• March 31, 2014 /  Japan 2014

    So now that we’ve been here a week time to reflect on the positives and negatives.

    On the upside….

    We are still very much impressed by the level of politeness here. From buying something at the corner convenience store to being one of a billion people on a train platform. Everyone is so polite. I’m still amazed that with the intense crowds, nobody pushes or shoves nor does anyone butt in. If that happens it’s usually a traveller and not a local. Everyone lines up at designated lanes for the trains in an orderly fashion. When getting off, everyone gets off in an orderly manner as well. I find this truly amazing given the amount of people going through this system. While on the Shinkansen (bullet train), an officer comes by to check tickets. As he and anyone else working for the trains leaves your car, the walk towards the door, turn, bow, walk out backwards through the door and then leave.

    On the downside…….

    While there have been many things impressive about this trip, there have been a few frustrations. First is around money. Very few banks will accept foreign cards. Also, very few small town places accept credit cards. Our Suica cards (transit cards that can be used for trains, buses and merchants at the train stations can only be topped up with cash. The strange thing is that you can buy tickets and charge it to a credit card but you can’t top up the Suica card with a credit card. Before going to japan, take lots of Yen out and also have a Visa or MasterCard.

  • March 31, 2014 /  Japan 2014

    Today seemed the best day to go see Fuji-san. Tomorrow we will be spending time with my cousin as it is her daughters birthday. The rest of the week has either rain or partly rain in the forecast.

    It was another exhausting commute. We took one train to Shibuya station. There, we took the subway to Shinagawa. At Shinagawa we took the Shinkansen…….known on that side of the globe as the bullet train…..to Odawara. We then had to buy separate street car tickets and squeeeeeeze onto the street car heading up the mountains. After about 8 stops, we then lined up again and had to buy cable car tickets. This goes part way up. At that point we all line up again and get onto another cable car, with two options to depart. From the cable car, the view is amazing. But once off, there are places on the grounds to take pictures of Fuji-san. Frustrating!

    The winds were strong again today. It was a pretty noisy night with the winds howling away. It cleared the air though and made it possible to see Fuji-san from the 19th floor windows by the elevators.

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    Here we are waiting to board the Shinkansen. You can see the special barriers they have at most train/subways.

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    The cable car and Fuji-san from the cable car.

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  • March 30, 2014 /  Japan 2014

    It was another rainy day today. Very windy as well. Heading out with an umbrella tested its durability against being turned inside out many times. We headed to Shibuya station to peruse the shops.

    We stopped for a break at a coffee shop. Here’s Deniz’ latte.

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    The department stores here are all multi-story tall. We took a look through Tokyu and then went to ShinQ’s. Tons of little shops within the department store.

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    We had a burger for dinner there and it was amazing.

  • March 29, 2014 /  Japan 2014

    With some rest and some meds, it was time to get back out there. We decided to see the Fukagawa Edo Museum, Gardens of the Imperial Palace and Yasukuni Shrine. It was a nice sunny day. The sun was warm but with a cool breeze. Today’s high was to reach 19 degrees.

    While at the Edo Museum, we saw a few dance performances in the theatre room.

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    They also had a section that had a little old town that you could walk through and see how people lived.

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    At the Imperial Palace, we entered through the large entrance. The stone walls are huge!

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    Lots of plum blossoms.

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    At Yasukuni Shrine there were a lot of people. Yes, this is the Yasukuni shrine where Japanese dignitaries especially the Prime Minister take flak for visiting from China and South Korea. The issue is that there are war criminals in there. But the priest who created this space intended it to be a neutral place. Where judgement would not be passed and to simply commemorate those who died fighting for Japan. Those war criminals paid their price.

    There was an all girl taiko drum performance.

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    The main shrine.

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    Was a great day!!

  • March 28, 2014 /  Japan 2014

    I guess I ran myself down a little too much. Maybe I should have worn a mask on the trains. Whatever the reason, I’ve picked up a nasty bug. We stayed in the hotel room today and I slept for most of the day. Deniz went to a pharmacy last night and got some stuff to use for 3 days. It is helping. Hopefully I’ll be better enough tomorrow to get back out there. It was a nice sunny day today and it was a real shame that I spent it sleeping.

  • March 27, 2014 /  Japan 2014

    Thought this was interesting. The condo complex where my cousin lives has stacked parking with limited space, gotta go vertical.

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  • March 27, 2014 /  Japan 2014

    Rainy day today and feeling totally exhausted, we re-scheduled our day with my cousin to next week. Instead we stayed relatively local going just a few stops away to another big Hello Kitty shop. On our way we stopped in at the Sony building and toured their various showrooms. Pretty impressive stuff.

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    We had a nice lunch at a sushi restaurant in the mall. Sorry, forgot to take some pics.

    We saw a nice French dessert place in the train station and bought some treats. The level of customer service is amazing here. They packaged it nicely and then put it in a paper bag. Since it was raining today, they also put a clear plastic cover over the bag.

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  • March 26, 2014 /  Japan 2014

    The transit system here is amazing but it also makes for longer travel times. Just like back home the subways can make things easier but when it has to keep making stops it drags out travel time. Here, it involves lots of walking as there are several levels, multiple lines so just like the airport getting from one terminal to another can be a 15-20 min walk. Then, there’s switching train lines….more walking. Some places we have then taken the bus. It can all be paid for by our Suica transit cards which is handy. But generally speaking I’m finding this way of travelling around totally exhausting. I’m used to hopping in my truck and just driving places and being somewhere a lot quicker. Obviously though, with the tight spaces here that wouldn’t here.

  • March 26, 2014 /  Japan 2014

    Feeling pretty tired from the jet lag and from all the travelling around we got off to a later start yesterday. After lunch we made our way back to Saitama to visit my cousin. There’s a big department store near their home at one if the transit stations. This store has a big Hello Kitty section and Deniz has been a big fan since her childhood. Feeling pretty run down, we headed back earlier. We stumbled into the large shopping store at the Shibuya station. Like the vast majority here, they contain food courts in the lower levels. The basement level had vast amounts of all sorts of food. The next level up was the dessert floor. Not just Japanese desserts though but also some French types as well. This place was more expensive than the smaller place near our hotel but also fancier. More upscale. Most districts here have huge multi-level department stores and most are at key stops along the train lines.

  • March 25, 2014 /  Japan 2014

    Just a post of my thoughts so far.

    As expected, there is a lot of respect and politeness here. You know how when shop we’re lucky if the store assistant says anything. And if the store assistant says something meaningful we’re lucky? Here, everybody follows the same general guide. It hasn’t mattered whether we are at a small shop, Starbucks, grocery store or big department store. When entering we are greeted with a “Irasshaimasu” or “Irasshaimase” which both mean “welcome”. Some places say something else after that which I am not yet able to understand. When paying, they never just take what you have, ring it in and stand there waiting for you to pay. They greet, ring in the item(s) and then proceed to tell us the amount and point to the display. Locals get the verbiage but don’t need the pointing to the display to see the amount :). There is a tray where you put the cash or credit card. They take it from the tray and confirm what you have given – the amount of cash you paid or credit card. If you are receiving change back they out it in the tray or sometimes hand directly to you after counting it. Or if by credit card they neatly put the receipt and card together and reach out with both hands along with a slight bow to hand it back. They then finish with a thank you – arigatou gozaimasu. Very polite :).

    While people walk at a fast pace and with purpose here, there is still respect. Nobody shoves their way through and people will give way in crowded situations. We took a bus yesterday and I got up to give my seat to an elderly man. I don’t know what he said to me but it seemed to be very polite and appreciative.

    We took a cab last night and I could not remember how to ask properly if he accepted credit card, Visa. We struggled a bit he finally understood and confirmed “hai…credit card”. We then showed him the address and once underway I thought I’d practice a little of what I could remember and said to him “gomen nasai……watashi wa nihongo-o hontondou hanasemasen”…..which basically means “I’m sorry, I only speak a little Japanese”. He then nodded “hai” (yes) with a little laugh and wave of his hand that it was ok. I would have liked to practice a little more but he was concentrating on driving, which we appreciated so figured I should not be too yappy. It would have been nice to add…..”watashi tachi wa Toronto, Canada ni sunde imasu” (we live in Toronto, Canada). Well, we don’t really live in a Toronto but to anyone outside of Ontario we do. Nobody will know where Georgetown is. The cab itself was so clean. It was like riding in a brand new car. The rear doors are also controlled by the driver from his seat. He opens and closes the door via a switch on his console.

    I am getting some funny looks from some people. It’s probably because I don’t dress like the locals nor do I have a haircut like the locals. I appear western I guess. Getting good practice with “ohayou gozaimasu” (good morning) and “arigatou gozaimashita” (thank you – to store clerk after buying something).

    The other thing that takes some getting used to is walking on the left. Traffic flow usually follows the same principles whether it be driving or walking. In the west, we travel on the right side typically. In Japan, like in England they travel on the left. So, on sidewalks and in malls the main flow always travels on the left.