Kamakura Japan

The next day in our pre-trip was an optional trip to Kamakura Japan. Of the six people in our little group, only 4 of us opted to take this trip. Warning this post will be photo heavy! Remember to click on the arrows to see more photos sometimes the arrows are hard to see.

We left the hotel at 8:00 in the morning and headed for the subway station, from there we transferred to a train to Kamakura and arrived at around 10:00 am. Kamakura is an ancient city, which is surrounded by mountains on three sides and the sea on the other. There are many historical shrines and temples here and we were visiting three.

Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shinto Shrine

The first place we visited was Kamakura’s most important shrine and was dedicated to Hachiman, the God of War, it was constructed by Minamoto Yoritomo in 1191. There was a long dedicated walkway through the centre of town, not far from the train station. This walkway had many Torri gates and had been redone right through the centre of the street. See picture gallery below.

Click on the arrows above to show all of the images. 

Lunch

After visiting the shrine it was time to head for lunch. Lunch was at Miyokawa restaurant and was a traditional Japanese Bento box style lunch. The presentation was exquisite and there was a surprise birthday cake for me. The cake was incredible!

Daibutsu Temple (Big Buddha)

Next, on the day’s activities was a walk back to the train station to catch a local train that would take us to two Buddist temples. The first was Daibutsu which is a very large sitting Buddha. This is Kamakura’s most iconic sight, the statue sits at 11.4 metres high and is made of bronze and completed in 1252.

Click on the arrows above to show all of the images. 

Hase-dera Buddhist Temple

The last stop of the day was the Hase Buddhist temple. This temple is carved on the top of a mountain and there is a viewpoint there where you can look out over the city with a view of other mountains and the sea.

The temple has beautiful gardens and there is a large image of Kannon or Goddess of Mercy there as well. It is said that the Kannon image was carved out of a gigantic camphor tree in Nara prefecture near Kyoto in 721. It is covered in gold leaf.

Click on the arrows above to show all of the images. 

Back to Tokyo

After touring the temple we hiked back down the mountain to the train station, where we boarded the local train with hoards of other tourists and then transferred to the train back to Tokyo.

It was 6:00 pm when we got back and Karen and I were really hungry so the two of us waved goodbye to the rest of the group and found a little restaurant where we had the best shrimp tempura meal for under 10.00. They didn’t speak English and didn’t have an English menu however they had pictures of the food outside in the window so I was able to go and point to the set meals that Karen and I both wanted. The food was awesome!

Next up is the last day of our pretrip!

Pre-Trip Tokyo

Sounds weird, doesn’t it. Karen and I had actually already had a pre-trip trip and now onto another one. What this actually is, is an optional 3 day guided tour with your tour guide that happens before the “official” trip starts. Sometimes OAT (overseas adventure travel) sometimes have post trip tours too but there wasn’t one included in our particular trip.

We were staying at the Hotel Metropolitan Edmont in Tokyo. This was to be our home for 6 nights. The hotel was located about a 7-minute walk from the train station so very convenient. Breakfast was included in our tour/hotel package here so also very convenient. Karen and I each had our own room at this hotel. Many larger hotels in Japan cater to business people, therefore, they tend to have smaller one person rooms available for the solo business traveller. The hotel was large and very modern as it catered mainly to large tour groups and weddings. Rooms were small but well laid out and the bathroom a nice size and very clean and modern. Breakfast was buffet style and included a nice mix of both western and Asian foods. The food in the main dining room was really good however you had to get there early if you wanted a seat. If you were a little later and had to do the overflow upstairs in a conference room, it was the same food only it was cold so not as good.

Yanaka District Tokyo Walk 

Our pre-trip group was small, there was 6 of us plus our tour guide Yoshi made 7. The first morning after breakfast we met in the upstairs lobby for a brief orientation and then off to the subway! We were heading to the Yanaka district of Tokyo. Yanaka is an older district with many of the more traditional Japanese style of houses. We also toured a graveyard as well.

We had lunch (which was included in our tour) at a Shabu Shabu restaurant, I forgot to take pictures of that. It was interesting but I am not a big fan of having to cook my own food at a restaurant so decided that although I enjoyed the food it really wasn’t something I would make a habit of.

The next few photos of our walk through the Yanaka District and the graveyard.

Ueno Park Again

After lunch, we headed to Ueno Park. Now, Karen and I had been there just two days before, however, we had walked down the main cherry blossom viewing lane in the morning when it was not very busy. This time was about 1:00 pm in the afternoon and many office Hanami parties were in full swing and the walkway is very, very crowded! What a difference.

It was a lot of fun though and I got to taste my first Sake with a group of business people who insisted our group join them in a toast.

 

Tokyo National Museum

From there it was off to see the Tokyo National Museum which is located in Ueno Park. Karen and I knew we would be visiting this museum with the group so hadn’t visited it when we had toured the park ourselves. The museum was interesting but of course my favourite part was the textiles and seeing all the beautiful kimonos.

Dinner

Dinner was included in our tour that night. It was a short walk from the hotel to another izakaya this one specialized in yakitori. I liked the chicken but can’t say I was a fan of some of the other strange things that came out of the kitchen, um liver and chicken skins. Umm nope although I did try the liver. Can’t say I am a fan!

So that was the end of our first pre-trip day the next day (my birthday) was a day trip to Kamakura.

The First Days in Japan

Karen and I arrived at Ueno Station at around 5:00 pm Japan time, Saturday, March 23/19 after being up for well over 24 hours and now we had to navigate out of the train station and find our hotel. We had picked up the Wi-Fi hotspot device and I had made use of our time on the train by getting both of our phones set up to use it so we had access to google maps. We were staying on our own for two nights at the Tohoku Hotel Ueno and the hotel had provided English printed instructions on how to get to the hotel via the Ueno train station.  Luckily the instructions weren’t too hard to follow even with our foggy brains and between the printed instructions and google maps we managed to find the hotel with no issues.

Tohoku Hotel Ueno

The hotel was older, and the rooms were small, we knew that when we booked (most hotel rooms in Japan are small) however we read the reviews on TripAdvisor and everyone said the hotel was clean and the price was right, so we booked it. There wasn’t an elevator though, and we were on the third floor. We packed light but were both so tired that the thought of hauling our luggage up two flights of stairs was daunting. As luck would have it the owner of the hotel happened to walk by and picked up our bags and walked them upstairs for us. Yeah!! He didn’t even speak English, I guess he only had to look at two tired woman travellers and took pity on us.

The hotel room had an old-fashioned lock on the door, and you had to hand the key into the front desk when you left the hotel and pick it back up again when you came in. The room was small with two twin beds and one tiny bathroom but hey it was clean, and we were tired. This was only about a 2- or 3-star hotel but I would recommend it. The staff were super friendly, spoke a little English and the hotel was conveniently located about a 7-minute walk from both a train station and a subway station and right near one of Tokyo’s biggest parks.

The first order of business though was food. We ventured out, speaking no Japanese to find food. We found a small restaurant (all restaurants are small in Japan, I mean really small like they only seat about 20 people at most), near the hotel, ate and then tried to stay awake a little longer to get us onto Japan time. By 7:00 pm though we were done and much-needed sleep took over.

Ueno Park Sunday, March 24, 2019

 

 

Our hotel room didn’t include breakfast so the next morning we had to go in search of food again. We decided to head towards the JR train/subway station as there is usually lots of shops and restaurants in those locations. We weren’t disappointed. The majority of shops were closed as it was early however, we had checked online and found that there was an Anderson’s bakery at the train station that would be open. It was and the food was fabulous. We got it to go and stopped at the local Starbucks, also conveniently located at the train station. We found a vacant table in the back and ate our bakery goodies while having Starbucks tea (we aren’t really coffee drinkers). I know, I know here we are far from home and sitting in a Starbucks but hey we were still getting acclimatized.

Starbucks Ueno Station

Karen at Starbucks Ueno Station

We spent some time window shopping around the train station before heading over to Ueno Park. It was a beautiful sunny day. A little chilly but there was a bit of warmth to the sun. The Sakura (cherry) trees were just coming into bloom and they were setting up the spaces under the trees for Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties. We were early enough that it wasn’t that busy in the park, later in the afternoon that wouldn’t be the case, in fact you could barely move.

Ueno Station Mascot 

Restaurants in Ueno Station 

We spent a leisurely day enjoying the park which included some shrines and museums before having a late lunch early supper back at the train station and calling it a day!

The next few pictures are all from Ueno Park and the last picture is of our late lunch at a restaurant in Ueno Station. 

Starting our Pre-trip with OAT

On Monday, March 25, 2019, Karen and I had to travel the subway to a different part of Tokyo for the start of our tour with Overseas Adventure Travel. Karen and I decided we would take the subway around 10:00 am even though we couldn’t check into the new hotel until 3:00 pm as we figured it would be less crowded and easier to navigate since we weren’t exactly sure where we were going and had luggage with us. With the help of google maps and purchasing a Suica card (a card you can use on trains, subways, convenience stores and some vending machines) we made it to our new hotel without incident.

We were able to drop our luggage off at the hotel and then went in search of food. It was another beautiful sunny day and we still had several hours to kill so decided to check out Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens which was only a few blocks from the hotel. It so beautiful and peaceful in the Garden, it is hard to believe that we were in the heart of Tokyo.  This garden is the oldest of Tokyo’s gardens and is considered by many to be one of the best. I know I thoroughly enjoyed it and we spent at least 3 hours wandering the park’s many pathways and sitting in the sun enjoying the sights.

The park is right next door to Tokyo Dome so after finishing up in the park we headed in that direction to see what we could see. We stopped in at one of the many restaurants there and had a snack before heading back to our hotel to officially check into our rooms.

The pictures below show Karen and me in our first subway in Tokyo and the rest are taken in Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens.

Culture Giggles

Dinner that night was an izakaya (Japanese pub) located in a small mall just behind the hotel.  Here is where the culture differences set in. Karen and I got seated and were handed an English menu. So far so good right? Except we were seated in a corner and there was no one else around our area. We sat and waited for quite a while for someone to come and take our order. Now at home, this is not totally unusual if a bit annoying. Just as Karen and I were wondering if we were going to have to go and search someone out, I noticed something. Doorbells! I sat pondering why I was hearing doorbells when it hit me. I remembered watching a Youtube video where in Japan there are doorbells on the tables that you ring when you are ready to order. Sure enough, when I started searching, there was our doorbell. I hit it and Karen, who was facing in that direction, said as soon as our bell rang our server popped out from behind the wall where they were obviously waiting for us, probably wondering what was taking us so long!! Ha, I’m glad I remembered that show on Youtube or we might still be waiting. Karen and I had quite the giggle over it all.

Well, that brings us the end of this installment. Next we start our pre-trip tour.

Finally, The Japan Trip!

So, the next few blog posts won’t be focused a lot on quilting although there is some of that happening these days as well.  I have been asked by many people now when I am going to post about my travel to Japan so here it is. This is going to be good for me as well as it will bring a lot of the trip’s memories back.

Why Japan

I have been asked why Japan! A few years back now, I visited Japan for the first time with my then husband Doug as his daughter was teaching English there and my ex wanted to go and visit her. At first, I wasn’t that excited at the prospect, I had never really travelled outside of North America except to Hawaii and that is part of the United States so can’t really be counted even though it is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

I did a lot of research on Japan at the time and in so doing I started looking forward to the trip. We were gone just over 2 weeks. Well, it turns out that I fell in love with Japan and have always wanted to go back.

The Opportunity

About 3 years ago, Mom and I went on a cruise through the Panama Canal, (see posts here) and on that cruise, we had quite a group of people at our dinner table. Two of those people were a woman and her brother. Well, the three of us hit it off and we ended up spending a lot of time together on that cruise with Mom participating when she could.

Karen came to visit me here in Victoria that year and I happened to mention that I really wanted to go back to Japan someday but Kevin (my current husband) didn’t like to travel. Next thing I knew we were booked to go, and the rest is history.

Trip Planning

So first off, Karen does a lot of travels with a company called Overseas Adventure Travel (I highly recommend them BTW, the service was excellent). This company specializes in small group travel which I agreed to because of the small size (I am really not a fan of group travel under normal circumstances, travelling with a busload of 40 strangers and being told we only have 1 hour in a place just doesn’t interest me at all). Karen assured me that OAT was different, and she thought I would enjoy it. She was right and because the group was small, we got to do and see many different things we wouldn’t have done or seen on our own, but I will get into more of that as we go along. For this trip, we did some with OAT and some on our own and it was wonderful!

 Start of the Journey

Karen lives in Newport News Virginia, so to make this trip together we both had to meet up in Seattle Washington. She decided to fly into Seattle on Thursday, March 21, 2019, and overnight in Seattle for our flight out Friday morning. Since for me, it is a short 35-minute flight from Victoria to Seattle I could easily have flown Friday morning and met up with her at the airport. However, I decided to fly to Seattle on Thursday as well and was invited to stay overnight with my cousin in Seattle. This was awesome as I hadn’t seen them in a while (so close yet so far type of thing).

First Leg Seattle

So, I arrived in Seattle at around lunchtime on Thursday and Beth my cousin’s wife picked me up at the airport. It was a beautiful sunny day and the two of us had a wonderful walk around their neighbourhood all the while catching up with everything that had been going on in our lives. They have a beautiful house that is overlooking Lake Union (I think but could be wrong) and a view looking up to Seattle from their living room window.

It was a lovely afternoon with my cousin joining us when he finished work for the day. The next morning, Mark was able to swing by Karen’s hotel and pick her up and then drop the two of us off at the airport.

A Sad Note

I am so glad I made the decision to visit Mark and Beth even for so short a time as I hadn’t been home from Japan for long when I got the news from Mark that Beth was in hospital fighting an inoperable brain tumour. That was now over 40 days ago, and she is still in hospital as I write this. Beth is only a year older than I am. It just brings home the fact that life is short, don’t wait to do the things you want to do. She had just retired and was looking forward to travelling to Italy and making plans for downsizing in the next few months.

The Flight

Our flight left before 1:00 pm on Friday, March 22, 2019, and arrived in Narita Airport which is about a 40-minute train ride outside of Tokyo.  It was 3:40 pm on Saturday, March 23, 2019, when we arrived. Neither of us slept on the plane so we had been up over 24 hours by that time and we still had a train to catch.

Getting through customs was really easy, Japan has so many people around waiting to help you and direct you in the right direction (unlike many other countries) and before we knew it we had our bags and ready for the next step.

Next Steps

Once we landed at the airport we had two tasks, one find the post office (yes Japan has post offices located at all of their airports and even at all of the different terminals at the airports!) Japan Wireless had mailed me the wireless device we were to use so all I had to do was show my passport and pick the parcel up at the post office! Yup talk about efficient!

We asked directions, got to the post office, picked up the parcel all in record time. Next we needed to find the train into Tokyo. We had already purchased vouchers for the Keisei Skyliner so we just needed to exchange them for tickets and get into the city. This cost roughly $20.00 per person. We could have done this cheaper by taking a local train but that would have been over an hour and the Skyliner was a lot more comfortable and only had a few stops so was much faster. Comfort and speed overruled the few dollars we would have saved at that point.

More to Tell

So, there is obviously much more to tell as this is only the start, however, I am going to leave the trip here for now and pick it up again, from this point. I will try to post more often so this doesn’t draw out to weeks and weeks of Japan blog posts!!

Stay tuned

A Wedding

On Saturday, June 15, 2019, my oldest nephew got married. In Hope BC no less. Now for those of you reading this and don’t know where Hope BC is, it is on the mainland and it is usually NOT a destination stop, more of a passing through to somewhere else kinda place. Kevin and I walked the downtown (main street) several times over (it is a very small town) It is a town that actually has quite a history as Kevin and I learned as we walked around. I had been there a couple of times before but usually only passing through. Once when starting on a camping trip pulling a trailer and a computer check engine light came on. Hope was the closest place to stop to see if we could get it repaired. They didn’t have a Jeep dealer in town (they don’t have much) but they did have a mechanic who was willing to call Jeep and have them walk him through the repair. He dropped everything else to help us too. I must say small towns are usually great for those types of things.

 

 

On Saturday morning they had a craft fair in the park which consisted of 10 vendors. It took us 20 minutes to walk through it, and then only because we stopped to talk to the vendors. It was a good way to spend a beautiful sunny warm morning though.

The Venue

The wedding was held at American Creek Lodge which was a little ways out of the town and up a logging road. A shuttle bus was arranged to pick guests up from several motel locations around the town and ferry us all up and back from the venue. I am so glad to, wouldn’t have even wanted to attempt that road at night!

The day was beautiful, not too hot with a nice breeze and what a backdrop. The scenery was truly stunning. The ceremony was held outdoors with the bride and groom standing on a platform, (see yellow arrow) with the stunning view out if front of them. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pics of that. Have to see if I can get some.

An Aside Note

I have an aside note story that some of you reading this would understand right away and some of you maybe never will and that’s ok. My Dad passed away over 9 years ago now. He was really into trains! I mean totally into them, so much so that he had a model railroad in the basement. On road trips, if he saw a train going by (on smaller two-lane highways, not on freeways) he would stop the car, grab the camera and take tons of pictures of the train as it was going by. I had noticed trains snaking their way through the canyon below as we were waiting for the ceremony to start but they went by silently.

So, everyone is assembled, the bride and groom are at the alter and the person officiating was just about to start when a train whistle blew, and it blew again and again. No train whistle blew before the ceremony and none after. The timing was too perfect for it to have been a coincidence. I knew Dad was there and watching. Maybe you don’t believe in such things, and that is ok you don’t have to. My Mom and I both knew and that is all that matters.

Family

It’s true, families tend to only gather for weddings and funerals. It’s a shame really. I guess we all live such busy lives these days that these are the only times we make time for family especially the further apart we live. It was great to see some family members again, some that I haven’t seen in over a year, and it was also bittersweet regarding the family members that couldn’t make it such as my aunt and uncle who are getting older and facing some pretty difficult life challenges.

Family doesn’t just consist of blood though. My sister Joyce and I grew up with a long-time friend Lora in our old neighbourhood. We consider her a part of the family and it was so good to spend time with her as well as with the cousins.

Smocking

When I was young my Mom smocked dresses and blouses for my sister and myself. I took up the hobby in the ’80s but lost interest however I had kept a lot of the supplies. Mom decided she wanted to smock dresses for her great-grandchildren so both my two great-nieces got dresses as well as Kate’s (the bride) little niece who was in the wedding party. These types of dresses look adorable and never really seem to go out of style. Mom did a fantastic job and the dresses all fit beautifully.

A Perfect Weekend

The next morning a lot of us met up for breakfast before departing, going on our separate ways. It was a beautiful weekend. The venue, mountain scenery, great weather and fantastic company all made for a perfect weekend wedding getaway.

Remember, to keep in touch with family and friends, make sure you see them more than just weddings and funerals.

Next up I will be documentation my Japan trip, so stay tuned.