Sayonara to the Land of the Sakura

From Niigata we catch the bullet to Tokyo, passing snow clad mountains and many tiny farms.

Big improvement weather wise from our inward journey. The elegant old Tokyo Station is visible from our hotel, so we can’t get lost here. Can we?

We lashed out to hire a guide for 6 hours. A lovely young mother of two, Yuka speaks perfect English, knows her city, and we have a whirlwind of alleys, fish market, subways and an old park.

 

 

 

In the middle of a major metropolis, the park struggles to compete with some of the more regional ones we’ve seen, but still manages to produce cherry blossoms and carefully manicured eye-scapes.

In an open area, hundreds of plastic markers are being laid out to control queues expected for the afternoon brief baby panda viewing. Poor panda, patient patrons.

Nothing to her, Yuko walks deceptively quickly, and I wonder how she can take such long steps. We go through the very old and soon to be relocated fish markets, the biggest in Japan, where motorized trolleys driven by formula-1 drivers hurtle around the congested walkways.

Authentic sushi for lunch – every item delicious.

Then through a maze of narrow streets and old buildings. Everything clean and neat. So many people.

Left to our own devices the next day we succeed in getting lost, but delightfully so, in the centre of this busy city. Navigation technique…let’s  go this way, that way, every way, look at it all, then when weary grab a cab home.

Tomorrow it’s back to Oz, and we’ll  see how Cyclone Iris treated us.

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A Crane in Kyoto?

The 8th century capital of Japan continues our cherry blossom overload. The short lived petals are beginning to fall, in delicate pink-tinged white showers.

We check out the Golden Pavilion, Kinkajuji Temple, a Zen temple and world heritage site. It’s Easter, holiday time and we learn the meaning of mass tourism. Sardines in a school of seemingly millions. The temple, covered in gold leaf is crowned by a golden rooster, dates from the 14th century.

 

We wrongly identify a large heron reflected in the mirror-like lake. It wasn’t  a crane after all. Eventually the sheer numbers of people get to him, and he flaps ponderously away.

 

Along with the seething hordes, we walk and gawk at the huge bamboo forest, before visiting the 1603 built Nijo Castle.

This ancient and sprawling cypress building oozes power, the strength of the Tokugawa clan.

 

Incongruously, we come across a concours d’elegance…half a dozen beautiful Alfa Romeos in a courtyard, with movie cameras filming models promoting the beautiful vehicles.

Sorry sir I didn’t see the red rope that we climbed over to see the cars!

 

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The Dramatically Rugged Beauty of the Oki Islands

A bit cooler today, with a cold 20 knots coming in off the Sea of Japan, we anchor off this dramatically featured island. Nearly 200 rugged islands make up this archipelago, which was designated a UNESCO Global Geopark in 2014.

 

People have lived here over 30,000 years and during the Stone Age its obsidian rock was traded all around Japan.

We transfer to a local boat to sail around the steeply dramatic west coast of Nishinoshima Island. We get through a canal and out to the west coast, but Neptune flexes his muscle and we are forced to turn back to calmer water.

On the pier a couple are selling postcards and stamps, and a wooden over water building houses an origami shop dominated by an ancient stringed instrument, hauntingly played by a kimono clad lady.

 

Outside, Carol samples a local oyster. Huge! It took three bites. She followed with a dried smoked and spiced sardine of some sort.

However, she survives, and the Zodiac returns us to our floating home.

 

 

 

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Hagi … Cherry Blossom Capital, Japan

Back out of the Inland Sea and into the Sea of Japan that has the decided it’s  been too kind for us.

I have spent all my life on, and in, the water … in boats from 12 feet to an aircraft carrier, and I’m  seasick for the first time ever. Damn, it was such a nice breakfast, too.

Quickly recovering, we arrive at Hagi. Now I’m  no travel agent, however put this place on your bucket list for when the cherry blossoms are blooming.

Apparently this is the best flowering for many years and we are here right at the peak of it.

Words cannot do these flowers justice, so I’ll  let the trees themselves do the talking in pictures, other than to say – visit Shuzuki Park, Hagi Castle, with between five and six hundred trees in full bloom.

We visit, too, the Samurai quarter, where Japan’s ancient revolution began.

But my mind can’t  go past the ‘chelly brossoms‘.

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HIROSHIMA

An evocative name in 20th century history.

The first atomic bomb obliterated this city. August 1945 changed the world, and wiped out thousands upon thousands of people in a few seconds. The blast, the enormous heat and destructive shock waves was a turning point in man’s history on this planet.

The Peace Park provides a sombre reminder, the museum details the orgy of destruction, while everything is hoping for a future without nuclear weapons.

An admirable  wish, shared by millions the world over, but seeming more unlikely by the day as more nations acquire the technology, and men with no thought for history – when will they ever learn – poise their fingers over nuclear buttons.

Buttons that can summon weapons hundreds of times more powerful that the two that finally halted the carnage of the Pacific war.

This blue white sign, in origami cranes, means “peace”

 

 

Sombre. That’s  the feeling Hiroshima left with me.

Yet the cherry blossoms still burst forth every spring for their 7 to 10 day life, while young families putter along their river in curious circular outboard powered boats. The word “boat” doesn’t seem to fit these strange craft.

By the way, pronunciation is optional. The Japanese alternatively use it with the accent on the “o” or on the “i”.

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Moji, Japan – Cherry Blossoms AND a Toilet Museum!

A calm run from Busan and we enter the country’s inland sea.

Our first stop is Moji, once an important international trading port – Korea, China and the outside world. Historic buildings line the waterfront, but our interest is the cherry blossoms, now peaking into full flower. This is why we came to Japan. We know we will see more in the coming days, but these specimens are fabulous.

 

We’re here to see stuff, so we make a beeline for Kokura Castle, originating from the 1600’s. And its renowned gardens.

Nobody does gardens like the Japanese, and when spring is sprung and the ‘chelly brossoms’ burst into flower it’s 100% visual beauty overload.29893810_754637038067935_1167899125_o

 

 

Then, the last thing you’d  expect to do, we go to the Toto toilet museum! As we all know, Japan creates the most ingenious toilets, things of wonder and not a little trepidation as you wonder what’s  going on down there. So we see a hundred years or so of toilets… riveting stuff, no?

I’ll  share with you my favourite, a must have for the Harley aficionados.

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Just like life, time runs too quickly and we are warmly sent on our way with a rousing number by the school band and a balloon release.

 

So,  farewell to Moji, its cherry blossoms and dunny museum.


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The Women Divers of Busan, South Korea

This is the home (we find this claim is made by a few different places) of the women divers who used to collect pearls, now abalone, octopus, sea urchins etc.

Thinking they are a thing of the past, as we learn that most are now in their seventies and older (what sweet young thing these days wants to take on such an arduous career) we are excited to see from the elevated walkway half a dozen of them, wetsuit-clad, towing floats and net bags, collecting abalone and octopus.

 

Beaches and hot-springs resorts may not be your first image of South Korea, but locals flock to Busan for just those things.

We visit Gamcheon… they call it Santorini of the east… tiny houses, close together, steep slopes, narrow streets.

We see some girls in traditional dress.

Carved parrots on rooftops, electric and other vehicles expertly driven in cramped and steep streets. Packed with people. How bigger vehicles manage it I don’t know.

Then to Songdo Beach, deserted in this cold air, but see pics of it with more people than grains of sand.

Gujke Markets cover several city blocks. Crowded, full of colour and sound, where you could buy anything. We resist it all, especially food vendors’ stalls. Doubtless tasty gear, but hard to get excited enough to sample it.

We leave Busan, and venture out once more into the Sea of Japan for the night cruise back to that country.

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