Osaka,Okonomiyaki and beyond.

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Asia » Japan
August 10th 2014
Published: August 11th 2014
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Sorry folks , I told Di I would write the Japanese blog seeing I have had spent some time on different occasions in the country and have a fascination with the people and it's culture. It is in fact the first blog I have written, and it has taken so long due to the lack of internet while camping in Canada and also there has been so many things to do here while we have been here. I hope you enjoy the read!

Our trip to Japan started with a two night ferry which crossed over the east China sea from Shanghai. Leaving Shanghai in the morning it was amazing how long it took us just to exit this massive port! (over three hours!) We have since discovered that it is the worlds largest port.

There was a small group of foreign travellers on board, and like us they were also astounded at the shear size of the port, and also the length of time it took before we even entered the Yanzee River. We had some interesting talks whilst on the two night trip with our fellow travellers discovering where they had been on their travels and where they were off to. We also stayed up late on the second night, having a few drinks and singing karaoke, much to the amusement of the Chinese crew.

On arrival into the port of Osaka we had a pesky little mut sniffing our back packs which led to us being pulled aside and thoroughly searched, we think that it must have picked up the scent of all the Chinese sausages that I use to snack on and had grown quite partial to traveling through China! As expected the Japanese customs officials were quite polite and re packed our bags before sending us on our way with lots of bowing, which was to be the beginning of constantly being bowed to. Even buying the smallest thing in a shop we were thanked four or five times!

When we travelled in 2010 we met a very nice young lady from Japan while we were in Vienna (Austria) and had since kept in contact with her. Ayumi met us at the port in Osaka and we all hoped on a bus which took us to the JR line (trains) , after three different changes of trains we exited and Ayumi led the way to our hotel which was a two minute walk from the Tennoji station.

The hotel was called Boarding House Osaka and we opted for the Japanese style Tatami mat rooms which only cost us around $50.00 a night. This was our first base as, we had decided after purchasing our Japanese Rail passes, (great value at $500.00 for two weeks , unlimited travel!) that we would use four different places to base our selves and travel from those places, which meant less lugging the packs around too!

After dropping our bags off, Ayumi took us to a famous Osaka Okonomiyaki restaurant (Japanese omelet) which was fantastic and very popular, we had a great catch up a few Asahai beers and a delicious lunch! We ended up meeting Ayumi and her Fiance (Jack Reacher he liked to be called!) on several occasions for dinner and outings during our five night stay in Osaka.

Many years ago I use to do some work in and around Osaka and we set out to catch up with some old friends who I had been unable to track down on FB before arriving. We arrived in the town of Tachibana where I used to live, and I could hardly recognise a single thing! I did find an old bar that we socialised in, and couldn't believe that the day after, it was to close down. The owner Jiro was very surprised to see me and we had a good catch up, stayed for a few drinks and then he gave me a Shinai (Kendo stick) as a departing gift. Most of the other guys I knew had either left the town or the country altogether!

It seemed that our two and a half weeks spent in Japan we never sat still at all, there was so much to see and do, oh, and eat! From Osaka we wanted to go to the famous Himeji Castle but it was closed for repairs so we opted to go out and see Hikone Castle which was very beautiful with cherry blossoms surrounding the grounds and great views from the top in all directions.
Another day we went (yep , training it again!) to the Arashiyama Babboo Grove which was beautiful, walking through the bamboo lined path ways and adjoining pavilions, the same day we also went out to see the Golden Pavilion on a lake which had the most amazing gardens surrounding it! There the rain started to pour so with the two of us trying to share a small umbrella we made it back to a bus that took us onto the bus station in Kyoto.

We found that, in Kyoto and most other places, if we could find a decent sized supermarket, we could buy A bento box for lunch or dinner, and they were very tasty indeed, they would usually cost $4.00 to $5.00 and consist of rice and meat or fish with nice sauces. Some people will always say the 'Japan is so expensive' but they are almost always people that have not been there! We found it to be very reasonable for food (take away and in restaurants) and for decent accommodation. The only expensive thing can be transport but, with the JR pass that must be purchased out side of Japan and only by non residents of the country, this also is affordable. it was great to use to get on the bullet trains and some local trains too.

We also did a full days trip down south to Kagoshima which took about four hours and doing speeds almost up to 300kms an hour, from there we caught a ferry out to the volcanic island of Sakurajima which was an old fisherman's island. When we got there we realised that we needed an ATM and were told there was one on the island about 6kms away, so we hopped on a bus and got off where we were told we would find the ATM, but there was nothing that even resembled one and the people we met spoke no English, and the little Japanese I could remember was of no help either. I ended putting out my thumb and a lovely lady (still no English) took us back to the port where we were told by some one else that there is in fact no ATM on the island and we just had enough Yen to get us back to the mainland on the ferry!

On arriving back in Kagoshima we were walking down a street looking for an ATM when we wondered why two western guys were staring at us across the road, when they approached us we realised that they were in fact two Austrian guys that we had met while staying in Yangshou in China, none of us could believe the coincidence and they insisted that we went and had a few beers. We said we couldn't as we needed get some cash but they talked us into sitting in a bar and paying for beers and snacks, very nice guys!

From there we had to rush to get back to the train station for the last ride back to Osaka, don't know how, but we got on a bus which was doing a scenic tour around the town, and going in the opposite direction to what we needed. We did finally manage to find the right bus and made the train in the nic of time! Then it was a very fast four hour trip back with Japanese trolley girls serving cold Japanese beers on route.

From Osaka we caught a bullet train down to Hiroshima where we stayed at the Hiroshima Bunka Hotel, it was very nice and had a great breakfast buffet too. We spent the next couple of days exploring the city but mostly were around the Peace Park which was beautifully done with some lovely gardens in which was once a totally destroyed city. There is little left there except the atomic dome and an old government administration building which was just a skeleton or shell after the first atomic bomb was dropped from the Enola Gay a super fortress bomber B29 on August the 5th 1945, it was not that long ago when we think of it and, the damage done was horrific!

There is a flame burning at the peace park and it will stay alight until all nuclear weapons have been disarmed in the world. There were a lot of very sad pictures showing birth deformities from many years after the bomb was dropped. Apart from that , Hiroshima is a lovely city and the people very friendly, we went out one evening to a bar/restaurant and had a great time with some local lads who played in a local rugby team, we ended up putting down a scrum in the street and things got a little messy!

From Hiroshima we caught a bus and two trains to Nagano where we stayed at another very nice hotel called JAL Nagano. There was a festival on when we were there with lots of street food and all kinds of flower arrangements. There is a beautiful Sinto temple called Zenko-ji right in town and we spent a lot of time in and around there. The local people here were very friendly and if we were to ask for directions they would not just tell us or draw a map for us , but actually walk us to where we wanted to go, like the local laundry mat,where we had a young lady ride her bycicle beside us showing the way which was in the opposite direction she was heading!

We decided to spend a day just out from Nagano, about a one and a half hour local train ride to the beautiful village of Nogawa Onsen. It is a very old traditional Japanese style town that has lot's of natural spring bath houses dotted all about, the locals ( whole families) walk around, mostly in the afternoons wearing their kimonos and wooden sandals on their way to their chosen bath house. These days the bathhouses are segregated (males in one side and females the other) but one can talk to their partner over the walls if need be, some of these bath houses are extremely hot so it's a good idea to test first then go in gradually. After a while you get use to sitting in a big tub with lot's of other naked guys or maybe it get's more comfortable when the staring and side ways glances stop, curious little fellas! I had some cheeky old bugger dare me to last 10 seconds in a very hot pool that no one was in, not one to back down I jumped in and lasted the count down but felt a bit scolded after wards, pouring buckets of cold water afterwards helped, mental note to stop taking on silly challenges at my age Hahha!

We caught a cable car to the top of the mountain in Nogawa Onsen where there is a great ski field. I was determined to go back and ski a couple of days later but unfortunately got too busy doing and seeing other things! One day we will return when there is more snow and stay for a couple of weeks, we can now get some good deals flying from Perth!

We really enjoyed our time in and around Nagano and it was over way to quickly but never mind, next stop was Yokahama which was the departure port for our cruise to Vancouver Canada,and a very easy place to get to and from Tokyo. Leaving Nagano we caught two bullet trains that took us into Tokyo and from there we got a local train down to Yokohama, checked into another very nice and reasonably priced hotel called Daiwa Roynet Hotel Yokohama-Koen.

The hotel is right next to the baseball stadium owned by the Yokohama Bay Stars, the staff helped us book tickets to a game and we had a great time watching them beat the Hanshin Tigers, the crowd was very enthusiastic letting a lot of balloons go and loads of chanting, there was lots of interesting food being bought around constantly and cold beers too, it was a very enjoyable evening indeed

The next day we decided to spend the whole day at Tokyo Disney Land which was fantastic with street entertainment and rides galore, Di loved the "It's a small world after all river ride" but she felt a bit sick after a 3D rocking in your chair kind of ride so after that I was riding all the new rides there I could and loved it! I was 15 the first time I went to Tokyo Disney Land on a karate trip (Yep, over 30 years ago!) and not too much had changed, just a few more up to date rides etc.. still a great place for kid's of all ages!

It was very late when we left the park and got on the train to make our way back towards Yokohama, but after our train change into Tokyo we got totally squashed in to the point where breathing was hard (no personal space on the busy ones!) and Di felt very faint where I had to get her into another carriage for some air, so there was some pushing and shoving the little fellas out of the way, I must admit that once they knew what was happening they let us through and we made it back to the hotel unscathed!

The port of Yokohama is rather large and very popular for cruise ships to come and go, it has a massive angled timber decking all around where the ships are against the harbour and some of the ships we seen there were so large they are like floating cities!
After five nights in Yokohama we were finally ready to board our first cruise ship the 'Celebrity Millennium' and it was like walking into a 5 star hotel. We were very impressed indeed, it had many pools inside and out and hot tubs and even a beautiful sauna where we could sit and watch the ocean pass us by. There was so much to do every day on board that it could be tiring keeping up with it all. There were musical shows, a magic entertainer and even aerobatics from Russia, apart from the entertainment there was trivial competitions that we were regulars at, we buddied up with a nice Kiwi couple called Paul and Allison who were traveling with their daughter Katie, we had some good laughs during the voyage.

There was also some very good guest speakers aboard including an adventure author called Anthoney Dalton who had me captivated through all of his presentations. We had two stops in Japan and one in Russia, the two in Japan were a bit average but the stop in Petropavlovsk was very interesting. The people were very rough it seemed with ever second guy missing his front teeth or looking a bit battered and bruised from what I could only guess street fighting! There were lot's of people just sitting around on the streets drinking vodka and beer and very little English spoken but, some seemed friendly enough and have me sit down with them and share a drink, and try to understand each other. A few were in the military and we soon dicovered that just south of the town is Russia's 2nd largest submarine port.

After leaving the Russian port six hours late due to the slow processing of passports, visa etc and, apparently the Russian Immigration officials were in no rush to leave the warmth of the ship plus all the booze and food that was offered to them whilst onboard, we headed straight towards the coast of Canada. We had a full 7 days at sea before seeing land again, arriving in Vancouver on a cold and rainy morning. We were so glad that we had booked a B and B for our first four nights in Canada, after that the weather improved immensly, and we were ready to start our camping Canada adventure!

..........The journey continues!

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23rd August 2014

Hairy Dean
Hi guys - all sounds wonderful. And love the beard, Dean! xx J&J

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