Faux food and fascinations

Finally back on the blog to carry on charting the epic trip to Japan that we took last year.

Still in Tokyo’s Asakusa district we carry on exploring the fascinating back streets full of incredible sights.

The man starts off his holiday task of being “stick your head in that” man and poses for a bite of melon pan.

Melon-pan is a sweet baked bread with a top that resembles the outer layer of a cantaloupe melon. It’s often full of delightful cream.

I also spot the very first display of uncannily lifelike plastic food that we will come to know and love all over Japan. In this instance it is a multitude of coloured ice creams.

Everywhere we turn there is so much to see, I am frankly amazed I even managed to get past these first few streets!

From ninja shoes to sake barrels, colourful wishes and decorative artwork, I am delirious!

Japan truly is the epitome of a schizophrenic culture. Chaotic, colourful and brash in one breath and then peaceful, traditional and tranquil in the next.

Moving onwards we head to the Sumida river to get a glimpse of the Tokyo Sky Tree.

With a height of 634 meters, it is the tallest structure in Japan and the second tallest in the world at the time of its completion. A large shopping complex with aquarium is located at its base.

You can also see the distinctive gold sperm like Flamme d’Or that marks the Asahi Beer Tower and Asahi Super Dry Hall – the headquarters of Asahi Breweries.

Next up more shopping streets and a veritable cornucopia of plastic meals!!

Senso-ji Shrine

Asakusa is a wealth of details from the spiritual to the hyper modern. Patterns, colours and nature abound.

In a city where there are very few buildings older than 50 years because of the wartime bombing, Asakusa has a greater concentration of buildings from the 1950s and 1960s than most other areas in Tokyo do.

There are traditional ryokan (guest-houses), homes, and small-scale apartment buildings throughout the district.

I enjoy this child’s Ninja outfit complete with sword and stealth head covering.

Another rapidly developing new obsession are these delightful lanterns that come in a variety of colours and designs.

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We’re getting closer to the main attraction of Asakua – the Sensō-ji, a Buddhist temple dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon.

The history of Senso-ji Temple goes back far into the past. Legend has it that fishermen brothers discovered an image of Kan’non (the goddess of mercy) in the Sumida-gawa River around the year 628 and were inspired to enshrine it

Two giant owaraji sandals hang from the Thunder Gate of the temple. These are considered kami sized sandals. They symbolize the power of the temple’s Nio protectors.

The sandals are donated by the town of Maruyama in Yamagata Prefecture. They are handcrafted in a process that involves 800 people. Each sandal weighs around 250 kilograms (550 pounds).

Below we can see the crowds are already gathering around the shrine. Beautiful ornate details abound including more gigantic lanterns and these gorgeous lacquered doors.

Below is another ornate Omikuji machine. You pay your money, shake the box and receive a numbered stick. This corresponds to a drawer where your paper fortune resides.

The temple grounds provide a respite from the throngs and give a wonderful green oasis of calm featuring the most Japanese of creature the Koi Carp.

Here’s a few fuzzy phone pics of me (just to prove I am actually there too!)

Having fun so far? We’ve got SOOOOOOOOOOO much more to show you!

 

Train stations, vended wishes & Asakusa

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So after a 19 hour flight we arrive dazed and confused at Japan’s Narita International Airport, hop on a Skyliner Train slap bang into the world’s largest and busiest train stations – Shinjuku.

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The station was used by an average of 3.64 million people per day in 2007, making it, by far, the world’s busiest transport hub (and registered as such with Guinness World Records).

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The station itself has 36 platforms, including an underground arcade, above ground arcade and numerous hallways.

There are well over 200 exits. Another 17 platforms (51 total) can be accessed through hallways to 5 directly connected stations without surfacing outside.

Needless to say we might have never got out of the station if it hadn’t been for the help of a lovely local lady who walked us to our first hotel and even bought me vegetarian snacks!

After spending our first night in the tiny but perfectly formed Hotel Rose Garden we were up and ready to find out what awaited us in Tokyo.

The first stop on my route march is Asakusa.

Asakusa (浅草) is the centre of Tokyo’s shitamachi (literally “low city”), one of Tokyo’s districts, where an atmosphere of the Tokyo of past decades survives.

Kaminarimon is the first of two large entrance gates leading to Sensoji Temple. First built more than 1000 years ago, it is the symbol of Asakusa.

Below the man contemplates its huge lantern and appears to have procured a meaty snack already!

Asakusa’s main attraction is Sensoji, a very popular Buddhist temple, built in the 7th century.

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The temple is approached via the Nakamise, a shopping street that has been providing temple visitors with a variety of traditional, local snacks and tourist souvenirs for centuries.

Naturally we have to meander our way through the stalls and explore what’s for sale.

I am quickly captivated by the vivid packaging and quirky merchandise, exactly what I had hoped to find.

For many centuries, Asakusa used to be Tokyo’s leading entertainment district.

During the Edo Period (1603-1867), when the district was still located outside the city limits, Asakusa was the site of kabuki theatres and a large red light district.

Below we spot our first colourful omikuji vending machine. O-mikuji (御御籤, 御神籤) are random fortunes written on strips of paper at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in Japan. Literally “sacred lot”.

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These are usually received by making a small offering (generally a five-yen coin as it is considered good luck) and randomly choosing one from a box, hoping for the resulting fortune to be good.

But as Japan is the land of the vending machine it makes sense for you to be able to vend a fortune too!

I also spot the first of many (many many many) Japanese school girls in their distinctive uniforms.

Not to be confused (as we were for ages) with older women dressed in the current fashion for school girl outfits . . much shorter and more risque!

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We’ve not even covered the first hour of our time in Tokyo – you know there are going to be an EPIC amount of posts on this trip . .  bear with me, it’ll be worth it!!!!

Brace yourselves . . . IT’S JAPAN

So finally, four months after the event I can finally get around to documenting the most epic trip I’ve ever taken…… JAPAN!

We’ve been lucky enough to see some amazing places do far including India, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia to name just a few, but Japan. Now that’s something else!

It’s been my one bucket list destination.

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A shimmering dream that I never really believed we’d actually manage to achieve. But we decided to take the plunge to celebrate our ten year anniversary!!!

Naturally I had to plan everything in painstaking detail, more a military campaign than a relaxing break . . . here’s a look at my 30 page itinerary (yep you read that right . . )

Our 19 day trip would start in frenetic, zany, hyper powered Tokyo.

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Then we’d head into the Japanese alps to the gorgeous little town of Takayama.

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Then to Hiroshima to see the sombre vestiges of the second world war in the form of the A dome and Peace Museum.

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We’d then spend several days in beautiful Kyoto hunting for Geisha.

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Then round the trip off in colourful, crazy Osaka with its giant sushi signs and department store complete with Ferris wheel.

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We booked our flights nice and early (in February for a trip in October) which meant we managed to secure very good ticket prices with Emirates.

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As we knew we’d be travelling a lot we invested in a Japan Rail Pass.

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It might not be right for everyone and it’s  a big chunk of money to stump up front, but for us it saved money on the numerous bullet train journeys we’d undertake.

We booked all our hotels on Booking.com months before we headed out as October tends to be quite a popular time of year to visit and it does get booked up quite quickly, especially in Tokyo.

We stayed in some budget business hotels, a wonderful traditional home-stay as well as a quirky capsule hotel.

Here’s the list of where we stayed (in case you need any accommodation ideas!):

Hotel Rose Garden, Shinjuku

Net Booth Capsule Hotel, Shinjuku

Guest house and cafe SOY, Takayama

Toyoko Inn Hiroshima-eki Minamiguchi-mig, Hiroshima

Hotel Grand Bach, Kyoto

Kyoto Guesthouse Lantern, Gion

Sunroute, Osaka Namba, Osaka.

So sit back and brace yourself for  veritable glut of all things Japanese. Buckle up, it’s a crazy ride!!!!!!

Farewell Brittany

Well folks we’ve come to the end of the whirlwind stomp through the beautiful Brittany.

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One of the final stops is Audierne, a charming Breton harbour town with bustling quays and historic narrow streets.

We’re law abiding folks – if the sign says wait here, then wait we will!

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This colourful restaurant display catches my eye with its vivid flags and colourful flowers.

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I particularly enjoy this vivid blue bike draped in colourful flowers.

Audierne has some detailed street art that is just begging to be snapped . . .

A bustling little street market lures us in with colourful postcards, squashes and other produce.

Naturally the man gravitates towards the patisserie and coffee stalls . . .

There’splenty of traditional architecture to be found from delightful wooden shutters to a floral cornucopia.

Then it’s onto the next town as our holiday clock counts down its final hours.

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We make a brief stop at the picturesque village of Le Faou is towards the western end of Brittany.

It is listed among the most beautiful villages in France and falls within the boundaries of the Armorique Regional Natural Parc.

Although Le Faou is small the buildings in the centre are very interesting, with many of them built in stone and others half-timbered with their wooden facades covered in vertically placed slates.

Houses where the upper stories protrude over the ground floor in this way are called ‘maisons à encorbellement’ and can be seen in many places in France with intact medieval centres.

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In Le Faou most of these ‘maisons en pan de bois’ houses are grouped together along the main street in the village centre and date from the late 16th and early 17th centuries, although the method of construction was banned in 1561 because of the fire risk.

Our final stop is the beach – no pictures of that so instead enjoy this snap of a colourful concrete shed as the final image of the trip!

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Well that’s it for Brittany everyone. I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.

Now it’s onto possibly THE MOST EXCITING TRIP EVER!!!!!!!!!! . . . ..  . .