#TBT: Japan April 2005: Laundry in Nagoya, Travel to Hakone, Hakone Ryokan

Laundry Day!

We woke up at 7am and packed everything except our week’s worth of dirty laundry. Went down to the front desk and got directions to the coin laundromat (this place is way too fancy-shmancy to have its own laundry facilities on site). The girl at the desk said it was about a 20 min walk and, after I valiantly (and stubbornly) tried to carry my share of the clothes we needed to wash, we decided to take a taxi. The girl in the main lobby would not let me hold my own bag, which turned out to be a good thing because the taxi driver had NO idea of what we were talking about or where this place was, even with a map. And even with the main lobby girl’s help, he still had to ask for directions as we got closer.

The washing machines in Japan are decidedly smaller than in the US and with that, along with Joe wearing clothes that are significantly larger than the average Japanese (and mine only slightly smaller), we wound up having to do 9 days’ worth of clothes in 4 loads (grin). Took about 2 hours, give or take. Prices were ¥400 (“big” washer…yeahright), ¥300 (medium) and ¥200 (small), and ¥100 per 10 minutes of gas dryer time.


“How to use the washing machine,” with cute little mermaid character to help you follow the precautions


“How to use the dryer” too.


At one point, I think the 3 of us were using every machine in the room


Proof that it’s REAL gas in the gas dryer…see the flame?

After our laundry was done, we went back to our hotel and did our final packing. Japan has a system where you can mail big packages, including luggage, to another destination. So for our next leg of the trip, which was only for 2 days, we packed our carry-on luggage and sent our “big” luggage on to Tokyo Disneyland, which was our destination for Sunday. It was less than $25 per bag and saved us the hassle of shlepping our big pieces with us (MODERN-DAY NOTE: Japan still offers luggage transportation services and let me tell you, it is WONDERFUL and SO convenient! We used Takkyubin, which is the company that Japan Rail Pass recommends. Because their logo is a mother cat holding a kitten, we started referring to it at the pussycat service).

After finally checking out, we had bell services hold our carry-ons (which still weighed a ton…Joe’s backpack was a good 35 pounds and his overnight bag was probably well over 40 pounds) while we had lunch at the hotel’s Chinese restaurant. The food was OK, although part of the meal was somewhat unidentifiable (grin).

Picked up our luggage and made our way to the train station. Spent quite a bit of time looking for postcards as well as for the place where we could make our Shinkansen reservations. Finally got that done and went on the Shinkansen for our 2-hour train ride to the Odawara station of Hakone.

We had misjudged the amount of time it would take to get to our next hotel (MODERN-DAY NOTE: Joe wrote about the issue in his post called “My Most Embarrassing Travel Mistake“), which was actually a ryokan (Japanese-style bed & breakfast) called “Hotel Taiseikan,” that also served us dinner. So we bought some bento boxes (pre-made meals in a box) in case we got there after the 6:30pm “last serving” deadline (and since I’m typing this at 6:55pm on the train from Odawara, I don’t think we’re gonna make it (wink).

Later on…

Well, it’s now 9:05pm and no, we didn’t make it anywhere near 6:30pm, but after our arrival at 7:50pm, they said they would serve us in our room at 8pm. After Joe called to let them know we would be late, they kept their ONE employee who (kinda, sorta) spoke English, so she could serve us. And what a dinner it was – I think there were 10 courses all together! 2 or 3 kinds of soup, and rice and Japanese noodles and vegetables and meats and fish and geez, I don’t remember what else. Oh yeah…cooked baby squid. I’m proud to say that I did TRY the baby squid…and hated it (wink). We specifically asked ahead of time for meals without sashimi for me…so at least I didn’t have to worry about anything raw(MODERN-DAY NOTE: my culinary tastes have broadened TREMENDOUSLY since 2005 and, short of raw horse and whale, there is very little I will not eat in Japan nowadays). Steve has gone to Morimoto in Philly (the place run by The Iron Chef) and he says a meal like that would have cost about $200 each at a restaurant. Usually they would serve us course by course, but since we had gotten there so late, they gave us everything at once. Here’s an idea of the spread they gave us:


I have no idea what I was holding in my chopsticks but, even if it was not raw, there was NO WAY I was gonna eat it.

Our “room” (more like a freakin’ condo!) is HUGE:


As you enter, there’s a 4’x11′ entry foyer where we leave our slippers (we already left our shoes near the front desk…the amazing thing was that when we’d leave our room and go to the hotel lobby, our shoes [and ONLY our shoes, no one else’s shoes] were already out, waiting for us! Anyway, you have to walk either barefoot or just in socks in the rooms…Japanese tradition, plus shoes or even slippers would ruin the delicate tatami floors)


There is a 8’x8′ entry room that we used for our luggage (sorry it’s blurry)


This is our 15’x18′ bedroom/eating room


The beds are Japanese-style futon mattresses on the floor, by the way. Not nearly as uncomfortable as you’d think. Either that or we were just too exhausted to care, by the end of the day.


This was a 6’x21′ porch that overlooked a garden and waterfall (we didn’t get to actually SEE the garden & waterfall until the next morning…but we heard the waterfall all night long. Made you have to pee. And the toilet was 20′ down the hall, in the parts of the room/condo that weren’t heated. With overnight temps in the 40’s. Oh joy.)


and a 15′ hallway that led to 2 of the 4 double closets on the right and a water closet (with a heated seat on the toilet) on the left (from this picture…I’m at the far end of the hallway…the entry foyer is the opening on the left side and 8′ x 8′ “luggage” room is directly in front of me, at the end of the hall). By the way, you see where the archways of the rooms are? Joe and (especially) Steve hit their heads on those ALL the time…..


Water closet with the weirdest toilet tank water-refill system we ever saw…the water was fed through a pipe to be OVER the tank and then poured in, like a water fountain.

Nearly all of this (except the water closet) has tatami mat flooring. The only thing we haven’t found yet is a shower

Tomorrow is Saturday and I believe we’re going to visit the Japanese-style baths. Joe found something like a Japanese-style “bath theme park,” where you can wear a bathing suit instead of the normal nude bathing. Good thing, huh?

Joe is trying to set up the computer for dial-up here in Hakone so I can get this note out. If you can read this, it worked (grin). More when I can…

Saturday morning…well, the good new is that we found our room with the tub. We just didn’t know how to use the doorknob (grin):


This hallway has closets on the right side, with extra blankets and pillows. At the end was what we thought was just a wall with wooden slats for decoration.


But nope! Turned out one of the slats was actually the “latch” to open what was not a wall, but a door that lead you into:


A modern-day sink setup. And if you walked through that tiny room, you discovered this:


A Japanese-style bath, made out of rocks! You sit on the little wooden stool, wash yourself and rinse with the bamboo buckets that are next to the tub (there are separate faucets, outside of the tub, to get the water from), and then sit and soak and contemplate in the rock tub, which is fed by the hot spring water.

The bad news is that Joe still can’t get the dialup to work, so I’m not sure when y’all will be able to read this.


Update…he got it to work! Yippee!

#TBT: Japan in April 2005: World Expo in Aichi (Day 2)

Today started much the same as yesterday…wake up at 6:30am (I’m tellin’ ya, it’s killing me), stop at Starbucks for a quick take-out breakfast (you should SEE how they wrap stuff when it’s “to go”), and on the various trains to the Expo.

We got there around 10:30am and thought about going to some of the corporate pavilions.

Unfortunately, the lines for the corporate pavilions were already upwards of 50 to 150 minutes long. Apparently, the Japanese have no issues with standing on long, LONG lines, if they know they’re waiting for something good, or even just consider it to be the “in thing” (I kid you not) to stand in line to do something. Not being of that Japanese mindset, we decided to skip the long lines of the corporate pavilions for the time being and take the skyway (¥600…about $5.40) to the “World Showcase” (not the real word, but you know what I mean) countries, sharing the car with 3 giggling Japanese school girls who squealed every time the car bounced.


AAAHHHH!!!!!!! Hehehehehehe!


Our descent into the “World Showcase”

We started in Europe…saw Poland, Lithuania, Russian Federation, U.K.,Czech Republic, Ireland, Austria, Romania, Switzerland, Belgium, then back to Romania around 1:45pm for lunch. Then we visited Portugal, Bosnia Herzegovina, Tunisia, Greece, Bulgaria, Spain, South Africa, Africa and finally Egypt.


Outside of the Poland Pavilion


The “salt mines” inside the Poland Pavilion. The hosts and hostesses in here were very impressed that Joe was half-Polish


Genuine wooly mammoth skeleton, as seen inside the Russian Federation Pavilion


Sharon (videotaping as she tobogganed – she’s talented like that) and Steve Tobogganing in the Austria Pavilion


And you can’t have Austria without dancing to the Blue Danube!


Joe and Sharon in front of a mock-up of the Swiss Alps in the Switzerland Pavilion. Ricola!


Outside the Holland Pavilion, with the monster-size horizontal tulips


Joe in front of a HUGE platypus model in the Australia Pavilion. The hosts in there, who were THRILLED to have people who spoke English, said that several Japanese guests were asking if the platypus was life-size ☺.

I don’t remember where this guy was from, but he was cute. And it’s a decent picture of me, despite the (intentionally) HUGE eyes


The food kiosk at the USA Pavilion had steak sandwiches and Yankee dogs! (sorry for the sideways picture)


…and Manhattan steak curry, corn soup and Budweiser!


Original bust of Nefertiti from the Egypt Pavilion


Authentic King Tut stuff from Egypt Pavilion

We strolled around for a little while after that and spent some time in the gift shop (which was more crowded than Magic Kingdom on New Year’s Eve!).


Sharon (and plush friends) outside the main gift shop

After some more alternating strolling and sitting/resting, we visited some more corporate pavilions, since we noticed around 4pm that the park was finally starting to empty out.


Toyota Pavilion at nighttime


Gas Pavilion at night (yeah, we made a lot of jokes at its expense. Wouldn’t you?)


Steve and friend


Pretty nighttime shot


Another pretty nighttime shot


These girls were a riot. They were in front of one of the Gas Pavilion and at closing time, they’d stand in a perfect row and say goodbye to people, thanking them for visiting, sometimes with a little dance, always in unicent. I walked in front of them more than once, just to make them do it again. Cuz I could ☺.

And what WAS our impression of the 2005 World Expo in Nagoya Japan? Well, some of it was very nice and a lot of it was very pretty. Perhaps the artistic and cultural differences had some thing to do with it, but several of the exhibitions DID just make us scratch our heads and say, “WTF?” Don’t get me wrong…we had a really nice time and we’re glad to say we went. But a LOT of the presentations were very….Japanese….which is VERY different from how we’re used to seeing things in the States. And when we see a 3D movie with fish and flowers and lights and music and no narration in ANY language, well, we think we missed something by only having the perspective of being Americans who, like it or lump it, are used to being offered “in your face” entertainment that’s aimed at the lowest common denominator. But we had a good time (grin).

We left the fair around 9pm and decided to go to the Nagoya Hard Rock Cafe for dinner. It was typical HRC and we got to add to our various HRC collections (pins, shirts, magnets, etc).


Sharon and Joe and plush friend and our server (who LOVED America)

Took a taxi back to our hotel around 11pm (¥1180 [figure about $10] for a 15-min ride) and getting ready for tomorrow…do a full laundry, check out of the hotel, ship our non-essentials to TDL if we can figure out how, and travel to Hakone.

We’ll only have dial-up service from Hakone and TDL, so my messages may start to become sporadic. Until next time…

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Continue reading “#TBT: Japan in April 2005: World Expo in Aichi (Day 2)”

#TBT: Japan April 2005: World Expo in Aichi (Day 1)

The 2005 World Exposition in Aichi (just outside Nagoya) opened at 9:30am today so we woke up at 6:30am, got ready, and had a quick coffee and doughnut at the nearby Starbucks. I noticed that the Starbucks here was not as fastidious about recycling as they were in Kyoto…they only asked you to separate the paper vs plastic and had a garbage can that said, “Please dispose of your liquid here.” However, they also offered real  ceramic mugs if you were not “to go” and the employees helped you to empty your tray…though the latter might’ve been because they figured us foreigners didn’t know any better (grin).

The walk to the train station during the daylight (without luggage. Or rain.) gave us a much better idea of the part of Nagoya we were staying in. It seems to be a larger city than Kyoto, if not in size (not sure…haven’t checked a map), definitely in “new world modern,” as opposed to Kyoto’s traditionalism. Nagoya has MANY more stereotypical “Japanese businessmen,” as well as neon signs, restaurants open until 1 and 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning, etc. A definite change of pace from where we’ve spent the past 5 nights.


“Our” train station in Nagoya. It’s a LOT easier to negotiate the stairs without luggage!

After switching trains, we had to get on a HUGE line to get on the Linimo train, whose stations were built specifically for the Expo (but will remain a permanent part of the cities once the Expo closes its doors in September 2005).


I sure wouldn’t want to wait in THIS queue when it was filled up!

While on line the 3 of us were talking away, with our usual cynical and sarcastic senses of humor. I noticed there was an Asian-looking (and we assumed Japanese) man who seemed to understand everything that we were saying (he laughed at all the right places in our conversations). Turned out the guy was from Hawaii but was now living in Japan. It was nice to talk to someone in “unhalting” English, besides each other.


The line of people entering the fair from their tour buses. Picture taken from the Linimo train.

Finally got off the Linimo train and there was the Expo. It was HUGE!


Joe and I standing outside the Expo. Those 2 green guys are Kiccoro (the smaller, lighter green one) and Morizo (the one who is larger and darker green) the Expo’s mascots. EVERYTHING in Japan seems to have a mascot and Japan is the leader of “synergy”…Kiccoro and Morizo had their own cartoon on TV for months before the Expo started and they are EVERYWHERE a the Expo and, for that matter, in surrounding cities (i.e. department stores in Nagoya and even our hotel have racks with Kiccoro and Morizo merchandise).


The theme of the fair was Nature’s Wisdom, so the importance of “living in harmony with nature” was played on EVERYWHERE. Case in point…this recycling area outside the gates of the Expo…with spaces for paper, white plastic, clear plastic, liquid, wood, you name it. The Starbucks in Kyoto would’ve been proud!

Fortunately, we got to bypass the huge ticket line, because we had bought our tickets online. So, with tickets in hand, we went in.


Besides having to go through metal detectors before you could enter, guards checked all bags for not only dangerous items, but PET containers and any other food holders that couldn’t be recycled. THOSE had to be left behind.

The fair really is set up like Epcot, with big pavilions set up by corporations (Mitsubishi, the Shinkansen, etc) and smaller ones from dozens of countries from around the world. All of the pavilions have themes in the realm of Nature’s Wisdom (albeit sometimes with some poetic license…the U.S. Pavilion, for example, focused much more on it being Benjamin Franklin’s 300th birthday this year).

I won’t go into all of the details of all of the pavilions we went into, because we went into a LOT of ’em . Suffice to say that we went into about 6 or 8 corporate pavilions and probably a good dozen countries’ pavilions over the course of 11 or so hours. Some of the pavilions had foreign language headsets available for visitors who spoke English, Chinese or Korean, which was VERY helpful and VERY appreciated or we’d have definite problems in figuring out what was happening. The technology of some of the pavilions was just amazing, with HUGE high-def screens. And one of the hosts at the US pavilion had heard of Toxic Audio!


Joe and I were being geeks and wearing matching Toxic Audio shirts that day

We had lunch and dinner at the Expo, which, although tasty, were still pretty much “fair food.” Lunch was Japanese food:


Joe’s lunch


Steve’s lunch (Steve is a friend who traveled to Japan with us)


Sharon’s lunch (note the Kiccoro and Morizo on the…whatever it was [grin]!)

Dinners were Korean and I had my first taste of kimchee. YUCK!


Outside of the Korean restaurant. Note the international symbol for “soft serve ice cream” outside the door. The Japanese apparently love their soft serve ice cream…it’s EVERYWHERE. I’m personally not a fan of soft serve, but I’ll save my “I saw a picture advertising hard ice cream somewhere and I can’t find the store” story for a Tokyo Disneyland entry.

By 9pm or so, we were cold and tired so we retraced our route back to the hotel and went to bed. Tomorrow (Thursday) is Day Two of the World Expo.

 

#TBT: Japan April 2005: Cherry Blossoms on Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto, Travel to Nagoya

We have about 45 minutes on this Shinkansen (Bullet Train) to Nagoya, so I can start to write what we’ve done today.

Joe and Steve (Steve is a friends of ours who went on this trip as well) decided that a real, sit-down breakfast was in order today, so they went to our hotel’s breakfast buffet. I’m not a “big breakfast” person (give me a cup of coffee in the morning and I’m good for 3 hours) so I stayed in the room and had a can of iced coffee and the double-chocolate chip marshmallow cookie that I had bought from Starbuck’s yesterday, while I packed.


This is less than half of our luggage, not including Steve’s stuff. And we only brought 8 days’ worth of clothes, allowing time for doing laundry!

After the guys came back from breakfast (choices of scrambled eggs, bacon, Vienna sausages, corn flakes, french fries, grilled fish, beef stew with noodles, coffee, juice, tea and Japanese food), we finished packing, checked out of our hotel and left our bags with the bell check (who gave us a ticket, put our stuff on a cart, threw a net over it all and left it off to the side of the lobby. Hey, it’s Japan and people here are honest – who’s gonna steal it?). We then took a bus to the Philosopher’s Path.

Now, when I went on the Philosopher’s Path in April 1994, it rained. All day. So I was really looking forward to seeing it in sunshine this trip. Buddha must not like that idea though, because it’s been raining today. All day. Sigh.


I’ve discovered that my backpack sticks out so far behind me that when I hold an umbrella, part of the backpack still gets wet. So I went to the “100 yen” store near our hotel and picked up rain ponchos for the 3 of us. I wrapped the sleeves of the poncho around my front and would either hold them or stick them into the pockets of my coat, to make sure the poncho didn’t fly up and let my backpack get wet. I think it made quite a fashion statement, don’t you? Undoing and then re-doing this contraption was a LOT of work!

Anyway, the Philosopher’s Path is a small street along a stream, maybe about 2km long. It’s lined with small shops and restaurants, as well as hundreds of cherry trees. Since it’s spring, the cherry blossoms are blooming, which make for some lovely scenery on the walk on the Path.


Through rain, sleet, snow and hail…Joey can still read guide books and maps (grin). I think he carried about 20 pounds of books in his backpack every day (MODERN-DAY NOTE: Nowadays he has his TripIt all ready, and a bazillion web pages bookmarked LOL! Still a ton of info but at least it’s lighter than in 2005).

We stopped at a tea room and had a short break with some tea and small tea candies and cakes.


Outside of the tea room building.

The snack was served Japanese-style, so we had to leave our shoes in little cubby holes near the door (the employees even helped me take off my poncho and put it in a back room for safekeeping…and to make sure the floor didn’t get too wet), then we sat on small pillows on top of tatami mat flooring.


Window view of the garden that was outside the tea room. It’s hard to tell from the picture, but the ceilings in this place were VERY low…Steve is about 6’2″ and when he got up to go to the men’s room, he nearly cracked his head open on a low ceiling beam.


Joe on the floor of the tea room.


The food I ordered…it was all written in Japanese, so I’m not positive what I had, but it looked and tasted like (from left to right) butter cookies, green tea cake and peach-flavored panna cotta.

About an hour later, at the end of the path, we found a small restaurant and had lunch. I had udon noodles with bits of curried beef, Steve had a beef and rice “stew” called donburi and Joe had eel over rice with a side of soup. This was one of the few places that had “serve yourself” ice water. Steve is an avid iced tea drinker and can easily get a half-dozen refills in the US, but with the tiny glasses he was continually getting in Japan without refills, I think he was thrilled to be able to get up and get his own drink. He must’ve gotten up at least 5 times (wink).

We caught a bus back to our hotel, where we JUST made the shuttle to Kyoto Station. Got our reserved seats for the 16:00 Shinkasen and now here we are, on our way to Nagoya. More later…

Okeedoke…it’s later. I was writing the first part of today’s notes around 4:30pm. It’s now close to 9pm. We had to take a subway from the train station to the hotel…which took us up and down 2 flights of stairs…with 3 HUGE suitcases, 3 carry-ons and 3 knapsacks. Now THAT was fun. Not!!! Fortunately, our legs have gotten stronger from 4 or 5 straight days of walking and steps to and from temples, but I don’t think any of us were in shape enough to carry all that crap those kinds of vertical distances. But with lots of rests, we eventually got to where we needed to go.

Our hotel, the Nagoya Tokyu Hotel, is just GORGEOUS and Joe thinks that it’s the first time in all the years we’ve been using it that Expedia actually “did us good” (grin) (MODERN-DAY NOTE: Yeah, Expedia. Joe was already dabbling in “points and miles” during this trip, but not to the extent he does now). I mean, this place has TempurPedic pillows in the rooms! (grin) When we entered from the rain, the hotel staff came with, not only umbrella holders, but towels to wipe ourselves off! Just an incredible place. I think the fanciest place Joe and I have ever stayed was The Plaza in NYC and although I like the decor of The Plaza better, the service here is just amazing.


The outside of the Nagoya Tokyu Hotel.


Front lobby, looking towards the check-in counters.


Front lobby, looking in the other direction.


Japanese people LOVE to shop and this hotel had almost a mini-mall in it!


LOTS of shopping.


And, of course, each storefront was perfect.

Anyway, once we were checked in and had our room keys, the first thing we did was unpack and take pictures of the room:


A view from the doorway.


Triple adult occupancy in Japanese hotel rooms was pretty hard to come by, so we had requested a day bed for all of our hotels, since the best we could get was “2 twin beds,” and we figured we’d take turns sleeping on the cot. We discovered in EVERY hotel that offered “twin beds” that “twin beds” are the equivalent of slight smaller than an American double bed. So although you see 3 beds in this picture, we got rid of the 3rd bed after the 1st night. Joe and I just cuddled close. Such a sacrifice (wink).


Joe getting the computer hooked up. ASAP. By my request. Of course (grin).


The problem with always having the camera is that you’re hardly in any pictures. Thank god for mirrors!


And THIS is why I married someone 6′ tall. To help me take pictures of stuff I’m otherwise too short to take pictures of.


This is what we took a picture of, together. Exciting, huh?


View outside our window.

After taking shots of everything including the bathroom…


We thought this mirror, which had an area that did not fog up, was SO cool. In my humble opinion, it would’ve been even cooler if the non-fog area was about 9″ lower (wink) (MODERN-DAY NOTE: When we re-did our guest bathroom in 2006, we got a mirror with an anti-fog option).

…we went out in search of dinner. I was pushing for the nearby Denny’s, just to see how it compares to Denny’s in the US, but I was outvoted. We finally settled on a British-style pub called “Queen’s Head.”


Not the greatest picture of the Queen’s Head menu.

I had fried chicken and chips (fries), Steve had a pasta and eggplant dish and Joe had fish & chips. My fries were perfect, but I now know why the Japanese are not known for their fried chicken (wink). Joe said his fish and chips were “right”…just that the tartar sauce tasted different from what we’re used to. But hey, it was closer to “home food” than we’d had in days (wink).

After a quick stop at Circle K for dessert, we went back to the room.

The guys are currently watching TV (they think it’s a Japanese version of “Antique Road Show”) and I’m going to contemplate going to sleep pretty soon.

Tomorrow is the World’s Fair….

#TBT: Japan Trip April 2005: Johnnie Hillwalker’s Johnnie Kyoto Walking Tour

Another day filled with not so much stress. Hehehe…now we’re even starting to talk like Japanese people.

We took the 8am shuttle bus to Kyoto Station and had breakfast at Starbucks.


Figure roughly 100 yen to the dollar…look at those prices! (MODERN-DAY NOTE: Those were 2005 prices. I just looked at their site and, as an example, a Tall Coffee Frappuccino (top item on the far right of the sign) is now 420 yen, Grande is 460 yen and Venti is 500 yen).

I’ll tell you…even somewhere as familiar as Starbucks is an adventure when you’re in another country. Japan is VERY big into recycling and trying to throw out your garbage when you’re done with your meal can take nearly as long as the meal itself:

  • Leftover liquid and ice go into the “liquids” garbage (where it sounds like it goes into a garbage disposal).
  • Plastic cups and clear lids go into the “clear plastic” container.
  • White plastic lids and plastic cutlery go into the “white plastic” container.
  • Paper cups, cup holders, napkins and wooden stirrers go into the “paper and combustibles” container.
  • Dishes and trays go onto their respective piles.

I almost took a picture of it all but got too self-conscious about taking picture of, well, GARBAGE! (grin). You know, after 4 days of coffee in a can (they sell it in ALL the vending machines, hot or cold, VERY milky and VERY sweet, just the way I like it) or bad coffee from restaurants, it sure was GOOD to drink some REAL coffee for a change!

MODERN-DAY NOTE about the following paragraphs: in the past few years, Johnnie Hillwalker (now age 87ish?) has retired and the WaRaiDo Guide Network has taken over the walking tours. However these notes are from 2005.

Anyway, after breakfast, we went on Johnnie Hillwalker’s Johnnie Kyoto Walking Tour. Joe had found Johnnie’s website (MODERN-DAY NOTE: website updated. Original website is a dead link) during his thorough-bordering-on-obsessive search of the internet of things to do in the cities in Japan that we were visiting. When I heard about “the little old man who does walking tours of Japan,” I decided we HAD to go on it.

Johnnie is a 70-something year-old man who leads people on a 3 kilometer walk around Kyoto in about 5 hours. We visited several Buddhist and Shinto shrines and temples, places of local commerce (fan makers, pastry makers, ceramics, tatami mat producers, etc) and Johnnie explained about all of them. It was a VERY interesting tour.

OK, so I just realized that I managed to explain a 5-hour tour in about 3 lines of print. How about some more stories and some pictures…

We met Johnnie at the designated place, just outside Kyoto Station. There were about 30 of us on the tour that day…about 20 were from countries that spoke English as a primary language (mainly the US, but I heard British and Australian accents too) and the rest spoken German an another language or two I didn’t pick up on.

Our first stop was at Higashi Hongan-ji Temple, which is only a block or two away from Kyoto Station. It was originally built as a Buddhist temple in 1602, but due to frequent fires, the current buildings are “only” from 1895.


Overall view of Higashi Hongan-ji temple, except for the “big” building.


HERE’S the big building (wink). The “Founder’s Hall” of Higashi Hongan-ji, which you may enter after taking your shoes off (you can see people doing that in the background of the picture…they even give you plastic bags to put them in), is one of the largest wooden structures in the world. I like the guy with the Playboy bunny hat, don’t you? He was on our tour. Guy was from Long Island. Remember him…I’ve got a story about him in a minute.


A small fountain can be found outside all Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. It is considered to be “holy” water of sorts and you’re supposed to rinse your hands and mouth with it, in order to purify you inside and out. Mr. Playboy Bunny, upon finding the fountain, took the opportunity to fill his water bottle with it. Typical clueless American.


A somewhat fuzzy view of the Amida Buddha (as per Johnnie, there are lots of Buddhas but Amida is the most important Buddha), inside the Founder’s Hall. 80% of all Japanese people are Buddhist and 70% believe in Shinto so there is a lot of overlap between the two.


Johnnie showing us how one prays to Amida Buddha.


One of the sleds that was used to carry felled trees from the mountains to be used to build the temple.


An example of the rope, made of human hair, that was used to help build the temple.

The next part of our tour was to walk through some streets in Kyoto that are home of the “industrial” people…those who, for generations, have made goods on the first floor of the buildings, while they lived on the second and third floors. Specific neighborhoods or blocks would be well-known for their paper fans, prayer beads, etc. Some of the old traditions of local commerce are dying out, especially with the younger people wanting to work with computers and other more technologically-advanced, higher-paying careers, but those who still make such products keep going.


A typical “industrial” street in Kyoto.


Making Buddhist prayer beads.


Producing fresh tofu.


Making fans.


Putting the gold paint on the ends of the fans. This guy is more anal-retentive than ME!


The final results. For sale, of course (grin).


Making tatami mats. Yeah OK, these people didn’t let the Industrial Revolution pass them by (grin).


Making ceramic bowls. They were all hand-painted and VERY expensive (think $30+ per saucer), except for the “Seconds” that were for sale for $2 to $10 each.

Our next stop was the Shosei-En Garden. It is a strolling garden that belongs to Higashi Hongan-ji Temple, although the two properties are separate and not connected. It dates back to the ninth century, when it was built by Prince Minamoto Noturu.


Shosei-En Garden is a typical Japanese manicured garden.


These carp were HUGE and boy, did they like the lunch that Johnnie brought them!


Joe enjoying hanami (cherry blossoms). Or maybe he was just reading one of his maps (grin).


Closeup of hanami.

Our next stop was to visit a Shinto shrine. You can tell that it’s Shinto because of the rope hanging from the doorway (the rope designates the boundary of a sacred place).


This particular shrine we visited is the one that Johnnie is a member of, and he has made a donation to have a paper lantern with his name on it.

Next stop was a small Buddhist cemetary. Each grave site is small because Buddhists are traditionally cremated, so they need less space. They usually place the ashes of several family members underneath one stone grave marker.


The wooden sticks are made by loved ones and are left at the grave site to show that they visited. They also often leave flowers or plants and/or burn incense at the grave site.


Johnnie said that leaving a jar of sake, like at this gravestone, is NOT traditional (grin).

Our next stop was in front of a store that made sushi. We all got to taste a piece of vegetable sushi. Not bad, but I still like California and eel rolls better.

Next was a brief stop at the former site of the Nintendo Card Playing Company, which eventually turned into the computer and video game giant that it is today.


Sign declaring the Nintendo Playing Card Company on the now-abandoned building.


Outside of the building. Notice that the architecture is very American.


A very poor shot of the inside of the building (Sorry…I had to take the picture through a glass window with a metal screen in it and not use a flash).


Johnnie preparing to give each of us a card as a souvenier.

The next stop on our tour was a local shop that sold candy made out of bean paste, as well as different types of Japanese tea. Like so many other businesses in Kyoto, the store had been in the family for many, many generations. We got free samples of the barley tea (yuck) and a bean paste pastry here (not bad, but, of course, not sweet enough and, as pretty and differently decorated as the candies were, they all tasted the same).


Outside shot of the tea and bean paste candy shop


Making bean paste candy.


Close-up of making bean paste candy.

Next stop was another shrine. This one was called Toyokuni Shrine. I don’t know about the guys, but by this point, I was starting to get “shrined out” (grin) so I didn’t pay as much attention to the history of it, nor (perhaps thankfully?) did I take as many pictures of it.


Johnnie in front of the Toyokuni shrine. Probably the best picture I got of Johnnie (grin).


Decent shot of the inside of the shrine.


Multiple Torii gates next to the shrine, in combination with the statues of the foxes, indicate that this shrine was an Inari shrine. There are several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari across Japan. Inari is the Shinto god of rice, and foxes are thought to be his messengers. Therefore, many fox statues can be found at Inari shrines (see picture of inside the shrine). The Torii gates are usually paid by individuals, groups and businesses…usually in the hope that their donation (and advertisement of their names on the gates?) will please the gods and, in turn, will help them in business matters. By the way, please note that this shot includes Mr. Playboy Bunny again…with a full bottle of water. Totally clueless. Thank heaven we visited all of those shrines, or he would’ve dehydrated!

Behind Toyokuni Shrine was the largest bell in all of Kyoto. Although hundreds of years old (it was built in the 16th century), it’s still in use for ceremonies and holidays.


Far-away view of the big bell


Close-up of the bell, including the hand-painted ceiling.

The end of the tour, where Johnnie bid us goodbye, left us near Kiyomuzidera Temple, which is a set of Buddhist buildings at the edge of the mountains on the west side of Kyoto. It was easily a STEEP mile up, with more hills and steps than we had done in all previous days combined, but according to Johnnie, the area was “most beautiful” (wink), with the buildings, many trees and plants and cherry blossoms in full view and, since we were so high, a gorgeous view of the city.


First thing we came upon when we got to the top of the hill was this HUGE cemetary. My guess is that it’s probably filled with all of the people who died of heart attacks after walking up the hill!


A short description of what we had climbed the hill for and were about to see. Brought to you by Fujicolor film! (grin)


First building in the temple area.


Back view of the same building, but it gives you an idea of how high up we were.


More buildings in the temple “compound.”


This temple is being refurbished for your future enjoyment! (wink)


Joe in front of the main building of the Kiyomuzidera Temple.


Shot of me looking at Kyoto.


Fountain for purification at the temple. Mr. Playboy Bunny must’ve been thrilled…he could get a refill!


There were several gardens at the temple site, as well as on the way down (we took a different path down the hill, for variety). During the walk, I found this small cherry tree in full bloom.


As the blossoms fall off the trees here, they go into the river and are washed away. Pretty, huh?

There were several shops on the long, steep hill going towards and away from the temple, though there wasn’t much “stuff” that we found very interesting in those. Since we were hungry though, we each got what we think is the equivalent of a cream puff, albeit with custard, not cream, on the inside. The wrapper for the pastry was another perfect example of Engrish:


Recently I have become very healthy. My hopes have begun to swell. Dreams have increased one by one.
WTF???

Took a bus back to the hotel and ate at a restaurant adjacent to it, called Die Gute. I had steak, Joe had pasta and Steve had a beef stew.


My appetizer/salad. I had no idea of what I was eating at that moment. Sardines, maybe? Well, the steak was good.


Can’t ruin beef stew.

Very good and definitely worth the price.

After dinner, we did some walking around a local supermarket (“Oh look, they sell Del Monte and Hershey’s products!”) and a 100 yen store. Didn’t buy anything yet, save for some small stuff, because we’re still at the beginning of the trip and will have to shlep it all with us for over 2 more weeks.

As of this writing, we’re in the midst of doing laundry at the hotel’s laundry facility…they have a whopping 2 small washers and 2 small dryers. For the whole hotel. And we’re 3 people. AND there’s another hotel patron who is doing HER laundry (she was from California, but originally from Long Island and didn’t like Japan at all. She liked Hong Kong better. More action. OK lady…whatever). It’s gonna take us forever for our stuff to dry (update…we were drying stuff until about 2am).

Tomorrow we see the Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto, then go on our way to Nagoya, to see the World’s Fair Exhibition. We’ll have internet access in Nagoya too, so my next message will be written from there. Until then, sayonara!

Like this post? We have plenty more just like it and would love if you decided to hang around and clicked the button on the top of this page to follow our blog and get emailed notifications of when we post (it’s usually just once or twice a day). Whether you’ve read our posts before or this is the first time you’re stopping by, we’re really glad you’re here and hope you come back to visit again!

#TBT: Japan Trip, April 2005: Shinkansen, Hiroshima, Peace Memorial Park

I’m writing this on my PDA (MODERN DAY NOTE: A PDA. Wasn’t that CUTE?!?!?!) while on the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) from Hiroshima back to Kyoto. If you can read it, that means I’m much more computer-savvy than I give myself credit for (grin).

Today was pretty stress-free, since we’re getting more of our bearings when it comes to trains, shuttles, scheduling, maps, etc.

After yesterday’s near-fast (grin), we made sure to make room for meals today. We took the 9:20am shuttle from the hotel to Kyoto Station and, after a quick detour to a touristy place under Kyoto Tower to buy postcards, we had breakfast at a restaurant in the Station called “Beef Stew.” And I’m not sure, but I’m pretty sure that’s what Joe and/or Steve (our friend on this trip with us) had for breakfast (grin). I, on the other hand, had bacon and egg on French bread with a side of salad and Miso soup (Yeah, salad and soup with breakfast. That’s what they do here. Different culture).

So we made it onto the Shinkansen to Osaka (15 min ride), then switched trains to go to Hiroshima (90 min ride).


Waiting for the Bullet Train


Here it is!


The trains are VERY comfortable, with padded seats and foot rests. They have bathrooms, offer snack/beverage service, you name it.


This train is 8 cars long and each car has its own set of “rules”….reserved seats vs. non-reserve, smoking or non-smoking, “silence car,” etc.

At Hiroshima, we took a trolley car to the museum area that we intended to see. The first thing we saw was the Peace Park, which encases the remains of the “A-Bomb Dome.” That is a building that (sort of) survived the atomic bomb attack (“sort of” because all that’s left is the skeleton of the building and a few inner wall structurings…as opposed to all the other buildings in the city, which were totally obliterated).


The A-Bomb Dome as you approach from the trolley.


Information and history about the A-Bomb dome.


Beauty, destruction and modern times.


Information about the destruction of Hiroshima.


The Peace Memorial Park area. In the hours and days after the bomb hit, thousands and thousands of bodies floated in this river.

The park also houses several memorials (to the various thousands of people who perished), and the history museum. Here are a few of them, with explanations when possible:


Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students (middle- and high-school students who were working for the government to help make fire paths. Over 3/4 of the mobilized students died from the A-bomb.)


Close-up of the base of the Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students


Cenotaph for A-bomb victims (Memorial Monument for Hiroshima, City of Peace).


Short explanation of the Cenograph


Children’s Peace Monument. This memoriam is to Sadako Sasaki, a teenager who died of leukemia over a decade after being explosed to the A-bomb at the age of 2. Her goal was to make 1,000 origami cranes, in the hopes that doing so would cure her. She didn’t live to finish, and her grieving friends raised the money to erect this memorial to her. People from all over the world still bring thousands upon thousands of paper cranes to her memorial site.


The golden crane inside the Children’s Peace Monument.


Short explanation of the Children’s Peace Monument.


A small percentage of the thousands of cranes at the Children’s Peace Monument.


This mound of dirt is made from the cremated remains of the people who perished in the days, weeks, months and years after the A-bomb hit. Most of the people whose ashes are in the mound were unidentified.


(from front to back) Flame of Peace, Pond of Peace, Cenograph (partially obscured) and the center area of the Hiroshima Peace Museum.

The museum was amazing…it went through the history of the city of Hiroshima, the history of the invention of the atomic age, the events that led up to 8:15am on August 6, 1945, the immediate effects of the bomb, as well as the after-effects, some of which (birth defects, cancer, psychological, etc) persist to present-day time.

The museum houses thousands upon thousands of artifacts, from clothing people were wearing on the day of the bombing, to lunch boxes (melted, with burnt food still inside), to a pocket watch that was permanently stopped at 8:15am, to steps from a former bank that still had the faint shadow of the person who was sitting on them when the bomb hit and he/she was incinerated on the spot. There’s no way that my writing or our our pictures could ever do it all justice, but this website can give further information.

Besides the obvious tragedies of the loss and illness of thousands upon thousands of people, the one disturbing thing to me, as an American, is that the museum portrays not just the city, but the entire country as an innocent victim of the U.S.’s actions. Pearl Harbor and the rest of Japan’s part in WW2 was VERY minimalized in their presentation. Then again, as Americans, WE have learned an entirely different view of history. All depends on your perspective, I guess.

It was raining when we left the museum, but with umbrellas in hand, we checked out the various memorials within the park (see pictures above) and each took a turn ringing the Bell of Peace.


Me ringing the Bell of Peace


An explanation of the Bell of Peace

After that, we caught a trolley back to Hiroshima Station. In the months before we went on vacation, we had gotten a lot of “Japan advice” from someone we knew who had spent about 6 months living and working there, circa 2001-2002, and he recommended if we were going to eat in Hiroshima, to try to go to a restaurant that served okonomi-yaki style, since Hiroshima was famous for it. Okonomi-yaki is grilled ramen noodles, egg, vegetables and a batter, with meat, that you make into a sort of loose pizza in front of you (think of Benihana-style but smaller scale, the food comes all mixed together and you heat it up yourself). We found such a place near Hiroshima Station and had dinner there. VERY tasty!


Steve enjoying his okonomi-yaki.

After dinner, we got our tickets for the Shinkansen back to Kyoto (no changing trains this time!) and here we are on it (remember, I’m writing this on my PDA).

Tomorrow is our walking tour and I think it’s laundry day, as well. Until next time, sayonara!

Like this post? We have plenty more just like it and would love if you decided to hang around and clicked the button on the top of this page to follow our blog and get emailed notifications of when we post (it’s usually just once or twice a day). Whether you’ve read our posts before or this is the first time you’re stopping by, we’re really glad you’re here and hope you come back to visit again!

#TBT: Japan, April 2005 – Kyoto & Nara (Shugakuin Imperial Villa, Nara Dreamland, Nara Station)

The first part of our day was stressful because of timing factors, the second part of our day was hysterically funny and the third part of our day was, well, hungry (grin).

Well, we THOUGHT we had it all figured out…how to get to the Shugakuin Imperial Villa. You have to get special permission to go and we had gotten that the day before. Joe, who had been obsessively planning this trip for the past 9 months, had every street, bus and subway map known to man, plus how to get from Point A to Point B throughout the country…but apparently only carried SOME of the written material we needed today…so today was the day of “miss the bus by ‘this’ much and have to wait 20 to 40 minutes for the next one.” We grabbed some pastries at a local bakery for breakfast (didn’t eat them yet because Japanese people don’t eat on the streets and we were traveling) and waited for the next bus.

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A shot of the pastry shop.

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This flamingo place was actually directly across the street from the bakery, so while we waited for the bus (the bus stop was directly in front of the bakery) I wound up taking a good half-dozen pictures of the flamingo. With a zoom. Without a zoom. Trying to not get a bus or car into the picture as they were passing by (grin). I have no idea of what this store was. In fact, it didn’t even look like it was open for business yet, but with how much I like flamingos, it gave me a good giggle.

Anyway, after the bus let us off (we also had no idea of where to get off the bus. I gave the deer-in-the-headlights look to the driver and said, “Shugakuin, kudasai?” [Shugakuin, please?], so he would tell us when our stop was), we had to figure out which direction to go. Joe’s books just said to look for the place when we go off the bus. Well, it certainly wasn’t anywhere in sight. And we didn’t see any signs. Not in English, anyway. So I, being a female, was more willing to stop and ask for directions. I went into the local liquor store (I think that’s what it was) and asked the proprietor (who had like, 4 teeth), my now-obviously-helpful, “Shugakuin, kudasai?” (hey, it got us off the bus inn the right place, didn’t it?). His response was to point, give me 2 fingers, and said, “Left. Up.” OK, so when we go out of the store, we have to walk down 2 blocks that way, make a left and walk up the hill, towards the mountains. Gotcha. And sonofagun, it worked. Pity it took almost a half-hour because the “hill” was a half mile of a residential neighborhood with winding streets and a canal through the center of it.

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The neighborhood on the way to Shugakuin Imperial Villa

We finally made it to the Villa, albeit 15 minutes late and they were gracious enough to lead us to the rest of our 10:00am tour…which, as it turned out, was spoken entirely in Japanese.

Oh, great.

Well, the views of the outside/hills/farms were pretty and I guess it was an interesting tour…something about land that had been owned by the Emperor but then the emperor moved to somewhere else so the farmers took back the land and when the officials found out, they decided to allow them to keep their land because it wouldn’t be right to take it away from them. And some of the land is still used for farming. As you may be able to tell from my description, except for the English handout they gave us, I had NO idea of what this place was (grin). Since I’ve gotten home though, I’ve found this website, (MODERN-DAY NOTE: the original website I linked to no longer exists. This is a new one) which gives a decent history of the place. Not to be outdone though, here are a few of our own pictures of our visit:

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Everything on the walls were painted by hand.

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Some more hand-painted wall decorations. And “not orbs.”

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A different style of wall decoration inside of one of the buildings.

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Our tour group looking at the outside of some of the buildings.

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Me walking away from one of the ancient buildings. Or maybe it was the ladies’ room? I forget.

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A view of the rest of the property, and beyond, from the highest hill in the complex.

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A view of Kyoto from above, as seen at the Shugakuin property.

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Steve’s newest friend, who he met on the tour. Yeah, Steve really WILL talk to anybody (grin). (MODERN-DAY NOTE: Steve is a friend who went on this trip with us)

After the 90-minute tour, we stayed at the front gate and ate our pastries, then decided to go to Dreamland, which was in Nara, a 40-minute express train away. Saturdays in Kyoto are HUGE tourists days so noon was not the best time to be taking a bus. An hour and a half later, we were back at Kyoto Station, finding our express train to Nara. No time for food…we had to find our train! We eventually got it, as well as our bus to Nara, and there it was…Dreamland!

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Now, for those of you who never heard me talk about it, Dreamland (MODERN-DAY NOTE: Nara Dreamland closed in 2006, so its official page, which I had originally linked to, no longer exists. But you can read all about it with a quick search of NARA DREAMLAND) is a small amusement park that was built in the early 1960’s. It’s a total ripoff of Disneyland, complete with knockoffs of the train station, castle, Matterhorn, Jungle Cruise, Teacups, Main Street, etc., except with a budget of a carnival, with horrible upkeep and few visitors. It sounded wonderfully awful…the kind of place that you go to and just make fun of. I heard about it right after I got back from Japan in 1994 and, after learning out it, kicked myself for not going. So this was a “must see.” And see it we did…we got there at 2:45pm and the park was scheduled to close at 5pm…more than enough time, right? Here’s a photo review of the place, including the good, the so-bad-that-it’s-funny, and the ugly:

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The kiosks where you pay to park, if you drive to Dreamland. Don’t know if you can read it, but it costs almost $20.00 to park there (parking is VERY expensive all over Japan) (MODERN-DAY NOTE: Remember, this was written in 2005, when $20 to park WAS expensive). The kiosks look so friendly, so inviting, so well-themed…well, maybe if you’re going to a jail.

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The front entrance actually looks pretty darn nice, huh?

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The back of the train station. If you look carefully, you can see me doing my impersonation of Evita Perón.

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A walkabout character in the “town square.” I don’t know who he is or if he even has a name…his image isn’t ANYWHERE else in the park (whose logo seems to be a soldier). He just stands there and for about $1.00, he plays a game of “Rock, Paper, Scissors” with kids, who win a trinket if they outsmart the oversized Frito Bandito. He took one look at us and started picking his nose. No, really!

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The Dreamland fire department, right where you would expect it to be, on the left side of the “town square”.

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And every fire department should come equiped with a pink Cadillac and a Jeep, right? You can’t tell the angle of this picture, but the Caddy was being held up by cinderblocks.

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A view of their version of “Main Street” and their castle, far off in the distant background (it’s hard to do the forced perspective thing when the buildings and trees are all the same size).

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A closer image of one side of the street.

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Ooooooo….now THAT’S pretty. Yeah, this place really IS a DIVE (grin).

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Good emulation there, because Disney “Main Streets” ALWAYS have a utility truck parked on them, right?


Ewwwwwww!


Note the name of this restaurant on “Main Street”…Woody Garden!?!?!?

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This HUGE fountain encompasses most of “the hub” area (this view is looking towards the train station). It looks like it would be pretty nice, if they turned on more than just the one center set of water jets.

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The castle doesn’t look half-bad if you’re not CLOSELY close-up, even though it doesn’t have a whole lot of detail.

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Of course, EVERY castle in Japan should have a statue of George Washington in its moat.

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And Abraham Lincoln too!

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And a Joe (wink).

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Their “Matterhorn” looks like it’s made out of cardboard, doesn’t it?

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Or maybe it’s papier mache. I like how the Skyway goes right through the center of the thing, like Disneyland’s used to. The Dreamland Skyway was closed, by the way. It was constantly moving (maybe they were afraid if they stopped it, they’d never be able to get it started again?), but no one was on it and no one was manning either entrance.

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Here’s the monorail, with the Matterhorn in the background. The monorail wasn’t running either…just sitting there, collecting dust and dripping grease.

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I love what they did with their landscaping.


The Swan Cycle ride. You go in a molded swan boat that has bicycle pedals in the bottom and PEDAL your way around the ride! No, REA

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Teacups???

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European-made Carousel (American-made ones go counter-clockwise). The horses didn’t even go up and down.

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Sure, cuz EVERY Disney knockoff park should have an Octopus ride…

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….and swings…. (MODERN-DAY NOTE: This was before Disney’s California Adventure had  Flik’s Flyers, Golden Zephyr or Silly Symphony Wings…)


…and a Mirror Puzzle…

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…and Bumper Boats. Nice line of scum on the bottom of the boats, huh?

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We never figured out if this was the entrance to a haunted house or to the Matterhorn.


Grand Prix Raceway it ain’t!

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The Flashdance ride. What a feeling!

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Screw Coaster, huh? Well, I guess EVERYONE is screwed when they come to THIS park (grin).

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I dunno. I guess it’s the “ride that used to be there but isn’t there anymore” attraction. Joe suggested it was a UFO landing pad.

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The one GOOD ride they have there….a roller coaster called Aska. I don’t “do” coasters, but Joe and Steve said it was very, very good, with LOTS of airtime. Meanwhile, look at the throngs of people in this picture!

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They had a lot of baby rides at this park.

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I like the white fences that they put around some of the rides. Really high-tech.


Someone called this the “ride that goes nowhere” ride. Walk up the stairs, go across, go down the stairs. Fun, fun, fun!

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And we complain about poor maintenance at the Disney parks…..HA!

By 4pm or so, Steve was starting to get hungry, so we stopped off at what looked like an abandoned picnic ground with an overhang. One of the food places nearby was open…
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…and Steve saw they had some sort of meat dish for about $20.00. He picked that and the owner motioned for us to sit down at a picnic table. The guy brought over an ashtray…”Smoke? Smoke?” (EVERYONE in Japan smokes) “No thanks, we don’t smoke.” He went back to (we thought) preparing Steve’s meal. By this point, I left to go in search of Dreamland souvenirs. By the time I come back, the guys had this portable hibachi unit on their picnic bench, which is connected to a gas line coming out from under the table. And they were sitting there, grilling the food!
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They said the guy was wonderfully nice….gave each of them a plate, utensils and dipping sauce (and a set for me too, for when I came back) and there was LOTS of food. The guy came over several times, to “help” them cook…I guess he figured they didn’t know what they were doing. He even offered to take our picture…
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He started talking with us more and more, asking where we’re from and how long we’ll be in Japan, His English was just slightly better than our Japanese, but we were still able to converse, albeit in a simplified way. At one point he looked at Joe and then at Steve and said, “Your son?” We burst out laughing at that (well, Joe and I did [grin]) and I pointed to Joe and said, “No, my husband!” The guy said, “Oooohhhhh!” But then he got this really confused look on his face, looked at Steve, looked back at me and said, “Who three?” We laughed again and said, “He’s a friend.” “Ooooohhhh!” Then he pointed to the woman behind the counter and said, “My wife!” The guy must’ve been embarrassed that he referred to Joe as Steve’s son, so he gave me an ice cream cone. Hey, who am I to say no to free ice cream?

Before we left the nice, unwittingly hysterical man, Joe said, “This food was very, very good. Thank-you very much. I would like to know the name of it, so that I can ask for it again. What do you call this kind of food in Japan?” And the guy looked at him and said, “Ahhhh…in Japan, we call this barbeque!” We almost wet out pants!

We bid out goodbye to the guy and his wife and took their picture before we left:
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They were just another part of the reason that Nara Dreamland became such a strong, strangely pleasant memory for us.

The one ride that the 3 of us went on was the Jungle Cruise. I think this one had to have been the worst of all. Take a look at this:

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The entrance to the ride.

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One of the boats. It didn’t look particularly seaworthy, but we figured if worse came to worse and we sank, the water couldn’t have been more than a few feet deep and w we’d be able to walk to shore. Of course, we’d have to fumigate ourselves after being in the scuzzy water, but….

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The boat was not on a track (I guess when the Dreamland Founding Fathers came to Disneyland to steal their ideas, they couldn’t see through the murky water of the REAL Jungle Cruise ride to tell that the boats were on a track) and the driver (the guy with the red windbreaker that says STAFF) just pressed a button to start a pre-recorded shpiel so he could drive the boat uninterrupted. Note that all of the “jungle natives” are, um, “people of color.”

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Ooooo….scary tiger! Well, scary he’s in that bad condition, anyway.

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The snake is in 4 or 5 pieces. I guess it’s cheaper to buy it that way. But they sure did a lousy job of hiding where one piece ends and the next piece starts!

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Oh give me a home, where the flamingos roam, and the rhinos stand behind them all day…

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The picture doesn’t do this justice at all. You see, it’s an action shot. The cheetah is on wheels on a track. The wheels move up and down the side of the log at a snail’s pace, which therefore SSLLOOWWLLYY rolls the cheetah to and from the embankment! We almost wet our pants laughing at that one!

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Watch out for that stationary elephant with the garden hose coming out of its trunk!

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Someone must’ve used a real gun to shoot the hippo, cuz it was deader than a doornail. It just laid there, half-in, half-out, not moving.

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And here, ladies and gentlemen, is where we have a pheasant, an ostrich, 2 parrots and some toucans, all living in harmony in the same place. It doesn’t matter than in real life they’d be on different corners of the earth…in Dreamland, anything can happen!

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Oooo…the suspense is killing me more than the ride is…here comes the dark, scary, cave!

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What was in the cave? 3 sets of bats. That’s it. This picture is set #1. Only 2 of them still flapped their wings. I especially like how they hang rightside up from the stalactites.

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Another “action shot.” This alligator had a stick coming out of its tail and the stick was connected to a motor that made the whole thing spin in circles. So that, my friends was the Dreamland version of an alligator in a death spin. Us Floridians prefered to call it gator on a spit.

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Shot taken after we exited out boat (nope, it didn’t sink!). Native #1 looks like he had a stroke. Native #2 looks like he’s scared of the bamboo that’s growing in front of him. And native #3 just looks…um…very happy with his lot in life.

it really is an awful park. But we turned it into a REALLY fun afternoon. By the way, this is an article some other people wrote about their trip to Dreamland in 2004. Their website also have some nice video links of the place. MODERN-DAY NOTE: Joe is positive we have some videos of Nara Dreamland too, but we can’t find them. As soon as we do, we’ll put them up on YouTube so you can share in the so-awful-that-it’s-great -ness.

Made it back to Nara Station…a tiny train station, so no food there, but we figured we could get something at Kyoto Station when we got back there. Not. The restaurants were PACKED, with lines outside every restaurant. SO…we decided to catch our shuttle bus back to our hotel and eat something there. Shuttle arrived on time at 8:40pm and we got back to our hotel at 9:20pm…and EVERY restaurant AND room service closed at 9pm. By this time, with just a noon pastry and 2 bottles of soda (Fanta sweet grapefruit…mmmm!) in me, I was hungry and hypoglycemic. And the guys were hungry too. And so, with chowing down on the “Take Five” candy bar that I had bought during our stopover in Chicago 2 or 3 days ago, we went to bed at 11pm.

Between the walking and the steps and the lack of most snacks, I’m gonna lose a LOT of weight this trip.

Tomorrow is Hiroshima. And food. We will make sure to leave time for food.

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