Fuji-goko the Five Lakes District

Fuji-Goko is the collective term for the district containing five large lakes that are situated along the northern base of Mt.Fuji, which towers at the border of southern Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures. The lakes are Yamada Lake, Kawaguchi Lake, Saiko Lake, Shoji Lake, Motosu Lake. The largest is Lake Yamanakako, the smallest is the Lake Shoji, the one with the highest surface attitude is Yamanakako Lake, and the deepest is Motosu Lake. The town of Fuji-Kawaguchiko surrounds the lake of the same name, and this area offers the best viewing of Mt Fuji.

We were headed to the Kachi-kachi Ropeway to go up to view Mt Fuji.  🙂

The Kawagauchiko Ropeway takes travellers up Kachi-kachi Yama, which translates roughly as ‘Fire-crackle Mountain.  The ‘kachi-kachi’ bit being an onomatopoetic word for the sound a fire makes, and ‘yama’ meaning mountain.  The cute little hiking rabbit and his tanuki (Japanese racoon) companion are a cutesy little theme that run through the complex.  Lake Kawaguchiko and the town of Fuji-Kawaguchiko. Mt Fuji.  On our last trip, Aunty Mary, Mr K and the Teenager all hiked to the top of Mt Fuji, but this is the first time they have actually seen it!  The weather was so poor they climbed the entire mountain in raid and clouds and fog, so they never actually saw the peak of the mountain after their arduous journey.The Usagi shrine dedicated to the rabbit from the Kachi-kachi Yama myths… must have been one special rabbit! It is said that if you ring the Bell of Tenjo while watching Mt Fuji and make a wish,  your wish will come true.

The Kachi-kachi Ropeway is named after the story about the antics of a rabbit and a tanuki (Japanese racoon) who were said to have lived on Kachi-kachi Yama… the rabbit looks like he is trying to put out the fire on the tanuki’s pack. The rabbit helping the poor, crying tanaki. No idea what is going on in this one… The two friends looking off the mountain, farewelling guests. They’re so very Japanese and so cute!  Anyway, this morning I thought I’d go looking for info on the legend of the rabbit and the tanuki… and found this, copied directly from the Wikipedia article on Kachi-kachi Yama:

The trouble-making tanuki
As the story goes, a man caught a troublesome tanuki in his fields, and tied it to a tree to kill and cook it later. When the man left for town, the tanuki cried and begged the man’s wife who was making some mochi, a sweet rice dish, to set him free, promising he would help her. The wife freed the animal, only to have it turn on her and kill her. The tanuki then planned a foul trick.

Using its shapeshifting abilities, the tanuki disguised itself as the wife and cooked a soup, using the dead woman’s flesh. When the man came home, the tanuki served him the soup. After the meal, the tanuki reverted to its original appearance and revealed its treachery before running off and leaving the poor man in shock and grief.

Enter the rabbit
The couple had been good friends with a rabbit that lived nearby. The rabbit approached the man and told him that it would avenge his wife’s death. Pretending to befriend the 
tanuki, the rabbit instead tortured it through various means, from dropping a bee’s nest on it to ‘treating’ the stings with a peppery poultice that burned.

The title of the story comes from the especially painful trick that the rabbit played. While the tanuki was carrying a heavy load of kindling on his back to make a campfire for the night, he was so burdened that he did not immediately notice when the rabbit set fire to the kindling. Soon, the crackling sound reached its ears and it asked the rabbit what the sound was. “It is Kachi-Kachi Yama” the rabbit replied. “We are not far from it, so it is no surprise that you can hear it!”. Eventually, the fire reached the tanuki’s back, burning it badly, but without killing it.

Yikes!  Yeah, really cute, hey!  😮

I couldn’t tell you what they are exactly, but apparently, there are a smattering of references to this myth in Super Mario Sunshine.

The video game depicts Mario in a tanuki outfit and he goes adventuring in a mud boat (the longer version of the myth has the tanuki make a boat out of mud which sinks), and Mario’s boat will only stay afloat for so long as it disintegrates in the water and when it bumps into things, or something like that.

At the base of Kachi-kachi Yama is the world famous Fujiyama Cookie shop!  Where, you can buy all manner of Fuji styled cookies and candies. Camembert cheesecake… sounds amazing.  Amazingly suspicious!Also – the widest variety of weird KitKat flavours known to man… Wasabi flavour, Strawberry Cheesecake flavour, Sake flavour, Apple flavour.   Nearby was the Ide Sake Brewery, unfortunately, we spent too much time up Kachi-kachi and missed the last brewery tours, but we made a mental note to make up for it this evening.After this, it was back into town for a little shopping and then the bus trip back to Shinjuku bus station, whereupon we did a little more shopping 😉 and then went hunting for dinner.

Meals here have become a bit of a point of contention… Mr K and the Teenager are not fond of seafood and would prefer noodle or ramen every night, whereas I am in sushi Mecca and would happily eat sashimi until the cows come home (or the tide goes out – dunno mixing metaphors, whatever) and am not a fan of the soggy noodle.  Most small restaurants here seem to be one or the other – they specialise in sushi and sashimi or they are a noodle bar/ramen restaurant. So finding a place that serves both is actually harder than you might expect.  Tonight – we hit the jackpot with a little place not far from Shinjuku station.

The restaurant was called Sakusui – and we will definitely be back!  To quote their own website:  “Delicious and cheap and filled with stomach!”

Ordered the large sake, and my cup was running over *and* it came with a bottle to keep it refilled… for Y350

Saw this on the menu. Obviously, we had to order it to find out what it was… turned out to be a tasty tasty Martian alien octopus thing.

And the most delicious and affordable sushi platter ever, Y990, which at the moment is around AUD$11. Fabulous food in a busy little restaurant – I would highly recommend hunting this place out if you are in Shinjuku.Another wonderful day in Japan over it was back to our shoebox hotel room for… another soak in the tub.  🙂  This time with extra sake!

Jigokudani Monkey Park Nagano

I’d be apologetic about the multitude of photos I am going to include in this post, but I’m not really known for insincerity, so I shan’t insult anyone’s intelligence with that.

Today we were up at 0530 to get ready for our Shinkansen bullet train ride to… the Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano – better known as just Snow Monkey Park!  I have wanted to see the snow monkeys for as long as I can remember – probably thanks to National Geographic magazine covers in doctor’s waiting rooms. We are staying in Shinjuku and the Shinkansen leaves from Tokyo Station, which meant we had a 30 min commute to get to the 90 min train ride that would take us to Nagano Station.  

In spite of our inability to get a cup of tea onboard, the train ride was amazing.  Comfy, fast, clean and reliable. What’s not to love.  Australia really needs some of these bullet trains – we have the distances to cover but unfortunately not so much on having the population to support such services. Once we arrived in Nagano, an immediate change of scenery was apparent – snow everywhere.  They had had recent snowfalls the previous few nights and the landscape was beautiful as we made out way to Yamanouchi – the little village close to the Jigokudani park.

Highspeed landscape photography isn’t really a thing, but you can get a bit of an idea of what the countryside looks like. After a 40 minute bus ride, we reached our destination, the entrance to the park.  Unsurprisingly, the few restaurants and inns out here seem to use monkeys in their logos. The park entrance leads the way to the 1.6km walk to the thermal pool that the Japanese macaques congregate in during the winter, and it is the only way to access the area. Jigokudani means, ‘Hell’s Valley’ due to the steam and boiling water that is found in the geothermal valley.  It is surrounded by steep cliffs that in winter make for a formidable and hostile landscape.

The walk into to the monkey’s thermal pools is fairly flat with only two steep-ish areas, though in these conditions it is very slippery with ice.  We all had decent hiking books on but more than one of our party went arse over (including me) on the ice.  Ice or no, it sure is beautiful to see the valley covered in a layer of fresh snow.

Back in the 60s, the monkeys were problematic.  They were encountering a reduced habitat due to farming, the installation of ski lifts in the Shiga Kogen area in 1952 and the permanent installation of onsen bathhouses in the area.  As a result of this habitat loss, they were migrating into Yamanouchi during the winter months to forage and being come quite a pest as they were destroying crops, invading the onsens and being aggressive with humans over food resources.  Farmers had been culling the monkeys until a man named Sogo Hara, (who was employed at the Nagano Electric Railway – Nagano Dentetsu) hiked the area in 1957 and apparently fell in love with the monkeys and decided they needed their own onsens in the valley, and he built them a thermal pool and started feeding them every day to encourage them to stay out of the village; creating the Jigokudani Monkey Park. Now, no tourist brochure for Japan is complete without the obligatory images of the Japanese macaque monkeys sitting, looking somewhat forlorn in their onsen, and they have become a world-famous tourist attraction.

I took so many photos of the monkeys, they’re very interesting with their almost human mannerisms and expressions.  It was approximately -3degrees celsius and I can easily see why the monkeys choose to come to the valley to sit in the thermal pools, but occasionally you see one jump out and go run off into the snow, which must be excruciatingly cold.

Icicles!  Which are pretty ordinary if you come from Michigan or somewhere, but if you’re from Brisbane, Australia.. how cool are icicles? The drive back from the park afforded some beautiful views of the mountains in the Nagano area.  The Winter Olympics were held here nearly 20 years ago, but the locals like to keep showing that one off with souvenirs still available and signs to the event sites. After visting the snow monkeys we made out way to the Zenkō-ji temple, one of the most famouse Buddhist temples in all of Japan. The original temple was built in the 7thC AD and the city of Nagano which was established in 1897 was effectively built up around the temple area.  HIstorically Zenkō-ji is famous for it’s use as a staging point in the battles between Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shngen in the 16thC.  It is also one of the few temples which serve as a pilgrimage site in Japan.

The main entrance gate.

Zenkō-ji temple was founded before Japanese Buddhism split into different sects, so it is one of the only temples in Japan that belongs to more than one sect of Buddhism.  At the moment the Tendai and Jōdoshū schools co-manage the temple, and it takes twenty-five priests and fourteen priests/priestess respectively to run the temple.  According to legend, the temple was built to enshrine images of the Amida Buddha, which had caused a dispute between two warring clans and was allegedly dumped into a canal.  It was rescued by someone named, Honda Yoshimitsu but it is now called the hibutsu, or hidden Buddha and is not available to be seen by the public. A replica was made of the hidden Buddha, but guess what? This one too is not available for viewing by the public! There is however, a replica of the replica and it IS available for the public to see.

This hibutsu hidden Buddha, is rumored to be the very first Buddha statue ever brought to Japan and it is by ‘commandment’ of the temple that the absolute secrecy of the statue is maintained.  Even the chief priest of the temple is unable to view it. The first replica however, (not the one above) is shown publicly once every six years in the spring time in a truly bizarre special ceremony called Gokaichō.  Nearby is the Scholar’s Shrine – students will come here to make offerings to pass their exams. They will give their coins, write on a stone their desire to pass their tests, and then strike the gong using the rope.  Passing exams in Japan can mean the difference between a happy life of lifelong prosperity working for a good company, and a life of destitution floating from job to job.  Obviously, the pursuit of a ‘life-job’ is become less of a goal in the fluid modern job market. A very sad monument to children and babies that have died. People who visit this shrine all have a very heart-wrenching story to share.  There are two shrines dedicated to this purpose in the temple complex.

The Niōmon gate contains two impressive Niō guardians, which are supposed to protect the compound from enemies of Buddhism. Both statues were reproduced in 1918 after a fire.  Fires seem to have plagued the town since it’s inception with the main temple having burned down no less than 12 times.  Until it was finally moved further away from the town centre to protect the surrounding buildings. Pilgrims sandals hung on the outside of the Niōmon gate hung when pilgrims set off on their journeys to give them good strong legs for their endeavours.  Also hung here can be found pairs of ballet slippers for aspiring ballerinas who also want to have good strong legs for their careers.The interior of the Sanmon gate is covered in plastered on papers or stickers bearing people’s names.  While it is illegal to place these stickers, it is said that the higher you place your name, the higher you are towards enlightenment.  Some very determined individuals have their names as much as 6m off the ground.  Oddly (given you are literally leaving evidence of your crime) no one is ever prosecuted for leaving a name sticker due to Japanese naming protocols leaving so many people with identical or similar names. Another shrine, this time dedicated to long life and good health.  This shrine is the ‘reason’ that the people of Nagano are known to live the longest lives, of all the Japanese people.  Nothing to do with healthy living and good diets, it is this little shrine which brings them longevity. This bronze oxen has a special house to himself and he has come to represent ‘Unexpected Good Fortune’.  The story of the oxen includes a washerwoman who did not believe in spending her time going to the shrine to pay her respects to Buddha.  While the rest of the townsfolks would go to the shrine, she instead would go to the river to wash her clothes.  Buddha was annoyed by this, and one day he turned himself into an ox and ran through the washerwoman’s clothes collecting them on his horns.  Away he ran, with the washerwoman following him, to the shrine, whereupon he turned into his proper self and showed himself to the washerwoman wearing the clothing she had been washing.

The woman saw the errors of her ways and was then set onto the path of Enlightenment and became a Buddhist nun directly after – the unexpected good luck of the story.  Now people come here to touch and caress the ox to bring an event of unexpected good luck into their own lives.  Outside the temple are statues of six Bodhisattvas (followers of Buddha), who gave up their own pursuit of Buddhist enlightenment, in order to help and provide salvation to others. The Bodhisattvas are said to represent and be able to commune with the six realms of hell, starvation, beasts, carnage, human beings and divine beings.  The Bodhisattva on the right with his foot dangling in the mortal world is the one representing hell.

The washerwoman chasing the ox is a repeated symbol of the temple with the motif being found on headscarves, offerings and prayer plaques. This is the main temple of the Zenkoji temple complex.  Inside is housed five sacred wooden statues, which, you guessed it – are not available for public viewing.  Also inside the temple is a statue of Binzuru, a physician who was said to be Buddha’s follower. Visitors to the temple touch the statue in order to cure their ailments – so if you have bad knees you touch his knees, if you have a bad back… you get the idea.  The statue of Binzuru is made of wood and is 300 years old, I’m surprised that people are still allowed to touch a religious artefact of this age – but of course I rubbed his back anyway!  

Also inside the temple is The Key to Paradise – it is in a series of small darkened rooms, where you can pay 500Y to enter in total darkness and feel your way around the walls until you feel the Key to Paradise.  For those lucky enough to find the key, they will be further on their journey to Enlightenment.

Also in the temple is a sacred mirror that you can look into to see ‘your true self’.  If you see horns you need to repent your life etc.  Some of us took the opportunity to look into the mirror, but several more superstitious people chose not to.  I looked in the mirror myself, and it may have been the light or it may be something about the mirror – but instead of seeing my usual overtired and pained self, I saw myself looking almost luminescent.  Angelic even…  So yeah, clearly that mirror is busted.

This stone is placed near the entrance to the Zenkoji, and is called a Prayer Abacus.  Pilgrims will walk back and forth from the Niōmon gate to the Zenkoji temple saying prayers, and they use the abacus to count how many times they have walked back and forth.  There is space on the stone for four pilgrims to keep count at a time, the top line is a single walk and prayer, the second is to count lots of ten… it’s kinda like a rosary but on crack.   This prayer wheel had many characters engraved into it but over the centuries has been largely worn smooth.  Observants would touch the prayer wheel to feel the characters of their prayers and spin the wheel to pray before the temple.  Within the temple district is this one Shinto shrine – the Japanese tend to be born as Shinto, marry as Shinto and/or as Christians (they like the big white fluffy princess wedding dresses!) but they die and have their funerals at Buddhist temples surrounded by the ideas of rebirth into the next life.
At this shrine was rows and rows of little men standing only about four inches tall, that all have the names of important ancestors in history on them.  People come and search the racks for their own names, and leave small offerings (in the form of beaded necklaces for the little statues) to honour their family ancestors. The other shrine dedicated to children who have passed away – this one is much more widely used and is more popular for some reason. It is surrounded by offerings made by mourning parents who wish to send their children into the afterlife with tokens, such as toys or clothing items.  After we visited the temple, we made our way to a nearby sake brewery.  Where we were treated to a sake tasting of 6 different varieties of sake, three varieties of amazuke and some really unusual sparkling yuzu sake.  A very welcome warming of the cockles after a day in the cold.  🙂  After that it was back to Nagano Station to hightail it back to Tokyo Station on the amazing (I want one!) bullet trains.  I seriously love these trains, so fast, so clean, lots of leg room, power points, a lovely lady with a tea trolley and before you know it – you are at your destination. We then made our way back to Shinjuku for a bit of late night shopping (Shell, if you are reading this, I have stocked up on sunscreen!), and a bite to eat at a cheerful little ramen restaurant.   Found what appeared to be the Attagirl outlet store – no knee pads though… #confused Shinjuku is really quite lively any time of the day – but at night time it really seems to come alive and is transformed into the Tokyo we have all become familiar with from movies and tv.  People are everywhere, the lights of the advertising don’t just rival Times Square in New York, but completely eclipse it.  The atmosphere here at the momen is just electric – everyone is cheerful and doing their Christmas shopping and carols are steaming out of all the stores.  It’s been a huge day, so after our shopping/dinner in Shinjuku it was back to the hotel for another well deserved soak in the tub! The

Ikebukuro and Tokyo Tower

After yesterday’s monster cultural walking tour of Tokyo, today we thought we’d take it a little easier and head to some pop culture highlights instead.  Last time we were here, the Teenager was all over the Pokémon stuff on his DS and was loving the Pikachu love that was often on display in Tokyo.  We even took him to the Yokahama Pokémon store and he loved it.  This time, well, this time we are all a little Pokémon mad, having taken up Pokémon Go (which btw has proved to be excellent exercise over the last year) and so we decided to head to Pokémon central this morning – the Tokyo Pokémon Mega Centre in Ikebukuro’s Sunshine Centre.Ikebukuro Main Street.

The Sunshine Centre is covered in Pokémon murals and accents before you even get anywhere near the place… And then we found the place – basically a Disney Store but for Pokémon, and at this time of year – packed to the gills with people, lots of loud annoying music, kids running  amok and more plush toys than you can poke a stick at. Unfotunately not a lot of merchandise that was designed for adults… I was hoping to find something I could buy in bulk to take home for our local raid teams, but seriously?  Golf balls, stationery or phone cases was about the extent of useful stuff that adults might like.  I don’t think they are catering for their PGO market here – which from what I have seen is largely being played by 25-45 year olds.  Oh well.  Marketing opportunity missed there, Nintendo. While we were there a legendary raid popped on the Pokemon Mega Centre gym, so of course we had to raid the Groudon.  I managed to catch it, but Mr K had to try again on the other Pikachu gym right beside it.

Just as we were leaving, things got really out of control – a Santa Pikachu turned up with the staff and the kids went crazy!  So much noise and excitement and absolutely none of it decipherable by non-Japanese speaking tourists like us.And of course the ubiquitous vending machines full of Pokemon crap.  Mostly Ditto for some reason…

For lunch, we found this restaurant which had some amazing looking okonomyaki in the display window… well, amazing for over glossy plastic representations of food, but we thought it looked like a potentially delicious cabbagey omelette spot for lunch.However, we got inside and rapidly discovered that it was teppanyaki okonomiyaki?  Cook your own damn cabbagey omelette restaurant?  The Teenager looked somewhat unimpressed at having to cook his own lunch, but when in Rome, right?  There was a pile of useful instructions, not in English of course, but it gave comfort knowing that locals don’t necessarily know how to cook their own okonomyaki either.  😉  Our lunches arrived – raw.  And looked full of possible deliciousness… so long as I didn’t fuck up the cooking bit.  😀  Thankfully, our server was kind enough to show us how it’s done – for the first one.  Preparing the plate, cooking the meat/seafood, mixing the cabbagey mixture and then forming it into a 14cm pancake.  Cook covered on one side for 4 mins on a lowish temperature, then use the spatulas to flip it over and cook for another 4 mins on the other side.  Handy hourglass timers were provided to make sure your okonomyaki was cooked through.   Et voila!  Tasty tasty okonomyaki lunch! Lunch was delicious and went down lovely with a cold glass of umeshu and biru.

Next stop after lunch was on the Teenager’s ‘must do in Tokyo’ list – a place called J-World, which is an amusement centre based on his favourite anime shows, One Piece and Dragonball Z.   He was pretty excited to be there… but only pulled this face for me after I prompted him to not look so blasé.   Now I am not an anime fan, and have no idea who all the characters are but this amusement centre/theme park was pretty full on.  Rides, interactive experiences, virtual reality stuff, Segway clouds (?), a restaurant full of themed food, and of course the inevitable gift shop.  I had no idea this One Piece thing was so huge… it’s about a pirate named Monkey.D Luffy on his quest to claim the treasure, the One Piece.  From what I can understand it involves a lot of high drama and screaming alarmingly in Japanese at other adventuring characters.  This of course is the token female character… Nami.  And this is how she is attired while her cohorts are wearing shirts and shorts or even suits or a long pirate coat.  Poor thing, can’t afford clothes.   Kinto-un from Dragonball Z apparently.

Many rides and hilarity later, it was time to get the hell out of the noisy anime amusement centre and find some solace… in sake!  We left the Sunshine Centre and back to Ikebukuro for dinner.  We wandered past some chain restaurants, and even a bloody Denny’s before we decided to head into the back streets to look for something a bit more local.  We found a restaurant with a great looking menu, actual chairs instead of stools, and *drumroll please*… cheap sake taster plates!! Sake fuelled, Mr K soldiers on through his biru while we wait for some dinner.   Ooh.. maybe there is fugu / blowfish on the menu?  Do we risk it?  Ah, not so much.  Drinking on an empty stomach is never advisable but dinner was well worth waiting for… fresh sashimi – the tuna is so much better here, I swear all the tuna we have in Australia at sushi restaurants is frozen, or frozen poorly or something.  In comparison, I can honestly say I have never had good tuna back home, excepting maybe Sono at Hamilton. The texture is entirely different.
Grilled chicken and pork pot stickers.
Gyoza – of course, no meal seems to be complete without some. Some weird bean sprout omelette yumminess the name of which I can’t remember. Sake!  All the sake! Then it was back to the trains – have I mentioned how awesome Tokyo trains are?  Cheap, clean, efficient… kinda easy to navigate once you get the hang of them, super easy to navigate if you travel with your own transport industry professional!  😉  They’re great, and people are polite and mind their space, I love them – to go to Tokyo Tower. Several stops and what seemed only a few minutes later, and up we pop in a new part of town, and the Tokyo Tower in front of us.  Tokyo Tower is a communications with public observation decks in the Shiba-koen district of Minato. At 332.9 metres (1,092 ft), it is the second-tallest structure in Japan. Apparently it is inspired by the Eiffel Tower, and it is not difficult to see how.  Allegedly, its distinctive orange and white colours come from a necessity to comply international air safety regulations…which then begs the question why isn’t the Eiffel Tower orange and white?  Hmmm.  #showerthoughts I came here on our last trip to Tokyo and it was pretty cool to get a chance to go up the tower at night as well as having been up during the day.  At the moment it is all Christmassy – lights, themed photos, projected snowflakes everywhere, and live performers on the observation deck.  Oddly, but completely in keeping with our visit to J-World on Anime Day, we stumbled onto a One Piece 20th Anniversary exhibit and store at the Tower.  There is Nami again in her signature green bikini, and loads of cool merchandise – cooler stuff than they had at the offical store in the city. More One Piece – the little guy above with the ‘X’ on his hat is called Chopper, and he is supposed to be a reindeer that area a Hito Hito No Mi devil fruit which makes him anthropomorphic (or as the Teenager would say – makes him into a human hybrid or allows him to have human characteristics at will). Anyway, back to the Tower… it was covered in projected snowflakes and sparkly Christmassy stuff.  It was lovely.  The views were great and my little handheld camera either totally didn’t cope or I was completely inept, because my photos from up the Tower are not great. We stopped for a bit and had a blindingly sweet coke spider (yes, it’s freezing cold outside but there is still ice cream and frozen treats everywhere) and then after that sugar rush my photos got way better.  😉  Thus endeth out second day in Tokyo!  🙂

Tokyo is on the way to Vancouver… right?

So we are off to Canad for Christmas with the family, and as it turned out they were going to be in California pretty much right up a few days before Christmas.  We had, however, blocked aside to go from the 15th, but there was no point in going to Vancouver Island when the people we were going to visit weren’t going to return until the 21st… so what to do?  Stop over in Tokyo it is.

Our transit yesterday was pretty ordinary – I am not fond of this budget airline nonsense.  Our TA is great, but she had us on Jetstar for this leg of our trip, and to be honest, it feels like a theme park – you pay the entrance fee and then the costs keep piling up… Want a drink? $$$ Want a meal?  $$$ Want to watch a movie?  $$$ Want a blanket for the flight? more $$$..!  Maybe if the flights were super cheap.  Maybe.  But this wasn’t because it’s Christmas and for the travel industry – that is kinda like flying a wedding flag at the function industry.  Prices are up, up, up!  Anyway, we got here safely and I guess that is the bit that counts, and other than a ridiculous cock up with our train tickets to Shinjuku (the stupid woman at the counter at the airport only sold us half a ticket, one to Ueno where we got off the Skyliner train and had to switched to the JR, but not a ticket that also included the JR portion of the journey.  Much confusion and angst ensued as the English-challenged JR employee was trying to sort us out at the other end, and there is never enough patience to go around after a 14-hour commute.  :/

Finally found our hotel after much getting lost; the Google map really struggles in among the tall buildings, and we checked into the tiniest hotel rooms ever.  Slept pretty good – thanks to sheer exhaustion I dare say.

Next morning up bright and early to hang out with Amane, a friend our son had met on our cruise around Japan two years earlier.  First stop was the Imperial Palace.

The Tokyo Imperial Palace was built on the grounds of an old Edo castle.  It is surround by 3.5kms of gardens and is smack bang in the middle of some of the most expensive real estate in the world. One one side of the moat is the serene gardens and castle grounds, and the other – Tokyo CBD highrises.  It makes for an interesting juxtaposition, to say the least. Most of the leaves have dropped from the trees, but some in happy warm spots are still in lovely fall colours.  The fortifications of the old palace are seriously impressive – that large block in the bottom left is taller than I am. After a wander around the palace grounds (the palace itself is not open to the public as the current Imperial family still reside there) we took a train to Asakusa to see the markets and visit the Senso-ji temple. The Asakusa temple is Tokyo’s oldest temple and considered one of its most significant. It is dedicated to Guanyin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy The markets leading up to the temple are full of fun touristy stuff and yummy street food. Hozomon gate. The temple with it’s five storey pagoda. A couple out buying good fortune charms… many focused on health, money, good fortunes, passing exams, fertility – you name it.  Need a charm?  They have a specific one for you. We decided to get our omikuji fortunes.  You put your 100Y donation into a slot and pick up a steel cylinder to shake out a numbered stick.  Then select your fortune from the drawer of the same number – and voila!  Your fortune told is told. 

Mr K got 12, I got 25 and the Teenager got 34. There are seven results for omikuji, ranging from the best daikichi (大吉excellent fortune) to the worst daikyou (大凶terrible fortune).  Naturally, Mr K picked a Best Fortune, I picked a Good Fortune and the others got a Regular Fortune… I actually want to go back and find a bad fortune too!  🙂
Dad fortune; best Fortune!  Apparently.

After getting our fortunes, we visited the temple proper, starting with the rituals of drawing good health and good fortune to our persons by waving incense smoke towards ourselves and ‘bathing’ in the smoke. We then went to the fountain and washed our hands and face before approaching the shrine – the water was freezing.

At the shrine, we made our offerings and said prayers to Guanyin and Buddha.   Afterwards we wandered the markets for a while and saw lots of ladies walking around in their yukata.  Amane says she only wears her yukata for holidays like New Years and festivals, but some Japanese young ladies like to wear them out on special shopping trips – and given it’s a week until Christmas there were plenty of people out shopping. From Asakusa we jumped another train and head to Ueno.  This area is popular shopping district (though I think that phrase could be applied to nearly all of Tokyo’s well known precincts.

It is also where you find the Ueno Park district.  Ueno Park was established in the late 1800s and is now home to a number of major museums, marketplaces, the Tokyo Zoo and is famous for its cherry blossoms when they are in season. The history of the park (it was built on the site of an old temple and was the site of a battle during the Boshin war is really interesting) but also long, so check it out on Wikipedia if you are interested.

We went to the zoo first, as it was likely to close earlier than the museum, and our day was made infinitely better by panda, otters, tigers, lions, monkeys, polar bears and cranes etc.   The otter enclose had this clever contraption on the outside of the cage that the otters could access by climbing a ladder and swimming through a tunnel.  They had been carrying stones back and forth but all swam back into the enclosure as we approached. This guy was staring intently at something just outside their enclosure – but we couldn’t for the life of us figure out what it was.  I doubled back around on the otters as we were leaving the park and was interested to see they were feeding them live fish.  The otters spent about ten minutes chasing their dinner down which I think is probably better for keeping them active and stimulated than just being fed.  They were also given clams to eat, which they had to smash open with their stones.  Alas I have no photos of their feeding – they were moving too fast and the lighting conditions too low.  

There was also this guy – a Secretary Bird, which now seems to make all Pokemon make sense.  It has the head of an eagle, the body of a goose and the legs of a stork!  It looks like a living breathing wild Pokemon.  😛 

There were also rhinoceros, hippopotamus, lemurs, prairie dogs and yes even kangaroos… but the most thrilling exhibition must have been the Bin Chicken enclosure.  Yes, the humble Bin Chicken is here for the world to enjoy – only weirdly, here they are called Sacred Ibis. 

After leaving the kids to chase more African animals – Mr K and I went back into Ueno Park to check out the markets.  The markets pop up for 3-4 days at a time and have different themes.  At the moment, there was a homewares market on with loads of lovely ceramics, tools, knives, chopsticks, woodcrafts, artworks etc.

After the markets, we went to the Tokyo National Museum to see some of the country’s treasures.  The museum itself is in an impressive building but was very oddly laid out (in my experience of museums at any rate). It was supposed to be in some sort of chronological order but there were some artefacts that were in the ordered layout of the museum, with a sign beside them saying ‘to see more of these Edo period samurai suits, go to Gallery X’. Same beside the sword exhibit.  I think it was done purposefully to get guests to go through the entire museum, instead of just heading for the samurai exhibits and then leaving.  🙂

Keman – Buddhist ceremonial ornamental pendant with design of Kalavimaka birds (mythical birds).  Bronze, Showa era, 20thC reproduction of Heian period 12thC orginal.Gosuku type armour – with two-piece cuirass and white lacing.  Edo period, 17thC.
Okitenuagui Type helmet with dark blue lacking – Azuchi-Momoyama Edo period, 17thC. Yoroi Type Armour with red lacing. 20thC reproduction of 12thC Heian period original. Gusoku Type armour – with two-piece cruirass and red lacing.  Edo period, 17thC Gusoku type armour – with two-piece cuirass and bear fur, Edo period 17thC. Pillows.  Baku (mythical beast) and nandina design in maki-e lacquer.  Edo period 18thC. Pair of Boxes for Shell Matching Game Pieces – Designs from scenes of ‘The Tale of Genji’. Edo period, 17thC. Boxes like these held painted seashells for a shell-matching game.  They were important in the wedding rituals of feudal lords, as shells with two hinged parts symbolised fidelity. Karaori (Noh costume).  Pine bark lozenges, peon and pheonix roundel design on red and light blue checkered ground. Late Edo period, 18thC. Sobatsugi (Noh costume). Dragone and cloud design on dark blue ground. Edo period 18th-19thC. Nuihaku (Noh costume).  Seigaiha waves, mandarin duck, and water lily design on red ground.  Edo period, 18thC. Chukei (Noh fan).  Old pine and sun design on gold ground.  Edo period 18thC. Japanese print.  Blindman’s Buff:  Allusion to Yuranosuke at the Ichiriki Teahouse.  By Chokosai Eisho (date unknown)  Edo period, 18thC.
The print alludes to a kabuki play based on the story of the forty-seven ronin. In the scene being referenced, the hero indulges himself in amusements to fool his enemies into thinking he has given up on avenging his master’s death.
Detail: Standing Daikoku Ten (Mahakala) by Kaiken.  Wood with polychromy and inlaid crystal eyes.  Nanbokucho period, dated 1347. Mokujiki Self-Portrait.  Wood, Edo period, 1804. Shallow bowl, Kingfisher design in overglaze enamel.  Imari ware. Edo period, 17th century.  Interestingly the museum makes no note whatsoever of the beautiful kintsugi repair work done to this dish. Inscriptions of Antique Compendium of Sword Inscriptions over Ages, Edo period dated 1717.

And that was day one in Tokyo done.  After this we head back on the trains to Shinjuku for some cheap and cheerful ramen dinners – misanthropes must love these cafes where you order your meal through a machine and then someone brings you food and you don’t have to talk to anyone!  And it was a very tired borys who, 21,946 steps later, hopped in the tiny (but deep) Japanese hotel bath and actually fell asleep in the tub!