Sigisoara to Brasov

Up bright and early for a 0700 breakfast so we can leave the hotel at 0830. Several of the group don’t seem to get the memo though and we leave at 0915. It’s barely my third day with these people and I’m losing a little patience for how self absorbed a couple of them are.

We have a two hour drive to get to a little town called, Sigsioara. The town has about 28,000 people living here and it is a popular tourist stop for the well preserved old town, which is a UNESCO world heritage listed area. First stop was the 13th centrum Clock Tower which is now a small history museum. The Clock Tower is the most obvious town landmark being 64m high and quite pretty.

Dominican Monastery (below), which is closed to visitors – can’t say I blame them, they can be pretty damn intrusive.
The Sigsioara Citadel is also known for containing the house that Vlad Tepes was born in, known affectionately (and unsurprisingly) as Dracul’s House. It was too cheesy for words So I didn’t pop into there.

I did however take an opportunity to pop into the local ‘Medieval Armour Musuem’ a term which sadly must be used loosely because many of the objects on display in the Museum were quite late – 17th to 19th century swords and firearms. There were some cool breast plates though and some enormous muskets.

That pink thing on the left is my Beretta baseball cap… I can’t imagine any soldier carrying this thing about.

From Sigsioara we made our way to Targu Mures. Turns out that Targu Mures isn’t a partially popular tourist spot and the only reason it was on our itinerary was so we could learn about the religious tensions that were happening thirty years ago by showing us the Citadel of the town and the Culture Square which encompasses a Catholic Church, an the Ascension Cathedral, which is an Eastern Orthodox Church and the Quo Ante Jewish Synagogue.

We were all a bit confused about it – even our ‘expert’ guide, Gorgy who had never been there before. The driver, Nick got us lost, driving around in circles several times (we went past one statue three times) before dropping us off near a school so we could find the citadel on foot. Not at all impressed by that.

Then it turns out that the Catholic Church (below) and the synagogue are not open to the public anyway, so we only got to go into the Eastern Orthodox Church..

The Catholic Church is located inside the Citadel walls and apparently built their church to be larger than the Jewish synagogue… on purpose.
Which of course caused the Eastern Orthodox mob to build their cathedral even bigger again… quite something for a tiny little town of barely 28,000 people.
They call this the Ascension Cathedral, but it’s actually a church as it is under the purview of priest not a bishop. Construction started on it in 1925, and the frescos and murals were started in 1934. The gold iconostasis was completed in 1939, and then it turns out their plans were a little ambitious for this little town and they had to halt work on the frescoes when they ran out of money. Work eventually resumed they were apparently completed in 1986. The result is that some of the frescoes look 100 years old and are quite dark from age and incense smoke etc, and some look as bright as if they were done in the last few years.

Still, it is a very beautiful church and reminds me very much of orthodox churches I went into in Moscow and St Petersburg, and I’m glad one of the buildings on our stop in Targu Mures was open to the public. We had had a very rushed day today, what with one thing and another (getting lost, people ordering lunch and then their meals taking forever to arrive, and people just not listening to instructions and skiving off), so we were kinda glad to be having a 20 min break to take a moment to soak in the atmosphere here.

When the rest of the group joined us, we jogged off up the road to the Mayor’s house and to wait for Nick, the Boos Driver.
This is the Mayor’s residence, right next door to the Mayoral offices, and it seems the mayor who built it in the early 1900s was heavily into Italian/Latin architecture styles – which ends up in a weird mishmash of an Italian villa with a Romanian looking roof and decoration… I have no idea why Romulus and Remus are prominently out front – it’s a mystery?! And here we remained while we waited for The Annoying American on our tour to finally deign to meet up with the group. Yes, there’s three American’s on our tour, and two of them are delightful – thoughtful, engaging and considerate beautiful humans… and one horrifically entitled, self involved fucking clueless inconsiderate c&%t!!! This person had lost her sunglasses the night before – left them on a table at a Greek restaurant in Brasov, and had been whining all fucking day about not being able to get hold of them to find them for her, ‘My gawd, they’re like, $400 sunglasses, like they should at least be able to find them and like, send them to me in Bucharest.’ When she wasn’t complaining to us about her lost sunglasses, she was skiving away from group trying to find some ‘decent’ sunglasses to buy. So, we had been playing ‘Oh-FFS-Where’s-The-Annoying-American’ all day. Now we were all hurried up and getting ready to leave and she is nowhere to be found. Not answering messages on the WhatsApp group chat and eventually, she replies saying she’s buying sunnies and found ‘gold on special’ (WTF?) and will be there soon. So the ten of us stand around on the footpath outside the Mayor’s house cursing her and waiting for her to turn up.

She eventually shows up and she’s all smiles and happy is wearing her new sunnies “Yo-yo guys, Bul-garee in the house!” … took me a few moments to realise that somehow in this dinky little town she found a department store selling BVLGARI designer sunglasses. She was also showing around the ‘gold’ she’d found and turns out that was a dainty gold necklace with an Irish harp charm on it??? Urgh, we’ve been rolling our eyes about the unbelievable selfish and boastful nature of this woman for the last four days but everyone seems to have comfortably taken to quietly bitching about her behind her back and not addressing the problem.

Which of course meant I was the one confronting her about not being able to leave the group like that and keep us all waiting. Even the tour guide didn’t take her to task. This is the second time in three days that I left her standing agape looking like I’d slapped her.

Urgh… Annoying American finally acquired, so Gorgy called the bus driver and we head off to Cluj-Nepoca. When we get there – we find the Cluj-Nepoca’s Union Square in the middle of evening summer concerts of traditional music and not-so-traditional tunes being played on weird traditional instruments – very loudly! Thanks to Her Nibs being late, we weren’t able to check out some of the buildings around the square that were on the itinerary but we did manage to check out the cathedral very briefly because it was closing at 1900.

The square was full of locals out to enjoy the evening and the noise.The Matthias Corvinus sculpture – you know, the guide didn’t tell me who he was or why there was a statue to him and I didn’t bother supplementing that for a change by googling it myself (which is another recurring theme lately), so this is him, but fucked if I know what he did to be worthy of a huge sculpture in the town square.

Ok, I lied… Fresh to you from Wikipedia: was King of Hungary and Croatia from 1458 to 1490 and after conducting several (presumably successful) military campaigns, he was elected King of Bohemia in 1469, and adopted for himself the title, ‘Duke of Austria’ in 1487. There’s way more to the dude than that, like his lineage etc, but that’s the TL;DR.

St Mikhail’s Church is the second largest church in Transylvania (behind the Black Church from yesterday). The construction was begun in the St James Chapel (in the back of the church). The money to pay for this was largely collected from indulgence income apparently – man we should go back to the good old days of selling indulgences, only maybe the money could go to building housing for the homeless or something.

Anyway, the first documents relating to the building of the church date back to 1349. There are some fragmented frescoes in the church that make sense with that time period, but they’re pretty dilapidated, covered over and poorly kept. The construction was completed between 1442-1447 apparently, the original tower was built between 1511-1545, but the tower that can be seen now was erected in 1862.

Small evidence of poorly kept frescos… I don’t seem to have taken a photograph of the saints on the wall whose faces were all scratched off when the church was turned over to Lutheran hands in the 16thC.

By this time it is well on 1930 and we are hunting for dinner, along with every other resident of Cluj-Nepoca by the looks of it. We eventually found a restaurant with a vacant table and wouldn’t you know it a place called, ‘Toulouse’ in Romania doesn’t have French or Romania food, but burgers, pizza and pasta. Sigh… there was one oddity worthy of taking note of; in the back of the drinks menu was a cigarette menu and every table had a Dunhill ashtray on it. Yuk. Thankfully there was a decent breeze (blowing the right way for us) and we were able to while away an hour or so over some cheap ciders – $4 bottles of Strongbow.

We leave town to go the hotel about 2130 because of course the Annoying American is late again. We serve up yet another episode of the Blind Leading the Blind as our guide and driver got lost. Again. Seems Nick is using a decade old Tom Tom to navigate us around Romania and Gorgy can’t seem to read Waze properly but here we are in the back of the bus with Google Maps open trying to tell them the hotel is only 200m further up the street when Nick does a three point turn and goes back in the wrong direction only to discover they’re moving further away from the hotel and to do another three point turn and go back the way we were… ugh. We eventually pull up outside a restaurant and the Hotel sign can be seen in the back and I’m like, ‘Hello, according to the map, we need to go to the next driveway.’ Gorgy goes in to check things out, Nick meanwhile is unloading baggage, and when Gorgy comes back, he says ‘We need to go up to the next driveway.’ So we all carry/drag our bags up to the next driveway to get in the hotel.

Such a long day. It’s well and truly 22:30 by the time we got settled into our room and I had no energy to do this so, this was yesterday’s clusterfuck. I’ll get onto today’s clusterfucks in a few moments.

Osaka Yuki Art Museum

We set off not so bright and early this morning, after having quite a big day yesterday, and (stupidly it turns out) thought we’d go check out the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan… which is known for being the world’s largest aquarium.  It apparently has an enormously deep tank with whale sharks in it, tunnels for viewing, and of course, my favourite part of any aquarium – an otter enclosure.  However, we forgot about Golden Week, and when we arrived we found this:   for A queue that stretched for about 250m BEFORE it got to the Disney-esque rope lines that were organising visitors into an orderly squish while they waited to line up and buy tickets.  Well, as much as I love the fishes (probably most of which are pilfered from the Great Barrier Reef anyway) and of course the otters, there was no way I was standing in line for several hours to enter into exhibition halls full of overexcited children and semi-distraught, but amused, parents.  So we did an about-face and decided to head to an art museum instead.  So many little takoyaki stalls in/around the aquarium… come see the squids and jellyfishes, don’t forget to eat some before you leave?! Given our late start to the day, we thought we would pop in for some lunch at a cute little curry place.  I love how you order a small curry and you end up with a pile of stuff to try, some of it recognisable, some of it not so much! The Yuki Art Museum is a small gallery dedicated to the objects used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies.  The Japanese tea ceremony, or the Way of Tea, is a cultural activity that involves a ritualized ceremonial preparation of matcha, a powdered green tea. This museum house many important Japanese cultural objects, predominantly from the Edo period (approximately 1600-1870), relating to the tea ceremonies (And yes! it was much quieter and more pleasant here than at the aquarium!)

Bamboo tea scoop from the late Edo period, c.1850s Gour used to bear hot water, late 1800s.
Water jar, Ryukyo-Suisya (Willow bridge and water wheel folding screens design) Ninsei studio, also Edo period, 17thC. Water kettle – Yoho (square) type, by Yojiro. Muromachi period, 16th C. Tea bowl and dishes used in Japanese tea ceremony. Tea bowl, mountain and river design, late Edo period, studio of Kenzan, c.1860s. Intricately pierced lacquerware trays, late Edo period 19thC. Tea caddies, Katatsuki (square shouldered type), Seto ware known as Shunzan-Asei, Edo period 17th C.

The objects at this museum were fascinating – they hold a unique place in Japanese cultural history, and you can picture the meditatively quiet and solemn ceremonies they would have been used in. Unfortunately, there were not a lot of plaques with English content and no English guidebook, so I feel I didn’t get as much information from the visit as I had hoped.

Anyway, onwards and once more into the fray – after the quiet contemplation of the Yuki Art museum, we made our way to Shin-Osaka and the Osaka Pokemon Centre… now the aquarium was a madhouse and this place – while lacking a two-hour long queue to enter – was equally manic on this public holiday shopping day.So much plush – must resist the urge to tidy it! This Pokemon Centre appears to be the same as the Tokyo one, though slightly more toys and stuff crammed into slightly less space.  I feel like Nintendo are really missing opportunities to properly merchandise their crap though.  Most of their stuff is aimed at small kids, yet it’s overpriced and usually quite poor quality.  The whole thing feels a bit weird, especially given the global popularity of Pokemon Go.  Most small kids lost interest in Pokemon Go fairly quickly – you need to be mobile and have lots of time out of the house to be effective to play it… many kids relying on parents to ferry them to battles and events eventually gave up. The result of which is that the average Pokemon player seems to be in the 20s-40s and they effectively walking wallets… but come in here, and there is very limited merchandise aimed at this audience.  I’m quite surprised at this oversight, as Nintendo already have the perfect model in Disney to make sure they are covering all their bases and maximising their exposure and profits. It feels like they just don’t known or care to cater to their older customers.*shrug* While we were at the Pokemon Centre, there was a Pokemon Trading Card game tournaments happening – there must have been 150 kids and adults all playing the trading card games.  Some having a lot of fun and smiling and not taking it too seriously, and some looking very studious.  Having never been to a game tournament like this, I thought it was very interesting.I have no idea how the game is played or what’s involved, but I couldn’t help but wonder if this little kid was kicking arse!  😉 After this stop, we did some general shopping and ended up calling it a day.  Navigating Osaka in the crowds is somewhat harrowing at the best of times, navigating the trains during Golden Week is crazy – mind you, even though everywhere seems to be packed full of domestic tourists at the moment, everything feels orderly, friendly and super polite.  I can’t imagine this many people being this well behaved anywhere else in the world. ‘take

Kyoto – Miyako Odori Spring Dances

Today, it was farewell to the Diamond Princess and Choo, our very helpful and unobtrusive cabin steward. We left him a little recycling to take care of when we left… one week’s worth of sake that we ‘smuggled’ onto the ship by very cleverly putting it in our backpacks or our shopping bags and putting it through the ship’s scanners as we re-embarked in each port. Now, everyone, knows transit days suck balls… big hairy sweaty ones on occasion, and this is why the No 1 Golden Rule of Travel is: Never plan to go sightseeing on transit days!  So what did these very well travelled individuals plan for today?  Well, we broke the stupid rule and planned to disembark the ship in Yokohama, take a train to Kyoto, put our luggage in storage, and go to the famous Minamiza Theatre in Gion to see the Mikayo Odori Spring Dances.  It’s barely a 20 minute trip on the Shinkansen from Osaka to Kyoto, and ideally, we would have come back at some point over the next week to see this uniquely Japanese cultural experience – but the season quite literally ends today, and we were able to buy tickets for the second last performance for 2019. So here we were, breaking the Travel Rules.

Here’s some Shinkansen info for players at home – if you are ordering a Japan Rail Pass online from home (for unlimited rail use for a specified time) you can NOT reserve seats on specific journeys the way you can if you are just purchasing a single trip… so what happens is you will turn up to the train station with your Rail Pass and have to make your way down the platform of the train you want to catch and line up to try and get into one of the unreserved carriages (usually the first three carriages of each bullet train which goes every 3-5 minutes).  At about 90 persons per carriage, that sounds like a lot of unreserved seating is available – and with a 2 hour journey ahead of us, I’m not capable of contemplating a standing journey of that duration.  But alas!  It is not so!  The train we were attempting to board in Yokohama was coming from Tokyo station and each train was full by the time it arrived in Yokahama.  After seeing about three or four trains come and go where our options were to take a standing position or wait for another, we decided to switch platforms and go backwards to Tokyo station and get on where the trains were starting out from.  This turned out to be a good move – most of the trains were leaving Tokyo totally full and people jumping on to stand, but we were able to wait and get a seat for the journey… the lesson here is: it sure helps travelling with someone who knows the ins and outs of public transport sometimes!

With only a small delay of about forty minutes, we arrived in Kyoto and made our way to Kyoto Central Post Office which has a very convenient luggage service – cheaper than the DIY coin lockers that are scattered throughout Kyoto station and it is manned until 19:00… Just in case you ever find yourself in Kyoto and in need of storage solutions.  They also do a hotel delivery service for Y1500 per piece, which sounds like a brilliant idea if you have limited time to enjoy the city and can’t check into your hotel until late afternoon.

We hopped a cab down to the Gion district, and having rushed off the ship at 07:30 we thought it was time to find some breakfast now that it was well past midday.  We found a wee strange okonomiyaki place not far from the Minamiza Theatre and stopped in for some quick and delicious okonomiyaki and sake, while enjoying the kooky pop culture decor.  I didn’t remember to take a photo of this, but several of the tables in the restaurant had life-sized mannequins, dressed in traditional yakuta seated at the tables?  I realised as we were leaving that diners who happened to be eating solo were sitting next to the mannequins and looked immediately like they were dining with a friend!  It was bizarre, but I guess if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t enjoying eating out alone, maybe it works?  Who knows?  🙂 The Miyako Odori spring dances have been held at the Minimaza theatre (which was built in the 1600s) since the late 1800s.  The place has quite a history and each year the dances are designed to celebrate the spring/cherry blossom season and to show off the talent of the maiko – the apprentice geisha who grace the Hanamachi, (the ‘Flower Town’ pleasure district) of Gion that is full of historic ochaya (teahouses) and okiya (geisha houses).

There is quite a lot that can be said about the Miyako Odori, and the Minamiza Theatre, but rather than bastardise it all with my interpretation – here is a blurb from the official website for this year’s dances:

“Highlighting the springtime atmosphere, “Miyako Odori” is performed in the newly renovated Minamiza Theatre where festive kaomise kabuki marked the end with a great success.
In order to celebrate the reopening of the Minamiza Theatre located in the birthplace of kabuki, this year’s theme is entitled “Miyohajime Kabuki no Irodori” (displaying places of interest of Kyoto in the new era, depicting scenes especially related to the theatre, and geiko and maiko perform a dance with a wish of happiness and prosperity of the new Emperor to be enthroned in May.)
“Miyako Odori first held in 1872 is a beautiful dance performance of eight scenes which begins with the unique loud call “Yoi Ya- Sa-” and all performers dance together in front of sliding screens put on silver foil, representing a court noble house. The dance, this year, progresses from the scene of “Shijo Kawaramachi” the birthplace of kabuki, “Katsura Imperial Villa.” “Gian Chaya.” and other places of scenic beauty and historic interest in the vicinity of the Minamiza Theatre and in connection with the Imperial Family, and the finale comes with a scene of cherry blossoms in full bloom at Daikakuji Temple.

“Miyako Odori” featuring Kyoto’s four seasons has been shown for more than 140 years; please enjoy the elaborate stage by maiko and geiko in the traditional Minamiza Theatre.”

I remember these kimono from when we were last in Kyoto in 2015 – we visited an exhibition called ‘The Maiko Story’ that highlighted the history and traditions of the lives of the maiko and geiko that grace Gion. Today we would get to see the maiko dancing in them.  That ‘Maiko Story’ is HERE if anyone is interested.

Inside the newly renovated theatre, we found our seats with some assistance – we were situated in the third balcony and as you might expect, accommodations are not as generous as we have become accustomed to in modern public theatres.  Our seats were up steep steps and even though I am barely 5′ tall, my knees were pressed up against the seat in front of me.  Mr K at 6′ tall didn’t have a hope… even manspreading couldn’t help him. He ended up watching the performance sitting to his side with his legs in the aisle beside him. There is no photography allowed in the theatre during performances, so I have ‘borrowed’ some images from official promotional material and ever helpful Wikipedia.  The costumes were lovely, the dancing was precise, graceful and exactly what I expected to see from these highly trained artisans.  The music, however, was at various points during the performance ear piercingly painful!  The flutes, they’re so high!  Ouch.  The singing too, while not as bad as the caterwauling we experienced at various cultural performances in China, was likewise not always ‘pleasant’.  Still, it was quite the visual spectacle and it was wonderful to add this quintessentially Japanese experience to our ‘When in Rome’ List.
The final scene was quite the spectacle with all the performers returning to the stage and dancing in unison – except for two obviously very senior geiko who seemed to be marching to their own tune. After the performance was over we hopped another cab back to the Post Office to collect the luggage and made our way back to the Shinkansen to catch a train to Osaka.  Thankfully, we didn’t have much trouble finding seats – it is the Tokyo to Kyoto segment that seems to be super popular at the moment and we were not surprised given it is Golden Week.

We made our way to our hotel, called Hotel Samurai, which was chosen less for its location (I usually make all accommodation choices based on location!) and instead was chosen for its size.  We are here for a whole week and have some work to do whlie we are here, so there is no way we wanted to be doing it in an APA Hotel shoe-box of a room. Our suite turned out to be about the size of my living room/study at home – about 6m x 4.5m – and has a king sized bed, a double sized bed, a futon bed a kitchenette and a huge ensuite bathroom with a spa bath tub.  It was booked so long ago I forgot about all that! After we got settled, we were a bit shattered to be honest (that is what you get for breaking the Travel Rules), so Keith popped out for some milk to make tea and some sake for well,…for obvious reasons really!  Eventually, we opted to go out for a late dinner and we ended up at a restaurant called Shinanosuke Ueroku, located across the road from the Osaka-Uehommachi train station. It was the over the top display of sake bottles at the front door that sucked us in! Dinner was a delicious boat of fresh sashimi, some takoyaki and yakitori and of course sake! (If it looks like I am using alcohol to help me sleep in the absence of some of my medications and my own bed – that is probably because I am!)
The place has a lively atmosphere, a lot of laughter from the rabbit warren of individual little dining rooms, and the free-flowing liquor.  If it weren’t for the Japanese propensity to let people still smoke cigarettes in these types of restaurants, I’d say it was a perfect fun spot with great food and we’ll be back – but, there are too many other places to try and if we can find great food sans smoking, we’d much prefer it. Then, it was time to head back to the hotel, write all this guff up before we have new adventures tomorrow and I forget all about the details of today.

In short, we totally broke the Travel Rule of Transit Days today – but it was totally worth it!  I’m going to sleep like a log tonight.

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!

Australian Pokédex awesomeness!

A very talented Australian animation artist named Paul Robertson has turned his hand to making a uniquely Aussie Pokédex… and it’s just brilliant.  I imagine non-Australians might have some trouble interpreting some of these Pokémon creations – you’ll just have to trust us that it all makes sense!

Saving here for future reference, via @probzz on Twitter.