Discovering Japan

It finally happened! On the 11th of June Mark and I left the safety of our houses and began the trip to Japan. After months of talking about it and 13 weeks of language classes we were on our way.

11th: Leave Belfast. Mostly spent packing bags, saying goodbye and be being wished luck.

12th: (London Airport) We arrived in England last night. "The wasted hours of day spent now with the living dead: restless children and exhausted travellers. The pelting rain no more than blinking lights on the huge windows of Terminal 2..." [Journal extract]

We get to Paris then leave for Osaka. 6000 miles east in 10 hours. The time is spent reading, gaming and watching films.

13th: Arrive in Osaka, 8.30am. The airport was fun and made for a great first impression- signs sating that other flights were "GREATLY DELAYED". It was funny at the time. This is also where the Uncle Frank jokes started... We spotted a Japanese official slipping into a heavily guarded limo and from there we spawned The Epic Tales of Uncle Frank.

The people in Osaka were very friendly and wonderfully helpful. An elderly man with a limp and, what seemed to be, a troop of his friends assisted us in locating our hostel. Of course the dialogue was carried out in broken Japanese, hand signals and plenty of nodding.

Later that day we visited the Umeda SkyTower and the Osaka Aquarium. We finished the day early after I grabbed some sunset shots of the ochre sky down at the Osaka docks.

14th: [Osaka] Up very early because of the blinding dawn light pouring in the window at 5am. This was a good thing because we had dodged the dreaded jet-lag and had fallen into a regular pattern of sleeping and waking.
Breakfast at Camel Bar/Grill was amazing. I will stand by and say that this is where I have had some of the best toast in the world! The thick fresh bread and black tea were a treat for two starving Irish lads far from home.

The day was spent mastering the rail system, visiting the Osaka Castle and gaming the evening away at the bustling Sega Joyopolis. "The jump from city life and modern structures to the traditional Meiji designs is shocking. Separated by a moat the Castle is a bubble of classical culture in the neo-city of Osaka- sadly it is cheapened by the tourist attractions and novelty gift stands." [Journal Extract]

15th: Get to Kyoto. Our aims were to see Fushimi-Inari and the Nightingale Floor. Upon arrival I fell in love with the city as it was instantly more traditional.

During the course of the day we saw the Yasaka Shrine, the Kyoto Necropolis, the Kwan-On (tribute to the Unknown Soldier), a few Maiko (apprentice geisha) and more. The remainder of the evening was spent having beers in a small cafe, making dinner, drinking Suntory Whiskey (the kind Bill Murray promotes in Lost in Translation), going to an Irish bar (Gael) which was full of French people and finally more drinks in Club Taboo.

16: [Kyoto] Wake up half dead with a brain of grinding lead. It turns out that we had been running around the hostel in our underwear trying to wake everyone, oh no. However, Hillary [a Canadian girl we met in the Kyoto] owned the best quote from the affair, "You guys are just running around in your under pants... THAT'S AWESOME!"

And so began our worst hangover ever. It did lead us to find the best orange juice in the world though:
Suntory Orange.

We visited
Nijo Castle and tested the musical Nightingale Floor. Which, for any Tales of the Otori fan, was a must-do thing when in Japan. As it turns out the noise is more annoying than beautiful.
Kyoto Tower was next on the list of places to see followed by some shopping in and around Umeda. The Namco Arcade was amazing! Tekken 6 is out in Japan and it is very good... I got to the final boss on 100 yen (about 50p) then got beaten over and over. The weather was cripplingly warm which made the hangover all the more deadly. Not cool.

th: [Kyoto] Woke up in a better, clearer frame of mind and ready for a full day.

Visited the 10,000
Torii Gates of Fushimi-Inari. Phew, this is a place I will come back to if I can. It was just so peaceful and a gem to photograph. As Mark aptly put it the photos were taking themselves. The views from the mountain rivalled those from the peak of the Necropolis providing a surreal sight of the sprawling city- urban land as far as the eye can see flanked by sweeping mountains.

More gaming in the late morning. At this point Mark and I decided that I should try and consume as much Vitamin C as possible...

Used the Kyoto Post Office and bested the Kyoto Tower observation deck. More light shopping.
In the evening we walked around the
Gion district- it was once the pleasure and entertainment district but is now teaming with tourists and brimming with buses.

On the way home we met Hillary [the Canadian lady] who showed us the fireflies at
Yakasa Shrine. The lights were cool but the bugs themselves were lazy to the point that you could snatch them out of the air without much fuss. Oh, by the end of the day I drank 420 lemons worth of Vitamin C. :)

18th: Travel Day. We finally departed the lovable Kyoto and ventured to Tokyo. On the way we stopped at Nara (which was once the capital city of Japan) to see the world's largest Buddha.
Nara- We made a direct path to the Todai-Ji Temple to see the world's largest bronze Buddha. On the way there were a few nice torii gates but they paled in comparison to the 10,000 Gates we seen yesterday. Nara came across as more of a country park than an engrossing city. The streets were riddled with abusive deer and husky Americans. In the end it was worth the few hours we gave it and no more.

Back to Kyoto so we could get the
Shinkansen (bullet train) to Tokyo. It took us just over 2 hours to arrive in Tokyo which was a great excuse to catch up on some reading. Te atmosphere on the Shinkansen was more like an aeroplane than a train.

Arrive in Tokyo. Slight problem with the hostel but we smooth that out pretty quick. We go out for a few beers but nothing major as we were planning a full day of touring in the morning. We found a quaint bar not far from the hostel where the cute waitress used her phone to translate from Japanese to English. The beds in the hostel were good but the pillows conjure the sensation of resting your head on a bag of gravel.

19th: [Tokyo] We got up early and we straight to Akihabara (Electric Town) to have a look at games, cameras and all thins weird and wonderful. The area is probably much better at night when it is lit up; however, during the day the small casinos and porn shops really stand out.

Got to Shinjuku on the Tokyo Loop. This proved to be another let down as it was too busy for our weary souls forcing spirits to an all time low. The shops here were too expensive- aside from 0101 .
Went to the Harajuku district in Shinjuku. This is the trendiest place on Earth. Fashion trends are made here daily. I would come back to Tokyo just to spend more time here. The shops range from the up-market to the seedy punk-rock and second-hand.

Two more towers to check off of the list: Tokyo Tower (beautiful
nightscape photo opportunity of the city and Tokyo Bay area) and the Gov. Met . Tower (insane views of the urban colossus by day).

20th: Slept in by choice. Visited the sword museum. Visited the Meiji-Jingu Gardens which contained the famous Iris Gardens, the Well of Hands, the Largest Torii in Tokyo and loads of ants.

Went to
Shibuya for some shopping, gaming and general exploring.

Went to Shinjuku and found our capsule hotel. The capsules are more spacious than rumour would have you believe. In fact there is space for a TV, a radio, a light, a shelf and an alarm clock. We had a few drinks at a street bar before turning in early for the night.

21st: [Tokyo-Mt. Fuji] Rise early to ensure another full day. Awake at 4.30am to find the city still very much alive. If Las Vegas is the city than never sleeps then I have no idea how to define Tokyo. We set out to experience the Tsukuji Fish Market before leaving Tokyo for the seclusion of the mountains.

Kawaraguchiko is mad. The weird little town has a strange energy and singing pedestrian crossings. Sadly we could not see the mountain even though we were at the base of it due to terrible cloud cover.

We spent the day chilling out after the intense pace of Tokyo. Life in the world's busiest city really is that hectic! We just ate, drank tea, bathed, caught up on Internet antics and emails, etc.

The traditional inn was amazing and I would recommend everyone stay there when in the mountains. The two go hand in hand to provide the perfect rural Japan experience. The tatami mats were really good to sleep on a provided an earthy smell to the interior. Hot tea and a hot bath were more than welcome after so many days of just

22nd: [Mt. Fuji- Tokyo- Nagoya- Osaka] Wake up. Managed a good breakfast in hotel. We were beset upon by the foul weather once again and as a result we could not see not climb Mt Fuji. The hotel keeper gave us free postcards and told us that we were 'very unlucky' to have missed seeing the mountain. We decided to go to Nagoya which meant having to endure the rail lines back to Tokyo once more...

We got into Nagoya about 5
ish int he evening but in the end we moved on to Osaka as Nagoya was booked out and very rainy. It seemed there was a conference being held at the time so everywhere was booked out. Back in Osaka we returned to out first hostel and made plans on staying here for the remaining nights of our trip. I was let down that the innkeeper didn't remember us but that could not be helped...

The night faded away as we planned the day trip to Nagoya as well as grabbing some food. We ended up in separate rooms... It is odd being alone now after so many days of
constant togetherness.

23rd: Nagoya is the 4th largest city in Japan so we didn't think we were being too optimistic when we expected to see something of merit. We arrived around 10/11AM and the first impressions were contradictory to what we expected... As it turned out we were in the poorer area of the city and just needed to get into the centre.

A series of let downs:
-the Robot Museum was replaced by a phone shop or a bank [NB. Buy more up to date guides!]
-the Arts Museums were closed as it was Monday... More buggery!
-the castle was pleasant but nothing new.
-the castle was filled with more deer which was OK for the people who had not been to Nara
-it rained, lots

To boost morale we went shopping, gaming and got some ice-cream in
Sakae [the central district of Nagoya]. In the evening we went back to Osaka and planned to go out on the town for the last time. In an attempt to find a karaoke bar we walked tirelessly but ended up in restaurants that allowed you to sing as you ate... Sacking the plan we made for Umeda [central Osaka] and found a small bar that was blasting Japanese Reggae & Hip/Hop. Good times! After an hour of pints and electronic darts we headed home to enjoy some JD & Coke whilst watching Eraser.

24th: The plan was to shop for presents and game...
-We went to
Umeda and shopped for hours. To balance this out we went back to the Sega Joyopolis for a healthy intake of gaming.
-This was finished off with a beer in the station and then a side-
splittingly funny trip to the cinema.
-Back to the hostel for a good nights sleep and the dreaded task of packing.

25th: It seems I was overconfident in the abilities of airlines when I had penned "Osaka- CDG Paris- London" in my journal. By a twist of fate we spent the night in Paris as our connecting flight was cancelled. On the upside we do not have to spend the night in London... Nothing is worth that!

We were (once again) sleeping in the airport.
CDG is a pretty nice place to spend the night if you can get a decent seat (we didn't)... We had been offered a hotel for the night but with the travel time to and from the hotel we would have only had 2 hours of sleep. Not worth it at all.

The nearly 12 hour flight was more bearable this time. I slept less and managed to complete a few of the in-flight games as well as watch 4 and a half films. Not all bad.

26th: Return
-Lots of rushing
-Rip off flights out of London
-£20 for a bus between London airports
-Worst flight home with

In the end I made it home in time to attend the opening of the exhibition I was part of in the N
aughton Gallery at Queen's University Belfast. However, after a glass or two of wine I was quite content to be away from the crowds and try and reflect upon the hectic trip in Japan. It has taken me all of 3 months to write out this blog and probably another one or two before it is fully fleshed out in photos and wit.

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