Places and buildings, Japan

Some buildings and places we visited in Japan, Nov-Dec 2015

Walking tour of West Shinjuku, Tokyo

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The Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower in Shinjuku

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View from the observation tower on the 45th floor of the Shinjuku Sumitomo Tower. Entrance is free.

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Inside view of the Shinjuku Sumitomo Tower

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World’s largest pendulum clock in Shinjuku NS Tower. We visited the skywalk bridge and found to our pleasant surprise that there were many reasonably priced eateries there for such an expensive looking place.

 

Miyajima, one of top 3 official scenic spots of Japan

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The famed Itsukushima shrine in Miyajima at low tide with a multitude of visitors on a public holiday.

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No obstacles can stop these business professionals from visiting the shrine, not even having to carry luggages over the sand and to brave the huge crowd on a public holiday.

 

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Flowing stream and autumn leaves

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A shop sign in Miyajima. Someone should ask President Obama if he likes green tea ice cream. We did anyway 🙂 President Obama did visit Tokyo, Japan in April 2014 and perhaps green tea ice-cream was served?

Naritansan Shinshoji Temple and Garden, Narita Town

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An old Pagoda

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A closer look at the pointed roof of a temple building

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Shadow selfie – lots of photos to take in this beautiful temple and garden!

 

More Temples, Shrines and Castles

Kyoto

Himeji

 

Towers, towers everywhere, in cities and in towns

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Cycling past the Tsutenkaku Tower in Osaka’s Shinseikai area, originally builit in 1912 supposedly inspired by the Eiffel Tower in Paris and rebuilt after the war . Weather was nasty during our stay in Osaka, with intermittent rains

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Goryokaku Tower, Hakodate

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Zoomed-in view of Goryokaku Tower and its neighbourhood from Mount Hakodate in late afternoon

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Kyoto Tower on a gloomy and rainy day

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View of Sendai from hotel room on 18th floor, with a building towering over its neighbourhood.

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Sleepless in Sendai. Night scene from hotel room, facing the tower

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The 100m tall Beppu Tower in the background on a late afternoon

 

Matsushima, another  of the three most scenic places in Japan

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“Matsu” means pine or 松. You will find lots of pine trees here, little islands, clear blue waters, beautiful sky and lots of boats. Well worth the slow 40 minutes train ride from Sendai.

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The 252m-long bridge to Fukuura island

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Perfect weather for a walking tour of the bay of Matsushima

 

Hakodate, viewed from Mount Hakodate from 330pm till 5pm

 

The 8 hotspring “hells’ of Beppu

and some the animals and plants in the “hells”

 

Hiroshima Atomic Peace Memorial Park

 

Toya – Nishiyama and the destruction caused by Mount Usu’s eruptions

and the cold, cold walk after last night’s snow

 

Lake Toya, where G8 leaders met in 2008

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Rolling through the land of the rising sun

It has been a long while since I got to travel for 15 days at a stretch. We decided to get a JR Rail Pass and do a DIY getaway. Our travel took us from Tokyo to Beppu in the south (Kyushu island), north to Hakodate and then back to Narita for the flight back. We had stopovers in Himeji, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Osaka, Kyoto, Kokura, Sendai, Matsushima, Aomori and Toya, some of which were just day trips from a nearby town.

Yeejj-cycling-Himeji

Cycling from our AirBnB homestay in Himeji to the station. We had loaned out free bicycles from the Tourism office next to the station and decided to cycle with our luggages from our stay near the castle to the station before returning the bikes. When we first arrived, we had to walk nearly 40 minutes to find this house (Google map said 20 minutes walk only!). I thought that bicycling with our roller luggages for our return may be better. Turned out to be challenging as we had to cycle mostly on pavements and there were curbs and lots of bumps. We managed eventually. Do look for the free bicycles at the Tourism office (office hours only, first come first serve). Without luggages, Himeji is a nice place for cycling.

It was quite an experience travelling some 4,500 km without any private transport or taxi. The trip was done entirely by trains, trams, buses, boats, occasional cycling and lots of walking with our roller luggages. We experienced both peak and off peak travels, including the famed Tokyo peak hour trains. For some cities, we bought the day passes for either trams or buses or subways, depending on our travel plans if it works out to be cheaper than the rather expensive individual rides.

Pork buns at Kokura

Looking for food near Kokura station on the northern tip of Kyushu island while waiting for the connecting train to Beppu. We found this eatery from Tripadvisor but discovered that it was actually a takeaway kiosk and not a sit down dining. We tried it anyway. Juicy buns but not the food we were yearning for after a long ride from Osaka.

When in Japan, do as the Japanese do. We often bought along our pre-packed food and start our picnic on the long Shinkansen (bullet train) rides the moment we got to our seats. The system is so efficient that we can stopover at an intermediary city just to catch a meal at a restaurant near the station that has great online reviews and then catch another train after our meal, carefully timing our stops and monitoring the schedules.

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A train schedule for Hokkaido. Trains are relatively infrequent here and you will need to plan carefully to minimise waiting times or to avoid missing the last train back!

A bus schedule in Beppu, a quiet town in the southern island of Kyushu

A bus schedule in Beppu, a quiet town in the southern island of Kyushu. We usually snap pictures of schedules at the stations so that we can plan our return after visiting an attraction.

The transport system was amazingly efficient, even on networks that are decades old. We relied on the published timetables. Train were reliable to the exact minute arriving and departing at the various stations we were at. The punctuality was critical for planning especially in the more remote parts of Japan where transport services were often infrequent. We wanted to minimise waiting time and had to match the timetables of trains and bus / tram services.

My most frequently used words for the trip? “Sumimasen, xxxx wa doko desu ka?” (or “Excuse me, where is xxxx?” as we stop strangers and transport officials and ask for directions getting around to new hotels, to restaurants that were highly rated on travel sites and to the many places of attractions. Almost all whom we had asked tried their best to be helpful, giving us instructions which we often cannot quite fully comprehend due to our very limited range of Japanese vocabulary. However with sign language, we can roughly figure out and get near enough to our destination to ask another random stranger if we need to again. Some were even so helpful that they walked part of the way with us. A young lady even used her mobile app to translate her instructions into English for us!

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Stopping at the office of a bus company in Beppu to explore transport options. We eventually took the day pass from another bus operator which had better connections to the places of attractions we wanted to visit. Enquiring at bus stations, train stations and Tourism offices was something we did a lot at every new town to make sure that we get the transport options right to start off the visit to the town.

I must say Japan is a relatively safe place as we navigated sometimes early in the morning to sometimes late at night, in both busy and quieter areas feeling completely safe all the time. Bicycles are commonly used by Japanese but not always safe as roads can be busy and there are no bicycle lanes. Bicycles often share the pedestrian walkways but I notice that cyclists are careful to coexist safely with pedestrians.

Have travel passes, will travel!

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Sumimasen, xxx wa doko desu ka?