Kumano Kodo – old old pilgrimage routes, and UNESCO World Heritage site. Did some walking of those, including visiting each of the three major temples; bathing in Japan’s oldest onsen/hot-pool; playing badminton with a human net (myself); visiting Japan’s highest waterfall; etc.
Back to Osaka – with lunch being a big chunk of raw tuna, and dinner being the deadly puffer-fish (fugu).
And another shot at Tokyo, this time just spending a few days in the Ueno region, not doing much more than making friends at a small standing bar.
Tokyo – went to watch some rugby, NZ vs Namibia; visited Honda’s terrifying robot; wandered around a small number of Tokyo’s more esoteric neighbourhoods; bought my first gachopon; and had a beer at the top of Asahi’s HQ building.
Overnight sleeper train from Tokyo…
Hiroshima – wandered past the old castle, and the “Atomic Dome”… the building left in ruins to demonstrate the horrors of the A-bomb; and then the museum. I couldn’t really stomach looking at/reading about every single piece in there – it was soul-destroying. I did as much as I could handle, and left. They’ve done a LOT of work in building the museum and dozens of monuments/etc… to just highlight how horrible a nuclear bomb is. Sometimes subtly, sometimes… not so much. Just… hard work.
So… as a counter to the general depression brought on by visiting Hiroshima… onwards to Kokura, and the Toto Museum. Nothing better to offset learning all about the horrors of nuclear warfare than… toilets. The best toilets ever developed by man, no less. And it really was quite cool. The building itself is a modern marvel of every feature they could think of to make it “ecologically friendly”, and the museum itself… informative, and amusing. The toilet-motorcycle, came as a surprise. The history of how Toto decided that toilets should have “bum-showers” in them, and the research… cool. Well done Toto – well done… the Washlet should be in the reckoning for any discussion about mankind’s greatest invention, right up there with the wheel.
Eventually, after a very long day – we got to Beppu, to check into the first hotel with proper Japanese style sleeping… ie: tatami mat flooring, and some bedding to put down on it. And the hotel had an onsen… great stuff. And rugby – went to watch Wales-Fiji at Oita stadium, where once again it was very strange to see the queue for merchandise being extremely long… I suspect it was taking at least 30 minutes to get from tail to head; while beers… near instant service. After the rugby, I mingled with locals and fans in Beppu, well into the early hours; chatting with locals who were super proud of some All Blacks having had drinks at the same place recently. Following day was spent ticking off a few of the obvious tourist things to do in the area, cable-car is one that I remember; and eventually – trying to find a restaurant serving the deadly fugu/puffer-fish. One woman seemed shocked we were actively trying to find it… but in any case, we failed. For now.
Heading back north – stopped off in Himeji, and visited the rather impressive Himeji Castle. Really quite impressive.
And back to Osaka – where Japan vs Scotland was watched in a tiny local bar/BBQ-joint… and much cheering was done. Also met up with young Cazz, and visited the top of the “Sky Building”, travelling up the world’s most scenic (and terrifying) escalator to get there. Had another evening of drinks at a little standing bar discovered last time in Osaka… chatting with locals until well after last buses were gone.
Kanazawa – wandering around one of the Geisha districts, lots of winding back alleys, dozens of temples, and then wandering through the old Castle/Park – AMBUSH! Craft beer festival. Managed to escape with only moderate damage, and managed to watch the Japan-Ireland game in a tiny “standing bar”, with the locals very bemused by my enthusiasm. Afterwards, a couple more drinks at another tiny standing bar, where an elderly lady complete in kimono kept putting her hands all over me (first of many, I seem to be an elderly-Japanese-lady-magnet), and sneaked behind the counter to stick one of my stickers on the wall. BeNina arrived – and we pretty much repeated most of the stuff I’d done previous day.
Osaka – saw a big castle. Watched some rugby, drank too much beer with the locals, and a day-trip to Koyasan, a rather sizable religious complex – where I bought the first of a growing collection of “charms”. Visited Kyoto on the way out – with only enough time for Inari-san… but that was enough to acquire another “charm”.
A quick start of summarising the last month, before the rugby quarter-finals start, and I’ll probably be too distracted to do any updates for another week or two.
Sapporo – brewery, watching rugby in Fanzone (after brewery, super nervous about South Africa, and therefore reasonably drunked)
Hakodate – typhoon, and seafood… particularly squid. Dancin’ squid. Trying to eat the entire body of a squid while it’s moving, and with suckers which latch onto one’s lips/teeth… difficult. Next morning, while trying to get some squid noodles – once again I ended up with dancin’ squid. This time, the lady showed off the dancin’ to me, then took it away, and chopped it up into manageable pieces. I wonder still, whether the first restaurant was intending to do that, but then decided to enjoy the show of the foreigner trying to eat the whole squirming mess.
Morioka – castle remains, a cherry blossom tree growing out of a rock. Not much else. But – Wanko Soba. A woman looming over one, refilling the small cup of soba noodles constantly. Begging for mercy doesn’t help, putting one’s hand over the bowl doesn’t help… she’ll only stop when you put the special lid over the bowl. I managed 111, just so that I could get the special plaque for >100… but a bit more so that it wasn’t so obviously “just get the plaque, without throwing up”, I decided on the “Nelson” as the stopping point. The guy sitting next to me got through 200… but he came dressed for the occasion… when you see a guy wearing the loose denim overalls… you know he’s come to do some serious eating.
Tokyo – first experience of a “capsule hotel” – although these were rather large capsules… standing-room, and effectively a double-bed. A nice gentle introduction to the concept. A night wandering around Ginza district, and a day-trip out to visit another brewery – Ebisu this time – along with a lazy hour (or two) in a craft beer bar I discovered on the way.