Musée D’Orsay

Buying timed tickets to visit museums seems to be the necessity these days… which works okay, if you are travelling just for leisure, I guess and you don’t mind planning out your every single day of what you are doing on your vacation. But when travelling for work, and finding you might have a few hours to squeeze in something cultural – having to have pre-purchased tickets weeks in advanced leaves you at the mercy of some pretty mercenary resellers, mostly found on Trip Advisor links.

We did manage to get tickets for the morning we suddenly had available, but they were general entry and untimed, so that puts you in a different queue to get into the building, and that can mean ages waiting in lines. Thankfully at 0900 on a Saturday morning, the queues weren’t too intolerable and we were able to visit the Musée D’Orsay somewhat spontaneously after all.

Van Gogh self portrait.. another one. Oil on canvas.

Bedroom At Arles.
Vincent Van Gogh, 1888, oil on canvas… this is my favourite Van Gogh painting. I just can’t get over the texture he created which you an only see in person. This painting utterly fails to translate in reproductions.

The Church in Auvers-sur-Oise, View of the Chevet.
Vincent Van Gogh, 1890, oil on Canvas.
Mr K’s favourite. Something to do with a Dr Who episode? Huh?

Claude Monet, 1878, oil on canvas. Part of the Doctor Gachet collection, I quite liked this painting even though it isn’t typical of Money and has an odd perspective.

The Starry Night.”
Vincent Van Gogh, 1888, oil on canvas.

La Guinguette a Montmartre; Le Billard en bois, La Bonnie franquette.
Vincent Van Gogh, 1886, oil on canvas.

Fritillaires couronne impériale dans un vase de cuivre.
Vincent Van Gogh, 1887, oil on canvas.

Blue Water Lilies.
Claude Monet, 1916-1919, oil on canvas.

En norvégienne, also called, La barque à Giverny.
Claude Monet, 1887, oil on canvas.

Femme au fichu vert.
Camille Pissarro, 1893, oil on canvas.

Foyer de la Danse.
Edgar Degas, 1872, oil on canvas.

Not sure what to make of Degas, I’ve always admired the work and the spaces he depicted of the opera world and the ballet school always lent themselves to beautiful compositions – very elegant and feminine. As I get older though, I wonder whether he was a sneezy presence (like Trump at a beauty pageant) walking in like he owned the place and ogling half-naked, very young women… many of whom were expected to be congenial to patrons of the arts. :/

Blue Dancers.
Edgar Degas, 1893, oil on canvas.

The Ballet Class
Degas, 1874, oil on canvas.

La Place Valhubert.
Armand Guillaumin, 1875, oil on canvas.

La Dame aux éventails.
Édouart Manet, 1873, oil on canvas. The model is Nina de Callias, she was a musician and artiest herself.

City Dance and Country Dance.
Pierre-Augusta Renoir, 1883, oil on canvas.

Le Cathédrale de Rouen. Also called, Harmonie Bleue et Or.
Claude Monet, 1894, oil on canvas.

Woman with a Parasol Facing Right, and Woman with a parasol Facing Left.
Claude Monet, 1885, oil on canvas. The mondella was named Suzanne Hoschedé who was the daughter the impressionist collector Ernest Hochedé, but these were not meant as portraits. His outdoor figures were attempting to capture the landscape as the subject.

Henri-Edmond Cross.
Maximilien Luce, 1898, oil on canvas… I quite like this one, it’s amazing how much detail is conveyed with such frugal brush strokes and no blending to speak of. Beautiful.

Le Quai Saint-Michel et Notre-Dame.
Maximilien Luce, 1901, oil on canvas.

Georges Seurat’s Palette from 1891… what a cool object to have here – obviously it’s oil paint on timber.

The museum has imagery all around the place of the ‘Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte’, which is one of those annoying things museums seem to do these day to create interest – but of course it isn’t here, it’s at the Art Institute of Chicago. They do have some very small studies that were done for the painting though. These are barely A4 in size, the full painting is 2m high and 3m wide.

Georges Surat, 1890-1891, oil on canvas. This work is considered incomplete as Surat died prematurely while working on it. I’ve often wondered about the curatorial choices that go into displaying some of these well known or important works – but apparently Surat chose this blue frame himself.

Couple dans la rue.
Charles Angrand, 1887, oil on canvas.

La Seine à Herblay.
Maximilien Luce, 1890, oil on canvas.

Entrée du port de la Rochelle.
Paul Signac, 1921, oil on canvas… this one was an unexpected little gem that I just loved. The colours are so vibrant and beautiful, and again, such beautiful texture created by the brushwork.

Jardins publics: L’interrogatoire.
Édouard Vuillard, 1894-1936, oil on canvases.

Et l’or de leur corps.
Paul Gauguin, 1901, oil on canvas. I have little affection for Gauguin – partly because I don’t really enjoy his style, but also because I think he just spent years in Tahiti shafting native women. :/

Jane Avril Dancing.
Henri de Toulousse-Lautrec, 1892, thinned oil paint on poster board.

The Robe.
c.1982, distemper on flannel (?)

The restaurant was closed but looked very funky… love the colourful chairs.

Logement prolétaire (Proletärkarsern).
Eugène Jansson, Stockholm, 1898, oil on canvas.

La pointe d’Andey, Vallée de L’Avre.
Ferdinand Hodler, 1909, oil on canvas.

Portrait de l’artist au fond rose.
Paul Cézanne, c. 1875, oil on canvas.

Hercules Kills the Birds of Lake Stymphalia.
Antoine Bourdelle, 1880-1910, bronze.

Le Belier Retif, also called, Belier African.
Antoine Bourdelle, 1909, bronze.

Monument à Jean-Jacque Rousseau…
La Philsophie (centre), with La Verite et la Nature.
La Gloire et La Musique (sides).
Albert Bartholomé, 1910, sculpture en platre

Aristide Maillol, 1910, marble.

Judgement de Paris.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1914, Platre (signed and dated Renoir).

Les Nubiens, also called, Les Chasseurs d’Alligators.
Ernst Barrias, 1894, platre.

La Roue de la Fortune (Wheel of Fortune).
Edward Burne-Jones, c1875-1883, oil on canvas.

Mercure inventant le caducée.
Jean Antoine Idrac, 1878, marble.

I didn’t get the description for this one… I liked her, even though the poor dear looks like she’s lost her portable! Selfie Queen.

Polar Bear.
Francois Pompon, c.1923-1933, stone.

Pompon famously worked with Rodin, but chose animals as his focus. This bear was one he watched pace in a cage at the zoo in the Jardins des Plantes, and was carved from a 3 tonne stone… every bit of it that wasn’t polar bear was removed and he is remarkably sleek and modern looking, even today.

We had to bail on the Musée D’Orsay, as we had skipped breakfast and were getting seriously hungry. Went for a bit of a wander to find lunch… on the way, the famous: Sorbonne University.

Lunch Bistro, chosen by Mr K;

Very nice choice. Many bistros will have a daily menu that gives you choices of two or three course meals at very reasonable prices – this is how Parisians often order their lunches, rather than a la carte. So we took that option. Jambon et fromage crépes, steak au poivre for Mr K, boeuf bourguignon for me, crème caramel for Mr K, and I spoiled myself with a crème brulee. Delicious and now we’ll be skipping dinner too!

Bangkok Canal Tour with Mr Tee

Found ourselves with a free morning to do some sightseeing before the work all starts up tomorrow, and decided to book a canal tour. Bangkok is divided into east and west by the Chao Phraya River, and connecting to this ‘lifeblood of the city’ river are myriads of canals that weave through heavily populated areas of the very wealthy and very poor alike. The canals are used extensively for general transportation, with various sized boats zooming down the canals carrying locals, construction workers, city sanitation services, tourists and who knows who else. The water is a murky filth pit – filled with floating rubbish, and the occasional floating dead fish… thankfully the breezes on the river are strong and kept the odours away – being as it was high tide probably helped too! We had about five hours pottering about on the canal with multiple stops and I took plenty of photos, but some of this felt like slum tourism (which I absolutely hate!) so sorry, but there’s very little photos of the run down decrepit and falling apart houses that some of these residents are living in, right next door to palatial marble clad homes with private water slides going into their private pools.

We started off our canal trip meeting at a temple. This statue outside the first of many temples we came across today, honours the King from the King And I, King Mongkok of Siam, who is very famous and was responsible for trying to modernise his country.  Our guide Mr Tee set the tone early by cracking jokes and asking us where we were from – he is far more familiar and comfortable using Aussie ockerisms than I am! Probably didn’t help that Shannon (one of Yale’s colleagues who was with us) almost immediately started pumping him to improve his Thai naughty/dirty vocabulary.

Right alongside the statue to this most illustrious king was a small shrine to Buddha with this huge pink water buffalo… our guide Mr Tee, like I said, full of jokes and quips, was unable to tell me why there was a pink water buffalo placed seemingly out front to protect Buddha, so this is destined to remain a mystery.

Oddly, I took plenty of pics of the canal boats, but failed to get a picture of the one we were travelling in. It was a small boat as we were on a private tour for just three pax, but it meant we were able to get into some of the smaller canals. It isn’t suitable to go into the Chao Phyara River as it wouldn’t survive the wakes from the larger vessels.

We went past so many small temples which seemed to line the canals. According to Mr Tee, every community has their own temple because no one wants to have to go pray too far from home. Bangkok has over 700 temples, and Thailand has over 35,000 temples – so they are literally everywhere. Small and modest and huge and ornate… just dotted all over the place. All of them are built with community funds, and in the great tradition of religious monuments, churches, and temples the world over – it’s mostly all donated funds given to aggrandise certain families, communities or even just individuals. Small funereal monuments here can cost approximately USD$1000 which is a LOT of money for the average Thai citizen. As such, cremation is popular and urns are kept at home or put into a community funereal monument (some pics of those a bit later).

Below is someone who lives onto the canal who cares enough, and has the financial resources, to maintain their home. This Angry Bird House is a bit of a local landmark apparently.

This community near the Morning Markets has beautifully tiled facades with the tiles all donated by local families – much like plaques are used in other religions to show patronage. Some of the temples are covered in beautiful work – though some of the super shiny, opalescent, or mirrored tiles feel a little over the top to our Western aesthetic sensibilities.

We did go for a wander through the Morning Markets after visiting this little temple, but the experience was underwhelming. Mr Tee said that the government had outlawed street stalls on Mondays (???) which meant the markets were remarkably quiet on Mondays. There were vendors there selling fresh food, fruits, seafood, spices, pre-made curry and chili pastes, loads of coconut products and general groceries – but the place wasn’t bustling like I’ve seen markets in Marakecch or Seoul or China. It was sedate and kinda sleepy with about 4 out of every 5 stalls empty. I could have done without the trip through the fishy part of the market – it fucking reeked. First time I’ve been in a fresh fish market like that which smelled so bad.

Anyway, I’m off topic – in the temple grounds and in many people’s private properties, you will see these little spirit houses that are placed to protect the home and its occupants. Some homes have two, one for the house and one for the people, but many have just one.

Beside is a small altar space where small offerings are left – food, tokens, flowers, idols and incense seem to be popular. I have no idea what they’re snakes are about.

Not only are the temples lavishly and brightly decorated, but the canal boats that are ferrying many tourists about are also festooned with bright garlands to ask the spirits to protect the vessel.

Below is a funereal monument built to acknowledge and commemorate one particular monk who was very well known in his community. Mr Tee told us that when people in the community die, they can have their ashes interred into these established monuments and depending how important they are is how high up the monument their ashes will be placed. It’s not a ‘being closer to heavens or the gods’ thing, it’s literally how important you were considered to be in this life – importance that seems to be gauged by wealth and status rather than godliness from what I could make out?

The design of these funereal temples is a combination of a round structure of Ceylonese influence, a corners cut in with those wedges shapes, which is the Thai/Siamese influence, and the upside down ice cream cone which stems from Cambodia.

A short walk from this little funereal temple, we got our first look at the Big Buddha.

Towering nearly 70 meters above the ground, and roughly the height of a 20-story building and at a width of 40 meters, it is the city’s biggest Buddha image… and it is situated directly across the canal from what is now called ‘Small Buddha’ but which was called, ‘Big Buddha’ until this enormous monument was finished a couple of years ago. Construction started on this Big Buddha in 2012, but was hindered somewhat from completion due to a total shut down of works during the Covid pandemic so it was only completed about two years ago. It’s huge and impressive but the scale is hard to capture in a picture like this.

Near the Big Buddha are some other small temple buildings, novice schools for monks in training and a huge funereal temple which houses a museum-like collection of religious artefacts.

Leading to the temple/museum is a walkway that has a schedule of all the upcoming funerals being held at this temple. Seems it is one of the most popular places now to have your funeral.

The temple itself is also quite high – about five stories tall. You can walk all the way up to the roof via a wide marble staircase, but there is also a lift inside (to the right of the entrance staircase) which only operates on weekdays.

Shoes off, once inside the temple there was over the top decorative arts as far as the eye could see – elaborately carved and gilded timber columns, each column with a mother of pearl inlaid grandfather clock beside them, hand painted ceilings in lavish red and gold paint, and cabinet after cabinet of displays of everything from money, to medals, to watches and old photographs.

Many of the displays here were set up in huge dioramas, but unfortunately, I couldn’t translate any of the information panels.

Then we went up the lift to the fifth floor to see the ‘main attraction’. We were told this temple cost USD$23,000,000 dollars to build. And this floor alone was half of that expense. The elaborate paintings that encircled the jade glass temple in the centre of the room were all painted by one artist who was commissioned to do them all so that they would be identical.

I totally didn’t expect to see this inside this temple at all – there are some benefits to planning a trip at the last minute and not researching the hell out of everything! Also helped that for the first time in forever, someone else planned this particular outing.

The photos don’t do justice to the sparkling way the light bounces around in this elaborate space – there are crystals embedded into the high domed ceiling that catch the light and make it look like a striking twinkly sky. There is also an observation deck on this floor where you can go outside the temple and walk around to see the surrounding area. You get a great view of the BBB (Big Buddha’s Booty!) from up here, as well as the Small Buddha across the canal (Big Buddha as it once was).

Apparently not many people go visit the Small Buddha anymore – and we weren’t going to be any different as our short tour didn’t allow time to go across the canal and check it out. Poor neglected Small Buddha – will have to see if we have some spare time later in the week for that.

Meanwhile, downstairs one level on the 4th floor is a huge pile of gold plated statues made to commemorate many famous monks throughout history. They are all behind glass, and the one that is in it’s own glass box is make from 112kgs of gold. Which is just mind boggling when you can look off the roof here and see the most heartbreaking poverty. :/

Back in our boat, we said goodbye to Big Buddha and set off for a loop around the canals before heading to the Artist House…

Some average canal front properties on our route…

Mr Tee twice told us that Bangkok is all islands and is known as the ‘Venice of the East’… why, I do recall a St Petersburg guide once telling us that St Petersburg is the ‘Venice of the North’ – seems to be a popular moniker to want to adopt.

I just love these bright coloured garlands that are adorning the front of the canal boats. I hope they make the spirits as happy as the people seem to think they do; but even more entertaining than the garlands is the engines that are on these things…

All these canal boats are running on 150hp truck engines. They are noisy and dirty, but powerful and do the trick. The long propellers are because the canal waters are, at maximum during high tide, 3m deep and the boat drivers usually only put the propellers in about 1m deep to avoid damage and getting entangled in water plants etc. This gives them a fair bit of speed and manoeuvrability.

The Artists House seems to have been the place of a thriving art community prior to Covid, but is now turned somewhat touristic. Rather than artisans working here and showing their skills, it is a come and DYI place to make beaded necklaces and bracelets or to paint ceramics. There is even one shop here which has the tourist market covered by the clever use of … air conditioning! The shop is the only one with AC, and they charge ‘crazy prices’ to come in and work in their art shop but the tourists’ dollars go a long way here, and now the shop owner ‘is gotten too snobby for his boots’ so the local community don’t like him anymore. lol

In lieu of making Swiftie friendship bracelets, we chose to feed some fish – you could see them breaking the surface of the water the whole time we were cruising the canals, but because the water is so murky, couldn’t really seem them. Noted, fish feeding: ok. Bird feeding: not ok.

Someone forgot to tell Shannon, the food is for the fish. God I hope he didn’t actually eat any. Once we did chuck some fish food into the water – it was like watching piranhas in a tank under a suspended Adam West’s Batman c.1975! Vicious looking little fuckers fighting for the pellets – carp and catfish live quite happily in the brackish water of the canals.

I have no idea what this orange man was about – and didn’t hang around long enough to find out as we found a coffee shop so the guys could get an iced coffee.

I think this bright coloured crispy looking shit is meant to be edible? But seeing as it looks like food coloured packing peanuts, we stayed the hell away from it.

Mr Tee making himself comfortable on Shannon’s lap while playing more Thai dirty word bingo over coffees.

After our visit to the Artist House, we went back to our original meeting point near the Skytrain so we could ride back to our hotel. I wanted to take a cab because I’d already twisted my already fucked up knee getting in and out of the boat all morning – but the train was ‘right there’ so off we went like fucking idiots. Big mistake for me. The Skytrain is a fast, efficient, clean, air conditioned elevated rail system… love everything about it. Easy to understand, pleasant to rid. Not always user friendly… the station we got on at had a lift and it takes you about four stories above the ground to get to the train, but then the station we got off at – did not. And I found myself limping down about 8 flights of stairs. Le sigh… at least I got myself a Rabbit transit card.

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.

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!  🙂