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Long route home Our trip all the way home, trying to catch no planes and stay on the ground like civilised people. It's taking us via India all the way to Europe from Japan, the furthest of the Far East...

Leaving Tokyo

JAPAN | Friday, 21 May 2010 | Views [1500]

Here we are, over one month into our journey and three quarters of the way into a 12 hr train ride from Danang to Nha Thrang. So far, not flying feels like a good decision. Some of the travel has been uncomfortable, but mostly we've enjoyed the slowly changing landscapes and the subtle shifts in culture...or violent schisms, depending on the countries involved.

This is a quick run down of the farewell tour of Japan - updates on the next steps to follow soon, we promise! We left Tokyo and headed south. Nagoya, which sparkled in the sunshine. Oli ate fried chicken cartilidge (crunchy), and we were happy to meet Mari-chan who gave us a brief tour. Fukuoka involved a lot of walking and robot dogs dancing to Michael Jackson, and I shook Bon Jovi's bronzed hand. On to Nagasaki, so much more than a bomb site now, then Kumamoto, where there were no bears but a wonderful castle.  We took in Aso-san on the way to Beppu, where we soaked in hot water and sights alike.  Leaving Kyushu, we crossed to Matsuyama with it's elegant castle on a hill, then headed north once more to Hiroshima, which enchanted and shocked in equal measure. We made a brief stop in Okayama then finally we reached Osaka, and were happy to spend more than one night in the same place. (Much needed washing - especially for those of us with just one pair of shorts and no trousers!).

There were many natural wonders.  The smouldering caldera of Aso san gave out as much hot air as the former PM with the same name.  Beppu and Dogo onsen marked our last hot bath and ryokan experience, another Japanese joy we shall miss. Beppu's hot spring hells were very Japanese with their statues, official photo spots and so on.  The whirlpools of Naruto were savage and a hell of an experience, accessed by a bridge directly above with a see-through floor and trembling in the hurricane winds.

We saw six castles: Nagoya, Kumamoto, Matsuyama, Hiroshima, Okayama and Osaka.  Matsuyama and Okayama are brilliant counterpoints - the White Crane and the Black Crow.  Almost all are reproductions after the originals were razed by the Japanese civil wars or American bombardment.  They were rather samey after a while, but the sheer elegance of their design made each one special.  Miyajima shrine (the final view on the World Cup 2002 intro sequence) was also a highlight even with the tide out.  It was so lovely to see people playing under the magnificent Torii gate.

Cultural attractions: The most surreal was the Otsuka Museum of Art (from the people behind Pocari Sweat) which has re-created thousands of Western masterpieces on ceramic tiling, including the entire Sistine chapel!  Monet's waterlilies were outside in a Japanese lily garden and the whole collection was exactly what Japanese housewives want. The icing on the cake was the robot guide, Art-kun. The poorest museum was the Museum of Human Rights which seemed to barely grasp the issues at hand.  Osaka's aquarium blew all others out of the water with it's stars - two small Whale Sharks.  Even these small ones were 9 metre long fish - awe-inspiring.  We also finally managed to photograph Sea Otters - an obsession of ours...then there were the atomic bomb museums in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Both are sobering and shocking. Both avoid blame and focus on a message of peace and mission to abolish nuclear weapons. Hiroshima is more balanced and better presented, whereas in Nagasaki one could be forgiven for wondering why the bomb was dropped.  It was hard to visit the places but also so moving.  Seeing children play and frolic in the Peace Park was a good reminder of the triuph of humanity through that darkness.

Hiroshima's Okonomiyaki place was the best night of eating if not the best meal.  Our chef was a real character who seemed very grumpy to have to gaijin there but cheered up and spent the evening recounting funny tales and cracking jokes.  It was a typically odd Japanese place - tiny and filled with working girls, geezers, a princess and us.  The chef turned away people he didn't like (so we can't have been too bad) and smoked and drank on the job.  Our final night in Osaka led to rock bar plant (motto - let's get shit faced), which in turn led to a cracking hangover for the ferry out.  The Kumamoto specials at the train station were surprisingly good, raw horse and lotus with lots of mustard.  Tonkotsu noodle soup was good in Fukuoka but nothing too special - don't believe the hype!

In 12 days, we covered 1761 KM, and spent 39 hours travelling.  Only one bullet train - to Nagoya - and lots of local services.  Our trip to Fukuoka on the overnight bus was very strange...we were zipped into little sealed off seats so no-one would be disturbed.  The ferry to Shikoku had two truckers staring at us and/or the schoolgirls the whole way and the bus to Naruto rocked in the fierce winds.  Aso-san was proper rural - only a few trains a day!

On May 21 we took a final train from Osaka to Kobe and after a worried hunt for the ferry terminal, we boarded and waved goodbye to the land of Hello Kitty, of shocking kit kat flavours, hot baths, extreme fashion and the constant juxtaposition of tradition and technology.

In our final weeks in Tokyo, our many goodbye drinks and coffees gave us a chance to spend time with some of the people who made our stay so special (you know who you are!), but also made it sadder to leave.  Special mention to Rock Inn Current who put up with us breaking a table through sumo-inspired leaving-do horseplay...

Tags: castles, hot springs, japan, trains


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