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Japan 2011

2011 Japan map
The map shows my route, East to West. Photos are thumbnails, click for bigger, dwell for caption. Notes are expanded from status postings to Facebook. Enjoy!

Oct 28/29, the usual trans-Pacific Longest Day, spent watching 'Mary Poppins' and 'Super-8' on the seatback. Finally, flight arrival at Narita, the concourse weirdly un-busy. My gamble succeeded -- lodging secured at the Kikusui Hotel, off the road somewhere in Narita. (The town, location of the huge Tokyo airport, which is in reality over an hour from the metropolis' outskirts. Unlike most tourists passing through here, I'm sticking around in Narita town for a day -- it's not without its charms. And the gamble was showing up without a reservation -- received a tip they'd fix me up at the Tourist Info counter, just as we used to do at Traveler's Aid, when I volunteered at LAX.) Ramen dinner at the Clover, nearby. Awoke to a lavish breakfast buffet -- plus the room, an incredible deal here for only ¥3200. Afterwards, walked over to explore the big Narita-san temple complex. So early in the morning, it was kinda deserted -- but great sunny weather in contrast to the rain and crowds during my first visit, in 2004. Eventually, the hotel's shuttle bus conveyed me to the local station and I rode a JR train into the city, where I had a reservation in Shinjuku, and a date with Mayumi-san.

Oct 30 at the Shinjuku Sunlight, after exploring Kichijoji with Mayumi, and her son Shoya. Now back on one of the hotel's lobby computers. Part of tonight's adventure was securing my bus ticket to Hida Takayama (thanks again to my hosts). Another was a visit to Shoya-san's favorite store, Village Vanguard (which sold zakka goods) however the photo shows Mayumi-san at the rustic Iseya izaka-ya where we went for yakitori. Motoring about in Shoya-san's Mini was great fun.
Oct 31, bought a day pass for the subway and rode all over town, from Nakameguro to Ningyocho, the latter being one of my favorite Tokyo neighborhoods because of its traditional aspects. Mid-afternoon, took awhile to recall the layout of Minami-Senju station but eventually found my way back to the place I recall so well, and checked in easily, without a reservation. Later, after enjoying the lights of Ginza, relaxed in the upgraded ofuro on the top floor of this very cheap Hotel Juyoh, which is located in a sketchy part of Tokyo. Preferred their previous bathing setup (always open, bigger tub) but now its room's decor is way more dento-teki (traditional) although you must pay a little extra, and reserve to use. The curvy shape of the small round tub made me feel like Medama Oyaji.
This place is near the new Sky Tree tower, topped out but not yet open; but what interests me more is the overgrown building next door, which seems to be a hotel. I couldn't help noticing it when I was here before, in 2008. So weird that I've taken many photos; follow the link to their supplemental page. The middle is the entrance to a covered shopping arcade nearby. My lunch at a small, proletarian resturant down the street was quite memorable -- an old guy was buying me beer while others were singing karaoke enka.

Nov 1 Relaxed in a bath at the first of three (3!) private homes where I stayed this trip, thanks so much Mayumi-san! Early part of the day at the TIC arranging accomodation for the next few. Then a visit to one of my favorite used book stores, Good Day Books, and afterwards some down-time in a coffeeshop, reading. Around dinnertime, found my way back to her Shinjuku townhouse, and Mayumi-san served a great meal. That new skyscraper is the Cocoon and this morning view was from the bus station, after Shoya-san dropped me off.

Nov 2, at the Minshuku Iwatakan in this wonderful old town of Hida Takayama. Arrived at last, after five hours on the bus, an amazing ride up into and through the mountains, many very long tunnels -- one even had a branch in the middle, a Y-tunnel! Often the pattern was: long tunnel, very short bridge spanning sheer mountainous abyss, long tunnel. Soon after arrival I visited the Showa-Kan, a museum of early- and mid-20th-century Japan, a catalyst for my for coming here. (Extensive Boing post on the Showa-kan.) The next day, across from the great tofu restaurant, spotted this karakusa ivy-patterned scooter.
Nov 3 After another bus ride, the mountain hamlet of Shirakawa-go. Beautiful place (though a bit of tourist trap). Spent the night in a traditional wooden inn, no locks on the shoji doors and meals served 'round the square irori hearth, with fire blazing. Other guests included a pair of young English teachers, so we had good conversation. The next morning, after breakfast, a final bus ride, on to the city of Kanazawa! That big wooden gate marks their huge new train station.
Later, strolling the lively back streets of the Katamachi district, a wonderful balmy night, with great sushi in a little place around the corner from my Murata Ryokan. Nearby, a konbini with a name familiar to all Americans, but we don't know this new logo. This shop also interesting for its LED-illuminated interior. Early the next morning, snapped the photo of the entrance to Hebei, an izaka-ya decorated with vintage posters, playing old popular music -- more nostalgia, like the Showa-kan, and packed with young people the night before.
Nov 5 Left Kanazawa way too soon on the Thunderbird express, bound for Osaka, destination: Sakai, a famous town to the south that's been absorbed by the Kansai metropolis. There I met up with Asako-san and her father, who drove us around sightseeing. Unfortunately, rainy that day, no good photos. We stopped at the entrance to their biggest Kofun tomb (or tumulus), something I'd heard about and always wanted to see, although difficult to fully comprehend on the ground. We toured the famous Nanshuji temple, and eventually arrived at their high-rise home. Many thanks to Asako's father, and to her mother for such a splendid meal that night!

And breakfast the next morning as well. Afterwards, walked to church, quite an experience. Met Bonnie, a member of the small congregation, another English teacher. Afterwards, Asako took me to the wonderful old Yamaguchi residence for souvenir knife inscribing, and then we rode the Hankai tram to the big Tenoji station in Osaka. (Her view of me, on the tram.) After a bit of shopping (for the Music Box-Studio Ghibli at Donguri-kyouwakoku and then Tower Records), we met up with Asako's husband Hide-san, just off the plane from business in China. (Their current home isn't far from mine, back in Sunnyvale.) They split for his parents' place, and I took a couple trains up into Kyoto, to meet Rieko-san and family in Nagaoka.

Nov 6, 7 in Shu- and Rieko-san's house in Kyoto, with 21-month-old Sosuke and 3-year-old Yui, friends of mine from when they lived in Sunnyvale. So grateful for their hospitality! We were going to visit a local sento (public bath) this night but the first two we went to were closed forever, so we wound up at the Super Sento.

After visiting the Nagaoka-tenman-gu shrine this morning with Rieko-san and Soseke (after dropping Yui-chan off at daycare), caught a train into central Kyoto to meet former student Chizuko-san -- very pleasant, we had tea and explored the covered Teramachi shopping street in Kawaramachi. That's her up on the right, in the arcade. At the right, a Colonel Sanders we encountered, out front of a Kentucky Fried, in his traditional holiday livery.

Later - We've all just been to the Emergency Room, because Yui-chan fell, cutting her forehead on a pointy corner so better safe than sorry (and she asked that I come along). In Japan, it seems the maximum fee charged for children's medical care (including medicine) is just ¥200/month -- $25 a year, such a deal. Read it and weep, American parents.

Nov 8 Watched some of the Carnation series this morning, playing on the living room floor with the kids, and now want to see more. Each morning, a tradition on NHK, Japanese public TV -- they broadcast a ten-minute section of an Asadora serial.

Busy day, last full day: shopping at a big thrift (here labeled a 'recycle') store, eating great Kyushu-style ramen and browsing a temple crafts fair in downtown Kyoto, visiting the beautiful Genko-an temple up the hill, soaking at the Meiji-era Funaoka Onsen sento, and finally, just after sunset, more shopping at a huge supermarket. For dinner that evening, neighbors Miki-san, her small boy and Miwa-chan came over to party. Oden, DIY sushi and later, origami with Miwa. She gave me some to take home, along with a sweet note. Asked about just what was it about me and Japan, I related all my early exposures, including Taro and the Tofu -- and when I got back, I scanned the book's first few pages into an iPad-friendly format.

Nov 9 After a final fun morning with Rieko-san and her kids, and a visit to neighbor Miki-san, rode two trains and then the futuristic blue Rapi:t β express out over the sea to the artifical island of KIX, the new Osaka/Kansai International airport. Flight, more trains (BART and Cal-), and home again.

Endnote: a big reason for these trips is the food, so here's four meals:


  • Sidebar to Oct 31/Nov 1 -- overgrown in Minami-Senju

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