Monday, December 8, 2008

Japan Day 5

Our plan for our last day in Japan was pretty simple: get up, wander around Senso-ji temple, grab our bags from the hotel and make our way out to the airport and head home.

First though, our hotel was basically next door to the Bandai HQ, and we planned to pop in to see what it had to offer.

But there was a gigantic queue.

So we wandered on.

The approach to Senso-ji is a sort of elongated market street, with an assortment of gifty type stores and food stalls. We bought some indefinite sweets and bowls of noodles for breakfast.

In contrast to the other tempes we saw, Senso-ji almost seemed like a working temple -- the majority of people seemed to be locals there to worship rather than tourists (whether Japanese or gaijin) there to gawp.

A particular thing of this temple is rubbing the smoke of the incense from the main burner into your skin to ensure good health.

Another is the Nade Botokesan Buddha, which you are supposed to touch to receive good luck.

Some of the rituals seemed to involve extremely cute little children.

This looked a mighty lot like a maypole:

As we were leaving the main complex again, it seemed that the incense on the main burner was burning rather too well.

We spent a while trying fairly unsuccessfully to take a nice self-portrait.

Carefully avoiding Denny's (!)

We found a nice cafe that sold us coffee and a nice sweetened bread thing opposite yet more Bodhisattvas.

We then bought more sweets that were being made in this fantastic automated contraption.

We walked back to the hotel, stopping for a quick hug.

Then got the train back out to the airport, where we we slightly ridiculously early.

To finish, here are some of the funnier signs we saw on our trip.

It was never really an option, but I'm really glad we didn't try to drive in Japan.

To make up for the end of the trip, we had pretty cool views of Ruapehu from our domestic flight from Auckland back to Palmy.

It wasn't all bad though; we badly need some time sleeping in our own bed after all that!

Japan Day 4

Of course, no trip to Japan is complete without the heated toilet seat experience.

The experience is a little strange, it has to be said.

Do the controls need to be this graphic? I guess it helps the Kanji-deprived foreigner, so I shouldn't complain. The washing part of the bathroom was also a strange mixture of familiar and novel.

Bathing in Japan is done solely to relax; there are showers for getting clean.

I also took a couple more shots of the tea house in the light.

And we finally remembered to take a photo of the outside of the Ryokan.

Our train back to Tokyo was leaving at 14:00 or so, so we had time to squeeze in one more temple. We walked east again through some picturesque neighbourhoods.

Lots of the roofs in Japan have intricate tile work. This was one of the fancier ones.

The temple we were heading for was Chion-in, where the main theme seemed to be "big".

It was impressive and all, but somehow didn't quite make the same impact as Kiyomizu-dera the day before.

This temple certainly seemed to be a stop off on the school trip tour, there were heaps of school kids around.

In one of the back corners of the temple site, we saw one of the oddest things of the entire trip.

This photo doesn't show it, of course, but the crow you can just about see here was continually sneak up on the heron from behind and grabbing its tail feathers in its beak. The heron seemed just as baffled as we were.

Adjoining the temple were some very pretty gardens.

Even by Japanese standards, this gateway was pretty short.

The gardens had a couple of tea houses.

And it was nice to see one of these famous Zen gardens.

Then we made our way back to the station for lunch and our train back to Tokyo. On the way back, we had awesome views of Mount Fuji:

It really is quite similar to Taranaki.

We got back to Tokyo just as the sun was setting.

The hotel we'd booked was in Asakusa, and we decided to hang around this district for dinner and our last evening in Japan.

The first place we tried to go for food (recommended by the Lonely Planet) was full, so we headed for the famous "golden turd", atop the Asahi brewery:

At the brewery we had a couple of beers and a snack, and headed back into town to get some real food. This was a bit of disaster; we ended up in a restaurant that was closing around us, serving bad food for large amounts of money. After this we wandered around slightly grumpily until we worked up the courage to head into a izakaya (Japanese pub-equivalent, roughly speaking) on the fifth floor. Almost as soon as we got in (after a small shoe-related misunderstanding at the door), we felt silly for being nervous; the place was cool. Unlike many places we had been, this place was not used to foreigners; no English on the menu or from the staff and no Japanese from us, but no-one really cared. It did lead to one or two misdirections, such as thinking we were ordering sake and getting this:

We think it was Shochu, but well, who knows. I'm not sure I can entirely blame it for my expression in this photo:

We also ordered some food, and were equally surprised by what arrived. We'd guessed this was some kind of cheesy bread snack:

But it turned out to be some very think white sauce-on-celeriac snack instead. It was partly nice, partly odd.

The hotel staff had said something I failed to understand about how to get into the hotel after midnight, so for safety's sake we scuttled back to the hotel (and got there about 23:55) and went to bed for the last time in this wonderfully crazy country called Japan.