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Japan has always been on my bucket list as a destination I would get to one day.  Thanks to Active Asia and Air New Zealand, I was able to wing my way there and take in a few of the main sites in this amazing country.

So another adventure is in store.  On Wednesday the 14th of August I left for a quick trip to Japan with some other Travel Agents to check out what it's all about.  My travels took me to Tokyo, Mt Fuji & Lake Ashi, Kyoto and Osaka.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013 - Arrived

Standing in the immigration queue. 31 degrees. Bring on Tokyo.

Thursday, 15 August 2013 - Tokyo city

Clean, green, friendly and accessible. Those are my first impressions. Another huge city and once again I am amazed by how spotlessly clean it is... Not one piece of rubbish to be seen on the streets at all. The city also has so many parks and trees. A very modern city with bits of history just here and there. We visited the imperial palace and the central buddhist temple which dates back to 628AD. Shopping shopping everywhere with cell phones less than half price of what they are at home. The city is full of vending machines. You can just about buy anything you want or need from one. You know that game where you put your money in and you use a claw to try to select a prize? We found one where the prizes were fish... rubber ones not real ones. What is that all about?? For a city with 13 million people it doesn't feel any more crowded than Auckland until you hit the underground and then you would swear each and every one of those 13 million are there with you. The traffic is good and not at all like the chaos on other Asian roads AND they drive on the same side of the road as us. So far... Loving Japan!!

Wednesday, 14 August 2013 - Tokyo Skytree Tower

At 634 metres high Tokyo Skytree Tower is the tallest tower in the world. The gold structure beside it is on top of the Asashi brewery... Can't really figure out the symbolism. Any ideas??

Tokyo Skytree TowerBonsai Trees Thursday, 15 August 2013 - Black pine bonsai trees - very cute

These well tended bonsai trees are around 2-3 metres tall and throughout the city.

Thursday, 15 August 2013 - Japanese cuisine

The first night here we found a string of noodle bars. The interesting thing was that you ordered from a vending machine outside the shop. We weren't positive about what we were going to get as some of the pictures were a little vague and faded. Once ordered we were shown inside and seated and from there it was a full service restaurant. The variety of food was great and all very delicious. Dinner was around $10.   Last night after wandering around for about 20 minutes trying to find a place that would take 10 people, we were approached by a nice young man who said follow me. We thought there was safety in numbers so off we went down the street and into a tiny elevator. What a surprise...a beautiful little busy restaurant with a chef who looked to be about 100 banging out meals at lightening speed. Absolutely superb meals with super fresh ingredients. Sake all round and we had a great evening. Secret restaurant last night around $30 a head including drinks. Not bad considering I always thought Japan was an expensive destination.

Secret RestaurantSushi Train Friday, 16 August 2013 - Tokyo shopping 

A walking and subway tour today around the main shopping areas and teenage hangouts. You can buy absolutely everything you ever wanted including all the brand names of the stores that I couldn't even afford to go in. Shopping may sound fun for some but for me it's not so pleasant in 34 degree heat. My finds for the day were a coin purse and a salt spoon woohoo. We did come across an amazing sushi bar for much better than at home. Tonight it's off on the subway again to a Shabu Shabu dinner?? I'll let you know what that was tomorrow.

Friday, 16 August 2013 - Shabu Shabu

Take a large copper pot and place on a gas ring in the middle of the table. Fill with water. Heat until boiling. Add vegetables and very thinly sliced meat for 30 to 60 seconds. Remove and add condiments of your choice...chilli, garlic, sesame oil, soya sauce, peanut sauce etc. And voila you have a Shabu Shabu meal. This all came complete with the most delightful waitresses in traditional Japanese kimonos.

Shabu Shabu DinnerMt Fuji Saturday, 17 August 2013 - Mt Fuji

A long day today. Because it was a public holiday we decided to forgo the coach as the roads were jammed and we took a series of trains and cable cars to view Fuji. Spectacular mountain scenery most of the way and once at the viewing platform we had a great view of the quite often elusive mountain. From there we took the cable car down to Lake Ashi for lunch and then a cruise over to the other side aboard what can only be described as pirate ships....interesting!! We viewed the old passport check point between Tokyo and Kyoto and the mountain path of the Samurai. Then down the mountain via beautiful traditional towns and hot spring resorts. We are now sitting on the bullet train travelling at over 270 mph on our way to Kyoto. A great day although very tiring and I would recommend an overnight stop in the mountains.

Saturday, 17 August 2013 - Kyoto

A full day sightseeing tour of Kyoto today. What a wonderful city this is. Plenty of history, architecture, temples, shopping and once again great food. Our first stop this morning was Nijo Castle which housed Shogun when he was visiting from Edo (Tokyo). Built in 1603 it is a great example of early building designs housing lavish paintings and carvings. In 1868 the castle was handed over to the imperial family and was designated as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994. On then to the Ryoanji Temple for a wander through the gardens to visit the Rock Garden which was constructed around 1500ad by a respected zen monk, Tokuho Zenketsu . Only 15 rocks and white gravel is used in the garden but unfortunately Tokuho Zenketsu died before he could explain what it was all about so there is much speculation as to the meaning. From there we headed to Kinkaku (The Golden Pavilion). In 1397 the Shogun took a liking to the temple and surrounding gardens and acquired it for his family. The garden and buildings, centered around the Golden Pavilion, was said to represent the pure land of Buddha in this world. Gold foil on lacquer covers the upper two levels of the Golden Pavilion. What a beautiful and tranquil place this must have been. After a traditional Kyoto lunch it was up the hill to the highest temple for views over Kyoto and a spot of souvenir shopping. We are off to watch a Maiko show tonight and then our final day in Kyoto tomorrow before travelling to Osaka for our flight home at 10pm.

Golden PavilionMaiko Girl

Sunday, 18 August 2013 - Maiko

Trainee geisha girls (under the age of 20). One hour to get all made up, one minute to take it all off.

Monday, 19 August 2013 - Sayonara Japan

Another boiling hot day filled with hotel inspections and last minute shopping. Kyoto is a wonderful city with plenty of the real Japan and just enough of the western world to make you feel comfortable.

Loved Japan, the people, the traditions, the history, the cities, the countryside and of course the food. What a wonderful and very safe destination Japan is.  I will take with me a great fondness for the Japanese people who are so kind, helpful and friendly.


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