Thursday 31 May 2012

Kobe to Beijing

So, our oh so brief visit to Japan was over. All that remained was to catch the ferry from Kobe to China.

We sailed with the China Express Line to Tianjin. Almost as soon as we got on the boat, we were no longer in Japan. We were the only westerners on board and our fellow shipmates were almost all Chinese. The first thing we noticed was the volume had been turned up to 11. The Chinese it seemed love to talk, dance, smoke, play cards and watch soap operas, all at full volume. Here, for example is some of the female contingent engaging in a spontaneous dance class on deck.

For all the boisterousness, the voyage was very relaxing. We splashed out on the deluxe room. To be honest it was showing its age and could have done with a thorough clean. But that's compared to Japanese standards. It was comfy enough for a few days. There's more photos of the boat on Skydrive if you're interested.

The route threaded it's way through Japan before cutting across the East China Sea.

On the first night, after passing under the Akashi-Kaikyo bridge there was a beautiful subset to enjoy.

The next morning we headed down to the restaurant to try the free breakfast. If steamed bread, boiled sausage and rice gruel are your thing then you'd have loved it. Me? I was glad we'd stocked up on Japanese pot noodles.

That day on deck we said a final goodbye to Japan by committing our final yen to a watery grave.

Sayonara Japan!

After one more day of relaxation on flat calm seas, we finally arrived in the port of Tanggu.

Hello China!

After a one hour delay while the Chinese dock workers fannied around deciding which steps to use we eventually set foot in the middle kingdom. With the air of veteran travellers, we confidently strode past the taxi drivers outside the terminal. After failing miserably to catch a bus, cue a brisk three-mile walk to the train station with full bags in the baking late morning sun. China lesson number one: everything is 3x further than it looks on the map. One 30 minute journey to Tianjin, another walk to Tianjin main railway station via some kebabs...

... and we were on the bullet train to Beijing.


Location:East China Sea

JAKAO Awards - Japan

Introducing the the James and Karen's Asian Odyssey Awards - Japan

Fastest piss on land
165mph on Shinkansen from Nagoya to Kyoto

Best food
Kobe beef - equal to and maybe even better than Argentinian beef

Worst food
Natto - I tried it twice, it's just wrong

Most consecutive days eating rice
All of them

World's hardest game
Spot the fat person. Seriously, sumo wrestlers aside, after 2 weeks, I'm winning 2-1, and I suspect one of mine was American.

Highest slipper quotient
It's currently running at 3.8 pairs per hotel/guesthouse. The Japanese love their slippers. There's a different pair for every occasion.

Pending the results of further travels Japan is also a very strong contender for friendliest people, cleanest country and is almost a shoe-in for best baths (*sigh* I'm going to miss my daily onsen)

Finally, a side-award for best book to read when when visiting Japan - so sorry, but it's got to be Shogun (thanks for the tip-off Sheena)


Who's that girl?

Location:Tanabe, Japan

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Good night Beijing

Well, this is our last night in Beijing. We're taking a sleeper train to Pingyao tomorrow.

We've thoroughly enjoyed our time here although it was a bit of a culture shock after Japan.

We've been to Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall, Bei Hei Park and the Olympic Stadium in between soaking up the atmosphere and eating some tasty Chinese (and Korean) food.

James is uploading photos to Skydrive as I type and will no doubt share some more info on our time in Beijing shortly.

Saturday 26 May 2012

Japan round up

Well, we've finally left Japan. We're currently on the Kobe to Tianjin ferry. There's not much to do (unless you're a fan of Chinese soap opera) so what better time for a quick round up of the bits I've not written about yet.

After leaving Mount Fuji, we got the bus and train to Matsumoto, in the shadow of the Japanese Alps. Before leaving there was just enough time to play a tune on the Kalliope in the bus station.

Luckily I carry a two-pfennig piece around with me at all times just in case. Money well spent. Buchanan St. eat your heart out.

We arrived in Matsumoto mid-afternoon which gave us just enough time to borrow some bikes and visit Matsumoto castle.

The castle was fantastic, perfectly preserved and just reeking with history. Getting up and down some of the precipitous stairs inside was fun, considering we had to take our shoes off before we were allowed in. Polished wood and socks do not mix!

In the castle grounds we met a crazy, old, and possibly drunk Japanese man on a bike.

He greeted us by shouting, "Herro, herro! You big nose!" and laughing maniacally. He then tried repeatedly to hug and kiss Karen (with alarming success). Somehow it all came across as faintly charming. I couldn't help imagining how the reverse situation in Glasgow would pan out. Our crazy old men are less charming. Cue international incident.

A day trip from Matsumoto is the beautiful Kamikochi. It's right up in the foothills. There weren't any snow monkeys but there were some other monkeys. There's photos of them if you click on the link on the right. Here's a shot of the scenery for tasters.

Magome and Tsumago
After leaving Matsumoto we stopped for one night in Magome and walked to the next village, Tsumago, always mindful of the local bear population.

Both villages are stunningly picturesque. All modern trappings have been carefully hidden and the houses lovingly restored to how they would have looked centuries ago.

The food we were served up in the guesthouse that night was some of the best I've eaten anywhere (more on that in a future post).

Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail
After a few days in Kyoto (covered in an earlier post), we finished our visit with three days walking part of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail. This area is seen as the 'heart' of Japan and I can believe it. The scenery is immense and the sense of history palpable. We walked past numerous 1000 year old shrines, through mile after mile of tranquil, ancient forest and caught some stunning views. I'm not particularly religious but there is definitely a spiritual feel to the Kumano Kodo. It was almost enough to make want to shave my head. And at the end of the trail there was the promise of a bath in the hot springs that pepper the area. Perfect!

I'll leave you with some photos.


Friday 25 May 2012

Hello me old China

So, the good news is we've arrived in Beijing safe and sound. The bad
news is the legendary Chinese firewall is working overtime. I've got a
huge blog post covering the rest of our Japanese adventures written
and ready to publish, but alas it won't let me.

Attempts at Facebook and Twitter have also failed. Assuming this gets
through, updates to the blog via email will be the only method of

Hopefully I can upload some photos later. I'm not confident.

Monday 21 May 2012

Japanese solar eclipse!

While out walking yesterday, we got talking to an American tour guide (where was she from? Alaska. Bum-tish). She asked of we were here to see the eclipse. "What eclipse?" we said.

It turns out that by pure fluke, we've found ourselves right in the middle of the Japanese solar eclipse. Despite the weather forecast predicting blanket cloud cover, they parted on cue at about 7am. With the help of sunglasses and some convenient clouds we managed to get these shots.

It wasn't quite a total eclipse. It was an annular eclipse. Sometimes the giant-alien-spaceship death-star moon just isn't quite big enough...

Still, quite a sight. Just hope my retinas grow back soon.


Thursday 17 May 2012

Kyoto highlights

Last in the current series of blogs from anagram cities, here's the highlights from the beautiful Kyoto.

Kyoto is a bit more laid back than Tokyo. We arrived on Tuesday evening to discover that the annual Aoi (hollyhock) parade had been delayed by a day because of rain. Lucky for us or we'd have missed it!

It's the slowest parade I've ever seen and could take a few speed hints from the Orange walk. It's a bit more refined though, dating back to the 6th century.

This ox seemed to be struggling already with 5 hours still to go.

Luckily a sub was on the bench!

Here's a girl from the parade in full make-up.

After this we headed over to the Shogun's palace, Nijo-jo. The palace itself was fascinating but the best part was being suddenly surrounded by Japanese schoolchildren on an English assignment.

After answering loads if questions (their English was excellent), we posed for photos and were give a little origami thank you gift.

I'd love to see English kids attempt the same thing with a Japanese tourist in London!

That was yesterday. Today we explored the east of Kyoto which has numerous temples, gardens and winding streets. It's exactly how you'd imagine Kyoto to be.

You'll even see a few Kyoto girls in full traditional dress wandering around.

It's a fantastic place.

Check the photo link on the right hand side for more pictures.

Also check back over the next few days for highlights of Fuji, Matsumoto and the Magome to Tsumago trail.


Friday 11 May 2012

Japanese hospitality update

Turns out you can buy it from their website:


Japanese hospitality

Whilst wandering around Lake Kawaguchi today we sat down to enjoy a random drink from a vending machine. As we were sitting enjoying the sun a Japanese lady suddenly appeared carrying a plastic bag. In halting English she started explaining about the local vineyard she worked at (owned?).

At that point she pulled a bottle of wine out of her bag. Fearing the start if the hard sell we asked how much. 2006 yen? No, 2006 vintage and not for sale, a present!

Of course, in Japan it is an insult to refuse a gift, so when in Japan...

To partially return the favour here's a quick wine review. The 2006 Chardonnay from the Suzuran Winery in Kawaguchiko is light on the nose with notes of grapefruit and figs. On the palate it's on the sweet side of dry and went really well with our noodle broth. Highly recommended.

I'm not entirely sure where you can buy it, but if you sit on a bench in Oishi, a nice lady will probably give you a bottle!


What a view

Although we were only on the 10th floor of our hotel in Tokyo, I was surprised how far we could see.

So it's true about Japan and miniaturisation.


Morning view

Woke up this morning, big yawn and stretch. Quick peek out the window to see what the weather's like.

Yep, looks fine :)

Go onsen

Had our first Japanese style bath last night. Here's Karen in a kimono to prove it.

(NB In Japan, if you're in a photo and female then a peace sign and carefully angled hand are mandatory)

Tasty beverages for sale

"Accept no other sweat..."

More lunch fun

Today's breakfast was a rice cake filled with fishy or veggie stuff. Nice but I've no idea what it was.

What am I eating?

A travel blog from Japan wouldn't be complete without a quick game of Lunch Roulette.

Yesterday, en route to Kawaguchiko I had some sushi. They were like little California rolls filled with plum jam and sticky corn seeds. Not unpleasant by any means. Any Japanese speakers out there who can help me out with a translation?

Thursday 10 May 2012

Sumo video

Here's some live Sumo action for you. The initial rounds were a bit tame but it got going once the higher ranking fighters came on.

Wednesday 9 May 2012


Usually that means me. Not this time!

More pics & vids to come...

Monday 7 May 2012

Let jag

Well we're here at last. I got a good 20 mins kip on the plane and I've just topped it up with another 15. It's still only 5.30 pm here so I've got to last another couple of hours.

Here's the view from outside the hotel.

Sunday 6 May 2012

Travel motto

Just leaving for the airport. One last run through the checklist then we're off.

Just enough time to decide on our travelling motto:

"Never look a gift pee in the mouth"

Looks rude now I've written it down.

Saturday 5 May 2012

Itinerary update

Just added a tab to the itinerary for India. Looking for ideas on what to do when we get there so get suggesting!

Friday 4 May 2012

Foreign climes

Welcome to the first destination on our odyssey, a remote little town you've probably never heard of called Nu-Nea-Ton.

Almost as soon as we arrived we were warmly welcomed by the locals. The very first couple we met kindly invited us to stay in their home. They speak a strange guttural language which is incomprehensible to me but luckily my wife is fluent.


Last night, the lady of the house served up a delicious chicken stew served with what they called "vomtebongs": tiny green spheres and orange coloured mini-batons the likes of which I've never seen in Scotland. They were good but would have been better deep-fried.

Today we explored the local market. Just look at the strange stuff they eat round here!

More "Vomtebongs"
"Tea". I doubt we'll see any of this stuff again.
Tomorrow's our last day here before leaving for Japan. There's still loads to see and do so I'd better sign off. As the locals say, "This won't buy the bomby a new bayonet". Don't ask.

Next stop, Tokyo!