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Japan travelogue (long, very detailed)



 
 
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  #1  
Old November 25th, 2007, 10:00 AM posted to rec.travel.asia,soc.culture.japan
Alfred Molon[_6_]
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Posts: 988
Default Japan travelogue (long, very detailed)

Here are the details of my Japan trip in October-November 2007, to
Tokyo, Hakone, Nikko, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Hiroshima and Miyajima island:

http://www.molon.de/travelogues/Japan/2007/
--

Alfred Molon
http://www.molon.de - Photos of Asia, Africa and Europe
  #2  
Old November 26th, 2007, 09:05 PM posted to rec.travel.asia,soc.culture.japan
gtr
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Posts: 113
Default Japan travelogue (long, very detailed)

On 2007-11-25 02:00:10 -0800, Alfred Molon said:

Here are the details of my Japan trip in October-November 2007, to
Tokyo, Hakone, Nikko, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Hiroshima and Miyajima island:

http://www.molon.de/travelogues/Japan/2007/


Read the following with the mental impression of amused and engaged
comraderie here, not that of a chiding complainer. It's all a matter of
tone, and I'm not yet as skilled a writer as I'd like to be.

Thanks for posting your results, Alfred. After spent 20 years studying
the unique history and culture of Japan, I'm surprised to find it
doesn't have much of either. But I see you managed to visit and be
impressed by Nikko, Kiyomizu and some other first-rank tourist sites.
You compare Japan to the Mediterranean, I suppose you mean Greece and
the residue of Ancient Rome, perhaps Egypt. Yeah, well Japan can't
really compare well with that. Nor the other 99% of the world's
land-mass. I feel a lot closer to Medieval Japan when I'm in Japan,
though, than I do ancient Rome when I'm in Italy. There's a lot that
continues to live on in Japan's culture from their previous history, if
you recognize it.

Continuing with this "comparative history" approach: Japan has "perhaps
1500 years or less of high civilisation". Ack! Why bother? Anything
under 50 generations hardly seems worth getting out of the cab for. :-)
Rome and Egypt and Japan have nothing to honestly compare. It's like
the difference between apples and light fixtures. Comparing them is
possible, but to what end? In Rome and Athens you can't go to a
restaurant or seek accomodations that have barely changed in structure
or aesthetics since the advent of running water and electric lights.
It's true there is no Acropolis in Japan, nor in Stockholm, Tehran or
Beijing. The world is different and incomparable.

Thanks for helping hammer at the legacy concept that Japanese is
expensive. Of course it does have aspects that are expensive, but
dining and accomodations are two where they are more competitive than
the US and as you mentioned, Germany.

We bought pre-paid cards for phone usage all over Japan. If the locale
includes a soda or cigarette vending machine, you can probably find
one. When you say there are none, I assume you're speaking of cards
that are specifically for cell-phone usage or some such.

In Shinjuku you saw gambling and possibly prostitutes? I don't think
you saw either. There are pachinko parlors, but they aren't really
"gambling" though you can win "prizes" of cigarettes and claptrap
and/or sell them elsewhere. I've never seen street prostitutes. It's
quite illegal and they have kind of a law fetish in Japan. They women
certainly dress provocatively in Shinjuku though. I'm thankful, and
that's free.

You seem "unimpressed" by most of the shrines and temples. I'm really
glad you found some to impress in Nikko. If you hadn't I'd have been
worried that you didn't make it to the right country. Part of the deal
with some of the "houses of worship" is impressiveness. Like the
cathedrals in Europe--they were built to impress. I'm not sure that was
always the primary intent among the Buddhists in Japan. But as in all
other countries, if one is versed in the history a little bit, one
finds themselves addressing an edifice that they've read about
repeatedly; they know who died in front of it and who fought to defend
it. It can embue it with quite a thrill, comparitive to that which
students of Greece and Rome might feel at their sacred historic sites.

In Bahia, in Brazil, the city with a "church for every day of the year"
we did a bus tour of some of the historic churches. After seeing a
couple we walked by a noteworthy one the following day. My wife was
unimpressed and uninterested in going in. "I can only handle a couple
of churches per vacation," she said, "Unless they crucified somebody
other than Jesus, I think I'll pass." That's my take on all the
big-ticket items like this, including shrines, temples, tall buildings,
dams, waterfalls and all the rest. One or two of any such thing is
probably too much already.

What's with the KFC dining?!? You've been in Tokyo two days and you've
eaten *twice* at KFC? If you want chicken, throw a rock and you'll
likely his a grilled-chicken (yakitori) place. Sheesh, exploring the
quaint and curious lunch joints is one of our favorite activities. I
don't know if you're that familiar with the myriad distinctions in
cuisine that Japan has to offer, but the next time you go to
Japan--check out the food!! The next day you're carping about the
weight of the Chinese meal you got in Odaiba--you shoulda ate Japanese!
At least you ate unimpressive tappanyaki in Kyoto. I don't doubt it's
better elsewhere than it is by the biggest tourist temple in Kyoto. I'm
not much of a fan of teppanyaki, and have never had it in Japan. Look
for the yakimono places, tempura, sushi (of course), okonomiyaki (a
hearty pancake thing a German would love!), grilled fish, bento. Jeez,
it's a country for dining. Of course that's explicitly one of the
reasons I go! In Kyoto there is Kawaramachi-Dori up by the Old Imperial
Palace in what I think of as mid-town. It runs parallel to Kamogawa
river. It's strewn with interesting joints and just off this street in
either direction. We've eaten at a number of yakimono joints where thye
skewer and grill fish, vegetables and all manner of other stuff.

Incidentally the last time on Odaiba while eating lunch in a museum of
technology or some such we had an earthquake that was pretty exciting.
Probably a good 12 seconds of swaying. I wasn't sure if I was woozy or
if it was a quake. I looked up at the other diners and they were all
frozen with a fork in mid-stroke pondering the same as I. Looking out
the window I could see the horizon moving a fair distance from left to
right. Creepy.

I mean no disrespect, everybody tours differently, and it's interesting
to see the way you approach the task alone. I've gone many times but
always with my wife and always with the greatest excitement at the
smallest things. We marvel at the architectural elements in small
places, ryokans and restaurants. We've been up in a mega-building once
or twice to see the view, but it's a rarity. You seemed to take a great
interest in it. In older areas like Ueno and Asakusa, particularly at
night, there are all kinds of odd shops and places to get a snack or a
drink. And we do our best to hit as many in a given time as possible.
Maybe 4 or 5 a night in a relatively small area like Asakusa. This is
the soul of Japan for us, not the things men and women have created,
but the folks themselves, living their lives.

You seem surprised so few people speak English. I didn't really expect
anyone to speak English because I'd been told not to. Once there, I'm
surprised how many do speak English. Maybe it's expectations. Since I
expected no one to speak my language I made a consciencious attempt to
learn as much Japanese over a few months as I could. Ordering food,
finding bathrooms, navigating transportation. Pretty bad, but somewhat
functional.

My result: After watching me, embarrassment-free, butcher their
language, all the people who can't speak English decide they can do
better than I can, and they begin speaking it more than well enough to
take care of transactions. We laugh we pantomime. We have a goodo time
at it. Passersby who speak even better English wan to jump in. And do!
So as far as getting stuff done, I find they speak English.
Additionally this self-effacing approach, I've concluded, makes us
"equals", and thus we've actually gotten dinner invites or made
transient "friends" of folks in this way. It's super.

The scary night you almost didn't get a room: The EXACT thing happened
to us in early November of 2006. Only we were looking for a room for
three nights. In the end we stayed an additional two night in Okayama
City (where we were at the time), and were forced into very expensive
accomodations at the Hotel Granvia in Kyoto. Beautiful hotel and a
great place for decompressing after a week of high-throttle activity.

And the kind of service you got at the Hotel Sumisho: we get this kind
of service so often it's amazing. I think part of it is that hotel
workers are fully "professional" folk, this is their career. They
aren't just doing it until they get through school. They studied to be
hotel service personnel. They take great pride in their task, as is so
much the case all over Japan at all social/professional levels. That's
my guess.

Your whirl-wind second day of temple-touring in Kyoto was Herculean. I
can't imagine hitting so many in a day. But I'm glad you liked them.
The Nijo temple is one of our favorites, as is Kinkakuji. We love the
grounds around Kinkakuji. In fact our interests in this regard usually
have us concentrating on gardens in Japan, and frequently we find them
near the temple areas. This second day is much more like what I think
of as our trips to Japan, you got to see Gion, which I think is cool,
got some kind of street food, wandered through a Japanese mall (the
train station is a vertical mega-mall to my mind).

I love this in Hiroshima: "I could have taken a bus, but I want to get
an idea of the city. It's a modern city with many skyscrapers, wide
streets, shopping complexes - just like any other large Japanese city.
I briefly stop in a noodle restaurant for a bowl of noodle soup."

What would a walk give you a bus didn't? Every city is like every other
city, if you quick-scan it. You'll find it is an amalgam of buildings,
streets and shops. Munich, San Franciso, Naples--what's the difference?
But I think Hiroshima is different from Osaka and Kyoto and from all
the others in it's own ways. What would those ways be? Certainly not
indicated by nameless noodle soup in a nameless noodle shop. Future
reference: Osaka and HIroshima both do okonomiyaki pancakes in
competing ways. It's like getting a Philly-Cheese steak when in
Philadelphia, which otherwise is just another American city. Anyway,
telling any city from another you have to take a moment to look, from
ground and human-level. You have to interact with it too, not just peer
at it from the street.

Admittedly when they rebuilt this city, even moreso with Osaka, Tokyo,
Kobe, Sendai and others after being bombed flat 50 years ago; perhaps
they didn't spend enough time designing in "character". They still have
some of this in Takayama, Tono, Kakunodate and myriad other much
smaller towns. But you really have to take the train to valueless
military targets to pursue that. And there you'll find--what? No
"architecture"? Dang! Trapped again!

I've never had the opportunity to make it to Miyajima and you seemed to
like that quite well. Wasn't it just a bunch of water and some trees
with a monastery on it? They have those all over Germany, don't they?
:-)

I love Osaka, and have been there three times. Last trip we weren't
going there but we made a hurry-up day-trip there from Wakayama City,
because we're so fond of it. You say "Overall Osaka appears to be a
pretty unremarkable place. It may be a big city, but lacks almost
completely interesting architecture, trendy neighbourhoods and elegant
places." Dang! You were just south of those areas when at Namba
station. We like Dotonbori, a great old area with lots of wonderful
food and places to hang out. Just north of there in Shinsaibashi there
are a lot more "trendy" places. Too bad these areas weren't located on
the walk between the train station and a tourist attaction! :-)

Regarding the lack of interesting architecture in Osaka, do you mean
the modern Western-style skyscraper wasn't in enough abundance to
dismiss as "just another city" (HIroshima) or "a cement jungle"
(Tokyo)? The Umeda Sky-Building was probably what you wanted. But there
are some fascinating old buildings in Dotombori, left-overs (in
attitude anyway) from their Kabuki and Bunraku-theatre past. There are
still a few operative theatres that we visit when we can. But these may
not be what you mean when you are talking about interesting
architecture. Interesting like, say, Odaiba, right?

DANG! "My first stop is at Namba station at 11:40am. This is the
station from which the trains and buses to Kansai international airport
leave. I have a quick look around. In this part of the city there is
nothing worthwile visiting. Nothing. Just a jungle of cement, streets
and buildings. Surprise, surprise there are a few elder Japanese ladies
doing watercolour paintings of the cement jungle."

It's true, it's true! All the stuff directly across the street from the
MAIN hub of transportation in the southern city, and from 95% of the
world's larger train stations, is either a clean-and-tidy mall, or the
"concrete jungle". You would have had to walk a solid block--maybe
two!--from this locale to find anything interesting. And then, I'm
afraid it would have been a row of shops, unimpressive from the
exterior, that housed treasures of cloth, paper, art, and so forth. You
would have had to walk in to find a "there" there.

I'm delighted you had a good time part of the time, I'm struck curious
by the things you found to do, but more by your meticulous ability to
avoid eating anything interesting. We practically can't avoid finding
fascinating food and scenes. Admittedly I don't save a 1700-yen meal
for the last night of my voyage but manage to get one in at least every
night.

I'm irked that you didn't see the Japan that I see from the first
minute I step out of the hotel in almost every single town I've been
in. Ah well. It takes so many eyes to see so few things. I too am
undoubtedly blind to what others find the only interesting things about
such locales: "You what? You went to Osaka and didn't see a baseball
game!!"

Thanks for taking the time to make this available to all. Are you going
to put pictures up? I promise I won't savage them. Much.
--
Thank you and have a nice day.

  #3  
Old November 26th, 2007, 10:19 PM posted to rec.travel.asia,soc.culture.japan
Alfred Molon[_6_]
external usenet poster
 
Posts: 988
Default Japan travelogue (long, very detailed)

In article [email protected], gtr says...

We bought pre-paid cards for phone usage all over Japan. If the locale
includes a soda or cigarette vending machine, you can probably find
one. When you say there are none, I assume you're speaking of cards
that are specifically for cell-phone usage or some such.


Obviously I meant prepaid cards for cell-phones.

In Shinjuku you saw gambling and possibly prostitutes? I don't think
you saw either. There are pachinko parlors, but they aren't really
"gambling" though you can win "prizes" of cigarettes and claptrap
and/or sell them elsewhere. I've never seen street prostitutes. It's
quite illegal and they have kind of a law fetish in Japan. They women
certainly dress provocatively in Shinjuku though. I'm thankful, and
that's free.


I saw packinko places, and assumed there was gambling as well. You mean
there is no gambling in Japan? Is it illegal?

As for the girls, some of them looked like prostitutes.

What's with the KFC dining?!? You've been in Tokyo two days and you've
eaten *twice* at KFC? If you want chicken, throw a rock and you'll
likely his a grilled-chicken (yakitori) place.


There is nothing wrong with KFCs IMHO. Anyway, it took me a few days to
familiarise with the local restaurants, so initially I relied on known
places.

okonomiyaki


Saw that and it left me wondering a bit.

grilled fish,


Had that in an eatery opposite Miyajima island. Excellent fish and
excellent rice.

Jeez, it's a country for dining.


Maybe, but I didn't know the place. Perhaps next time I'll dive more
into the local cuisine.

Incidentally the last time on Odaiba while eating lunch in a museum of
technology or some such we had an earthquake that was pretty exciting.


I never had dinner in Odaiba. The Chinese restaurant was in Ningyocho.

We've been up in a mega-building once
or twice to see the view, but it's a rarity. You seemed to take a great
interest in it.


They are good for nice sunset views of the city.

In older areas like Ueno and Asakusa, particularly at
night, there are all kinds of odd shops and places to get a snack or a
drink. And we do our best to hit as many in a given time as possible.


Indeed. Tokyo has a lot to offer. I guess you could spend one month
there without getting bored.

You seem surprised so few people speak English.


I wasn't surprised, just noticed that. It's easier to get around in
Japan if you can communicate with people. Luckily I can read to a
certain extent Chinese characters and that helped in some cases.

And the kind of service you got at the Hotel Sumisho: we get this kind
of service so often it's amazing. I think part of it is that hotel
workers are fully "professional" folk, this is their career. They
aren't just doing it until they get through school. They studied to be
hotel service personnel. They take great pride in their task, as is so
much the case all over Japan at all social/professional levels. That's
my guess.


As I wrote, the staff at hotel Sumisho deserves a medal for good
service.

What would a walk give you a bus didn't?


It's different. By walking you get a much better impression of the city.

I've never had the opportunity to make it to Miyajima and you seemed to
like that quite well. Wasn't it just a bunch of water and some trees
with a monastery on it? They have those all over Germany, don't they?


It's the setting which is gorgeous, the combination of temples, trees
and island.

Too bad these areas weren't located on
the walk between the train station and a tourist attaction! :-)


Maybe. But I only had one day to get an idea of Osaka.

Regarding the lack of interesting architecture in Osaka, do you mean
the modern Western-style skyscraper wasn't in enough abundance to
dismiss as "just another city" (HIroshima) or "a cement jungle"
(Tokyo)?


It does have some interesting places, but can't compete with a place
like Tokyo.

I'm irked that you didn't see the Japan that I see from the first
minute I step out of the hotel in almost every single town I've been
in. Ah well. It takes so many eyes to see so few things. I too am
undoubtedly blind to what others find the only interesting things about
such locales: "You what? You went to Osaka and didn't see a baseball
game!!"


Every person has a different way of exploring places and seeing things.
Those I wrote are just the impressions of a first time visitor. But it's
likely I'll be again in Japan in the future. I did like the place and
there is so much left to see.

Thanks for taking the time to make this available to all. Are you going
to put pictures up? I promise I won't savage them. Much.


Yes, but that will take some time. I shot 3200 photos in Japan, but
before that I'll process other photos I took last year in Malaysia,
which have been waiting longer in the queue ;-)
--

Alfred Molon
http://www.molon.de - Photos of Asia, Africa and Europe
  #4  
Old November 27th, 2007, 01:24 AM posted to rec.travel.asia,soc.culture.japan
gtr
external usenet poster
 
Posts: 113
Default Japan travelogue (long, very detailed)

On 2007-11-26 14:19:59 -0800, Alfred Molon said:

In Shinjuku you saw gambling and possibly prostitutes? I don't think
you saw either. There are pachinko parlors, but they aren't really
"gambling" though you can win "prizes" of cigarettes and claptrap
and/or sell them elsewhere. I've never seen street prostitutes. It's
quite illegal and they have kind of a law fetish in Japan. They women
certainly dress provocatively in Shinjuku though. I'm thankful, and
that's free.


I saw packinko places, and assumed there was gambling as well. You mean
there is no gambling in Japan? Is it illegal?


Yes they have it, and yes, it's illegal. It's certainly not operating
above-board in Shinjuku. Gambling was the dominant money-making gambit
for Yakuza up until the end of WW2 when they moved into corporate
enterprise and government (!). That's true by the way: read Tokyo
Underworld for a fun read.

As for the girls, some of them looked like prostitutes.


You got that right. I could be wrong, but I've never seen street
prostitiution in Japan. Admittedly I wasn't a single man walking in
Kabuki-Cho late at night. That's a very odd little enclave north of the
east side of Shinjuku, purported to be the old red-light district.
Though when I did walk there with my wife, I saw nothing that looked
like a prostitute proper. I think they have a long honorable history of
"slap-and-giggle" (note their books on geisha "fun") that preceeds
bona-fide prostitution. These in what that call "snacks", short for
snack-bar. I've had some fun in these a few time, and could have paid
for a hand-job, so I've been told, for a staggering sum.

Anyway, my understanding is that prosititution takes place in business
quarters, not hawking in the street. Street crime is quite the rarity.
Crime? Yeah, they have it, but it's not usually out there for visual
display.

What's with the KFC dining?!? You've been in Tokyo two days and you've
eaten *twice* at KFC? If you want chicken, throw a rock and you'll
likely his a grilled-chicken (yakitori) place.


There is nothing wrong with KFCs IMHO. Anyway, it took me a few days to
familiarise with the local restaurants, so initially I relied on known
places.


If you think there's nothing wrong with KFC, I've no complaints. I
would simply encourage you, and others, that while in Japan, you should
not maximize all oopportunities to eat Japanese food, or for that
matter--any food you can get at home. I found a miraculous Turkish
joint in Shinjuku one night. It's still there too.

Jeez, it's a country for dining.


Maybe, but I didn't know the place. Perhaps next time I'll dive more
into the local cuisine.


Good for you! Not everybody is the most adventurous diner. I, on the
other hand, have never turned down anything offered in good faith. And
in the end some of these adventures have been the high points of my
Japanese activities. Check "What's What in Japanese Restaurants" by
Robb Satterwhite for a complete operating manual for dining mining.
Your knowledge of kanji should be of immeasurable help.

What would a walk give you a bus didn't?


It's different. By walking you get a much better impression of the city.


It was a rhetorical question in the respect that this specific walk
reminded you that Hiroshima was just the same as all the others:
buildings, streets, shops.

Regarding the lack of interesting architecture in Osaka, do you mean
the modern Western-style skyscraper wasn't in enough abundance to
dismiss as "just another city" (HIroshima) or "a cement jungle"
(Tokyo)?


It does have some interesting places, but can't compete with a place
like Tokyo.


Try to find bunraku puppet theatre in Tokyo, or "Spa-World" or the
world's biggest roller coaster. Honestly, inter-city comparisons are
such a futile process. I wonder who wins a "comparison" between
Miyajima to Tokyo. Tokyo kicks Miyajima's ass when it comes to consumer
electronics, for instance. ;-)

I'm irked that you didn't see the Japan that I see from the first
minute I step out of the hotel in almost every single town I've been
in. Ah well. It takes so many eyes to see so few things. I too am
undoubtedly blind to what others find the only interesting things about
such locales: "You what? You went to Osaka and didn't see a baseball
game!!"


Every person has a different way of exploring places and seeing things.
Those I wrote are just the impressions of a first time visitor. But it's
likely I'll be again in Japan in the future. I did like the place and
there is so much left to see.


I'm glad you liked it. I didn't get the impression that it was one
you'd like to revisit. I'm a hopeless Japan booster/loyalist. I thought
you were, overall, somewhat disappointed. For future reference, should
you go again (and should you have an interest) there are a lot of books
about the diversity of arts, culture and history that would give you a
frame of reference. After one or two books, or seeing a few movies, you
might be all jazzed to go to a mountain hot-spring and re-live a moment
or two of "Snow Country" or see Ichijoji temple where Musashi had his
famous duel. So much of the time these things are about context anyway.

Thanks for taking the time to make this available to all. Are you going
to put pictures up? I promise I won't savage them. Much.


Yes, but that will take some time. I shot 3200 photos in Japan, but
before that I'll process other photos I took last year in Malaysia,
which have been waiting longer in the queue ;-)


I can sympathize. Our first two trips to Japan my wife put together two
incredible mutli-media/scrapbook binders. The next four trips are
stored in overflowing shopping bags, in the closet. I'm wondering If
we'll ever find the time and the desire to organize the documents
again. Regarding those pictures: the internet has made access to photo
memories so rapid now. In decades past I would never drag out the
family albums to remind myself of an old vacation. But now, I'm never
more than a few quick key-strokes from a random stroll down many Memory
Lane's of the past.
--
Thank you and have a nice day.

 




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