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report - Japan for three weeks Sept2010 2010/10/8 17:14
I am not sure where to post this - hope it can be of help to someone planning a trip. This was our fourth holiday in Japan and probably won't be the last either... I will put the first part here (can't put the whole report cause it's too long... if anyone wants more I can send the rest.

Ahhhh back in Japan, country of ancient culture, spiritual yearnings and wonderful clean fresh food…. Hmmmm… We fly Jetstar (not our favourite airline but you can’t complain about the prices) and arrive after a very smooth if very long day with a 4 ½ hour stop in Cairns (now that IS like a different country…) and train our way out to Asakusa to arrive at our little business hotel about 9.30pm and it’s still over 30deg!!! People are visibly wilting around us. We find a tiny local eatery with aircon and order beer…. unusual for me but in these conditions!

Day 2: is hot hot hot… but on efficient airconditioned trains the trip out to Kawagoe (Little Edo) is pleasant enough and it’s only when we hit the refurbished ancient streets that the 35 deg plus temperature has us reeling while we wander the beautiful old warehouses and homes, now almost all turned into shops and restaurants. Interestingly so close to Tokyo the prices are remarkably low in the tastefully stocked shops – very tempting – but we are only at the beginning of 3 weeks of travelling and to buy lots now would be silly (somehow I know there will be times when I regret this but…) But I do find a second hand kimono shop and cannot resist a little girl’s proper kimono in indigo and white with flowers for guess who… for 500 (that’s about $6.50). I have seen similar ones in more popular tourist areas for between $50 and $70! Could easily have been tempted by some of the ladies ones too but… as I said, the beginning of the trip… hmmmm [later note: I do see almost exactly the same kimono in Tokyo at a stall for 3500 ($40?) later – and not is nearly as good condition).

Food is as good as ever… last night’s cheap sushi (down near the river outside Matsuya) was so fresh and tempting we ate 10 plates between us (the boy next to us ate 10 on his own) and with beer and sake it still came to only 2350 (less than $30) for both of us. This is fun!

Day 3: Off to Sapporo today – as far north as we can go so hopefully it will be a bit cooler there and then as we make our way south again the weather should gradually cool – we (and millions of Japanese) hope so anyway. Not a lot of photos yet but I’ll start loading a few up onto photobucket today and try to keep up with it all… We fly up on Skymark having booked our tickets early and got the cheap fares (still 11000 which is not really cheap)

… later… and the flight was so lovely and smooth. Haneda is all an airport SHOULD be, efficient, comfortable, interesting… there is even a huge shopping complex on about 8 levels should you have time to wander – and money to spend on designer labels.

Sapporo is a bit like a big country town, very big but all very new too. We managed to get completely lost in the station complex and started to worry about being able to find our way out and home… silly tourists. Did the local thing last night and headed to the BeerGarten for ‘Genghis Khan’ a rather overpowering (and greasy) experience. It’s in a huge old brewery and vast rooms are filled to football crowd pitch with people filling up on huge mugs of beer and barbecued lamb - and the very occasional vegetable, which everyone cooks at their own tables on hot plates oiled with lamb fat. It’s deafeningly noisy and so smokey that your clothes and hair smell of lamb fat afterwards… I have just washed all our clothes today.

Today (day4) we visited Utaro, a small seaside fishing port, to gaze at old buildings (mostly warehouses with huge beams and lovely stone ivy-covered walls), eat the freshest of sushi and marvel at the glass blowers at work… and the gorgeous if expensive glass items. Now resting up before heading out into the late afternoon streets… having a lovely time so far and tomorrow we pick up our little hire car and head off into the mountains – whee!

It’s now 2 days later after two lovely days of driving around this strangely quiet part of Japan – well Tom was driving – I just sat back being lazy and enjoying the view. We took a mixture of the great freeways (which are by no means free but cheaper here than in Honshu) and local roads. The local ones have a speed limit of 50 and although everyone does drive at about 65-70, what with the traffic lights at every corner in every town, it is slow going but rather pleasant. You get to see so much more of the countryside and the little vignettes as you pass through a village – the tiny old lady weeding her flower garden in her fluoro gumboots, the school children running together with glee (they are such gorgeous children)…

We find the flower growing area of Biei and Furano and enjoy the few flowers that are left – they must be mind-blowing in the height of summer, but also very hot to enjoy the wandering. Also enjoy the winetastings (whoever thought they’d make reasonable wine here??) and a free ride (courtesy of the tourist information desk) up the Furano ropeway. This is used for what must be awesome ski slopes in the winter and for wowing tourists with the views in the other months. We were certainly suitably wowed, up there in the cool high pastures looking over patchwork valleys of rice and flower harvests. Even here in Hokkaido it is warm… up to 28 during the middle of the day but pleasantly cool in the evenings and mornings. I shall miss that when we go back to Honshu. We did the Ryokan thing in Furano and gobbled wonderful Japanese dinner and brekkie made by the old mamasan – yummmy!

And after lovely driving through mountainous volcanic county on our way from Furano back down to the coast near Noboribetsu (no autumn colours though – the heat is so late this year) another ropeway above Lake Toya (not free but discounted this time) to gaze at the crater of a huge volcano and the dome of a brand new one - as well as the huge lake and the Pacific Ocean on the other side – just wonderful! Apparently there were some earthquakes in the forties and the baby volcano mountain appeared right in a wheat field and just kept growing. The local postman has become a national hero for measuring and studying its growth. So lovely from up there! But it’s onwards we must go… drop off the car and take the train to the next stop Hakodate…. Maybe an early night before we train through the longest underwater tunnel in the world all the way to Honshu… amazing and just a little bit claustrophobic…. We hired our car through Tocoo and it turned out we could take it from Sapporo and return it to Noboribetsu for not extra charge (it’s in the same prefecture). It was a special JR price and very reasonable. Definitely a good way to get around Hokkaido.

Back in Honshu… the main island and ‘real’ Japan to me. I remember when we ferried across from Shikoku to Honshu last trip and I sighed and felt like I had come home… that’s how it feels again. This is the Japan I LOVE – rice paddies in patchworks of green and yellow as the rice ripens and is harvested, lovely old houses with those amazing tiles and roof lines, tori gates leading to ancient temples, the care that is put into everything, like the rows of multicoloured flowers that decorate the roadside stopping bays… oooh I LOVE it!
by yeshekathy  

... 2010/10/10 14:08
Nice to see another report from someone :)

Under: Travel - Essentials - Before you go, there is a section called "Trip Reports," where other travelers post their experiences. I don't know how one posts up their contributions; you might want to use the "Contact us" button at the bottom to ask how you can post long reports there :)
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