Our time in Japan was mostly on a Princess cruise with some extra days in Tokyo. We appreciated the graceful and hospitable nature of the Japanese people along our journey. We loved the clean lines and uncluttered nature of the homes we visited. The gardens were exquisite. The trains were clean, efficient and a practical way of getting around. We would be tempted to come back in autumn and/or spring and venture inland to explore more of this beautiful country.
We have arrived in Shinjuku, a ward of Tokyo. It has many claims to fame including the busiest train station in the world! We arrived at Haneda airport this morning early. As soon as you pass through customs you see a booking office where you can arrange transfers to your hotel. Easy process with English speaking assistants to book the Limousine Bus to Shinjuku station. For two people only 2460 yen – about $AU32. Then transferred to a taxi to our accommodation.
After we settled in and changed into lighter weight clothes (very warm and humid here) we tackled the trains. Firstly went to Harajuku to see the Meiji Jingu Shrine. The shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken and was built in 1920. You enter through the Torii gate and walk through a great forest, so peaceful. You walk past a display of saki barrels donated each year by brewers from around Japan. Eventually you come to the shrine.
Then another train to Shibuya to see the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world. We were perhaps a bit early to see it at it’s peak but we saw plenty of people from the upstairs window of Starbucks.
We returned to Shinjuku and went to the Metropolitan building. From the 45th floor you can get some great views of the city. On a clear day you can see Mt Fuji, unfortunately today was not one of those days. Quite a popular lookout – we queued for about 40 minutes before going up. But hey, it’s free.
We had a bit of a rest in the afternoon to recoup some sleep that we lost on the flight and to recover from all the walking. Tonight we went to Kabuchico. Lots of neon lights, restaurants, risqué establishments and very busy. Even caught sight of Godzilla on top of a building. Nearby was the Golden Gai, a street of quite small restaurants, very atmospheric. So good to see these places. We had dinner in one of these restaurants (maximum of 14 diners) and it was freshly prepared and very enjoyable.
Princess Cruise – Embarkation
Today we joined our cruise ship – Diamond Princess – at Yokohama port. Very smooth boarding process. We were fare-welled by hundreds of people waving yellow and pink flags and hankies. Because a typhoon was in the process of passing by, we anchored in the bay overnight and started officially cruising the following morning. The ship has all the good stuff you would expect – pools, spas, restaurants, bars, entertainment, production shows and people from all over the world drawn together for this Grand Japan Cruise.
Cruise – Sea Day
Today we had a day at sea. Originally we we going to Kumano to see a two hour fireworks display but this was cancelled due to the typhoon. So we had a Japanese language class, did some origami, attended the Captain’s Circle presentation for returning Princess guests, relaxed, met some great people and chatted. And of course had great food!
Cruise – Wakayama
Arrived in Wakayama. We were welcomed into port with some spectacular singing from a school choir. The whole city was full of helpful people so happy to see the first Princess ship to arrive here. We took the shuttle bus from the ship to the railway station.
The main attraction for us was Wakayama Castle. The castle was originally built in 1585 but it did not survive WWII so it was reconstructed in 1958. You approach the castle through the Otemon Gate. The castle is around 2km from where the shuttle dropped us so we took the local bus there. Lots and lots of steps leading up to the Castle. Very lovely. There are exhibits of Samurai weaponry and armour from the Edo period of Japan’s history. Inside the castle you go up a few flights of stairs to a lookout at the top and you can climb out a window and walk around a narrow walkway that offers views of the bustling city below.
Near the station there was a large department store with all the usual store offerings but in the lower floor it was very interesting. Fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, confectionery, bread and hot food available. The air conditioning was a lovely relief from the heat outside.
Cruise – Kochi
Arrived in Kochi. A drum welcome for us. Tents were set up along the dock with maps and information booklets. Again we took the ship’s shuttle into town.
We saw the Harimaya Bridge, a tiny red bridge in the heart of Kochi, which is one of the city’s most well-known and beloved landmarks. Just 20 meters long and arching over a small moat, its story has become legend. An ancient folk song tells the tale of a star-crossed love between a Buddhist monk and a merchant’s daughter: ‘In Kochi of Tosa, At Harimaya Bridge I saw a monk buy a hairpin, Yosakoi Yosakoi’. Yosakoi, meaning “come at night”, might have been good advice for Junshin, the young monk who was buying a kanzashi hairpin for his sweetheart, Ouma, at a shop near Harimayabashi. This innocent, heartfelt act ultimately led to their discovery. At the time, in the early 19th century, monks were forbidden to fall in love. Their tragic story came to an end when, as punishment for breaking social convention, Junshin was exiled from the country and Ouma was sent to the far-off east. They would never meet again.
We walked through covered arcades (Harimayabashi Shopping Street and Obiyamachi Ichibangai Shopping Street) full of shops on our way to Kochi Castle.
You enter the castle grounds through the Otemon Gate and walk through the gardens up to the castle… yes up and up more challenging steps to the castle. I only made half way, Rod did it all. Once inside the castle you can climb a series of steep stairs and ladders to reach the top for great views, which Rod did. The castle was originally constructed between 1601 and 1611 but following a fire it was reconstructed from 1748.
Again the local people were very hospitable and helpful. We were served some refreshing cold tea and local jelly dessert by some lovely volunteers dressed in kimonos.
Cruise – Busan (South Korea)
This afternoon we arrived in Busan, South Korea mid afternoon. Busan is the second largest city in South Korea. We took the ship’s shuttle into town which dropped us right near the huge Ja-Gai-Ch’i Fish Market and Gukje International Market (which includes the BIFF Square or Busan International Film Festival. Although there are no longer any cinemas in this area, they have kept the name). The fish market was established by women and is now operated by women (mostly). The area is filled with restaurants, food stalls and general market products – a real hub of community life.
We will be revisiting Busan later in the cruise. For the entertainment in the ship’s theatre tonight we were treated to THE most enthusiastic and dramatic Korean music! Chung Myung is touted as ‘the hottest rhythm performance team in Korea’, and they certainly lived up to the hype!
Cruise – Nagasaki
The ship docked very close to the city and the trams were an easy and convenient way to explore the city – a day pass was only 500 yen(about $A6). We shared the day with new friends, Michelle and Thomas.
Nagasaki was the site of one of the atomic bomb strikes that brought WWII to an end. 9 August 1945 at 11.02am will always be remembered in history. The Atomic Bomb Museum is well put together and documents the city before the bomb and the horrifying aftermath, very moving especially the section with recollections of people (mostly children at the time of the bombing) who survived the bomb.
Next to the museum there is the Peace Park containing many statues and monuments from cities around the world as well as Japan.
Nagasaki is a vibrant and charming city. We took the trams to the area near the City Hall. There we visited the 400 year old Kofukuji Temple, walked down a little shopping precinct, and took pictures of the Spectacles Bridge.
A stroll to Oura Cathedral, also known as known as the Church of the 26 Japanese Martrys, rounded off our day in Nagasaki. Well worth a return visit as this city has a lot to offer.
Cruise – Miyazaki
Again we we warmly welcomed and there were information stalls and local products available for sale at the port. We chose to do one of the ship’s excursions today to the Udo Shrine and to Obi, the site of the former Obi Castle.
The Udo Shrine is inside a grotto created by the waves. Access from where the coach parked was via around 400 steps down (and then, of course, back up – not quite as easy). There were a few flat sections and some refreshment stations. It was well worth the effort! A spectacular setting and very picturesque.
Outside the shine, down the cliff-side is Turtle Rock. If you can throw a lucky stone and land it in the small pond of water within the rock you are said to be the possessor of luck. Men must throw with their left hand and women with their right. Rod landed one dead centre in the pond, much to the delight of many of the local onlookers!
In Obi only the ruins of the castle remain. However, we visited 3 sites there – Yoshokan (the home of the head of the Ito Clan built in 1869), Matsugaemachi No Maru (a re-creation of an Edo Period nobleman’s residence and the Obi Clan Historical Museum. We spent a little time in the town and were interested to see many colourful koi fish in one section of the water filled gutters along the road.
We were treated to a drum farewell as we sailed and had a delightful dinner.
Cruise – Sea Day
Plenty to do on board – swimming pools, spas, the library, trivia, movies on deck, cocktails … and food. The day goes quickly.
Cruise – Yokohama
We did a bit of exploring by local buses today. We went to Sankeien Garden which was created by Sankei Hara, a businessman who made a fortune trading silk. The gardens opened to the public in 1906.
The gardens are well laid out and a map is provided. There are old houses and pavilions around as well as a three story pagoda.
The highlight for us was going to the Sankei Memorial where we took part in a traditional tea ceremony and learnt how to prepare it by a gorgeous Japanese lady. She taught Rod first and then he had to teach me. The Japanese ladies thought Rod was an excellent teacher!
More of the garden. (Yes, those lotus are HUGE!)
After getting a little ‘lost’ on the buses we eventually made it back to port. Not far away was The Red Brick Warehouse which was built in around 1913. It had fallen into disrepair after the war but in 1992 the city redeveloped it as a place where cultural and commercial centre. We had a wander through this arcade of beautiful shops and eateries with a great atmosphere. It is obviously a great attraction for the locals to meet.
Back to the ship. Sail-away was celebrated with hundreds of people on the wharf waving yellow flags.
Cruise – Toba
Another warm welcome to port. We were taken into port on tenders. At the wharf there were locals offering information and local tours.
We decided to walk down to the Mikimoto Pearl Island. Access was via a bridge. Once there you could view a museum, a showroom of pearls for sale and view a memorial hall.
Some interesting facts on the globe, above. The globe is 33cm diameter, there are 12,541 pearls making the oceans, the land is 22k gold, 377 rubies form the equator, 373 diamonds indicate the ecliptic and the north pole is plutonium.
A highlight was watching AMAs (women pearl divers) diving for pearl oysters. They are clothed in the traditional white clothes and retrieve the oysters, placing them in wooden casks. This is a tradition dating back to 1893 when Kokichi Mikimoto first cultivated pearls.
We strolled through town on the way back to the ship. The last tender back was 2.30pm. A short but interesting time in Toba.
Cruise – Takamatsu
Today we shared the day with our new friends, Bryce and Trish. We took a taxi to Ritsurin Garden, one of the most beautiful gardens we have ever seen. By good fortune we met a volunteer guide, Nobu, whose English was excellent. He showed us through a portion of the garden and gave us a heap of information on the various trees, plantings, symbols and meanings within the garden. He probably spent the best part of 90 mins with us. A proud local, the garden is significant to him as it was here that he proposed to his wife. This place would be glorious in Autumn when the maple trees show their colours.
In the garden we visited a Kikugetsu tea house. The name comes from a line in a Chinese poem which reads ‘When I scoop up the water, I hold the moon in my hands’. The view of the Nanko Pond from the tea house was lovely.
We saw the grafted black (male) pine and red (female) pine known as the marriage tree.
And among other things we saw the pine planted by King Edward on his visit to Japan when he was the Prince of Wales.
Here are more photos from around the garden.
After the garden we took another taxi back into town before going back to the ship.
Cruise – Sea Day
Cruise – Busan
After docking in the morning we took a ship’s excursion to the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple. The temple’s position so close to the sea adds to the atmosphere of this place. You descend 108 steps to get to the temple. These are known as the longevity steps. If you go down all 108 you may live until you are 108 years old.
After seeing the temple we visited APEC House, constructed for the 2005 APEC meeting.
From there we walked along the seafront to see the mermaid statue and to view Haeundae Beach, South Korea’s version of Bondi.
Cruise – Sakaiminato
Today we met Sandra and Charlie on the dock and decided to hire a taxi together for the day to take us around this area. This was an economical way for us to get around and was heaps cheaper than doing a ship’s excursion.
First we went to Tottori Hanakairo, a lovely flower park. It had beautiful orchids in a huge flower dome. It was steadily raining today but we still enjoyed this garden.
We then went to Matsue Castle, one of only 12 original castles in Japan.
Next to the castle was a museum. We didn’t go in but found these great drums.
Then we visited Yuushien Garden on Daikonjima Island. Lovely.
We especially loved the peonies.
One of the famous areas of Sakaiminato is Mizuki Shigeru Road which has 177 bronze statues of yoking. Yokai are figures of Japanese folklore. Mizuki Shigeru created the manga series GeGeGe no Kitaro in the 1960s. Since then the characters have been adapted into films and video games.
Tonight we enjoyed a lovely Italian meal at Sabatini’s, one of the speciality restaurants on the ship. We shared the experience with Trish and Bryce and had a great time.
Cruise – Kanazawa
Today we shared a taxi again with Sandra and Charlie to explore the town. Our first stop was Kenroku-en Garden. It looked lovely but as it was pouring with rain we only spent a short time here. (Bonus for Janice – senior citizens got in for free!)
Next to the garden we visited Kanazawa Castle.
Later we went to the Higashi Chaya District, one of the old tea (read ‘entertainment and night-life’) areas of Kanazawa. It still has the old wooden houses featuring slatted windows. There were art galleries, tea and trinket shops among normal family homes.
We then went to the Naga-machi Buke Uashiki District to walk through an old Samurai house.
A most enjoyable day.
Cruise – Sakata
After a warm welcome at port we took the ship’s shuttle into town.
The first place we visited was Somaro. Dating back 200 years, Somaro is a maiko tea house and museum. It was restored in 1995. Maiko are trainee geisha. Maiko must go through 6 months of intensive training in dance, singing, shamisen (Japanese guitar) and etiquette before they can perform for guests. We were privileged to attend a performance after viewing the house.
We walked up to Obama: NK Agent, the location set of the Academy Award winning movie called Departures.
Hiyoriyama Park had a view of one of the oldest wooden lighthouse in Japan.
On our return to the shuttle bus area we found a shop where you could try on a kimono. In the mall, there was a frenetic sale of kimonos where you could buy one for 1000 yen and the obi (the sash) for another 1000 yen. Couldn’t resist. Rod also donned samurai armour.
As it hadn’t stopped raining we returned to the ship.
Cruise – Sea Day
A great day to reflect on the cruise and all the things we had seen and experienced. Did some washing and finished the book so it could be returned to the ship’s library. Rod even took the plunge in a traditional Japanese Bath (or onsen) which is onboard ship.
Cruise – Disembarkation
Very smooth disembarkation process. We were met by our pre-booked shuttle and taken back to our hotel in Shinjuku.
After checking into the hotel we braved the trains again and headed to Asakusa. This is an area where you can see the ‘old Tokyo’. Coming out of the station you are met by heaps of young rickshaw drivers offering to take you around. These were rather expensive so we passed on that and elected to walk. Good choice as it worked out as it gave us a chance to visit the market stalls that lined the street leading to the temple and to the old area of the town.
We were there on a Sunday and so was half of Tokyo it seemed. Great atmosphere. Many young couples dressed in kimonos and yukata. The market stalls sold everything from souvenirs, to food to clothes and masks.
After you reach the end of the market stalls you come to a Buddhist temple called Sensoji.
Down another street and you can see the older buildings.
The area is not far from the 634 metre Tokyo Skytree Tower, currently the tallest tower (not skyscraper) in the world.
We came back to Shinjuku and had en excellent meal at Dan-Da-Dan Sakba restaurant.
Mt Fuji Tour
We had pre-booked this Grayline Tour to Mt Fuji and Lake Ashi. We had spoken to many people before and during the cruise who had visited Fuji but had not seen her because of heavy haze or cloud cover, so we commenced our day trip with a feeling of this was going to be a huge waste of money. However, this is what we saw.
Our first sighting was at Fujisan World Heritage Centre in Shizuoka about a 2 hour journey. We had a comfort stop here before heading to the 5th Station up Mt Fuji (the highest point vehicles can ascend) which was another 40 minutes. There she was, clear and proud.
At the 5th Station, there were many tourist coaches which had emptied many more tourists. Lots of people were waiting in groups in anticipation of their trek up Fuji. We only had an hour so we explored this area which included the lovely Fujisan Komitake Shrine.
We came back down Mt Fuji headed for our lunch destination in Gotemba, at the foot of Fuji, where we enjoyed a traditional meal with prawns, chicken broth, pickled bamboo, rice and a sweet sesame paste bun for dessert.
Then onto Lake Ashi for a cruise and then a ride up the Hakone Komagatake Ropeway which is 1800m long and the summit 950m high. The weather had changed dramatically by this time so by the time we made it to the top we were completely shrouded in cloud. View = zero.
Once we were back down the mountain there was a quick look t the shops then it was all aboard to Odawara where we boarded the Bullet Train for our return to Tokyo.
Back to Shinjuku after a BIG day. Feeling blessed.
Shinjuku and Travel Home
This morning we headed to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. I think it would be a garden best viewed in Spring and Autumn. After that into Shinjuku for some retail therapy.
Haneda’s departure area as lovely. Just above the check in there were two levels with great restaurants, shops and displays. That, along with free internet, helped while away the time before departure. We have loved every moment of our trip.
Categories: Asia - Japan