A Travellerspoint blog

Onwards to Osaka!

Night bus to Osaka – slept but didn’t sleep

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That unusual experience with at the hot spring bath concluded our stay in Tokyo. We were due to board a night bus (Willer Express) to Osaka, which was the cheapest option we could find. It was a pretty standard coach, as we chose the cheapest seating option as well. This made for a very uncomfortable nights sleep. I say sleep, when really we slept on and off for a few hours at a time so it didn’t really feel like it. We must have slept pretty well though, as the 9 hours journey didn’t seem to take long at all, and before we knew it we were departing at Osaka station at 7am!

After the earlier mistake on the first day of the trip we didn’t plan a repeat, so we’d already booked a hostel to stay at. We negotiated the trains relatively easily, and found the hostel (which was more like a hotel) with ease. Our accommodation is amazing. It is almost like a luxury hotel, complete with soft towels, bath robes, wired internet and even complimentary slippers! The whole place is immaculate as well. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the location. Shin-imamiya is a shithole. The people are pretty odd it’s safe to say, and everywhere seems dirty and run down. A stark contrast to everything we’ve seen so far in Tokyo.

The state of the surrounding area hasn’t been a major issue though, as there is not really anything to see there, so all that matters is that we are close to the station, and can travel to the sights of Osaka with relative ease. First stop for us was the Umega Floating Garden Observatory – a massive building that has a garden suspended between two very large towers and is supposed to offer stunning views of the landscape. Unfortunately that was also closed for the day when we arrived (an reoccurring theme!) so we decided to try out the Hep 5 ferris wheel instead. The Hep 5 ferris wheel is on top of a huge 8 storey department store, and also was an incredible experience. It felt like the London Eye, only 8 storeys up!

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After the Hep 5 we headed for Osaka Castle. The surrounding parks were beautiful, and the plum/peach groves surrounding the outer moat looked amazing as they started to blossom. The scale of the castle grounds was incredible, and it was well worth the trek to reach its gates!

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Ant knee

Posted by howlett 14:17 Archived in Japan Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Unity between the old and the new

Meijing Shrine, crazy Harajuku and hot spring baths!

sunny 10 °C

We decided to try the Meijing Shrine again today, and this time with success! It was a beautiful walk up to its gates where there were huge wooden beams forming an arch way. Inside it the grounds it felt so peaceful, which was strange as the forest where it is situated is surrounded by so much hustle and bustle, and huge towering buildings. That is something I've noticed about Japan, they seem to combine their modern day world with their heritage seamlessly. Traditional values are still so important, and they have made sure to keep all of their cultural identity, while adapting to the ever changing modern world.

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On leaving the shrine we went in to the museum to learn more. They let us in at student prices which was a nice touch! By huge contrast we began to walk the streets of Harajuku , where there is a lot of cosplay (costume play). This is something the Japanese youth are famous for - funky outfits that are so over the top it's unreal, and they just walk the streets as if everything is normal! We headed in to one shop (all 9 floors of it) and it was incredible. People shouting from all angles, mad rushes to grab clothes from the shelves, and the whole time some crazy Japanese techno music in the background! Needless to say, we decided to make a hasty escape to the relative serenity of the streets.

Once we were back in Asakusa I left Steph to head back to the hostel while I went on to try the local Japanese hot spring baths - an experience I will never forget!

Everything in Japan is done by token machines. They have tokens for train travel, tokens for fast food, tokens to enter sightseeing venues and tokens to go to a hot spring bath! I went inside, took my shoes off at the door (which is the norm in Japan) and placed them in the lockers, got a token for entry to the baths and to rent a large towel - something I thought might be very useful. Did I mention the baths were fully naked? That's quite important, and hence the reason Steph wasn't too keen on trying them. I don't blame her, I had my reservations as well!

It was quite an experience let me tell you. I was by far the youngest there, and of course the only foreigner. After getting naked you have to enter a room where you sit on a little stool and wash yourself all over with a low shower and two taps, then you can move to where the baths are. The baths were ridiculously hot. I saw the thermometer on the wall and it was reading close to 50 degrees centigrade, and the water felt much hotter than the air! I slid into the baths (which I shared with about 4 other Japanese men, who seemed slightly puzzled to see me) and began to soak. They were filled with some kind of aromatic substance that was very soothing both mentally, and on the skin. The large bath also contained an area which had powerful jets that did wonders on my damaged shoulder. I then spied a sign that said 'electric bath'. Intrigued I waded over. Wow. They ran an electric current through the water! It was such a strange feeling, and all my muscles started twitching, almost to the point where it became painful! So after a few minutes I moved away. I lasted as long as I could, but the heat was too much and I started getting dizzy, so I went for a cold shower. My whole body felt so weak, but very relaxed, it was a very strange feeling. Once the dizziness left my head I went for round two. After about another 15 minutes my consciousness became slightly temperamental, so I decided to have another cold shower, and sit down for a bit. I went to get changed, which was a struggle, and then wandered back to Steph trying to make my legs do what I wanted them too!

Ant Knee

Posted by howlett 14:42 Archived in Japan Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (0)

Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot

Japan by foot!

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Today we decided to travel everywhere we could by foot. It was a good choice, as it was a Sunday and the park next to where we were staying was filled with people buying and selling on a market, and heading to Sensoji temple for buddhist prayer. We also saw what we think was a wedding ceremony taking place near the temple, and some monkey's doing tricks. It felt like a very festive atmosphere, and alot of fun!

We made our way out of the market stands and continued across the river to an amazing structure called the Asahi Super Dry Hall, which has what looks like a huge piece golden whipped cream statue on its roof. Apparently it was built by Asahi, a major beer brand in Japan.

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When we crossed the river we came to a small food market, where it seemed local chefs were offering free samples of their delicious food. All we had to do was que for a ticket and we could try anything we wanted for free! We carried on down the river, which looked beautiful in the sun, and then after about 45 mins headed back along the other side. We jumped on the train and headed to Ueno park where we saw a diaboloist, some beautiful fountains and a momument dedicated to Hiroshima.

The setting sun was gorgeous, and it rounded our memorable day off in a stunning way.

Ant knee

Posted by howlett 14:36 Archived in Japan Tagged foot Comments (0)

Bumpy start in Tokyo, but it's all good, it's all good.

Note to self: next time book a hostel before landing!

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I may made a couple of mistakes during preparation for the start of this trip. My first was the assumption that Wi-Fi would be as easy to come by as Sushi in Japan... nope. Then I naively thought that hostels would exist all over the place in the centre... wrong again!

We touched down in Narita, just outside Tokyo at around 9:45am. All went well to start with, we filled in our landing cards correctly, and the lady on passport control was very smiley. She even helped us with what trains we needed to take in order to get into Tokyo's centre - something I have never experienced at passport control before. Our bags came out pretty quickly on the conveyor belt, and we were on our way.

We got onto the correct JR train to Nippori, and from then things went got a little bit pooh. We spent the next few hours searching the streets of various districts in Tokyo looking for a cheap place to stay, and somewhere to shift the ridiculously heavy weight from our shoulders. After been told by various people to try a number of districts for cheap accommodation with no luck at all, we began to wonder if there was a conspiracy against us! Eventually we found an immaculate hotel, where the receptionists were very kind and let us use their internet for free. At this point we found out where we were going wrong. We were searching all over the west side of Tokyo, where there isn't any form of budget accommodation - it's all on the East side! After a little while searching online (in Japanese google, which was fun) we found and booked a place to stay, then set off once more on the train.

We eventually found the Sakura Hostel in the Ikebukuro district. A lovely place, where the staff spoke perfect English and gave us a room on the 7th floor for a very reasonable price. The best part of course - FREE WiFi! After a short time on the net, checking and replying to a couple of emails, we hit the sack for a well earned 9 hour rest.

The next morning we took full advantage of the free WiFi, and booked another hostel which was even cheaper and in a better location (east Tokyo), then we spend the day using a JR line day pass to travel on Tokyo's equivalent of the Circle line for the day. A true highlight was visiting the Government Metropolitan Building Observatory where we had a fantastic 360 degree view of Tokyo with Mount Fuji's silhouette just visible in the distance.

On our way back from the Government Metropolitan Building Observatory in Shinjuku we decided to try and see the Meijing Shrine, but unfortunately we were a little late and it was shut for the day. Sad face. However, on exiting Harajuku station we were greeted by a huge festival parading in the streets. I asked what it was about and found out it was a one off parade celebrating Harmony.

We then continued on the Yamamoto JR line to Ryogoku to see if by chance we could get some tickets to the Sumo, nope, shutting as well. Double sad face. Ah well, it was starting to get late in the day so we headed back to our friendly hostel in Asakusa for some food.

So, the lesson has now been learnt: when planning an epic adventure - book accommodation for the first night in advance!

Ant knee

Posted by howlett 12:45 Archived in Japan Tagged train_travel Comments (0)

Our Intended Route

Here's our intended route:

UK -> Japan - (21-01-10)
Japan -> China - (29-01-10)
China -> Hong Kong
Hong Kong -> Vietnam - (18-02-10)
Vietnam -> Cambodia
Cambodia -> Laos
Laos -> Thailand
Thailand -> Malaysia
Malaysia -> Australia - (04-05-10)
Australia -> New Zealand - (25-05-10)
New Zealand -> Cooke Islands - (12-07-10)
Cooke Islands -> USA - (24-07-10)
USA -> UK - (01-08-10)

Ambitious I know, but if you're going to do something as big as this, it's got to be done properly.

Let us know if you have relatives/friends in an of these countries that could help us along the way!

Posted by howlett 04:36 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged preparation Comments (2)

So this is it...

The route is planned... the budget is set... and the flights are now booked!

So this is it, we are set to leave on the 21st of January 2010 - first stop Tokyo! I'm filled with excitement and apprehension, and my mind constantly entertains thoughts of what weird and wonderful experiences I might have while I'm away.

What I was due to take on suddenly got very real as I sat there in the Selfridge's branch of Trail Finders. It was an otherwise ordinary Tuesday afternoon, and I waited quietly for our flights to be confirmed. I watched as my PIN was accepted, and a large chunk of my hard earned cash was debited from my account almost instantaneously.

To be honest, the £1,500 we each paid for the 7 flights was incredible value, considering they would form the backbone of our journey. Can you really put a price on the trip of a lifetime? I don't think so.

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I spent the last few weeks planning the route I would like to take, and in particular the sights I'd like to see along the way. I then did a bit of research in to what kind of money we'd be likely to spend for essentials, such as accommodation and food in each of the countries we were likely to visit. I even went as far as downloading 'World Nomads' apps for my iPhone, so that I have the basics to hand right away when I become fully immersed and overwhelmed by a culture very different to what I know.

So as I sit here on New Years eve, ready to celebrate the start of a new year as well as a daunting new adventure, all that's left for me to do is buy some 'Lonely Planet' guide books and finalise how I'm going to access my money abroad. I'll be sure to post plenty of photo's of our trip, with the intent of keeping you all updated with what we've been up to (and to make you a tiny bit jealous as well)!

Posted by howlett 05:51 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged preparation Comments (0)

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