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Two month of Japan

a travel blog by JuergenS

Hello to all of you!

I am going to travel through Japan for two months, starting July 10, and hope to create a blog that can represent my experiences, at least at a basic level. I plan to do this quite like a diary.

Having long since honed a desire for seeing the world, especially Japan, and being in the lucky position of having time and money align now, I am quite excited to set off!

One crucial part of this journey will be the language, and it will be interesting to see how far my Japanese will get me.
Oh, and don't forget the Japanese cuisine!
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My first post, Greetings to everybody!

Linz, Austria

Welcome to my blog!
I find it to be the perfect way of staying in touch with home and at the same time get some ideas from other travelers around the world.

Let me give you an outline of my upcoming journey through Japan:
I will start in Kyoto and stay in that area for about four weeks, experiencing one of the most famous matsuri (of festival) of all Japan, the Gion Matsuri. Most probably I will end up seeing all the major tourist attractions, but I will always keep an eye open for more hidden things, places to visit off the beaten path.
Some other places I will visit while having my home base in Kyoto are Hiroshima and Kanazawa.
After that I will move further north, to Tokyo, doing all the stuff to be done there and traveling its surroundings. This will include climbing Mt. Fuji.
I will take a week off Tokyo in mid-August and travel to the northernmost island of Japan: Hokkaido. There lies the great Daisetsuzan National Park, which I will explore for two days, followed by some time in Sapporo (great seafood around there). Don't expect updates 'till I'm back south.
At the end of August, my girlfriend will finally join me in Tokyo for the last two weeks of my, or now our, journey, which we will spend in Tokyo and Kyoto, before flying back home.

I expect this blog to be as much about culinary and food as about everything else, loving to cook myself, but lets see where this goes.

So long and stay tuned,

Edit: Updated the picture to one I took myself.

permalink written by  JuergenS on June 13, 2010 from Linz, Austria
from the travel blog: Two month of Japan
tagged Introduction and FirstPost

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Planning the trip, Countdown to lift off

Linz, Austria

So, it’s less than two weeks to go now, and things are busy with some leftover preparations and going over the plan in order to actually reach my destination. My things are mostly packed, the weight of the pack was checked and found to be bearable and there is plenty of room for souvenirs to be brought home (requests, suggestions?).

Talking about souvenirs: Gift giving and bringing souvenirs from travels is an art in Japan and quite essential. Thus, I will be bringing some souvenirs from Austria to give away. Just gotta find a way how to pack them…

Anyway, I think the first real challenge, after surviving 14 hours of flight, will be to get from the airport to the guest house in Kyoto I will be staying at the first few weeks.

Guest Houses:
I find guest houses to be the ideal accommodation for travelers who plan to stay an extended amount of time in one area. They are cheaper than hotels, you can get in contact with the house owner and other residents easily and comfortably and while not as authentic as staying with a host family, you still can get a pretty good feeling of the lifestyle of the locals. There usually are no meals included, but where is the fun in getting served all the time when there is an exciting city outside waiting to be explored (and many many foods to try)?

This particular house I will stay at, Yurakuso (http://homepage3.nifty.com/yurakuso/), is managed by a couple having accommodated travelers of all nations for 35 years and counting.
My guess is that I will arrive there at about 3 p.m., after roughly 20 hours of travel and I expect to be pretty tired by then, so taking a stroll near the Kamogawa river and grabbing something to eat will probably be all I’ll do that day. Perhaps finding a good map of the area, too.

I have got a Japan Rail Pass for the first week in Kyoto, so expect me to travel around quite a bit in that time and not so much to visit Kyoto itself. Gotta use what you have as long as it lasts, and the thing is expensive enough with the EUR/YEN rates and all.

After this first Rail Pass I still will have one 7-day and two 14-day passes to be used later, one other for Kyoto, one for traveling to and around Tokyo as well as for my stay in Hokkaido and one for the last week before flying home to Austria.

So long and stay tuned,

Edit: Updated the picture to one I took myself.

permalink written by  JuergenS on June 23, 2010 from Linz, Austria
from the travel blog: Two month of Japan
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Starting a journey

Vienna, Austria

Today is the day, all that planning done (at least the planning I am willing to do in advance) and my things packed I set off to the airport at 8a.m yesterday.

The first flight took 40min from Linz to Vienna, from where my flight to Narita started.
At 1:15p.m was the take-off from Vienna. I made some notes during the 11 hour flight, which I will now reproduce:

Lunch was served with 9h15min to go above Minsk: Curry. A lesson I learned: If you have to choose between a new white shirt and a new orange shirt, wear the orange one if you eat curry. The white one won't stay that color, trust me.
Nap after lunch, woke up above Moscow.

Seven hours to go, just woke up again. We crossed the Ural Mountains by then. Read a bit and watched a bit of a in-flight-movie. The selection was not bad and surprisingly up-to-date.

4,5 hours to go, above Irkutsk, it's dark outside. A snack was served: Instant ramen.
Ohropax and sleeping mask provided at least some sleep. Near-constant baby cries are hard to block off.

1,5h hours to go, slept surprisingly well, breakfast was served above Seoul.

Reached the airspace above Japan with 45min to go.

Stats of the aircraft I witnessed:
Speed: Between 900 and 1200+km/h
Height: Between 10000 and 12000m
40 rows, nine seats each, divided into sections of three.

I got a window seat during this flight, which has advantages and disadvantages.
+: View out of the window, this gets old after some time of just clouds however.
-: If the passengers next to you sleep, it's not easy to reach the toilett.
-: Getting your stuff from the overhead storage is hard.

We reached Narita at about 8a.m. and proceeded to check-out. Which took some time.
I got my Traveller's Cheques and my Japan Rail pass, held my first conversations in Japanese and traveled to Kyoto. More on this later.

So long and stay tuned,

permalink written by  JuergenS on July 4, 2010 from Vienna, Austria
from the travel blog: Two month of Japan
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Narita, Japan

permalink written by  JuergenS on July 5, 2010 from Narita, Japan
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Reaching Yurakuso

Kyoto, Japan

Having reached Narita, exchanged some money and got hold of my Japan Rail Pass, I headed off to Kyoto. Getting my ticket was easy enough, the change of trains in Shinagawa was manageable as well.
Ate my first Ekiben (station bento, see below) on the way and got a drink out of a vending machine. And yes, they are EVERYWHERE (even saw a construction site with a bit of a structure-to-be, some workers and, yes, a Coca Cola vending machine).

I reached Kyoto, got on a bus (flat rate 220yen) and got off at the stop specified by the owner of my first Guest House. Called him from there (Yay, my first phone call in Japan) and his wife picked me up and led me to Yurakuso.
The old couple I mentioned earlier and which is advertising on their site handed the business over to the next generation, their son and his wife (both really young) are now in charge.

The owner himself was not in but he was to pay me a visit (in order to show me around and collect the rent) later that evening. Was ushered to my room, started to unpack and took a breather. It has been 25 hours since I left my home in Austria by then.

Wanting to orientate myself, I started to explore my new neighborhood.
It is near the Kamo river (Kamogawa), a prominent river in Kyoto, and got some good oportunities for relaxing. Also, Yurakuso is near quite a number of temples and shrines as well as a street full of places for shopping and eating. Will explore those later.

<-- Oh, and I found this in the window of a local stonemason next to Mickey Mouse.

Bought something to drink and called home for everyone to know I arrived and went to sleep.

So long and stay tuned,

permalink written by  JuergenS on July 5, 2010 from Kyoto, Japan
from the travel blog: Two month of Japan
tagged Arrival and Kyoto

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Kanazawa, Japan

Woke up late, nevertheless a bit tired and with a beginning headache today. Downed the litre water I bought yesterday along with some aspirin. Considered canceling my trip to Kanazawa, decided to just go for it in the end. After all, they say that a journey is the most enjoyable with a lot of spontaneity. It was already noon but I headed out. Turned out to be a mistake.

I went via the Thunderbird Special Express to Kanazawa, a trip taking about two hours. Sat next to an old couple which was quite entertaining. First of all, Kansai-ben is <3, if I may put it like that. Also I never met anyone who was impressed by literally EVERYTHING in the scenery before witnessing this woman. The husband was pretty quiet and downed one beer after another.

Well, having reached Kanazawa I decided to walk through the city instead of using public transit, which worked quite well. Was glad to have a compass at hand, however.

My first stop was Omicho market. I love such markets and this one was no disappointment. Lots of fresh seafood, lots of fruit and lots of foodstuff.

Also, this was the first time I heard Japanese shout on the top of their lungs, praising their goods. The three employees of this shop topped each other with their yelling.

Bought a snack and some giant apples and was off to the next thing to see, the Nagamachi Samurai District.

This area, although with questionable authenticity of the houses, shows how the warriors of old lived. As nice as the scenery was, it didn't impress me much. The cars parked next to the classic samurai houses kinda killed the illusion.

The Kenrokuen on the other hand fulfilled my expectations, is was as beautiful as described. Labeled one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan, is got a lot of water, fascinating greenery and some statues, fitting nicely in their surroundings. Admission was 300yen, well worth it.
Here are some pictures:

Near one of the entrances of the garden I found a small shrine with sake barrels stacked next to it. These are offerings to the shrine, probably due to tomorrow being Tanabata.

I didn't really have the time to visit the castle park or the castle itself in Kanazawa, but decided to go for a tip in my travel guide: A sake brewery.
Things went downhill from there. And I am not talking about a soft, gentle hill surrounded by grass, I am talking about a high and steep kind of hill, surrounded by flat concrete to fall on. Probably some stone spikes too.

Well, I didn't find the brewery and decided to go back, stopping for an hour or two in Kaga for a quick soak in one of its four onsen. Unfortunately either not all trains from Kanazawa to Kyoto stop in Kaga, or my info was false, leading to the last train from Kaga to Kyoto departing about two hours too soon, leaving me with too litte time to visit a bath. Decided to grab something to eat (turned out to be ramen) and buy some stuff in a nearby mart.
Long story short: I didn't make it the last train and had to spend the night at the station. Not IN the station, as it closed pretty soon after the last train left, but AT, meaning on a bench at the nearby bus stop.
Got a bit of sleep and took the first train back home, which departed at 5:30. Will probably change my plans a bit and stay at home tomorrow.
Spontaneity my ass.

So long and stay tuned,

permalink written by  JuergenS on July 6, 2010 from Kanazawa, Japan
from the travel blog: Two month of Japan
tagged Scenic

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Preview: Eiheiji

Kyoto, Japan

I will visit the Eiheiji temple tomorrow, one of the two main temples of the Soto sect (Zen Buddhism). It consists of about 70 buildings and is well visited all year long.

As for today, I spent the day at Yurakuso bringing sleep, hydration and personal hygiene to Normal levels and relaxing.

Stay tuned,

permalink written by  JuergenS on July 7, 2010 from Kyoto, Japan
from the travel blog: Two month of Japan
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Fukui, Japan

Made my way to Fukui today, which is on the same track as Kanazawa. Had a pretty fun conversation with the Japanese man I sat next to. Gave me opportunity to use my Japanese outside of ordering food and buying tickets. Small confidence boost *g*

Eiheiji is quite easily accessible from Fukui station by bus (a special bus is available). As I mentioned in my Preview post, it's a main temple and therefore quite big. Visitors are welcome (quite a lot of money is made this way after all) but have to abide by the same rules as those staying there for spiritual guidance or the study of Zen (e.g. no shoes inside, no provocative clothing, no shouting).

Before entering the complex itself, I took a look at the garden surrounding the temple and found a graveyard and some beautiful scenery.

The temple was pretty much what I expected, but the tour to see the seven main buildings and halls was pretty neat.

The four guardians of Buddha where present as well.

The main corridor before leaving the temple was stacked with heirlooms of the temple and with pictures like this one:

On my way out I bought some special Eiheiji sweets and made my way back to Fukui. I was pretty surprised who was waiting there for me:

Yes, that's a Dinosaur in a white suit reading a book and holding a Lizard Skull. Apparently he advertises a local Dinosaur exhibition.

Wandered to Fuikui some time, ate Sauce Katsudon (which was mentioned in my Lonely Planet, good choice). Also, it seems there are Votes coming up in Fukui, as quite some cars like this where driving around. They have speakers proclaiming reasons to vote for their respective candidate. Gets annoying after some time.

So long and stay tuned,

permalink written by  JuergenS on July 8, 2010 from Fukui, Japan
from the travel blog: Two month of Japan
tagged Temple and Scenic

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Preview: Hiroshima

Kyoto, Japan

For the next two days I will be exploring Hiroshima. While known to the world pretty much only as the target used for testing "Little Boy", it actually is an thriving and lively town. The attack killed one third of Hiroshima's inhabitants, and approximately as many in the years to follow, but the people recovered and are now as proud as one can be of their very own culture. There are lots of shopping and entertainment districts/streets and a lot to see.
But of course, the Peace Memorial Park, Museum, the Flame of Peace and the Bakudan-Dome remain the number one reasons for tourists to visit.

So long and stay tuned,

permalink written by  JuergenS on July 9, 2010 from Kyoto, Japan
from the travel blog: Two month of Japan
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Hiroshima - Touching history

Hiroshima, Japan

My two-day trip to Hiroshima started, as always, by getting on the train at Kyoto station. After arriving, I toured the station building of Hiroshima a bit (all major stations are huge, multiple storeys, lots of shops (food and other)) and then made my way to the Youth Hostel. I figured it would be a good idea to exactly know where it is and how the buses are scheduled, as the Hiroshima Youth Hostel has a curfew. The walk there from the bus stop didn't seem so long, so so uphill, on the map online, but oh well.
Got there, payed and was off again, this time to the Peace Memorial Museum, located at the south end of the Peace Memorial Park.
On my way there I took a picture that for me really brings out the nature of Japan: A small shrine surrounded by high buildings on a livley crossroad. Indeed, where the past meets the future (I heard that slogan quite often already).

Walked along the Promenade of Peace and reached the museum. Admission is 50yen, audio guides are available but not really necessary if you can read English. This museum depicts the horrors of the attack as well as the way leading there and the path Hiroshima took from there on. I didn't shoot many pictures in there (it's not forbidden, just don't use a flash), they wouldn't convey the atmosphere inside anyway. There is a room with big before-after miniatures of the city, there are whole walls lined with international letters of protest, there are medical descriptions of the consequences, there are areas where walls and parts of homes where restored to show how the heat and radiation of the bomb warped, fused and destroyed everyday life. There even is a wall with a shadow eternally burned into it where a human stood at the time of the impact.

The story of Sawako, the girl believing in the legend that folding a thousand paper cranes will bring you happiness is also there, along with some of her cranes. She didn't reach her goal and died of radiation-induced Leukemia. Her classmates, however, finished her task and the story of the thousand paper cranes became known worldwide.

What probably touched me most was the video-area where witnesses and victims give there testimonies of those days, how their bodies reacted, how they lost everything and still held on to life.

There are only very few pictures in existence of the first hours after the detonation. A photographer was at the scene, but he was only able to take fife shots and it took him 30 minutes to bring himself to do that much. After those, his vision became too clouded by tears for all the horrors he witnessed.

After leaving the museum I walked through the park, saw the A-Bomb Dome, a building near the point of explosion that survived the attack (even through everything combustible inside was immediately destroyed). It was preserved as a reminder.

Framed here you can see the place where the flame of peace is kept, which burn as long as there are nukes on this world.

I rung the Bell of Peace and and left.

It was late afternoon by then and I decided to take a look at the lively entertainment areas of Hiroshima. I strolled through the nightlife areas and arcades and ended up eating at Okonomimura, a three storey area which consists of 25 stalls selling the same thing: Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki, one of the local specialties. The food was great, but it became really really hot while sitting to the hot plate (on which they are made, teppanyaki-style), eating piping hot food still on that plate.

Oh, and I found this add. Yes, they really sell those things, about 9EUR and it is yours.

Back to the station and subsequently to the Hostel I crashed, tomorrow I will take a look at Miajima.

So long and stay tuned,

permalink written by  JuergenS on July 10, 2010 from Hiroshima, Japan
from the travel blog: Two month of Japan
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