Take Off



Heathrow to Tokyo is about twelve hours.


Is this day two or still day one? We are not sure. Transfer to Grand Prince Hotel New Takanawa which is coincidently within a mile of where we though Tokyo Croquet Club was. But Google got it wrong and we are searching the streets about six miles away from it. Never mind, it was a good walk, full of interest which set us up for dinner and an early night ready for the 8:00 start tomorrow on a tour of Tokyo.

Our room has everything we need.

Including a heated and computerised toilet.

In Japan, 1 out of 2 homes have one of these.


We set off on a tour of Tokyo. Starting with a visit to the Tokyo Tower which is modelled on the Eiffel Tower, but is taller and lighter, where we enjoyed the panorama views across the city.

We followed that with the peaceful picturesque setting of the Meiji Shrine considered to be one of the finest example of Shinto Architecture. It is set in thick woodland. Then we visited the Imperial Palace East Garden which is filled with scenic and historic beauty and business men having their lunch. We took lunch near Ginza High Street, the famous shopping area of Tokyo. That was a Japanese meal full of highs and lows.

A river trip on the Sumida took us to the Asakusa Kannon Temple where a long street of souvenir stalls leads to the main gates.

This was indeed a full day for the four of us. We rounded it off with dinner in the hotel and another early night.


A free day. We took the train to the outskirts to see the Sumo Wrestling stadium. Unfortunately nothing was going on but our explorations were nevertheless interesting as we got a taste of the less frequented areas. From there we visited a park where we found thousands of locals walking down the wide avenues of cherry blossom. What a privilege to be here at this time as we see the excitement this time of year brings to so many people.

Many people had reserved areas below the trees and there will be a party tonight all through the park. Those people will stay there until the blossom falls onto them. They spread out sheets to catch and collect it. Expected to fall tomorrow, but who knows! There is a collective consciousness here, perhaps only identifiable by those like us where it is absent. Vending machines and computer screens abound. None are vandalised. It is very crowded but people walk on the left so do not bump into each other. On the tube we receive (and need!) help from many people just by looking lost. It feels very safe here, almost tranquil.

Today’s food was delicious washed down with hot Sake. We used the train again to find the Sony Centre where cutting edge technology is available. Paper thin HDTV screens being the most obvious, while face recognition cameras the most interesting.

We noticed and liked this mpeg player: turn your speakers on and then click on the picture below (twice) to appreciate the synchronisation.

We returned to have a drink in one of the hundreds of ‘Maid Bars’ where the waitresses are dressed like maids and give very attentive service. Now packing small bag for our trip up Mount Fuji and to Hakonen where we will be out of touch for about three days.

Mount Fuji

We checked out of Tokyo with small bags leaving our cases to be sent ahead two days. A coach took us to Mount Fuji and the snow capped volcano got bigger and bigger as we got closer. We stopped at station 2 which afforded some good views.

Then we set off for Hakone and a quick lunch followed by a cruise on the lake in a pirate ship. This dropped us at the bottom of a cable car which took us up the caldera to a small crater where sulphurous springs are used to hard boil eggs. These are sold to the many visitors who believe in the beneficial properties of eating three of them.

We skipped this medicinal repast in favour of attending the bar at our hotel. We all agree the area is a bit like the Lake District and also like Wales.


BST starts today in the UK at 10:00 local time, but Japan never changes its clocks so the time difference reduces to 8 hours. This was a free day for us and we set off to see Yamoto and arrived in time for lunch which we took in a local restaurant.

Then we took the switch back train up to the open air art museum. Here we found many Henry Moore sculptures, an Anthony Gormley work (“Closed” 1993) and a large indoor Picasso exhibition.

Our journey home took us on funicular railway, cable car and bus. We only just made it in time and it had started to rain.

We all headed to the Hot spring baths (segregated here). You must undress completely and put a kimono on. Then in the changing area swap it for a small (9” x 6”) towel before entering the baths. Here you sit on a low stool. Each stool has a shower and selection of soaps and oils which you must use to make sure you are clean before getting into the boiling hot water of the thermal springs either inside or outside.


The rain continued overnight and we awoke to find we were right inside the low cloud. Our car arrived and transported us to the station where we boarded the Bullet Train for Nagoya.

This was an exceptionally fine experience. Perhaps our train did not achieve the maximum speed due to stopping along the way but the acceleration and cruising speed have to be admired. At Nagoya we boarded a small train which took us to through some very scenic places to Takayama. We were guided around the town on foot, visiting a shopping area which has been restored to the way it was in feudal times except for the road surface.

We also saw a rich merchants house from the Edo period. We are high in the mountains and before dinner it started to snow, nevertheless we headed out in search of some local cuisine which we found in the shape of pork noodles and pickled ginger.


Click on the picture below then click again to see a video of an interesting fountain which is on the exit from the station.

We awoke to a thick covering of snow and our first activity was to walk through the town to see the museum of the Autumn Festival where they keep the large floats which are paraded through the streets at that time. The floats weigh about 3 tons and are set on wheels in all but one case. Further exploration took us through the street market which we were told was a little quieter than usual due to the snow. There is a common type of shop here which looks like it might be selling good things to eat, but on closer examination the items for sale are very odd. Vacuum packed pickled vegetables seem to be what is on offer. We caught a public bus to the village of Shirakawa. Set at over 2000 metres up in the mountains the weather can be expected to be cold and wet. It did not disappoint us and plenty of the morning snow refused to be washed away by the steady rain.

This village is a World Heritage Site but with only a difficult Japanese lunch inside us we all flagged a bit. The final house we visited was the Sake maker, but that turned out to be lumpy and milky, rather than the clear wine we are familiar with. A bus took us onwards to Kanazawa and we all warmed up a bit and changed our socks. The hotel was next door to a Pachinko Parlour. Noisy and smoky there is little chance of learning to operate one of these mesmerising machines, but why would you want to?


Kanazawa is a busy city with a large station. Morning sight seeing included a visit to the Kenroku-en Garden, which is regarded as one of the three most beautiful garden in Japan.

The tour includes a visit to Kutaniyaki Pottery Kiln and a stroll through the Nagamachi Samurai house district.

Lunch was in a special Japanese style where the chefs work opposite your seat carefully preparing little works of art.

We had seats booked on the Limited Express train to Kyoto and we got some speed up as we headed across (under) the mountains again to Kyoto on the Northwest coast where we caught the subway to our hotel.

Kyoto & Nara

Starbucks breakfast in bed set us up for a full day sight seeing tour of Kyoto & Nara including a visit to the Kinkakuji temple. The main feature is the Golden Pavilion which is… well… made of gold and is placed in one of the best example of a Zen garden in the world.

Nijo Castle residence of the Tokugawa Shogun built in 1603, is noted for its Ornate interior and 'nightingale floor' designed to sing when stepped upon to warn of Ninja assassins. Click here to hear it. (Large file will download to your default WAV player). The squeaking is produced by metal flanges attached under the boards. We then travelled to the Old Kyoto Imperial Palace and we could see the difference between the two powers expressed in the architecture and design.

We took lunch at the Fuku restaurant in the Kyoto Handicraft Centre where we enjoyed demonstrations of Japanese traditional arts and crafts. Then we travelled to the ancient capital of Japan, Nara. Our tour included a visit to Todaiji Temple one of the world's largest wooden buildings (big enough to hold a football pitch) housing the Great Buddha.

We then visited the Kasuga Shinto Shrine famous for its beautiful Shinto shrine with 3,000 antique stone and bronze lanterns. Before returning we explored Nara Deer Park with more than 1,000 deer roaming freely around the 1,250 acres park. We returned to our hotel and after a little light surfing on the free internet headed out into the back streets of Kyoto and found a remarkable place for a drink and something to eat which was the best value on our trip so far.


A luxuriously late start got us in a taxi to the North end of the Philosophers Walk. This walk is a mile long, mostly alongside a canal with cafes, restaurants and artisans shops dotted along the way. These sell Cherry Blossom Ice Cream Cornets which are delicious!

There are also a few Shinto Shrines and temples thrown in. But once again we are amazed by the Cherry blossom which is covering the whole walk.

As in the case of our third day in Tokyo, we notice how many of the locals are out photographing the blossom and otherwise being excited. This walk is situated on the East of the city. We worked our way back walking through back streets, main shopping areas and the Geisha houses. Regular refreshment stops happened of course but when we were looking for lunch we accidently went into the reception area of a 'Love Hotel' (We thought the prices were a bit steep). We did spot our mistake before placing an order.

Somewhat footsore and a mile short of our hotel we grabbed a taxi to the department store almost next to it. On the short remaining part of the walk we popped into a Pachinko Parlour for a look.

Inside the noise is very very loud. Click Here to hear it. (Large file will download to your default WAV player).

A fascinating day.


We all met up in the rooftop garden of Kyoto Station which provided a good view of the city in all directions.

Then we took the shinkansen to Hiroshima where we had a wonderful French meal on the 33rd floor of a hotel. We followed this by visiting the Peace Memorial Museum. This installation will answer any question you may have about the history leading up to the decision to select this city as the target for the first use of the atom bomb in human warfare and what happened afterwards. To reach it we walked through the park full of Cherry Blossom and the usual blue mats with students partying waiting for it to fall. Evidently three generations has passed, but how can life go on here on a day to day basis without remembering what happened.

The iconic building (with the Baseball stadium floodlights in the background) is perserved although there was much debate about the decision to do so. Many said that it should be demolished. That may happen yet. Being a stone structure it survived because the blast from the bomb (detonated at an altitued of 600 meters) came straight down on it. Following this experience we took a train to the harbour and a ferry out to Miyajima where we are booked into a Ryokan for two nights. This means Japanese style rooms...

and food...

Our room overlooks the famous Shinto shrine in the sea. The photograph show it as a living room but when we leave for dinner it is transformed into a bedroom with two footons set up on the floor.


After visiting the shrine and gate at high tide

we took a ropeway halfway up to the top of the island followed by a cable car. Then we climbed a short way to a viewing point.. The views were magnificent but Heiro, our guide, had more surprises for us. We were to climb from 445 meters down to 400 then up to 535 to reach the summit. Everyone managed it but we were a bit tired by the effort. The island wilderness in inhabited by many Monkeys and we had to be careful about our possessions.

On return to sea level we strolled on the waterfront and grabbed some chicken sukiyaki and chips from a stall.

The tide had receded and the beach was full of locals digging in the sand for seafood. There was plenty of it for everyone.

Ambling around the shops we found a bottle of Hiroshima’s local red wine which proved to be very smooth but before opening it we took a hot spring bath. We had all requested no seafood for tonights banquet. This evening we all had a small burner on our table with a wire mesh over it. Placed directly on this was a sheet of paper, folded into a bowl and this was full of oil. They lit the burner and we cooked pieces of meat in the oil. As usual, the courses just kept coming.


Bus, ferry and train delivered us to the Shinkansen to Osaka. It was raining but this hardly mattered as the entire journey was covered in one way or another. We were due to go to Osaka Castle on arrival, but Keith & Jean said they wanted to put their feet up and so did not come along. It was then things went a little wrong and our guide appeared to get lost on the subway and we walked and walked only to emerge and be put into a taxi which got lost as well. Eventually we all met up again and our guide said because it was raining very hard (which it was) we should go on a river trip. We did. At least they sold Sake.

When we got back to the hotel it became apparent to us that the first time things did not go well was the first time Keith & Jean were not leading the party. . It was a shame because Heiro had been so good up to then. Anyway we said goodbye to her today and to Jane & Chris who now carry on to the Seychells. Suitably fed watered and showered we visited the Yodo Bashi shop in the Osaka-Kita area well known for electrical goods but actually selling a lot more.

we returned to the hotel for dinner with Paul and Jackie. This turned out to be where the chef cooks on a grill which you sit around. He did great work with Seafood first, then steak. Click on the picture below then click again to see him in action.

It is possible to pass the day here without actually going outside – that could have suited us at this stage of our holiday – we are all feeling the pace a bit now! Tomorrow we are back on the bullet to Tokyo for one night before our flight home. We are on our own now, no more guides to help us.


We all piled into a taxi to the station and took the 10:00 Nazomi 8 Shinkansen towards Tokyo.

The masks are a very common sight in Japan for various reasons such as preventing catching a cold, preventing giving your cold away and preventing hay fever at this time of year when the trees produce a lot of pollen. The masks did not prevent us from catching the Narita Express to our hotel near the airport. We put our feet up for a short time, shared a bottle of wine and made one last shopping expedition to a nearby mall where we found some Lyche Liquor to bring back for our friend Peter B who had rapidly sorted out a logistical key problem for us. We then grabbed some food and some sleep.

Click on the picture below then click again to see a video of an interesting coffee machine which shows a video of what is happening inside while you wait.


Heiro was our guide for most of the time while we were in Japan. Click here to hear her recite a Japanese poem. (Large file will download to your default WAV player).

Keith Liked

  • The Bullet trains
  • Heated toilet seats
  • Hot springs
  • But did not like sleeping on the floor!

    Jean Liked

  • The good manners
  • Heated toilet seats
  • Japanese food
  • But did not like there being no bars!

    Liz Liked

  • The people being polite & clean
  • The Ryakan [but not their food]
  • Hot spring baths
  • But did not like the seaweed in Miso Soup!

    Peter Liked

  • Climbing Miyajima Island
  • Kyoto Cherry blossom time
  • Hot Sake in Hakonen
  • But did not like the footwear protocols!

    On board BA006 to Heathrow we fly over the frozen sea north of Siberia...

    ...and had wondeful views of the coast of Norway becoming greener as we travelled South.

    ...and everyone getting off the aircraft had to wait in a corridor at Terminal 5 while they found the guy with the key to the door.

    ...and coming from Tokyo, T5 looks 20 years old already.

    ...and none of our cases got to Manchester.

    But none of this matters because we all reurned safely after having a wonderful holiday.