Monday, January 25, 2010

Japan - Day 21

Day 21 – Jan 25
So, I lied and yesterday was not the last entry…

The play is not over until the fat lady sings, and I am dying to tell you what I did today early in the morning:

So, I woke up real early in the morning, to have a quick look at the Tsukiji Fish Market, which is very likely one of the largest fish markets in the world! It was buzzing with activity, and I almost got run over several times by the forklifts and small carts they use to move the merchandise around. The morning starts with the auction of tuna fish. These are the fresh tuna, which are auctioned to chefs and restaurants. The record is a fish that brought in one billion yen! That would be 10 million dollars!!

I then moved to the wholesalers’ area, where a tourist is a bloody nuisance to the fishmongers who are trying to prepare the merchandise for store purchasers. It is not a sight for vegetarian eyes, with all the chopping and slicing that goes on. I saw a fresh tuna being butchered, and it is a tough exercise. The eyes are the size of a large egg, and you can buy yourself a bag of tuna eyes for little money (I understand you can make a great fish soup with them).

The Japanese beat the Mexicans at eating anything that swims, burrows, or pulsates, so the variety of fish, shellfish, snails, crabs, and invertebrates is truly outstanding. They come in all sizes, from the little clams barely bigger that a fingertip, to the monstrous octopi, clams, and king crabs. The tuna are pretty huge themselves.

It was a fabulous visit to the marketplace, and I ended buying a good serving of caviar for my breakfast. It is an ugly task, but someone has to eat all that bounty from the ocean :)

On the way back I dropped for a look at a 24-hour Internet and Comics Club. This is a facility where for a few hundred yen you can rent a comfortable booth to surf the internet or to read comic books to your heart's content. The cabins are equipped with a very comfortable recliner, a superfast computer with earphones, and a small desk. A soda fountain is available all night and is free of charge, and if you decide to spend the night playing internet games (5 hours for 1,500 yen), you can take a shower before heading for work. Why didn't we look for something like this when we got stuck at the station in

Did I mention that in Japan one does not need a bicycle helmet? It is a bit surprising since they are so safety conscious in everything else. Well, there are also no restrictions on the number of passengers that can ride, and on the way back to the hotel I almost got run over by a young mother carrying her 2 year old in a back seat, and the 6 month old baby in a pouch in front of her. A mom does what a mom has to do!

OK, now it is really time to go. We are leaving with lots of time, with the idea of getting to the airport, leaving the luggage there, and then hanging out in the town of Narita until the time comes to check in. We'll see how that works out with our giant pieces of luggage.

Wish us luck!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Japan - Day 20

Another fun day!

Chris wanted to sleep in and then go shopping for souvenirs, so I took off early in the morning with the bike and went all over Tokyo. Have I told you that I think having a bike is great thing? As it turns out folding bikes are a dime a dozen here in Japan, with a staggering variety of models. The one I borrowed from Normis and Evan is a pretty sturdy version (made in China, incidentally), which is good for long distance travel on a highway. For city use I have seen some really cute ones, made of aluminum and with small wheels (16 inches?), so they are light and fold into practically nothing. I need to get myself one of those…

I was the Abominable Turista de las Nueve when I got to Ueno Park, the Chapultepec of Tokyo, so nothing was open. I did get a chance to observe the homeless of Tokyo, who use portions of the park as their residence. The well-established ones have built tents or hovels with cardboard and blue tarps. You can drag the Japanese into the lower strata of society, but you would never be able to take away the fact that they are Japanese; accordingly, outside of each hovel there was a pair of shoes, and I have no doubt that inside they were wearing a tattered house coat and cheap house sandals.

My next stop was the area known as Asakusa, which is the old part of Tokyo. Streets are narrow, the marketplace is extensive, and the place all of a sudden became packed! There is a very old temple complex here, and it attracts enormous Japanese crowds and a goodly number of tourists. I had great fun strolling through the stalls.

From there I biked to the Ryogoku area, where the Mecca of Sumo is located. Now, today is the grand finale of the winter sumo tournament, so I had no hope of getting a ticket, but I saw there was a sumo museum and I thought it would be a pretty cool thing to see. Alas, the museum must be inside the hall, and I never found my way in; however,
I saw a couple of "the boys" coming in. They look like enormous panda bears, all smiley and cuddly before they walk into the arena.

Fortunately the Edo-Tokyo museum was right there, so I got my museum fix after all. Edo was the original name of the small village that would eventually grow into the megalopolis of Tokyo, so it was the best way I could have hoped for a quick review of the history of the city. The displays varied from amazing (e.g., a full-scale reconstruction of the first Kobuki theater) to neutral (e.g., strips of documents in Japanese), but overall it was a fascinating couple of hours I spent there. One of the highlights was a concert of Japanese music with a flute and an instrument that could be described as a big salterium (a large string instrument with about 20 strings, which was plucked or strummed with the right hand while the left hand was used to fret the strings to the correct length). Very impressive both from the art of the performers and from the beauty of the music.

Afterward I worked my way back to the Ueno Park, because I wanted to visit the zoo. This time all the key ingredients were there: Sunday, after lunch, and a sunny afternoon. The Tokyo zoo is divided in two parts, with the first part being a rather standard animal collection on top of a small hill. The second part is a bit unique, in that it is dominated by a large lake, with wetlands around it, where all sorts of birds can be seen. I concentrated my attention on "birds" of the female type, who obviously came to the zoo to display the latest fashion. Tokyoites are fashion conscious and much better groomed than their counterparts in the country, but making a broad generalization I would say that they are generally short, stout, and prone to look like a manga character. Mini skirts and high boots are all around you, with generous amounts of bare skin in between (it was sunny but still chilly, so you know these girls are very devoted to the cause of fashion). Well-fleshed seems to be more popular than anorexic, and puffy jackets and scarves are liberally used to simulate a generous upper storey (which, alas, nature has not seen fit to endow the Japanese women with). Big oval eyes are also in great demand, so girls dutifully do their eye exercises when at leisure (e.g., while traveling in the train). And throughout all this, where is the male of the species? A sad disappointment, if you ask me (but then again, all fathers think the same of the new generation of males, don't they?).

The sun was setting as I biked back into my hotel, having spent a delightful day in this little town. I still had one more task to accomplish before I could call it a day, however, so at peace with the world I took the two bikes apart and packed them for the trip back home. Done!

This is the end of this blog as tomorrow we take the plane back. It is with a happy and grateful soul that we will say goodbye to Japan. They have been gracious hosts and have welcomed us into their culture with open arms. I wish I had the time, appetite, and money to have tried all their fabulous foods. Then again, we have just glimpsed at the southern half of Japan, so if anyone is willing in a couple of summers, I would be ready to come back and see the northern half. Fun place, Japan!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Japan - Day 19

I had a wonderful day! I woke up early and jumped on the bike to go for a morning bike ride around Lake Kawaguchiko, which is one of the five lakes that surround Mt. Fuji on the north. The lake looked really big, so my plan was to just bike a part around it, searching for the perfect photo of Mt. Fuji. As it was, the bike ride was so delightful, the early morning so pleasant, and the scenery so spectacular that I ended going all around the lake. They were a couple of hours of great beauty, and I thought to myself that after this I was ready to tackle the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.

I got back to the hostel around 10 am, and Chris was already waiting for me, armed with a plan to visit two lava tubes near the next lake. We took a quaint, rickety bus to get there. Here you take a station number when you get on the bus (ours was station 4), and inside there is an illuminated bus that tells you what your fare is up to the current station. So, if you got on the bus at station 4 you may pay 200 yen by the time to get to station 10, or 650 yen if you get off at station 30. It is a bit nerve racking to see the fare mount up as you proceed to your destination, but once we got past 680 yen we could take advantage of the all-day 1,300 yen ticket for both the in and return trips.

The lava tubes are . . . well . . . lava tubes. If you have never seen one they are definitely interesting, but they are not the best of the species. The local promoters have cheated a bit by spraying water on the walls, making for very slippery floors but spectacular displays of icicles.

By the time we got back to the hostel it was time to pick up our stuff and head for the dragon: Tokyo!

But you learn something after spending three weeks in the country, and it was with total confidence that we navigated from the local mountain train to the express train to Shinjuku station (west Tokyo), and from there to the Yamanoto line, which runs in a circle around Tokyo, between Shinjuku station on the west and Tokyo station on the east.
Another simple transfer, a train that was running late (I had been hoping to catch Japan Rail or a bus running late, and they always came with punctuality to the second, but this time I caught the train arriving four minutes past its scheduled time!), and . . . voila . . . there was our hotel. Traveling in this country has ceased being a challenge. Time for me to move on!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Japan - Day 18

Another day of train travel! We figured it would be a skip and a hop to Mt. Fuji, but alas, we almost had to go all the way to Tokyo before we could turn around and approach Mt. Fuji from the back, using the commuter and slow mountain train lines. But we finally made it to K’s House Mt. Fuji, and now we are comfortably installed.

Since I have nothing much to tell about today, let me just ponder about the fact that in this trip we have used all possible means of travel. We flew here, and have moved adroitly in shinkansen, express trains, commuter trains, and slow mountain trains. We have biked all around--an easy country to do urban biking, but a fairly mountainous one for rural biking--, used a car once, took the tram and buses, sailed on tramp steamers, jumped on chair lifts, and hiked all around. Yes, we have done our fair share as adventure travelers!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Japan - Day 17

For starters here are the web portals of the two youth hostels I spoke about yesterday:

K's House Backpackers Hostel is

J-Hoppers is

As I said, both are top notch hostels here in Japan.

OK, back to the narrative, today in the morning we took advantage of the offer made by one of the hosts, piled in his car, and went to see the town of Shirakawa Go about an hour's drive away. Thos town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is basically a typical Japanese mountain town of a couple of centuries ago. It is a real town, though, with farmhouses that were built two hundred years ago. They are BIG farmhouses, four or five stories high, where the family lived in the ground floor with the animals, workers in the second floor, and then two or three floors used for raising silk worms, weaving, or whatever it is that farmers do over the long winter nights. The basement was used for "curing" niter, a key component in gunpowder done out of a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and human pee.

The town was pretty cool, but the weather was Scheisse. There was at least a meter of snow on the ground, but with the rain it had turned into slushy roads. I held true to the notion that "Tourismus muss Weh tun", and stubbornly visited farmhouses, Buddhist temples, and quaint rural streets.

Back in town I changed socks, and promptly took the train to the neighboring town of Hida-Furukawa, where I visited the Annula Festival Museum. It turns out that for the last 400 years the town has had this festival, where these floats are paraded. The floats are amazing, four or five tiers high, with remarkably sophisticated puppets and children Kabuki theater players. Anyway, they have made a great display of these floats, some of which are 200 years old, so you can wonder about the details of workmanship and the art of the puppeteers. They also have a great 3-D film about the whole festival, so you can really feel like you are there.

Next I went to the carpenter's museum. It turns out that the woodworkers of this region have been known throughout Japan for the last 300 years, and are widely recognized as the masters of the art. Chico, Lucienne, and Dan would regard in awe the mastery of these folks, who with basic tools are the architects behind the great temples and carvings of most of Japan.

I finished my visit with a delightful stroll through this charming city, looking at sake breweries, quaint shops, and all sorts of artist ateliers.

Later in the evening I cooked for Chris and I, a delicious meal with lots of veggies (some sort of leek, mushrooms, and broccoli) and a big pile of the famous Hida beef. Tonight, for once, we ate to our heart's content!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Japan - Day 16

Not much to report, because today was a traveling day. I gave up trying to visit Iya Valley, so from Kochi we took a train across the highlands of Shikuku (very scenic), crossed the largest suspension bridge in the world to reach the island of Honshu, sped along the southern plain (and gaped in awe at the solid urban mass that starts in Kobe on the west and ends in Tokyo on the east; wow, there is a lot of people living elbow to elbow here), and eventually took the slow train to the mountainous heart of Honshu. This is the region called the Japanese Alps, and as we slowly climbed the landscape became more and more alpine. Oh, my God, there is a thick carpet of snow!

We finally got to the town of Takayama, with no idea about where we were to stay. But our good luck held, and we found a great youth hostel a few blocks from the station: J Hoppers. Now, I have already told you that youth hostels are really the best place to stay in Japan, but I should add that besides the old-fashioned youth hostels, like those at Sakurajima and Matsuyama, there is a new generation of private-enterprise hostels that seem to be mushrooming across Japan. The two that have caught our attention, and which deserve our most energetic praise are K's Backpackers Hostels and J Hoppers. Do yourself a favor and check their websites if you ever plan to come to Japan. They are clean, roomy, helpful, have full kitchens, and --most important as far as Chris is concerned-- are attracting the kind of fun people who you want to meet at hostels.

We have decided that we like Takayama. It is a nice mountain city with lots to do (which we will do tomorrow), lighted streets, lots of shops and restaurants, and a healthy nightlife. Their claim to fame is very good mountain beef, so Chris and I decided to splurge and go for a nice carnivore dinner. It was our first visit to a typical Japanese restaurant, with low tables and sitting in cushions (but I am sorry to say that neither Chris nor I are built for the lotus position). The dish was delicious, but tiny! Yes, we came out licking our chops but still hungry, so we had to go to the supermarket and buy a new meal all together. Japanese cuisine is for gourmets, not gluttons!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Japan - Day 15

I woke up early in the morning and went for a walk. The hostel on top of the hill has a truly fabulous view!

Later in the morning Chris and I went for a walk around the Dogo Onsen. First we visited one of the shrines that form part of the Shikoku pilgrimage. Let me back up. The island of Shikoku is famous for a pilgrimage that goes counterclockwise around the island. The circuit involves visiting 88 shrines all around, and people do it on foot (six months), bike (six weeks), bus, or car. Pilgrims wear distinctive white clothes, and we actually saw one in Dogo (which is the 57th shrine in the pilgrimage).

We also visited the Onsen, including the private part reserved for the emperor. Pretty nifty. Then we went down to see the singing clock, which is a miniature of the many tiers of the Dogo Onsen itself.

We rounded the evening with a cool tram ride to the foot of the hill where the Matsuyama feudal castle is built. We took a chair lift up the hill, just like the ones used by skiers, and spent a delightful hour visiting the castle. It is a grand structure meant to keep feudal enemies at bay, but I don't think it was ever attacked. Chris dressed up as a samurai! The armor was there, and a friendly attendant took the time to dress him up.

We took the tram back to Dogo, collected our stuff, and then took the tram back to the train station. Our goal was to reach the isolated mountains of eastern Sikoku, in what is called Iya Valley. Access is difficult, however, and our best bet was to stop at the tiny village of Oboke, spend the night, and then look for a bus or something to take us to the valley. We got to Oboke around 6 pm, just when it was getting dark, and Chris called the place where we were planning to stay to get directions. Oh so sorry, they said, we have no place tonight. What?! Chris almost lost it, thinking about Nagasaki, so I took a quick look at the train schedule and decided to push on to Kochi. The only option was the slow milk train, so it was not until 9 pm that we got to Kochi. Based on very vague instructions I managed to find an obscure Japanese guest house. The lights were out, but I walked into the lobby saying Komban-wa, and eventually a diminutive grandma answered the greeting. She was a chatty thing (in Japanese, of course), so we got along famously. She promptly sent her grandson to set a room for us, and she brought yogurt and bananas for us to have a bite to eat before retiring. The following morning she was bustling around at 5:30 am, greeted me cheerfully, and eventually wrote me a bill that, as she very expressively explained included a significant discount because we were visitors to Japan. What a delightful person!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Japan - Day 14 (second half)

It turns out that the port of Hiroshima is a long way from the downtown area where the Memorial Park is, so we had to pedal for nearly an hour before we got there. Bitching and moaning from my traveling companion. But we made in time to catch the ferry that was to transport us across the Inland Sea toward Matsuyama in the island of Shikoku. It was a very beautiful boat ride, weaving as it went through dozens of small islets and narrow canals.

Alas, the port of Matsuyama is also a good 4 km from the city, and the area where we were heading was another 6 km inland. So there goes another hour pedaling. Chris started to say something, and I retorted something like this is what happens when you choose to travel instead of staying at home laying down on the couch. There were no further complaints.

Actually, we did quite well riding straight as an arrow to the Dogo area, which is the old center of Matsuyama, and after a bit of searching we found the Masuyama Youth Hostel perched atop a hill. I am sure they built it here to provide the visitors with a breathtaking view of Matsuyama, but to the tired traveler the slug up the hill is the coup de grace.

Quickly recovering from the exhaustion, I went down the hill to the Dogo Onsen, recognized to be the oldest hot springs bath in all of Japan (3,000 years old). It is a grand old building, and I duly enjoyed my bath. Later I wandered around the area, passed the red light district, and eventually came back to a well-deserved supper of octopus, dumplings, and tempura. Very nice indeed!

Japan - Day 14 (first half)

Spent the morning at the Hiroshima A-Bomb Memorial and Peace Park.

What a vile act of terrorism. I am speechless.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Japan - Day 13

I had a wonderful half day hike, up another of the deep canyons of the island. The trees were old, gnarly and impressive. I was contemplating a herd of deer, peacefully browsing in the fest, when one of these damn island monkeys emitted a shrill cry that scared the living daylights of both me and the deer. From the corner of my eye I could see him scurrying into the brush, no doubt laughing his little monkey head off.

At 1 pm we took the ferry back to the mainland. It was another beautiful cruise, and I decided to do it in comfort by spending a good half hour in the sauna of the ship. We came back to Kagoshima around 6 pm, and promptly rode to the rail station to jump on the train to Hiroshima. We traveled through the early evening, and came to Hiroshima around midnight. We did not have to sleep in the station, however, since Chris had gotten on the phone and made arrangements for us to spend the night at the Hiroshima Youth Hostel. Nice!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Japan - Day 12

Today we went into the heart of the island, which is a national park. We were told that one of the best walks had just opened, so early in the morning we took the bus and started the long, long climb. Chris fell asleep almost immediately, but I stared in awe at the magnificence of the landscape. These are some steep mountains!

By 9:30 we were standing at the trailhead looking with some apprehension at the recently opened trail. It may have opened in the minds of mice and men, but nobody told the snow anything about it, so once again the Mickey Mouse shoes were asked to do the job of snow crampons, and the new set of umbrellas were asked to do the job of alpine piolets, and Chris and I bravely ventured into a world of wonder. It is a deep canyon, at an elevation of about 1200 m, where are luscious forest has grown. It turns out that Yakushima has a very high rate of rainfall, so its ecosystem is like that of the Olympic
Mountains in the US, and trees that are normally "big" grow to gigantic proportions. The patriarchs are cedars, one of which was 1,800 years old, which were highly praised during the Endo period (about 300 years ago) for the construction of temples and castles.
Everywhere one sees evidence of old logging activities, in the form of gigantic stumps from where new trees have grown. The Endo loggers were mostly interested on splitting shingles out of very straight trunks, so they left behind large middens of stumps, branches, or knots. Because cedar is a very resinous wood these leftovers have aged beautifully through the last 300 years, and are now sought after by the islanders for the carving of statues, vases, plates, and beautiful tables (later in the flatlands we saw one that sold for $10,000 and was to die for).

So Chris and I trudged through about 2 kilometers of this winter wonderland, amazed at the sight of deep ravines, roaring rapids, and surreal gnarly trees. By the time we got back to the trailhead we were comfortably tired and fairly wet. Then we realized that we would have to wait nearly three hours for the return bus, so Chris suggested we walk down the mountain (remember he had slept all the way up, and had not see the 15 kilometers of road we had climbed through. "How far can it be?" he asked rhetorically. Just as rhetorically I answered "Oh, a few kilometers." After all, who am I to break his little heart (besides, the prospect of a death march was kind of appealing to me).

Chris is a trooper! He walked a few paces behind me, without complaint, for three hours. We averaged about 4.5 kilometers per hour, so were nearly to the base of the island when the blessed bus made its appearance and picked us up. On the long way down we stopped to look at the rocks now and then, and I had to change my opinion about the geology of Yakushima. It is the perfect pluton! The core of the island is formed by a quartzmonzonite with giant crystals of potassium feldspar. The pluton intrudes a tilted sequence of pillow lavas and marine sediments accreted along a subduction zone. This tilted sequence fringes the pluton all around the island, and forms the narrow strip of lowland that separates the mountains from the sea.

By the time we got home we were hungry and very tired, but after a nice meal and a hot water bath I am ready for another death march tomorrow (actually a half death march, because our ship departs at 13:30). Some people never learn :)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Japan - Day 11

Bright and early we headed for the wharf, to board the ship that will take us to Yakushima island. Nice ship, evidently design to carry hundreds and not just the five cats we were. I guess once you have the concession you are obligated to provide the service, no matter what.

As we were steaming out of the harbor Sakurajima had one last eruption, to say goodbye in style. The harbor is at the end of a very long ria, so for the best part of an hour we could see snow-clad mountains on both sides. It reminded me very much of the inland passages of both Chile and the west coast of Canada.

Breathing in the salty air of the Sea of Japan (or are we in the northernmost corner of the South China Sea?) brought out all my buccaneer ancestry, and I walked back and forth on deck, looking for ships to plunder. I had my heart set on boarding one of the hydrofoils, but man can they move! I bet that they are at least three times faster than our plodding tramp steamer.

We got to Yakushima around noon, and headed for the local youth hostel. The owner was not there, so we had to wait for nearly an hour, and by the time we were done checking in must already have been closer to 2 pm. OK, what to do? Let's take the bikes and go around the island. Well, easier said than done. Like most coastal roads this one does not strictly follow the coast, but goes a bit inland, raising and falling in elevation. After 8 km of such treatment we were bushed. Fortunately we found a Banyan Park that provided both a chance for rest and an excuse to turn around.

Banyans are members of the ficus family, and here they grow in grotesque forms, not unlike the trees that grew near Cacahuamilpa. They also reminded me of the walking trees of Peru. Basically, they drop roots from the side branches, so when these roots reach the ground they take hold and a new trunk grows. After a while the main trunk is surrounded by the trunks of its shoots, and the whole family knots together in the most amazing shapes.

Much huffing and puffing brought us back around 5 pm, in time to make inquiries about taking the bus into the interior of the island. Reportedly the cedar forests are something else, and earned Yakushima the honor of being designated a World Heritage Site.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Japan - Day 10

I spent a bad night, waking every half hour with a hacking cough. Finally I got out of bed around 5 am and sat on a tatami wrapped on a blanket, waiting for the morning. It was still snowing. Finally morning came, I took a bath, and woke up Chris so we could get out of Sakurajima as early as possible. The boy took his sweet time, so it was not until 10 am that we took the ferry. No sooner had we done so that the skies parted, and Sakurajima showed itself in all its glory. Curses! Why couldn't yesterday be today? I was musing about that when a big dark cloud belched out of the summit. The volcano was erupting, as if trying to make fun of us! There it goes again!

Well, at least we saw it erupt. Let us now go to the ferry terminal to buy the tickets for this afternoon. Alas, it was not to be. The ferry to Yakushima island leaves every day at 8:30 am, so we will have to wait until tomorrow. OK, that requires a change in plans and looking for accommodations here in Kagoshima. The Lonely Planet guide gave lame directions to the local youth hostel, and it turned to be a very steep and tiresome wild goose chase, because apparently the hostel has been closed (I have the 2005 edition). Panic! Where are we going to stay? Chris had visions of spending another sleepless night at the train station. Fortunately we found a ryokan (a traditional Japanese hotel) that is not super expensive, and having taken care of the need for shelter we were able to think about being tourists again.

We visited a small museum on the construction of Japanese stone bridges (fascinating feats of engineering), and the Iso garden where the house of the local feudal lord was located. Another beautiful Japanese garden, where the attention to detail has created another masterpiece of harmony and serenity. We had tea at a traditional tea house there.

We rounded the afternoon with a visit to the aquarium. A very nice collection indeed, beautifully displayed. I saw a Whale Shark!

We are now back at the ryokan, washing clothes and recharging our batteries for the next adventure: A visit to the island of Yakushima!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Japan - Day 9

Oh my God, the sky has fallen! Wait, no, it is just that it snowed heavily overnight. In fact, it is still coming down pretty hard. Wait, the clouds are parting and I can see the mountain. Oh, it is covered again.

What to do? Well, I didn't come all this way to just look at snow fall, and Chris seems to be happy sleeping, so I am going to go out there are rough it.

And rough it I did. I took my bike and bravely pedaled through the blizzard, looking for a way up the mountain. Alas, at the end I was defeated. I just could not see a thing. So I biked to the port, visited the small visitors center, and then biked along the coast along the Lava Promenade. It was very lovely, but it would have been even better if the snow would have let me see the mountain.

They have a very cute Public Foot Bath, which is basically a hot spring with benches so the tired hikers can soak their tired feet in the hot water. They also have a big, open-air rock band concert area, which I am sure would look great packed with people in a sunny, warm afternoon.

Finally I gave up, and around noon came back to the hostel, just to find Chris getting ready to go for a walk. Good luck, bud! I was cold, and hacking again with the cough I thought I had gotten rid off, so I went to the basement hot spring and foot-bathed in the very hot water to regain normal body temperature. I had the vague notion of going out again in the afternoon, but the snow kept falling and I ended staying indoors.

Is weather against us? This is the second geologic wonder that we cannot visit because of the %$#& weather.

The Chinese House of Horrors feels more depressing than ever :(

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Japan - Day 8

Didn't do much today. The day was spent traveling from point A to point B, but unfortunately my stupidity forced us to go A to C back to A to B. So, we werein Aso in central Kyushu, and looking at the map I saw a track going along the east side of the island. So we went east, to the city of Beppu (famous for its hot springs), only to find that the shinkansen only runs along the west side of the island. So, after waiting at Beppu for a couple of hours we got on the very same train (with the very same lady controller), and once again crossed Kyushu.

It was a very scenic crossing of the mountains and of Aso caldera, so it is nothing to scorn at. I also had a fabulous lunch in the train, with sushi of several kinds and a healthy serving of salmon caviar. Yummy!

Once we got to Kamamoto, on the west shore of the island, we jumped in the shinkansen, and an hour later we were in Kagoshima. My unerring sense of direction brought us straight into the Sakurajima ferry port, and after a brief 20 minutes we docked in Sakurajima. It took a while to find the youth hostel, but we finally got there. The youth hostel looks a bit run down, and is not as comfortable as others we have been in. The lady who runs it looks like the Chinese landlady of Thoroughly Modern Milly, and the place has the same feeling of intrigue. I am expecting to see a Chinaman pushing a laundry cart every time I round a corner. It is interesting that it has its own onsen in the basement! However, the water is too hot to be enjoyable (and it is certainly murky and stinky).

I don't recall if I praised the hostels in Kyoto and Aso, which were new looking and friendly. They are a much better deal than the business hotel we stayed at in Tokyo, which was expensive and with a really, really small room. In contrast the hostel beds are roomy, the rooms are large and sunlit, and you have full kitchen privileges. This is important to us who need a few cups of coffee in the morning, because buying coffee by the cup is expensive (3 to 5 dollars per cup). Chris and I also like buying dinner at a market, and then coming to the hostel to warm it up and eat it in the jolly dining room. Oh well, we will survive the Sakurajima Chinese Horror House somehow.

We are excited with the prospect of hiking around Sakurajima volcano tomorrow morning. This is a very active volcano, which had 750 eruptions last year (an average of two per day), and has had 75 so far in January (five per day!). We are going to see us some volcanic activity!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Japan - Day 7

Yesterday afternoon we took a long series of trains, from the shinkansen down to a puttering diesel mountain train, to travel from Nagasaki to the central mountains of northern Kyushu. The way up was so steep that the put-put train had to zig-zag forward and upward to make the steep slope (a feat I had only seen before in the train ride between Cuzco and Machu Picchu in Peru). It was a jolly ride, however, and I split my time between watching the beautiful scenery and people-watching a family that was clearly coming back to their mountain town after a morning in the city: Mom on one end, boy, girl, girl, and Dad on the other end. The girls were all excited and prancing around, sometimes kidding with Mom, sometimes with Dad, sometimes with their brother, who was not much fun because he was lost in his iPod. Mom and Dad would talk to each other over the din, or try to read, or doze off, but the dynamic changed every 30 seconds so there was no chance for anyone to settle into a pattern. That is what I have in mind when I think about a couple with kids :)

At about 6 pm we arrived to the small hamlet of Aso, which was going to be our base of operations for the exploration of the central volcanic complex of the Aso caldera. Yes, Day 7 was planned to be a geologic day, devoted to visiting one of Japan's natural wonders. The caldera eruption reportedly took place 100,000 years ago, and from the train we saw the imposing caldera margin a few kilometers away. The hamlet of Aso is inside the caldera moat, however, between the wall and the post-caldera central volcanic complex.

Early in the morning I woke up Chris, we gathered our gear, and with steaming breath headed to the station to take the bus that carries mountaineers to the central volcanic complex. After what seemed an eternity we got back from the bus, at the mountain hut near the rim of the currently active crater. Clouds of sulphurous billowed from the crater, and to our great disappointment we learned that the path around the crater was closed due to suffocation danger. So we settled for the second best, and prepared to claw our way up the steep slopes of Kijimadake Peak, the tallest mountain in the central complex. A bitter blizzard was blowing, so we tightened the straps in our snow crampons, gripped our piolets, and very carefully and slowly trudged up the steep scarp. It took all the courage and stamina we could muster, but at last we made it to the summit, from which we had a breath-taking view of the whole of the Aso caldera, the Furonomike Craters at the foot of the 600 m face of Kijimadake Peak, the bellowing steam issuing from the bare rock walls of the active Nakadake Crater, and the endless grassy slopes of the 1,000 km Valley (a fancy name for the moat of the caldera). It was a glorious view, forever etched in our imagination.

Unfortunately it was an image only etched in our boundless imagination. Alas, the straps of the snow crampons were nothing else but the shoelaces of the Mickey Mouse shoes, the piolets were nothing else than the umbrellas we had borrowed from our friendly youth hostel (which we had to replace with store-bought ones because we left the originals behind), and the glorious sights were nothing else than a solid wall of fog that never let out while we were on the mountain. We bravely climbed Kijimadake Peak in total fog blindness, and Chris almost fell 600 m into the depths of the Furonomike Craters, and our throats rasped when breathing the sulfur issuing from Nakadake Crater, but we never saw past the tip of our noses. Oh well, you cannot win them all :(

To look for a silver lining, when we got back to town our excellent hosts recommended a relaxed visit to the local "onsen". OK, whatever an onsen might be it sounded like some relax would bring relief to our sorry, cold, and damp bones. "Onsen" is Japanese for hot spring, and as luck would have it we happen to have one about 100 m from the hostel. So we unloaded our crap, grabbed a towel, and enjoyed the best couple of hours in what is probably the national sport. Evan, you would love the onsen culture here (but alas, it is not unisex, so you could not share it with Normis), as towns vie with each other for the number and quality of their onsens. Aso is not in the run, but the nearby town of Mijagi boasts 23 different onsens within easy walking distance! Anyway, you get there, undress in a common dressing room (you bathe in the buff, but good manners require you to modestly cover your nether region with a towel when you move around), and enter a large hall that serves as distributor to the showers (it would be anathema not to shower before entering the hot spring), the sauna (where you can join the locals for a good sweat while you watch a match of sumo in the TV--sumo being a sport as exciting as American football, with 10 seconds of action squeezed between 10 minutes of boredom), hot or cold wading pools, and--at last--a beautifully landscaped hot spring. The atmosphere, the babbling brook, the waterfall of steaming water, the feng-shui of the rocks and shrubbery, all are carefully designed to give you--the master of this small natural empire--a bit of heaven.

Say yes to onsen!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Japan - Day 6

When I woke up at 6 am, fairly refreshed by a long snooze, it was to find the wild-eyed anxious face of Chris staring at me. The poor guy had not slept a wink, haunted by the denizens of the train station (and train stations can attract quite a few unsavory characters in the wee hours of the morning). He was ready to go!

My mother used to call my father El Abominable Turista de las Nueve, a play on words about the Abominable Snowman that makes fun of his tendency of wanting to start his tourism while everyone else was asleep. Well, Chris and I put one on him when we turned into Los Abominables Turistas de las Seis, looking for places to visit at 6 am

Nagasaki sits at the land end of a deep ria, a submerged river valley, in which the ocean has advanced into the land as a narrow dagger that cuts deep into the heart of Kyushu (the southernmost of the three big islands of Japan). The Korean peninsula lies just across the narrowest portion of the Sea of Japan. Nagasaki's first claim to fame is that it was the port first reached by the Dutch and Portuguese seafarers in the 1600's. At the time Japan was under the political control of the shoguns, who looked at the Europeans with extreme distrust. The shogun determined to limit contact with the Europeans, who were restricted to Nagasaki as the only port that would receive their ships. Nagasaki thus developed as a typical multicultural city, with strong influences from nearby China and Korea, interspersed with Dutch and Portuguese enclaves. One of these enclaves was the Catholic church, who used Nagasaki as the center of its missionary efforts, led by the Society of

One of the missionaries was a young Mexican named Felipe de Jesus. According to the stories my Mom used to tell me when I was a kid, young Felipe--Felipillo--was a very hyperactive child (not unlike yours truly, which is why the story was to me) and in his many antics had killed a fig tree that grew in the family yard. In exasperation his nanny used to say that he was a hopeless case, and that only if he were to become a saint the dead fig tree would come back to life. Well, many years later, as a missionary in Japan, Felipillo suffered martyrdom when the Shogun rounded up all the missionaries and their converts, crucified them, and abruptly put an end at all contact with the outside world until the mid 1800's. After the prophecy "Cuando la higuera reverdezca Felipillo sera santo" the fig tree came back to life!

I tell you this story because we did visit the monument and chapel to the 26 martyrs of Nagasaki, to commemorate the memory of San Felipe de Jesus.

The second reason why Nagasaki is know is because on August 9, at 11:02 in the morning, it was obliterated by the detonation of the second atomic bomb the United States dropped on Japan. 150,000 civilians died in what to this day remains as one of the most infamous acts perpetrated on a civilian population. The site of the detonation is deep in the heart of the city, where the old Catholic cathedral used to stand. Hypocenter Park is now a serene place surrounded by simple memorials and thousands of paper prayers for world peace. I was struck with a memorial to the Koreans that died during the blast. It was a kind of apology offered by the Japanese people, who acknowledged invading Korea in the early 1900's, depriving the Korean people of their right to independent government, and enslaving them to come work in Japan to support the war effort. Japan is ashamed of what they did to others, and dedicate this hallowed ground to the cause of peace throughout the world, and a nuclear-free world.

Why the United States took the decision to perpetrate this horror is one of the big puzzles of history. The war had already been won, and Japan was trying to negotiate the terms of surrender. Some think that the dropping of the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was to justify to the American taxpayer the expenditure of 2 billion dollars in the Manhattan project. Others believe that it was a show of force to the USSR (which backfired into the Cold War, the expenditure of trillions of dollars into a MAD program (Mutually Assured Destruction), and the absurd proliferation of nuclear weapons). But why civilian populations?

A nuclear-free world seems an impossibility nowadays, but has to be the dream of any good person on Earth. President Obama was largely granted the Nobel Peace Prize because he is the first world leader, ever, who has committed to ending MAD and seeking a nuclear-free world.

A visit to the Atomic Bomb Museum is a shocking testament to the brutality of war. Armchair warmongers, who click on the remote control as if they were releasing Fat Man from Bock's Car at the time they mutter "Nuke 'em", should come and see what comes of it all. Maybe then they would understand the words of Sherman as he surveyed the devastation his troops had wrecked on the South: War is Hell.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Japan - Day 5

Chris is trying to kill himself. Last night he again stayed up until 3 am, shooting the breeze, so it was a bit with zombie eyes that he woke up at 7 am for our outing to the nearby city of Nara. We decided it was time to have a day without bikes, hopped on a slow train, and an hour later we were in the city of Nara, which has the distinction of
having been the first capital of the Japanese empire, from 730 to 800 AD. We got there around 9 am, made a bee line for the tourist information center, and found out that the local YMCA has a program that hooks volunteer guides with visitors. The volunteers are taking classes, but basically offer their services because they figure it is a fun way to meet people from all over the world, and to practice their knowledge of city history and foreign languages. Would we like a guide, then, as a free service? Of course!

Ten minutes later we met Noriko, a very petite smiling woman in her mid 50s, who with lots of bows and smiles introduce herself and steered us through the enormous municipal garden of Nara. This garden is home to the 5-storey temple (very cute and scenic), the temple of the giant Buddha, the Shinto shrine of the 2,000 lanterns, and about 10,000 deer. The deer are supposed to be the messengers of Buddha, so they are protected, revered, and a bloody nuisance. Chris made the mistake of buying deer food once, and from there on they followed us everywhere!

The temple of the giant Buddha is, as the name implies, a very large temple with a sitting statue of Buddha that must be a good 30 m (100 ft) high. It is a very holy place in Japan, and Noriko did a fabulous job at explaining every detail about the building, the spirits that protect it, the way the Buddha was cast, and other little trivia that made our visit very enjoyable. One anecdote will amuse you: One of the pillars has a hole, maybe 30 cm in diameter, and legend has it that if you can squirm yourself through the hole you will pass all your examinations. I immediately tried to encourage Chris to give it a go, to make sure that he won't stumble in Hydro or Applied. He was tempted, and looked at the hole with greedy eyes, but at the end his fear of getting stuck prevailed, so he will have to pass my classes the old-fashioned way.

After walking all over the place, taking the great views of the city, gawking at a traditional Japanese wedding, and drinking a cup of tea courtesy of the Shinto shrine we were getting tired and hungry. We invited Noriko to lunch at a ramen house, where we had a chance to talk at length about ourselves. Her story seems to be very common among Japanese women: She is happily married, but her husband--who is an engineer--is a workaholic who leaves home at 8 am and doesn't come back until 11 pm. As long as her two children were small she had plenty to do, but now that they are grown up she feels alone, and has joined the volunteer guides program, and an afternoon program mentoring high school students, to have something to do during the long empty day.

We finished our visit to Nara with a walk around the old town, which included a visit to a traditional Japanese house of say 75 years ago, and a relaxing walk around a private Japanese garden. Interesting that in this garden instead of grass they have moss, which does not require mowing and gives the aspect of a fuzzy carpet. An army of gardeners keeps the place spotless!

We finally said our goodbyes to our new friend and took the train back to Kyoto. We had a little over an hour to pick up our bags and bikes and board the train to our next destination, Nagasaki.

The train ride was uneventful, but we were getting to Nagasaki at midnight, so we came with the idea of just riding the trains all night. No good. As soon as we got to Nagasaki they turned off the lights and closed the station. The place was deserted. OK, so midnight is not so bad, so let's bike to the youth hostel and get some sleep. We did, only to find the hostel closed and dark. I made my best to break the combination, rouse the neighborhood, or force a side door, but to no avail. What to do? Well, says I, better get back to those benches we saw outside the station and crash there. Chris stared at me with horror (at this point please remember that he had had but four hours of sleep the night before), and couldn't believe his eyes when we got to the station and I pulled my very thin sleeping bag from my pack. In less than 5 minutes I was in the land of nod, while for poor Chris started a long night of horrors. Pobrecito!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Japan - Day 4

My dear Chris found our hostel had a pub, so he felt he had to close it at 2 am. Needless to say he was dead to the world when I tried to wake him up at 7, at 7:15, and at 7:30. Finally at 7:45 I shook him in earnest, with the thought that this was my last attempt and then I was leaving him behind. Alas, he woke up, and with a bit of a hangover he followed me on the bike half way across Kyoto to the Imperial Palace (I think I heard some grumbling about "this damn bike", but I ignored it because we had to make it to the palace by 9:30 if we were to make the only tour that day. We were nearly out of breath, but we did, and thoroughly enjoyed a guided tour through the palace complex of the Japanese emperors from 670 to 1868. Very nice indeed. Compact and sober, but with beautiful gardens.

Afterward we continued crossing the city, to reach the Golden Temple. This time I definitely heard mutterings about the $#%@&* bike. You see, Chris is a true blue American, used to having his car, and other forms of transport are truly foreign to him. I reminded him that we could be walking, and he boldly stated that it would be better that way (little does he know what a death march of 12 km can do to a portly young American).

Anyway, the temple was absolutely gorgeous, not only because of the gold leaf that makes it shine like . . . well, gold, but also because of the serenity of the surrounding gardens. In a way that is the seal of this city. Kyoto is the second or third largest city of Japan, but it is a serene place, where urban rudeness has not overcome the natural courtesy of the Japanese people.

Another bike ride (with some more mutterings) brought us once more across the city, to the eastern foothills, where the side path of a small canal takes you across some of the most beautiful old houses of the city, interspersed with a multitude of small shrines. It was very pleasant, but what had really brought us to this part of the city was the Kyoto Zoo. As some of you know, I make a point of visiting the zoo every chance I get, since it generally is a place to see families at ease. Unfortunately the Japanese children are heavily deprived, and we saw little of them. The zoo was OK, however, and we got the added bonus of seeing many of the animals being fed.

Our final salvo of the day was a bike ride through the commercial portion of downtown. Chris was really hating the bike by now, so he was in a hurry to be done with it. Beware, says I: Remember that god number 7,345,256 of the 10 million Japanese gods is the god of bicycles, and he may not take your comments kindly. The language that follows is not suitable for mixed company, but showed in no uncertain terms what Chris thought about god number 7,345,256. Whatever.
The ride through downtown was very interesting. Basically, it was an old fashion downtown with myriads of little shops, but then it was gentrified and turned into an enormous covered mall, not unlike the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul. I was having a great time, looking here and there, when right behind me I heard the words of god number 7,345,256: CRAACK! I turned around and saw Chris sprawled on the ground, surrounded by flying pieces of metal! What the . . .? The clamp that held the seat of the bike in place had fallen apart! "I knew it, I knew it! This bike hates me!" ranted Chris, while we tried to make sense of what had happened. What had happened is that the 3/8-inch bolt that held the sit clamp together had sheared. Really? OK, so Chris is a bit on the portly side, but to cut through a 3/8-inch bolt? Nothing to it but take to our feet to look for a place that could repair the damage (and I hope my portly companion learned how much more slowly one goes on foot that on bike). A kilometer later I spotted a motorcycle repair shop, and I stopped to say hello to the elderly owner and with charades to explain our plight. He was very sorry for us, and called the young mechanic in the shop across the street to ask for help. The young man was all smiles and all concern, and got to fixing the problem with full Japanese zeal. Back and forth and back and forth until he found the perfect bolt for the job. In the meantime the wife of the shop owner fixed tea for us and invited us in to seat down and enjoy the tea. Continuing the game of charades I told them about our trip and they were all suitable impressed. At the end the problem was fixed, our good Samaritan would not take any payment, and we gratefully took our leave from our gracious hosts. It is moments like these that I find it worth to travel half around the world!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Japan - Day 3

Last night I put together the two foldable bikes I borrowed from Norma and Evan. Piece of cake until I got to threading the chain. It had coiled itself into a Gordian knot, and it took me nearly an hour to sort out the kinks and figure how to thread it correctly. My hands looked like a monkey's, covered in black grease! The second one was a lot easier, but certainly not a breeze.

Sometime around 9 we started in the bikes toward Tokyo train station, and after a few moments of panic from the train guards about how the bikes would get their precious shinkansen dirty (they wrapped the wheels in plastic to avoid such horror), we were comfortably sitting in the bullet train heading for Kyoto. The train ride started at 10 am and by 1 pm we were in Kyoto, and the train is a comfy and fast as one can imagine (but, alas, now it looks a little out of fashion compared with the new trains). We had fabulous views of Mount Fuji, which had surprisingly little snow. Must be global warming, we said to ourselves.

We spoke too soon, as the train started crossing a small chain of mountains covered with snow. There were a good 3 feet of snow on the ground, and more snow kept coming down. My God, I thought, if Kyoto is under snow we will just keep going. I simply could not see us skidding in the bikes through the snow, not to say anything about what exposure to a blizzard would do for my tender health (yes, I am still coughing and sneezing after the deep chill I got in Denver).

But no, the Shinto gods were merciful and Kyoto was chilly but free of snow. Getting off the train and unto the bikes was a bit awkward. Chris has a big coat and was overheating, so every chance he got he stopped and half undressed. I left him to his own devices in the post office while I went to the tourist information office. A very friendly lady helped me book two beds in the nearest hostel (K's Backpacker Hostel) so I felt everything was under control. Hotels are not cheap here, so we felt pretty happy for the rate of 2,500 yen (a bit over $25) per person per night.

So we biked to our hotel and got there about 2 pm, dropped the backpacks in the luggage storage room, and took to the streets to see the sights. Kyoto used to be the seat of the imperial house, and is a city steeped in history. It has many temples and museums, prettygardens, and overall a more relaxed atmosphere than one feels in Tokyo. Touring around with a bike is great (particularly since my foot is hurting), but you have the tendency to take on the big picture rather than commit yourself to visit one or two places by bus. In other words, we were happy just looking around, and did not visit any museums. Around 5 pm the light started to falter, so I felt it was time to get back. Unfortunately Japanese maps are not very useful because (1) very few streets have street signs in our script, and (2) they seem to leave out things that the map maker figured were not important (like one of the big parks!). So after staring at the map for a few minutes I decided to rely on my legendary sense of orientation. It was good that I did, because el amigo Chris is not the most oriented of people, and after half hour we were back in our friendly hostel.
I have put to good use the lesson learned from Klaus Mehl in Taiwan: When in need, in Asia you can live out of the 7-Eleven (or any other convenience store). I went to the local one, and ended having a delicious dinner of rice with shrimp tempura, a giant bowl noodles, and a bottle of wine. Life is good!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Japan - Day 2

Day 2 – Jan 6
I woke up quite early, having slept poorly to say the least. I am not yet recovered from my cold, though heavy medication is doing some good to alleviate the symptoms.

I decided to go get breakfast while Chris caught a few more zzz, AND walked into the street looking for my first Japanese experience. Most places were closed, but eventually I found a small breakfast place open for business. The very polite waiter offered me a cup of tea, gave me a menu with lots of pictures, and then went on his way. OK, I can choose from a picture menu, so I chose the full breakfast, which included rice, pork, a
fried egg, a sausage, miso soup, extra seaweed, and salad. Proudly I pointed my choice to him and out came a barrage of fast Japanese, with lots of smiles and bowing, but clearly HE was not getting the point across.

So I raised my hands and smiled, and then went into deep meditation observing the other guests. It took me a while, but then I noticed that they were getting tickets from a machine, and giving them to the waiter. So I went to the machine, and lo and behold there I found the choices. So I prepaid behold there I found the choices. So I prepaid, got my ticket, and the world became alright again. A small victory, but a victory nonetheless! By the way,the breakfast was delicious.

Well fed and feeling at ease with the world I went to wake up Chris, because we wanted to catch a city tour at 9 am. We managed to get a little lost, but our priceless Japanese tour guide held the bus for us until we arrived at 9:15. The tour included a visit to the
Japan Tower (Japans lame attempt to trump the Eiffel Tower) for a magnificent view of Tokyo, followed by a visit to the Meiji Shrine, erected to the memory of the Meiji emperor, who in the late 1800s took the power from the Shogun and established Tokyo as the seat of government. It is a Shinto shrine, and according to our guide is the most visited shrine in all of Japan. Peculiar is that, in the first days of the year, entire offices come to pray for a prosperous new year for the company (so there were tons and tons of sarariman with suits, neckties, and even portfolios!

We drove past the imperial residences, and the parliament (here called a diet using the European style), and then took a lazy stroll through one of the imperial gardens. We finished the tour with a drive by the Ginza shopping center, which is equivalent to Fifth Avenue in New York, or the Nevsky Prospekt in St. Petersburg.

After saying goodbye to our friendly tour guide, Chris and I made use of our uncanny ability to negotiate the subway and train system, and took a private rail line to the port of Tokyo, and the Museum of Maritime Science. I have to say I am officially impressed with Tokyo. It is the cats meow when it comes to boldness of engineering design and beauty of the most utilitarian of port structures. The bay is absolutely breathtaking. The Museum is pretty awesome itself, with beautiful reproductions of many types of ships and great displays on oceanography and the utilization of the oceans.

We rode the rail to the end of the line, to enjoy to the max the scenic tour of Tokyo Bay. It was glorious, but after a long day of walking the warm wagon was putting us to sleep.
Back at home we went back to my morning restaurant, for pork rice bowl for Chris, and salad and curry for me. We both figure we can easily survive in this country :)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Japan - Day 1

Keeping a log is going to be very challenging, because computers here write in Japanese, and sometimes I have to type something three times before I can get it right.

So, I got to Narita International Airport at 4 pm on January 5. My friend Chris was planned to arrive half an hour later, so I waited for him in the luggage pickup area for nearly an hour. That is when I realized that only Japan Airlines and AA flights were arriving. I smelled a rat, and went to ask where did United arrive. Ah, that is in Terminal 1. Rats, rats, and double rats!

So loaded with luggage, I went to Terminal 1, and found Chris, who was having a bit of a panic attack. All is well that ends well, and in no time whatsoever we had arranged our Japan Rail passes and were boarding the Narita Express to Tokyo terminal. From there we had to connect to two different commuter train lines, but we did it like pros, and by 8:30 pm we were checking in at the hotel in downtown Tokyo.

Chris disgraced himself by buying a Big Mac for dinner. I was having a bit of a tummy ache, so I skipped dinner. On the way back we saw a skipped dinner. On the way back we saw a sarariman (Japanese for salary man or office worker), taking a piss on a wall, at the view of all. First count of culture shock!