Day 5 – Kyoto

May 27, 2007 at 3:17 pm | Posted in Anime & Manga, Japan, Kyoto, Manga, Travel | 1 Comment
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In all honesty I was feeling just a tad delicate the morning (oh all right, the mid morning) I set out for Kyoto. I wasn’t entirely looking forward to doing anything but a long day in Kyoto turned out to be an excellent cure.

From Osaka station I took the rapid to Kyoto, although with memories of Sakai still fresh, constantly worrying whether this was indeed the correct train. Fortunately it was. At Kyoto station I made my way through the throngs of tourists (both local and foreign) to the main concourse where a pop group marathon of some sort was taking place where different bands played all day (and were still playing upon my return at the end of the day). I have no idea if they are big names or not but the photos are already online and will be posted again here eventually.

At the tourist office (as I came sans map) I was confronted with a queue of foreigners before I got my map I also picked up a leaflet on walking tours which looked quite interesting. I went down to the food court to read their suggestions and fill up on okonomiyaki – a word despite repeated prodding from Miki and Justin I still can’t say properly. I thought that the Philosopher’s walk looked fun and would provide an opportunity to check out a different side of Kyoto, this would be particularly useful as I was already down to half a day. Basically the walk is along a canal linking a variety of sites, notably Ginkaku-ji (or the Silver Pavilion). The down side is, according to the guide, you take a bus to the Pavilion but due to traffic congestion it took about an hour. An easier approach would have been taking the subway (it’s non JR for those with the pass) and connecting with a bus further out of the city and thus beating the snarls. At any rate that’s my tip for future travels.

Now I had arrived at the street to the pavilion a very idyllic cobble path lined with shops selling various wares to the tourists. Of course it would have been a lot more charming without so many people but that’s what happens when you go on the weekend to a top destination. I had assumed being a UNESCO listed site and all that it would take a considerable amount of time walking around but in fact this was not the case. Granted I did power-walk through it but even so the path you are on leads you around the side of the pavilion and into the extremely well manicured garden (they sweep the moss) and back out again. 

Well with that checked off I began to walk and philosophise along the canal. While there were some tourists it was considerably less than at the pavilion. It is a pleasant experience and presumably during cherry blossom season it is packed with people. On the route you can duck into a number of the local shops, shrines or temples. I probably should have gone into some of these but I wanted to head back into the city and check out other aspects of Kyoto.

Unfortunately, it appeared the only way back was the way I’d come and being impatient and a little over busses I chose to walk back. It didn’t look so far. Well of course it was but on the way I saw some sort of children’s sporting day which had 80s music playing, notably “Girl’s just want to have fun” and more importantly a sign saying “Bushido“. Thinking that this may related to kendo and a chance to see kendo being played in its native Japan I followed.

I did not find kendo but I did find one huge shinto shrine – the Heian Jingu Shrine. An impressive complex of red buildings on white pebbles. While standing and pondering whether to go in I was approached by a girl sporting an ID badge and confident English asking if I wanted a free tour. Apparently the city has numerous free volunteer guides at various locations throughout the city (and not just in English). Wanting to get back to town as quickly as possible before the museums closed I asked and received a very trimmed down version as we went up to the shrine to the former Emperors and I heard how families used to come for blessings. If you’re in Kyoto try and track a volunteer down as they’re very useful for local content.

Now back to walking. Past a large canal with people hanging out and relaxing on the banks and into the centre of Kyoto. I walked along city hall where they were having some sort of launch. I have no idea what it was other than it involved marching bands and cheerleaders.

My next stop was the city museum and I finally found it down one of the side streets. Once again there was an exhibit of European art but the main display floors were available. Apparently there is the option to have an English guide but with the clock ticking closer and closer to 5PM when the museum closed I decided to ignore this offer. A good call as I paced quickly through the exhibits I heard a volunteer talking to a group of foreigners. He was definitely passionate about the city but his English lacked the confidence of my earlier guide and if you want to look at the city in a relaxed environment then that’s fine. As for the museum itself, it lacks a great deal of English (hence the guide I suppose) but does attempt some multimedia by having various TV sets around the floor that with the press of a button you can enjoy a brief clip.

If you can’t tell I was getting a tad fatigued but I wasn’t done yet. On the bundle of maps I picked up at the tourist office I had a standard tourist map and a transport map. On the latter it pointed to the Kyoto International Manga Museumbut the former did not. Somewhat odd. At any rate this is a gem. The museum is built inside an old school building complete with an astro turf lawn. Inside there a walls lined with bookshelves filled (and ever increasing) with manga you are free to take and read anywhere in the museum – including on the lawn. There are also exhibits on manga, occasionally special events, artists drawing live and a brief history of the project and school that existed beforehand.

Once you’re done with manga you can visit their small gift shop and head right next door (within the same complex but outside of the museum) to a coffee shop to rest your feet. Kyoto definitely has a coffee culture with coffee shops dotting the landscape and not all are Starbucks. This particular coffee shop – despite average coffee – is worth a stop because it (at time of writing) relatively blank walls are a canvas for visiting manga artists to sign and perhaps draw a bit.

I sat for a time and generally chilled out before walking back to the nearest subway station and returning to Kyoto station and finally Osaka.

Kyoto is a nice city – even with my brief interaction – I can tell you that. My only real complaint is that the transportation system really isn’t built for a day/ half-day trip experience. I will have to come back and get a fuller picture of this ancient city. Possibly by bicycle.

Day 4 – Sakai – or why I would lose at the Amazing Race

May 22, 2007 at 4:57 pm | Posted in Japan, Osaka, Sakai, Travel | Leave a comment
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I wanted to visit the Sakai areaafter reading about the kofun (or tumuli) located in the city. Emperor Nintoku’s kofun is apparently the largest in Japan with a base larger than the Great Pyramid at Giza. According to the city’s excellent tourist website (seemingly the only real information about the area) they also have a few other museums of interest to me – including a general city museum and another for Henomatsu Human Rights. For the sporty they also have a bicycle museum. Of course getting there was my first and only obstacle.

After arriving at Osaka station I rather dumbly said I wanted to go to Sakai rather than Mozu station. Mistake number 1. While on the train I looked at the route map to see if we were just skipping Mozu because it was an express but no and upon arrival at Sakai instead of asking a guard I decided to explore. Which is fine. To a point.

Later I’ll determine that I should have been able to take a local train to get towards Mozu.

So I decide to walk and quickly see a map (in Japanese) of the area – including the outline of a kofun – figuring I’ll check it out I begin to walk. For a bit. At an intersection by complete chance I spy hidden in the bushes a handy English tourist guide advising me to follow a particular path and see the sights. I do wonder how a tourist would find this sign and path without earlier ones to lead them here but I was in no mood to backtrack. Ahead was the plan. The path is allegedly marked by signs.

Unfortunately I’m not 100% on what these signs are and this leads me to wander aimlessly for quite some time and even the novelty of being the only foreigner for a change and walking around a town to just see wears off. Luckily at almost that very moment I spot a mound, thinking it might just be a kofun I head over to take a photo. Walking along its side though I come to the awful realisation that this is indeed some sort of historic land mark but not to Emperors but to sewerage and water control.

Fortunately I have spotted some of these tourist signs and begin something of a “Where’s Wally” hunt to continue my journey. At one point I do spot a big hill behind a fence and figuring that this may indeed be my kofun take a few snaps through the bars and forlornly follow the signs – now quite plentiful.

After some more walking I have made my way to, what I shall call the Sakai City CBD but for all I know was Osaka, and by pure chance came across their tourist/job office. While it looked like it was still under construction I was still able to go in and try my luck with the staff.

Presumably because the top floor was the job hunt section (while the touristy stuff was still being finished) they didn’t have any pamphlet maps to give me. Rather they went and photocopied a few pages from their local UBD and kindly highlighted where I was and where the city museum was situated. Now the hard part was the Henomatsu museum (this museum covers the out-castes from the medieval caste system period and the ongoing discrimination they face in Japan, it was a subject I was unaware of before looking up the Sakai city web-page while investigating the kofun). Apparently, it was also a topic the staff were unaware of as they sought to look it up in Japanese and eventually I convince them to let me show them the Sakai City English web-page (they seemed quite excited… like they’d never seen it before). Even so they only had a very vague idea of the museum and said it was not on the photocopied UBD maps they’ve given me.

Unfortunately, while the sun was still shining brightly it was getting on in time before the museum closed so taking their advice I went to the train station. I promptly arrived at the station and got on the train – only to find it was taking me in the wrong direction. So obviously it took some more time to get on the right train and arrive. Although now that I had actually arrived things went smoothly.

I found the kofun – with English information boards – and was impressed by it’s general size (although really it does look like a mound). With the exception of natural events the tomb has never been opened because it houses the Emperor’s remains – presumably an advantage of an unbroken monarchy. If I didn’t feel so weary I would have done the 3km walk around its base but I’ll leave this in this instance to go to the city museum located quite close by. For 200Y the entry fee is quite reasonable and they provide a very brief English guide. The content in the museum is all in Japanese and I was only able to discern a bit but generally it seemed interesting. I was able to rush through very quickly. 

Without knowing specifically where the henomatsu museum was and running out of time I gave up any hope of finding it and consoled myself that it would have probably been all in Japanese and by the looks of that map quite small as well.  I took this opportunity to walk around the park lands near the city museum and at 4:40 found myself at the, of all places, Japanese gardens. The ticket and guard person seemed concerned that I wouldn’t be able to see it all before 5 when it closed but I assured them with hand signals and simple Japanese it was doable. And doable it was, as I power-walked through the gardens I took numerous (possibly shaky) photos and left (to their surprise) before closing. If I had more time I would have enjoyed the garden and found it (more) relaxing.

Now back to the station and Osaka.

Despite my own ineptness I thought Sakai has a lot of potential for future tourist growth – particularly if they can capitalise on the kofun, my only real complaint is that the city website does not have a street level map or ideally a PDF with all of the sights listed and much easier to find/ ask for directions.

I was quite bored during my early wanderings and as a result my Flickr page is quite slanted towards Sakai photos. I know I promise this a lot (it is really dependent on Internet cafes/ pricing) but I will put photos up on Wordpress at some point and those that are already on Flickr will get descriptions and rotated correctly soon. 

Day 3 – Osaka

May 20, 2007 at 3:36 pm | Posted in Japan, Osaka, Travel | Leave a comment
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Somehow I managed to wake up with enough time and make it to Tokyo station and get on my Shinkansen (bullet train) bound for Osaka. It took about an hour and is nice and fast with a trolley lady coming by fairly frequently if you feel like snacks.

Besides sleeping and doing the normal commuting thing there isn’t a whole lot to say about the rail journey – it is after all just a train trip.

After arriving in Osaka I had some time on my hands before checking in and as I had only brought a small bag for the few days it was no big hassle. My first objective was food and luckily there are no shortage of restaurants and street vendors in Osaka. Osaka also features a large underground network of pedestrian malls which are almost as bewildering as the above ground covered street alleys. But more on that later.

Once I’d been fed by some very tasty cold soba noodles and I think tempura fish I returned to the station got on a local and headed towards the famed Osaka Castle. By this stage time was starting to run out so I set a bit of a pace to walk through the (scenic) gardens to the castle, bought my ticket by vending machine and headed inside.

The museum is distributed across all the floors of the castle and features topics about the era the castle was built, about the builders and the great battle that led to the destruction of the original castle and its rebuilding by the victors. Apparently only a few unearthed walls remain from the original. On the top floor you can walk along the balcony and see all of the city and out towards the mountains. Unfortunately for me it was a windy day and at the slightly increased altitude it became at times just a tad gusty. Luckily there is some netting so I didn’t feel like I would plummet to my death immediately.

After heading outside and taking some more photos I began walking out of the park towards the Osaka Museum of History. The museum is spread over several floors starting on the 10th and working downwards and this provides another excellent vantage point to look out over the city. The museum is structured to provide 2 types of interaction: overview and detailed. In overview you basically walk on one side and look at street scenes or mannequins in costume to get a sense of the period being discussed. In the more detailed approach you also get historic artifacts (not just pots and pans). This is understandably mainly in Japanese but there were sufficient primers (in Chinese and Korean as well) spread over each floor that I wasn’t bored or completely ignorant by the end of my mad dash to get through the museum.

Both the Castle and the History museum offer something that the prestigious Tokyo museum lacked. Context. Which for me is quite pivotal in my need to appreciate a country and its people. While I’m not an aficionado of Osaka history I do feel as though I can appreciate it better now.

Not to mention see the classic rivalry between two cities just a little clearer now!

If you do come to Osaka these are worth the visit.

Afterwards I thought I would go to a station on the Castle pamphlet. Granted it wasn’t one they said to use but it was shown right, how far away could it be? Well, I think you know the answer to that one and if you don’t here’s a hint. Plenty far. And it rained.

Although, that’s ok afterall I got to see a part of Osaka I never would have before (granted near a main road but that’s not the point). Frankly, getting lost and turned around becomes a bit of a theme for the rest of the trip but that’s really part of traipsing around.

Once back at Osaka Station I try and find my way to the hotel (above ground) and over shoot as the map on their website says to pass a fountain but all I see is roadways. Later I find out that the fountain is underground and is part of the under-city shopping complex.

The hotel is located near the station and apparently so is the Osaka sex district and a myriad of confusing covered shopping streets where one wrong turn will send you to other side of the district. Leading to frantic last minute phone calls to the hotel not to lock you out at curfew (apparently for security reasons). Given the area it’s somewhat understandable. Although it is Japan so I never felt concerned but then perhaps I should be…

Day 2 – what?

May 11, 2007 at 11:15 am | Posted in Japan, Tokyo, Travel | 1 Comment
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Bizarrely, or not really to be unexpected, but on day 2 things just went a bit wonky. I woke up hungry and groggy and not from alcohol induced slumber, so went out in search of food. I think I need a primer on Japanese breakfast / early morning food because it all gets lumped in with what I (cultural icon that I am) would consider eating in the evening. I`m not yet comfortable with eating Western style for breakfast. I`m also still adverse to eating from convenience stores.

So I wander aimlessly through the markets hoping for something interesting looking. No luck and it seems as though most shops don]t become active until much later around midday – granted they close at 8 or 9 in the evening.

Deciding to skip the food option until lunch I move onto my second task – access to the internet. While I can do this at the hotel I wanted to check out a manga cafe. Apparently there were several in Ueno and in I went and as I walked up the stairs I got the feeling that this was not your standard manga cafe. My first clue? Porn posters on the wall. Followed by porn movies for rent in the reception area (no sign of manga). So the internet led me astray in looking for places to use the internet, perhaps it really is all about sex?

Waits for hits based on the preceding paragraph….

I decide to skip the option of sitting in a leather chair and using the Internet. Until later when I`m advised on a reputable and legitimate manga cafe. Has the same booths etc but a much less sleazy vibe.

Before the real manga cafe I had some ramen noodles at a shop near the station and is always packed. For good reason it was very tasty.

Perhaps as a result of the food, dehydration (always thirsty in Tokyo), jet lag or not drinking coffee for a few days but I was exhausted and so went and slept.

Yes it is this riveting. Shut up.

Until later in the evening when I met an Aussie friend for a drink and a quick catch up before we had to go our separate ways. Him to work and me to wander around Shinjuku and all the bright shiny lights. Tonight for dinner I tried a sushi train and given there were plenty of locals I thought I was onto something but unfortunately not. I can say that I have had better in Sydney or Brisbane.

I will try more sushi before I leave and hope it`s better.

All in all a quiet day but on my way home I reserved a seat on the Shinkansen bound for Osaka and day Day 3.  

Day 1 – Ueno

May 11, 2007 at 2:29 am | Posted in Japan, Tokyo, Travel | Leave a comment
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Ueno, or wino, as I like to call it due to all the homeless, is a microcosm of Japan (so says he who has seen 0.00001% of the country). With sprawling transportation grids, parks and cultural icons, shopping (both department and market) and of course food there is a lot to offer in this locality. Not to mention a very reasonably priced hotel within minutes of the station.

My first real day in Japan I decided to be cultural and visit the Tokyo National Museum and Art Gallery. My guide book informs me that if you only have one day of museum visiting then you must go here. So off I went, first to the Art Gallery via Ueno park. Ueo park is the home of not only the aforementioned buildings but also shrines and the zoo. Oh and homeless. Don`t worry though this is Japan where the homeless don`t bother anyone. Except maybe the cats. There seem to be quite a few in the park and I`m not sure if they`re strays or pets. Nonetheless the park is large and pleasant to wander around.  I`ll insert pictures later.

Now for the Art Gallery where I was looking forward to getting a good overview of Japanese art – except that all of the galleries were closed in preparation for something or other. That is for the one special exhibit on Russian art. So I`ve now been fortunate enough to get a better understanding of 18th – 19th century Russian art and hope that when I arrive in London there will be a Japanese exhibit!

Time for the big guns, the best museum in Japan, and there is another special exhibit on, this time for Leonardo daVinci, so some of it has been closed. What I did see was a fairly traditional here are pots, pans, swords, statues, display that charts their development over `x` number of years. Fairly disappointing. I prefer a museum that provides greater context. Granted it was 5 years ago when I went but in Tokyo my money is on the Edo-Tokyo museum for that type of quality.

After the museum I wandered into Yasuka (I`m pretty sure that`s the name) and wandered aimlessly until I arrived at the cemetary – largest in Tokyo – and eventually peered through the gates at the burial site of the last Tokugawa.

I meandered back along a fairly vague path back to Ueno and headed into Tokyo station to organise a Japanese mobile (most phones don`t work here – although next gen ones may)  and had some excellent fortune. For reasons too silly to go into now I was at one shop (which had what I needed) but I preferred a different brand so they very nicely gave me a map. I promptly got turned around and when I asked a passing person for assistance was walked to the mobile shop! Great! She got my very first domo arrigato gozaimasu (unlike the usual domo / arrigato). Unfortunately this shop said it didn`t have what I wanted and suggested I go back to the other company. So off I went and made my purchase. While I waited for the activation I took the time to look around the financial centre (leaving the Imperial Gardens for another day).

After that I returned to Ueno for dinner in the market area where food stalls nestle next to shops and pachinko (Kristy I`ve inserted a link for you!).  Then off to bed.

 I know such a piker but when you`ve been an inactive office worker these things take their toll.

More shortly.  Hopefully at a PC where I can find the correct apostrophe.

Day 0.5 – Arrival

May 9, 2007 at 4:01 am | Posted in Japan, Tokyo, Travel | 2 Comments
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After staying up late to finish off most of my to-do list I managed to get a few hours sleep before heading to the airport. Said farewells to the parents and sister before heading down to immigration and the waiting game. Possibly due to Golden Week requirements our JAL plane was kind of old with only the big projector screen and a few smaller screens around. Not very modern there, I was really hoping to watch the activity outside the plane using the cameras and personal screens on some JAL flights. Next time.

Flight arrived early and I made it through customs and immigration very quickly – too quickly? Eventually figured out how to validate my JAL Rail pass and then head into the station, where it was time for another wait until the next train came by, followed of course by another hour + getting to Tokyo. I was a little anxious that I’d hit peak hour but luckily this is Tokyo so that probably didn’t happen until an hour after I’d disembarked.

Yamamote line was so easy and soon enough I’d made my way to Ueno where I was struggling with my backpack but following the hotel’s directions soon found my way and checked-in. All too easy. Given the recent hassles it felt wrong.

I spent the rest of the evening checking out the night life in Ueno. It can probably be summed up as Pachinko and eating. There seem to be more Pachinko parlours than just about anything – at night anyway.

I wasn’t particularly hungry so contented myself with water and Blendy before finally crashing in bed.

Once I find a better internet location I’ll try and upload photos and be more descriptive.

Thank you

May 4, 2007 at 11:53 pm | Posted in General, Random, rant | 4 Comments

Thank you to the thief who stole my money by accessing my credit card details.

Thank you for doing it in a location I most certainly wasn’t.

Thank you for doing it on the last business day before I went overseas.

Thank you for not doing it while I was overseas.

Thank you for waiting until I paid off a chunk of my card before maxing it out.

Thank you for making me question every time I hand over my card or details. Creating an apprehensive shopper in the process. 

Thank you to the bank for spotting the fraudulent activity and blocking the account so quickly and being very understanding on the phone.

Thank you to the bank for taking up to 45 days to resolve whether or nor to refund the amount.

Thank you to my parents for helping me out when I go on my holiday until I can access my card and credit again.

Thank you.

Potts Point photos

May 4, 2007 at 11:50 pm | Posted in Australia, Out and About, photos, Sydney | Leave a comment

Here are some photos of Potts Point (and Elizabeth Bay and Rushcutter’s Bay) the rest are on Flickr.

A very dodgy person used to live behind these bars 😉
Potts Point (69)

I love tree lined streets – even in Autumn.
Potts Point (10)

The stairs you love to hate.
Potts Point (15)

It can’t be helped, another Harbour shot.
Potts Point (21)

Sitting back, doing nothing. Looks good to me.
Potts Point (48)

Terraces
Potts Point (11)

Is that what I really look like?

May 4, 2007 at 10:32 pm | Posted in Blogs, General, Random | Leave a comment

Now that I’ve been forced out of my usual home environment into the wilds of Internet Cafes I’ve realised that this blog doesn’t look quite right. At home the side widgets line up at the top of the page along side the text but most computer displays bump it to the bottom after the text.

I suspect it might be the size of some of the images and instead of going back and editing them I’ll just keep posting until they drop off the main page. Luckily there’s quite a bit of content to get through.

If anyone has any other suggestions on how to fix this that’d be great. If removing those photos doesn’t work I’m thinking of playing around with some new templates and seeing if this resolves the matter, so once again if there are any you’d prefer let me know.

Gone

May 4, 2007 at 9:27 pm | Posted in Australia, Brisbane, General, Travel | Leave a comment

I’ve left Sydney. The last month and certainly the past few days have gone by in such a blur of reeling from one must do to another I haven’t had a chance to fully process what I have done and more importantly what I’m about to undertake.

I did get an opportunity to take photos of Potts Point on Monday and act like a giddy tourist in the process and will post them as soon as I can.

I finally managed to clear out my apartment and get it ready for the cleaning company I’d hired so I wouldn’t have to worry about anything. While I knew I was being overcharged I didn’t really care as long as it got done and it didn’t feel totally appalling until the realtor looked at the receipt and started laughing.

I’d better get my bond back now.

I made it back to my hotel room where for the upteenth time over this week I culled my belongings and madly rushed out, fortunately finding a cab and few traffic problems. That turned out to be a good thing as I made it to Qantas Domestic literally 2 minutes before the 30 minute deadline. I knew Jetstar was a stickler for this but had no idea Qantas was becoming similarly tough with timelines.

Then onto the security checkpoint. Previously I have said that Sydney airport is less stringent than other airports but not this day where shoes off andfollow ups were all the rage. Normally, I’d throw my wallet into the small tray but this time they said no, allegedly there have been thefts.

The flight was fine and made easier by an almost empty plane and being offered more food. Yes airplane food but with no breakfast it was appreciated. The only downside was that my headphones didn’t work (nor did quite a few others on my side of the plane). At least it’s only a short flight.

Brisbane. Too quiet. I ended up getting to my hotel, which for the price, was not worth it but unlike previous trips Brisbane seems to be lacking well placed and priced accommodation. I ended up falling asleep for most of the day and woke up and wandered over to the Valley where most places were shut or shutting down. Even Fat Boys isn’t 24hrs anymore. The next few days I spent chilling out (ie avoiding doing my must do’s).

It felt good to relax before coming back to Logan and ostensibly get myself organised. Of course it is now Saturday before I leave on Monday and I’m still well off the list. Nonetheless, it has been great to catch up on sleep and meet up with my Brisbane friends before leaving the country indefinitely.

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