A short trip back to Saitama prefecture saw me visit the town of Kawagoe. While there is the modern part of the town the best bit is the old town with many buildings showing the way towns used to look before the 1900’s.
The first place I visited in Kawagoe was Hikawa Shrine. It wasn’t until after I left the shrine that I read that it was a shrine dedicated to relationships and matchmaking. Perhaps I should return there this year and offer a prayer.
The rest of my visit was fascinating but so many tourists. LOL. I tried my first sweet potato ice cream in the Kashiya Yokocho (Penny Candy Lane). I really wanted the purple one but they were out so I settled for the orange sweet potato ice cream. interesting and delicious!!
Sweet potato ice cream
Even though it was a very hot day and quite crowded it was well worth the trip out. There are plenty of signs in English near famous landmarks, and there are things you come across such as the moat fortifications that are quite interesting and informative.
Description of how the moat fortification works. The illustration helps.
Part of the old moat fortifications of Kawagoe
A great day out all round and heading back to the station I stopped for a bite to eat at a funky chain store diner. Nothing exotic just delicious noodles and gyoza.
Stay tuned for more of my adventures from last years visit to Tokyo….
Sunday in Tokyo saw me have a bit of a sleep in and lazy morning. It was just after 12 when I finally got to Shimbashi Station via Starbucks. My itinerary for the day was to visit Akihabara, Koishikawa Korakuen Garden and Rikugien Garden. This meant I got to travel on some new (to me) subway lines and suburbs. I am always up for adventure!
First stop was to be Akihabara. In all the trips to Tokyo I have not been to Akihabara, so it was time to venture there. I was on the hunt for an adaptor as I had forgotten to pack one and seeing as Akiba is nicknamed Electric Town I figured it might be a good place to get one for a reasonable price.
I got sidetracked in one building with 10 floors of anime, electronics, models, toys, games and all sorts of geekery. Then some time in little alleys where there were probably enough electronics components to fit out a space station. Saw several Maid Cafe girls trying to get customers in, a sprinkling of Cosplayers too. No luck with an adaptor so it was time to hit the subway again.
After arriving at Koishikawa Station I popped in to a Lawson Store and picked up enough things for a little picnic and continued on. Koishikawa Korakuen Garden is located next to Tokyo Dome, however the entrance is about 10 minutes walk from Tokyo Dome as the garden is over 70,000sqm.
After having my lunch I strolled through this fabulous garden with the sounds of the crowd cheering on the Yomiura Giants who were playing at Tokyo Dome.
A good hour and a half later I was back on the train for my next stop Rikugien.
Another fabulous garden from feudal times. I love reading the stories of the gardens and how they developed, and were altered over the centuries.
My visit to Rikugien was short as I arrived in the last hour of opening, but it was sufficient time to enjoy the beauty it held with in its walls.
Thanks for dropping by and come back again for the next (delayed) update on my visit to Tokyo last year.
Waking early I headed down stairs for a Japanese style breakfast buffet, checked the weather forecast, partly cloudy, high of 33 Celsius with high humidity expected. Back in the room I made sure my cameras were in order(empty memory card and fully charged) then it was out in to the wilds of Ginza and a short walk to Shimbashi Station via Doutor Coffee Shop. Even though I had a coffee at breakfast I really needed a cappucino…oh and a Mont Blanc while I was at it.
Over breakfast I had decided I really wanted to revisit Omiya to see the Bonsai Village again. Platform 6 at Shimbashi is the one required for the JR Keihin Tohoku line. Takes close to an hour, but it is fascinating watching the city go by and then before you know it you have left Tokyo Prefecture and crossed in to Saitama Prefecture. At Omiya you need to change trains for the Tohoku Main Line and go two stops to Toro station. When changing at Omiya you can go to the information booth for a map and guide pamphlets before getting onto the next train.
First stop was the Omiya Bonsai Museum.
Each season sees a change of displays inside and out. This time I saw a fascinating display of Bonseki, the art of creating landscapes on black enamel trays using sand, pebbles and small rocks. Unfortunately unable to take photographs but here is a link (Wiki Bonseki ) for more information. Suffice to say for me it was something new to discover. Out side the display had changed from my last visit and I was able to get photos and video of the whole outside display from the up stairs viewing balcony.
Some of these bonsai are very old and a lot larger than what we generally expect bonsai to be.
Then it was off to the bonsai nurseries, fairly easy to find when you have the guide map. there are 5 all up and none allow photographs when you visit. Below are the entrances to two that I visited.
Seiko-en, Shoto-en, Fuyo-en all sell bonsai supplies as well as bonsai of all different sizes. I was looking for some planters this year and even though there was a great range of new and used planters nothing really grabbed my eye.
I also stopped in to the second hand shop I found last year and had lunch at the little restaurant across from it, having the same meal as last year, kari raisu (カレーライス). Delicious lunch again. I also bought some more tea related items: wooden natsume (tea caddy), chawan (tea bowl) and a futaoki which has dual purpose, to rest a lid on or to rest the hishaku (bamboo water ladle) on.
Then it was a short walk to Omiya Koen Station and the journey back to Tokyo. I decided to pop in to Kappabashi Dōgugai and do a little kitchen ware shopping. On my list were some plates to add to ones I bought last year, some glasses to match one I bought last year and what ever else caught my eye. I have been to Kappabashi Dōgugai many times now but some how managed to miss this statue of a Kappa.
Then it was back to the hotel via a noodle shop and an early night after all that walking.
Stay tuned for day two where I visit (quelle surprise!) two historic gardens, Koishikawa Kōrakuen and Rikugien.
Monday was my last day of work before moving. I was keeping an eye on all the travel and airline sites watching airfares to Tokyo. Wednesday I was able to get a price I was happy with so bit the bullet and booked myself for a couple of days away.
This trip I flew JAL. Good flight and service. I shed a few happy tears as we landed, bit silly but Tokyo is one of my happy places. Very quick through immigration and customs, around half an hour, which was a pleasant experience for a change. Bought my ticket for the Airport Limousine Bus which got me to the Mitsui Garden Ginza Premier hotel and then a short walk to where I am staying. Nice weather with a temperature of 32C when we landed.
This trip I am staying right in the heart of Ginza. A small hotel, Sotetsu Fresa Inn, two blocks back from the main street but still close to Shimbashi station. In fact I dare say it may be a shorter walk than from Shiodome. The room is small by western standards but for one person it is adequate and very comfortable.
After checking in it was time for a walk and dinner. I felt like tempura so headed to a regular restaurant I go to, Ginza Tenkuni. Only a 5 minute walk from the hotel so very handy.
Perusing the menu I decided on a tempura don set. 2 tempura ebi(prawns), tempura whiting, tempura renkon(lotus root), tempura nasu(eggplant) and kakiage(small pieces of squid cooked in tempura batter) served on rice with sauce then poured over. This was accompanied by miso soup and pickles. A cup of hot green tea was also bought out. I ordered a glass of plum sake/umueshu on the rocks. This one wasn’t too sweet and was quite refreshing.
Funny how I am not keen on miso soup back in Australia, but when I am in Tokyo I love it! This one was nice and dark with lots of flavour
After my delicious dinner, I took a walk around some regular spots in Ginza checking prices at the bottle shops, deciding what to get to take home. Quite surprised to see one of my favourite Japanese Whiskey’s not available at all. No Yamazaki anywhere! And the Hibiki limited to 1 per person.
A glass of Chassagne Montrachet at Ginza Felice, then back to the air conditioned comfort of my room.
Tomorrow I am contemplating Meiji Jingu and Yaskuni Jinja or a trip out to Omiya. Will decide over breakfast.
And so as Friday has slipped in to Saturday it is now auction day. The end of an era. I have lived in this house now for almost 19 years, the longest I have ever lived in one place. September 28th would have marked not only my parents anniversary, my brother’s birthday but also the day we purchased this house.
After the auction I can start the next chapter of my life story. I have put a deposit on a block of land in the Hunter Valley close to my parents and have plans to build a house for myself and Miss Juno Kunappi my cat. In fact I should be able to have a gate put in my back fence so that I can take a 10 minute walk to their place.
I have started looking for a job and have already applied for some. I am feeling a little sad but the excitement of the changes that will be happening in my life is far outweighing the sadness. My mind has many ideas for what I want to do to my almost 1 acre of land. Too many ideas, I just have to start prioritising them.
The past year has been a strange blend of sadness and excitement. Divorce, stepping way out of my comfort zone (mentally and physically) and joining a great bunch of people to tackle the Kokoda Trail, getting used to being on my own, spending a fabulous week with my Mum in Tokyo, planning MY future, the passing of my grandmother, and much more. I know it will be tough but I will be closer to family which will be a great help.
So though I haven’t posted for some time, stay tuned for my next adventures. I will be moving in with my parents for a while so Mum and I will probably end up cooking and gardening a lot. I hear that my Atherton raspberries (Aussie native) are flowering so by the time I get up there they should have some fruit.
In January my Uncles came to visit for a catch up and so I could show them photos from the trip to Tokyo that I took with Mum, and photos from when I went on the Kokoda Trek last August.
I decided to do a Japanese style lunch to match the photo display.
Entree was Gyoza with ponzu sauce, Tamago-yaki(rolled omelet) and Konnyaku with a large red shiso leaf from my garden. It was my first attempt making tamago-yaki and I used my tamago-yaki pan I bought in Tokyo last year. They weren’t too bad for a first attempt.
Main was Kare raisu with chicken, miso soup, green salad (lettuce,chrysanthemum greens, shiso and beans picked from my garden, sadly I had to buy the cucumber), frilly tomatoes(scored, quickly blanched and the skin peeled back), and pickled cucumber. Sesame dressing for the salad and furikake rice seasoning.
Dessert was definitely not Japanese but I have had ones like it in Tokyo. Rosewater and vanilla pannacotta, almond praline, raspberry fluid gel, raspberries, flowers and herbs from my garden(heartsease, native violet, nasturtium, apple mint and chocolate mint).
After that it was time to sit through HUNDREDS of photos. Thank goodness we were able to sit in comfort and look at the photos on the television.
And just like that we had reached the end of our time in Tokyo. Our flight wasn’t until 10pm swhich left us plenty of time to wander around Ginza and do some final shopping. A bonus was that the Oedo Antique Market was on at Tokyo International Forum, a short walk from Ginza next to Yurakucho Station.
After checking out and leaving our bags at the hotel we headed to Starbucks for some caffeine fortification as it was quite a chilly morning.
We walked over to Ginza to do a bit of souvenir hunting. A couple of classic cars drove past us and wwe worked out that there was a classic car rally on.
As we walked along we saw some people lined up at booths every couple of corners but couldn’t work out what was going on. Thought it was to do with sweets as there was a photo of a wagashi on the display poster. Later in the day we realised they had been selling tickets for tea ceremonies, which were being conducted by Geisha and Maiko from Shimbashi/Ginza area.
The antique market was fabulous. I thought the secondhand shop in Omiya was wonderful but the market really had me itching to buy. I ended up with another 5 obi. My idea is to use them as seasonal art. There was an amazing variety of things to buy and had I space in my luggage I would have bought more. I really want to buy a second hand furo and kama(cast iron brazier and kettle) for preparing the water for matcha. Next trip less clothes in the suitcase!!!
After the market we walked back over towards the Kabukiza Theatre to a couple of shops selling food and products from other regions of Japan. I bought a lovely little cast iron statue from the Iwate region shop for my Uncle and Mum bought a cast iron bell for my niece.
Then it was time for our final lunch in Tokyo and we headed back to Chuo Dori and Ginza Core. We found a nice little restaurant in the basement and had a warming tempura don, served with miso soup and seaweed salad.
Then it was back out for a final bit of shopping and then the hotel to collect our bags before heading out to Haneda Airport for our flight home.
I had never been to Haneda Airport before so it was great to get there and experience it. Qantas direct flights between Sydney and Tokyo are now via Haneda, previously, direct flights from Sydney arrived at Narita. Depending on what time I wish to arrive in Tokyo I will choose between the two, morning arrivals are Haneda and afternoon arrivals are Narita, (with a stop over in either Brisbane or Melbourne).
I had a wonderful time showing Mum around one of my favourite cities and hope to get back to Japan with her for one of the flower seasons(she really wants to see the wisteria and iris seasons).
Our last full day in Tokyo saw us with our second guide from Tokyo Free Guide who would take us to Bonsai Village/Omiya in Saitama Prefecture.
Our guide Kaori met us at our hotel and we started our trip from Shimbashi station to Omiya where we then changed trains to go to Toro on the Tohoku Main Line. Omiya became home to nurseries and bonsai gardeners two years after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 when they needed to move out of the central Tokyo region. The area around Omiya provided favourable soil and clean water. As you walk past the private houses you will also see (by peeking over the fences) many Bonsai in the back or front yards.
A short walk from the station found us at the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum. The museum has only been open since 2010 and is home to a collection of bonsai and bonsai related art and items. Displays change seasonally with great information provided on the styles and types of bonsai displayed. The inside gallery has a no photo policy and some areas of the external display garden also do not allow photography, but Mum and I were continually stopping in amazement as we walked around. Many of the Bonsai were named as they were quite old and very special.
The Museum also has live music on certain days, on our visit a classical group. Well worth a visit if you love bonsai!
After the Museum we hit the pavements in search of Bonsai nurseries. We were both looking for pots and I was also looking for bonsai tools. First up a quick pitstop at The Bonsai House of Four Seasons, a rest stop that also provides community space. Then on to the bonsai nurseries. They are quite easy to spot as you will often find a huge collection of larger ones on the footpath.
We ended up visiting 3 as some were closed. Seikou-en is where I managed to buy my pruning scissors and Water sprinkler spout. Still no idea how to use it but I will figure it out one day. I think we visited Mansei-en and we also went to Fuyo-en where I bought a bonsai rake(for teasing the roots out). No luck with pots as they were often quite pricey, there were some less expensive ones but not what we were after. The price on pots was similar to the prices here in Australia, but more variety and often some very special artisan made ones that have stratospheric prices. If your bonsai is special enough it deserves an artisan made pot.
Then we had a wander around and found a fabulous secondhand shop that was packed to the brim. Unfortunately our suitcases were getting a little crowded, so shopping was minimal. Note to self: pack less clothes in future, really you don’t need to leave Sydney with an 18kg suitcase. We did however manage to find some second hand bonsai pots for around ¥500 each. I got a huge flatish one and a pretty green one. Mum picked a couple up too. This shop had the most fabulous collection of secondhand goods, I could have filled a shipping container(must win lotto first).
Hunger was starting to set in and we were lucky to find a cute little local establishment across the road. By day humble little local restaurant, by night retro karaoke bar replete with velvet seats and soft furnishing. Food was made and served by an older couple and a friend.
There were several options but it was nearly the end of our trip and we had not had a single Kare raisu(curry rice). It was on offer so Mum and I ordered that. Kaori had a tempura oyster dish, all for around ¥1000 each. Fantastic lunch, local is usually the best. As always with Japanese food presentation was fantastic.
Then it was time to head back and say good bye to our wonderful guide Kaori. I really must practice selfies.
I would like to thank Tokyo Free Guide for matching us with our two fabulous guides. If you plan to visit Tokyo try and arrange a guide through this great service. While the guide service is free you cover the cost of transport, meals and entry fees for your guide.