….if it’s in a threeway…..
Hipster Radar now in use: http://www.yelp.com/wordmap/nyc/hipster
….if it’s in a threeway…..
Hipster Radar now in use: http://www.yelp.com/wordmap/nyc/hipster
After the annual anti-climax of New Years it was a bright an early start from Tokyo with a destination of Kobe.This week of travelling was made possible by some preparation that I had done in Germany before I left for Japan.
I exchanged my money order, which I had bought in Germany for a 7-day rail pass for the JR transport system – including some mighty fast bullet trains. The rail pass can only be obtained by people visiting Japan and is an absolute must. I probably should have gone for the 14-day pass, so that would be my advice to anyone interested in travelling in Japan. The pass means you can basically travel as much as you like in the 7 days for a fixed fee of around 280 €. If you consider that a return trip from Tokyo to Kobe already basically pays that sum, then it is well worth the money.
I set out from home bright and early on the first of January – the worst possible day to travel in Japan as all the Japanese are using the trains and transport systems to return to their native towns or to go to temples to pray. New years is massive here, but not in the way you’D imagine, but rather more like our version of Christmas where people want to be with their families and return home of go to religious ceremonies. That’s why the temples are jam-packed with people. The train I had wanted to get on was booked up, so I had to travel a bit later than expected, only leaving Tokyo station at 12 and arriving in Kobe circa 3pm. On the way I was able to get a great view of Mt Fuji which is a sight that everyone can recognise – a symbol of Japan, this towering peak looked amazing, somewhat like some piece of cake with a light dusting of powder sugar on top. The snow-capped mountain is a great sight from the train and I’m sure would be a great climb weather permitting. Maybe next time! After a short nap on the train I awoke to see a completely different countryside to the one I had seen near Tokyo or in Nagano.
My first impressions were good – the main station in Kobe, not the Shinkansen station but where most local traffic goes through – Sannomiya smelled like heaven. If this blog could somehow convey the smell I think your mouth would water! Imagine the smell of freshly made waffles floating through the station…..OMG…..delicious. Every single time I transferred trains there I was attacked by the smell. If this wasnt enough then in the other part of the station they had a massive bakery just blasting out the smell of yummy treats. I sampled the waffles and they were rather good indeed! Oh…..that smell……I’ll never forget that – my sweet tooth is aching as I write.
In the end I travelled to at least 7 different cities and was able to see loads of Japan and discover some wonderous locations that have to be seen to be believed. I managed to be snap happy and took about a million photos. I must admit that the beautiful weather made these experiences possible. Although it was very cold in the evenings, during the days there were rays of sunshine lighting up the cities and views that I experienced. My days were pretty much similar in planning – up early circa 8am to get on the road by 9 or 10 depending on locations and the do as much sight-seeing as possible by 5pm when it got dark and cold. Once darkness set in it was advisable to get somewhere warm and stay there – be it a train, coffee shop or apartment.
On one of the days we managed to get a look at club rugby here in japan, which is strangely enough quite decent, although there are quite a few foreign players earning a wage here. Have a look at that try – by chance I managed to get it all in one shot – amazing stuff: http://youtu.be/_75cbe_kFyY
Scene of the 1998 Winter Olympics, Nagano was high on the to-do list for this trip. As I’d never been on the slopes, it was going to involve me getting some lessons. I managed to borrow some gear from a friend of my brothers and all that was missing was the board and the boots. Japan seems pretty reasonable for renting stuff, so there weren’t many worries in that department.
The trip began on the Friday with some train changing in Tokyo then the first steps on the bullet train - a cool experience! There were 4 in our group and we were really excited about the weekend in the mountains. By the time we had left Tokyo and reached the next stops on the train line, we could already see the snow falling and it only came down harder as we rode. Upon reaching the Nagano main station we could really see how hard it was snowing and that was obviously good news for the more experienced members of the group.
The next leg of the journey was a trip on a small local train to a station in the middle of nowhere, where we changed into a tiny bus to take us up the mountain – lucky for us we managed to get that last shuttle bus of the evening – phew! It was really magical to go up the mountain in this small bus and watch the snow falls down in front of the headlights. We were dumped out on the mountain and the driver wished us good luck. a short walk in the darkness through tiny streets managed to lead to the small hotel we were staying in. A proper Japanese hotel with futons and basically sleeping on the floor!
After we unpacked a little and sorted out the details of the room we went into the town center to hit the local Onsen: Hot Spring. That was a pretty cool experience and the it was time to go to the bar and meet the organiser of the weekend in NozawaOnsen- Ricky! The crazy guy!
After a drink or 3 we stumbled home to get ready for the 7.30 wake-up breakfast and the hitting the slope at 9.30. The snowboarding lessons went smoothly and then we were left to our own devices to practice what we had learned. It was very difficult to make real progress and after going up and down about 10 times I called it a day and made my way to the hot springs and then power nap to get ready for the party later that evening!
We had gotten the lift pass for the first day from the instructor so that’s why i had gone so much on the first day – I suppose that’s why come party time that i was feeling stiff and sore. We headed down for some drinks and managed to bump into a few Irish people – what are the chances! That kept the night going into the wee hours. Made for a difficult breakfast on day two! Sleeping on the floor was also taking its toll!
Day 2 was really good as 2 guys basically spoon-fed me all day long and helped me get the hang of things. By the late afternoon I had managed to get to grips with most of the turns and basics of boarding. A very successful day on the slopes. I even managed to go on the intermediate course, but that was a lot of falling and leafing my down the mountain. I took a few big tumbles! Was a good idea to change my style from regular to goofy, seemed to come more naturally to me.
Day 3 was just trying to get as much time on the piste as possible and then getting back on the train to Tokyo in time for a jam-packed NYE in Shibuya! In total an amazing 4 days that will live long in the memory!
Christmas day in Tokyo was not quit like how it is in Germany or in Ireland – for most people it was a normal working day and nothing really special was going on. Christmas eve was a bit of a rush for me picking up a few tiny last minute presents then dinner with the family and then the usual Christmas day celebrations – opening presents and building Lego from Santa :)
I also managed to get some sightseeing done and developed a sense of direction in the inner-city part of Tokyo. A bit daunting at first, but I suppose one you get to ground level and walk around things become clearer and more manageable. I visited the imperial palace or at least the outside of his palace and gardens. I also did a little video of my stroll :)
http://youtu.be/kD-vAhd8QXI Yes I’ll never make it as a cameraman – my walk to the local train station
http://youtu.be/1pP906c1Xew my visit to the Imperial palace – it was not open for visitors sadly
I also spent some time checking out some beautiful temples in Tokyo and there were flocks of visitors and tourists. I managed to be a proper tourist and do the traditional things at temple like breath in the smoke from the special fire and say a prayer. There was even a serious buddhist session going on when I visited!
After all that partying, you most definitely need some time to recover. What a great opportunity to catch up with my family and spend some quality time with the kids.
I also got my first taste of shopping Japanese style in a local shopping complex. The sheer size of the malls here is quite amazing – filled with loads of different goods from all over Japan and the world.
After all that relaxing I was able to see something that I had been looking forward to – BLOWFISH. Yes 3 little guys swimming in a tank in a local bar. Definitely not for eating.
Due to the time difference we were able to enjoy a beer and watch the English Premiership on TV – I was also able to say a few words to some Japanese people even though they were seriously drunk!
So after getting over the trip from the airport, which did take quite a while, I managed to grab a shower and was able to change into some new clothes to get over that airplane feeling. I don’t think that track suit bottoms would have been suitable for the Tokyo nightlife anyway. Off we went into the night. Managed to get stuck straight into the nightlife of Tokyo with a visit to a few different international bars – with a selection of live bands, music and one little Japanese kid who was rocking out to the beats on stage. We managed to squeeze in some food – a local speciality of chicken on a stick, which was served with extra spicy wasabi. Beside us a live jazz band just set up and started playing. A great compliment to the yummy chicken. The owner of the little fast food place was a nice japanese lady, who was obviously impressed with my japanese greetings and manners.
After that we frequented many other local establishments and met all sorts of interesting people, but what really struck me was how many people have actually been here for a long time. All the people I asked said they had been here for a few years – one Irish guy had even been here for over 20 years on and off! It’s obviously quite far away from Europe or specifically Britain and Ireland but you could see the the people who were here wer in it for the long haul – not just in terms of flights!
The night or rather morning ended with a sampling of some more yummy food – a visit to a noodle joint where I got to eat something extremely delicious gyozen then off to the train and bed at 9am. A long day in the land of the rising sun. Depart Berlin Tegel: 14.30 20th December (22.30 Tokyo time) and arrival 13:00 21st December Tokyo time (05:00 Berlin time). Total sleep on flight: circa 4hrs!
Well after a 11 hour flight from Amsterdam and the greatness of passport control in Tokyo – here I am – big in Japan – as the song goes. The flight wasn’t as bad as had been expecting and between sleeping and watching James Bond: Goldfinger, I was already almost there. The great selection of movies and TV shows from KLM made for good fun on the cramped flight :) I was stowed away on the window seat with 2 old Japanese people beside me – they were prepared for the long trip with slippers and all – an even an extra pillow. Well played! What I noticed straight away was the massive amount of Japanese people with masks on – they wear them if they are sick to stop other people getting sick. I’d seen this before, but it was amazing to see so many all at once.
The flight landed with an amazing view of the water and bay jutting out and of course in the distance – it was pretty breath-taking to see the high-rise building in the distance. Touch down in Tokyo and thankfully my brother was there to pick me up – otherwise it would have been non-stop confusion. The airport is a bit outside of the city, so we had to change a few times. This was my first experience of the massive train network in the city of 35 Million people. It’s pretty hard to imagine but all the street crossings and subway changes are jam-packed with people.
A little bit of food and water and then – the night began…..TBC