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.
I am a regular watcher of NHK World and really enjoy Tokyo Eye 2020. Earlier in the year I caught an episode about Tokyo Free Guide, a service of volunteers who show travellers around Tokyo. I thought it might be a good way to see Tokyo with a local and handy to have someone who speaks the language.
Our first guide was Akiko and we had requested to go to Tsukiji fish market, Asakusa and to see some crafts people. We had wanted to go to Ryogoku to see sumo, but the Tokyo season had finished and the Tournaments were elsewhere in Japan.
Akiko met us at our hotel and we walked over to Tsukiji, a short walk of around 10 minutes. We first looked through the Outer Market which has restaurants and shops selling everything from matsutake mushrooms to nori to knives.
The restaurants are always busy and there are queues of people waiting to get in. These photos were taken around 915am.
Before we entered the fish market proper, we headed over to Namiyoke Inari Shrine (which means “protection from waves”). This is the unofficial guardian shrine of Tsukiji Market. The shrine is home to two giant Lion Heads that are over 150 years. These get paraded about at the annual Namiyoke Shishi Matsuri in June. There are also monuments erected by the merchants, wholesalers and other businesses involved at the fish market. These monuments give thanks for the bounty of the sea and land and include monuments to eggs, chickens, shrimp, shrimp used for tempura, fish used for sushi and sashimi, shrimp used for sushi and more. It is an interesting little shrine.
Then it was time to head into the inner market. Always amazing to see what they have at the markets….
After the seafood area a quick look in to the fruit and vegetable market.
Then it was time to walk over to Hamarikyu Onshi Teien to catch our boat up the Sumida Gawa(Sumida RIver) to Asakusa. This was my first time on the Sumida Gawa and gave a new perspective to this amazing city.
After alighting the boat we took a short walk to our lunch destination Hanabou in Asakusa. Located beside the river, Hanabou is a small space that seats around 20 and is cosy and intimate. Service was wonderful as was the food.
There were several options of set course available and we went with the ¥1000 one. I can remember some of what we ate, tamago, gingko nuts, baby fish, yam, konyakku, cucumber, eggplant, pumpkin, baby corn, turnip, capsicum, tomato, tofu, mackerel, seaweed.
This was accompanied by mushroom rice and miso.
A delicious dessert of black sesame pudding with dumplings
After lunch we headed back to the main area of Asakusa around Senso Ji. Sadly the rain had set in so we didn’t get a good look around Nakamise Dori and Senso Ji. We headed to a lantern maker to see them working and then to the Edo Shitamachi Traditional Crafts Museum. A great little museum that showcase the traditional crafts of the area. An amazing array of crafts with only a couple of female “masters”.
One traditional craft that caught my eye was the very fine and petite bamboo fishing rods. They were so thin and broke down in to such a small bundle that it is hard to imagine actually being able to catch anything with them.
Back in to the cold and a quick search for some scarves for Mum and I, then a stroll through the covered arcades of Asakusa, where we saw many interesting shops, including one that sold brushes of all sorts from makeup brushes to household brushes and everything in between. Cute shoe brushes in the shape of animals were on display outside.
We also passed an Owl Cafe where there was a lovely owl out the front very tame, but very wrong too.
Then it was time to say good bye to our wonderful guide Akiko and head our own way back to Shidome.
We would like to thank Tokyo Free Guide service for providing us with our great guide.
This was my eighth trip to Tokyo but I had never gotten to Kamakura before.
Mum and I caught the train to Shinagawa and transferred to the train for Kamakura. It took us about 50 minutes from Shinagawa, a distance of around 50 kilometres.
Kamakura is most well known for the Daibutsu, at Kotoku-in temple, but we discovered on our arrival that there are many more shrines and temples than we expected.
We went to the tourist information office at the station and they told us which bus to take. The buses have announcements in Japanese and English so we got off at the right stop which was across the road from the temple.
Lots of school children everywhere, they are the ones with the yellow caps on.
After passing through the Deva Gate you enter the gardens and grounds surrounding the Amida Buddha which sits on a foundation and then reaches 13.35 metres in height. Made of bronze the statue weighs in at 93 tons. More information on Kōtoku-in HERE.
Close up of other elements around the main statue
Visitors are also able to enter the interior of the statue to see the construction. They also provide a good explanation of the methods used.
About the construction of Daibutsu
Inside the statue
Inside the statue
A few shots from around the grounds.
The back of Daibutsu
Gardens of Kōtoku-in
We wandered back to Hase Dera, a short walk from Kōtoku-in. There were plenty of shops to pop in to as the footpaths were quite busy with groups of school children and other tourists.
Hase Dera was established around 736AD and is a temple honouring an 11 headed Kannon that was washed ashore near the temple. Check the link for more information on Hase Dera HERE.
I will say that the gardens here are spectacular and I hope to go back for flowering time of the wisteria and hydrangea. Other wise it is very lush and green.
A cave system is home to Beten-do Hall and Benten-Kutsu cave with statues of Benzaiten and children carved from the rock walls. Sadly the only photo I have inside the cave is slightly blurry.
Entrance to Benten-Do Hall and Benten-Kutsu Cave
Inside the cave
Some shots of the gardens and ponds.
Gardens at Hase Dera
Gardens at Hase Dera
Gardens at Hase Dera
Gardens at Hase Dera
Gardens at Hase Dera
Jizo-Do Hall is where Fukuju Jizo is enshrined. The hall is surrounded by thousands of jizo there to comfort the souls of unborn children. Often these will be dressed with knitted or fabric bibs.
Jizo outside Jizo-Do Hall
Jizo at Hase Dera
Jizo outside Jizo-Do Hall
Jizo outside Jizo-Do Hall
Kannon-Do Hall is the home of the Kannon statue. Attached is Amida-Do Hall and the Museum.
Amida-Do Hall, Hase Dera
On one side of Kannon-Do is the Shoro Belfry, home to a massive bronze bell. On the other side is the Kyozo, holding the sutra archive.
Rinzo inside the Kyozo Sutra Archive
The upper part of Hase Dera offers fabulous views over Kamakura, out to the ocean.
View over Kamakura
View over Kamakura
View over Kamakura
We continued our walk back to Kamakura station stopping in at many handcraft shops. I was always calculating how much room was left in my suitcase though. We did stumble across a second hand shop where I picked up an obi. To my eye it looks like autumn colours, but still trying to work out if it is bamboo or maple.
We arrived at the station and as we were a bit warm from our walk had a delicious icecream served in a crepe rolled in to a cone shape.
Arriving back at Shimbashi I had to show Mum the big Tanuki near the station. Ended up with some fun shots.Now if you don’t know about Tanuki, he is a mythical Japanese racoon dog. Tanuki is also a real animal as well.
Thanks for dropping by!
Next post will be our day with a Tokyo Free Guide host.
In September we booked a day trip for while we were in Tokyo. I had done the same trip to Mt Fuji, Hakone and Mt Komagatake on my first trip to Japan back in 2008. That time it was early spring and our coach was only able to make it to the second station. This time we woke to an autumn day withsparkling blue skies and a probability of cloud in the afternoon.
Ok, so I woke really early and was able to see a spectacular sunrise as we forgot to close the blinds.
We booked a transfer to the bus depot and waited patiently for our coach and guide, Marie.
Marie was a fun guide giving us lots of interesting facts about where we were going, Japanese customs, history, and funny anecdotes. Once we were out of the city we got our first glimpses of Majestic Mt Fuji, which the night before had been dusted by the first snowfalls of the season. Given that the sky was so clear, the snow gleamed on the peak.
Some facts on Mt Fuji, height is 3,776.24 m (12,389 ft), known for its perfectly symmetrical cone, it is100km(60miles) from Tokyo. It is classified as an active low risk volcano with the last eruption in December 1707 and ending in January 1708. Mt Fuji lies within the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park Famed Ukiyo-e artists Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige, among others have featured Mt Fuji in their works.
As we got closer and the altitude got higher we were able to see more of the autumn colour changes in the trees. This was especially delightful when we got to Mt Fuji 5th station(2,300m/7,550ft above sea level) and could look out over the vista.
Of course we had to get a selfie. Excuse the sunglasses but it was very bright.
The fifth station has restaurants, souvenir shops and the highest post office in Japan, where you can buy stamps made especially for Mt Fuji.
Some clouds soon turned up to provide some interest to photos.
Then it was back on the coach to head down to Kawaguchiko for lunch. Nestled on the shore of Lake Kawaguchi this town is popular with people on weekend trips to the Fuji Five Lakes region.
Lunch was at a tourist restaurant overlooking the lake and featured a noodle dish that is native to the Yamanashi region, Hoto noodles. They are like an udon noodle but made using a dumpling style dough, and served in a miso soup, very delicious and warming on a cool day. Lunch also included crumbed fish, sashimi, a mussel dish, braised lotus root, pickles and rice.
After lunch we headed on to Hakone for our cruise on Lake Ashi. A picturesque drive that gives you many glimpses of Mt Fuji, before you dip in to the ancient caldera that provides the setting for Lake Ashi.
Hakone is famous for hot springs and has many resorts for weekenders from Tokyo. By the time we reached Lake Ashi the weather had changed. The temperature had dropped and the clouds really rolled in.
We arrived at the base of Mt Komagatake where we were to take a ropeway gondola up to the top. The dock is quite pretty and there is an aquarium and swan boats to hire.
Spectacular scenery from the gondola.
When we arrived at the top the spectacular view was lost in the clouds. Normally you can see Mt Fuji and out to the Pacific Ocean but not this day. So Mum and I hopped on the next gondola down and went shopping in the souvenir shops.
Then it was back to Odawara for our return to Tokyo via Shinkansen. A great way to end our day trip to Mt Fuji, Hakone and Mt Komagatake.
Thanks for dropping by! Next post our train trip to Kamakura.