Thursday 28 February 2019

Daytrip to Kagoshima

9.00am - sitting in bed looking at the map wondering where to go today.
9.05am - decision made.
9.35am - buying cakes for breakfast in the mall in the station.
9.46am - queueing in the ticket office for reserved seats to Kagoshima.
9.48am to 9.51am - quick dash up to the platform.
9.54am - on the train and leaving the station.
11.29am - arriving exactly on time.

It was a last minute decision to visit
Kagoshima, based on half a page of information in my guidebook.
It is right at the far south west of Japan and about 140 miles away.
The guidebook stated that it had a beautiful ancient garden.

Also, there is a volcano on an island just off shore.

We spent a happy few hours wandering around the gardens and then up to a viewpoint with excellent views of the active volcano, called Sakurajima.
We got back to the train station with half an hour to spare so decided to have a look around.
In the distance we could see the volcano and it looked as if it was smoking, so we looked around for higher ground to get a better view.
On the sixth form floor of a shopping centre was a big wheel, although we were a bit short of time.
16.18 - get on the big wheel

16.20 to 16.28 - amazing views from the top of a terrifying big wheel of a gently erupting volcano.
16.29 to 16.34 - frantic rush through the mall to the station.
16.35 - jump on board the train.
16.38 - off we go on our journey home.

Exciting day with some added tension.

Wednesday 27 February 2019


On August 9th 1945 at 11.02am, an atomic bomb exploded above Nagasaki.

The very centre of the explosion is marked by a black pillar. As a result of the bomb, out of a population of about 240,000, 73,884 people died and 74,909 were injured.
We went to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, and obviously, it was very moving. There was thousands of origami cranes that had been folded into huge strands with 1,000 in each, as a gesture of peace from people all over the world.

Nagoya to Fukuoka

Caught a train from Nagoya to Fukuoka today, that is about 700 kilometres, or about 450 miles away. Our journey took less than three hours despite multiple stops and a change of trains along the way. This is our twelfth day with the train pass and we have caught at least two trains evey day. 
The latest any train has set off is one minute after the time shown on our ticket and they have all arrived at the exact correct minute. It is unbelievable to watch how efficient it all is, and all of the trains are spotlessly clean.
Fukuoka is right on the west of Japan and is more of a stopping off point for us to visit other places in the area.
However  we set off to explore the city and sights in the afternoon.

Every year they have a huge parade from the main shrine through the city and this is a slightly smaller version of one of the carts. It looks very heavy and judging by the height of it  very unstable.
A little later we found the shrine and right at the front of it was three large ropes that were each attached to a bell. Japan is full of notices and instructions and we have seen them before that say 'don't ring the gong'. I was totally amazed then when three young girls started pulling the ropes and making a huge racket complete with creaking sounds. We made a quick escape in case any angry monks were nearby.

Monday 25 February 2019

Train to Takayama

It was quite a long way to Takayama, up through the mountains on the slow train that stopped at every station. Nice views though. In a few weeks everywhere will be green and sprouting.

Takayama is an old wooden town that has survived the fires and earthquakes intact. It is full of narrow streets with low black wooden houses, lots of which have been turned into shops. They did not photograph well unfortunately.

This is the only photo that I have saved, and I think that it is of the more modern houses on the town's outskirts.
After a quick look around we decided to follow a well known hiking course, as they are called in Japan.

It was well signposted in a slightly confusing way, but we made it round and saw lots of shrines and temples en route.

As you can see, the weather has warmed up a lot, and we caught the fast train home back down the mountain 

Sunday 24 February 2019

Samurai and Ninja country

We found out today that we are staying in Samurai and Ninja territory. We set off for what we thought would be a quiet Sunday morning visit to Nagoya Castle. However, when we got there we found out that it was a special day.
There was free entry to the castle and grounds, which is always a good thing, and events.

The castle was built in 1610 but was destroyed by bombing in World War Two. The main castle was rebuilt in the 1950's and has a huge wall, moat and interesting towers.
There was also a wooden Palace inside the grounds that has just been rebuilt. It is a very traditional Japanese building made of wood and with paper and laquer screens. It is also beautifully painted to look exactly as the original, with loads of leaping tigers, flying cranes and countryside scenes. This is where the Shogun, or Lord used to live and receive guests.

After seeing the Palace we were just in time to watch the performance. The costumes were great and we saw the three Samurai Kings from Nagoya who unified Japan, and three sword fighting and jumping Ninjas.

Our afternoon outing was to the Railway Park where we saw lots of trains - as you would expect. It was better than that sounds and the trains were extremely glamorous.

We also tried Bento boxes which are traditional Japanese lunches that people take to work and on journeys. It looked gorgeous and very colourful, with 30 different flavours according to the description. I can't say that we are in a rush to have another one though.

Saturday 23 February 2019

Yokohama to Nagoya

Today we caught a train from Yokohama to Nagoya. It only took about 90 minutes and we shot past Mount Fuji about half way through the journey. Even though the sun was shining we could barely see the mountain as it was shrouded in cloud, so it was very lucky that we went to see it yesterday.
Nagoya is a major city, the fourth biggest in Japan. In common with everywhere else that we have seen it is very modern and full of interesting buildings.

The pond is on the roof of a strange and very flimsy structure with glass walkways, and a long drop to street level. We had no idea what it was for, but there was lots of people who like us were there just to take photos.
In a public park we found lots more people, this time practicing martial art type routines, leaping and kicking in unison.

I also briefly managed to look angelic -

and then headed back to our amazing hotel where they put on a free happy hour every evening!

Friday 22 February 2019

View of Mount Fuji

It is difficult to get a good view of Mount Fuji, as we found out today. Apparently it is only visible for 80 days per year and for the rest of the time it is covered in cloud.
We woke up early, looked out of our hotel window to find that the sun was shining, so we decided to try to see it.
We managed to start by catching the wrong train, and then had to wait ages for the second one, but eventually we got to the bullet train station and into seats on the right side of the train. One of the most famous ways to see the Mount Fuji is from the train as it whizzes from Tokyo to Nagoya. We caught the slow train because we wanted to get off at the nearest station, enjoy the view and then head back again.

We were lucky and this view is taken from the station platform. We were surprised by how industrial this side of the mountain was and we took a walk to try to find a prettier viewing spot.
There was nothing within walking distance, and the best I could do was a shot sponsored by  Toshiba!

Afterwards we caught a train to the coast where I thought that we could get a more natural looking photo, but no luck. We couldn't even see any sign of it. I don't know if we were in the wrong place or if the clouds were hiding it.
We tried a new treat instead, which was a strawberry covered in toffee (like a toffee apple) with a Ritz biscuit stuck to it.
The lovely girls had all bought one so we did the same.

The final outing of the day was a classic arranged by Daz. A tasting trip to the Kirin beer factory. What fun it was, and as the only non Japanese visitors we were given a little book to read when the guide explained things to everyone else. It was really high tech and interactive. Best part of all of course was the tasting and the guide took our photo for us.

She took quite a shine to us, said she liked how we were always smiling and that she wished that she was our daughter!

Thursday 21 February 2019


Yesterday we arrived in Yokohama  which is just down the coast from Tokyo. Our hotel is good and with loads more floor space than we are used to.
Our last hotel had an amazing tap that filled the basin, then the spout could be angled to fill the bath, then finally you pressed a button and it also turned into a shower head.
This bathroom is much more traditional shaped though.
Last night we went to the Waterfront and enjoyed the lights.

Unfortunately we got lost for a while on the way back, but we made it eventually.
This morning started early with a run and then a visit to the Nissan world headquarters.
We tried out a simulator that took us inside the electric engine of a Leaf car, but it made me feel rather sick. I think you get the idea from the photo.

Also, I couldn't explain any of it once I got out.
After that a walk around enjoying the milder weather and interesting views.

Wednesday 20 February 2019


We spent the night in Nikko, which is a town in the mountains behind Tokyo.
Over 1,200 years ago a monk decided to set up a shrine in the peaceful forests here and over the years many people followed his example. Today it is a World Heritage Site and has many visitors. Most of these are Japanese, and it is the first place that we have visited where there are very few signposts written in English.
We got up nice and early and everywhere was quiet as we looked around, and the lack of signposts only caused a few problems.

After looking around one of the famous temples we followed a quiet path up higher into the mountains. It was completely silent except for the birds, and huge trees towered overhead. Every few minutes we came across little temples set back in the forest and walked under Tori Gates.

After reaching the highest temple we walked back down and set off along a river to see the Kanmangafuchi Abyss. It sounded very exciting, but either it wasn't translated very well or we didn't find it.
That didn't matter though because the walk upstream was beautiful and there was dozens of statues along the path that were all carefully wearing red hats and scarves.

Tuesday 19 February 2019

Rinnouji garden

This morning we went for a run and from a viewpoint we saw what looked like a giant bhudda across the city. I had already highlighted a garden to visit in that area so we set off to see it.
Once we got there it was quickly obvious that there was no big bhudda, but there was a beautiful and ancient Japanese garden.
It has been there since 1602, although it was badly damaged in a huge earthquake in 2011. It made headlines worldwide due to the sunami that wrecked the nearby Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Anyway  it is all looking great again now and the meditation hall that collapsed has been rebuilt.
We were the only two visitors during the whole of our stay, apart from a black and white cat and a large stork.

Monday 18 February 2019

Daytrip to Akita and Kakunadate

We caught the train again today on a day trip to Akita. Akita is on the west coast of Japan and it gets huge amounts of snow each winter. The views from the train were good and we arrived exactly on time.

Akita is known for its large dogs, called Akitas, but we only saw lots of pictures of them during our rather brief visit.

There was very little to see and it was just a town with a small market, frozen moat and an art gallery that we didn't go in. In less than an hour we headed back to the station and changed the time of our return ticket. We had time for a quick coffee and then back on the train to Kakunadate.
Just like yesterday, we were the only people to get off the train at the Kakunadate station, but we definitely made the right decision.
It was a cute little town with lots of snow, and it is known for its Samurai houses that have been very well preserved.

Most of them seemed to be closed and there was very few people about, but it was very scenic and we enjoyed wandering around the little streets.
In a little park we found a slope with lots of sledges next to a sign saying 'Snow playground, free renting. Please return it after use.'

How could we resist?