A Travellerspoint blog

A day in Osaka

Whale sharks and Eat Street

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This morning Yoko's friend Yuki and her daughter Sanae (Mrs Mandolin and Ballerina to Plane Boy's folks) drove Yoko and us to the station for the multi-stage train to Osaka. First stop in the city was the giant Osaka Aquarium, which Plane Boy has been anticipating for months. The place was packed so the viewing was a bit below par at first, but the main ocean tank was truly vast and the crowds thinned out further down, so we did get excellent views of the main animals we'd come to see: whale sharks. The tank is so big it can hold 3 of them, though not full-grown of course.
Sea otters are enormous, and sea lions are even cuter below the surface; one kept putting its nose up to the glass, to the delight of a little kid at the same height. The touch pool was good, too, with lots of velvety stingrays and sandpapery sharks. We now have a whale shark oolie (toy) for Charlotte, though Nerdia might keep it for herself as it's very cute. :)

Our next activity will remain a secret until Plane Boy's mum has watched the video, so we can see her reaction first hand. ;-)

Then we met up with Sanae en route home for a wander down Daitonburi - known in Plane Boy's family as Eat Street. Long arcades crammed full of shoppers and lined with expensive or kooky shops of all kinds, from eateries to theme outfits to karaoke girly bars. Fabbo! After meandering around for a while we ducked into one of the upstairs restaurants for some very decadent icecream desserts - mmm, yummy.

Now we're all tuckered out, so it'll be an early night to prepare us for Kyoto tomorrow!
Mata ne from Plane Boy and Nerdia.

Posted by NarLin 02:24 Archived in Japan Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Deer, deer everywhere

Nara at a glance

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Rie very kindly accompanied us back to Tokyo by coach, then we met Kiyo for dinner and a proper farewell before boarding the overnight double-decker coach to Nara. We arrived early but Hiroko's mum Yoko was already there to meet us, thanks to excellent planning by all concerned. Thanks everyone! :)

After breakfast Yoko took us to the famous local deer park, a series of lush gardens populated by what seems like a hundred or so spotted deer. They are used to hand feeding and very cute! Naturally we had a go at feeding them, and Nerdia can report that, just like elephants, they drool a lot. All over your trousers, in fact, while they're poking through your pockets looking for more food. Didn't mind in the least, though, as they are still very cute.

The same parkland houses the largest wooden structure in the world, a mammoth temple housing Japan's biggest Buddha statue - which is 1300 years old! One of the massive timber support columns is the same width as the statue's nose, and has been hollowed out so visitors can 'crawl through Buddha's nose'. Watching a high school student get stuck in front of his guffawing peers was quite amusing, but the photos didn't turn out well so we won't post them.

Took respite from the humidity in a flash new restaurant at one end of the park, where we were served... gourmet BBQ chicken with potato wedges, salad and bread roll. Sort of a 5 star Red Rooster. Yummy nonetheless!

Then Yoko took us on a wander through the back streets of Nara city, a fascinating mix of souvenir shops and more traditional food or craft outlets in a maze of narrow laneways and authentic, ancient buildings made from mud and straw covered in fire-blackened timber. Sampled kakigori, a Japanese dessert made from flaked ice, green tea, sugar syrup and sweet beans. Interesting bu not unpleasant.

Now we're watching Japan versus the Netherlands in the World Cup, before heading off to Osaka tomorrow. Mata ne! Plane Boy and Nerdia.

Posted by NarLin 04:31 Archived in Japan Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Sashimi, sauna and samurai

Our Nikko odyssey

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Where to begin? We've had such a busy few days we haven't even had time to blog.
On Wednesday morning the four of us (Rie's mum, brother Koichi and us) set off for Nikko, a mountain resort town a few hours' drive from Gunma. Along the way we stopped at a small waterfall, followed by a much bigger one you need to descend in a lift to view. Spectacular! Needless to say we stopped several times for snacks - and to see a tiny snowdrift, the first time Plane Boy has seen snow. He wisely resisted throwing a snowball at Nerdia.

Next stop was the huge shrine containing the Yohmeimon Gate - an amazing collection of ancient buildings with astonishingly intricate carvings. Nerdia went nuts with the camera.

After many hours negotiating hairpin bends around beautiful forested mountains, Top Gear style, we could just picture Jeremy Clarkson screeching along in a red Ferrari screaming 'I've soiled my trousers!'. Richard Hammond would be grinning and shouting 'This is what driving is all about' while Nerdia's beloved James May would be explaining how 'safe and careful motoring can be just as engrossing as Jezza acting like a lunatic'.

Finally we arrived at the resort, one of many straddling a river gushing through a valley in the mountains. (L&T: it wasn't the same one you stayed in, will show you photos when we get back.) Opulent if a little aged, with guests wandering about very casually in yukata and slippers without socks - very informal for Japan!
After settling in we were invited to Mama and Koichi's room for dinner. Wow. Not even shabu shabu had this much food! Nerdia bravely managed several small portions of fish, including tuna sashimi that tasted nothing like that flaky abomination that comes of out of a can, but sadly baulked at the small entire crab and fish that are chomped whole. Naturally non-squeamish Plane Boy ate some of everything, but we couldn't finish it all.

Then it was time for onsen. Plane Boy retired with a book but Mama enthusiastically introduced Nerdia to the world of Japanese communal bathing. First a rinse at the bathside taps, then into the massive main hot pool for a soak (atsui! hot!). Next was the sauna - 98 Celsius (totemo atsui!). Then back to the pool to 'cool off'. Next we had a thorough scrub, shampoo and rinse at the taps before heading to a set of smaller herb-infused tubs. We liked the rosemary and lavender ones best! Last was series of hotter and hotter pools, culminating in one Mama described as 'astringent' - very tingly indeed. After the soaking came girly pampering (hair treatment and drying, face cream etc), then we ended the session with several cups of water and Japanese tea. The famous feeling of immense relaxation hit Nerdia a bit later than most - back at the hotel room afterwards, in fact - but it was a very enjoyable experience.

Next morning we had an enormous breakfast (of course), checked out and headed to Edo Wonderland. This is a huge historical theme park recreating 17th century Edo (now Tokyo) - www.edowonderland.net if you want a look. Naturally Nerdia got very excited and wanted to see everything; the ninja training centre with slanted rooms was awesome, the haunted house laughable. (So was the one at the Gumna amusement park - or maybe we're just jaded?) The ninja show was truly impressive, the water magic show was cleverly done and the outdoor fight show was well executed - but the highlight was Plane Boy guest starring as the rich samurai in the panto-style court show, just like his dad did when they visited. He is now swanning around proclaiming himself the new Olivier.

Nerdia finally got to have her photo taken in period costume: a courtesan, though if there'd been a 'ninja disguised as traveller' choice she'd have gone for that! :) We fed the voracious carp from a bridge, popped more marble sodas, were photographed with sword-wielding street actors, walked through museum displays... and ate and ate, as one does with Mama and Koichi. (How can these people eat so much?!)

After a mushi atsui (hot and humid) five hours, we headed back to Gunma for a 'small' dinner (yeah, right). Despite two days of driving Koichi still found the time and energy to burn all his photos onto a DVD for us. :)

Today is a 'catch up' day before Rie takes us to dinner with Kiyo in Tokyo then puts us on the night bus to Nara.

Mata ne! Plane Boy and Nerdia.

Posted by NarLin 16:55 Archived in Japan Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Off to Gunma

How could we eat so much Shabu Shabu

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After a brief battle with various ATM's at various Japanese banks, in the end we found that pressing the "English" button helps a lot. Then it was off to Gunma with Rie.

Rie's mum and dad's house is big. It also contains a lot of... "Stuff". We settled into Rie's old room and then waited for her parents to get home. Then we stuffed ourselves stupid at a shabu shabu restaurant. Plate after plate of paper thin meat strips to dip in the cauldron of boiling broth in front of you; bottomless salad bowls; delicious lemony soy sauce and extra delicious sesame sauce...plus a bowl of soft serve ice cream we managed to squeeze in somehow. Go-chiso-sama deshita ('it was a feast')!

Today Rie drove us around her old home town while her parents were at work. We spent an immature but fun-filled morning at an amusement park in the mountains - Plane Boy rode a rollercoaster, 3D cinema ride and a merry-go-round without throwing up! Lunch was cold udon noodles with tempura and more luscious sauces at an opulent restaurant nearby.

Then Rie suggested we check out a 'rude museum' down the road... hmm. They seem to have amassed every single phallus-shaped rock in Japan, plus a wide range of ancient pornographic paintings and sculptures. Amusing but oddly repetitive after a while. And no, we don't think we'll be posting any of the photos (aurprisingly, cameras were allowed).

Last stop was a fascinating traditional 'cafe'. The interior is completely blackened from the open fire, the working water wheel is covered in moss and the spring water at the door cools glass bottles of 'soda' (mineral water?). These are plugged with marbles, which you force into the bottle with a wooden plug - then struggle to drink the resulting shower of soda. Lots of fun, especially for Nerdia who was intrigued by the bottle structure (sound the nerd alarm!).

We've just got back from another mammoth meal, this time at a local Chinese restaurant. Nerdia ate three whole prawns! We can now say we've tried cold sake... a bit like mild vodka?!

Rie has now gone home and tomorrow Rie's mum and brother are taking us to Nikko for an overnight stay at a luxury/traditional resort. This will be a good test of our Japanese skills (?) as Mama doesn't speak English!

Oyasumi nasai (goodnight) from Nerdia and Plane Boy.

Posted by NarLin 04:32 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

We met Fuji san!

...though his head was in the clouds :)

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We had a fantastic day yesterday: Rie and Kiyo took us to see Mt Fuji, which the Japanese call Fuji san ('Mr Fuji'). A long drive through heavily forested hillsides (and past an amusement park with some scary-looking rollercoasters) got us to Lake Kawabuchiko, at the foot of the mountain...which was shrouded in heavy cloud. Rie was disappointed but we weren't - it was still very impressive! Bought a book of fabulous photos that show it at its best anyway.

As the weather was quite humid and hot (mushi atsui) we soon retired to Fudo, a nearby restaurant that specialises in hoto (yes, their T shirts said 'hoto fudo' :) Loud and lively atmosphere with frenetic staff busily serving up big cast iron pots full of scaldingly hot soup, vegies and homemade noodles. Everyone shouts at everybody else and it was great fun!

After lunch we descended into Narusawa Ice Cave - brr! It was very cold and a VERY tight fit, but there were some beautiful natural ice formations plus huge piles of carved ice blocks.

Then it was on to a local winery, as the area is famous grape country. The samples were a little underwhelming to our spoilt Aussie palates; it was interesting but we wouldn't rush off to Dan Murphy's to fill up on Japanese wine. But hey, it was all free - and the imported Aussie sultana snacks were nice! The cold jasmine tea was very refreshing too - we are developing quite a taste for some of the cold local teas.

Today we took a series of trains into Tokyo to check out Akihabara, otherwise known as Electric City. This quarter bristles (hums?) with every electrical item you could possibly think of, plus myriad others you hadn't. (Nerdia has seen an electric eraser.) There was a surprisingly good souvenir floor in one of the shopping towers and we bought up big. Nerdia finally has a yukata (summer kimono)!

During lunch at an Italian restaurant (quite trendy here), we reckon we felt our first earthquake. (Can't blame the vino, we didn't have any!) It was very small - like a series of people had bumped into our chairs - and no-one else seemed to notice, but we saw the lights swaying. A bit. Rie was mortified when we mentioned it so we swiftly blamed the train tracks behind the building, but we are adamant we survived a Japanese earthquake! We should make commemorative T shirts. ;-) Note to parents: we are fine. Really.

That's it for now, though we are adding more photos as we go and have updated our travel map so you can follow us around. (At a discreet distance, L&T - we'll see you behind those newspapers!)

Ja mata (see you later) from Nerdia and Plane Boy.

Posted by NarLin 01:54 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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