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But there’s also no harm in having a quick look around.
As it turns out Matt would rather not spend his trip writing our blog, as it feels too similar to work for him (seeing he is a copywriter and all). Therefore the blog reigns have officially been handed over to me (Sam), I hope I don’t bore you all with my non-professionally trained writing…..
As it seems fitting, I’ll start at the end of one chapter and the beginning of another, meaning our transition from East to West, non-English speaking to English speaking, or more simply Japan to England.
We flew with KLM from Narita Airport in Tokyo to Heathrow Airport in London, via Schipol Airport in Amsterdam. And if there’s one thing I could say about KLM, it would be that their seats are freakin’ tiny. I mean even I thought so, and I am, as some would say, vertically challenged. I can’t even imagine anyone over 6ft tall fitting into the seats. Come to think of it, it does seem a bit strange that KLM is the national airline of the Netherlands and the Netherlands people are the tallest in the world (referenced from the ever reliable Wikipedia). 13 hours and 35 minutes after departing Tokyo, we landed at Heathrow Airport, London.
Lo and behold, the weather forecast for the next 7 days was for clouds and rain. At least we would be getting a traditional English experience.
Our wonderful host (the one and only Jenny Watts) met us at the airport and took us back to her house in Clapham. Unfortunately we arrived in the middle of rush hour, so our simple public transport trip to Jenny’s house, which was meant to take 30 minutes, turned into a 2 hour trip.
That evening the Manchester Derby was being played (Man Utd v Man City) so we made our way to a traditional English pub to watch the game with a couple of hundred English blokes. After being awake for 24 hours it was a pretty surreal experience.
Our time in England was mainly made up of catching up with old friends from New Zealand (Micaela & Sam Graham), catching up with old family friends of the Watts’ (The Roberts Family plus the rest of Forest Row – Matt’s old village) and catching up with family (The Howard Family).
A few highlights were………..
For both: Dinner on the Thames with Jenny, Micaela and Sam Graham – the restaurant even had vegetarian sausages and mash on the menu nom nom nom!!
For Sam: Seeing the Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre in London’s West-End.
For Matt: Having a delicious reunion with Den’s (the local chippie in Forest Row).
For Matt: Walking through Forest Row reminiscing about old times.
For Sam: Seeing the famous Pooh tree (Winnie the Pooh).
For both of us: Teaching the Howard Family the game of Mafia. Big ups to David who excelled at this.
For both of us: Visiting Matt’s Grandparents and Auntie Christine for a scrumptious lunch buffet.
For both of us: A spectacular Sunday roast with all the trimmings prepared by Ces.
For both of us: Brighton Pier – coin dozer, roller coasters that are so rusty they shouldn’t be legal, bumper cars, Mark and Matt winning a banana soft toy – what more could you want?
Special thanks to all our wonderful and welcoming hosts who looked after us during our time in England:
Grandma, Granddad and Auntie Christine
Jill, Dave, Mark Roberto and NED Roberts (and of course Charlie the black lab, who was the lucky recipient of the banana soft toy)
Cessie, Alan, Sam, David and Linda Howard (and of course their dogs, Smudge and Chiana)
A selection of photos from our time in London:
On the 4th day of our trip we headed to Osaka – Japan’s third biggest city. It’s about a two-hour train ride away from where we were staying in Fuji, so Koneko kindly dropped us off at the train station and off we went…….a little apprehensive about trying to navigate the complex Japan rail system ourselves without Sam’s family as guides.
Despite having to validate our rail passes, switch between four different trains and frantically rush to find all our documents that we left on the front counter of McDonalds, we arrived safe and sound at Bonsai Guest House in Osaka. This would be our home for the next five days. The remainder of the day was spent settling in, resting up and popping out for a quick drink.
With so much to do in Osaka and the surrounding areas we had some busy days of sightseeing ahead of us. We started with a trip to the Osaka Aquarium (Kaiyukan). It’s home to many majestic creatures of the sea including sharks, dolphins, penguins, seals, stingrays and the biggest damn crabs I’ve ever seen. Sam was particularly taken with watching the movements of a large school of fish!
After a quick look around the local mall, we headed to Osaka Castle. There’s probably some really interesting history behind the castle accompanied by many great facts and figures, but I can’t say I paid much attention sorry. It’s a big castle with a cool moat around it, was my outtake……
After a quick kip back at Bonsai Guesthouse we headed to the Umeda Sky Building. For me personally (Matt), it’s been one of the highlights of the trip so far. It was awesome and made me realise how small we really are. You take an elevator like a gazillion metres up in the air (40 floors to be exact) and walk around this open-air garden. From this high up the lights of the city sparkle like the ocean on a sunny day. You can also buy a lock engraved with your name and your loved ones name plus the date and attach it to the outside wires of the building, which, as cheesy as it sounds, we did. It really was a magical experience, and although the Umeda Sky Building isn't one of the most popular or advertised sights in Osaka it is one that we would highly recommend.
We followed up our romantic evening with dinner and a drink at the popular Dotomburi street which is the epitome of ‘Japan’ – a bustling side street with bright neon signs, flashing lights and Takoyaki or Okonomiyaki stalls every few metres (Takoyaki is meant to be especially good in Osaka – these are balls made of pancake like batter filled with bits of octopus). Despite Sam’s desire to give Karaoke a whirl after dinner, sore legs were getting the better of me so it was back to the hostel and lights out for us.
Thursday was a late start for us as the first few full-on days began to take their toll. It also didn’t help that Sam’s stomach was a little under the weather due to her dinner the night before.
Our first mission of the day was to track down a Japanese curry house that I had found online called Coco’s Curry House – apparently one of the best in Osaka. Yum.
Once I had thoroughly enjoyed lunch, we walked 20 minutes to Spa World – an eight-storey building full of themed spas (onsens), waterslides and spa treatment rooms.
Nakie spa time again.
The male and female areas were on separate floors, for obvious reasons, so Sam and I said our goodbyes and split off to enjoy our own gender areas. Males were allocated to the ‘Europe’ themed floor while females were allocated to the ‘Asia’ themed floor.
By now we were pros at this whole naked spa thing, so the afternoon was spent relaxing in the pools, followed by dinner and a movie at our hostel.
After spending Thursday recuperating a bit, we decided to make Friday into a daytrip to Hiroshima and Miyajima. On all accounts we had been told that while it was possible to visit both places via a daytrip from Osaka, it would be a big day so we should leave as early as possible. As early as possible for us turned out to be about 10.30am…….therefore with the travel time between Osaka and Hiroshima we didn’t actually arrive until after midday. Oops.
Our first stop was Miyajima. To get there from Osaka we made full use of our Japan Rail Passes, including five different trains and a ferry. And while being lost in the big city lights of Tokyo and Osaka is exciting and fun, being out in the more rural areas was a welcomed change.
This was a beautiful island where deer roam free and people munch on momiji manju - small cakes made in the shape of a maple leaf. Traditionally, they're made with sweet bean paste, but cheese, chocolate and other variations are also available. Sam went for a custard filled cake which she thoroughly enjoyed. The outside was spongy and sweet and the creamy custard filling was a perfect accompaniment.
We also purchased a gift box of the sweet cakes to send back to NZ, little did we know that food cannot be sent out of Japan due to the threat of radioactive poisoning.....or so the post lady told us.....perhaps she was just trying to trick us into giving her the food we were trying to send back to NZ.....it worked and sadly we had to part with our gifts. It was a good day for that post office though.
By the late afternoon we finally made it to Hiroshima - the first city in the world to be destroyed by a nuclear weapon.
Now I’m not much of a museum fan, but the Hiroshima atomic bomb museum was the most interesting museum I’ve ever been to. My knowledge of the event was incredibly limited and it was extremely eye-opening to see the devastation that was caused. While visiting the atomic bomb site and museum is difficult and emotional it is one that all human beings should experience, to help ensure that this kind of destruction is never again caused by the hand of man. After all, pain and suffering is the same no matter who you are, where in the world you are from or which side of the war you are fighting on.
The flame in this memorial will burn until there are no longer any nuclear weapons left on earth.
Sam ringing the peace bell in Hiroshima
Points of Interest:
Japan Rail Passes are ideeeeeal. Pretty much gets you on any Shinkansen or train or ferry, which makes travel so much easier because you don’t have to buy individual tickets.
Osaka never sleeps. We’ve never seen the subway more packed than at midnight on a Wednesday night.
Sushi isn’t that popular in Japan – I (Sam) only had it one during our stay and that was on our last night. It was pretty good though.
Japan excels in sweet dishes. Over our 9 days here Matt has indulged in quite a few including donuts, waffles and the most amazing crepes he has ever eaten.
21.04.2012 - 23.04.2012 12 °C
The time to leave NZ shores finally arrived and we made our way, bleary eyed, to Auckland International Airport at 6am......and so the adventure begins......
The flight from Auckland to Tokyo was good. Long, but good. For me (Matt), it involved three movies, a TV series and a frustrating six rounds of virtual mini-golf. Sam was slightly smarter in her approach, mixing movies and TV shows with sleep.
Once we arrived in Tokyo (although at this point, I should specify that the airport is actually in a place called Narita – an hour out of Tokyo city), we were met by Sam’s Uncle, Aunty, Cousin and Cousin’s girlfriend – Toshi, Koneko, Takafumi and Yuki. They drove us to Tokyo Central Youth Hostel, where we would spend the night. We then went out to a local joint for dinner, before heading back to the hostel for sleep. Or at least that was what we thought. As it turns out, the Japanese put a big emphasis on bath time before you sleep at night. And while I was aware that swimwear was not a necessity in Japan, I wasn’t aware that it was in fact prohibited.
So, a naked spa with my Uncle-in-law, Cousin-in-law and a few others then off to bed. Finally.
The next day was our chance to experience Tokyo. Our hosts had very kindly organised our entire day for us. We began by taking a trip up Tokyo Tower. It gave us a chance to see just how damn big this city is. It’s massive.
After this we took a boat cruise from Tokyo Harbour to Akakusa, before visiting Sensoji Temple. Thousands of people come here every day to pray and find good fortune. Fortunately for us, our hosts weren’t too consumed by it all, so we continued on to Ueno Park and Zoo. There were a couple of street performers outside the Zoo, including one guy who completely changed my opinion on what is possible with a Diabolo. We will try upload a video if possible.
Next up was a trip to Akihabara's 'Electric City' – a huge electrical store with a gazillion floors and lights flashing everywhere, where we spent about 30 minutes trying to explain to a young guy who worked there what we meant by a New Zealand/Japanese plug adaptor.
We then went to meet Sam’s other cousin Hiro for a Japanese style Italian dinner in Shinjuku (seaweed on a teriyaki chicken pizza for example…), before heading back to the hostel. After an entire day of walking, spa time was thoroughly enjoyed. As was bedtime.
Today (23rd April) Taka and Yuki took us to Disneyland. And despite the rain, it was awesome. If it’s adrenaline rushes and extreme roller coasters you’re after, Tokyo Disneyland probably isn’t for you. But what it does boast is fantastic attention to detail on every attraction, plus a couple of sweet little interactive rides where we have to shoot things as we go round, for example. Oh, and awesome churros. Chur.
After we’d said our goodbyes to Mickey and friends, Taka drove us two and a half hours to Fuji (where Sam's family lives), where a hotel had kindly been organised for us.
Next update in a few days :-)
Points of interest:
Sam loves the Japanese style buffet breakfasts here, which consist of rice, miso, shredded cabbage, thick white toast, Japanese pickles, seaweed etc etc mmmmmmm yum!
Matt, not so much.
Mickey Mouse is a big deal in Japan. The longest wait we had at Disneyland was 55 minutes and that was to meet Mickey……
To reiterate, Tokyo is massive. And we mean really, really massive. 250 metres up Tokyo Tower and it’s still full on CBD as far as the eye can see in all directions. Sam always thought Auckland was a big city. Not any more.
Big Macs taste the same here as they do in NZ (much to Matt’s delight).