Blog moved to www.maak-bloom.com/blog

I am about to embark on a new adventure walking 5 of the Kumano Kodo pilrimage routes. I have therefore moved the blog to http://www.maak-bloom.com/blog.

Hope you take a look.

Day 46, 47: Tokyo and home

Our hotel in Tokyo was in the sports area, overlooking the baseball stadium, rugby stadium, tennis courts and the new olympic stadium, currently under construction.

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We walked into Shinjuku, Yanmei shopping in Uniqlo and Gu, whilst I checked out electronics at BIC Camera. We ate lunch at Zanmai sushi, hidden away on the 3rd floor at the station. It’s a chain, where the owner hits the news regularly, when he purchases the worlds most expensive tuna. The sushi is always good.

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It was raining, so we took the chance to check the world’s busiest station serving west Tokyo. It is chaos with the different train operators each having their part of the station, a multitude of passageways and tens of thousands of people. We must have looked really lost, as several people offered to help us, both Japanese and foreigners living in Japan. It took an hour, but we found where Yanmei needed to take the train to the Airb’n’b she is staying and find how she should travel to Narita airport on Sunday, without spending a fortune.

Exhausted, we walked back to the hotel to pick up our baggage, again admiring the view from the hotel.

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We took the metro back to Shinjuku station, and tried to find somewhere for coffee, all were full, and we couldn’t find a takeaway place. So we said our goodbyes and went  in each our direction.

I went back to Narita, to the same hotel I had stayed a week ago, picked up the baggage I had left, and repacked everything.

As I write this I am back in Helsinki, after a smooth flight from Japan. I spent my last yen at uniqlo and posted my wifi router back to Japan Wireless. It has been an invaluable companion.

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47 eventful days in Japan come to an end. I can only encourage anybody reading this to really consider Japan for a future holiday, it has pretty much everything; big and small vibrant cities, fantastic mountains, countryside and coastlines, lots to see and do, great food; but most of all, fantastic people.

Thanks for reading!

Day 45: Kanazawa

We had a 17:55 train to Tokyo, so we needed to see as much as we could of Kanazawa in less that a day – which we now know is possible.

We ate breakfast at the hotel, the first hotel I have experienced where they play LP’s through mega loud speakers for breakfast.

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First stop was the beautiful Kenroku-en garden, one of Japan’s top three gardens. We spent an hour strolling through the beautiful garden.

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Next stop was the Contemporary Art Museum, housed in a fabulous round glassbuilding. The exhibitions weren’t great, so it was a bit disappointing, as this museum is really hyped. One exhibit everybody liked was what looked to he a pool when you stood looking down at the water, but the water was only 4-5 cms on top of a thick plate of glass. Below the glass was a room people could enter, so that from above it looks like the people in the room were walking in a pool.

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Next up was Kanazawa Castle and park, with a well preserved castle above the town in massive grounds. The castle is in tip top condition with a beautiful glass building just bellw where you can sit and see the castle when it rains – which evidently it does a lot, but not today, the weather was 25C and clear blue skies.

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Next stop was the fish market where freshly caught fish are sold and perfect for a sushi lunch. The restaurant was packed and we had to stand in line, to get in. Both the sushi and miso soup were excellent.

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Kanazawa has three areas with old houses and a fifteen minutes walk across town and we’d seen the two of them, one very natural along the river, the other a massive tourist attraction, with the houses turned into shops and cafes.

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Back across the castle park, where we met a snake, ca. 1,5m long ….

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…. and finished the sightseeing visiting Kanazawa’s most famous shrine and temple (picture from the shrine).

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We collected our bags and took the bus to the station, which is also listed as one of Kanazawa’s top attractions, with the wooden gate, futuristic metal roof and fountain that tells the time and writes welcome to Kanazawa.

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As I write this I am sitting in the train on our way to Tokyo and my last day in Japan – and it’s going to rain!

The last three days have again been a positive experience and another side of Japan. Kanazawa, due to not having any industry, was not bombed during the war, and why the city seems older (which is positive) than many other cities in Japan. In addition the Shinkansen only arrived 3 years ago, making it accessible in less than 3 hours from Tokyo and there has been a boom in tourism since then. It really is well worth a visit and I gave no doubt one could easily spend 2 or 3 days here.

Day 44: Shirakawago

We spent the morning in Takayama, quickly walking through the morning market along the river, which didn’t have a lot to offer. We then followed a path on the edge of town passing different temples and shrines, most of which were small and also didn’t have much to offer. At one point there was a rainbow, even though there wasn’t any rain at all.

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As we still had time before our 11.50 bus, I was thinking of walking out to see the all dominating shrine I mentioned yesterday, but was sidetracked as I saw a sign for the festival float exhibition hall. Every year Takayama holds a spring and autumn festival where 11 or 12 floats are paraded through the street. This is a 350 year old tradition and is ranked as the 3rd best festival in Japan.

Five floats were being exhibited, and very impressive they are, which is difficult to see from the picture below.

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In the museum next door there was a model of a shrine in Nikko (close to Tokyo). It is 10% of the actual size and took 33 carpenters, 18 years to make. The level of detail is amazing, and the pictures below are only a small subset of the whole model.

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We picked up our bags and queued for the 11.50 bus to Shirakawago. After Hida village yesterday, Shirakawaga is the real thing – thatched roof wooden houses where people actually live and have lived there for ca. 250 years.

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They are called Gassho-zukuri, which means “constructed like hands in prayer”, as the farmhouses’ steep thatched roofs resemble the hands of Buddhist monks pressed together in prayer. The architectural style has been developed over many generations and is designed to withstand the large amounts of heavy snow that falls in the region during winter. The roofs, made without nails, provide a large attic space used for cultivating silkworms. The village is spectacular, and overrun by tourists.

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The bus trip is short but very expensive, probably due to the road and toll. I have never before experiended as many tunnels, most several kilometers long, one after the other. When not in tunnels, the scenery resembled the Alpes. (The pictures below are taken from an observation point on a hill overlooking the village).

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We managed to change our onward ticket to Kanazawa so we could get an earlier than planned bus. When we arrived, we arranged train tickets for our journey to Tokyo tomorrow evening – using the rail pass for the last minute. Kanazawa is regarded as one of Japan’s most beautiful cities, and first impressions, with tree lined streets, is very positive. The station is very futuristic, with a roof like an umbrella – I’ll try to remember to post a picture tomorrow.

Late lunch today.

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I am writting this in Starbucks, whilst Yanmei is taking a bath at the hotel.

Day 43: Takayama

This morning we left Osaka for Takayama with a single change in Nagoya. Takayama lies at 600 m in the so called northern alps, and is surrounded by snow-capped mountains up to 3.000m.

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It was a beautiful tour through the mountains up to Takayama, which beyond the beautiful scenery is famous for its old town (which is often used on Japanese soap operas) and a village of old houses from the region.

The old town has been beautifully preserved with many buildings and whole streets of houses dating from the Edo period (1600-1868), when the city thrived as a wealthy town of merchants.

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The Hida Folk Village is an open air museum exhibiting over 30 traditional houses from the Hida region, the mountainous district of Gifu and around Takayama. The houses were built during the Edo period (1603 – 1867) and were relocated from their original locations to create the museum in 1971.

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Although we passed through Kobe on the way to Himeji, I still haven’t tasted Kobe meat whilst in Japan and whilst not Kobe, Hida beef cones from this area and is as sought after by the Japanese as Kobe beef.

200gm sirloin tasted fantastic.

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On a final note, a Japanese religious movement, Mahikari, has its main shrine here, a gold and white building that is massive and dominates the skyline – you can see it from pretty much anywhere in Takayama.

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Day 42: Nara

Japan’s first permanent capital in 710, Nara is full of World Heritage temples and shrines, six in all. On top of that, only 10km away, Horyuji Temple, with the oldest wooden buildings in the world, remaining in tact since the 8th century.

On our one day visit we managed to visit three temples and a shrine, two gardens, as well as wander through the deer park, where the deer roam free and you can purchase food to feed them.

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Kohfukuji Temple, with its five story pagoda.

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Kasuga Taisha Shrine decorated with around 1000 bronze lanterns and lots of stone on the paths leading to the shrine.

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Wakakusayama hill, where people pay to walk up the hill!

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Todaiji Temple with the world’s largest bronze Buddha and wooden structure (although currently only 2/3rds of the original size).

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Gangoji Temple, the first Buddhist temple in Japan.

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A finally Yoshikien and Isuien gardens.

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It was cold today, max. 18 degrees, perhaps the coldest day since I came to Japan, so it was Starbucks for coffee before making the 45 minute trip back to our hotel in Osaka.

For dinner we went to a sushi restaurant close to the hotel, that we had noticed returning from dinner last night. A good “old fashioned” sushi restaurant where they make the sushi in front off you – they were three sushi chefs one for each of the sides of the desk you sit at. The sushi was good, with little rice, but lots of fish. You actually got two pieces of sushi per order with an extra piece of fish as sashimi (see e.g. the red tuna pieces, there is an extra piece of fish on top of the suchi pieces).

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Day 41: Himeji

I write this as we sit on the train back to Osaka, after spending the day in Himeji, with its wonderful white castle. The first fortifications were built on this spot in the 14th century, whilst the castle that stands today is from 1609. It is one of Japan’s 12 remaining original castles, never destroyed by fire or war, although an unexploded bomb did hit it in 1945, when US air raids destroyed the rest of Himeji.

Known as the white heron because of its white exterior, many believe it resembles a heron about to take flight. It is considered To be Japan’s most spectacular castle due to its appearance and size.

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And a selfie with Yanmei.

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The castle consists of 6 floors with a shrine at the top. We walked up very steep stairs to the different floors in socks – no shoes allowed – through a room structure that is more or less unchanged since the castle was built, seeing the doors from where stones could be dropped and the walls on which the swords were kept.

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Next to the castle is a traditional and very beautiful Japanese garden, Koko-en, consisting of nine different gardens. The garden was created in 1992 on grounds that previously were part of the castle residence, that was destroyed and later excavated. The garden is built upon the grounds of the excavation, once it was completed. We had green tea where we first had to cut and eat a sweet, the take up the tea, turn the cup clockwise, twice, drink the tea, and then place the cup back on the tray after turning it anti-clockwise twice.

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And for dinner, I am not sure in what Asians see in hot pot, putting vegetables and very thinly sliced meat in a boiling soup to take them up a minute or so later, seems like a waste of effort, and I’m sure the chef could have done a better job with the ingredients.

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