Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Japan, From West to East

Weeee! We've spent the past week travelling almost across the entire country! After leaving Fukuoka, we stopped in Osaka for a couple of days. Our hostel was in a shady part of the city, showing us the highest concentration of homeless that we'd seen so far in Japan, but they were all unobtrusive. We arrived in the afternoon so we walked to the Shitennoji Temple, which had a 5-story pagoda and a nice turtle pond, then spent the evening touring all of the underground shopping districts. Osaka is known for its shopping and Nicole did her fair share.

The next morning, we visited the grand Osaka Castle and checked out views of the city from the Floating Garden Observatory. The observatory was bridged between two buildings. We even had to go up a floating escalator that ascending from one building to the other. Very cool. We spent the afternoon in Koyasan (Mount Koya). To get there we took a 1.5-hour scenic train ride south of Osaka, a 10-minute ascending cable car, and a 10-minute winding bus ride. The main attraction was an old graveyard lined with lanterns leading to the Okunoin Temple. It was beautiful walking in late afternoon. It was very chilly though, too cold for Jason in shorts and a t-shirt. We made it to Okunoin at sunset, so the sky above was beautiful against the fall colours of the trees near the temple. The highlight for us though was the Lantern Temple at dusk, lanterns hung all around it and filled it. Beautiful! Unfortunately we weren't allowed taking pictures.

The next day, we briefly stopped in Nagoya, dropped off our bags at our hotel, and then carried on 2 hours north to the mountain town of Takayama. We weren't able to get there until mid afternoon, but we still took a scenic walk to the Hida Folk Village. Situated on a pond and filled with old thatched roof houses and fall coloured trees, the area was beautiful.
There was also a nice view of Takayama with high mountains in the distance. It closed at 5pm so we couldn't stay long. We walked back into town to see old merchant houses at dusk, then returned to Nagoya for the night.

Sunday, we met up with Hiroko Baker, who we know from Jason's cottage! She was here visiting her father, who's in the hospital for surgery. We met her and her son, Sammy, at the Nagoya Aquarium. We had lunch with them, then ventured through the aquarium. We watched a cool dolphin show, followed by orca training. It's amazing what they can do. After, we toured tonnes of tanks full of fish and turtles and even penguins in an Antarctic climate. Quite a good aquarium. There was a cool little Italian village next door which had canals and gondola rides and all sorts of replica statues and buildings from Italy.

Hiroko's sister, Eri, picked us up here and then we had tea and cake at Hiroko's friend's (Junko) bakery. Junko is famous in Japan for her portrait cakes that she creates. She has even been on TV! We had a very tasty dinner with Eri's family and then returned to Junko's house as she was happy to have us stay with her. She and her husband even cooked us an awesome breakfast the next morning. So hospitable! And Shinji (Eri's husband) also drove us to the subway the next morning. Thank you so much to Eri's family and Junko's family for hosting us and thanks to Hiroko for organizing it all!

We took the train from Nagoya to Tokyo and we actually saw Mount Fuji from the train on the way (Good spotting by Nicole)! This was quite fortunate since Mount Fuji is cloud-covered most days of the year. It sure was an awesome sight! Then we carried on 3 hours north of Tokyo to the small town of Kakunodate. Again, it was late afternoon so we only had about a half hour of daylight to see the samurai houses that the town is known for. Nice houses on wide streets lined with beautiful fall coloured trees. We took the train back south an hour and a half to the city of Sendai where we stayed at our only real hotel in Japan (since there were no hostel options). It was a Comfort Hotel so it was still relatively cheap. Nice room. :)

In the morning, we walked around Sendai to see its shopping arcades and tree-lined street that it is known for. A pretty cool and active city. After, we took a 25-minute train to Matsushima. We took the wrong train line unfortunately so we had to walk a little further than we'd hoped, but we figured it out. Matsushima is considered one of Japan's most scenic spots. Its coast is lined with pretty pine-clad islands. A couple of the islands have beautiful red pedestrian bridges to them. We walked around Oshima Island which had lots of caves carved into the rock and even a tunnel. Pretty amazing. We walked all along the coast of the harbour then took a sightseeing cruise through the islands to Shiogama (just south of Matsushima). Lots of cool water-worn islands with eroded shorelines and tunnels. We took the train back to Sendai then all the way back to Tokyo. Being the last day of validity for our Japan Rail Passes, we'll be staying in Tokyo for our last 9 days in Japan. We are staying in an apartment-style hostel in a neighbourhood 30 mins northwest of downtown Tokyo. Seems to be a nice place. Looking forward to relaxing and seeing more of what Tokyo has to offer.

Osaka Pics | Koyasan Pics | Takayama Pics | Nagoya Pics | North Pics


At November 11, 2007 at 11:21 PM , Blogger Daniel Wigdor said...

Looks like you guys are still having a blast - keep up with the postings, we're reading :-)

Hey, guess what? I'm going my first (of 2) defences in December. I'll be thinkin' about ya!

Keep smilin.



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