A Travellerspoint blog

June 2017

Chasing Sakura in Japan Part 1

Tokyo, Matsumoto & snow monkeys

overcast 50 °F

I put Japan on my bucket list after talking to Harumi while in Fairbanks AK chasing the Northern Lights. She convinced me that visiting Japan during cherry blossom season would be the best time. I checked on the Internet and found out that the first two weeks of April was historically the best time for peak cherry blossoms or 'sukura'. I had seen many photos of the 'snow monkeys' of Japan and also a TV clip. I decided to include that as well. I enter the tentative departure date of March 21, coming home on April 12. This would give me 3 weeks to see what I could of Japan. After much research, I got a R/T trip LAS-HND on United Airlines stopping in SFO. The departure time was OK, only 2 hours in SFO between flights, good arrival time in Haneda. I paid $519 total and started planning what cites to visit and where I would stay. I would use Airbnb again as they are usually cheaper than even some hostel. You are staying with a family that can help with what to see and how to get around. I booked my Tokyo room and then found out that Miho was book for April 10, 11th when I would return to Tokyo for my flight home. I then decided to book all my rooms before leaving Las Vegas. I worked on a schedule and booked rooms in 8 different cities, hoping to catch the cherry blossoms at peak somewhere while I was in Japan. I ended up averaging $30 a night for my 21 day stay. I put it all on my credit card and would have the airfare and rooms paid for before I left Vegas. All visitors to Japan make a decision on whether to buy the Japan Rail Pass or not. You have to buy the JRP before arriving in Japan. I was going to spend the first 3 days in Tokyo, the next 3 in Matsumoto so I would not need the 21 day pass. The 14 day pas was $411. I decided not to buy the JRP and to use the bus system instead. I would use Jetstar Japan to fly down to Fukuoka from Tokyo. That flight was much cheaper using the trains.

The weeks went by and it was now time to fly. My nephew took me out to McCarran at 6 am. United Airlines uses T-3 which is easier to access than the main terminal, T-1. Used the kiosk and got my boarding passes for both legs. Good flight into SFO and only 2 hour wait between flights. It was a 787 Dreamliner to Tokyo, very comfortable plane even in coach. Decent food and into Haneda (HND) a bit ahead of schedule. I had booked a phone for my time in Japan. US phones won't work there, different systems. If you have a smartphone, you can buy or rent a SIM card. I have an older flip phone and decided to rent a phone from 'Softbank'. I found their booth at HND and she showed me how to place a call in Japan. Changed $200 USD into yen and followed Miho's instructions on walking to her apt. The Keikyu subway goes right into HND and makes it easy and cheap to get to her place. I bought a PASMO Card and put 2,000 yen on it. Her stop is Keikyu Kamata only 300 yen away. I got out at Kamata and followed her instructions. Miho put up photos on walking instructions from the East exit of Kamata. I was there in about 15 minutes. I found the right apt. and she answered on the first ring. Miho has a dog and he does not seem to like male guests. After being introduced to him and giving him a treat, he settled down enough to not be bitten. She showed me my room, bathroom, and the small kitchen. I had bought an egg salad sandwich at a Family Mart next to her apt. building. That would do for dinner. Since I was alone, I decided I was not going to eat in restaurants. I would have scrambled eggs, toast and tea when I have the use of a kitchen. When I say I had lunch while sightseeing, it will be a sandwich and some fruit. I am going to try and exercise daily to not lose my level of fitness. Walking everyday will be easy since I am here for sightseeing. I also plan to do my stretching, sit-ups each night as well. Time on my laptop, read, take my sleep pill and then bed. From now on, when I say 'nightly routine' you will know what I mean. I took a shower, nightly routine and and one very long day was over.

A decent night's sleep, up 6 am and had some tea in my room. Miho has everything you need for coffee or tea w/o going into the kitchen. When I heard some noise, I went into the kitchen met Maria, Miho's mom. They share the back bedroom, front one for Airbnb guests. Had more tea while we chatted, then I got on my laptop then got ready for my first day of sightseeing. I waited until after 9 am before walking to the train station. I wanted to avoid the rush hour crowd. Found a 7-11 for a sand. banana. That would be my main go to meal when out sightseeing. I had to change trains to get to Ueno Park but it went OK. The trains in Tokyo have signs in English as well as Japanese and Chinese. On most of the trains I was on, they announce to next station plus it is on a reader sign above the doors. I found it difficult to understand the announcement but could read the sign. Off at Ueno, I walked to the huge park. There is a booth at the entrance and they have maps and will help plan your visit. Ueno Park is similar to New York's Central Park: huge and many different parts to explore. You cannot see it all in one day. I decided to visit the National Museum and headed for it, 600 yen entrance fee. I took plenty of photos and started to wear out walking the exhibits. I walked to a 7-11 close to Ueno Park, lunch. After eating, I found a quiet area with a lake and temples behind the national Museum. A few photos there and I found the one cherry tree that had blossomed this early. Micro-climate is what I was told. Took a couple of photos of it then I decided to walk the Ueno Zoo. It is only 300 yen for Seniors and they have a good selection of animals, including Panda bears. But, it was just packed with families and made it difficult to get around or take any photos worthwhile. After a few hours, I was tired and decided to head back to Miho's place. Train to Shinagawa, change trains to Keikyu line, off at Kamata. She had told me where a decent sized market out the West exit at Kamata. I found it and bought eggs, bread, apples, carrots. Everything is more than the US but not much choice. I am not going to be eating in restaurants, so I will fix BF & dinner at the places I am staying when possible. I followed the route back to Miho's and let myself in. Luckily she was home because her dog barks almost constantly unless she holds it. We chat about my day, shower, change into my flannel pajama bottoms plus t-shirt. I only brought 2 quick dry t-shirts so I wash them in the shower each night and switch to the other one. Fixed my eggs, toast, and tea. Nightly routine. Miho has a put a Western mattress on the floor, so I did get a decent night's sleep. However, it is difficult for me to get down to floor level. No furniture, so you read, computer while sitting on the floor. I was to find out that this is the norm in most Airbnb rooms in Japan.
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I was up at 6 am, had some tea. She has put a kettle, water, tea, coffee in your room. I waited until I heard someone was up and went into the kitchen. Chatted with Miho and her mom and waited for them to leave for work at 8:30. Then I fixed my breakfast and got ready for my day. I decided to visit another park and picked Hama Palace Park. The Tokyo-Yokohama metro area has 27 million people and is just too hectic for me. I did not need any more museums or places with huge crowds. Hama Rikyu Gardens is another oasis in the urban jungle of Tokyo. Plenty of photos and very peaceful walking in the park. The cherry trees had not bloomed yet, but it was a pleasant day and I enjoyed just walking the park. There is the Nakajima Teahouse for those that want to sit and enjoying their tea in a peaceful setting. I cross the Otsutaibashi Bridge and complete the circuit of the Park. Hama Rikyu is special for several reasons and being surrounded by high-rise buildings is one of them. You get a great contrast between the beautiful grounds of the park and modern Tokyo. Hama Rikyu is also at the mouth of the Sumida-gawa River. Their is a floodgate that allows the level of the lakes to change with the tides. There are still duck blinds visible from past times when the park was used for duck hunting.
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I saw they have a boat tour of the harbor and walked over to the landing. The one I wanted had already left, but if I took a short boat ride to Diver City Mall, I could get another boat to the Kasai Rinkai Water Park, 1,600 yen for both legs. I had an hour to kill at the mall so walked around a bit. I did find one tree that had blossomed by the mall: micro-climate again. I guess with direct sun plus the heat from the buildings, this tree popped early. Another egg salad sand plus a carrot and I was off on the second leg of the boat trip. It is quite a long way to the Water Park, but I did not take many photos as the weather turned overcast plus light rain. The 117 meter Ferris Wheel makes Kansai Rinkai easy to spot from a long distance. March is too cool for the Ferris Wheel to be open. It is quite a hike from the water taxi to the trains and I was ready to sit for awhile. I got some help from the train official on what train to take to Shinagawa. Then I changed trains for the Keikyu line. Off at Kamata, I had to charge up my PASMO card to get thru the turnstiles. You can run thru $20 USD (2,000yen) very quickly taking trains in Tokyo. I walked back to Miho's, nobody home yet. Shower, tea in my room and waited for them to get home. The dog barks if you go in the kitchen w/o Miho. Once they were home, I fixed my dinner, chatted with them and went to my room. More tea, computer to e-mail Brian in Matsumoto, nightly routine. Day 3 was over.

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I was up at 6 am, did some stretching, my sit-ups and had some tea. I was waiting for Miho and her mother were up before entering the kitchen. They had to go to work again so I waited until 8:30 to say goodbye. I was to lock the door and put the key in the slot for the mail. After my BF, I cleaned up and then final packing. When I sure I had everything, I locked the door and walked to the train station. I need to get to Shinjuku Station for Matsumoto. Shinjuku is not only the major train station in Tokyo, it is also the bus station for many of the long distance buses. I was directed to the bus station by one of the workers and stopped at the Info booth. Most large train & bus stations have English speaking personnel to help visitors. I got in line and was directed to the line for Matsumoto, 1,100 yen. The bus is often half of the price of the train to many cities. It is usually a few hours slower, but I could not check in until 4 pm anyway so getting there a few hours earlier made no sense. The Japanese trains and buses leave on time. When they tell you 10:10 am, they mean it. The bus was comfortable, quiet, a good ride on good highways. I was impressed with the infrastructure in Japan. Clean, modern, efficient trains, buses, and highways. The bus stopped a few times for bathroom, food and we got into Matsumoto right at 2 pm. Brian had e-mailed me some photos on how to get to the Matsumoto Backpacker Hostel. I followed the photos Brian had sent me and walked to the hostel. A girl from Singapore let me leave my bag in the hostel and showed me the kitchen, common area, bathroom, shower. I left my bag in the entrance area and walked back to the train station. She told me where there was a grocery store close to the train station. I bought my eggs, bread, bananas, apples, enough for 3 days in Matsumoto. Brian showed up at 4 pm with his 2 yr old son. He is from Ireland and married a Japanese lady. He now speaks fluent Japanese and is a fount of knowledge on the Matsumoto area. There were now 5 of us in the common area next to the kitchen. Brian's place is traditional Japanese. There is a low table in the common are and plenty of cushions to sit on. There are no chairs. I found it very difficult to sit on the floor at this stage of my life. I did it, but it was not a pretty sight. No furniture in the dorm rooms either. Just Futon mattresses on the floor. There is no sense going to your room until you are ready to sleep IMO. I fixed my eggs, toast, tea and chatted until 9 pm. I was going to take the bus to Nagano, but found out they only run trains on the weekend. Brian gave me a handout on the steps from Matsumoto to Snow Monkey Park. We discussed my plans for tomorrow until it was 10 pm, time for bed.

I was up at first light. I see the room get light and I am up. I got my day bag ready and I was out the door by 7 am. When I stepped out the door I got a shock. It was cold and snowing! The weather had been OK the day before. Not today. I walked in the snow to the train station, bought a sand. and then an R/T trip ticket to Nagano 1,400 yen. I got the 7:30 train and settled back to watch the scenery, read my book. Nagano is only about an hour plus away. I got in at 5 minutes to 9 and found the Visitor's Center (VC). I was the first in line and she handed me probably the most requested handout they have. It pushes a combo train, bus, subway, entrance fee to the Snow Monkey Park (SMP) for 3,200 yen. Not sure it saves you any money, but is the easiest most convenient way to go. The bus was leaving in 10 minutes so I hit the bathroom and walked outside for the bus. This is where you pay for the day pass. Got on the bus and relaxed. It was going to be about an hour ride to the jump off spot. The guys across the aisle were from Germany and we got to chatting. As soon as they find out I am from Las Vegas I get the same question: What is it like living in Las Vegas? Now I find I will be asked another question almost every time: How in the world did Donald Trump win the election? I confessed that we were still wondering about that as well. Everyone from Europe I met was stunned we elected Trump. Me too. I believed all the Vegas bookmakers who had Hillary Clinton winning easily. We chatted about Las Vegas, the election, touring Japan. The driver announced we were at the start of the trail for SMP and we all piled off. There is a small building there and many of us went inside. There is an info desk, bathrooms plus is was warm. The route guide tells you that it is about a 45-minute walk to SMP. Perhaps when I was younger but now it took almost an hour. It is uphill most of the way and it started snowing quite hard as I trudged uphill. It was cold but walking helped. I stopped when I saw 2 girls taking photos of a money. Really they are 'macaques', the Northern most band. Macaques prefer a warmer climate but this group lives here because of the hot springs and probably the tourists. The Japanese provide food for them close to the hot springs and they have adapted. I gave my camera to one of the girls so I could have a shot with the monkey. He got mad as I did not give him anything to eat. Onward and upward, I kept trudging until I saw the entrance to the Park. The day pass gets you right in, no standing in line. It is 800 yen to enter the Park. I was surprised how many people were walking down the hill as I was going up. We were on one of the first buses this morning, hard to believe so many could have beaten me to the Park, got their photos of the monkeys and left. I think the ones I saw were staying in the lodges you pass while hiking uphill. There are ski resorts close by and these must have been guests of these lodges. I finally get to the hot springs that many of the monkeys soak in daily. It was cold today, don't blame them for relaxing in the hot water. I found the German guys and they took a few photos of me with the monkeys. it is a difficult shot as you are not allowed to feed or interact with them. You get as close as you think is safe and hope it turns out. I spent about an hour getting shots from many different angles and decided I had enough. There are bathrooms at the Park entrance, hit that and warmed up before heading downhill.
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You really need to pay attention walking back, most falls are going downhill, not up. I took it slow and steady and saw a bus parked much closer than where I was dropped off. A couple from Holland told me that if I had the day pass, I could take this bus to town. I pulled out my pass and we all got on. It was a local bus, not a tourist bus like we arrived in. The last stop was at a train station. It certainly wasn't Nagano, too small. I pulled my pass out and asked one of the guards if this train went to Nagano. Yes, so I got on. It really was a local train, stops every 5 minutes. It took an hour to reach Nagano. I had one of my bananas, some bread and headed for the VC. The same lady I talked to this morning said I had enough time to visit the Zenkoji Temple before my train to Matsumoto. Downstairs to the subway, several stops then walk 15 minutes to the Temple. I was tired but knew this was my only chance to see the Zenkoji Temple. Zenkoji Temples claim to fame is that it houses the first Buddha statue brought to Japan in 522AD from Korea. Over one million pilgrims come to Zenkoji each year. Since I am not a Buddhist, the shrines don't mean much to me. I got what photos I thought were interesting, then retraced my steps to the subway. There was a 7-11 by the subway station so I had lunch, then headed downstairs for the subway. I heard a train leaving while I was on the stairs. I missed it by about 1-2 minutes. I looked at a schedule on the pole and it was going to be 20 minutes before the next train. I would not be making the 3:10 pm train to Matsumoto. But, they have a 4:15 pm train so I killed some time in the coffee shop next to the VC. Bathroom, brushed my teeth and got to the correct platform. Back to Matsumoto at 5:30 pm and walked to the hostel. 100 yen for a towel, shower, then hit the common area to chat and fix my dinner. I chatted with several of the others staying here and found out what they had been doing today. Several were going to Nagano the next day for the snow monkeys. I gave them my camera to scroll thru my photos. My room was full tonight. 3 guys from Europe were going to teach English for a year in Japan and were staying at the hostel until their accommodation is ready. We talked until about 10 pm when we all agreed it was time for lights out. A full but satisfying day.
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Up at first light, I went to the entrance area. I could stretch there w/o bothering anyone. Around 7 am the first girl got up and started using the kitchen. I kept her company until she was finished and then fixed my eggs, toast, tea. I just read my book and waited for more people to get up. Once the guys in my room were awake I went in and got my bathroom bag, teeth, shave and changed out of my PJs. PlanA was to walk down to the Matsumoto Castle and spend most of the day sightseeing. It about a 15 minute walk from the hostel to the castle. I stopped at some outdoor event and took a few photos of the crowd. It is Sunday and the Japanese are out enjoying the day. It was partly sunny, about as good as I could expect in late March. I approached the castle and see a sign on the left side that offers free English speaking guide to the castle. I went inside and chatted with the lady. I was the only one so far but told her I would wait for to see if others would show up. None did in about 5 minutes so she locked the door and we started for the castle. A couple of Westerners were approaching us and I asked them if they would like an English speaking tour guide. Of course they accepted so Sue & David from OZ joined us. There is a spot before the moat that the guide takes us to for a good angle of the castle. An advantage of having them along is that I now have someone to take a photo with me in it. Always a problem when traveling alone. We cross the moat and pay the 800 yen to enter the castle. There are several Ninja Warriors and other costumed performers outside the castle adding a bit of color. Our guide tells us about the castle, its history, the many rulers, etc. I might mean something to those that know Japanese history but does not mean much to us. We go inside, leaving our shoes, wearing protective booties. All wood floors and thousands of people tour the castle daily. We find out it there are some very steep stairs to go to the higher levels. Sue had injured here knee a few days ago and was not sure she could navigate the stairs. No elevators in Matsumoto Castle! She made it up and we toured the 3rd floor. There is a line up to the 4th floor, it only takes 1 person with mobility issues and the line gets much longer. I get up them but not easily. Sue decided to go back to ground level so David and I follow the guide up the stairs. Very narrow, very steep. I should have passed myself. The view is not enough different to risk going up then down those stairs. One misstep and you are going to hurt yourself. Photos of the surrounding area and we troop back to ground level. Once outside, our guide wishes us luck and goes back for another tour. I chat with Sue & David for a bit and then they head off as well. I walked the castle grounds looking for a better view of the castle.
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Outside there is a small City of Matsumoto Museum. Free with your castle ticket. I go inside and walk the exhibits. It is worth maybe 15 minutes. It might be important to someone from Matsumoto, but not anyone else. There are gardens on the other side of the castle and I head there after resting up. My feet & legs get tired after several hours of walking. The garden is free as well if you toured the castle. Plenty of photos and then I had enough sightseeing. I have a long walk back to the train station and head off. There were a few interesting photos of the downtown area as I made my way to the train station. I had lost my sunglasses in Tokyo and decided to replace them. Brian had told me a few stores to check and he gave good advice. The first one I checked had what I wanted for under $10. I bought an egg salad sand. and chocolate milk at a 7-11 and rested up before the hike back to the hostel. When I was ready, I made it to the train station and followed the route to the hostel. I took a shower and then hit the common room for some tea. I chatted with Brian about my plans after Matsumoto. I did not book a room for tomorrow as I would fly Jetstar Japan to Fukuoka on the 29th. This is from Narita and I thought I would just go to Tokyo, late bus to the airport late and spend the night there before my 8 am flight. He got out his phone and looked at hotel prices in Narita for tomorrow. He found a hotel for $45 with taxes and I decided to book it using my credit card. Had my dinner, more tea and chatted with the others until time for bed. Decent weather today and good sightseeing at Matsumoto Castle. Definitely one of the best days sightseeing so far.
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Up with the sun, sit-ups in bed, stretch in the entrance area. Had some tea and waited for the other guests to get up. Around 8 am I had my BF, then Brian came by. He does not live at the hostel, has a place with his wife & son close by. Clean up, pack, say goodbye and I head for the train station one last time. The bus station is right next door and I buy a ticket to Shinjuku, 3,500 yen. Good bus and a good driver. I think they all are. Japan probably would not tolerate anyone that was not a safer driver and kept to the schedule. One stop for bathroom, food, then into Tokyo around 3 pm. I walked to the train station at Shinjuku and used my PASMO card to Tokyo station. Reading online, I found out that it was cheaper to Narita from Tokyo station than from Shinjuku. Once at Tokyo station I made my way to street level and found the bus to Narita, 1,000 yen. You get in line and they load the bus. As soon as it is full another one pulls up. A guy from Peru now living in Tokyo is next to me and we chat a bit during the ride to Narita. Within 5 minutes a guy across the aisle told us 'no talking on the bus'. There are signs about mobile phones and talking, so we shut up. Once at Narita airport, I found a quiet area and had a banana, some bread. All the hotels run shuttle buses to their hotels so I found the proper area and waited for the Marroad International Hotel shuttle. About 20 minutes later the shuttle arrived and we were taken to the hotel. I showed my ID at the front desk and was given a key card. Great room, by far the nicest one I would stay in while in Japan. I took a shower, washed my clothes in the tub, set everything out to dry. I went downstairs and found a small 7-11 type store. They had an egg salad sand and chocolate milk. Bought that and had my 'dinner' in my room. The TV had BBC so I watched the first TV since I hit Japan. I then hit the floor and did my sit-ups, stretching. Sent a few e-mail, read and it was time for bed. I had a 5:15 wake-up call so turned in at 9 pm.
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Posted by vegasmike6 14:30 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

Chasing Sakura in Japan Part 2

Fukuoka & Hiroshima

rain 50 °F

At 5:15 am the phone rang and it was time to start the day. Packed my bag, downstairs for the shuttle. Once at the airport I re-packed. Jetstar Japan only allows a 5 kilo carry-on for free and that would be difficult. I put my laptop under my arm, camera plus book in my hand covered by my jacket. A lot of trouble for nothing. The lady at Jetstar looked my bag and gave me a boarding pass. Did not bother to weight my bag. I found a quiet spot and re-packed. Everything I could not do w/o went into my day bag, the rest into my main bag. We left on time, arrived on time and I was in Fukuoka. Masa was the guy running the hostel I would stay at. The instructions were to take the JR train from the airport to Hakata station, out the West exit and walk to the Royal Park Hotel. That was the closest landmark and he would come get me. This was the first time I needed the rental phone. I found the Royal Park and called Masa. Within 5 minutes he was there. The hostel is only a block away on the 11th floor of an office building, He checked me in and took me to the dorm for men. There are about 15 individual sleeping compartments and probably 10 were vacant at 11 am. I picked the one I thought would be the quietest and got ready for a day of sightseeing. I met Ryan, a guy from Texas in the common area. He is now living in Japan and knows his way around not only Fukuoka but all of Japan. Ryan said he was walking back to the Hakata station for lunch at the food court. I walked with him and we parted ways at the station. I had decided to visit Fukuoka Castle Ruins and Maizaru Park. I found the right train and got off close to the park. I have a Fukuoka map and just walked the streets until I found the park. There is a lake close to the entrance but it is too cold for anyone to rent the boats that are available. I found a few cherry blossom trees that were just starting to turn and got a few photos.
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I saw a large Chinese Tour group heading across the street and fell in behind them. This is where I saw the difference between cultures. About half of the group made it across the street before the light changed. The ones left behind started to jaywalk to catch up with the group. But, there was a Japanese crossing guard stationed there and he shouted at them to get back on the sidewalk. Several Chinese decided to ignore him and cross anyway. That brought a response from the crossing guard! He ran into the street and forced all the jaywalkers back. The Chinese Tour guide must have shouted to stay there and he would wait for them. The Japanese follow the rules. They do not jaywalk, litter, run red lights, talk on their phones on trains, buses, etc. The Chinese? Not so much. Once across the street, I followed them to the Fukuoka Castle Ruins. It must have been impressive at one time, but not now. Several of the main walls are still standing, just not the upper sections. There is a nice view from the top and everyone trudges up the stairs. Unfortunately, most of the trees have not changed yet, so I did not get the photo all of us wanted: a sea of cherry blossoms with the city in the background. I did see plenty of Japanese groups picnicking under the trees even though they did not have blossoms on them yet. They spread their blankets, have their food and drink regardless if the cherry trees cooperate. They came for a Hanami Party and they would have one regardless of a lack of blossoms. I took some photos of them enjoying the decent weather under the trees. Several waved me over but just smiled and politely declined. Sitting on the ground is way too difficult for me at this stage of my life. I did not need young Japanese seeing an old American man struggling to sit on the ground! After walking the castle, I did see a few ladies dressed in traditional kimonos posing by the one cherry tree that was starting to change. Like everywhere else now, she was taking a 'selfie'. I walked back to the lake and got a few more of Hanami parties.
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I followed my map and walked towards the subway station. Before I got to the subway station I found a 7-11 for my lunch. Egg salad sand, chocolate milk plus a carrot I had brought with me. Back to Hakata station, I walked to the bus station next to it. I wanted to find out times and prices to Hiroshima, my next city. Back at the hostel I took a shower and got on my laptop. Had some tea and killed time in the common room. There is no kitchen but they do have a kettle and a microwave. Enough to get by if you do buy some food at the store. Ryan came in around 5 pm and told me he was going over to Crossfit at 6 pm. He would be back around 7:30 and go out to dinner. I told him I would be here and went back to e-mailing and reading. He wanted to eat at a place more upscale than I wanted to pay so he walked with me to a grocery store a few blocks from the hostel. I bought noodles, carrots, bread, bananas. Back to the hostel, I used the microwave to fix my noodles, tea plus some bread. There are 4-5 chairs plus a couch for sitting. Masa also has a computer table and chair. This makes it easy to get online and use your laptop. A guy from San Francisco came into the common room and told me he was going around the world during the next year. He had plenty of good stories and travel advice so we chatted until 11 pm. The capsule is tall enough to sit up and read, a light, decent mattress, dark and quiet. Way better dorm experience than in Matsumoto. I like Brian, his kitchen is first rate, but the common area is difficult for those not used to sitting on the floor. Same with the futon bed in his dorm. At this stage of my life I need a Western style bed and chairs for sitting. I took my sleep pill and called it a night.

I was up around 7 am when I heard a guy moving around. I did not get any light clues because my capsule was not close to a window. Had some tea, bread, banana and try to decide what I wanted to do. The weather was good for Japan, cool, mostly sunny. Masa suggested Uminonakamichi Seaside Park for flowers, trees and a small zoo. He showed me on a map how to get there. I would rather walk around a park than a museum or the Fukuoka Tower. A short walk back to Hakata station, buy the ticket for the train, 460 yen and found the right platform. It was about a 40 minute train ride but I had all day so there was no hurry. The seaside park is almost the last stop on this route. I paid the 410 yen and entered the park I got a map and saw just how big the park. It is huge and many rent bicycles for the day. Plus they have a bus that makes a loop around the main parts of the park. I decided to walk and followed the map to the flower gardens. Huge swatches of flowers planted by type. The tulips were really colorful and were arranged by a small lake. After the flowers, I walked past the kid's playground and headed for the zoo. There were cherry trees along the path but most were not in bloom. I found the zoo and felt my legs starting to tire. I sat and watched the monkeys, flamingos for 20 minutes to rest. It is really designed for families. The kids would find in interesting but not adults. I checked my park map and decided there was nothing else I wanted to see. The park is 4 kilometers long and I was at the far end when I decided to leave. Now I wish I had rented a bike. I trudged back to the entrance and rested for awhile. The train runs about every 30 minutes and I had just missed one. I needed to rest anyway so was not disturbed by the wait. Uminonakamichi Park just has ticket machines, no people. I found the 460 yen button and bought my ticket. It does not matter if you get it wrong. There is always a fare adjustment option if you buy the wrong ticket. Once back at Hakata, I went to the 100 Yen Store. Just like our Dollar Stores, everything is 100 yen. I bought some noodles, bread and walked to the hostel. The dorm room was empty so I did some stretching, my sit-ups and then took a shower. Changed clothes and then hit the common room. I used the microwave to heat the noodles, kettle for tea and had my dinner. The SF guy came in and we talked about our day in Fukuoka. At 10 pm I crawled into my capsule, read a bit until I was sleepy and then lights out.
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I got up at 6:30 am and packed my bags. It was rainy and cool during my walk to the bus station. I bought a ticket for Hiroshima, 4,000 yen and waited for the bus. Like all buses and trains in Japan, it left right on time. There are several short rest stops before we got into Hiroshima. I had some bread and carrots left so I ate that on the way. Around noon, we got into the bus station in Hiroshima. It was raining pretty hard so I headed quickly to the train station. I found the VC and got a tram map plus a sightseeing handout. I had the directions to the hostel and followed them. Hiroshima has a tram system downtown and I got on the red line or tram #2 to the Honkama-Cho stop, 160 yen. It is the next stop after the Atomic Bomb Dome (Peace Park) stop. I found the restaurant/bar owned by the same guys that run Tsuruya GH. Kenta gave me an umbrella and we walked to the hostel. He showed me to the male dorm and I picked a lower bunk that I thought would have the most privacy. Kenta gave me the access code to get back into the GH. A Chinese girl was sitting at the small counter and I asked her if she knew where a grocery store was located. They don't have anything in the hostel but a microwave. No kettle, cups, plates, spoons, nothing. It looks like I will be eating egg salad, carrots, bananas in Hiroshima. We walked to the store and I decided to buy noodles in a bowl. I can microwave it and I have a plastic fork, spoon with me. Noodles, bread, carrots for 600 yen and we walk back in the rain. I shower, clean up and change into my PJs. I am not going sightseeing in a pouring rain. After microwaving my noodles, I have that plus bread for lunch. I got online and sent some e-mails plus read about Hiroshima sightseeing. A few new guys come to the hostel and I have someone to chat with. That is how we killed the day. At 7 pm I fixed the other bowl of noodles and ate at the counter. I think it is so spartan because they want everyone to head for their bar for drinks and meals. And that is what most of the others do. I did my stretching, sit-ups while the place was deserted. Read until sleepy and bed at 10 pm. I did not get a very good night's sleep as one guy snored all night. A serious problem when in a dorm room.

I was up at 6:30 am and did my stretching out in the small lobby area. Pascal from Germany wanted to go to Miyajima Island and that was my plan as well. They serve a decent BF at their bar, egg, pancakes, fruit, tea for 300 yen starting at 8 am. After eating, Pascal left his bag there as he is moving on later today. We walked to the tram, then over to the subway. It is 500 yen R/T ticket to the island and a faster way than taking the tram. It is a nice day and hoards of people are getting on the ferry for the island. They run every 15 minutes as it is a short ride to Miyajima. We walked with the crowd and head for the best view of the famous Torii Gate. As we got closer, I see a couple on the beach in traditional Japanese attire. They are taking wedding photos with the Torii Gate in the background. I got in position to get a good shot of them but had to wait while the photographer's assistants made sure everything was perfect. I waited at least 10 minutes while they fiddled and fussed around with the couple. Finally, they got out of the way and I got a decent shot of the bride & groom. Pascal and I kept walking with thousands of others towards the Torii gate. I had him take a few of me with the gate in the background. Once we had that shot we paid a small fee to enter the Itsukushima Shrine area. It looked like Disneyland there were so many people lining up for tickets. The Japanese all stop at a purification trough to purify themselves by pouring water over each hand and rinsing their mouth. Since I am not following the Shinto religion, we gave it a pass. We walked the temple area and I spot a few cherry blossom trees up a hill. This is where we parted ways and I never saw Pascal again. He wanted to go for a several hour hike and I just wanted some photos of the cherry trees, temple and the deer that roam the island looking for food. I got all the shots I wanted and headed back to the ferry.
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Off the ferry, back on the subway, then the tram to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. I was running out of energy so I stopped at the 7-11 close to Peace Park and had a sandwich. Once at Peace Park, I was getting a shot of the famous Atomic Bomb Dome that survived the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945 when I heard an American tour guide giving his spiel. He had a group of older Brits following him around the park. I just joined the group and learned about the bombing, the aftermath and the history behind some of the other memorials scattered in Peace Park. A took what photos I could including one tree that was starting to bloom. We toured the Children's Peace Monument, the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound, the Peace Clock and the Memorial Cenotaph. After the tour was over he encouraged us to go thru theHiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. I was there and most likely will never be in Peace Park again so I joined the Brits and paid the 200 yen to tour the museum. I should have passed. It was wall to wall people from the time I entered until I left. All you could do is shuffle along with the crowd. There are mostly photos of Hiroshima before and after the bomb. Stories of those who died that day and those that survived until radiation sickness killed them. As soon as I could step around the crowd, I left the museum walked out and had a bit more breathing room. The museum tells a powerful story and certainly wants to leave the visitor with the message that atomic weapons should never be used again. I think all of us agree on that. What is not displayed is why Japan was bombed by nuclear weapons in the the first place. Without Pearl Harbor, the utter rape of China and Japanese soldiers fighting the almost the last man on many islands, the US would not have felt the need to end the war with nuclear weapons. I walked towards my dorm and took a few photos of some cherry trees just starting to bloom along the canal. A stop at 7-11 for a sand and one at the grocery store for noodles, bread. Once back at the dorm at 5 pm, I got in my stretching and sit-ups, shower, change clothes. The place was almost deserted at 5 pm. By 6 pm a few new guests started arriving so I had someone to talk to. At 7 pm I had my noodles, bread and socialized until everyone left for the bar. Read my book, got on my laptop, took my pill at 10 pm and my day was over.
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Posted by vegasmike6 12:38 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

Chasing Sakura in Japan Part 3

Himeji & Kyoto

overcast 55 °F

I was up by 7 am and got some stretching in while everyone else was sleeping. I quietly packed my bags and walked to the bar. I was there at 8 am and had the same BF as yesterday, 300 yen. I took the tram back to the train station and booked a train to Himeji. There are no buses Hiroshima-Himeji so that was not an option. The only train option this early was the 'Shinkansen' or 'bullet train'. It is super fast but also stupid expensive. It only about an hour ride to Himeji but cost $75. I put it on my Visa card tried to forget about. The seats in first class look like seats you would find on a business class airplane. I went in the wrong door and got to see them but was directed to the non-reserved seats. Still comfortable compared to most trains, but nothing like first class. I settled in and the car filled up. We left on time and I was in Himeji well before the noon arrival I had time e-mailed Miho. Once at Himeji, I followed her instructions and got on the local train. Her stop is only 2 from the station, 190 yen. I got off at Gochaku and walked to her place. She had e-mailed detailed directions and I found it easily. The only problem was that nobody was home. I waited for 15 minutes and decided to call her. She was shopping but had left her car. In 10 minutes Miho arrived and gave me a tour of her place. She had a Western bed, small table, heating and a/c. The toilet is separate from the shower, full kitchen. I asked her where the closest grocery store was and she showed me. I could see it from her bedroom window. She is upstairs and the store is an easy walk from her place. I left my main bag and took my day bag with camera, water, etc. Back to Gochaku station, into Himeji. There is a info booth like all large Japanese train stations and I got a map of the city. Himeji Castle is rated as the best preserved castle in Japan. You can see it from the main entrance to the train station. I started walking to the castle and saw hundreds of people just off the main street. Some festival I guess. I took a few photos and moved on. Found a 7-11, had a sand plus chocolate milk and marched on to the castle.
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I paid my 1,100 yen for the castle plus Kokoen Gardens next door. It is Sunday and the castle was just packed with locals and visitors. Hundreds of Japanese were camped under the cherry trees even though they were not blooming yet. It did not matter to them. It was Sunday, nice weather and so what if the trees did not co-operate? I walked most of the castle but decided not to enter. I was not going to make the same mistake I made at Matsumoto Castle. Very steep, narrow stairs and huge lines of people waiting to go up or down. No thanks. The views are not worth the danger and stress of steep , narrow stairs. IMO. There were a few trees that were flowering and I got what I could. After a few hours of walking the castle, I was getting tired. I started to sit very frequently and needed to plan my next move.
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I looked at the map and the only thing I could do with the time & energy I had left was to tour the Kokoen Gardens next door. I walked there and did my best. There were enough people there that you just follow the people in front of you and go around the various gardens. About an hour of that and I was out of leg.
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I started back to the train station stopping for another sand. and to rest. Back on the local train, off at Gochaku and walk past Miho's place. I found the grocery store and bought my eggs, bread, tea, bananas, 600 yen. Back to my room for some toast and tea. A quick shower and into my PJs. Time to rest, read, get on my laptop. I did some stretching, my sit-ups and fixed my dinner at 8 pm. Eggs, toast, tea, clean up the kitchen and get ready for bed. I took my pill and read until I was tired, 10 pm and my day was over.

Up at 6:30 am, I did my stretching, sit-ups and waited until I heard Miho making some noise. I fixed my eggs, toast, tea and asked her what was my best choice on sightseeing today. I had read about the Himeji Cental Zoo & Safari Park, Shoshanzan Engyoji Temple, Taiyo Castle & Stone Park. Miho echoed what TripAdvisor had said about the Safari Park. Expensive and not worth your time/money. I like the idea of the animals running wild and cage up the people. I have had enough of zoos that confine large animals to small spaces. I decided to vote no on the Safari Park and asked about Shoshazan Engyoji Temple. It is the second rated attraction after the Himeji Castle. But, it is basically another temple high on a mountain and entails a lot of walking. I like the peaceful setting away from the crowds plus some scenes of the 'Last Samurai' were filmed there, but voted no because of the all day transport plus extensive walking. So I made plans for the Taiyo Castle. It a replica of the famous Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany. Train to Himeji station then asked the info booth for what bus to take to the castle. I found the right bus and about 45 minutes later the driver signaled me that this was my stop. The castle is on the top of a hill so it is easily visible. However, it is a 20 minute hike to the ticket booth, 1,100 yen. I had to sit a few minutes to rest before walking to the funicular railcar that takes you to the top. There is a restaurant, gift shop that also has costumes for the ladies to wear when visiting the castle. Women seem to enjoy this dressing up and playing a role thing. I saw plenty of women trying on costumes, no men. Once at the top I just followed a Japanese family around the various floors. There is not much inside but a few dioramas, mannequins, toys and the 3D photo ops. But, that is why the kids love visiting the castle. It really is for families with younger children, not old men from Vegas! But, I did have fun watching the kids pose and take photos of each other. They did not speak much English, but we worked it out. They even took some photos of me with the 3D paintings. They made it fun for me because I would have been out of the castle much faster w/o seeing them enjoying the 3D paintings.
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After riding the rail car back to the bottom, I walked over to the Stone Park. They have replicas of most of the world's famous stone monuments. First up is the Arc de Triomphe at the entrance. Of course they have The Great Wall of China, Xian terracotta warriors, Buddha, moai statues from Easter Island, etc. I ran out of leg and energy long before I got to the end of Stone Park. I finally just had to pack it in and walk to the entrance area. I basically walked from bench to bench. The lady at the ticket booth looked up the schedule and I had about 45 minutes before the bus would go past the place they let me off. There would not be a bus at the Stone Park entrance for almost 2 hours. I had my apple and carrot while resting and finally just started trudging for the bus stop. I was really out of gas and was happy to just sit and wait for the bus.
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Another 490 yen and 45 minutes later I was back at the train station. Another 190 yen for the train and I walked to Miho's place. I fixed some tea, toast and rested before taking a shower. Into my PJs I got on my laptop and e-mailed Fumi, the lady I would be staying with in Kyoto. Around 7 pm I fixed my eggs, toast, tea, read, e-mail then time for bed. Another day of too much walking and sore legs.

I was up at first light and got my stretching, sit-ups in before having my BF. Pack and walked with Miho to the trains station. She was heading for a yoga class and I was on my way to Kyoto. I just bought a 190 yen ticket and got on the train to Kyoto. I could see that the cherry trees were in full bloom in Osaka as we passed thru. I decided if the cherry trees in Kyoto were not in full bloom, I would day trip Osaka. The train got into Kyoto around 11:30 am and I paid the proper fare at the fare adjustment kiosk. If you buy the wrong ticket, it is no big deal. You put your ticket in the slot and it will tell you how much you owe. The fare was really 1,100 yen so I put the owed amount in the slot. It spits out your corrected ticket and can now exit the platform. Kyoto station was a madhouse but finally found the tourist info center. Long line but wanted a Kyoto map and chat about where the best cherry blossoms were right now. I needed the Kosei line to Fumi's room. Another 410 yen and I was on my way to Katata station. Once there I called Fumi for instructions. She thought she could pick me up but that option was not going to happen. I followed her directions and 10 minutes later I was at her apt. building. The security guard called the apt. and sent me up the elevator. Fumi was waiting when I got off the elevator and lead me to her apt.. She and her BF Tomo have a beautiful, modern apt. Western kitchen, dining room and bedroom. By far the nicest Airbnb room of the trip. We chatted a bit and I wanted to go sightseeing as the weather was nice. Took my day bag and headed off for the train station. Next to the train station is a Family Mart and I bought a sand. there. Back to Kyoto station and got instructions for the subway to the Imperial Palace. The info center said there were some trees in full bloom at the Palace. 450 yen for the subway, out the exit and walked a kilometer to the Palace. It is a huge park and hoards of people were walking around like I was. Several of the trees were blossoming and I took quite a few photos as I walked the park. I came across the entrance to the Imperial Palace and lined up with the others to have our bags checked. I rested awhile in the cafeteria area then walked the Palace. There were few trees in bloom but several of the buildings were worth a photo. I ran out of legs and headed back to the subway.
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Back to Kyoto Station, train to Katata Station, walk to Fumi's apt. I stopped at a grocery store on the way, bought my eggs, bread, soup, bananas. No answer to my ringing the door bell, I let myself in with the key she had provided. I fixed some toast, tea and brought my journal up to date. Showered and got into my jammies. At 7:30 I fixed my eggs, toast, tea and waited for someone to come home. At 9 pm they arrived and we had a chat before I headed for bed. I did my stretching, sit-its, read a bit and it was lights out at 10:30.

I was up at 7 am the next morning and decided to do my stretching, sit-ups while everyone was still sleeping. I fixed my eggs, toast, tea as quietly as I could. I got my day bag ready and walked to the train station. Back into Kyoto Station, I decided to hit the tourist office again. I could not see everything I wanted by taking trains, buses and walking. I just did not have enough energy to do it all like yesterday. There are several options on tours and I picked one that had the 3 most popular temples included. It was 5,700 yen, but just put it on my credit card and forgot about it. The buses leave right outside of the train station. Once everyone is aboard, the tour guide tells us in several languages about our day. The first temple on our list is Kiyomizu-dera Temple. I can see that like everything in Japan, it is going to be crowded. Our bus was one among a sea of tour buses. I wrote down the bus number and noted the color and cartoon character by the front door. I followed our guide up to the a restaurant and then she announced that we meet again here in 30 minutes. Lunch stop I think they have a deal with the restaurant they leave us at. I had my own snacks so I walked off to see what photo ops were close-by. I found some steep stairs that had some nice cherry trees in view. The streets were just packed with people and did what I could before meeting the group. I quickly lost the group as I stayed longer taking photos of some ladies in kimono's. They handed me their cameras and wanted me to take several of them. I saw more ladies in kimonos at this temple than any other place in Japan. I could not find my group but just followed the crowd to the top and then back down to the shops and restaurants that line the street leading to the bus parking area. I was one of the first back on the bus and chatted with the guide until all were aboard. It was like Disneyland it was so crowded. Just hoards of people arriving and departing the temple area.
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Off we go to Kinkaku-ji Temple or 'Golden Pavilion'. It is a Zen Temple and the top 2 floors are covered in gold leaf. Same routine as Kiyomizu-dera Temple. The guide posts what time to be back on the bus and they are not kidding. They will leave w/o you we are told. This temple is not quite as crowded, but still difficult to walk w/o running into people as they stop for photos. Plenty of selfies or group shot selfies. The world seems to be addicted to smartphone selfies and texting constantly. We finish with this temple and on to the last temple, Ginkauku-ji, or 'Silver Pavilion'. More crowds, jostling for position when taking a photo. On the way to the bus I saw that there is a canal with heaps of cherry trees in full bloom. It is 'Philosopher's Path' I should have spent my time walking this path rather than the temple. I do have about 5 minutes before the bus departs and get what I can. Then back on the bus for our next temple.
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We pass some Torii Gates that have plenty of cherry blossoms in full bloom. I wish we would have stopped there but it was not on the agenda. I did get the name of the temple and found out it was Hirano Shrine. I found it on my map and decided I would hit it tomorrow. Once back at the station I found the right train and back to Fumi's apt. I had some toast, tea and told Fumi about my day. Another guy arrived at 6 pm. He would be staying in another room they have to rent. Obviously they are using Airbnb money to help pay for their apt. I don't know what the rent is but it must be substantial in this building. I had to wait for fix my eggs as Fumi was using the kitchen for their meal. I brought my journal up to date and chatted while she cooked. Once she was finished, I fixed my eggs, toast, and tea. The new renter was Japanese but living in Thailand. Since I have been to Thailand many times, we had a good conversation. He has a wife and children in Thailand but his parents are in Japan. I retired to my room to e-mail, read and get ready for bed.

I was up by 7 am, stretch, sit-ups, out for BF. I was very quiet as nobody else was up yet. Eggs, toast, tea, clean up and get ready for my day. I walked to the train at 9:30. I did not want to fight the rush hour crowd. Once at Kyoto station, I stood in line to get into the TO. Kyoto is just packed with locals and visitors. Not as bad as Tokyo, but very busy. The lady behind the desk gave me a map and told me what city bus to take to the Hirano Shrine. The bus was standing room only and I rode it until my stop. The impressive Torii Gate lets all know that a Shinto Shrine is inside. There are over 400 Cherry trees at Hirano and most were at full bloom. I got plenty of cherry tree shots and then walked to the shrine. There is a 400 year old Camphor tree here plus an o-mamori booth. Many Japanese are buying the paper or wooden plaques to write their prayers and wishes and then hang them on the racks provided. Some were in English and I got some photos of them as well. I watched the Japanese go through the cleansing ritual at the shrine. Right hand pours water over the left, left over the right, then rinse your mouth with the flowing water at all Shinto Shrines. I was running out of energy and started sitting at some of the benches around the shrine. I saw on my map that Kitano Termansu Shrine was on my way back to the bus stop. Got some photos and then sat while I had some bread and an apple I had in my day bag. Hit the bathroom and was ready to hike to the nearest bus stop. Another 230 yen for the bus, into the train station and another 410 yen back to my room. I stopped at the store for more noodles, bread. I had toast and tea while chatting with Fumi. Brought my journal up to date, shower and then the other guy showed up. We had a nice chat about living in Thailand and his travels. We are both leaving tomorrow. he is going to his parents home up by Matsumoto and I am heading for Nara. Socialize, my dinner, got on the computer, read until sleepy, bed.
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Posted by vegasmike6 22:12 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

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