A Travellerspoint blog

I want to Ride my Bicycle, I want to Ride my Bike

Tokyo, Willer Express, The Great Tokyo Cycling Tour

semi-overcast -21 °C

We took the Willer Expres bus from Kyoto to Tokyo. For us, it was predominantly a 9 hour snooze-fest (to rest Emma's gammy eye) and monging out to music. We did indulge in a film- Emma plumped for Japanese 'Battleships' and Ashton chose 'Top Gun', it was either that or 'Hula Girl' and at least we knew the premise of the other films!

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We rolled in to Tokyo at 7pm and it was all a jumble of sky rise buildings and neon lights, none of the mountainous backdrop of Kyushu. We were on the edge of our seats waiting to get off that bus and into the city!

Despite being the capital, Tokyo has none of the hostility you'd expect from a big city. Despite Ashton almost flattening an old man with her backpack, he still laughed and helped us find the right subway line. In fact, at least 6 people helped us find our hostel, the last couple phoned them up for directions and delivered us directly to the building. We couldn't have been more relieved, our shoulders had nearly sunk into our knees under the weight of our bags.

For our first day, we decided to try and orientate ourselves by doing the Tokyo Great Cycling Tour.

Emma saddling up with a rather stubborn helmet:

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And a danger shot from on the road!
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The tour took us past the Sumida River to Tsukuda-Jima (an old fisherman's island) where we were (un)lucky enough to try some sugared fish. Under the peer pressure of the cycling pack, we had to down the fish in a one-er with its eyeballs still intact. We couldn't drink enough water to try and get rid of the reidue.

Next was Tokyo's famous Tsukiji Fish Market, where we enjoyed the luxury of strolling around isles of dead fish in their various parts. It looked like the site of an ocean massacre. It doesn't smell as fishy as you think it would though, it just smells quite strongly of the beach.

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You have to watch out for the zippy little fish carts transporting fish carcass about the place. You don't want to be mown down by a fish mobile! There are a lot of people hosing instruments down too, so it's best to wear waterproof shoes for the fish puddles on the floor.

It's an odd tourist attraction but the market is really central to Tokyo living. One of the women on the tour said that they employ around 50,000 people at the market, which gives you a scale of how massive the market and fish trade is here.

From there we cycled across a number of bridges looking out at Tokyo bay.
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Then a stop at Odaiba where we were provided with a lunch. Unfortunately, their take on a vegetarian meal was lots of vegetables mixed with chicken which was the beginning of a vegetarian-unfriendly day for Emma on the meal front.
This site is a popular place for one dog craze that we had only seen hints of in Japan's other cities. It's the most bizarre, culturally accepted fashion that we have seen so far: The Dog Child.
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That pram is specifically for her dogs, they push them to the park to walk them. Amongst other dog fashion faux pas, we have also seen dogs dressed in matching tracksuits to their owners and dogs in nappies. We should also specify that this is not just a fashion for women in Japan, the men are also 100% on board, strutting around with dressed up dogs. It provided much amusement amongst the cycling pack on this tour.

We also stopped at Zoyoji Temple situated next to the Tokyo Tower. This site really demonstrates how the new and old cultures sit together in Japan.
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We also visited another temple to climb the 'Stairs of Success'. There were a lot of steep steps to climb so we did feel pretty successful when we reached the top and still upbeat enough to pose for some comedy pictures!
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Then onto a park where they were holding a 'Go Green' event with live music and stalls. We stopped here for an iced coffee and a bit of a boogy actually (that was just us two).
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We concluded the tour at Tokyo's Imperial Palace (well the outside of it). It's still awesome to look at the beautiful ornate Japanese architecture.
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The whole trip was a good start to our Tokyo experience. The tour was really well put together with frequent coffee and biscuit breaks and a beer to finish. We also got to see a lot more of Tokyo this way and enjoyed the company of a really friendly group who made the day really fun.
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Cheers to that!
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Posted by Ashton and Emma 17:47 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo temple palace imperial express tgct willer zoyoji Comments (0)

Kyoto- The Last Hoohar

Nijo Castle, Bamboo path, Bike ride, shopping and a temple with a mean view

sunny -18 °C

Today we decided to hire bikes for our 'Tokyo Mop up Tour', to see any of the remaining sights we had not been to yet. Bikes are THE method of transport in Japan and there seems to be a flurry of them heading towards you at any one time.

The most bizarre thing about hiring bikes today was that we had to give them a copy of our ID. We've not had to use our ID once in Japan, even when buying alcohol. Maybe bikes are considered more dangerous, or maybe we are? We were also warned that you can receive up to 5 years in prison for cycling under the influence of alcohol- best put the hip flask full of sake to one side today!

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Our first stop was a quick morning coffee in a cafe with a sort of dragon/bird creature as its main centre piece. We didn't think anything of it at first, which is when we realised we've become quite accustomed to the oddities you see everywhere here.

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Our first major stop on the 'Mop up Tour' was Nijo castle, the old Shogun residence. We wandered around the castle and across the nightingale floors, deliberately designed to squeak in case of intruders. As far as we could tell, there were a dozen rooms for waiting before you could be shown into 1 of the for 4 main rooms. There was one room designed specifically for the Shogun to receive messages and another for just greetings and gifts. Not a particularly economic use of space but grand, pretty and spacious, yes.

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We have become particularly partial to a Japanese garden, so we enjoyed having a poke around the castle grounds. Delightfully, they always offer a variety of trees and at least 1 water feature. Everyone loves a water feature.

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There were 100 school trips descending on Nijo castle at the same time we were visiting. We have come to realise that we will hear a non stop chatter of 'hello, hello, hello' as they ALL try and engage us in conversation on the way round. To ensure a uninterrupted viewing of the garden, Emma came up with the rather ingenious idea of pretending we were German. If there were any Germans in the garden they would have been highly confused hearing sentences like 'buch kuchen gerberstag, guten tag', which roughly translates to 'book cake birthday hello'. In fact, if you were any nationality you probably would have questioned our sanity, Emma was simply rambling random noises in a German accent. Oddest of all is that this seemed to work, so school trips in Tokyo will probably hear us doing a similar thing.

A quick 500 Yen lunch in a dingy diner and we made a longer trip to Arashiyama to see the Bamboo Path. You'd assume a forest of bamboo would be easy to find but it took us a good hour. It was a beautiful walk though, so it all felt worthwhile.

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The day had already been quite tiring and there was a real nip in the air by the time we left. To inspire Emma for the return journey, Ashton surprised her with some bright white riding gloves (not really sure what they were for, they had weird bobbly bits on the bottom). Please see Emma burning rubber on the way home whilst modelling the mentioned divine garment:

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For our last day in Kyoto, we also went to visit Kiyomizu Temple. It has a wooden verandah across a cliff face so offers brilliant views of Kyoto and the temple itself if quite an amazing thing to see too.

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We finished off the day with a shopping marathon in the Teramachi arcade and a lunch in Nishiki Market. Udon noodles with rice cakes and green tea!
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Tonight we are preparing for a 9 hour bus trip to Tokyo. First on the agenda is sewing Emma's rucksack up. We have broken two sewing needles already in the process, so it's going to be a bit of a botched job.

Also, we will be nursing Emma's eye as this has happened:
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Sayonara Kyoto!

Posted by Ashton and Emma 05:29 Archived in Japan Tagged kyoto castle path arashiyama bamboo nijo Comments (0)

Every Cloud has a Silver Lining

Silver Pavilion, The Philosopher's Path and a side of scones and pizza

rain -13 °C

After last night's disappointing fire based shinanigans it was almost a relief to wake up to rain. If the fire was a downer, surely a rainy day could offer a much needed pick-me-up.

Admittedly, there was a false start with a dodgy milk that tasted like really runny yoghurt- not very nice on cereal apparently. But geared up with our most appropriate attire (so not entirely appropriate then) we headed out with a loose plan and a map.

A brisk walk in the rain brought us to Second House Cake Works. We opened up the menu in search of coffee but tripped up at the baked goods. Rainy day= pizza/scones and coffee with cream.

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Intent on a trip to the Silver Pavilion, we got back on the road only to be diverted again by some head turning shops. If the price is right, we're there!

We probably made more stops than a local bus but managed to arrive at the Silver Pavilion in the end. We weren't expecting this to knock our socks off but trekking around the stone gardens and lush greenery in the rain was spectacular. In all honesty, we're not entirely sure why we loved it so much but it fit the bill perfectly today.

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Next, we wandered on to the Path of the Philosophy. We dandied along by a small river, admiring the delightful bushes and other captivating shrubbery.

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One of the lesser known sights we stumbled upon that wasn't on the map was the pussy wagon driven by a goose.
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I don't know where they were headed but they weren't going anywhere fast.

We ditched those fellas and carried on towards the end of the path. Last stop on the cards today: The Tea Ceremony. This is one of Japan's traditional cultural practices which derives from Zen Buddhism. In an awkward silence we sat with a group of strangers watching the long process of spoon rubbing, whisking and pouring before we had the chance to have a go for ourselves. I think the short period of silence sent Emma barmy because in a whisking frenzy she fired a dozen inappropriate questions to the group of tea makers about fish, tea and smells. This was largely to the group's bemused silence and to Ashton's complete hysteria. In all the excitement we have discovered that the art of the Japanese Tea Ceremony is Emma's new talent. Watch this space- Britain's Got Talent here she comes!

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Ta DA!!!!

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At the end of the day, when all's said and done, it's been a rain-a-rific day!

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Fish anyone?

Posted by Ashton and Emma 06:26 Archived in Japan Tagged of tea ceremony path pavilion silver philosophy Comments (0)

A Half Lit Fire Festival & A Blazing Sake Trail

Walking Tour, Gion Corner, Sake Galore, Fire Festival, Fabulous Cappucino

sunny -22 °C

It has been a weekend of mixed fortunes; some Kyoto experiences have been supercalafradulisticexpialidocious and two have been less than ideal.

To start with, there was a minor disappointment with the walking tour we took part in. There must have been a mix up because we ended up on a different route than we had first thought, in fact we had no idea where we were throughout the whole tour. The icing on top of a time wasting cake was waiting 40 minutes for the herd to view a temple, only to find out on their return that, that was where the tour concluded.
In all it was a bit of a flop but a nice Sunday stroll. These are our picture highlights from the tour:
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The greater disappointment was the Kurama Fire Festival. Billed as one of Kyoto's 'most eccentric' festivals, we had envisaged a concoction of caveman style dancing about fires to heavy drum beats and a bonfire night atmosphere. What we actually saw was some partial nudity and some small torches. It was not worth the cramped uncomfortable train journeys, the extensive police marshalled queuing and being penned in for 1.5 hours just to get a return train. The most eye raising thing of the whole night was how health and safety bereft it seemed with small children carrying flames so close to their heads.
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It wasn't all sour grapes this weekend though! Sunday night we went for dinner, drinks and entertainment in Gion. An evening that starts with beer and cake and finishes with a blazing sake trail can never go awry, especially when you sandwich in some good grub, good company and some smashing traditional entertainment.

We went to Gion Corner for a show and watched an hour long performance sampling 7 Japanese arts: Chado (Tea Ceremony), Koto (Japanese Harp), Kado (Flowering Arrangement), Gaku (Court Music), Kyogen (Ancient Comic Play), Kyomai (Kyoto Style Dancing) and Bunraku (Puppet Play). It was a whirlwind of the bizarre and the sublime and captivating in equal measures of both.

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We then took to Kyoto's sides streets to have dinner and drinks. Japan has thousands of fantastic, unassuming and quirky little restaurants where you can have delicious food for a very reasonable price. From there, we delved down corners and alleys to find some sake holes for a beverage. We found some brilliant bars and tasted the good, the bad and the damn ugly sake on offer. We also ran into a barmaid called mummy who gave plentiful bar snacks; this is probably because she mistook us asking if she liked sake for offering her an expensive drink- a mistake we were too embarrassed (and in too good a humour) to correct.
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Q. What do you do the morning after a blazing sake trail?
A. Go for coffee with a face

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Big up to Amy and Brendan from our photos who made our weekend double fabulous!

Posted by Ashton and Emma 05:08 Archived in Japan Tagged kyoto tea ceremony festival fire corner gion kurama Comments (0)

It's Bath Time! (No Swimsuit Allowed)

Golden Pavilion, Onsen & Arashiyama

sunny -20 °C

Yesterday we braved another vom inducing bus ride to visit Kyoto's famous Golden Pavilion, so called because it is plastered with gold leaf inside and out. The design of the current structure originates from 1408, although the building itself is a replica after a it was destroyed by a fire in 1950. For most of its history, the Pavilion has been associated with Buddhist religious sects.

Having been in Japan for 3 weeks, we are a little temple weary. However, we chose to visit this one because of its unique architecture and history. It didn't disappoint, it was just as amazing up close as in photographs. The temple sits in front of a backdrop of mountains and amidst a carefully landscaped garden, in which every rock and plant has been perfectly placed to evoke religious and mythological stories. The Pavilion itself sits in front of a lake which beautifully reflects the golden structure.

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We also bumped into a really lovely family who are staying at our hostel:

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Today we ventured to pastures new and headed to a hot spring bath (Onsen). We were excited about the prospect of having a relaxing spa day but were slightly unsure about having to strut about naked and bathe with a bunch of strange women. We've been friends for a long time but we have never been tempted to stray into naked bathing territory before.

We decided the best way to look inconspicuous was to go in all guns blazing and strut in with heads held up high, as if we were regulars. One tip for you: always keep your eyes up so you know where your eyes are AND where their eyes are. Warning to all: if you decide to back up into a pool so as not to give your friend a full frontal, check there are no old ladies sitting behind you.

Other than that, it's all plain sailing and we really enjoyed ourselves. For about £7, you can spend up to 3 hours bathing and relaxing in the various indoor and outdoor pools. There are jacuzzi type baths which massage your back, heated pools where you can watch TV, small individual hot tubs outside that are like having your own personal sauna. There are also sun loungers outside to lay down and cool off. You are given an electronic wristband so that if you decide to enjoy a massage, body scrub or one of the various other treatments they can scan the bar code and they just add it to your bill at the end.

You'll be pleased to know that there are not photos from this activity.

Having got the train from central Kyoto out to the onsen, we decided to explore the surrounding town. We wandered through some residential areas before chancing on this beauty spot:
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We enjoyed a lovely afternoon strolling up and down the river in Arashiyama, watching the boats and rickshaws taking tourists about. All in all, a perfectly chilled out day!

Posted by Ashton and Emma 06:40 Archived in Japan Tagged golden arashiyama pavilion onsen Comments (0)

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