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Saturday, 24 July 2010

Home Sweet Home

After about 25 hours of being awake I finally arrived back in the UK and fell promptly asleep. A few thoughts upon my return:

1) I must stop bowing at people.
2) Apparently it's not short skirt and sandal weather here.
3) I only gave out about 4 of my business cards and only one present. (I left the other presents as gifts for the housekeeping staff in the hotels)
4) Never go food shopping when you're jetlagged and haven't eaten for almost a day.


Tuesday, 20 July 2010

The final curtain

And yes we face the final curtain - or whatever Old Blue Eyes sang. Tomorrow`s my last full day in Japan and so this could be my last Japanese blog. Of course we may get stuck at Frankfurt airport for 3 weeks and then you`ll never hear the end of me.

My heat rash is still a delight but at least the sunburn has mostly turned to brown. I should almost match all the people who stayed in the UK where the weather was so nice.

Today We caught a local subway to Asakusa district where craft shops line the streets up to the big temple. There`s a pagoda and lots of giant lanterns but the main image for worshipping is considered too holy for us to look at so it`s kept locked away. Apparently it is a small gold statue 7.5cm tall of a god which was found by 2 lucky fishermen who now have their own shrine! We caught the ferry from here to some lovely gardens and then walked to the Ginza district of Tokyo which is their equivalent of 5th Avenue. By this stage my sandal sole was about 85% loose from the base making it rather tricky to walk back up hill to our hotel. I did show it to the man at the shoe repair stall at the station but he just shook his head, flapped the sole about, ranted in Japanese and handed it back to me. Ah well, at least that`s a little less weight in my suitcase!


Monday, 19 July 2010

After my mardy day I`m generally feeling much more chipper again now. Although the rainy season finished 5 days early and to prove it I am now sunburnt and covered in a delightful heatrash. It was 39 at one part of the day but it may have been hotter still and soooooo humid. That said I`m having a lovely time so far in Tokyo. We got the bullet train here from Kyoto (have you noticed Tokyo and Kyoto are anagrams? Not sure if that`s intentional or a weird coincidence). There are several different levels of the bullet train ranging from really fast to super duper fast. We got the super fast (2nd fastest) and it was a very pleasant journey. Dragging my suitcase up a hill to the hotel: less good.

Today was our first full day here so we found the main tourist info office in the conveniently located back room on the 10th floor of a shopping centre not near the main station. Then wandered into the amazing Tokyo International Forum - which is a glass building with a boat hull type ceiling (go on google it - you know you want to). We stopped at an electrical store to get a new memory card and see if I could get a pin to hold my camera strap on but as it was going to take 3 weeks to repair and we leave on Thursday I thought better and am using my 100 yen sticky tape instead.

We plodded on to the sky bus for an open top tour of Tokyo (in 39 degree heat - not so bright!) and then a look round the Imperial Palace gardens. We then caught a train to Oena Park where I went to the zoo but was sad to discover the giant pandas mentioned in the guide book have now died. Lots to see though but conditions in UK zoos def. better.

Food is still amazing - eaten all kinds of mystery foods and can convince myself it:s all healthy!


Friday, 16 July 2010

Mardy Gras

So today is the big final day of the Gion festival. Yesterday during my shopping fest I saw many of the floats parked ready for today`s parade. Last night we went into the city to see all the lanterns lit on the floats. 200,000 people throng to this area the night of the 16th to admire them so it was very crowded indeed. Guess what my biggest fear is...yes that`s right crowds.

Today was the 5th bad night`s sleep in a row (my acupunture has worn off) so I:m not exactly feeling at my finest today. I think most people suffer a mardy day somewhere in there holidays. A day when they just want to be by themselves and eat cake. Mine is today. I went to see the carnival but as the rain has finally stopped the sun has come out and it`s so incredibly hot. For the first few minutes I thought "how lovely I might get a tan after all" but after 5 mins I was trying to find shade. The streets were immensely crowded and despite the relatively short stature of the Japanese I (being rather short myself) couldn:t see anything, was sweating like a hose pipe and my ability to control by crowdphobia was waning so as I:d seen lots of the floats (and if I:m honest they largely all look alike) I waited for the first one and then wandered back to the hotel via a cake shop.

Is this really bad or should we all be entitled to our own personal mardy gras?


Thursday, 15 July 2010

brief thoughts

Well this will be a brief message as I'm writing it on my photo whilst using the WiFi in Starbucks. Tomorrow there is a big festival on in kyoto called the gion festival. About 30 huge floats will be dragged around the streets in the morning. One from each community. It's the equivalent of the nothing hill carnival I suppose. The roads are being closed off and vendors are lining the streets. There are also lots of people handing out plastic fans with adverts on. Much appreciated in this humidity as I'm far too hot to reach into my bag and get my bamboo and paper one.

Other observations of Japan. The houses are much closer together than I'd imagined due to the lack of flat land can buy socks with a separate big toe section so you can wear socks with flip flop style shoes. This should be outlawed clearly. I've discovered another button on toilets. It's called a deoderisation button: you can work out for yourselves what that's for. Enough for now.


Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Temple of Doom

Actually that`s a thoroughly misleading title for this blog. Firstly let me apologise for my absence over the last few days. We`ve transferred to a hotel in Kyoto which is Japan`s second oldest city and despite it being a bit Western style hotel they clearly are used to catering for Japanese businessmen so have lots of facilities for you to plug your lap top in but only one computer for the rest of the hoi polloi to use. To their credit it is free but understandably this means you get big queues so by the time I`ve checked my email I feel I ought to allow the next person to use it - no time for blogging.

In fact if I suddenly stop writing this you know one of two things has occured. Either the hotel has been stormed by Samorai and Ninjas or there is someone else over my shoulder waiting to use the machine.

So For the last 3 days we`ve been on an organised tour, seeing the sights of Kyoto and Nara (which is the oldest city on Japan!). We`ve seen more temples than you can shake a bento box at. They`re all absolutely stunning and filled with incredible sights - one (of the 3 we saw today) had the world:s biggest Buddha in whilst another had 1000 golden buddhas all lined up like an army. Truly spectacular stuff and I have taken approx 3.5 gazillion photos of anything that looks remotely Japanese - which is pretty much everything.

You know how you see coach tours of Japanese "doing" England? Well I think it would be safe to say that we are "doing" Kyoto. We jump on and off our coaches, wizz round somewhere, jump back on with our postcards and lucky charms and off we zoom to the next location.

On the plus side yesterday I managed to taste the waters at one temple which apparently means I am now healthier, wealthier and more beautiful - the proof of this was when a couple of middle aged Japanese businessmen immediately waved to myself and my companion. So at least middleaged Japanese men now find me infinitely more attractive.

Must go....someone has just thrown some of those ninja stars at me and some heavily armoured warriors are shouting something.


Sunday, 11 July 2010

Japanese Toilets

Ok so this is what you`ve really been waiting for I know! We`ve all heard about the weird and womderful ways of Japanese toilets but now I:ve experienced them for myself.

In most public toilets you actually get several of the cubicles containing squat holes which came as a surprise but if you bypass those and queue for the normal loo you often get the full electronic experience.

Just like a hifi differnt ones offer different features, most have certain things such as a button to spray a jet of water and another to offer a wider spray of water (bidet style the button calls it) but there are a variety of other buttons that I:ve discovered too. As standard you also get a stop button which took me a while to work out refers to the spray/jet, which doesn`t just stop automatically (I`m a bit slow on the uptake sometimes so I was beginning to wonder about the Japanese before it dawned on me that I:d seen another button.) You often also get a temperature button for the water so you can have it cold, warm or a bit hotter - I`ve not dared experiment with this one yet. On some you can also choose the pressure of the jet/spray. There`s another temperature button - but this one is for the temperature of your toilet seat. I must say I was pleasantly surprised by this when I sat on a warm one in the rest rooms at the hotel. I think they should become standard on campsites in the UK - would make midnight toilet trips a much nicer experience! The last type of button I:ve discovered so far is the sound button - you can often choose to have the sound of a flushing toilet going whilst you:re going to cover up your own noises but some toilets seem to offer alternatives noises or possibly music. SOmetimes you accidentally start this button off if its on a sensor and it can worry you - mind you yesterday I managed to set off the actual flushing sensor whilst still going but thankfully I wasn:t sucked into the toilet with my legs and arms waving as they rotated down the pan!

As I mentioned on an earlier post I also discovered one toilet that had a seat lowering button too which I think should also come as standard. I could happily live without jets and music but a warm seat that lowers for me would be rather wonderful.

So on to what I:ve been up to for the last 24 hours. Last night was the formal banquet for the conference. There were junior geishas dancing and a Japanese band playing with a lute, a lyre and a wooden recorder thing! We also had a 5 course dinner which was delicious but largely western. Bizarrely I`d put down on the dietry requirements I couldn:t eat nuts so I got an entirely different meal to the less fussy people. There`s didn:t actually seem to contain any nuts! Even more odd my desert came gelatine free whereas the fussy eaters desert was in jelly - since when was jelly made with nuts_?!

Today we went for a look round Kobe fashion museum which was mostly full of western costumes but very impressive. We then headed onto teeny tiny Japanese buses and went to a craft centre to decorate our own candles and finsihed it off with a walk to a delightful Japanese garden - everything you:d expect and more!

Tomorrow we leave Kobe and head to Kyoto - which my friend Ste tells me is like the York of Japan.