In order to be rested before our long trip to Japan, we booked a room at the Ibis Styles Hotel Heathrow the night before, which included breakfast and free wifi and was nice and comfy with a much appreciated tea tray,. We had a surprise when we looked in the bathroom – there was a picture of a rather cheeky giraffe!
We had a lovely night’s sleep but had to get an early 5.30am breakfast to get the National Express Hopper to Heathrow Airport Terminal 4 in time to check in and get through security ready for our 9.45am flight.
Day 1 – Monday 11th – Travel to Japan via Paris, Charles de Gaulle Airport with Air France
After checking in our baggage we met our Titan Travel UK rep, Teresa. We then made our way through security and found a café to enjoy a cup of tea and log on to the free wi-fi. On boarding we found ourselves in the back row but it wasn’t long before we were touching down at Charles de Gaulle airport and taking our first ever connecting flight. Unfortunately Isabel’s phone disappeared before we boarded the next plane, which was a nuisance as we only had one phone to rely on for all our facebook and twitter posts, etc.
We found our seats near the rear of the plane and settled in for our long 11 hour and 50 minutes flight to Osaka Kyoto Airport, luckily the in flight entertainment helped with a wide range of movies, TV programmes, etc plus it’s always amazing to track your flight’s progress on the screen.
Isabel has to take her glasses off to view the screen and somehow they were lost during the flight – possibly going out with the food tray, so that was a really good start to the holiday. Luckily she had a spare pair. She’s not normally so careless!
Day 2 – Tuesday 12th – Osaka Airport, Kyoto to Kyoto City Centre
After we landed we made our way through Customs and met up with our fellow tourers and Teresa our rep led us to the coach for our trip to our first hotel, the Daiwa Roynett Hotel Ekimae, where we were spending our first three nights. Phew that’s a long old journey! Japan is 9 hours ahead of the UK, so we arrived at our hotel in the morning and had the rest of the day at leisure.
We put our feet up and had a cup of tea and a nap before going in search of some food. Luckily nearby Kyoto railway station is a huge place and has a wide selection of shops and restaurants and we found a popular chain offering a range of katsu dishes (pork, chicken or minced beef fried in breadcrumbs) served with rice and miso soup. It was delicious! It’s difficult using chopsticks but we managed, apart from making one gaffe – we ordered a baked custard, which looked very much like a pretty pudding but we found it was a savoury dish and we didn’t like it. The joys of menus in Japanese!
At this complex they also have a peaceful bamboo Sky Garden, which is accessed via half a dozen escalators, each one taking you ever skywards! From here there are lovely views over the city. Below you can see me with Isabel – I wore a special blue and green scarf, which Rosemary had made at the Lewis Manning Hospice Day Centre, so she was with us on the holiday in spirit 🙂
On our travels, near the hotel we came across the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple where I rested my paws by a rather fierce dragon!
Day 3 – Wednesday 13th – Kyoto Full Day Tour
We had a 7.15 am wake up call & went down to the Vietnamese restaurant for breakfast. At 9.00 am we took the coach to the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine on the hill where there are 10,000 orange Torii gates and we had 40 minutes to look round. This is an important Shinto Shrine in Southern Kyoto.
We then reboarded the coach and went to the Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum. A lovely old Japanese lady owner showed us round while our local guide, Eri, translated. They told us about the history of sake and how it is made and the best bit was the samples!. We finished this visit with a trip to their shop, where we bought some souvenirs, although we found out later that they had given us a small bottle as a free gift, which was very nice of them.
We continued the tour with a visit the Koda-ji Temple for a traditional tea ceremony
then we walked to Gion, one of Japan’s best-known Geisha districts, where saw some ladies in traditional kimonos, but apparently they are usually Chinese tourists.
We had 1 ¼ hour’s free time so we had a wander round went to the Tatsumi Bashi Bridge for a photo then had lunch at the Gion Anon dessert restaurant, macarons, tart and ice cream. Mmm, I do love a pud!
We ended the day with a visit to the beautiful Zen Buddhist Kinkaku-ji Temple, known as the ‘Golden Pavilion’ where we admired the very ornate buildings and had a walk round the lovely gardens.
We got back at 5.30pm and then went out to find something to eat. The restaurant was full so we booked for 9.00pm and went for a walk by the Kamo River. We returned to the Pound Kyoto Ekimae Restaurant where we had short rib Kobe beef that you cooked in a hot plate in the table, which was a novelty!
Day 4 – Thursday 14th – Miyajima Island & Hiroshima Trip
06:30 wake up call this morning and straight down to breakfast (they are always tidying!). We left at 8am for 08:27 bullet train, arrived in Hiroshima at 10:03 (exactly!). The bullet train was clean, spacious and punctual – British Rail please note!
We then took the coach to ferry terminal, and a 10 min ferry to Miyajima Island, where deer roam freely, although you mustn’t touch or feed them here.
We walked round the UNESCO World Heritage site at Itsukushima Shrine with the famous floating Torii gate (The Great Torii) and bought lunch of steamed meat dumplings and local mandarin ice cream at the local stalls.
We then took the coach back to Hiroshima to walk round Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. We saw the Atomic Bomb Dome, Peace Clock Tower, Bell of Peace, Children’s Peace Monument, and Flame of Peace followed by 40 minutes in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. A very moving experience – it was horrific hearing the first hand accounts of the innocent civilians and children who were going about their normal daily business. The world really needs to be free of these awful weapons.
A map in the museum showing the total destruction after the bomb went off overhead:
We ended our day away by catching the 1705 bullet train, getting back at 18:43.
Feeling rather peckish after our long day, we had dinner in Porta food court at Okonomiyaki Machiya for pork okonomiyaki and fried potato.
Day 5 – Friday 15th – Nara Day Trip, Spending the Night in Hakone
06:15 alarm this morning and bags outside room at 06:45 as they are going direct to our Tokyo Hotel. The coach arrived at for our 1 h20m journey to the Nara National Park and the Toda-ji Temple (said to be the world’s largest wooden building) with giant Buddha statue where the deer run free as they are said to be messengers of the gods, but unlike Hiroshima they let you feed them, even selling deer biscuits but be careful though because they bite and kick, as experienced by some in our group.
We stayed for nearly 1 hour then we took the coach to nearby Kasuga Taisha Shinto Shrine. This Shrine had lots of lanterns and would be lovely and peaceful without tourists like us! We looked round the Shrine with our guide then had half an hour free for a quick look round museum before enjoying an ice cream. The coach then took us back to Kyoto train station for lunch at the Café du monde coffee then enjoyed a few moments peace and quiet in the sunshine at the Sky Garden.
We then took the 14:32 bullet train, arriving at Odawara at 16:35 (yes the trains really are that precise!).
The coach then took us to Hakone for 6pm and certain members of our group had paid extra to stay in a Ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, although we were staying at the Palace Hotel Hakone and had a delicious communal four course dinner at 7pm. The weather was turning because of the approaching typhoon and we weren’t near the town centre so we spent the rest of the evening in our room.
Day 6 – Saturday 16th – Hakone Day Tour then Travelling to Tokyo
07:00 alarm today, leaving at 08:30 to pick up ryokan guests then back to where we came from for the 09:40 cable car trip up Hakone ropeway (waste of an hour!). Unfortunately it was too cloudy to see Mt Fuji!
Back down cable car sharpish then on ferry on Lake Ashi. We had a very early lunch in ferry terminal (nothing much in restaurant but there was a vending machine kfc!). We then had a 1hr 20min coach trip to the Fujisan World Heritage Centre but still no view of Fuji! Here we see a mix of the old vs the new, the delicate craftsmanship of the samurai warrior costumes and the talking robot, which seems typical of Japan:
Afterwards we had a 2 hour coach to Tokyo, arriving around 5.00 o’clock. Many stayed near the hotel but we decided to venture in to Tokyo city centre but their train systems are something else! It’s the London Underground map on steroids! So many lines, colours and different platforms, although they run so precisely that they computer graphics tell you how many minutes left to each station. They also tell you when there is a delay – one was due to ‘bear on track’, which isn’t something we see every day!
We took the Rinkai line, changing to the JR Rail to Akihabara Electric Town, an area full of electrics & geeks, which looks very impressive at night.
We spent the evening here and went to a Maid Café for ice cream and cake (a really weird Tokyo experience), taking photos, ending with a KFC, arriving back by half 10.
Day 7 – Sunday 17th – Tokyo Tour + Free Time
07:00 alarm, leaving at 08:30 for Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa, which is the oldest and most visited temple in Tokyo, founded almost 1,400 years ago, although it has been rebuilt over the centuries. A Typhoon is due so the big lantern was half up at Kaminarimon Gate and we got soaked wandering up and down.
We walked down Nakamise shopping street buying some souvenirs along the way with all the tourist stalls then along the road shops. We took a coach to the Imperial Palace (photo is not actually of the Imperial Palace itself, it’s of the Seimoin Stonebridge (Megane-bashi) with Seimon Ironbridge (Nijū-bashi) in background, plus another photo of the lovely black pines of the gardens in the forefront and the modern skyscrapers of the business district in the background.)
It was very wet so we went back on bus quickly and those wishing to stay in Tokyo were dropped off at Ginza, outside a Tea Salon afternoon tea, so we thought we’d pop in for lunch. If you’re following my adventures, you know I do love an afternoon tea! Delicious!
We went along Ginza’s main shopping street Chuo-dori, which is pestrianised on weekend afternoons. We took a JR Rail journey to Shibuya crossing, a very busy crossing, going in to Starbucks to take a photo. We stopped at the Hachikō statue in Shibuya, which is a statue of the dog that waited for his owner every day even after he had died (the story told in the Richard Gere film called ‘Hatchi’).
The weather was still bad but we took the train to Odaiba to look at Tokyo Bay skyline. Unfortunately it was still too misty so we walked round shops instead. Soaking wet, we went back to mall by hotel for pork katsu at Tonkatsu Wako, served by one of the few grumpy people we have encountered in Japan. We thought we had ordered a meal each but only ended up with one! The joys of not speaking the language! Back in hotel at 7ish
Day 8 – Monday 18th – Nikko Day Trip
Comfortable shoes are needed today, as we take a day-trip north of Tokyo to the attractive mountain town of Nikko, gateway to the spectacular Nikko National Park. The town has been a centre of Buddhist and Shinto worship for centuries and is known for its many splendid shrines and temples, recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. We will visit the richly decorated Toshogu shrine, which houses the mausoleum of the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, and head into the park to see the impressive 97m high Kegon Falls. We return to our hotel in Tokyo this evening.
07:00 alarm, leaving at 8.30 for the 3 hour coach trip to Nikko National Park, another UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its many splendid shrines and temples. We didn’t actually go to Nikko but the Toshogu Shrine with impressive Yomeimon Gate, which has only recently reopened after a 4 year restoration, so we were lucky to see it. Traditional Japanese architecture at it’s best!
We walked up 200 steps to Tokugawa Ieyasu’s tomb. We had a quick picnic that we had bought at the local supermarket – a curry brioche no less, everything is a real surprise and you can’t read the description or ingredients! The coach took us up 20 hairpin bends to Lake Chūzenji (a scenic lake in the mountains above the town of Nikko. It’s located at the foot of Mount Nantai, Nikko’s sacred volcano, whose eruption blocked the valley below, thereby creating Lake Chuzenji about 20,000 years ago) to see the view then on to the Kegon Falls, the impressive 97m high waterfall.
We took the lift down to the bottom for a photo opportunity then back up to the ceramic shop & had an ice cream. On the way down the coach goes round 28 hairpin bends! The Irohazaka Route is a pair of winding roads with 48 hairpin bends in total, one for each letter of the old Japanese alphabet. After a 3 hour coach journey we returned to Tokyo, arriving at 7.30. Isabel and I put our feet up while Helen went back out to look round Tokyo (Odaiba, Shibuya, Shinzuku, Kabukicho, golden Gai)
Day 9 Tuesday 19th – Tokyo, Free Day, Flight in Eve
Our last day and we are free to go where we like as long as we are back for 7.30pm and our transfer to Tokyo Airport today for a scheduled Air France flight to London via Paris. No wake up alarm but up at 8.00, leisurely breakfast, sort bags and out at 10.30.
We went back in to Tokyo and went up the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building to see for view for free over sprawling Tokyo but it was busy. Hi everybody!
We took the train to Ameya-Yokocho market (also called Ameyoko market) to have a wander. There was lots of touristy rubbish but also lots of eateries, so we had ramen for lunch and crepes filled with fruit, squirty cream and ice-cream.
We then went on the train to Akasuka, although we mistakenly got off at the wrong station – 2 seemed to have the same name) so walked along the road shops by Seno-ji temple again (saw lantern fully down this time as the typhoon has moved away). I was pleased to find a Japanese kimono in my size as a souvenir!
Rosemary and Beryl would have loved to see a traditional Japanese Garden. It was on the other side of a busy traffic junction that was undergoing roadworks and we arrived at 16:45 but unfortunately it shut at 17:00. We went back to the shopping centre near the hotel for a bite to eat and then back to hotel ready for our pick up at 7.30 to be taken to Haneda Airport Tonkyo. We went through security and had cinnamon pastry and Croque Monsieur before our 22:45 flight.
A couple of observations and facts from our trip to Japan:
- the coaches were always extremely well presented – even the wheels always looked immaculate!
- the toilets vary from their normal squat ones in the floor to the most elaborate Western toilets with sounds effects, heated seats, self cleaning seats, self flushing, etc, see panel below:
JAPAN FACT: Paris to Osaka International Airport: 5,987 miles or 9, 615km. Flight time 11 hours 50 minutes.
JAPAN FACT: More than 70% of Japan consists of mountains including more than 200 volcanoes, the tallest of which is Mount Fuji, an active volcano.
JAPAN FACT: Japan is made up of 6,852 islands!
Day 10 – Wednesday 20th – Arrive in London
Arrived in Paris an hour early at 03:30 so we had ages to wait for 07:25 flight – French time and the cafes didn’t open until 5.30, so we were gasping for a cuppa and a snack! Helen caused drama at Charles de Gaulle airport security with bullet keyring (oops). We arrived at 07:50, waited in arrivals till coaches at 09:30 and 09:40.
A truly wonderful experience!
Now I need to rest my paws for a few days and think up some more adventures!