We arrived at Hiroshima station bang on time, the efficiency of the Japanese Bullet trains is amazing. It arrives exactly on the dot, stops at the station for exactly two minutes then moves on, regardless of whe there everyone is on or off! Being in the train as it travels up to 180mph is similar to being on an Aeroplane as it hurtles down the runway. It’s smooth, but you’re aware of the speed. We travelled nearly the distance of London to Aberdeen on our journey from Tokyo to Hiroshima, in only 4 hours!!
Our first evening in Hiroshima and we went on the search of food. Not just any food either, we were on a mission to find Okonomi-mura, Hiroshima’s traditional dish, a mix between an omelette and a pancake. It is served in many places around Tokyo but we’d read the best place was to try it was in a particular area of Hiroshima, named after the dish. It’s like a 4 storey warehouse full of tiny little restaurants all serving the same dish. Stools are placed around a hot plate, you pick your fillings and the chefs cook one for you. They start with batter, then lots of cabbage, spices, the fillings, squash it down and then out a fried egg on top. Doesn’t sound too appetising, but it was hands down the best holiday meal we’ve ever had, anywhere. And best of all, it was dirt cheap- like less than a tenner each, but the portion so large, I could barely finish mine!
After an incredible meal, we vowed we’d be back tomorrow to the lovely ladies who ran the restaurant that we were in, and we went on the hunt for some Japanese whiskey, which we found in a nearby whiskey bar.
Next morning dawned sunny and after another yummy Japanese breakfast, we met our tour group in reception ready for a day on nearby Miyajima Island. We travelled to the Island via tram and Ferry and our first sight of The Itsukushima Shrine, one of Japan’s most pictured sites I’d imagine, was exciting!
We had a tour through the Shrine and then were left to enjoy free time on the the island. We chose to stay on the island and make our way back on our own, allowing us more time to explore. We used the cable car to get to the top of Mt Misen, and the views from the top were spectacular. We could see the ‘Japanese Med’ including lots of little islands and beaches. We felt on top of the world.
From the observatory you have the option to climb a little higher, up to a shrine and temple at the top, on a well laid path. We went for it, surprised first of all when the path went downhill, but it sure enough it made up for it – the last Km was pretty steep!
After more wonderful views, we headed back down via cable car to ground level, and enjoyed a wander around the shops. There was a pretty 5 storey Pagoda which looked lovely in the sunlight surrounded by cherry trees.
The local delicacies were barbecued oysters and Momigi cake, both of which we tried on the island and really enjoyed.
That evening we enjoyed another meal at the same place as the night before, much to the delight of the owners who, despite limited English/Japanese on our part, managed to have a conversation about our trip and where we lived, marriage and even our occupations. We were introduced to the locals and the rest, as they say is Sake….!
Next morning, and a slightly sake fuzzed head, not going to lie, and we were up and on our group tour of the Hiroshima Peace Museum. We saw the A Bomb memorial, the remains of a building that was destroyed in the atomic bomb, along with a hard hitting but extremely moving exhibition. We also had the absolute pleasure and privilege to have a session with the only English speaking survivor of the bomb, 79 yr old Keiko, who has dedicated her life to spread her story and promote peace. An incredible woman and we feel honoured to have met and spent time with her.
We found the whole experience truly incredible but most of all we were moved nearly to tears as Keiko described the day of the attack like it was only yesterday.
After a couple of hours in the museum we had a picnic lunch under the blossom on the river bank. A lovely way to finish our time at Hiroshima. Next stop Kyoto via the bullet train.
Until next time
After a fairly limited sleep (damn jet lag!) we were up and downstairs for breakfast pre 8:00- Great Rail had organised a full days sightseeing by coach, which departed at 09:00. Our hotel, the Keio Plaza, had a choice of 3 different restaurants that we could use for breakfast (included) and 11 restaurants for dinner. We chose the Japanese Restaurant for our breakfast, a set Japanese menu consisting of many delicious pieces, including fresh macerel, rice, salad, and egg and then lots of things we had no idea about, but were yummy! Interestingly, we were the only non Japanese in there!
Off we went at 09:00 on the dot, our first stop was the Meiji Jingu Shrine, which features the largest wooden gate in Japan. We were shown the entrance ritual by our Japanese guide, Kazoo-oh (not sure I’ve spelt that right!) which including washing our mouths out left hand first, right hand, then washing the cup out. We were lucky enough to witness a Japenese Wedding party about to have a ceremony there, the outfits were wonderful.
Next stop was the Senso- Ji shrine area near to the Tokyo skytree, am area that’s been attracting sight-seers for centuries. Cherry Blossom festival is at its peak here at the moment, causing the area to be absolutely heaving but that didn’t ruin it, the cherry blossoms were breathtaking. Many locals take the opportunity of the cherry blossom festival to get out their glad rags, so to speak, and so we saw many Japanese ladies in their finest kimonos, many in pinks simulating the cherry blossom festival. There were also many street food stalls and we enjoyed sampling some of the foods available, including snow crab sticks and octopus filled dough balls.
After a fabulous 1.5 hours exploring we moved onto our next stop, Ueno Park, Tokyo’s largest park, and one of the most popular areas to view Cherry Blossom. Again, it was jam packed with people, including plenty of tourists but mainly locals who have cherry blossom parties, underneath the blossom. They turn up first thing with huge tarpaulins and enjoy food, drinks underneath the canopy of cherry blossom.
Our next stop was the Imperial Palace of Japan, home to the Emperor of Japan, and the famous double bridge. By now, we were extremely knackered, but trying to keep our eyes open! Thankfully there were lots of vending machines so we kept grabbing bottles of Coca Cola to try and keep up awake!
Our final stop of our guided tour was the Hamarikyu Gardens , which reminded us of a smaller Central Park, where we saw a 300 year old pine tree, and a pretty tea house situated on a large pond and lots of pretty trees and flowers.
I’m not going to lie, we both a micro sleep on the coach on the way back to the hotel, it seemed 6 hours sleep in 3 days was starting to catch up with us! We were keen to get out and see Tokyo by night though, so despite feeling horrific, after we arrived back at the hotel, we decided to push through, have a shower and head straight out again! The evening was our own free time, and we decided to take a wander through the the Shinjuku district where our hotel was based, to see the neon lights and onto Kabukicho, Toyko’s red light district.
We had dinner in a locals joint, nearer our hotel and it was delicious. In Japanese culture, apparently it’s considered a sign that you are enjoying your meal if you slurp. I can confirm everyone was slurping like billy-o, which was an unusual sound to say the least, but as they say, when in Rome, so Keith and I slurped to our hearts content and after an after-dinner sake retreated to our hotel for a long overdue sleep after a fantastic first days adventure in Japan!
After a long and deep sleep, we woke feeling human again and had a couple of hours to recharge and also visit Tokyo Metrapolitan Buildings, opposite our hotel and Ho,e to a 200m free observatory floor. We enjoyed our visit, but sadly it was cloudy so the view wasn’t brill. I’m sure on a clearer day however it would be fab!
We joined the rest of our group and travelled to Tokyo Station to board our first Bullet Train of the trip, to Hiroshima. We were advised to stock up on lunch at the convenience store to take on board, so we got a bento box, full of rice, chicken, pickles etc and a couple of beers plus something which I have no idea what it is, but tastes like a mix of Fanta lemon with gin and sake!
Until next time
We’ve made it to the furthest East we’ve ever travelled to, Tokyo, Japan and are about to embark on 1.5 weeks of cramming as much as we possibly can in!
We left Norfolk mid afternoon on Tuesday, and travelled North to Nottinghamshire, for a lovely evening with Dad and Jenny, celebrating Jenny’s birthday. Leaving our car on their drive, Mum and Alec picked us up the next day and we had a good, albeit eventful day in Newark (guess who dropped their phone in the the river Trent… Whoops!)
Wednesday afternoon was mainly spent sourcing a replacement handset as all our travel docs were now laying on the river bed of the Trent (still cringing!) and the evening, drowning my sorrows re downloading all my docs onto new handset. Never a dull moment.
Thursday arrived and it was FINALLY time to get on our way, we were dropped at Newark Northgate station ready for our first of many train journeys of this trip, down to London Kings Cross.
(Notice no pics up to this point, they are all at the bottom of the river!)
On arrival at Kings Cross, we quickly dumped our bags at the hotel, The Travelodge Kings Cross Royal Scot, cheap. Cheerful but perfect location, and jumped on the tube to Fenchurch Street, where we met up with Keith’s Dad for a pre booked, but free visit up the SkyGarden
We really enjoyed our visit and highly recommend it. Tickets need to be booked online 3 weeks before you visit, but are free – amazing for London!
Next we wandered in the lovely sunshine past The Tower of London to St Katherine Docks, one of my favourite, newly found spots in London. You would be mistaken for thinking we were in Monte Carlo (although maybe the boats were a bit small compared to there!) there are loads of restaurants and bars overlooking the water. We chose the historical Dickens Inn for a couple of pints and then went on to Zizzis, also within the Docks and overlooking the former warehouses.
Friday dawned and we awoke early, with the usual sense of excitement and nerves expected when about to undertake 24 hours of travel. We had evening flights so spent the day in South Kensington, at the Science Museum (handy as there is left luggage for £4 a suitcase). Mid afternoon and we made our way to Heathrow, ready to meet up with our Great Rail Tour Manager and rest of the group. Amazingly, our tour manager is John Levick, who coincidently took us across America last year- he is brilliant and we couldn’t be happier to be in his hands once again.
Our flight took us on Air France to Paris, a very short 40 min flight, crammed with complimentary G&T and sandwich, before changing planes at CDG and continuing to Tokyo Haneda, still with Air France for the main 12 hr flight.
It’s true to say neither of us were looking forward to the journey, but Air France did a good job of making both flights comfortable. We were served champagne, Japanese Beef curry, Miso Soup, apple tarts, Camember for our main meal, followed by free drinks and then Eggs florentine for breakfast.
We arrived in Tokyo on Saturday evening (Sat lunch time UK time- We are currently 8 hours ahead) and were picked up by coach and met ourJapaense guide who along with John will ensure our tour is fabulous, I’m sure.
We arrived in time for a cheeky cocktail on our hotels roof bar, we are staying at the AMAzing Keio Plaza Hotel.
It’s now Sunday morning, so time to get up and get exploring TOKYO!
Until next time,
PS- Japanese Loos….. Amazing! Heated seats👍👍👍👍👍👍👍 enough said….