My first attempt at going to the Museum didn't work too well - it looked deserted, and I was wondering if it was taking an extra long holiday after Christmas but found a wee sign saying it was closed for the day. I went off to the Ginza district instead - the expensive shopping area (reputed to be the most expensive real estate on earth) and explored the posh shops and department stores. One, Miatsukoshi, has been going since 1673: I was impressed by the way that the shop assistants, before leaving the room, would bow from the corner and then scuttle out. Two shops in particular were standouts for me: Muji, which I knew about from my time in Birmingham as a supplier of cool stationery but discovered they also do homewares, furnishings,


foodstuffs, and all sorts of other interesting goodies.


Apparently their mission is to revive modernism in consumer goods, with a no-brand ideology (Muji actually means "no-brand" according to my sources i.e. the internet).

Then there was the baked donut place, Miel.


I've eaten a few donuts in my time, but never a baked one and never in a place quite as flash as Miel - they made me sit down and came to take my order, almost as if it was a silver service restaurant. It all seemed a bit much for a morsel of puffed goodness, to be honest. After the production they made of getting me the donut, it was three bites and I was off again.

NHK Museum

When I was a kid, one of my hobbies was to listen to radio stations broadcasting from far off places on shortwave. I'd sent them a note to say that I'd heard them, and they'd send me back a kind of postcard to thank me, called a QSL. The Japanese Broadcasting System, or NHK, was a station I regularly listened to. I have not done this for years and have long since chucked away the QSL's but here is a recent one I found on the net


Perhaps not that exciting, when I think about it, but when you grow up in the country, it doesn't take much. Anyway, I was still sufficiently interested that I walked up the hill behind my hotel to see the NHK Museum of TV and Radio. Here is an early version of their radio studio


and a slightly more modern TV studio, with a couple of characters said to be very popular on Japanese TV:


A very early TV and a display of some later ones (there were plenty more, but I'll spare you the photos):


There were also a host of radios, with this old beast


I enjoyed my sojourn in broadcasting history, but it was time to find some lunch.

Posted by NZBarry 03:15 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo Comments (0)


sunny 5 °C

I came here because of the tyres. Nah, not really. There was a museum I wanted to see, one which I thought would be a perfect counterpoint to the Instant Ramen Museum back in Osaka - the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum. Districts all round Japan put their own unique spin on ramen soup: the idea of this museum is to have a collection of shops selling real life ramen, each one representing a different district around Japan. The funny thing is that before I came to Japan, I never really rated it: now that I am back home, I wish I could get more of it.


It wasn't enough that they have a ramen museum - the place is tricked out to make it look like its a collection of shops from 1958


It is an incredibly busy place


although this place wasn't doing so well


Apart from the shops, there's also a souvenir shop, a couple of sake bars and some historical displays. I'm also told there are ramen-themed video games, but I didn't notice them. I could only deal with the crowds long enough to have one bowl of ramen.

I didn't really have any other reason to visit Yokahama, apart from train logistics. As I wandered the shops, I couldn't help but notice


There were hundreds of girls, all dressed up. Back at the hotel, I asked what it was all about and they made a game attempt to explain - they were all celebrating their coming of age. Good old Wikipedia tells me that they do things a bit differently in Japan - instead of having a 21st, they collect together all the people who've turned 20 in the district over the past year and, on the 2nd Monday in January, put on a bit of a ceremony. What I saw was the girls getting ready to go to it (apparently the boys dress up to the nines, but they were far less visible.

Posted by NZBarry 02:21 Archived in Japan Tagged yokohama Comments (0)

Takayama II

snow -3 °C

I have so many photos from Takayama that I thought it best to split the post in two. Although Takayama has several museums and art galleries, there was one museum in particular which appealed - the Showa Kan. The basic idea here was to show how the Japanese lived during the reign of Emperor Hirohita, which ran from 1926 to 1989. As a result, it is effectively an account of the development of consumer goods in the 20th century in Japan. Its all crammed into a fairly large building, divided into various rooms by theme - so there's a barber's shop, for example, or a school room, a bike repair place, an appliance shop and so on. Some websites say spend 20 minutes here but I managed to occupy myself for the best part of half a day and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. People around the net say its their favourite museum in Japan, and I can see why - its a very personal collection and we're allowed to get right in amongst the displays, so its quite the reverse of the antiseptic experiences you often get in museums.

My photos didn't come out all that well (I was experimenting with taking photos in the near dark and screwed them up, so several are looking a bit surreal) so I borrowed one from another visitor to the museum (but the rest are mine):


Some old skool appliances


Visiting the doctor


More or less random pictures as I cruised around


Later on in the day, when the snow had stopped falling, I went for a walk for part of the Higashiyama walking course, which takes in Takayama's temple town and meanders through an outer suburb - I managed to get pretty thoroughly lost as the signs for the walk either contradicted themselves or simply stopped occuring, leaving me to wander off in various directions until I decided the path just didn't go that far. I've had a bit of critical feedback about the number of temples in a previous post and am not a great fan myself, so will just post a (large) handful of the photos I took as I wandered about in the snow:


This was my furthest point, in a sense, as it was all backtracking after Takayama to Tokyo. I could have gone back in a train and retraced my steps completely, but it would have taken a looong time and I'd not seen much I wanted to see again. Although the plan was to do all my travelling by train, I found that if I took a bus, instead of going back down the mountain, I could go straight over the top (or, rather, through various tunnels) to a place called Matsumoto, which is west of Tokyo. Because of the tunnels, I didn't actually see much of note from the bus:


There was time for a quick walk around the town immediately outside the railway station (it looked like a place worth exploring), then it was on to the train (with bags of delicious bakery goods) and off to Yokohama.

Posted by NZBarry 03:42 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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