Blatherings on a trip to Japan. A travelogue from the BC era

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Blatherings on a trip to Japan. A travelogue from the BC era

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Postby Dartz » Sat Apr 18, 2020 5:46 pm

A bit of an effortpost. This'll be long and rambling and utterly pointless. I mean, I think it skirts around the kernel of some ideas, but it never hits them. Still, it's something that's not Covid related.

TL;DR Went to Japan.
Saw a Museum.
Climbed a Mountain
Got fat and Drunk
Visited a castle.
Visited a Shrine
Stayed in an Inn
Bathed in a Hot Spring
Went over a Volcano
Took a boat ride
Visited another Castle
Wandered around Tokyo
Bought some shit
Realised I'm getting older
Took a stroll in a garden
Got drunk
Went home
Will go again.

But there's more to it than that. Multiple posts worth.

The holiday in truth began over fifteen months before departure date, with a promise to go to Japan 'at some stage' during the Rugby World Cup. It seemed like a good idea at the time. The oulfella was turning sixty and might not be able to travel for much longer, and two weeks in Japan seemed an easy ask from work.

For months I watched the prices of the flights, trying to work out what the budget might be.

The RWC had an obvious affect. Prices were twice as high as they should've been - to the point of near unnafordability. The Irish team was still looking good to go all the way to the finals, and half of Dublin 4 was merrily booking out flights .

Not to mention the English, the Welsh, the Scottish and the French.

Nobody yet knew what a mess the Six Nations would be. People were still optimistic.

I checked prices religiously every morning for nearly three weeks in the office. Remarkably, for the final few days before the RWC final - prices dropped back to their sane levels. Demand was still high enough to jump the price of a flight by fifty euro from the time I checked in the morning, to the time I got home. With 350 days to departure, we were booked and confirmed with KLM.

They give me four seats on an airplane, for in exchange for 800 hard-earned Euros per seat.

Accomodation was booked soon after. Three nights in the centre of Hiroshima. Three Nights in Shinsaibashi, Osaka. Three Nights in hot-spring Ryokan in Sengokuhara, Hakone. Four Nights in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Then Home. Leave Ireland on the 30th of October, arrive on the 13th of November.

After that, there was only time. And the incessant googling of 'Days until October 30th'. Whenever work got tough and I got into the misereable place, at least I could remind myself that I had plans to look forward to. I just had to make it.

The year ground slow. The Clusterfuck of Brexit made things steadily more and more expensive. All the Hotels were booked in Yen. I had time to worry about what I'd forgotten, what I'd missed and what the fuck could go wrong - the dread sense that everyone's expensive holiday would be ruined and it'd be all my fault. Little things like Insurance and a JR pass are sorted. The last thing I do, is buy some rolls of film and a brand new lens for my EOS 650 cameras.

Work changed from tiring and misereable, to busy and tiring. I get warnings for being down. I get praised for picking up months later. Two colleagues left, two more joined - and they were still getting themselves to speed

When people realise you're going away, they want everything done before you go - just in case it might be needed when you're not there. I start to wonder if all I achieved by taking a two week holiday was to make the two weeks before - and two weeks after, a living hell of things to get done. I'd deliberately left a single day between the October Bank Holiday and departure day to wrap things up and take care in handing things over.

Halfway around the world, I'd be completely beyond contact. Intentionally so.

Instead, I'm spending two hours crashing together a 'basic state of play' email, leaving the office an hour and a half after I meant to, and finishing off a software program that might be needed as soon as I get home. This is the point the oulfella chooses to check if any of his medicines are actually illegal - something I'd mentioned months before. In the end, we figure they're probably fine - no stimulants or opiod derivatives.

The travelling group assembles for the first time.

Our group is meself, the oulfella, the brother and me mate. We are four. The oulfella is past sixty and doing the retirement thing after completing his lifetime employment - the strag of the group, the brother podcasts, doesn't drink and works as a tourguide over the summer, and me mate's like me - either winners, or runners up, at the pub quiz at the local anime con.

This is followed by celebratory pints, a few hours drunken sleep, and an early morning start to the airport.

Celebratory pints are regretted - my head is full of nose-goo. Early mornings in the airport aren't. The views of the lights out the window are always beautiful. Cities need more colour at night like this. We take our places at the checkin line and are are made to remember our place as every single passenger who arrives at the priority line gets served before anyone in the normal.

The preflight meal is a massive slab of burger from the airport Burger King.

It doesn't kill last night's pints before the morning flight begins boarding. All four members of the travelling party are seated at the back of an Embraer 190 aircraft. The seat is comfortable. The in-flight snacks are tasty and fresh. The view out the window is spectacular, with the sun streaming through the clouds over a darkened Dublin City. I snap a well-branded shot out the window , while simmering in anticipation of the journey ahead


My head explodes from the change in pressure - especially on the descent. The pain lasts all through Schiphol airport, and through the next takeoff.

The 777 is a larger aircraft, with more space for the legs, and an inflight entertainment system with a gammy jack. But if it can be sat in just the right position to work and it doesn't cause trouble. By the time twelve hours have passed, my head has cleared.

There is something deeply magical about flying that is too easy to forget these days. Siberia rolls past below in darkness. The northern lights are visible off the wing as a dim green glow. It feels adventurous in a way that flying generally doesn't anymore. It's feels like a journey out of a different time, from when flying was an adventure rather than a fussy routine. The aircraft becomes a comfortable home for twelve hours, while we're given dinner, snacks and breakfast.

Narita airport in Tokyo greats us with a warmth that does not belong to Halloween. Customs welcomes us to the country with fussless efficiency and a stamp in the passort and we are unleashed on Japan.

Being so far from home feels strange.

JR passes are received while I sweat from the heat. It is perfectly acceptable that I sign for all four passes by myself while everyone waits outside. I appreciate the pragmatism of not having the office clogged up with four weary travellers and their luggage. The ticket agent books our first trip all the way through to Hiroshima station from the airport.

The smallfella gets a local SIM - causing a few minutes of hilarity by dropping his own microsim on the floor. He crawls along the floor with the kiosk attendant looking for it, while I worry about missing the train.

Meself and me mate use prepaid eSims on our phones - both of us being DualSIM. Either approach works fine - but I've me own SIM for making phonecalls home. I think having a Dual SIM phone is a blessing for trips like this.

The Narita Express Carries us first through fields, and then what feels like an eternal city before we reach Tokyo proper. A Hikari express Carries us to Kobe. A Sakura train completes the trip to Hiroshima. A trip of near 1000 kilometres is covered in about 7 hours - allowing for waiting. The Shinkansen is a marvel of comfort and speed- smooth, unobtrusive and meticulously efficient with only the turbine-like whine of the motors and the calm voice of the electronic annoucements for company.


I'm asked why we didn't just crash overnight in Tokyo - rather than spend another 8 hours travelling. It seemed logicial at the time - we'd basically lose two days to travelling, rather than the one if we did that, and I always wanted to finish in Tokyo, rather than racing for the plane across the country.

It means 30 hours straight of travelling before we make it to Hiroshima. Night falls far quicker in Japan compared to the lingering twilight we get at home home and it's well dark by the time we find our way out of the train station. Somehow, the night even seems darker.

A city bus takes us the few stops from the trainstation to the hotel. You board by the centre door, take a ticket with a number on it, then follow that number on a screen in front of the driver. It tells you what fare to pay when you get off the bus. A distinctly logical system that'd never at all work at home. The bus is full of partygoers heading to a halloween celebration. We're too tired to appricate it. Maybe we'd arrived a day too late to have fun.

On arrival at our hotel in Hiroshima, checkin is quick and painless. I grab a can from the vending machine down the corridor before dozing off. The nightime view out the window is spectacular - a crescent moon looming over the quiet Peace Park and the shimmering river below. The room isn't spectacular - it's small and old, but it's not bad. Not obnoxious and definitely not uncomfortable or dirty. The aircon works to keep the room cool and dry and the controls are non-complicated. It's a bed, a bathroom and a desk with a television. Nothing more is needed. The shower is hot and freshens up after well over 24 hours of solid travelling.

People complain too easy in these days of Tripadvisor and Yelp. It's like they want to find things wrong, to give themselves more to say. The internet loves misery.

The first day of November greets us with what in Ireland would be a warm summer day. The Sky above is blue. The river below had been drawn out to a thin trickle by the retreating tide. The mountains surrounding the city like castle battlements are green, fresh and tantalisingly close. The peaks are incongruously sharp, close and new compared to the weathered rolling hills of home. We can take it all in from the top floor restaraunt of the hotel having breakfast.


The Peace Museum is open early. Fed and watered for the day, we head across just in time to be snarled up in the early morning school tours. I get the sense of being constantly in the way of the crowd despite doing my best to stay out of the way. Most, I guess, are elementary kids with a few from a Junior high group. I'm guessing at ages and I pity those who have to walk around in the sunshine wearing the full black formal uniform.

That has to be a cruelty to children.

The museum is different from our previous visit. In 2016, the renovations were underway. In 2019, they'd been finished. Where once we'd been guided through each individual affect of the bomb and how it related to Hisohima, now the events are far more personalised, accompanied by photographs and illustrations drawn by the survivors. The museum introduces to the individual people of Hiroshima, and what they were doing at the time of the explosion, and how they came to be exposed to the bomb. Of all the things in the museum that stick with me, it's the very specific choice of words that accompany many of the exibits. The four words 'Exposed to the Bomb' linger long in the mind, representing something far more than a weapon - instead, it's more like a poison. Something toxic and noxious that came of its own accord into their ordinary day.

Another exhibit is a schoolgirls' bag, found in the rubble, with her class and company badges still pinned on. A middleschooler peers in at it, with her class badges on her bag hanging from her shoulder.

I ponder on that for a moment, before following the crowd to the new wing where the Dangers of Nuclear Weapons are discussed.

The museum succeeds in turning 80,000 into more than a statistic.

We leave the museum and walk through the busy Peace Park towards Hiroshima Castle.

The park is alive with people. A group of yooung children with their uniform yellow caps gather under Sadako's memorial, each taking their turn to ring the bell. Photographers cluster at the base of the A-Bomb dome for the best shot against the blue sky. I remembered meeting Jimmy Murakami a few years prior, as he walked us through a film of the building, taken for a documentary he'd been working on where he talked about the disrepair the building had found itself in. When you look closely, you can see how carefully it has been maintained. The building itself has been meticulously preserved as it was left - permanently lying in state as it was left at 8:16 on August 6th.

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Three years ago, it'd been empty beneath a grey, rainy sky, it had been somber and dead with flickers of colour provided by paper cranes. It seemed to suit the scene.

Today the city is alive beneath the sun. They say you'll never visit the same place twice. Everywhere changes.

Hiroshima Castle has been rebuilt in concrete and steel to look like its former self. Inside is a museum to the history of the city - the centuries of Lords and Wars before August 6th 1945. I am astonished at the age and preservation of things. Ancient letters between officials in meticulous calligraphy. Steel swords, centuries old but still brand new sit in glass cases, liquid reflections from the lights overhead running like a river along the steel.

Photographs are forbidden. It doesn't stop a group of schoolgirls from flouting the rules. Their camera makes a distinct shutter noise. With my EOS650 around my neck, the security guard glares daggers at me - but the lens cap's on my camera.

An observation deck on top of the Castle gives a good view of the new city built up around the park.

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In the castle-grounds, colourful Koi bob up for treats dropped by tourists. A small unmanned stand sells them on the honour system. Another thing that'd likely never work at home. The castle shrine has been specially prepared for a ceremony, with viewing stands set up for visitors who haven't arrived. An elderly couple drive up to have a brand new car blessed by the priest. It's dusted down for evil spirits with paper streamers. They're followed by a steady stream of formally dressed parents, with their young children dressed in traditional clothes. The colours are stunning. We sit and watch while eating ice-cream and drinking water in the shade.


On the walk back to the hotel Children from an Osaka elementary assault us seeking to practice their English. They surround us in their blue summer uniforms, seeking foreigners to complete their assignments. I debate messing with their heads in true Irish fashion - but there's something about their innocence that stays my jaw. I answer their questions. Their handwriting is far better than mine.

My scrawl has befuddled Doctors.

By eveningtime, the oulfella has located an 'Irish' bar from where to watch the match with the All-Blacks. I'm quietly cursing them for not putting the wheels off the Chariot in the last round and saddling us with a full flight over. He's taken it upon himself to add the air of authenticity to any Irish bar he finds. I follow up after an hour catching up on the goings-on in the office.

Google maps suggests I take a tangled route through the city side-streets. I take a walk along the riverbank instead, under the cool shade of the trees and bushes buzzing with life. My walk carries me right under the spot where the Bomb exploded, passed the gas-lamp memorial for the city gasworks nestled in the bushes.

In Hiroshima you are never far from The Bomb. Outside the Peace Park, it lingers as a quiet memorial. You might find a plaque describing a building that once stood - a military storehouse, a school, a radio-station which survived. At the same time, The Bomb is not Hiroshima - there is far more to the city than one moment. What happened in the past is still here, but at the same time it's not where we are today.

I do not remember much of the match. I remember receiving a plate of food far too large for one person - realising that what would be a sane price for a single portion in Dublin, is enough for an entire table's worth of food. We each ordered what we thought would be enough for One. Far too much is left behind as a result.

The Guinness, we are dissapointed to find, has not travelled well - having picked up a metallic tang from the keg. All of it is made in James's Gate in Dublin - or so I'm told by the person once responsible for making it. It is also painfully expensive, giving Oliver St.John Gogarty's a run for their money. Local beer is cheaper, and excellent in quality. I would like to see the Japanese interpretation. It'd be better if it was made by the lads up at Saporro rather than shipped around the globe.

Morning is bright and warm. The plan had originally been to go to the Mazda museum but it's booked out. Instead, the island Itsukishima is our destination for the day. It's a tram, a train and a ferry away - if we take the free JR pass route. Or a five minute walk to a 45 minute paid boatride that's cheap and convenient. Being Irish, this is a serious debate. But the time and hassle saved is worth the money.


The boat is nowhere near full - with only one elderly photgrapher and a group of middle-aged men with a bag of cans on an outing. We pass a Mitsubishi aircraft factory that might once have built the wings for our 777.

The oulfella wonders allowed if they ever made Zeros there. My first instinct is that it's a crass question to ask - but honestly, that'd been cool if it was true. And I would've liked to know.

The island is hopping with tourists. The JR Ferry had been filling it up since early with eager tourists. There's the essence of a quiet, out of the way spot, but it's heavy with people enjoying the good weather. People. and deer - curious, hungry deer which are utterly fearless of human beings and more than happy to pick up any food that's been dropped. They're short, nimble and agile and will take anything left down.

Stone lanterns line the seafront, and smaller shrines are passed ignored by other tourists. Shops and stalls offer fried snacks that quickly make a full stomach hungry again, or souvenirs that would challenge you ability to carry them home.

The famous Tori gate is clad in scaffolding to prepare it for next year's Olympics. The shrine is so full, we give up on trying to get in. It can't be helped, really. It's not a dissapointment - it's just the way it is.

I think it would've been nice to stay a night or two and see what it would've been like when the daytrippers left and everything went quiet, but suppose it's a lot like traffic. You aren't 'in' traffic, you 'are' traffic.

We walk through what feel like they were once quiet village streets, taking in a coffee at a brand new Starbucks already playing Christmas tunes before promising ourselves to return to the island's microbrewery next door once it's open and serving beer.

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We pass through the crowds to the Aquarium, joining on with another school tour. It doesn't feel particularly fancy - but it is well managed - and fascinating to see what lurks within the deep. There is no Godzilla - but there are penguins and a sealion show, and a special exhibit dedicated to traditional goldfish. It's a cool, airconditioned way to kill an hour or two.

We step back out into the crowd, passing by smaller shrines in the shadow of the brilliant red five-tiered Pagoda before climbing up to Daisho-in Temple. The steps leading to the temple give me the first taste of the climb to come later in the day.

Inside in the gloom where we're not permitted to enter - a statue of the Buddha gazes out with patient serenity, waiting in the shade beneath gracefully arched tiled roofs and meticulously carved timber beams. I wonder at the people who had the time and will to invest in such. It feels like I'm looking at sum of hundreds of lifetimes of quiet dedication. I take a drink of water in the shade in what I think is supposed to be a smoking area. We wander the temple grounds for a few minutes but leave far too quickly with the feeling that there were a hundred more moments to be found away from the crowds where the peace of the temple still remained.

I've seen the temple, but I feel like I haven't really been there.

The path back down from the temple affords a view out of the Seto Inland Sea past the five tiered Pagoda


For reasons beyond sanity, we choose to head up to the top of Mount Misen. With the help of the ropeway, it should only take an hour and a half to get there and back, and that's perfectly timed to put us back down at the brewery right as it opens for business.

We pass through a quiet forest, stopping at a forest café for a bottle of water. Another quad of PET bottles find a home in my backpack. Fortunately, they crunch down to nothing. One trail gives us the brave option of making the entire climb on foot, with boars and snakes and monkeys for company - the second gives us the more popular option of taking a ropeway.

Two different cable cars carry us a kilometre and a half above ground level, to a station not far below the summit of the mountain. Below, the forest is impenetrable - a dense canopy of lush green trees even in November. Not far above, a high station on the summit promises an even better view.

We're not the only ones. Half the island is making the same trip up the same path.

A sign warns of poison snakes on the trail. We don't have snakes at home. The thought occurs to me - I've seen an SR71 - will I get the chance to see a real Habu?

After I get home I read that they live in Okinawa.

Another sign warns that there's no water to be had at the top of the mountain, so we'd best stock up. I grab a bottle and think that'll be enough.

The 'climb' begins with a steep decent down a concrete path. With each step, the high station gets further away, and the day seems to get warmer. Already, the local grannies are outrunning us.

The group splits, the oulfella and my brother accelerating ahead of myself and my mate. They're in shorts and a light t-shirt. I'm in industrial boots, jeans and a heavy t-shirt, with the EOS650 around my neck, and my backpack on my back. My mate's wearing black jeans, sneakers and a Berserk t-shirt.

After dropping into a valley, it then begins to climb


I regret working at an office desk for ten hours a day.

The boots, however, prove their worth. The boots carry me along the path with rugged traction, through threes and forests, past stolen glimpses of the sea below, between rocks and boulders and up concrete staircases.

We're clearly completely out of our depth.

Reikado Hall with its eternal flame acts as the halfway point. Inside, a flame has been continuously burning since a time when Dublin City was a few scruffy buggers in a hut beside a black pool on a wide shallow estuary.

Outside It's bustling with climbers heading up, or coming down along with families, toursits and retirees. Myself and my mate take a rest. I wonder where my bottle of water had gone, before I remembered I'd gargled it down somewhere in the valley.

A small fridge has Ramune. Hideously expensive Ramune. I wonder how they got it up there. But it's probably better than water when you're sweating buckets.


After a few minutes recovering, a steep flight of stairs shows the way to the summit. Both of us are bollocksed by the time we get to the summit of the stairs - maybe twenty meters up. The mountain's summit is still far ahead.

Some grannies from the station leave us in the dust. My heart bangs away at something over 200bpm. But we still keep going. Failure now would be utterly humiliating. Neither of us would hear the end of it. Huffing, puffing and growling our way up the slope.

Someone gives us a polite Gambatte!. I appreciate the gesture. Maybe they took pity on us.

I do wonder how the paths were built. I wonder at the people who moved the timbers from the forests to make the temples. I start to wonder if SoraNews will have an article tomorrow abour the tourists who had a heart attack climbing the island like idiots.

A corner in the path reveals a small shrine - barely large enough for a person to sit. Even the concrete for the steps, and for the rain gullies in the path, seem impossible somehow. The path goes on and on and up and up. Another flight of stairs. A step through some stones. The summit is forever invisible, always further away than we've already come.


Until it's not.

Just over a rock waits the final station.

It feels like far more of an achievement than it should be.

The last climb is to the observation deck, for the best view. It was worth everything, In one direction, the Seto Inland Sea dissapearing into the haze. In the other, Hiroshima city simmers in the distance, wrapping around the bay to the JR ferry station, pinned to sliver of land between the blue sea and green mountains. I'm sweating buckets, my heart doing its level best to escape from my chest while my legs are threatening to fall off.

I find an American tourist to take a picture of me on the deck. If only to prove I made it. The lack of screen on the back of the EOS confuses the poor fellow for a moment.


All too soon, it's time to start down. There's a risk of missing the last cable-car. Missing the cable-car would condemn us to a night walk through the forest, and finding a B&B on the island. It would mean we'd miss the Rugby final. I don't think staying overnight would be a bad thing.

We hurry back down the valley. It's not downhill all the way. The final part is a climb back up to the lower station. According my watch, it's taken nearly three hours to do what should've been an hour and a half. A line waits at the upper station for the cable. With an American in it.

He's loud, boisterous and just that little bit proud of himself for climbing all the way up from below, before taking the fast way down. He's kind of amazed that we made it up.

His girlfriend is local. But she's ready for a party on a private island nearby.

Money, I guess.

Somehow, we end up hemmed into one single cablecar, with one additional solitary Japanese woman in her mid-thirties who had the misfortune of being the one to make up the five needed to fill a car. The American and his girlfriend are loud and fill the cramped space of the car. Me mate's just being polite talking to him, while I'm just sort of trying to figure out if I should ask him to give us a break. It's obvious the fifth passenger in the car is utterly unhappy with things, but at the same time I don't particularly want to offend the yank either so I sit there and make happy mouth noises while not really being happy about it.

I assume our sixth ranger goes home to rant about the loud stinking foreigners ruining her peaceful climb to her friends. I'm just glad to get out of there.


The island has already gotten quieter by the time we reach sea level. The sky has warmed towards sunset and the air has cooled. The brewery is open and we grab a pint each of the local red ale. The oulfella orders one for himself - and another for himself for when he finishes that one. He sets ithe glass down beside himself on the wall where he's sitting.

One of the local deer enjoys it greatly while he's not looking. Cheeky bugger.

One pint each, is enough to put us at risk of missing the last ferry back. I don't particularly think that'd be a bad thing. It's a shame we didn't spend a night on Miyajima. I would've preferred the Quiet.


We land back in the city in time to grab a feed at a nearby American bar while watching South Africa knock the wheels off the Chariot and I crash in bed.

Sunday is a travelling day. I spend an hour to find an camera shop and some film after chewing through half my stock on Miyajima. The shop attendant tries to warn me that I'm buying E-6 and not common C41 stock - all I can manage is a Wakarimashita to reassure her that I know what I'm getting into.

Slide film is a special kind of tricky. Pretty when it works. But demanding a level of precision to get the best results.

Hiroshima is left behind with more still to do, and we head North on the science-fact teleportation machine that is the Shinkansen.

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Osaka rolls up offering the opportunity to Get fat and Go broke. The air outside Osaka station simmers and I'm already hungry.

There're two kinds of hotel in the world. Hotels that are the destination - and Hotels that are at your destination. I prefer the second. They tend to be cheaper. The beds are just as comfy. And there's little to no fuss. The hotel in Osaka is like this. The room is clean, there're two beds that are comfy, there's Wifi that needs a kicking to get working thanks to the 5Ghz network being utterly munged, an airconditioning unit that I manage to figure out, and a podded bathroom and shower that works. Breakfast is in the morning, and is a mix of the fried, the fresh, the Japanese and the Western

Nothing more is needed. For the price, there can be no argument. Too many people expect the Ritz-Carlton - when you're paying for a clean bed, and a filling breakfast. In the age of Yelp, people moan too easily. I think people moan just to have something to say that makes them sound intelligent and discerning.

I think I might fall back on this point too much. My apologies.

The group heads out to explore for an hour or two. My energy fails me. I can't escape a strange sense of fatigue - whether from the mountain the day before or the travelling. I crash in the room and enjoy a little quiet. I'm woken hours later by the call to dinner.

The group's been down to Dotonbori, and found us a Yakiniku restaraunt to try.

Yakinuku is a unique kind of a Barbeque that wouldn't be possible at home. Meat arrives, prepared but uncooked. In the centre of the table is a brazier - gas-fired or charcoal. It's up to you to cook and season the meet to your own taste. A brilliant idea. At home, someone would either burn themselves, or poison themselves - then sue, and because Irish judges are a contemptible lot they'd probably win thousands too too.

Lawyers ruin everything.

There is beer. There is beef. All of it arrives on a small automated tray running along the dividing wall between bothes. Order with a touchscreen, wait a minute and a small speaker announces the imminent arrival of your food. Take the food from the tray, fry it on the grill to taste and enjoy.

This is true, Kobe beef. This is beef from cows that live a life of luxury - free of any stress or anxiety, with no need to do anything but eat and get fat. I wonder what happens when they realise they're the product and not the customer.

Thin slivers render down to the point where they melt in the mouth. Thick slices are suculent and soft. The char from the grill adds a wonderful tang, mingling with the yakiniku sauce to make something utterly mouth watering. The staff buzz around and there's an energy that Hiroshima didn't have,

At 5000 yen a head it's the most expensive meal we've eaten - but completely worth it.

Fat dumb and happy, we emerge into an Osakan night.


The oulfella spots and Irish bar on the walk back to the hotel and decides to add the air of authenticity to it. The bar is a small room, upstairs, with enough space for a counter, for a row of stools and a small kitchen at the end.
And a stunning selection of Whiskey.

They have a Yamazaki 12. Yamazaki's with age statements have become rarer than hens teeth. Off hand, I enquire as to the price. Over 2000 yen a shot - and I'm assured there're no refunds when the bottle's opened.

I put 5k on the bar and order 2 - one for meself and me mate. It is nosed. It is sipped with reverence. It is enjoyed with gusto. It is shared with the group. It is matched by another when me mate stand's his round. If you're bought a drink, buy a drink. It's a basic Irish tenant.

Not to be outdone, the oulfella rings the bell to buy a round of (cheaper) whiskey for everyone in the bar. All seven patrons, including the four of us, cheer.

Drunk and Fat and lightened in wallet, we amble back to the hotel and doze off dreaming of grilled cow.

Monday is Culture Day. A bank holiday.

The sun is high, the sky is clear. It's early November. While Ireland chills over with the start of Winter, Osaka relaxes beneath what feels like a beautiful summer's day. The city is closed for business. Instead, everyone has met up at the park around Osaka castle.
Families picnic on the grass. Bands play a mix of traditional Japanase, and western Jazz.

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The Castle itself nestles deep in the park, protected by wide, deep moats are guarded sheer stone walls, hewn from boulders the size of cars. All of it made by hand, without any machine tools.

The Castle itself acts as the focal point - the centre of everything. A temporary stage outside hosts a traditional play. We can watch it while we wait in line to enter the Castle Keep. Children gather outside the Castle Hall for a Martial Art's ceremony. Inside, the Castle is full, heaving with visitors. The air is thick and heavy, sucking the sweat from my face. I slip through the crowd, feeling uncomfortably large.

Glass cabinets hold the history of the Castle and the City. The Lords. The Merchants. Most of it in Japanese. I'm sure I'm missing the majority of the story. Models demonstrate the ages of the Castle - the different moats and keeps and how they worked with the city around. Cabinets hold fragments of life from centuries past. A reconstruction of a golden tea room seems impossibly opulent -panelled in gold leaf with red velvet tatami - and incredibly small.

Beside it, letters between Lords, or merchants, each in meticulous calligraphy. Swords from the seventeenth centure shine as if brand new. A steel river flows along the blades, marking the borderline between hardened and tempered steels.
I wonder how they've survived so long. Through wars. Through the destructions of the city. The castle itself is a modern reproduction - a modern concrete and steel building, wearing the traditional clothes of the original.


We escape the heat of the castle, and take our chance to snap the traditional view of the castle reflected in the pond. It's specially marked as the photography spot. We wait our turn, after the model on a professional shoot and before a cluster of yankee retirees. I then find a better one, from the castle walls overlooking the city and the parkland below.

The group visits the gardens while I sit outside, feeling sick and headachy in the sun. I watch the crowds walk past and snap a few more pictures of the castle moat, flooded with greenery.


We meet up again and walk back down to the park, finding ourselves a bare patch of grass to sit in the sun and watch the fountains. A small Lawsons is black with people. We take he opportunity to introduce some Irish culture to Osakan culture day.
I emerge from a nearby Lawsons with a big bag of cans to share.

Nothing is as satisfying as drinking cool beer, in warm sun, while the world revolves around you.

The cans end up in our hotel room bin. There's nowhere else for them to go. I wonder what the hotel staff make of the alcoholics in their midst.

Most bars are closed. Most restaraunts are full. The oulfella and the smallfella take a rest. I head out with my mate to explore Shinsaibashi to try find something to eat. We walk up and down the aircade, before heading back to the main street.


Six lanes of traffic have been closed for three hours, for the Festival of Light. The traffic has gone. People have reclaimed the tarmac - sitting in the street, standing and chatting, laying claim to a normally forbidden space. There's something eerie about standing on a major road - watching the traffic lights vainly trying to direct pedestrians who pay them only passing notice.


Far down the end, the local Television has set up a stage. I don't quite know who's on it - they have something to do with Elsa from Frozen. There's a ceremony and a countdown, covered by a local news crew roving through the ground. Somewhere on local television, behind the local reporter, in the back of the shot, a tall, fat, bewildered foreigner stands fiddling with his camera while wondering what the fuck it's all about.

At sunset, the countdown begins. The moon emerges from hiding as the sky rapidly darkens. With the last glimmer of a descending sun in the sky and a crescent moon above, the countdown ends.

The switch is thrown. Every single tree on each side of the street lights up with millions of fairy-lights - two rivers of light flowing with colour, receding into the distance, running in the valley between

It's fucking beautiful. Magical. Like Bruges, but not a shithole.


Meself and me mate stroll down the street. That's a Lamborghini dealership. That's a Ferrari dealership. That's a place selling Rolexes that cost more than I make in a Year. Finally, there's our hotel.

A burger dinner from a nearby resaraunt is demanded by the rest of the group. It's good food - but don't particularly enjoy it. By the time we're fed and watered, the Festival of Light has ended, and traffic has reclaimed the streets from the rebellious pedestrians.

The fun had to end.

With none of the bar's open, it's time to retire for an early night. A check-in on the office finds something that demands my attention. It's well past midnight by the time I'm finished with it.

Tuesday morning find me in scorpy humour. I want nothing more than to lay in bed and let the day go away. Everyone else wants to go to Kyoto. The Oulfella insists on optimising his time on holiday. I get it - for him it's a one time trip - but the very phrase 'optimising time' crashes me right back into the office where I have so much shit to do and so little time to do it in.

I thought I would've preferred to wander aimlessly around Dotonbori or Den-Den town - but I tag along anyway so as not to ruin everyone elses trip. I don't do the Honne and Tatamea thing - I tell everyone exactly how fucking awful I feel - but go along anyway.

The Shinkansen is a wonderful way to travel. I think, if you actually live in Japan, you wouldn't use the Shinkansen for frivolous hops across to the next city over - the tickets are pricy if you've to pay for them. The JR Pass makes it a trivial decision. The more we use it, the better value it becomes. Kyoto rolls up in less than fifteen minutes.


We don't go to Gion - we've heard stories of it being crowded. Carrying my big brutus of a camera, I'm also keenly aware of the recent ban on photography in parts of the city - too many tourists being dickheads with cameras to get the same perfect instagram moment everyone else already got. It's the essence of tourism - knocking down the same pins everyone else knocked down before you - just to say that you did.

We head out to Arashiyama - where the bamboo forest is - taking an overcrowded local train that helps me feel at home. The oufella's found a shrine that he thinks might be interesting to see - built around an artifical lake. Finding it is another matter -

Google maps winds us through quiet suburbs and housing estates, through an open plot on a dirt path, past the fascinating timber foundations of a brand new house, then a photography studio and a school built at the point the City ends and farmland begins. I wonder what it's like to attend that school - with a clear stream running past a field on the other side of the road.

It's peaceful. It should've been soothing.

My mood gets worse and worse, despite it. The sun is hot and I can only see the world in its worst light. I feel dragged. I feel like turning for home and wandering back. I feel like we've gone out into the middle of nowhere, lost by Google and making fools of ourselves by wandering past ordinary people's houses.

What would I think of a group of Japanese tourists walking past my house - where there's fuck-all worth seeing for kilometres around? Somebody's lost and about to get mugged, probably. I'm certain I don't have to fear the second one of those in Kyoto.

For a while, I find myself pondering on Kyoto Animation - and how many of the scenes passing by have a vague sense of familiarity. On some level, it feels like a space I've been in before. It lingers as a vague sense of melancholy. This is the place that created Kyoto Animation.

I don't understand how to give voice to my feeling about that. The whole time arson attack lingers in my mind. More than it should.

Daikaku-ji is almost empty when we arrive. It's perfect.

The Temple and its lake date from the 9th century - a century before Dublin City came to be. For a time, it was a palace used by empresses and pricess' consorts. Nowadays, a few quiet visitors take their time to stroll among the ages. A sign at the entrance advises us to remove our shoes. My size-13 boots barely fit in the cubby provided. A token admission charge helps contribute to the upkeep of the temple.

The socks on my feet slide across polished timber floors. Tatami is something else - different from carpet. Comf0rtable and warm under foot - but without the hardness of timber, the coldness of tile or the furry mess of carpet. Most of all, it's quiet under socked feet.

A small bin contains some slippers which you're supposed to wear on the outside timber walkways. None of them fit my feet so I pad around in socks only. Anyone who sees me probably think's I'm an idiot.

Nightingale floors chirp and squawk under my feet, despite my best efforts. We walk from building to building, past courtroom and halls - and their sumptuous painted dividing screens. The whole complex has accreted over the centuries in the way planets do, with each age of Japan adding its own mark.

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I enjoy the walk around the pond, falling behind the group with only my camera and the trees and birds for company. It feels like calm. A small path leads me through a tunnel of lush, summer-green trees, with a babbling stream as company. Birds are call to each other as I pass. Japanese crows call so differently to ours - Irish crow has a much drier, harsher voice. A Japanese Crow's call echoes and carries.

After a few minutes, I catch up to the group.

Our next visit, is to a small temple a short walk away. Aside from a couple of schoolgirls, it's empty. A small gravel path leads us around a green carpet of forest moss. Golden sunlight streams through the forest canopy above, falling on small stone lanterns and a wooden shrine barely large enough for one person. A sign offers visitors the chance to leave a prayer on a small wooden baton. Dozens of them carry messages in a multiple of languages. From World Peace, to success in exams, to Freedom for Hong Kong. One thing comes to mind.

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Happiness for all, for free. And let none go away unsatisfied.

I don't know if that'd be too twee or not, but it sits with me. It sticks in my head as we walk back down away from the temple, still not sure exactly where to go. What used to be a cafe is now just a vending machine with some old stone-bench seating and a sun-bleached rubbish bin. It's a handy place to stop for a drink. A few schoolgirls give us strange looks, as if we've stopped somewhere we're not supposed to.

There's no sign to warn us that we're doing something wrong.

We track down to another temple and another garden. This one a UNESCO world heritage site. Also spectacular, with mountain and forest backdrops around a managed pond and ancient timber buildings. We're back on the tourist trail fighting for our moments with hundreds of others. We follow the trail down through the Bamboo forest the area is famous for, past other tourists dressed in traditional Kimonos, and trains of Chinese in their groups following leaders with red paddles.

It's time to remind myself. We're not in traffic - we are traffic. Getting frustrated with them would be hypocritical.

We make our way back to Kyoto station on an evening commuter train. The stop before, leads to the Japan Railways museum.

I insist on visiting. And I get lost for far too short a time in Japanese railway heritage. Everything from one of the first steam locomotives built in Japan, to the very first Series-0 Shinkansen with its onboard dining car. Even after fifty years, the basic components are the same. There's the Green car, there're the seats that swap direction with the train. It feels like it could still have been in service to this day, if given the chance.

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Japanese industrial design from the sixties has a unique asthetic all of its own. A sort of chromed futurism that somehow still seams clean and modern to this day.

The old Irish Rail diesels I'm familiar with are far more brutalist in their architecture - and rarely are as clean. The Irish railcars are boring.

Elsewhere, vistors are given the chance to drive their own similated train, work a signal room, ride on a rail-car along a short piece of track, interact with an actual level-crossing, or a fully assembled working point-system with its signalling interlocks intact - demonstrating with hands-on experiences how a railway actually works.

Out back, one of the museum's steam lcomotives is returning from the day's excursions, basking in the evening sunlight as its crew get about the heavy work of putting it to sleep again. I could've spent far more time there. The others bored quickly, even when there was so much more to see.

I've always been a fan of heavy metal.


We travel back to Osaka for the final night. The oulfella and the smallfella head back to the same burger place as the night before. Me mate and I head to an Ichiran.

The system is brilliant. There's a machine that takes your money and prints out a ticket. Then, a single staff member hands you a card to mark - how do youy like your ramen? Firm or soft. Spicy or Mild. With extra pork? With extra noodles? The chef's recommendations are marked for those not feeling adventurous - and sure enough, I choose those as a starting point. My mate goes for the stiffer noodles because they soften in the broth.

After a wait outside, we're finally allowed in to a single seat at a long bar. We are given our own individual privade cublical, with water, some instructions for ordering extras, and a simple fabric window to seperate us from the staff beyond. The window opens just long enough to take our order slip, before we're left to wait in what feels like an incongruous privacy. After a few minutes wait, a perfectly formed bowl of Tonkatsu ramen emerges from behind the screen.

It's fuckin' perfect. It's gone in less time than it took to prepare, the entire bowl being slurped down to the last of the rich, meaty broth. The bowl is left clean as I leave my seat.

My mate follows a few minute later. I wait outside in the cool evening air, soaking in the comfort of a satisfied stomach.

I spend my last night in Osaka answering a few questions from the office and making sure things still ran smoothly, turning in long after anyone had gone to sleep.
-------m(^0^)m------ Wot, no sig?

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Re: Blatherings on a trip to Japan. A travelogue from the BC era

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Postby Dartz » Sat Apr 18, 2020 5:47 pm


Morning means its time to travel again. We're moving North to Hakone and it feels like we're at the point in the Holiday where we're settled. Things are starting to make sense. The human is nothing if not amazing in its ability to adapt. Even the ever-amazing Shinkansen is starting to feel normal.

I share a seat-row with a sick slaryman doing his level best not to sneeze or cough, while getting great mileage out of his hankerchief - and I worry if I going to catch something from the poor fellow. I'm reminded of how many times I've toughed it out into work when I shouldn't have. Writing about that six months later - that feels like a much darker thought.

The Shinkansen leaves us in Odawara. It's a short train-ride on a narrow-gauge track weaving precariously between houses and back-gardens from Odawara up to Hakone-Yumoto station. Hakone is a tourist town, just to the South of Tokyo. It's famous for its views of Mt Fuji, for the forests surrounding lake Ashi, and for it's many, many hotsprings fed by an intricate network of supply pipes spidering out from the crater of Mt Hakone far above.

We arrive in Hakone late in the afternoon. It's been about two weeks since Typhoon Hagibis blew through, and there's signs of damage everywhere. Broken trees, boulders in rivers and blown down walls. The Tozan-line switchback train is down, due landslide. Only some of the bus routes are running. It takes us time to figure out a way to route around the damage to our destination - but it's possible.

The bus is packed with tourists - overloaded with luggage and people. It's standing room only as the bus driver weaves his machine through mountain roads that'd challenge a sportscar. The bus drives up vertiginous slopes, before nosing over and falling down the other side. It rounds hairpin bends, with only a thin steel barrier seperating dozens of passengers from a long fall down into a dark valley below.

It's an inconvenience, but not a show stopper. Instead of being a ball of anxiety, I'm riding over the crest of it. What bus do we take next? Are we going the right direction?

The last bus leaves us at a corner in Sengokuhara, beside a carpark which I think used to be a school. A sign advises us that our evacuation route incase the volcano blows its top is towards the former Sengokuhara Junior High School. I decide not to admit there is an ulterior motive for this particular detour.

Volcanic Onsen are reason enough to go to Hakone. Hakone was never, ever a setting for any famous anime made in 1995. Not at all.

Our final bus leaves us at a three-way junction that seems like it's in the middle of nowhere. It feels more like a leafy suburb, than the middle of a mountain range. Dozens of hotels and inns line the side of the road. Beards of grass sprout from gaps in the path. It takes a moment to realise that every single hotel has the same basic sign out front.

Closed due to Damage from Typhoon 19.

I'm beginning to wonder if I've gotten everyone lost. I'm beginning to wonder if the Ryokan we're looking for hasn't ended up somewhere between here and Oz. The sky has already started to grow dark by the time we find the right place - a two story traditional-styled building, nestled between trees and a modern-looking hotel.

I'm more than a little worried about what the oulfella will make of it.

A gentleman waits inside in a meticulously clean business suit. It looks so proper I'm actually impressed - and I'm rarely the sort to be impressed by a suit. He reassures me that I don't need to take my boots off in the reception area.

It's probably for the best that they stayed on. Hans Blix was called in to inspect the last place I removed them in.

The owner is a woman old enough to be my mother, dressed far more traditionally. The immediate impression I get is that she's the Japanese equivelant of the Irish 'Bean in Ti' - the buck stops with her. And We are never made feel anything less than welcome.

Money is handed over. Half of our two-week accomodation budget is spent on three nights in this one Ryokan. We receive our receipts - one for each room - carefully folded and slipped inside a crisp white paper envelope. Immediately, all the money spent feels worth it. It remains crisp and pressed, the entire way home. We are given a specific time to be ready for dinner. We are allowed to choose or own specific time at the hot-spring bath.

We're let to our rooms - each of us with our own private timber-panelled doorway to the footpath outside. Our names are written carefully on the door. A small tiled area gives us a place to leave our boots. A private bathroom waits in a sealed pod with a pair of special bathroom slippers. The bedroom is one large living area covered in luxurious tatami matts. A tea set sits beside a flat-screen television. Two fouton beds lie on the floor beneath a Shoji window. In the centre of the room is a table that looks far to low for legs to fit under.

I'm told the oulfella's reaction was fairly special. It took him an hour of aching bones to fogure out that beneath that impossibly low table was a footwell, with an electric heater in the base. As the night cools, the Kotetsu was a mighty comfort. And far quieter than the air-conditioner hung on the wall. A wardrobe holds an extra fouton for a third guest, an extra pillow (which I take) and a set of Yukata evening wear.

A light, comfortable bathrobe, designed to be informal and relaxing. The Extra Large one I've been given is barely large enough.

We are given real Matcha tea in our rooms, as a welcome after a long journey.

Dinner is ready at 6pm, waiting for us already in the upstairs restaraunt. It's more than a dinner - it is a meticulous work of art. I'm almost afraid to touch it. Everyone grabs a quick snap for facebook, while I try to figure out where to start. Sashimi sits in a bowl of ice beneath a floral boquet of vegetables. I can't tell if they're edible, or for garnish. Small dishes contain morsels of stronger flavours, to mingle with with a bowl of rice. A Wagyu hot-pot is set bubbling with vegetables and shitake mushrooms, to be ready There is tempura. There is squid. There're things I like too much to ask what they are.

There is deep-fried Tigerfish bones.

We are reassured that it is a delicacy and very heatlthy. An attempt is made.

After dinner, is bath time.

A sign outside advises that the pipeline carrying spring-water from the volcano had been damaged, making the outdoor bath unusable. Flow was enough to keep the indoor bath filled only.

I wasn't as dissapointed as I expected. Typhoons happen in Japan. Typhoons are natural disasters. Things are the best they could possibly be under the circumstances. It's a reason to go back.

Onsen bathing is more like a Sauna. You wash yourself clean before you get in, then rince the soap off. The bath is for soaking only. There is a wooden stool that you're supposed sit on. It's not even knee-high to me, and made my knees ache to sit on it. Fortunately, in a private bath, I couldn't bother anyone with the showerhead. Or be embarrassed

The bath is still heaven incarnete. A trip to Japan is not complete without a night in an Onsen Ryokan.

Night rewards with the sleep of the gods.


Morning comes with a dawn chorus, and a leafy shadowpuppetry on the windows from the sunlight passing through the trees.

Breakfast, is a repeat of the luxury of dinner.

It takes time to get dressed and ready to go. The mountain air is crisp and cool with the sun already rising high. We catch a bus that takes us to the sightseeing cruise terminal at Togendai. A cable-car then takes us up to Owakudani, near the top of Mt Hakone itself. Mt Fuji rises in the morning sun, peaking between mountains. The autumn forest rolls beneath the cable-car. The humm of the cable carries us along.


Owakudani station is closed - we can only pass through and look out the window. Toxic gas from the volcano makes going outside potentially lethal. Barriers usher us to the next cable-car, back down the other side of the mountain.

The car crests a ridge, and below us is the garden of hell itself.Volcanic steam rises from a dozen roaring chimneys, flooding the car with the smell of brimstone. Pipework traces across sulphur-coated stones and grey volcanic rock. Our car carries use serenly above the violence below. Right over the crater of the volcano below.

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I recall the evacuation signs on the lamposts near our hotel. This thing could blow without warning. Unlikely, but just tipping on the edge of possibility.

We head back down over the other side of the mountain, taking a cablecar down to the terminus of the Tozan-line. I switch to the slide film I bought in Hiroshima. A bus takes us from there back down on to Hakone-Yumoto - and a certain small shop under the station dedicated to a certain 1995 anime. The sun shines above, and the river through the town runs a sapphire blue.

It's a beautiful day in the valley. You'll have to take my word for it - the images haven't been scanned.

A bus takes us to Moto-Hakone and the southern terminal of the sightseeing-cruise. Small stone shrines gather at the side of the road. A Tori gate stands in the lakewater. It seems a handier way of getting back to our hotel than going all the way around on the bus. We stand waiting for the boat to arrive, less than five on the jetty for the longest time. Moments before the boat docks, we're joined by three coachloads of Americans, on a daytrip from their cruise ship. They crowd the top decks of the faux tall-ship, straining to get the same view of Mt Fuji as it looms over the lake.

We're not in traffic. We are traffic.

Some traffic is more annoying than others.

When you're travelling, you exist in a bubble. That bubble might be yourself, it might be the few people - it might be busloads. You sort of move around the country, rather than in it.

I amn't really in Japan. It's a great place to visit, but I'm still moving around as a tourist. Our group is our own little bubble. So is our hotel. Even the JR Pass counter at the train station for ticket bookings. Even our 'authentic' experience is, in some way, managed. Not by a tour operator - but by our hotels and innkeepers so it's 'real', but not threatening or discomforting.

After worrying about getting 'something' wrong on the holiday for so long, I understand the whole package tour cruise thing. All the worries belong to someone else - you just show up and everything is taken care of. If anything goes wrong, it's taken care of. You are taken care of. Just follow the paddles, stay with the group and everything will be fine.

I don't think I'd enjoy it though.

There's freedom in being able to do the 'lets go see this thing' or 'lets stop here for five minutes'.

We're still in the bubble, but the walls are thinner.

I grab a few shots from the upper deck. A bow-wave of cloud is washing over the top of Mt Fuji. The lake receeds into the distance towards the end of the valley. The three peaks of Mt Hakone cut across the sky above. Country clubs that cost thousands a night line the shoreline.

Fuji Velvia makes for beautiful slides.

The boat docks and the tourgroups flood the gift shop in the terminal. We wait for our own bus while they line up behind their respective paddles to wait for their coaches. After a few minutes, the flood abates in the gift shop and I can grab a couple of little things, including a small puzzle box made from intricately patterned marquetry. It's hard to tell if it's genuine, or a printed design.

It looks special, and that's the main thing.

Our return bus journey stops outside the local Lawson convenience store. There's beer, snacks and a bottle of local whiskey on sale for 20 euro. It sells in Dublin for 140. It'll be enjoyed with friends.

More matcha tea awaits our return to the Ryokan, along with fresh bedding and new nightware.

Today they have given me a Large, instead of the Xtra-Large of the previous day. I am not a small gentleman and - despite my best efforts and having lost weight since Hiroshima - it does not at all come close to fitting.

The brother suggests that they may just be trying to avoid embarrasing me by giving me the largest size and that I should just go get one. While I don't particularly want to bother them and make a fuss over it because I'm perfectly comfy and it's really not worth embarrasing them when I'm perfectly fine.

Another exquisite dinner is followed by another luxurious soak and a deathly sleep.

Our breakfast the next morning is a sort of Western Japanese. It is no less sumptuous and exquisite.

We find ourselves a little lost for things to do. Odawara castle was a short bus and train journey away. It's our third castle, and the smallest and emptiest so far. It's far enough off the tourist trail that most of the exhibits are signed in Japanese only. The walk is enjoyable, guiding us through the design and history of the original castle - long gone and replaced with a reinforced concrete keep.

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There is one more thing the oulfella wants to do - a photographic get and a challenge from his friends. On the way, we pass somewhere named the 'Celtic Cafe' and decide it's worth a look. It lives at the end of the castle moat, down a small path barely wide enough for a person to walk on. There is one room with bare concrete ceiling and walls, with four different chairs around a glass garden table in the centre. A dividing panel seperates us from a hallway at the back.

We are welcomed with an assortment of beer and sweets while we sit and chat and watch the carp in the moat jump for bugs on the surface.

It's a perfect moment of peace and time to sit and think. And I wonder if any of the paddle-followers realise that these little moments exist - where the traveller's bubble becomes gossamer thin and you start to feel like a part of a place.

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Time pushes us to move on. We make it to a black sand beach. Ahead of us is the Pacific Ocean, and nothing but water until California. Broken trees are pilled up against concrete pilings supporting the sea wall, brought down from the mountans and stripped of their bark and branches by the force of the water. Concrete paving slabs, easily weighing a ton, have been lifted and thrown by the sea down the beach.

The oulfella completes his photo challenge, and we race back to the Ryokan for dinner.

There is no time for Matcha. There is plenty of time for an exquisite meal, and another revitilising soak.

The Ryokan is my favourite part of the trip. Everyone else insists they would've preferred only the two nights - but I like the peace and quiet. The comfort, the food, the baths and the general sense of relaxation.

One final breakfast sets us up for our final journey to Tokyo.

I'm dissapointed to read a review from one of the guests staying at the same time as us - complaining about the open air baths being closed off and how everything was ruined and they should've gotten their money back. Everything else was beyond compare - but on the internet something has to be wrong. It feels like such a misereable thing to say.

I don't feel short changed, and I appeciate the effort needed to keep things working even with the damage caused by the weather. So many places had closed down outright. The meals alone were worth the price, I think. Each one presented as a work of art formed from a collage of intriguing delicacies. The baths are luxurious, and the staff are meticulous in making everything feel comfortable.

But all good things must end. And spending 50% of two week's accomodation in three nights, does sting a bit.


The Shinkansen takes is on one more short hop north to Tokyo, and Shinjuku station.

Just getting ourselves out the right exit from the station is our first challenge. We settle for 'somewhere' on the surface, and then work from there, merging with the crowds bringing us in the general direction we need to go. Godzilla looms over Toho Cinema. We turn down a side street and it's instantly quieter.

Our hotel has Shinjuku in it's name - but it's not actually in Shinjuku.

Kabukicho is one of the more redder lit districts of Tokyo - even though seedy for Tokyo is still safer than everwhere else. Many of the hotels around offer rates not by the night, but by the hour. Most seem to follow the Donald Trump idea of guilded-mdf luxury - a poor man's idea of what a rich man's tastes should be. Our hotel, in the middle of this, is just another Japanese city hotel, overlooking a half-dozen gaudy love-hotels.

We're hours too early to check in. The others settle in to the hotel bar, while I take the chance to go for a walk with my camera.

I'm alone in the city, and the bubble has become skintight. I wind through streets, looking for certain little things and for a moment the world feels real. Jazz is being played live in the streets. I stop to listen for a few minutes, feeling a weird sort of freedom from just being there by myself. Nobody expects anything from me - nobody knows who I am. I'm just the fat guy from somewhere that isn't Japan, with an oversized tourist camera.

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I find a camera shop that sells second hand gear. Armed with the most basic phrase-book Japanese, I fight through the embarrasment and manage to make myself understood with the barest minimum of Japanese - enough to get a look at a nice-looking camera lens - at which point the shop owner finally has enough of my failures and takes pity on me and admits he can speak English, explaining that there's smoke damage to the lens. Enough to be visible in camera's viewfinder.

Anything else, is a bit out of my price range. My ancient EOS650 starts a broken conversation, and I leave the shop with some rolls of film to finish out the holiday.

I set out walking again, to find a place that's be recommended. When looking for a shop in Tokyo, it pays to search in three dimensions. Sometimes they're above you, sometimes they're below you. A narrow stair-case winds down into an Aladdin's cave of old hardware, in various states of repair. Space is too tight and I'm too large. After far too long trying to decide from far too many things, I leave with a Canon P originally manufactured in 1959, and significantly lighter in fund.

I also leave my name and address in the owner's ledger. I still wonder if I'll ever receive a newsletter.

The P broke a week after I got it home. But such is the way with things older than my parents.

I emerge into the Tokyo sunlight, to be met by a barrage of messages on my phone, wondering why I'm an hour late getting back to the hotel for checkin. When I finally show up, there isn't much of an objection from anyone. They've been sitting, sipping Premium Malts and coke.

Our checkin is completed with the usual ritual. Copies of our passports are made. Forms are signed. Room Keys are presented.

Our rooms are clean, comfortable, with the exact same bathroom pod that every single Japanese hotel has, with the exception of a frosted-glass wall to let natural light in from the bedroom area. An odd idea, but one that works really well.

The best part of the hotel is the bar, on an open-air terrace ten stories up. We're deep into the tourist bubble, drinking beer and soaking in the energy of Shinjuku at nightime.


Another nights sleep is followed by a breakfast that sees me loose all sense of adventure. I find some bread and figure out how to turn it into toast.

It's clear that everyone else is feeling tired. We make our way to the Tokyo Skytree - already being prepared for the Christmas season. Divorced from the routine of work, I've lost all sense of time or date. It doesn't feel like a weekday, or the weekend. I think it might've been a Sunday.

The Tokyo Skytree is a broadcast tower, built on top of a shopping centre complex. The centre sells nothing of interest beyond souveneers, gifts and cooking knives that the Oulfella looks long and hard at. The Skytree itself has two viewing galleries. One is two thirds of the way up the tower, covering three whole floors with a restaraunt. The other is most of the way to the top.

We pay extra at the tourist counter to avoid the crowds. To make the best of the view, I load my final cartridge of Fujichrome into the EOS.


Nothing prepares you for the immensity of Tokyo. From a hundred meters up, the city reaches from horizon to horizon, a concrete carpet, receeding into the haze. Only the glimmering waters of Tokyo Bay breaks the urban sprawl. We have to fight the crowds for our space at the window. The crowd ushers us on far faster than any of us would've preferred. I leave the Skytree feeling a little dissapointed.

Once again, we are traffic, we are not in traffic.

My dinner is in the hotel bar. I've no energy for anything further. Our return to the real world looms large in my mind.

On Monday, the group seperates. Mesealf and me mate head to Akihabara. The other two head out into the city. We're both hoping to pick up something interesting and unique. When I started in college, I started in the anime fandom. For years I was part of the college society. For years beyond that, I either worked at or attended conventions.

It's a dissapointment.

We wander for hours, find most things the same and find little of interested. I'd been hoping to pick up a decent garage kit or something, but I get the feeling those times are long gone. Or maybe the things I used to like are long gone now, and what's there is just the quick fixes for the people who are there now. There's nothing at all I recognise anymore. Fandom's moved on, and I've moved on from fandom. So it goes. I'm a different person now. I find an Asuka resin kit to join the unbuilt pile underneath my bed, before heading back to Akihabara station.

Down a side-street, in a tight corridor under the railway tracks, I find an electronic mecca. Cable conduits and pipework hang low enough from the ceiling to take my head off if I don't pay attention. It's the last lingering inspiration of the cyberpunk asthetic.

Everything from projectors, to Ham radios, to reel-to-reel tape recorders, to old second hand cameras. There's very little organisation. None of what I want will fit on the plane home with me. Most of it, I could barely carry on a train. It feels like this place alone made the trip worth it - even if this time, there was nothing there for me to buy. It's like a sort of technological Gashopon. Sometimes you win.

I'll have to go back. If it's not gone by the time I get there. I'm amazed at how little money I've spent on the trip.

The group meets up again in Odaiba, at Diver City. We make it in time to catch the last transformation of the Gundam outside, before picking up a few exclusive kits that I will never have the time to build. The others wander around the rest of the shopping centre, collecting a few local gifts for friends back home.


Our final day in Tokyo is passed by a trip to the magnificent Imperial Gardens. A security checkpoint ensure my camera is nothing more than a camera, and we're given a wooden entrance token, to be returned on the way out. It's the middle of November, but everything is still a summer green. The sun is high in the sky, and visitors are enjoying the heat. People congregate in the shade to paint one of the res-houses. An exhibition has been set up in honour of the crowning of the new Emperor, of some of the exquisite gifts bestowed upon previous coronations.

I don't think I've seen so much gold.

The room is worth more than my life.

Image Image Image

A quick trip to the local off-license disposes of excess funds. 2 bottles of luxury sake and another 2 of whiskey find their home in my suitcase. Our last night is spent at the hotel bar, getting rid of the rest of our yen.

Work pings me an email, asking for my urgent opinion. My drunken fingers try to buy time - I'm in no way a fit state to answer but at the same time, I don't want to admit that I'm full of pints in a bar.

Morning sees us rushing for the plane while I'm nursing a hangover. Another message from the office demands I answer the question - perhaps without realising where I'll be for the next 12 hours. I'm tempted to let the NEX crush the phone.

Departure is the mirror image of arrival. The plane is comfortable, skirting the Arctic circle in a way that buys us twelve hours of permanent dawn, and carries us right over ground zero of the world's largest nuclear explosion. Nobody's amused by me knowing this.

Schiphol airport's whiskey shops swallow the last of my money, and I spend three hours catching up on going's on in the office.

A packed and cramped 737 carries us home while I'm cursing Boeing for packing the seats in so tightly. Some idiot boards late and manages to get himself kicked off the plane. The crew are masters of arsehole control. The moment he takes his seat, the purser asks if he can inspect the passenger's boarding pass in a way that gives no hint of what's to come. He's led to the front of the plane, there's a calm discussion, and it's announced that this one passenger will not be joining us.

We have to wait an age for every piece of luggage to be removed from the plane, just to find that one passenger's three bags. It's after mignight by the time we make it back to Dublin and the cold old sod.

I'm in bed by one, then up by six the next day.

People tell me I look better, and I feel better than I have for the longest time. It lasts until the phone rings for the first time - but so it goes. Jet lag doesn't fully kick in until the Friday, and I manage to doze off while driving and take a chunk out of the car, but so it goes.

After a few weeks, a strange sense of melancholy settles in as I realise that - for the first time in 18months - It's like I've nothing to look forward to and work towards.

It was a mighty trip. Nobody left unsatisfied. I guess, I got my wish.

More than that, it was a regretless trip. Everyone ejoyed it. Everyone had fun. Sixteen months of work are expended in 2 weeks, and it feels perfect. Completely worth it. Everyone would've preferred one less day in Tokyo and Hakone - and maybe one more day in Hiroshima and Osaka. Even then, there's a sense that we've missed so much. I would've liked a night on Miyajima.

But that's a reason to go back again.

I'm already planning another trip in the back of my mind. The oulfella is thinking of roping it in alongside a trip to some relatives in New-Zealand.

Japan is not a country I would want to live in.

There, I said it. I get it - but at the same time I get it enough to realise there is no place for me here. It's a great country to visit - fascinating, beautiful, entertaining, relaxing and exhilirating, but at the same time the charms that apply to a vistor would probably wear off. As a vacation, it feels like there's never enough time to see anything and that more would always be needed.

But I think that's the best way to leave a place.

We're just tourists, in the end.

Sometime after we land in Dublin, someone in China coughs everything is different in ways we're months away from comprehending, and years away from getting beyond.


A Fuller album of images, is behind this link here
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Re: Blatherings on a trip to Japan. A travelogue from the BC era

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Postby Mr. Tines » Sun Apr 19, 2020 6:38 am

Sounds like a great holiday, except for the work interruptions. Wish I could still contemplate such things.

I found that taking a fortnight off was always the wrong thing to do -- just enough time for things to go pear-shaped and not recover. Do a week and things can be put off for your return, or do a month-plus off-grid and the other guys just have to start dealing with it.
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Re: Blatherings on a trip to Japan. A travelogue from the BC era

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Postby Dartz » Sun Apr 19, 2020 7:39 am

I normally go away for a week. And a month isn't possible. 2 weeks is the best I can do.

Japan is just far enough away to make contacting me difficult. And after about a week, people eventually began to figure shit out. The real cause of the problem was the bare minimum of a handover due to other pressures.
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Re: Blatherings on a trip to Japan. A travelogue from the BC era

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Postby Justacrazyguy » Sun Apr 19, 2020 7:54 am

What a good post. I was reading and seeing your pictures and comparing and reflecting on the trip I did to Japan(went a few months after you, in January).

Our itinerary was quite different, about the only place your trip and mine have in common is Osaka Castle and Akihabara.

The parts you wrote about about being in a bubble and being part of the traffic when traveling is an unfortunate truth. I wish I could have just swept away all of the tourists in some of the more crowded places I went to, even tough they're in the same boat I was in. It's incredibly difficult to find places to visit that are both grandiose(if that's the correct word) and also unknown enough that it's just you and a couple of tourists at most.

Some of the more interesting moments I had in Japan was when me and my sister decided to go to lesser know temples and places that barely even show up on Google maps and only then were we finally able to drink in the atmosphere of the gardens and the wooden architecture and the sounds and everything! It really is astounding how people congregate in certain spaces, but others right next to them can be nearly empty. For example, despite all the crowds in Kyoto, when I went to the national museum, there were 50 people in the entire building at most. Same thing with the Tokyo National museum, parts of it were empty.
There were also a few moments when I got completely alone and just went through the night streets of Kyoto, looking for a Book off to buy some anime figures and whatever else came my way and being able to just quietly think and contemplate for a few hours.

I think it just shows that all travels need to have some element of unpredictability, time where you can just spontaneously decide to go somewhere of the beaten path.

I wish I had some of your culinary experiences though! In place of restaurants and beef, all me and my sister had was the selection of warm food on convenience stores, which were still quite good, if I'm being honest.

Once again, really great post, I enjoyed reading your thoughts and seeing you wonderful pictures. Like you, I hope to return to Japan once I have the money and this miserable Covid stuff blows over.
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Re: Blatherings on a trip to Japan. A travelogue from the BC era

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Postby Dartz » Sun Apr 19, 2020 9:49 am

The problem with unpredictability is that things can go wrong.

I understand the terror some of those folks must feel. You've spent all this money on the big holiday and you 'might' be dissapointed - there's a relaxation in letting someone else worry about it. I mean, that was what the oulfella got out of it - everything was sorted, food, flights, hotels travel - and he just had to figure out what to see.

People go to these places, because people go to these places. Tourism is a self-feeding beast. Trying to find new places is a bit of a risk.
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Re: Blatherings on a trip to Japan. A travelogue from the BC era

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Postby Sailor Star Dust » Tue Jun 02, 2020 7:46 pm

Your beautiful photographs and posts equally cheered me up with the current madness of the world, but was also a somber reminder of said situations, too.

While I haven't visited Japan (yet), I completely understand your feelings, too, of fandoms passing one by—my (since I'm quite particular at my "old" fangirl age) weeby interests would only be recognized in Akihabara shops/etc due to modern revivals of said shows/video games and probably only those. Anything else, I'd be screwed in finding stuff from a particular series. But at least I can online order my nerdy merch of choice once disposable income becomes a possibility, again. I would absolutely love to especially visit Hakone and Osaka both....Tokyo sounds like a similar concrete jungle that Houston proper is—it'd probably be overwhelming for me, I think?

Staying in a Ryokan sounds like absolute Heaven. That sort of slow-paced, easy, nature would do the world overall a lot of good, I think, but it's understandably difficult in times like these (times that have never gone away, nor ever will)...Though, I'd be equally content for myself and Zap to blissfully explore some old neighborhoods, on a trip over there.

On a happier note, thanks again for your write up! I knew the Irish enjoyed their drinks, but that put a smile on my face, hah.
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Re: Blatherings on a trip to Japan. A travelogue from the BC era

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Postby Dartz » Sat Jun 13, 2020 6:01 am


The older I get the more places like Hakone and Itsukishima and the less touristy parts of Kyoto appeall to me - I will have to spend a night or two on the island. Maybe wander the forests in the dark. Get gored by a boar.

It's not even that things have 'changed' it's just evertything is a dating sim.

And get more Wagyu
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