21 May 2014

A Japanese Alpine village

From Fukuoka, we were back on the Shinkanzen to Takayama. Takayama is a little town right up the mountains in Central Japan. Actually it is situated in a valley with the Japanese Alps all around it. It took us a little more than 5 hours from Southern Japan to Central Japan - a journey of more than 800 km. we had to change trains in Osaka because the only train that goes to Takayama is the limited express. 

On the way we saw really beautiful scenery - crystal clear rivers , gorges that take your breath away, fields of spring wildflowers. Parts of this scenery reminded me so much of New Zealand - except that sometimes we would see cherry blossoms or the Zakura tree.  We passed a number of small towns too that looked quite picturesque. 

          
            



In Takayama we stayed at a lovely hotel called .... Which was within walking distance of the railway station. The weather was cool and breezy - perfect spring weather!  Our room too was fantastic - it faced a small stream running behind the hotel and we could see glimpses of the mountains in the distance. That evening we took an exploratory walk around the town and saw a lot of interesting things. First of all, Takayama is actually an old Meiji emperor town. Some of the shops in the town goes back to the 17th century and the roads are cobbled still. However there is also a modern part of town with a few high rises ( about 10 stories) . We passed an old shrine that looked as if it has stood there since the 17th century! Then we crossed the river - this is really a fantastic place. The river is so clear you can see the stones in it and there are Japanese carp or koi ! Imagine that. In Malaysia the koi is an expensive fish and is only reared in man made ponds but here they swim freely. 


The river we passed by. 
That night I had a steam bath and slept like a log! 

12 May 2014

Fukuoka



After Osaka we went to Fukuoka, on the island of Kyushu. We were supposed to go by Shinkanzen but the tickets had been sold out - no tickets for seating places but we could take the non- reserved cars so we decided to take that anyway. However the earliest train would be at 1.50pm and we had already checked out of our hotel so we had to take whichever train that was traveling south that was earliest, and it happened to be the Hakata Express. Express is actually a misnomer. Once on the train

we realised this was like a mail train - it would stop at every station, big or small, passenger or no. So it took us all of 4 hours and 30 minutes to reach Hakata whereas the normal Shinkanzen would have taken us only 3 hours. Anyway it was a good experience and we could see much more of the countryside.

Japan is really very developed and even though Kyushu, when we studied Geography in school, was an island off Honshu, in reality it was almost part of the main island of Honshu. We could not even see where Honshu ended and Kyushu began - it was all one smooth track, with lots of bridges and tunnels linking one island to another.

Hakata, or its old name Fukuoka was quite a large city. There are many canals linking  different parts of the city and gardens. The hotel where we stayed was the New Otani, about 10 minutes away from the station. After checking in and refreshing ourselves we decided to take a look at the shopping centre which we saw was very near the hotel - just a stop away by subway. 

The shopping centre was actually part of the subway - everything was underground and you could practically walk from one end of the town to another without getting out. And it was all shops along the way, shops, restaurants, caf├ęs and even a small garden! 








11 May 2014

Osaka

We arrived in Japan at 7.30am, their time, which means it was 6.30 am back home. It was already quite bright but the air was cool and breezy. The one thing I remember about Narita Airport is that from the plane to Immigration and Customs it was a very long walk. This was no different - it took us at least 10 mins to walk to the Immigration checkpoint, after collecting our luggage.  From there we walked to the train station, another  250m. Shasha bought the tickets - we were taking the  Super Express to Shinagawa from where we would change to the Shinkanzen to Osaka. 

We arrived at Shinagawa just in time to catch the Shinkanzen. This is the bullet train which is super fast. We could hardly take a photo of it, it was that fast! The journey to Osaka would take about 5 hours. Luckily all these had already been booked by Shasha online- we only needed to change our rail pass for actual tickets and it was so much cheaper to use a rail pass. If we had to buy Shinkanzen tickets here in Japan it would have been very very expensive - 20,000 Yen just for one person! The rail pass cost a lot but it would cover all our domestic travel - by JR line of course - and just the trip to Osaka would have covered the cost of the pass. 

Inside it was very spacious and comfortable. Better than a budget airline! 


The picture above is the Shinkanzen coming in. And the one after is the inside of the train. The journey was smooth and uneventful. We enjoyed looking at the view but mostly it all went too fast- just flying past as they say. We had drinks on the train - coffee and cakes and I fell asleep after an hour . When I woke up we were arriving at Shin Osaka , the station where we would get down. Here we had to transfer to the subway- another 10 min journey underground  before we arrive at our hotel in Osaka, the Monterey Grasmere, inspired by the Lake District.