The Road to Tsumago

We were gifted another fabulous view of The Fuj this morning – what a farewell!

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We watched the staff of the hotel wave off different guests.  They bow, then they stand and wave like this until the car is out of sight, then they bow once more and then they all just get back to it.

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Then we checked out of the hotel and just sat and watch our mate, Fuj until it was our turn to be overly waved at.

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The last couple of days have been quite warm, so the blossoms are just starting to come out – we fear that as we move around the country the blossoms will be blossoming behind us!

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One of the things Japan does well is their approach to smokers.  There are sectioned off areas in the cities for smokers to enjoy, you don’t really see a lot of people smoking and there are not butts on the ground… and they have matter of fact wording on their bins – tell it like it is I say!

This wording on the bin reads: “Where does the smoke go? Only the person producing it is unconcerned.”

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So it’s goodbye Kawaguchiko and hello to Tsumago.  Today we have 4 trains to catch up through the mountains to the centre of the country.  We have been a bit nervous about catching the train as we needed to be at certain stations at certain times to make sure we got certain trains….. but we did it, quite easily as it turns out.  Now that I’m here, I’m wondering what all the fuss was about.

This was train number 1.

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This is the train station parking – everybody rides their bike.

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As we got further along our journey, the amount of people who spoke English decreased…. luckily my skills in Japanese have come along quickly and also the fact that I’m a master of interpretive sign language/dance.  This was what we had to work with at one station.

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Me Jenny was a little concerned, but she held herself together nicely.

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And while we waited I treated myself to one of these special little rice with something meaty inside triangles that some lovely people I know who recently went to Japan put me onto – a 7-11 specialty and quite ‘oishkatta’ (delicious)!

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We watched people come and go – a favourite pastime and this was one of great.  These four train drivers/station staff all walked down the platform and stood here together. The chap in the middle checked his toilet paper, then they all got on the train.

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So after 4 trains at at least an hour each and 2 shuttle buses we arrived at the Kisoji Resort Hotel – a Traditional Japanese hotel with public and private onsen and sleeping mats on the floor.

Me Jenny sat down at the table once and the effort it took to get up again, didn’t try it again.

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This was the view from our balcony – I guess you have to take the good with the bad, right?

(BTW: there were no balcony slippers – we weren’t quite sure what to do!

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Dinner was the a very odd experience – buffet style

You know how I’ve mentioned that the Japanese like to queue, well hold that thought when it comes to buffets – it is every man, woman and kid for themselves.  I’m talking pushing, shoving, grabbing plates and piling them high.  Adults were pushing their kids in front and there was no mercy for the slow – if you missed out, you missed out.  There was timed seating, so at 7.30pm, everybody turned up at the same time and we were all seated within about 30 seconds of each other.  By the time we had been shown to our table and our guide gave us the basics of what was on offer, nearly everything on the table had gone!  At one point, I picked up some tongs and an elderly lady stepped in front of me and took the tongs out of my hand.  I stood there, a little dumbstruck at first, then the funny side hit me and I just watched it all unfold before me.  Luckily we had one of these little grills to cook our own steak.  I’m not sure why other people didn’t have one (I only saw one other table) but what ever the reason, I was glad of it.  The food was very ordinary, so tomorrow night, we are going to the Japanese Restaurant.

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Then while we were fighting for our dinner, our traditional beds were being made up.  I can’t wait to see Me Jenny try and get up in the morning!

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Oyasuminasai (goodnight) everybody.

The Emperor’s New Shoes

So in Japan, there seems to be a fear or phobia or something of cross contaminating floor dirt from one area to another.  This leads to the changing of ones shoes a number of times per day depending on which area or even room you are in your house/hotel/room.

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These are toilet slippers – worn only in the toilet.

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These are balcony slippers – worn only on the balcony.

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These are inside slippers – but only inside your hotel room.

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These slippers are for outside your hotel room, but not outside the hotel.  People wear these to onset and the restaurant and all lounge areas as part of the whole lounge suit ensemble.  They are very uncomfortable and you can’t be too sure if you have them on the right feet.  Jenny has opted to put the ‘shoe sheets’ into these ones, which are sticky inlays that go on the shoe show that you don’t mix your tinea with the last person who wore them.

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So, this how we went to breakfast…..

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to match our lounge suits!

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Now let me talk to you briefly about the toilet.  As Me Jenny said, going to the toilet at home is going to be pretty boring after this!

They are all digitalised – and I think quite unnecessarily.

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There are buttons to make the lid go up and down – I actually like this feature.

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Then the showering and the bideting and the drying….. I will admit that I did try it all out and I didn’t hate it.  I’m not sure I could get used to it as the norm, but I am on holidays, so why not treat myself, amiright?

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Mount Fuji – Putting on a Show!

Three days of non stop walking and looking and listening and translating and more walking – today is a rest day.

We’re still at Kawaguchiko Lake and so far we’ve been a bit disappointed with Mt Fuji’s performance…..

Then we woke up to this:

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Apparently the reflection can only be seen 100 days in the year, so we were very lucky.  I’m still trying to work out how to photoshop some cherry blossoms onto that tree there then it would have been perfect!

There was a distinct chill in the air, but we popped on our lounging attire and ventured out onto the verandah to sip our green matcha tea and stare at Mt Fuji.  There were plenty of people walking around the lake to take photos and most of them looked up to us and waved – calling out “Hello, Konichiwa”.  I can’t imagine Liz and Phil wearing lounge suits, but I assume this is how they feel on their balcony.

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We wandered around the lake taking a photo from every angle possible whilst the clouds were at bay.

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Every so often just stopping to contemplate

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and marvel at audacity of the people at the end of the jetty who clearly couldn’t read English!  Or Japanese!  We’ve been getting very good at reading the Japanese characters – we know that the second one from the left means entrance or enter – so even without knowing the rest of the symbols, you’d guess the sign had something to do with entering – maybe it meant, enter from around the sides please….. except that underneath in capitals it says KEEP OUT.

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Here are some sights from our walk along the lake…

Somebody’s house/garden?

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The steps up to a shrine.  We know this because as we got there a chap was coming down the stairs and he showed us what he’d taken a photo of whilst he was up there.

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A sign on the path telling us that there was a bridge up ahead.

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See – our reading of Japanese is astounding!

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A couple of people clearly enjoying what Mt Fuji has to offer…

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We watched this chap climb over the railing and thought he looked a bit dodgy with the tag still on his hat – thinking, he’s obviously just pinched that – shows how cynical we are…. it turns out that the tag on his hat was a fishing licence of some sort, as we saw a lot of people with the same thing.  Either that or there was a big run on stolen beanies.  We felt a little guilty thinking the worst of someone we didn’t know, especially because when we went past he said “Ciao” obviously thinking that we were Italian and probably suave an stylish, etc….  Probably didn’t help to keep up the illusion when we said ‘Konichiwa” in our best Australian trying to speak Japanese accent!

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Even though the cherry blossoms aren’t completely out yet, there are a few trees that just couldn’t wait for the others.

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This is a special (and discrete) way of training a tree, like a bonsai.

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Now this chap – we don’t know who he is or why here’s there, there wasn’t even a sign in Japanese for us to decipher, but since he’s in the car park and next to the “resort parking” sign, I’m guessing he’s a kind of inspector?

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I wonder how much you pay for parking your tractor in the resort parking?

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This is where you store all your outboard motors and batteries

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And this is where you might think about storing your canoe for safe keeping.

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Now…. for the squeamish amongst you – bypass this next photo, but for those who are completely intrigued, as clearly I was this lady is ‘catching’ her dog’s ‘doings’ in her hand….. let me say that again – she is catching the ‘doings’ in her hand (note: the hand was gloved with a bag)  When I asked Jenny why on Earth you would do that, Jenny replied “She’s just cutting out the middle man” – the middle man being the ground.  Ok – moving on, I’m feeling a little bilious just typing about it.  I’m sorry.

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A couple of little blossoms we found in a rose garden along our walk…

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These next two houses really made the most of the lake view with their windowless walls

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At least this one has a roof terrace

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Some more vending machine treats.  Pocari Sweat anyone?

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Or perhaps some sake or wasabi flavoured kitkats?

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In amongst the reeds and the abandoned boats there was a VW peddle car with a koala on the front – talk about random!

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Here’s another storage place for your canoe when it’s not in use.

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Now, who remembers where we parked the canoe?

A Girls’ Day at Mount Fuji

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On the 3rd of March every year the Hina Matsuri or doll festival takes place.  This was being celebrated in our hotel in Tokyo and had lots of displays around the grand foyer.

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Its origins go back to China which had the custom of making a doll for the transferral of bad luck and impurities from a person, and then putting the doll in a river and forever ridding oneself of them. The 3rd of March celebrates Girls’ Day in Japan, and from mid to late February families with daughters put out the dolls with the hopes their daughters will grow up healthy and happy.

One superstition associated with this is that if they are late in putting away the dolls when the festival is over, their daughters will become old maids. Most displays consist of just a prince, (Odairi-sama) and a princess (Ohina-sama), but more elaborate displays include the dolls being part of a 5 or 7 tier diplay (hinadan), along with courtiers, candy, rice boiled with red beans (osekihan), white sake (shirozake), peach blossoms, diamond shaped rice cake (hishimochi), toys, and tiny furniture.

Traditionally many parents or grandparents will begin their first display for their daughter, called hatsu zekku, when she is just a year old, but some families have passed their dolls down from generation to generation with the bride carrying her dolls with her to her new home. Aside from the displays, Japanese used to go view the peach blossoms coming out, drink sake with a blossom in it, and bathe in water with the blossoms. The blossoms represent desirable feminine qualities, including serenity, gentility, and equanimity.

Do you think the fact that the dolls are still out and that we’re posing in front of it means that we are celebrating because we are girls and I’m a daughter? Or that the curse of the lateness with the dolls means I’m doomed to be an old maid?  Either are very likely.

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Today was our last day in Tokyo and it was freezing!  Check out Nanna in da hood.

 

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We boarded a bus and headed down to Mount Fuji territory – Kawaguchiko

I tell you, if we didn’t have a guide with us, navigating our way around public transport wouldn’t have been as efficient as it possibly should have been.  There is the odd English word here and there, but other than that, if you don’t know what you’re doing or where you’re going – then good luck to you my friends.

After a two hour bus ride, of which we slept most of the way, we were gifted with this view – our first sighting of Mount Fuji.

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Once off the bus we headed for the Fujiyama Tourist Centre where there was some interesting bits and pieces, but really they were building the new museum next door and one could only imagine that the new place was going to be way better than the old place.

However, there was some lovely Mt Fuji inspired art there.

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And a viewing platform where the clouds just gave way enough for us to snap a pic.  The red lines are so you can differentiate the snow from the clouds.

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There was also a bit of snow around the building, just to prove how cold it was…… note: this could possibly have been planted for atmosphere, cause why would snow be here and not right next to it?

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As our tour was by public transport, we walked down to the bus stop that was on an off-shoot of the freeway, and waited patiently.  Behind us was this small wooded area that was taped off on one side.  It reminded me of a scene from CSI Miami/New York/New Orleans/Miss Rhode Island!

Nothing to do with anything….. just looked creepy.

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And next was the Kawaguchiko Lake – check out the swan peddle boats.

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But first we high tailed it up the ropeway (cable car) to the Mt Fuji viewing point.

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There were about 50 million people all wanting to go on the cable car and even though if were at home we would have said, stuff that, we’ll go another time when there aren’t so many people, the people here in Japan don’t have the same luxury – there are always this many people!

So we lined up and we jumped on board

There are even more people in this carriage that you can see or even imagine.

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But the view of the lake was worth it…

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… even if the view of Mt Fuji was not.  Yoko said, “It is hiding”

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Question 1: Which prefecture dow the top of Mt Fuji belong to?

Answer: Mr Fuji spreads over Yaminashi and Shizuoka Perfecture The perfecture borderline on the mountaintop and not been determined,  because it is a shrine.

Question 2: Who climbed Mr Fuji for the first time?:

Answer: According to a legend, it was a Shotokutaishi, a famous imperial prince who lived from 574 to 622 [fairly exact for a legend].  He was said to have instantly reached the mountaintop riding a horse.

Question 3: Can you name the five lakes of Fujioko?

Answer:  Fujioko includes the lakes on the northern side of Mt Fuji: Yamanakako, Kawaguchiko, Saiko, Shojiko and Motosuko

Question 4: Do you know the difference between “Aka (red) Fuji” and “Beni (rouge) Fuji?

Answer: When Mr Fuji, without snow turns red reflecting the light of the sunset or sunrise, it is called Aka Fuji.  Mt Fuji, with snow turning red is called Beni Fuji.

I hope you read all of that, cause there is a test at the end.

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Now, I’d like to share a little Japanese children’s story with you if I may?

Once upon a time, an old couple caught a raccoon dog that was messing up their fields and strung him up inside the house. While the husband was out, the raccoon dog tricked the wife into releasing it, and killed her. A rabbit that the couple once helped came, and promised revenge on the raccoon dog. The next day, the rabbit tricked the raccoon dog into carrying a bundle of firewood, and then set it on fire. The raccoon dog was badly burnt, and the rabbit again tricked him into using ointments that only made the burns worse. For the final kick, the rabbit tricked the raccoon dog into using a boat that would eventually sink. Seeing that the raccoon dog had suffered enough, the rabbit told the old man all about his revenge. Together, they prayed eternal peace for the old woman at her grave.

That was the short, tame version.  If you’d like to read what really happened (allegedly) then click here. [Arigato Wikipedia]

So, because of this story, the top of this viewing platform, including the cable cars are scattered with these life-size statues of the rabbit and the racoon.  It’s bizarre.

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I mean, the rabbit is doing something here that those people in the background should be dong something about, rather than texting and eating!

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Then, there are the random wild monkey notices everywhere.  I didn’t see a monkey anywhere, and Yoko was quite dismissive of the fact that there could be dangerous primates lurking about – I mean, look at this picture.  That does not say friendly monkeys in the area.

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This bell is for wishing and ringing.  You make a wish and then ring the bell to make sure that the wish god – Buddha presumably, heard you.  We wished for cherry blossoms and a cloud free day to see Fuji.

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She was a fun filled packed day today – no sooner were we down the cable car than we were onto the waiting boat to take us out on what could have been the most uneventful 20 minute boat ride to anywhere.

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In fact, the best part about the trip was seeing these lovely swan peddle boats.  These people nearly shat themselves as they were peddling like mad to get away from the boat we were on.  Panic!

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It was super cold, overcast, choppy and Fuji was covered in clouds.  Never mind though because we were staying on the lake and hopefully it would be clear in the morning.

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This is how I’d like to grow my hair.  Thoughts?

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After booking into our hotel – a traditional ryokan (Japanese Inn) called Kakuna with a distinct Japanese/Hawaiian style – we opened our balcony door to this – what a view this will be in the morning!

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We immediately slipped into our ‘lounge wear’, supplied by the hotel and just lounged and gazed our the window.

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Complete with mitten socks!

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That fit perfectly into our balcony slippers.

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Then we read the compendium and were completely confused – do we drink or not!?

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We were told on arrival that the lounging suits were for the hotel and the balcony slippers were for the balcony, then we have inside slippers for inside, then slippers for inside the hotel, but outside the room.  So when we went for dinner, we just got dressed, as usual and put on normal shoes….. we got there and 98% of all the people there were wearing their lounge suits and inside, but outside the room slippers!

We decided that we would wear it all for breakfast, but what if it’s only a night time thing?  There are so many rules  here, but the biggest rule seems to be do what ever you want and wear what ever you want whenever you want!

Stay tuned to see what we wear in the morning.

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Japanese Cuisines

When in Japan, you’ve got to try everything, right?  Well, no, cause I’m not trying eel, the inside organs of anything, nor am I trying fish eyeballs.

We were handed an English menu in a restaurant and it had been painstakingly scrapbooked with cut our pictures and stickers and origami.  We thought it had been a special touch with only the English menu, but when we looked at the Japanese menu – it was just the same!

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Our first sip of sake – luckily they only come in these small bottles because we weren’t massive fans of this one.

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On a stop over spot in Kawaguchika we stopped for a local speciality – Hohto Nabe.  It is a special dish only for this area and it was delicious!  Oishkatta Des!

We’re near Mount Fuji, so everything, even the chilli pots are Fuji themed.

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So this is the Hohto Nabe.

It’s a big hot bowl of broth with miso filled with udon noodles and veggies.

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Apparently, so the story goes, the Samurai warriors used to like to have a big bowl of this goodness before they went off to fight, so we thought we’d give her a burl and geez, I’m glad we did!

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Next Yoko surprised us with these little beauties.  They were little cakes that had a biscotti texture to it and had a sweet paste inside.

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Lastly, we have matcha and chocolate biscuit mushrooms.  Such delicate little morsels.

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Our new best friends

So, we’re sitting in a Japanese restaurant ordering dinner in our best Japanese – and doing fine, I might add, when a Japanese woman sitting at the next table with her husband tried to help.  It was very kind of her, but her English was about on par with my Japanese and she started to speak in Japanese to me.  When I explained via Google Translate that I only spoke a small amount of words in Japanese, she was not deterred and continued to repeat the words over and over as if by hammering them into us we would magically understand.

We had ordered sake and we weren’t that fussed with the taste, so we ordered wine and beer – and were quite happy with our choice of beverage, I might add.  However our new best friend kept butting in (sorry helping) by telling the waitress what she thought we wanted.  Then she very kindly ordered a different kind of sake and asked for two more glasses so we could have a taste.  She then offered her food for us to have a taste and again – I agree that this was very kind, even though it was unnecessary.

She then organised for two more drinks to appear and kept saying “Free. Free.”  It tasted pretty disgusting, and she wasn’t making the situation easier as she continued to tell us what it was even though we said we didn’t understand what she was saying – something about soba – we were guessing the noodles?  The drink was made from soba noodles?  I don’t know!

So after exhausting our limited conversation in Japanese/English where neither of was understanding anything, we decided to go….. and then the heavens opened up and it absolutely pissed down!

Our new best friend was trying to make it known that it was ok for us to stay and drink more with them for at least 10 minutes or one hour more.  This might have been fine if we weren’t exhausted from our day and if we hadn’t had enough of the conversation, so we tried to say we had to get back to the hotel to check out, etc….. To which she replied that she would call the hotel for us!!!!!

What she was going to say to them, I don’t know!

Anyway, we finally got away and had to run back to the hotel in the rain.

I’ll just add that we carried umbrellas around with us ALL DAY and not a drop of rain!

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Something smells a bit fishy……

Today’s adventure was all about the Tsukiji Fish Market, Nakamise Shopping Street, Asakusa – Kannon Temple, Ginza and Harajuku…..

We started our day getting to know the Metro system with our lovely guide, Yoko – Our destination the Tsukiji Fish Market.

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It is said, according to the Tsukiji Fish Market website, that the fish market dates back to the 16th century, the beginning of the Edo period. Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa shogun and builder of Edo as is now Tokyo, invited fishermen from Tsukudajima, Osaka and gave them a privilege for fishing in order to let them supply seafood to Edo Castle. The fishermen purveyed fish to the Castle and sold the remains near the Nihonbashi bridge. It was the origin of Uogashi. Then, to meet the growing demand for fish with the increase in population, Nihonbashi Uogashi was reformed and developed into a market. The market was lead by wholesale merchants licensed by the Shogunate who bought fish from local ports, sold them to jobbers in the market and thus built up a large fortune, forming their own distributing network. Vegetables markets handling vegetables gathered in the suburbs of Edo were established in Kanda, Senju and Komagome: the Edo’s three big vegetable markets. The markets attained prosperity led by wholesalers and jobbers like fish markets. During the Edo period the market price was determined chiefly by negotiated transactions between sellers and buyers. Public auction was hardly taken place except in vegetable markets. In the Meiji and Taisho eras, the privilege of wholesale merchants were abolished. In 1923 some 20 private markets in Tokyo were destroyed almost completely by the Great Kanto Earthquake. After the earthquake, Tokyo City as it then was undertook to construct a central wholesale market on the bases of the Central Wholesale Market Law which had been promulgated in the same year. As a result, the three markets of Tsukiji, Kanda and Koto were founded and the growing population then led to a succession of new markets.

There is a tuna auction here every day, but as we were not here to buy tuna and it’s held at 4am, that was just never going to happen.

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One thing to know about the markets is that the sellers aren’t one bit interested in tourists being there which is fair enough really because we weren’t going to buy anything, we’re there just to gawk and get in the way. In fact, Our guide, Yoko said that Japanese people can’t understand why tourists would want to go there – it’s freezing cold, it smells, it’s dirty and it’s full of fish!

The sellers drove up and down the aisles on these trolleys at top speed and it was up to you to get out of the way, just to prove their point!

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Here are some of the happy fish snaps we took on our gawking tour:

These are tuna eyeballs….. and that’s all I have to say about that!

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She called these prawns, but I think that might be the Japanese word for “cackers”.

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And here is the best art installation I’ve seen since that exhibition of “Pile o cardboard” at the back of Rigters IGA supermarket!

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After the market we ventured into the surrounding market where the sellers were a little more friendly – because they sold their wares to the general public and there are also 100s of restaurants that were originally established for the workers of the market, but now the GP (general public) frequent them.

This chap was quite skilled at sharpening the knives…. don’t let the bandaided fingers fool you.

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And this chap was blow torching a seafood extravaganza in a scallop shell.

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We stopped off at a little place who were quite happy to take anything containing eel off the plate for us. This was the crowd we were working with to secure a place in a tiny restaurant.

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I was able to use my favourite and only remembered (without having look it up) Japanese phrase – Oishkatta Desu – That was delicious!  The people in the restaurant were all very supportive.

Japanese people love to queue – I might have mentioned this before, but here’s a bit of proof.  Our guide, Yoko said, “yes, we see a line and just jump on the end just to see what what’s good at the other end.”

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More walking around led us to a Shinto Temple where for a couple of hundred yen you can lucky dip to see how lucky you are.

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Jenny was “slightly lucky”

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I was not no so lucky, receiving a score of “unlucky”

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For the people who don’t like their fortune, they tie their bit of paper to the trees in the hope that the Gods might turn their luck around.

I’m hoping the Gods can help me beware of small injuries as a result of inattention!

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Check this out – this building is the Asahi beer Head Quarters and they’ve made the building to look like a glass of beer – with froth on the top.

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Next stop – the oldest temple in Japan, built in 628.  That’s it there behind us.  That’s our guide, Yoko.

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Billions of people like to come and visit this temple and some even like to dress up on kimono dress.  Apparently the people who dress up are generally not Japanese, but Taiwanese or other Asian countries.

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Between the oldest temple and the Buddhist temple is a Nakamise Shopping Street – filled with souvenirs and junky trinkets.

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The Buddhist temple used to let people in to pray, but once they came in the morning and somebody had graffitied it, so now they keep it locked up and and nobody is allowed in anymore – there’s always one who ruins it for everybody else!

This chap caught my eye when his head popped into my frame…..

And then he just popped up in front of us everywhere with his subtle and unimposing photographing technique.

A little wander around the temple garden….

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which was lovely with it’s bridges and koi

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and waterfalls and trees

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And young ladies dressed in kimono posing for photos for each other – seriously there were hundreds of scenes just like this one.  Apparently getting into a kimono is not easy  on your own.  Yoko told us that whenever she needs to wear kimono, she goes to the beauty parlour and gets them to help her.

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Right next to the temple is the Five Storied Pagoda, aptly named because of its five stories.

The five stories represent: Earth at the bottom, Water, Fire, Wind and Heaven at the top.

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This pagoda was founded in 942 and was rebuilt in 1648.  It burns in 1945 during the WWII and was reconstructed in 1973.  On that occasion, memorial tablets of devout believers who had passed away were placed in the pagoda’s foundation, and a bone relic of the Buddha presented by Sri Lanka was placed in the topmost story of the pagoda.

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The last stop on our epic tour today was to Harajuku, which is Fashion Central in Tokyo.  Walking down the street here felt more like you were walking down the Champs Elyse in Paris with its high end Shops.  Yoko kept asking us if we wanted to go into any shops and buy something.  Jenny told her we only had small bags and didn’t have room to buy anything.  We also didn’t fancy telling her that we shop at Target!

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The streets in this area are much more quiet and peaceful

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Until you get to Takeshita Street where all the teenager hang out.  This is also where the kids like to dress up as their favourite Manga or Anime character.

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We did pass a few girls dressed up, but I couldn’t bring myself to take any photos… Here’s one from the Google.

This is also the street to come if you are need of a horse head mask…. just fyi.

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