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Tale of a Thousand Cherry Blossoms

Tale of a Thousand Cherry Blossoms

Old Apr 16, 07, 3:16 pm
  #1  
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Planes, Trains and a Thousand Cherry Blossoms

Right you asked for it (well a few of you did) and now you are going to have to suffer another trip report from me. This one will be a little different from my RTW trip report which concentrated on the flights and the flights only. This report will be of the whole holiday including first class flights to and from Tokyo with British Airways and a 12 day tour of Japan. I will also include links to some (maybe all) of the 400 odd photos I took on this trip.
I will add the report for each day of my trip and link them all from here.

So sit back grab a coffee or sake and savour the sights of Japan with me on my journey.

Day 1 BA First LHR-NRT and Narita Express & Shinkansen to Kyoto
Day 2 Kyoto Tour
Day 3 Kyoto
Day 4 Nara & Kyoto Miyako Odori
Day 5 Kyoto - Hiroshima - Miyajima
Day 6 Miyajima - Beppu
Day 7 Buppu Hell
Day 8 Beppu - Mt Aso - Miyaji
Day 9 Miyaji - Suizenji - Nagasaki
Day 10 Nagasaki
Day 11 Nagasaki - Tokyo
Day 12 Tokyo Walking Tour
Days 13-16 Tokyo
Day 17 - Home James and don't spare the horses



I had a wonderful time in Japan and met some great friends. I heartily encourage any of you to visit Japan. It is not nearly as daunting or scary a prospect as one would imagine. The transport system is easy to use and most signs are in English. The people are extraordinarily friendly and go out of their way to help you.
I will certainly be going back to Japan to explore the country further.

I hope I have encouraged a few of you to give Japan a whirl, you will not be disappointed.

I also hope you enjoyed the pictures. They say far more than my feeble words could ever convey.

I have added all the pictures to a collection that can be linked to from here. If you view the pictures in slide show mode then you will see titles for each.

I am sure there are pictures of at least a thousand cherry blossoms.

Last edited by Moomba; May 15, 07 at 9:35 am
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Old Apr 16, 07, 3:17 pm
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Day 1 BA First LHR-NRT and Narita Express & Shinkansen to Kyoto

Day 1 Pictures

Due to bad timing issues I needed to arise very early for my trip even though the flight wasn’t until 13:45. I had to drop my house keys with a friend before he went to work as I had friends from overseas arriving in London two nights before I was due to return from this trip. The unfortunate upshot for me was a 06:00 start and lugging my bags around London rather then heading straight out to the airport.

In the end I was able to have a cup of tea and with my friend and chill for a while before having to catch the tube and HEX to London Heathrow terminal 1.
The HEX was running on time which was novel for me and I was checking in at a very empty Zone R at T1 by 09:30. I was through security very quickly and making my way to the BA First Class lounge. Given my very early arrival I stopped into the Molton Brown spa and for the first time ever managed to score a massage before the flight. I deposited my carry on with the bag check in the lounge and went straight to the champagne bar. I grabbed a glass of Tatinger and collected a bacon baguette as is mandatory for any BA board member.

After perusing FT for while at the computers in the lounge and polishing off my first glass of bubbly I remembered that I had forgotten to collect my Yen from Travellex landside at T1. I spoke to the lounge dragon who informed me that there was a Travellex office in the Business Class lounge. I walked into the lounge and quickly came to revelation that I had never been in that lounge before. Golly gosh this lounge is huge! Anyway I was able to collect my cash and headed back to the F lounge to read the paper and start on a second glass of bubbles.

I had organised previously to meet another FTer in the lounge and I noticed her just after I sat down. I wandered to where she and her companion were sitting and chatted for a while until my massage appointment time arrived.
I headed off to the MB spa and a dose of indulgence and total relaxation for half an hour.
Right I had better get a wriggle on here or you will give up me before I even take the first flight.

My travelling companion arrived a little after my massage and attempted to get one but instead came back with a MB gift pack but no massage.
Our flight was showing ‘go to gate’ over an hour before the flight was due to take off and the gate was 30. We quickly deduced that this would be one of the secondary security gates at T1. What Joy. We waited until the flight was called and said our goodbyes to our lounge companions and headed off to the gate. Very surprisingly there was no queue at all at the security check point and we were quickly at the gate and joined the shortest queue which we assumed was the fast track line. BA had no signage indicating this but a glance at some BP’s in hands confirmed our assumption. Yet again the person in front of me was upgraded to F. That is the third time this has happened in the last 6 months.

Flight BA5 LHR-NRT Seat 1A
Departure time: 13:45
Date: March 29, 2007
Aircraft: 747-400 G-BNLN

We were on board quickly and discovered that it was the NGCW seat and when entering the F cabin realised that they had refurbished the F suites including new carpet, recovering the seats along with the fitting out of the IE to the AVOD system.

My jacket was taken; Champagne and macadamia nuts were placed at my seat and the amenity kits and pyjamas were handed out. There were no slippers though which are supposed to be part of the new F kit.
I finished my glass of Champagne and the glass and nut dish were whisked away by one of the crew.

The CSD made his usual announcements including one to people who were not seated together requesting they chat with their neighbours to see if they could sort something out amongst themselves. The flight was completely full and 6 people were bumped into F making it a full complement.

We pushed back at 13:56 a respectable (by BA’s standards) 11 minutes late.
After the seatbelt signs were switched off the CSD came around with the menus and introduced himself.
I went to change into my PJs and on my return one of the FAs was taking the dinner orders.

DINNER

STARTERS

Crab and prawn salad with shiso wasabi dressing

Warm Feta cheese and Mediterranean tart with a red pepper coulis

Akadashi miso soup with granishes
Or
Cream of wild mushroom soup with truffle gnocchi

Fresh salad leaves with your choice of salsa verde or yoghurt dressing with cucumber and mint

MAIN

Sansho pepper fillet of beef with Japanese rice

Michel Roux’s Dover sole with mandarin sauce

Chicken tikka masala with saffron rice

Salad of artichokes and Parmesan cheese served with lemon dressing

DESSERT

Pistachio and almond sata-andagi, fruit brochette and green tea ice cream

Orange brioche bread and butter pudding with custard sauce

CHEESE PLATE

French Brie
Iberico
Cropwell Organic Stilton

A basket of fresh fruit or Japanese fruit plate

SNACKS

Warm olive oil bread filled with shaved beef and red onion marmalade

Penne pasta with your choice of pesto or roast tomato sauce served with garlic herb croute

Duchy of Cornwall biscuits

A selection of cheese and fruit

A basket containing a selection of sweet and savoury treats is available between meals

WINE LIST

CHAMPAGNE

Champagne Perrier Joulet Belle Epoque 1999

WHITE WINE

Chablis Grand Cru Bougros Cote Bouguerots, 2004, Domaine William Fevre

Sancerre La Chapelle des Augustins 2005, Henri Bourgeois

Vasse Felix Adams Road Chardonnay 2004

RED WINE

Chateau Leoville-Poyferre 1995, Grand Cru Classe, Saint-Julien

Morgan Twelve Clones Pinot Noir 2005, Santa Lucia Highlands

Yalumba The Signature Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2001

DESSERT WINE

Bonnezeaux 2003, Chateau de Fesles, Loire Valley

Warre’s 1998 Colheita Port


After finishing with my travelling companion’s order mine was taken.
I sat back and played with the new AVOD IFE system for a while to see what was on offer. I was very disappointed in the offerings they had. There were only a couple of movies I cared to watch and the music selections were very limited. The system itself worked very well and I especially liked the fact that it remembers where you were in a movie if you exit that section to go and look at the moving map.

The dinner service began with more champagne and a lovely tray of appetizers.

After I had finished this the table was set for dinner and my companion came to sit in the buddy seat so we could chat over the meal.
The wine I ordered was not on board (good work BA – do you ever load everything that you are supposed to on ANY flight?). I had opted for the Vasse Felix Chardonnay and the crew decided a good substitute would be the Sancerre. I tried it and decided it was far too sweet for my liking and asked for a glass of the Chablis instead. This was much more to my liking.

I started with the mushroom soup which was extremely tasty and I enjoyed immensely. This was followed up by the salad with the salsa dressing. I don’t know about you but I think salsa and I think spicy. Well this wasn’t it had no real flavour at all and was just some green sauce dribbled on my salad. Next up was the main which was by far the worst fish dish I have ever had on an aircraft. The fish was almost crispy on the outside it was so dry. It was like cardboard. The accompanying rice was an odd combination of rice, sultanas and small flowerettes of broccoli.
My dessert was the saving grace of the meal and was the brioche bread and butter pudding which I savoured with the dessert wine. Lastly coffee and pralines were served with whole box of chocolates ending up at out table for a while.

After dinner the alcohol and food started to take its toll and I was ready for a bit of kip. I made up my bed with the new under cushion that BA provide and ducked under the duvet for forty winks.

I slept fitfully for while until I decided I needed to ditch the under cushion which was foam rubber and was very hot. After this I had a better snooze until not long before breakfast was served.

BREAKFAST

STARTERS

Chilled fruit juice

An energising fruit smoothie

A selection of yoghurts

A selection of cereals

Fresh seasonal fruit platter

BAKERY

A wide selection of breakfast pastries and rolls

MAIN

Scrambled eggs, grilled bacon, pork sausages, sautéed mushrooms, grilled tomato and hash-brown potatoes

Mushroom and Gruyere cheese omelette

French toast stuffed with peaches and crème fraiche



The FAs came around and asked if we would like tea or coffee etc and what we would like to start the meal with. I opted for a smoothie and followed this up with some muesli. I didn’t want the full monty for the main course so decided to give the omelette a try. It was quite nice and not overly dry like some egg (and fish!) dishes can be on planes.

A coffee to wash it all down with was enjoyed and I then changed back into my civvies in preparation for landing.

The crew on the flight did their job but were nothing special. We were not addressed by name at all during the flight. The only time we saw the CSD was when he gave out the menus.

With the dodgy meal and lacklustre service I am begining to wonder why I bother with BA at all for First flights.

We had to make two approaches to land as in the middle of the first the captain was asked to come around from a different direction as a storm cell was in our way and the wind had changed direction. We then needed to fly around the storm cell and finally came into land on another runway 20 minutes late. Needless to say this was one of the bumpiest excursions on an aircraft I have ever had.

Immigrations were waiting for us, which was a blessing as last time I flew into Japan I had a 45 minute wait. Of course the downside to this is that we had to wait for the bags to arrive. About ten minutes later the bags started to issue forth from the chute and ours were amongst the first 2 dozen or so offloaded from the plane.
Our bags were given a brief search by customs officials and we made our way out to the arrivals hall at T1 NRT.

A slight re-pack was in order and then we handed over our main bags to a baggage forwarding service that was to ship our bags overnight to Kyoto. As we were planning to catch the Shinkansen train to Kyoto and knowing there is little to no baggage space we opted for the easy route. To ship the two cases it only cost 15 GBP which, to save the hassle of carting them in and around stations, was well worth it.

We purchased our tickets on the Narita Express to Tokyo and then Shinkansen (Bullet) to Kyoto and decided to chill with a coffee for a while waiting for the NEX.

Soon enough we were on board the NEX heading towards Tokyo station which was almost an hour a way.
At Tokyo station we followed the signs to Shinkansen and easily found the platform we needed. Tokyo station, although sprawling and busy is not so bad to navigate as it is well signposted in English.

I had already worded my companion up about how to use the reserve seat tickets as I found out on my previous trip to Japan. You have one ticket that is your fare ticket and another that is the reserved seating ticket. To enter the gates you need to put both tickets through one on top of the other.

We boarded our train, found our seats and settled back for the 2 hour 40 minute ride to Kyoto station.

On board the Shinkansen is clean, efficient and fast as one would expect from Japan Rail. We spent a lazy time watching Japan fly by, including Mt Fuji, although unfortunately we were on the wrong side of the train to get a good view.

It was most difficult trying to keep ones eyes open on this journey, and as it seems most other rail journeys on this trip.

On arrival at Kyoto we exited through the station exit our tour notes suggested and walked a few minutes up the street to our hotel for the next four nights.
We met our tour group at 7pm that evening and then headed out for dinner across the road at one of the many restaurants at the station.
After dinner we did a bit of local reconnaissance and had coffee and cake with some of the other tour members before heading back for some shuteye.

Day 1 Pictures

Last edited by Moomba; Apr 17, 07 at 6:23 am
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Old Apr 17, 07, 12:02 pm
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Day 2 Kyoto Tour

Day 2 Pictures

Today started with a half day tour of Kyoto with a local guide. We started at 08:30 and a short mini bus ride to Nijo Castle.

The tour group was only 14 people which made for a much more cosy intimate style of trip.

At Nijo we toured the main buildings where the Shogun lived and received guests. The gardens were particularly impressive and the season of the cherry blossom was very much evidenced at this stop.

Next up was a trip to Ryoanji temple with a glorious garden and the most famed of the zen rock gardens in the world. There is also a wonderful moss garden off to the side of the rock garden. Our guide informed us that unlike the West moss is actually quite a revered plant in Japan and not the weed that most Westerners think it is.

After this excursion a short bus ride and we were deposited at Kinkakuji temple, also known as the Golden Temple. This temple was quite beautiful and had been covered in Gold leaf which was set off wonderfully against the lavish gardens and pond setting.
At this temple we also saw a 600 year old bonsai tree that was formed to represent the shape of a sailing vessel.
At the shrine on the temple grounds we were able to spend a 100 yen and get our fortune dispensed from a vending machine. The collecting of fortunes from the various shrines in Japan is quite common. Sometimes it is done by using the joss sticks to reveal your fortune, other times it is simple the will of the vending machine. If you like your fortune you take the paper with you. If you don’t like it you tie it to a tree branch or other apparatus provided by the shrine. Seems like good deal to me as you can keep trying until you get a fortune that you like.

After the Golden Pavilion we headed for the usual tourist drop off point of the Kyoto handicrafts centre.

After a brief whiz through this place a few of us decided to catch cabs to the Silver Pavilion or Ginkakuji temple.
Taxis in Japan are easy to use, all very clean and have antimacassars on the seat head rests. The left side rear door is operated by the driver so as you approach the door opens for you and the driver will also close it once you are safely inside. The taxi prices in Kyoto were quite reasonable and made it an efficient way of getting about, if you could share with someone.

We stopped off at a noodle bar for the first of many noodle lunches on this trip. The lack of Japanese skills on our part and English skills on the staff made the old point and shoot method a necessity at this establishment. Almost every restaurant we saw in Japan had the infamous plastic images of the meals on offer in the window. You often see people in restaurants all traipsing outside with the wait staff in tow in order to point at the desired meal.

After strolling around the wonderful gardens at the Ginkakuji temple we opted for a walk along the so called Philosophers trail. This trail meanders along a river through Kyoto.
At this point numb nut here discovered he had left his spare camera battery at the hotel and of course this was the day the battery in the camera decided to die.

We visited the Hoen-in shrine on route and finished up at the Nikakuji temple with its wonderful temple gates that we were able to climb to the top of to enjoy some fabulous views over Kyoto.

We then made our way to the Westin Miyako Hotel and caught the courtesy bus to Kyoto station and back to our hotel. Our guide took us to a local Kyoto style restaurant to have dinner this evening with most people opting for a bento style dinner box.

It was after dinner we discovered that we were on tour with a cake fiend and we were encouraged to join her and her husband at the Granvia hotel for coffee and cake. The first of many I might add!
After coffee (for me) and coffee / tea and cake for others it was time to head back to our hotel for some sleep.

Day 2 Pictures

Last edited by Moomba; Apr 17, 07 at 11:41 pm
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Old Apr 17, 07, 2:05 pm
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Great to have a report from you again, im planning to go to Japan this time next year, so you are whetting my apetite.
Looking forward to more
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Old Apr 17, 07, 7:18 pm
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This is absolutely terrifically detailed report.. Thanks for everything...
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Old Apr 18, 07, 11:57 am
  #6  
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Day 3 Kyoto

Day 3 Pictures

This day was a free day so in true holiday style we had a bit of a lay in before heading out for the day.

We grabbed a cab to the Inari Fushimi shrine with it’s now famous (thanks to the Memoirs of a Geisha movie) Torii gates. The shrine itself is set on a mountain and there is a path of steps leading to the top of the mountain that had a Torii gate set every 20cm or so apart for the entire trek up the mountain.
At some one points the path veers off in different directions all with Torii gates leading the way. At various points on the route you can stop for a break to get a tea or food at one of several mountain tea houses or the many vending machines dotted around the mountain. You can also buy offerings to place on one of the many shrines on the mountain. These offerings can consist of a full meal, including in one case a custard pudding!

After negotiating our way back down the mountain we headed for what I believe to be the most impressive of temples in Kyoto at Kyozumi Temple. This magnificent structure is built on the side of a hill and has impressive views over Kyoto. The whole building is made even more impressive when you look at it from the other side of the complex. The whole thing is perched on great wooden legs in the side of the hill.

A quick pit stop was made for more noodles for lunch. This time we had to sit Japanese style on the tatami floor to eat our lunch.

It was a Sunday today and there seemed to be hundreds of Japanese out enjoying the day and visiting the temples. I was quite surprised not to see more Western tourists out given it was the famed cherry blossom viewing season in Japan.

It seems we timed out trip perfectly. According to the Japan meteorological site the peak time had passed the week before but I believe we were around for some of the best cherry blossom viewing and some of the weirdest weather Japan had experienced for quite a few years. More on this later.

The Ryozen Kannon was next on the trip with an enormous Buddha statue dominating this temple and the Kodaiji Temple.

We kept walking along the road to the Maruyama gardens where a famous weeping cherry tree was the centre piece. It was in full bloom and being pictured by numerous tourists and locals alike. On the way out of the park we stopped by the Yasaka Shrine.

We then made our way to the Gion area for a coffee before negotiating the subway back to our hotel.

This was a challenge as there was minimal English signage except to say which station we needed to transfer at to get back. We just bought and ticket and heeded the advice of a guide book that stated that you can always visit a fare adjustment machine at your destination if you think you have not paid the correct fare.

Having said that the Japanese subway systems are quite easy to use and relatively easy to navigate, however it is not always evident (or in English) what the correct fare for your journey will be. As you have to pay up front for the full journey knowing that you can shove your ticket in the fare adjustment machine is handy.
At Kyoto JR station we did just that and it told us we did not need to pay any extra and to exit via the turnstiles.

This evening was back with the group and a brief walking tour of the Gion area with our local guide. We walked down a street with many tea houses either side and saw several Geiko and Maiko heading out to their work for the evening.
The walking tour concluded with a traditional dinner at a local Gion restaurtant. This meal was quite spectacular, if hard on the knees as it was a shoes off, legs curled up affair. Particularly memorable was the BBQ bamboo shoots that smelled and tasted lovely.

After the dinner some of the group succumbed to jet lag and headed back to the hotel whilst the rest of us headed for Shimbashi dori to view the magnificent sakura or cherry blossom that line the sides of the creek there. It was quite spectacular at night and there were many Japanese strolling the area taking in the beauty of the sakura as well.

Somehow or other we ended up at the Westin Miyako hotel for more cake and coffee. I refrained from the cake portion although I was convinced to try some delicious passion fruit flavoured chocolates that our resident cake-oholic recommended. I was not disappointed in this decision.
We grabbed a couple of cabs back to our hotel near the Kyoto JR station for some kip.


Day 3 Pictures

Last edited by Moomba; Apr 19, 07 at 2:06 am
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Old Apr 19, 07, 11:36 am
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Day 4 Nara & Kyoto Miyako Odori

Day 4 Pictures

Today started with a train trip to Nara which is south of Kyoto.
The first stop was Kofukuji temple flanked by two pagodas. One of the pagodas was five stories and the other was three but was octagonal rather than the usual style.

We then walked up past the Nara National Museum to the magnificent Todaiji temple. Prior to reaching the temple you pass through a huge gate that has two evil looking wooden statues inside on either side. These two gentlemen are supposed to ward off any nasties that may come to the temple.
This temple houses the worlds largest bronze Buddha. You will see from the pictures the two gold fish tails on the roof of the temple. These are water signs and used to protect the temple against fire.
The Buddha and the building it was housed in were enormous and quite humbling to visit.

After this temple we walked around the Nara area and visited a Zen shrine called Kasuga Taisha. At this shrine we saw the large sake containers lined up as offerings to the gods to drink. We also got up close and personal with the many deer that inhabit the area.
The area is quite touristy with many sellers of tourist tack abounding who also sold biscuits for the deer to eat. These biscuits contain chemicals that aid in population control of the deer. It was quite fun watching one of our party start to chow down on one of these biscuits that had been given to him by his wife before realising that they were not for human consumption.
His nick name from then on during the trip became Bambi.

We walked back down to central Nara city to get some lunch.
After another noodle lunch at Nara we caught the fast train back to Kyoto for some retail therapy before meeting again at out hotel for an evening out.

At the hotel prior to leaving I ventured into the vending machine room to grab a bottle of water. In Japan there are vending machines everywhere selling just about everything. You can get hot and cold drinks (out of the same machine), cigarettes, snack foods etc. However I was quite shocked to see a vending machine in the hotel that sold hamburgers and fish and chips!

We all jumped into cabs for the journey back to the Gion area for a very touristy version of the tea ceremony and a performance of the cherry blossom dance by the local Maiko. The tea was served by Maiko from the tea houses in the Gion. This bitter green tea is definitely an acquired taste was served with some sweets with bean paste in the centre.

The Miyako Odori is a famous dance performed by the Maiko from the area every sakura season. The performance lasted just over an hour and amongst our tour group there were more than a few nodding heads towards the end. It was more fun to watch the musicians that were seated along the flanks of the stage. It was however a very colourful affair and I was glad I went along.

After the performance we were free to do our own thing for dinner. We headed out to the Pontocho area to wander for a while before ending up at a local restaurant to have one last expensive Kyoto style dinner. We resisted the urge to gorge on more cake this evening.

We jumped a cab again back to the hotel for a relatively early night. It was an early start the next day and a long day of travelling awaited us.


Day 4 Pictures
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Old Apr 19, 07, 2:40 pm
  #8  
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Super report so far, Moomba. ^

Am looking forward to the rest, before my trip to Kyoto in a couple of months.
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Old Apr 20, 07, 12:40 pm
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Day 5 Kyoto - Hiroshima - Miyajima

Day 5 Pictures

As I mentioned in my last report it was an early start for the first of many train trips on Shinkansen and local trains that were to be our main mode of transport for the next week.
This first trip was Shinkansen to Okayama. We bought breakfast at the station bakery to eat on the train. This was also the first of many a meal on a train which is a good way to spend the time on the trains in Japan and many people do it.
The stations abound with sellers of baked goods and bento boxes for travellers to take on board. If you are really lucky you might even score a place that sells sandwiches!

At Okayama we visited the Korakuen Garden which is reported to be one of the top three gardens in Japan. It was a lovely day and we had over an hour to spend wandering the gardens and soaking up the sun. As this garden was a good bit south of Kyoto the blossoms were different as each of the 40 different types of cherry blossom flower at different times throughout the spring.

After the garden we headed back to the station for another Shinkansen to Hiroshima and of course a bento box lunch on board.

Train travel in Japan is surprisingly easy with most signs written in English and Japanese. Also because of the renowned punctuality of JR we were able to make some pretty tight connections with ease, including a 7 minute connection at one time.

At Hiroshima we caught a local tram to the Peace Park and Museum. The peace museum is a very moving place and has quite graphic images and descriptions of aftermath of the atomic bomb that fell there over 50 years ago. There are many artifacts from the area including watches stopped at 08:14 in the morning and a clump of glass bottles that all melted together into a block. There were also exhibits of clothing with burnt sections and various other articles like shoes. It made what happened that day very real and very disturbing.
As a formal protest to all nuclear armament the local government sends telegrams to the relevant governments whenever a nuclear test is conducted throughout the world. There is a section that displays copies of all these letters, of which there are far too many.

After the museum we visited the monument in the park that commemorates the fallen. One of the stories told in the museum was about a young girl who developed cancer as a result of the bomb and how she started to create a thousand paper cranes whilst in hospital. It was her belief that if she made the thousand cranes she would survive. She died before completing the task. As a monument this girl there is a gong and rooms that house paper cranes made by school children from all over Japan. Each school group makes the cranes and places them in these little shelters. It was a mass of colour with thousands of paper cranes hanging from strings.
After this we visited the very famous building that still survives after the bomb that is often seen when images of Hiroshima are shown on film clips.

Another tram ride took us away from this place but not the memories to yet another station and a local train to Miyajima-guchi and almost our final destination for the day. A short walk from the station and we were on a ferry heading to the island of Miyajima which is famous for the so called floating Torii gate.

The ferry was only 20 minutes or so and we were quickly on dry land again. We were given a brief orientation tour of the island and shown the restaurant we would meet up in later that evening for dinner. We then went to the first of two non-hotel stays on this trip at a local Japanese guest house.

After settling in we wandered down to the Torii gate to view the sun setting behind it. When we arrived the tide was out and we didn’t get the full ‘floating’ gate vista. There were a lot of people on the beach around the gate in search of cockles.

A little more strolling around town and we were ready to meet up for dinner. The restaurant to which the guide took us specialised in a local fare called Okonomiyaki which is a kind of pancake arrangement with cabbage and an assortment of meats in it and topped with a special sauce. It was quite a nice meal and was cooked right in front of us at a long griddle plate.

After dinner we headed back to the Torii gate to view it in all its illuminated glory. The tide had also come in by this time and we got to see the ‘floating’ gate as it was intended. The need for alcohol caught up with some of us and we found a local bar to have a nightcap before turning in.


Day 5 Pictures

Last edited by Moomba; Apr 21, 07 at 12:49 am
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Old Apr 21, 07, 12:45 am
  #10  
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Day 6 Miyajima - Beppu

Day 6 Pictures

After a late,well relatively, wake up this morning we had a nice breakfast at the guest house which included toast, ham and eggs. This was quite novel as we had been eating breakfast mostly on the run from bakeries at stations until this day.

We then caught the ropeway up Mt Misen for some spectacular views over the area and back to the mainland including a view of Hiroshima which wasn’t that far away.

On the top of the mountain there are monkeys that seemed to be all over the place and also more deer and crows who seemed to do a good job of helping the deer keep their ears clean.
There are also some more shrines and temples that we didn't get to as they were a further walk away and it was quite cold so we opted out of that exercise.

Whilst we were on the mountain chatting to the monkeys the weather turned decidedly evil and it even snowed on us. The ropeway (a.k.a. cable car) ride down was a little hairy and when we got to the bottom we noticed that they were not accepting any more passengers up the mountain due to the wind.

One of the things you see all over Japan are the many street vendors selling all sorts of foods. Of the street vendors people selling food on sticks seem to be most prevalent. On Miyajima we decided to try out the local food on a stick guy as we were cold and the food was hot and deep fried comfort food. We had a choice of chicken, fish or prawn which was done in some kind of batter and caked around a stick. The last bit of frying to finish off and heat up was done on the spot, to order.

On the way back to the guesthouse curiosity got the better of me and I ran up some stairs I had seen earlier that were close to our guesthouse. At the top was a small shrine and some beautiful views over the island.

Back at the guesthouse we decided to grab a tea before going over to the ferry terminal. The tea was served in many different styles of mostly wedgewood china cups.

We all piled on the ferry and waved our goodbyes to the wonderful island of Miyajima. A quick walk back to the station and the return train to Hiroshima followed.

At Hiroshima station we again bought some food for the next Shinkansen train ride to Kokura. Here we changed for a different type of train (Sonic 33) to take us to our destination for the next two days. The sonic trains have interesting head rests that from behind make you look like you have mouse ears.

Our final destination was the hot springs resort town of Beppu. The area is renowned for its thermal activity and vents of steam were rising from the ground and were dotted all over the hillside.

We gathered some provisions at the station convenience store and hopped cabs to our hotel. The hotel complex was huge and full of Japanese and Korean tourists that come to the area to use the onsen (hot spring baths) and to relax. At the hotel everyone wanders around in their yukata which is a type of dressing gown supplied by the hotel. It was quite bizarre walking around a place where everyone was wearing exactly the same outfit. Every hotel and guesthouse we stayed at in Japan supplied these yukata in the room. They also supplied slip on sandles which for my big western feet they were hopelessly too small. The heel of my foot always hung over the back of the slipper by about 6cm. I decided it was not even worth trying these in most places we visited.

We had dinner at the hotel which was uninspiring as most hotel meals are.
Our hotel room was quite novel in that it had western style beds along one wall and off to one side was a raised tatami matted floor with Japanese style furnishings and futon in the cupboard.

Day 6 Pictures
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Old Apr 21, 07, 3:30 am
  #11  
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Cracking report on a much under-rated destination. ^
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Old Apr 21, 07, 6:27 am
  #12  
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Day 7 Buppu Hell

Day 7 Pictures

Today we went to hell. Well what the locals call the gurgling pools in the area. As noted earlier the area around Beppu is famed for its hot springs and other geothermal activity. There is one particular area where tourists can visit some hot ponds and gurgling mud pools. It was off to this are that we headed first thing this morning.

The first hell we went to was known as the Sea Hell and had a nice bath for bathing your tired feet and other baths that you wouldn’t want to bathe your feet in or they would cooked rather than bathed.

The second hell we visited, which was right next door but of course you needed to pay separate admission to, was Aquamarine Hell.
In this hell there were some really lovely gardens amongst the hot pools and bubbling waters. There was also a greenhouse with a lot of orchids, lily plants and some dragon flies doing stuff. At this hell in the summer the lily pads grow so large that they can support a small child. You will see from the photos that in one of the hot pools a basket with eggs in it had been lowered in the pool to boil the eggs.

After we were finished with hell we thought it best we did something that deserved us being sent there in the first place.
Our guide had suggested that for a bit of fun we visit the sex museum that was a short walk from the hells. Ok well the less said about that the better, except that it was a bit of a giggle and I will never be able to watch Snow White again!

The afternoon was free and I had intended to go to the local pool complex called Aquabeat. Unfortunately the travel and lack of sleep due to sleeping in different beds every night got the better of me and an afternoon of snoozing was had.

That evening several of us went down to Beppu and dropped into a Pachinko parlour. This is the famed pinball type arcades where hundreds of people play something akin to vertical pinball. The parlour was noisy with loud music and metallic ball clanking and filled with smoke and for me was not a very pleasant environment. We played a 100 yen game only to discover that the knobs you twist appear to have no bearing on the outcome of the game. But I am sure we mere amateurs had no clue and it actually just seemed that nothing we did affected the way the balls moved.

After this side trip we moved on to an onsen in the middle of the town where a few of our group decided to take a hot sand bath. At this establishment our brave few lay down on a floor whilst little Japanese ladies piled hot sand over them. I opted out of such enjoying activities and went to our next point of call a little earlier.

This stop was the local Rock and Roll club. It was an all inclusive type affair with a buffet meal and entertainment. Our group was the only non Japanese table and I think we became the novelty act for the night.
The band was really quite good and played a lot of Rock and Roll songs from the 50’s and 60’s. Many of the tunes they sung in English but also some in Japanese, the tunes of which some I did know and other I did not.
It was a good fun night out an interesting insight into the local entertainment. Of course being a buffet the food was not that spectacular but we were well fed, well watered and well entertained.
After several sets of listening to this group we decided to head back to the hotel for yet another early start and a day of travelling.

Day 7 Pictures
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Old Apr 21, 07, 6:40 am
  #13  
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Day 8 Beppu - Mt Aso - Miyaji

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Rise and shine for an 8am train and another bakery supplied breakfast on board a train. This time it was a Trans-Kyushu train that dissected the island in the middle. Our destination was right in the middle at Mt Aso.
This train ride was quite lovely as we made our way up the coast of Kyushu for a while and then headed up into the mountains.

At Aso station we caught a local bus up to the mountain base buildings. From here we were able to catch a cable car to the summit or walk if we were feeling energetic. I decided that since the last few days of the tour had been rather sedentary that I would hike up the remaining portion rather than take the cable car.
Two others of our group decided to join me.
It was cold and miserable with light rain falling but I didn’t really care I just needed to get out and walk for a bit. The track up to the summit follows a road way and was paved so it wasn’t much of a challenge.
At the top we were able to see evidence of eruptions and the so called seething green lake. I suppose I should mention that Mt Aso is the largest active volcano in Japan and has produced more explosive eruptions than any other volcano in the world. The last eruption was in 1993.
Dotted all over the mountain side were concrete bunkers which one needed to duck into if an explosive outburst was to occur.
All over the place were warnings to asthmatics not to venture to the crater as it emits sulphurous fumes that could trigger an attack.
Fortunately for us the wind was blowing in the right direction and we could barely detect any odour from the crater. Unfortunately for us as it was raining there seemed to be more steam visible than seething green lakes.
We walked back down only to find that we had beaten our cable car travelling brethren who only managed to make it to the top as we had started down the hill again.

A lovely warming lunch of sansai udon was had at a restaurant at the mountain base. Of all the foods I ate in Japan the Udon soup dishes were my favourite. After being out in the cold and the wet this lovely bowl of steaming noodles, soup and mountain vegetables really hit the spot.

After we were all fed and watered we caught the bus back to Aso station and a local train the two stops to our destination town of Miyaji.

After a short walk down the street and we were at our guesthouse for the evening. It was bitterly cold outside and not much better inside the house. As with all Japanese homes it was shoes off as we got in the door and slippers on. Of course none of the slippers fit my feet.

We were shown to our very basic room that was simply a tatami matted floor with a small TV, and tea making facilities. The owner came along shortly after with hot water urns to make tea. The rooms had inadequate heating and the communal facilities at this place were very dirty and the less said about this place the better. However, on the up side the food was really quite nice. The other major concern for most of the group at this place was the all pervading, never ceasing, constant, irritating, repulsive, obnoxious (you get the picture) smell of cigarette smoke. Many people complained of asthma and breathing problems at this establishment. Even though it was bitterly cold we opened the window to our room just to get some fresh air in.

We decided it was best to spend as little time as possible in the building and went out for a walk before dinner. The town of Miyaji was quite lovely and had a shrine dedicated to the mountain. There were also many shops selling quite beautiful hand made earthenware.
After wandering around the town it was time to head back to the smokehouse to have some dinner. It was a blessed relief to find that the dining are was at least warm. Tonight’s feast was a cook it yourself BBQ affair with many meats, fish and vegetables laid out for us to throw on table top BBQs. It was a fun evening watching the gang attempt to cook on these BBQs using chopsticks as their only instrument of trade.

After dinner a group of us decided to take up the tour guide's recommendation of visiting a local bar. We all piled out onto the street and made our way to the bar, in the rain. It seemed that the weather had ganged up on us this day to make the experience of staying in the least clean, least liked accommodations on our tour truly a forgettable experience. Of course being Japan you can buy 2 GBP umbrellas just about anywhere and I pulled out my trusty 10cm long fold up umbrella to provide a bit of shelter along the way to the bar.

At the bar we had mega sized glasses of beer, with some opting for sake and others for shoshu which is a type of grain alcohol popular in Japan. More food was ordered and a very fun evening was had by all. The locals even attempted communication with us with our little Japanese and their little English. Eventually we had to drag ourselves back to the smokehouse and attempt some sleep.


Day 8 Pictures

Last edited by Moomba; Apr 21, 07 at 2:09 pm
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Old Apr 21, 07, 12:03 pm
  #14  
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Day 9 Miyaji - Suizenji - Nagasaki

Day 9 Pictures

Sleep did not come easily. It was not because this was a futon only place but the smoke had me so bunged up I could hardly breathe.
I arose early and went for a walk, with some others from our group, around town in the morning light to get some more fresh air. The township was really quite lovely and a complete opposite to the place we were staying in. After our morning walk we headed back to the guesthouse for a really nice breakfast of fruit, toast and eggs.

For the first time on the tour everyone was ready and waiting at the station for our next train well in advance of the time set by our tour group leader. I wonder why?
The talk amongst the group was of getting to Nagasaki and a decent shower.
Prior to reaching Nagasaki we had three train rides and another garden to visit.

Our first point of call today was Suizenji. We caught the Trans-Kyushu express train from Miyaji to Suizenji. This trip is reported to be one of the most scenic in Japan and involved a switch back where the train stopped and the driver walked to the other end of the train and we went backwards down the next section of the railway. Again the train stopped and the driver walked back to the front and well pulled out down the next section of the track facing forward. This is the first time I had experienced a switch back on a railway and it was most novel.

At Suizenji we stopped by a local sushi place and ordered our lunch boxes before heading to the gardens.

These gardens were quite lovely and had small recreations of other areas in Japan including Mt Fuji and the Fushimi Inari shrine.
One down side about some of the gardens including this one is that there is always the intrusion of the twentieth century evident. It was really difficult to get nice pictures of the gardens without having some ugly building from the surrounding skyline evident in the photo.
After a good hour at the gardens we went back to the sushi shop to collect our lunch boxes and then back to the station for our next train ride, and of course lunch on the train.
An hour and a quarter later we were at Tosu where we made our 7 minute connection to a Tosu to Nagasaki train with ease. I cannot tell you enough about how wonderful the train system is in Japan. Where else in the world could you attempt a 7 minute connection at a railway station? We did this with ease and joined yet another different type of train called the Kamome.

Just over one and half hours later we were in Nagasaki the site of the second Atomic bomb that was dropped on Japan.
We made our way to our hotel by taxi and were all checked in by 4pm. At this point I am sure the hot water consumption in the hotel went through the roof.

Later in the evening, all freshly scrubbed and feeling human again we met up for a walking tour of the china town area of Nagasaki. The gates to the area had wonderful neon images of Phoenix on them. We ate at a local Chinese restaurant (for a change) and then continued the tour through some rather interesting parts (read seedy) of Nagasaki. The group then split and a few of us ventured to a local bar where some live music was being played. We had a great time sitting in this bar listening to two guitarist / singers who performed what could be best described as Japanese folk/rock. They were really quite good and their guitar picking skills were wonderful to listen to and watch.
The need for sleep after the previous evening’s fruitless attempts soon caught up with us. We then walked back to our hotel to a real bed and some sleep.


Day 9 Pictures
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Old Apr 21, 07, 12:10 pm
  #15  
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Day 10 Nagasaki

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Today was a free day in Nagasaki and was also Easter Sunday.
Our first task was to buy a day pass for the extensive tram network that Nagasaki offers. The trams in Nagasaki were a mix of really old, almost antique trams alongside the more modern versions. We were told that Nagasaki bought up other cities old stock as they phased out their trams.
We piled on a tram and headed to where the hypocentre of the Nagasaki bombing was.

At this park there is one column that was the remains of the local Catholic Church that remarkably still had a statue of Jesus and one apostle attached to the top of it. The column had been moved to this park so that a new Cathedral could be built on the old site.

We then made the short walk to the peace park and looked at all the monuments donated to Nagasaki by various cities and countries throughout the world.

We then hiked up the hill to the Catholic Cathedral before heading back to the station area to grab a bite to eat. I am afraid a diet of mostly Japanese food got the better of us here and we ended up at a burger place!

Back onboard the trams to the so called spectacles bridge. This bridge has two arches which when seen in reflection on the river give the impression of a pair of glasses. Unfortunately for us it was a little too breezy and the effect was not as we expected due to ripples on the water.

Next up we visited Sofuku-ji a Chinese temple in the area. It was interesting to see how much the Chinese and Japanese temples differed. The Chinese was a little more ornate and most obviously it was painted red. In this temple was a huge cauldron that was used to make and serve a type of gruel to victims of the 1681 famine.

Nagasaki was quite a different city to others we had visited in Japan. It was a lot more multi cultural and there was visible evidence of other peoples culture present. Not least of which was our final stop for the day before dinner. This was the Glover Gardens. These gardens are set on a hill and also contain several European style houses and other buildings. The gardens were quite lovely and had spectacular views out over Nagasaki harbour. The homes also had fabulous verandas where one could expect to see the well to do sipping their tea or G&T.
In one of the houses in the gardens there was a tribute to Puccini’s Madama Butterfly which was set in Nagasaki.
We stopped off at the tea house for some tea and local speciality cake which was a pound cake. The area had a strong Portuguese influence and this cake imported from there had become the local speciality. Our hotel was also built in a Portuguese style. All these factors sometimes had me wondering if we were still actually in Japan.

After the gardens we went to Holland Slope which is a road leading up to the mainly western area of Nagasaki. So named because of the large number of Dutch that used to inhabit the area. We then went back to our hotel to rest before dinner.

The whole group met at 7pm to go to a local hotel bar for a farewell drink with our American contingent. The group of six were leaving the tour here to head over to Seoul.
After our drinks and goodbyes a few of decided that in honour of the multicultural nature of the city we would seek out some Indian food for dinner.

After the food stop we wandered back to the bar we had been to the previous night but it was closed. We did find another to visit for a night cap before a relatively early night as the next day was, yet again, another early start.


Day 10 Pictures

Last edited by Moomba; Apr 21, 07 at 2:14 pm
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