Kiso Valley, Takayama, Shirakawa-Go, and Inuyama Castle on Facebook
The trip's been fun so far. We spent a few nights in a nice neighborhood in Tokyo. Sukkot services at Chabad Tokyo were, well, very much like Chabad services anywhere else in the world. In English/Hebrew. Didn't even feel like we were in Japan.
We took the train into central Tokyo and walked around Ginza and went window shopping. A very bright, electric neighborhood - much like Times Square.
Today was what will probably be the biggest travel day of the trip - we clocked almost 10 hours on train. Woke up early to take a train north into the mountains and took a 7km hike in Kiso Valley, which was very, very pretty. Saw a lot of waterfalls and tiny wildlife (crabs, snakes, mantises). Walked through Tsumago and Magome, two small towns which have kept their ancient air. Stayed out too late and missed all the buses, so we had a very nice local drive us back to where we started.
Now we're in Takayama, a small city even further north. We just checked in and hey, there's free Internet. We'll be attending a nearby festival tomorrow.
That's about it! Talk to you soon.
Takayama was a fun little city. We rented some bikes the morning after we arrived and went all around the city for about two hours. Then we took a bus to a small city called Shirakawa, where the Doburoku Matsuri (crude sake festival) was happening. After a confusing lunch at a small restaurant (no one speaks English in small towns), the festival got lively and everyone who attended was served doburoku - which was really half rice, half wine.
That night we went for sushi, although it was very difficult to find. We weren't really prepared for the fact that actual sushi restaurants are far and few between. There are many udon, soba, and ramen restaurants, but only one or two sushi restaurants in an entire town. Somewhat surprising, although sushi is really a western thing nowadays. The problem comes from the fact that Shiranne keeps kosher, and fish (as long as it's not shellfish) is one of the few meats she can eat. So it's often pretty difficult to find a good place to eat.
Yesterday, we took a train to Inuyama Castle, the oldest castle in Japan. We went for an audio tour and had a good view of Inuyama from the top.
We continued on to Shinjuku, which is probably my most favorite place so far. It's Ginza (where we were earlier) times two. Very flashy, very lively, and very fun. Shabbat's just about out and we're going to go for some arcade games.
Shinjuku, Harajuku, and Kobe on Facebook
Kyoto Festivals and Ninja Museum on Facebook
Shinjuku was very fun. I got to visit a Square Enix store (the creators of Final Fantasy). We went to Harajuku on Sunday, an area with a lot of fashionable kids in pretty outrageous clothing. There were a lot of clothing shops and novelty places to check out. Harajuku is right near Yoyogi Park, which even on a bright day is completely shaded by trees. Meiji Shrine is in the center of it. Walking through the park was very relaxing. On the way back, Shiranne got her hair re-dyed (it's blue!).
Our next stop was Kobe, a city with many European-style houses from traders that used to live there. A Jewish center was here and we went to Simchat Torah services the evening we arrived. The next evening, we took a cable car up Mount Rokko, a nearby peak which provided a great night view of Kobe and Osaka.
After that, we arrived in Kyoto, where we stayed in a ryokan (traditional Japanese hostel) for two nights. Simple beds on tatami mats, low-to-ground tables, and common baths. We took a trip to Iga-Ueno, a small city that played a part in the origin of the ninja. We went to a Ninja Museum where we saw lots of tools of the trade, plus a live weapons demonstration (video coming soon!) Later that day, we traveled to Nara, a city with a large park where tame deer live. We bought some deer food and they followed us around a bit... and one of them stole and ate my area map. Oh well.
Now we've moved just down the block to Kyoto Tower Hotel, which, as you can tell by the name, has a giant tower on top of it. Finding our way back to the hotel is no problem. Last night we went to the Kawaramachi district, with lots of cheap sushi places and kitschy clothes shops. There are also a lot of hostess clubs there... a kind way of saying "brothels." But amidst the brothels we found one bar that friends back home had recommended to us, called A. Really great music and cheap drinks.
Shiranne's feeling under the weather today, and it's Shabbat, so we're taking it easy today. Our next destination is Hiroshima.
Nara, Kyoto, and Himeji Castle on Facebook
That evening, we visited a Japanese hospital for some flu meds. An in-and-out procedure which took something like 30 minutes total. Pretty surprising for an American.
On our way to Hiroshima, we stopped off in Himeji, which is home to the grandest castle in Japan. We walked around the castle perimeter and up to the top for some nice views, and then we headed to the botanical garden next door (pictured above).
Miyajima on Facebook
We arrived at our hotel in Hiroshima, which was practically part of the train station. Early next morning, we hiked around Miyajima Island, which is off the coast of Hiroshima. It's very similar to SF's Angel Island. We did some walking and shopping around the pier, and walked out to a giant torii which can only be accessed at low tide. After visiting a Buddhist shrine, we took a ropeway to Mt. Misen at the top of the island, which provided a great view of southern Japan. We also saw a monkey.
The next day, we rented bikes and rode to Peace Park, and saw the memorials. We went to the Atomic Bomb Museum and took an audio tour. Quite sobering! Afterwards, it was time to take a half-day-long trip back to Tokyo... which was also delayed.
We spent Wednesday shopping around Akihabara for DS loader cards and modded PS2s. The majority of electronics stores seemed to be a lot more legitimate than we had thought. But we did see our fair share of weird Japanese shit, which we were looking forward to seeing. Shiranne got a bunch of Japanese LPs of classic American movies. At the end of the day, I finally ended up getting an M3 DS Real card, but I found that it can't play GBA games (like Mother 3) without an extra piece that was missing, so I returned it.
On Thursday, we took a trip to Hakone, a nearby town and mountain range that would have provided great views of Mount Fuji, if it wasn't clouded over. Nevertheless, we took a ropeway ride up the range and hiked from one mountain peak to another. Smelled like rotten eggs along the way until we remembered we were walking through natural hot springs. At the end of the hike, we stopped off at Owakudani, a place known for its black-shelled hard-boiled eggs. That night, we headed to Shinjuku and got ripped off on some extra-expensive sushi, but visited a few fun bars.
We went to the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku on Friday and got a good 360 degree view of the city. Then we headed to Harajuku and shopped around. Had to get gifts; was nearing the end of the trip. We found some great stores and ate at a Shakey's Pizza (which I have actually never seen in America). That evening, we walked to Ueno and sang some Karaoke.
The next day was my last day - we walked around the nearby Imperial Palace East Gardens, which was somewhat less exciting than we thought it'd be, mostly because of the lack of flora... not the right time of year. And that was it. Shiranne and I said our goodbyes, and it was back to the states.
Hiroshima, Hakone, and Tokyo on Facebook
Then it looks like Shiranne had more fun without me! How wude!!! >:(