Japan – My thoughts

So here are my summary thoughts (in no particular order) about Japan:

They are very organised. Everything runs exactly on time. There are specific places to leave and board trains. The train stops at exactly the correct spot each time.

They are very polite and respectful. They form orderly queues for everything. I think they beat the British for their queuing ability. I am pretty sure we broke rules or laws but no one would ever say anything to you. They probably just thought ‘idiot foreigner’. Bowing is a thing you do regularly. When a train conductor leaves from one carriage to another, he/she turns and bows to the entire carriage. You walk past a cleaning lady in the hotel and she bows to you.

They are incredibly helpful. Even if they can’t speak English they go out of their way to try and help you and communicate to you. They clearly want you to be happy.

They are very neat and tidy. There is no litter around at all. Even though it is pretty hard to find a public bin (some days we carried our empty bottles around with us for hours before we found a bin), there is no public littering. They have trash days when they put out their trash and then even they cover it with netting so nothing blows away inadvertently.

While they might not be litterers, they must be the biggest consumers of plastic in the world. Given how careful everyone else is in the world about plastic, the Japanese seem to love plastic and they don’t seem to recycle most of it either. Everything comes wrapped in plastic and often two layers of plastic. We bought cheese for lunch the other day and the cheese was wrapped in three separate layers of plastic and the biscuits had a plastic outer cover as well as plastic inner cover. They burn their trash using an incinerator so not sure what they do with the melted plastic in the end.

Japanese are rule followers. They always stand a red pedestrian crossing even if there is not a car in sight. We sometimes crossed and then only would they follow. We might have created some lawbreakers!

Their rail system is fantastic. You can basically travel anywhere in the country on the train. If you have read the blog consistently you would know that we often took 6-8 trains a day at some points. In the entire time we were in Japan (just over 2 weeks) only 1 train ran late and then it was only 1 minute late and they made a public apology for it. If you visit Japan, get a Japan Rail Pass before you come. It is definitely worth the money.

For all their technology, they are really backwards in the use of technology especially for things like train travel. You have to have a physical ticket – see our Japan Rail Pass below which you have to show every time we entered and exited. Compare that to London where you can tap & go to get onto a tube or train, it really is surprisingly backwards. In addition, the more outside of the main cities you travel, the less widely credit cards are accepted. You must have cash in those places.

The Japanese love vending machines. There are ones all over the place. Yes I really do mean all over the place. You are never more than 100m from a vending machine. But they don’t take credit card (see point above). You can generally get about 20 different types of drinks from a vending machine and there usually are two next to each so generally 40 different drinks available.

Japanese seem to like their coffee cold and not hot. Even at Starbucks you get asked ‘hot or cold’ every time you order anything. The majority of people are having iced lattes or something similar. The vending machines also always have some form of iced coffee drink. Besides Starbucks, forget about getting a decent coffee though. They are actually the 5th highest coffee consuming country in the world but they prefer to use the “siphon and pour over” techniques for making coffee (drip coffee). Apparently they drink more coffee than tea now but as I said, I reckon most of that is some form of iced coffee.

Japanese love muzak. In the elevators, in the malls, in the hallways of the hotel, outside shops, inside shops, as you’re walking down a random street …muzak playing. Generally it is some classical piano (think Richard Clayderman for those who know him) or some 60s/70s/80s/90s US song. They love Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley etc. Nothing recent or modern out of the US – must be 20 years or more ago it seems.

Japanese love kitsch. You could clearly see it at Universal City. Branded merchandise does extremely well here. Hello Kitty is massive. You see it everywhere. Apparently there are over 15000 Hello Kitty branded merchandise. Disney characters are also very popular. The queues at the World Cup merchandising stands were ridiculously long. You clearly must have merchandise for every event you attend. At breakfast they had the restaurant decked out in a Halloween theme. Christmas adverts already up.

You don’t see overweight people in Japan. They only have 4% of the population classified as obese. They must be the sumo wrestlers only because I never saw any of them. It is probably because they (a) walk a lot (b) cycle a lot (see next point) (c) eat a lot of fish.

Other things you don’t see a lot in Japan are petrol (gas) stations and banks. Besides one bank that I saw in each of Tokyo and Kyoto, I don’t recall seeing a bank. ATMs are prolific but not banks. I also wondered where everyone fills up their cars because you hardly see petrol stations and when we did there were not a lot of people filling up either.

Cycling is clearly the first method of transport anyone considers. They have paid bicycle parking. Cyclists don’t use the road, they use the pedestrian walkways. Even though the roads have markings on them for cyclists, no one seems to ride on the road. Helmets are entirely unnecessary. Never saw anyone wearing a helmet in 2 weeks. Mothers cycle with their children in seats behind them (sometimes even two seats for the children). You would think that Japan would as a result have lots of international cyclists but B reckons its because their legs are too short and their riding style wrong.

M’s pet peeve about the Japanese is they wander around and don’t walk in straight lines. People don’t really seem to be in a hurry ever. They are on their phones incessantly and maybe that is one of the reasons they wander seemingly aimlessly when walking on the sidewalks. It drives M insane. Their phone usage is a thing to behold though. At the restaurant 2 nights ago the man at the table next to us was on his phone the entire time except when he was eating – no conversation with his wife at all.

Japanese must eat out a lot. They have very basic facilities in their homes (from what we can see from the AirBnBs we stayed at) but there are thousands of restaurants around. It seems (from my quick google search) that what is quite common is that people buy pre-cooked food at a market, supermarket or restaurant and take that home to eat. Eating out though is expensive. Fast food will start at around R150 ($10) per person. Expensive restaurants will be very expensive – R3000 ($200) per person could easily be the cost for a good restaurant. The quality of the food is generally very good though. Their sushi is really in a different league to what I have eaten elsewhere but expect to eat sashimi, nigri and maki as the main items. The stuff we get at home isn’t ‘real’ sushi.

Every restaurant has chairs outside. Even if the place is empty they make you sit there first before they give you a table. Not sure if it’s because they just love queues (see point 2) or if it’s because they want everyone to think they’re busy or what. You should expect though to always be made to wait before you get a table.

Japanese toilets are a thing to behold. M has come to love the use of the ‘shower’ facility in the toilet. Don’t know how he is going to cope when he goes back home. Some of the toilets have a place to wash your hand on top of them. Very clever because when you flush the water runs into a bowl at the top and you can wash your hands. That water then flows into the cistern to be used for the next flush. That is a clever form of recycling and I wonder why we don’t have these back home. It really is sensible. The controls next to the toilet seats are amazing though. Still haven’t figured out what they are all for. Every Japanese toilet comes with a heated seat though. You can generally adjust the temperature as well. Now that is what I call unnecessary.

Japanese people don’t seem to feel the heat or sweat much. It was pretty hot and humid the whole time we were in Japan. Yet we would often see people wearing jerseys. Hardly anyone wear shorts. We were sometimes pouring with sweat and they were walking around like they were in Iceland in the winter!

Japanese woman dress extremely well. I don’t think I saw a poorly dressed Japanese woman – regardless of their age. Hair, makeup always done well. It is clear they take pride in their appearance. It was very noticeable and striking. I left this one for near the end of the blog for O’s sake (soon to become M’s wife) but I must admit it was one of the first things I noticed (M was well-behaved though O).

It also seems like there are a lot more Japanese woman than men. The ratio of women:men is 1.05 but it feels much bigger than that. It seems the women are often out and about. In restaurants you will often see tables of women meeting for lunch or dinner but never men. Apparently Japanese young adults are dating less and less. The men are socially awkward and some withdraw entirely from society. They are called hikikomori and they estimate that 600 000 young men (aged 18-30) now fall into that category. Young women are interested in pursuing careers and so dating has now fallen to an all time low. It is a further problem for the Japanese birth rate which is already pretty low at 1.45. Despite knowing all of this, we saw a lot of young families and young children in the main cities especially in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. It seems the older people live outside of the main cities.

Japan is very quiet. Eerily so at times. You wonder where the 140 million people are actually because unless it is rush hour, you don’t really see them on the streets. We saw the most people at the stations and on the trains. During the day they must be in their homes or at their offices and they don’t venture out a lot. But even when they are out, they are quite. They don’t talk loudly and their children are generally very well-behaved. Their cars aren’t noisy (many of them are hybrids) and I think we only heard someone use their hooter once. Once or twice someone on a bike would ring their bell at us but otherwise it is very quiet.

I know that is long but I hope it is worth the read! I certainly have enjoyed my time here and I know B & M did as well. It really was a great experience. If you have the means, I would say give Japan a visit!

P, M & B

Last day, last game

Yesterday was our last day & night in Japan and the last game we were watching (SA v Italy). We really had done everything there was to see in Hamamatsu so we decided to spend the morning in the room and leave for the stadium around 3pm. We had to take a train to the stadium this time – about 5/6 stops – 30 minutes roughly. We got off at Aino station which then requires a short walk to the stadium.

As we (and most of the train) exited, we were directed toward a fan area which had food stalls and a stage where various people were doing performances. There were a large number of Safricans around. M & I got some lunch of fried chicken, soba noddles (for M) and fries (for me). We sat on the edge of the area and ate our late lunch and watched the festivities. They started to play a South African house song (recognisable to both M & I but we don’t know the name). A large group of Safricans took over the stage and started dancing as only Safricans can do. The announcer said ‘5 minutes only’.

M & I then started walking up to the stadium. In honour of B we had one last soft serve ice cream as we headed up. The stadium is on the side of a hill and has a travelator to get up to it. Probably the longest travelator I have ever seen. Of course our seats were on the other side of the stadium so we had to walk right around the stadium to get to our seats.

M got his second cider of the trip (Japanese don’t do cider clearly) at the stadium and we were in our seats relatively early again (despite leaving much later). The atmosphere in the stadium was the best we have experienced so far. You could hear the Safricans singing the national anthem and there was definitely more support for the Springboks (even from the locals) than Italy. We really enjoyed the game especially since we were so dominant but the atmosphere really added to it as well. It was pretty chilly though and for the first time in over 2 weeks M & I put on a jersey towards the end.

As the game ended we headed out as quickly as possible knowing that it was going to be difficult to get onto a train as everyone was likely heading to the station. We walked very quickly and also did some good Safrican jaywalking to get past the baton wielding traffic police. We managed to pass a good few thousand people and into the station about 2-3 minutes before a train left. We headed to very last carriage which was relatively empty in comparison to all the other carriages. The train going the other direction was packed full though and they were literally pushing people in so that the doors could close (the classic Youtube clips you see of people being pushed into Japanese trains at rush hour).

We got back to the hotel at around 10pm. We are now on a Shinkansen train to Shinagawa where we change to a local line to Hamatsucho and then onto the Tokyo Monorail to Haneda Airport. Our flight leaves at 5pm for Singapore where we have two hours layover before connecting onto the flight back to Cape Town.

It was a really great trip not only experiencing Japanese culture and people but also watching the rugby. It is a country well worth visiting. I will send my summary thoughts of Japan later today as well so today you get blessed with a double blog!

Until next time (which will be a road trip in Dec/Jan) …

P & M

Hamamatsu Day 2

M & I have researched the area quite a bit and besides the city centre and castle (which we did yesterday), the only other thing that looked worthwhile to see/spend time at was Lake Hamana. It is actually strictly speaking a lagoon as it is connected to the Pacific Ocean but Japan considers it to be the 10th largest lake in Japan. The water in the lake is brackish because of the connection to the ocean though apparently it wasn’t like this until 1498 when an earthquake in the area changed the topography. The lake is well known as it is a key source of eel, nori (what is wrapped around maki), prawns and soft-shelled turtles. That means they are many restaurants in the area specialising in those delicacies especially unagi (freshwater eel). While we have tried many local Japanese dishes while here, eel & turtle aren’t two things I am rushing to eat. I have eaten eel before and really don’t like it (it is very fatty and rich). What further puts me off eating it, is that unagi is poisonous unless cooked – thanks I will give it a skip!

All of that to say that M and I though we should at least go and look at Lake Hamana. Unfortunately to get to the resort area requires a 45 minute taxi costing the price of my house or a bus (slightly cheaper at about $10) but it stops 26 times on route to the area. Neither of those were of interest to us so we decided to rather take the train (free because of our rail pass) to Bentenjima station which is on the southern most tip of the lake and to walk to the Nagisaen camping ground (didn’t know the Japanese would camp!) which would give us a view of the lake.

While walking up to the lake the locals were looking at us like we were lost. They were no doubt thinking ‘Who are these idiots and why are they here – the tourist area is 45 minutes away’. The camp site was deserted except for one tent with some people in it. It seems the Japanese don’t camp. Lovely flat field though that M and I thought would make for a nice cricket field. M decided to climb down and at least feel how warm the water was – I didn’t want to risk it in any case of a sudden tsunami given these signs are up in numerous places.

Having seen the lake, we headed back to the train and back to hotel for the balance of the day. We did make a quick stop at the supermarket to have some snacks & drinks available for the balance of the day. We headed out again for dinner in the evening. Given we have eliminated unagi as a meal choice, that does limit the number of restaurants available to us. M did some googling and found that one of the top rated restaurants was an Italian place with an Italian chef/owner. Given we are playing Italy next it seemed fitting to eat some Italian food. While expensive (and turned out to be the most expensive meal we have had in Japan), it was still reasonable versus what we could pay.

M & I had wine for the first time in a week (Italian of course) and we had Japanese Carpaccio for starters and seafood risotto for main course. Both were very good. It was definitely the best food we have eaten since we have been here.

One thing I keep forgetting to tell you about Hamamatsu is that the signs are all in 3 languages – Japanese, English and Portuguese. The latter might surprise you but it is because a large number of Brazilian Japanese moved here since the 1980s. Hamamatsu has the largest number of Brazilian Japanese at around 15000. The Japanese government is trying to encourage them to return to Brazil and has a programme running that pays them $5000 a person if they return to Brazil and commit to not come back to Japan. Seems a little strange given the Japanese population needs younger people to support their aging population but clearly they don’t want Brazilian Japanese to do that.

Until tomorrow and our last game and last night in Japan ….

P & M

Hamamatsu

We had breakfast included in our hotel rate and so M & I waited until towards the end of breakfast time to have breakfast so we could sort of combine it with lunch and skip lunch. The breakfast is a wide spread of both local and western type breakfast. Most importantly I can get an decent americano (or two) and not have to pay R65 (or more).

After breakfast M and I walked up to Hamamatsu Castle (about 1.5km from the hotel). It was built about 500 years using a stone packing technique. The stone packing is very strong because as you can tell the castle is still standing today. The castle itself (not the foundation bit) was damaged in WW2 raids but has been restored to its original condition.

The castle is surrounded by a park (surprisingly called the Castle Park!) and the grounds are quite extensive. It is a place of peace and tranquility. I said to M that you can see why gardens appeal to Japanese because they basically have no space at home (either inside their homes or around their homes). So you must value the open spaces you can access elsewhere. The different places in the garden had different significance but all the plaques were in Japanese only and google translate (while very handy for a trip like this) doesn’t do a great job on sentences.

As there isn’t a lot to do around Hamamatsu, we walked back to the hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon in the room. I managed to do some work and M wiled away the time on whatsapp and watching YouTube clips or whatever (and catching up on some sleep).

Later in the evening we headed out to get some dinner. We have eliminated the restaurants in the hotel as options as I don’t want to be bankrupt when I get home. One of the restaurants here has dinner for Yen20000 ($200 or roughly R3000) per person! There are a lot of restaurants around though at the station and also on the basement level of our hotel. We headed to the station and after not finding anything that grabbed our attention we realised we actually felt like a burger and so headed back to basement level where we knew there was a burger place. The only issue is that none of their staff spoke any English and our Japanese is limited to arigatou and hai (which the Japanese use a lot by the way).

The staff kept talking to us in full sentences like we could understand them and when we looked blankly at them they repeated it but much slower. It seems that speaking slower when people don’t understand your language isn’t just a think English speaking people do! Needless to say them speaking slower didn’t help us but we did manage to muddle our way through placing an order and we got the right things so we consider ourselves to have been successful. Japan does food well (whatever you end up eating) and the burgers were no exception.

And that was it for the day. Until tomorrow …

P & M

Travel to Hamamatsu

We checked out just before 11am and headed to our last stop on our Japanese tour. We were heading to Hamamatsu which is north east of Osaka on the coast. Multiple trains involved (as per usual) – train to Osaka, change onto a train to Shinosaka and then shinkansen from Shinosaka to Hamamatsu. There are a number of things that amaze me about Japan and I have only ever seen in this country (and I have been to quite a few). For example, I have never seen an escalator that starts as stairs, goes flat in the middle for a bit and then goes back into stairs again. I tried to capture it in the picture. It basically matches the profile of the staircase.

We arrived at just after 1pm. The hotel we are staying is the Okura Act City Hotel (https://www.okura-nikko.com/japan/hamamatsu/okura-act-city-hotel-hamamatsu/). It is only a short walk from the train station and is the only high rise building in the area.

Hamamatsu is a musical city and the building is designed to resemble a harmonica. The building has a concert hall and there is a musical museum also attached to the building. The hotel only occupies from the 30th floor upwards and there is an observation deck on top floor (45th). We are staying on the 34th floor and have views over the area out to the ocean. I tried to take a photo from the room window but it is almost impossible to give you a sense of how densely populated the area is. My wife always says photos need to be 2/3rd sky and 1/3rd land – I went with 2/3rds land and 1/3rd sky to try give you an idea!

As I mentioned, it is a musical city and the home to Yamaha – both the motor company and the music company are headquartered here. It is also the home of Kawai who claim to be the leaders in innovation around pianos (they apparently invented the digital piano and also pioneered the move away from wood to carbon for grand pianos). The prefecture (Shizuoka) is also the home of Suzuki and Honda.

Once we had checked in we headed out to the shops to find some lunch. We felt like some fresh fruit and so found a local supermarket and bought fruit, cheese and biscuits and some chicken skewers for lunch. It was a low cost approach which we then blew over dinner. Neither of us felt like doing much yesterday and so I did some work and we watched some movies. We went for dinner in the hotel. They have a teppanyaki restaurant and we wanted to give that a try but when we arrived we were told it was ‘full’ (in very broken English) though M and I could see that there were only 3-4 people in the restaurant! No amount of asking how it could be ‘full’ when then were only a handful of people occupying the place made any difference and so we headed off and went to the Chinese restaurant instead.

We had some dim sum, sweet & sour chicken and beef with oyster sauce. It was very good (probably some of the best food we have had since we have been here) but it was also very pricey. We will try and find a cheaper alternative for the next few nights!

Until tomorrow …

P & M

Osaka Day 2

The guidebook basically said Osaka isn’t a place to spend any time. If only we had read that before booking two nights here! It is a very modern city with hardly any tourist attractions. Universal Studios is one of the main attractions and that doesn’t hold any attraction for us. The people arrive in their hordes though to come to Universal City. It must be doing very well. It doesn’t seem to change much whether it is a weekday or a weekend either. It seemed as busy yesterday as it was on Sunday. It is also a must-do to dress up to come to Universal City it seems. Minions seem to be a firm favourite of the locals. If you’re not dressed up then the you must at least be wearing bunny ears, Mickey/Minnie mouse glasses, frog or fish headbands. Everyone has either one or the other. It also seems a great place to meet girls if you’re a single guy – seems like 2:1 girl:guy ratio visiting the place.

M woke up at 10:30am yesterday and as we were in no hurry to do anything I was quite happy to let him sleep. We had to go and book our train tickets for today and unfortunately there is a no ticket office at Universal City so we had to go into Osaka. We decided to just go the main train station to do it. Japan for being very advanced in many things, is still a little backward in use of technology for the trains though. Our rail pass is a paper pass and to book a seat on the shinkansen you have to go to a counter to do it (you can’t use the ticketing machines). Unfortunately it seems a lot of people need to go to the counters to do things so there was a LONG queue at the station.

After we had booked our tickets we went to find some lunch. The train station is built next to/underneath/on top off a massive underground shopping mall which also spreads to next to the station (yes I know it confusing but it is actually true). There is a whole complex of restaurants next to the train station and after walking past all of them we settled on a burger place (tired of Japanese food for the moment!). Despite tables clearly being empty inside they still make you queue outside first. Not sure so that it looks like they’re more busy than they really are or to make you appreciate your table more or whatever but it definitely is a ‘thing’ in Japan. The burgers were good though.

I had a call with the office in the afternoon so we headed back to the hotel for me to be able to do that and then after the call we headed out to the Dotonbori region of Osaka. It is an area of Osaka that runs next to the Dotonbori canal and is lined with restaurants and bars (including apparently some of the most famous Osaka ones). It required 3 separate trains to get there. It is one of Osaka’s most popular tourist spots and we can attest to that being true. It was packed with people and a lot of foreigners (most English I have heard spoken since we got to Japan). The area actually dates back to 1615 when a guy called Doton had the idea to build the canal and make the area into an entertainment and shopping area. He actually died before it was completed (a war interrupted the completion) but it was finally completed and it did bring a lot of trade to the area as he had hoped – even 400 years later that remains true!

We walked up and down and around the area trying to find a restaurant we felt like going to and eventually settled on an Italian restaurant. Yes we know we should have probably tried one of the local places but we really just didn’t feel like Japanese food again and so we went for pasta instead. The added bonus was that they had a large screen TV showing the Scotland v Samoa rugby game so we could get to watch some rugby while we ate. I had a seafood pasta which was very good and packed with seafood.

By the time we had taken the 3 trains back again, it was almost 10pm and so we headed to bed shortly after we got back to the hotel.

Until tomorrow …

P & M

Osaka

We traveled to Osaka from Toyota yesterday. It is a bit of a mission because it firstly required a 20 minute walk to train station – we tried to get a taxi but they said the taxi (sounded like the only one in Toyota!) would take 20 mins to arrive. Then a local train (private company run so required buying a ticket) to one station, change at that station and then onto another train (from same company). Due to me leaving the station accidentally (and the other two following) we lost our tickets for the connecting train. You can just walk through the barriers though (I am sure you’re not allowed to) but we did actually buy a ticket (we just accidentally used it in the wrong place) and no one stops you so we just did it. They probably thought these foreigners don’t know how to work the train system and just left us alone.

We then had another train (this time we could use our rail passes) to Nagoya where we changed to the shinkansen to Shinosaka. At Shinosaka we had to take a train to Osaka and then change again for our station which was Universal City. 6 trains later and we arrived at our station which is just 1 minute from the hotel we are staying at which is Hotel Keihan Universal Tower (https://tower.hotelkeihan.co.jp). I am not sure how we chose it but it is right on top of Universal Studios theme park (hence the name). It was probably cheaper than anything we could find elsewhere. The hotel is actually quite nice – the rooms being a reasonable size (being a key criteria) and 1 minute walk from train station being really helpful. Being right outside a theme park is a little weird though especially when all the stores and restaurants are places like GAP, TGI Fridays, Red Lobster etc i.e. all American stores and restaurants.

Takoyaki

It does have a Takoyaki section which is a local Osaka specialty. It is ball-shaped, made of a wheat flour-based batter and filled with minced or diced octopus. We thought we had better give it a try seeing we are in Osaka and so we had a selection of them for lunch. You pay for them at a machine and then hand your slip to the store and they then provide them to you. We shared a selection of 26 between the three of us and that was enough for lunch.

After lunch we headed to the only sightseeing place that seems worthwhile in Osaka and that is the Osaka Castle. It was originally a site of Honganji Temple but then in 1583 Hideyoshi Toyotomi decided to build it into a castle and he used the castle to quell the wars and unite the nation. It was then subsequently laid siege for over a year, destroyed in the attacks, rebuilt but the next Shogun, struck by lightening and burnt down, rebuilt and then burnt down again in 1868 following a battle but in 1931 was rebuilt again. It stands on a hill and is surrounded by both an outer and inner moat. The outer moat is 90m wide in one section.

We walked up to the castle and as we were walking to the stop M said ‘I think their plan was to tire out any armies before they got to the top’. It is pretty steep and you could see how difficult it must have been to penetrate and why a siege might have been the best option to force a surrender. In true Japanese style they have a time capsule up there too (you can see it in the photo above). It was done in 1970 and there are multiple levels. The top levels can be opened at the start of each century but the very bottom level (containing the majority of the time capsule) is only to be opened in 5000 years from when they did it which is 6970. Talk about forward planning!

We headed back to the hotel and rested for the balance of the afternoon and then went for dinner nearby. There are a lot of restaurants but not a lot of authentic places. It was B’s last night and so we felt we should at least eat Japanese and so eventually settled on a Japanese buffet style restaurant (also a must do according to the guidebooks). The food was ok but not spectacular – the best part was probably the soft serve machine for desert.

We said our goodbyes to B as he was leaving at 6am the next morning and headed off to bed. B messaged me this morning to say he had successfully made it to the airport and should now be on route to Singapore. M and I have one more night in Osaka. Thanks S for letting him come along with us – we really enjoyed our time with him!

Until tomorrow …

P, B (for the last time) & M

Game day

When in Toyota, what else should one do but go visit the Toyota museum. Having done our research that actually seemed to be the only thing to do. So we walked the roughly 2km to the museum and managed to kill close to an hour there. They do factory tours as well but unfortunately the assembly line isn’t operating on Saturdays so no tour was possible. M did his bit for the environment and generated some electricity without a carbon footprint riding a bike for 60 seconds. He generated 2.6W and the average usually is 2W so he clearly is above the average child that would ride the bike.

M also tried out a few Toyota’s including the ‘dog car’. You could get into most of the cars but a few you couldn’t. For instance they had a type of Toyota that is trying to compete with a Rolls Royce or Bentley – called the Century. It goes for half the price of a Rolls Royce but by everything I read about it (and you can too here – https://www.motortrend.com/news/we-dont-get-it/) it is actually better than a Rolls Royce. It will be used in the new Emperor’s inauguration ceremony. The royal family apparently already own 5 of them. I tell you this because it was locked and had stickers on the doors saying ‘This car is locked and cannot be entered”. But for Safrican royalty (like us), they come over and unlock it and let us get in and play around inside. We clearly looked wealthy enough to be a potential customer (well not M obviously because he was just playing around with everything).

We walked back to the hotel and killed a few more minutes walking around the local golf store (OK – you can sense there really isn’t much to do in Toyota). B went for a mid-morning/early afternoon run (impressive because it was pretty humid by this point). We left the hotel at 2:30pm with the plan to walk towards the stadium and get some food on the way. We walked past a type of combined department and supermarket store (first time we have actually seen something like this) and went in and got a fresh squeezed orange juice. Basically have to mortgage the house to pay for it but it was really good to have it – we all have been craving fresh juice (everything is from concentrate with preservatives).

Toyota Headquarters

We went into the Fanzone area to see if they had food in there. It was an indoor stadium with seating with one big screen TV and everyone was sitting quietly watching the game on TV. In fact they were so quiet we didn’t notice the people watching until we turned around to leave!

We found a sushi restaurant near the stadium and decided to have lunch there. When we walked in there was a lot of people shouting at us but we had no idea (as per usual) what we needed to do. Eventually I heard on the waitresses shout ‘Take a ticket” and realised there was a ticket machine to get a table. The number of guests was obvious but the follow up question left us stumped. Fortunately one of the people paying at the till came to our rescue and said ‘table’ or ‘counter’ and pressed the table button for us. Then the only problem we had was knowing when they called our number. We thought we quite clever in watching the other ticket numbers but unfortunately we didn’t factor into account single people sitting at the counter.

We did get to our table and the waitress showed us an iPad and put it into English for us with definitely helped with ordering. Sushi in Japan is basically nigri and maki and just varies by the type of fish. You can get some pretty weird stuff though (see pic).

There is always more fish than rice though (unlike back at home where the fish barely covers the rice). The rice is also slightly warm and moist and the fish always cold. It is quite reasonably priced in comparison to many other types of food. For example this meal cost us less than the burger and chips we had. The sushi is excellent and in particular the tuna. It was a pay by plate type of place and so we just kept ordering until we were full. The sushi is freshly prepared and really is excellent in comparison to what I have eaten before. The whole meal (and we must have had 13-14 plates) cost us R200 ($15) per person. We also got a free ice cream to finish because it was game day and we were wearing springbok shirts. B has been averaging 3 ice creams a day so that helped him keep up his average (he had an ice cream already after his run).

We headed for the stadium and arrived with just under 2 hours before kick off. Entry was pretty painless and quick and we found our seats very quickly too. They were behind the goal line that SA played toward in the first half and so we saw a number of the tries from a very good vantage point. The Japanese are very respectful watchers though. They sit quietly and hardly make any noise while the game is going on. It is quite freaky actually especially since we can hardly talk to the person next to you at the games we watch in SA. The biggest cheer went up just before the game kicked off when they announced that Japan had gone into the lead against Ireland and then again when they won their game there was a massive cheer. By far the majority of spectators at the ground are Japanese (maybe 75% yesterday). A lot of them were wearing Springbok jerseys though (and some kids near us wearing SA scrum caps as well!). They seem big supporters of the Springboks.

They are incredibly welcoming and friendly. I cannot express how much properly. On the way into the game they keep offering to take photos for you and it is absolutely no problem for any of the support staff to stop doing what they are doing and take a photo for you. They have also obviously been told to do ‘High Fives’ to welcome you – they call them ‘High Touch’ 🙂 – and to say goodbye again. They were lined up as we exited the stadium in tunnel format to High Touch us again. Everyone also kept congratulating us on our win (like we had personally packed down in the scrum).

We had a 30 minute walk back to our hotel and stopped on route to buy some snacks as we were pretty hungry by this point.

Until tomorrow …

P, B & M

Travel to Toyota

No I didn’t mean ‘travel by Toyota’, I really did mean travel ‘to’ Toyota because that is where the next Springbok game is taking place. Unfortunately it is not an easy place to get to especially not from Kyoto. It required us to firstly get to the station (just on 2km away). We would usually have walked but my feet told me to call an Uber instead. We then had to take the shinkansen to Nagoya. At Nagoya we took a regional JR train – one heads north and one east. It is easier and quicker to get to where we were staying by going east but unfortunately the train we got onto went north. We had to then change onto another regional line (local and privately owned line – read not covered by our JR rail pass and hence buy another ticket). Our station Shin-uwagoromo was about 1.8km from the hotel so we did the walk.

It felt like we had gotten off in the middle of nowhere. There was very little around – a few houses, some light industrial places, a few office buildings, some paddy fields etc. Really very different to the large cities we have stayed at so far. We got to the hotel at 1:30pm but they wouldn’t let us check in until 3pm. I am pretty sure the rooms would have been available but the rules say 3pm check in so you cannot check in before 3pm. Japan seems to be a rules based society. We went across to a restaurant for lunch and had fried chicken and gyoza. Fried chicken is a local specialty so we felt like we were doing the local thing. Back across the road to sit in the lobby with a whole lot of other Safricans waiting for the 3pm check in time.

The hotel rooms are the smallest room I have ever stayed in. They are supposedly ‘double rooms’ but it would be hard to fit two of me into the bed. Michael and I were originally meant to be sharing (because we could only get one room) but fortunately we managed to get a second room for him. He thought he would sleep on the floor otherwise but that would have been difficult too because there is hardly any floor space. For instance, if I push back the chair from the desk it hits the bed. I have to turn sideways to get up from the desk. The bathroom is so small that when I get up off the toilet I have to step out of the bathroom to be able to turnaround and flush the loo. The bed is like sleeping on a brick but I did manage to have a remarkably goodnight despite that.

M & B went for walk in the afternoon around the town – I decided to stay and catch up on some work and allow my feet some recovery time. They said there was not a lot to see (as we knew already). We went across the road for dinner to a Izakaya restaurant. It is a form of Japanese pub and is one of those things you just have to do if you visit Japan (apparently). We stumbled onto it as it was across the road! You get a private dining room for just you (comes with it’s own door). The idea is to drink as much as possible (it seems) while eating a little. There are lots of drink options. B & I ordered a beer (which we recognised) and when it arrived it was a massive 633ml bottle for each of us. The price was in line with what we had been paying for 300ml so it was actually good value.

What we ate for dinner!

Japanese travel sites describe the food at Izakaya as ‘goes well with alcohol’. There is no real style. You just order a bunch of dishes, eat, drink and then order some more. They bring you an iPad to do the ordering on. It was all in Japanese – thank goodness for Google translate. But even that was pretty dodgy at times especially when one of the options came out as ‘Snaked breath’. We gave that one a skip! We did order beef which came partly cooked and then they bring you a small gas burner and plate to cook it to your desired taste. We also had a seafood risoto (which B & I really enjoyed), some kind of chicken (which was very spongy – we hope it was chicken), some kind of minced chicken on a skewer (which came with a raw egg), french fries (never eaten those with chopsticks before). After dinner we went to a Baskin Robbins (US ice cream shop) for desert.

When we walked out M said ‘who thought the hardest part of tonight would be ordering an ice cream at Baskin Robbins?’ It really was. Not a word of English from the servers. You would think it isn’t hard to point to the flavour you want and get them to give it to you. The first time B did that he get a taster of that flavour. We then tried to show we wanted a scoop. But we couldn’t get them to understand 1 scoop only and in a cone. It was quite comical. We did eventually get the ice cream we wanted and then headed back to the hotel for the night.

Until tomorrow …

P, M & B

Hiroshima

Yesterday started earlier for B as he had to go to the train station before us. Why you might ask? Because he decided to launder his rail passes which was in his pocket when we did the washing the previous evening. Big signs up at the train station saying “We won’t replace your pass if you lose it, have it stolen or you wash it”. Given the cost, B reckoned it was important to try. Fortunately he was behind a New Zealander who had done the same thing and he spent 5 minutes arguing (and won) and so when B got to the counter they didn’t even argue – they just replaced it.

M & I walked to the train station (about 20 minute walk – 1.8km) and got there with enough time to go to Starbucks to get a coffee for me and sandwich and hot chocolate for M. We then had to take a train to Shinosaka (25 minutes local railway that traveled at 130km/h) and then at Shinosaka we changed onto the shinkansen to Hiroshima (which took 1.5 hours). About halfway in they apologised that the train was running slower than usual due to some work on the line and so we would arrive 3 minutes late into Hiroshima. We actually arrived only 1 minute late – some bloke probably got fired.

At Hiroshima we only wanted to see where the atomic bomb had been dropped. There is a series of monuments at Hiroshima in Peace Park. We could fortunately take a bus there (there is a sightseeing round trip bus from the train station which was included in our rail passes). We got off at the Atomic Bomb Dome. This is the exact place that the bomb exploded at 8:15am on 6 August 1945 above 600 meters above the ground. The ground temperatures below rose to 3000-4000 C and instantly killed everyone in the near vicinity. There are descriptions in the museum of people’s hair instantly on fire, people’s eyes popping out and very other gruesome results. Most of the buildings were instantly destroyed as well but because the bomb explored directly above this building, you can see that some of the structure remained and it has been preserved as a reminder of the bomb exploding.

What really struck me about all the monuments is how they talk about it being a monument to poor leadership and the results thereof. I doubt many other countries in the world would be prepared to so openly admit that it was their own fault. On one plaque they basically said this should stand as a lesson to future leaders and a reminder to all the people of Japan that if you elect and support poor leaders then this can be the result.

Whole park area was full of tourists and a number of school tours. There is a monument to all the children that were killed in the blast (many of them were working in factories at the time to support the war effort). The one school was singing a song at the monument when we walked past. We noticed that many of the school kids were talking to foreigners and then shortly after that a whole group approached us and asked (in English) whether we could answer some questions. They each had a line to ask in English (read off their books) after they introduced themselves. They asked where we were from (and we had to mark it off on the map – they were quite excited when we said SA) and why we came to Hiroshima. They asked us to write down our names and then gave us a gift from their home town and encouraged us to visit. It was very sweet. We regretted to not having taken a photo with them though.

The museum has all the names of the 320000 people killed through the bomb over time – about 120000 of those were immediate. It has photographs of all the ones they could find and brief accounts of their lives and how they were killed. There is also a round room with what Hiroshima looked like in October 1945 which they have compiled from photographs taken by US soldiers. I reckon those soldiers probably died later from cancer of some sort as they didn’t know the effects of the radiation. It is quite staggering to see the damage and destruction. There is also a movie relating the tale of the day from a few different people’s perspectives and an especially moving one from a school kid who eventually died 3 days after the bomb went off. Having seen the destruction I am staggered that it took two bombs to force a surrender from Japan. There is a cenotaph in the park which also has a flame burning in it. They will burn the flame until all nuclear weapons are destroyed.

We headed back to the train station on the bus and saw a little more of Hiroshima on the way back. There was only one remaining bridge after the war and we drove over it on the way back. They said most of the bridges had been bombed out prior to the A-bomb attack but whatever few were left were then destroyed on that day except this one. It was 2pm already at this point and we needed lunch so we had a traditional Japanese lunch from Lion Burger! All three of us really felt like a burger and chips and so that is exactly what we had. They were very nice burgers as well (and probably the most expensive ones I have ever eaten).

There was a shinkansen train on the platform when we arrived but it wasn’t the train we were booked on. We could see that in the non-reserved carriage there were plenty of seats so we thought we would take it instead and get back earlier. Big mistake. It stopped at numerous places on route and eventually arrived an hour later than our original train which left 20 minutes afterwards. In addition, it was slowed down by a ‘Human accident’ on the line so that didn’t help either. We got back into Kyoto at 6:30pm and then walked back to our AirBnB – just stopping on route to buy some stuff for another stir-fry dinner (we did pork this time but still cooked by Michael).

Until tomorrow …

P, B & M