Japan Trip 2018


Diary of Roger's Japan trip with Malcolm Jarvis- April 2018


04/02/18 Left at 1:30 pm on Japan Airlines on my trip to Japan with Malcolm Jarvis.

 

04/03/18 It took 10.5 hours to arrive in Tokyo about 4:30 pm passing the international date line made our arrival the next day April 4, 2018. We went through customs and picked up our luggage which took about 45 minutes. Next I picked up a rental MyFi device at the post office which Malcolm and I are going to use throughout our entire trip. Malcolm then got $500 US of yen about 50,000 from an ATM Machine. Next we bought a transportation ticket for $31 each to go via an Airport Limo Bus to our hotel called Daiwa Roynet Hotel located in the Ginza district of Japan. This city is huge having a daytime population of 22 million. We arrived at the hotel around 9:00 pm and got checked in with no problem. We were hungry so we went out to a Ramen Noodle House for a late night dinner.

 

04/04/18 The room was very large and comfortable and I slept well. Got up at 6:15 am and got my belongings organized and ready for our tour around Tokyo today. The shower was the biggest and best I have ever used. What a hotel this is; electric heated toilet seats with bidet, walk in huge shower, super comfortable beds, free wifi, free cell phone good for long distance international calls, huge computer desk, etc. Of course at $500 per night it should be nice. We had a lite breakfast of coffee and donuts at a Starbucks near our hotel. At 9:45 am we met our guide Noki at our hotel. He was an X retired bank executive. Noki was very out going and his English was passable. We walked about 20 minutes to the Ginza subway station and purchased a day pass for the subway system. Our first stop was a large park next to the National museum which was full of blossoming trees and flowers. It was beautiful and very photogenic so Malcolm and I both took lots of photos. It was very busy with Japanese and tourist from all over the world but mostly Americans. We toured the gardens for perhaps 1.5 hours. We again got on the subway heading to the Fish Market area for lunch at a very popular sushi restaurant. We were late as we got on the wrong train having to get off to purchase the right ticket and re boarding. We stuffed ourself’s with very good tasting and fresh, sashima and sushi. We had a great time with the Japanese local patrons and our outgoing congenial guide Noki. Next we toured another park where they were having a Cherry Blossom festival, then toured a small area of the Fish Market, and next the National reconstructed shrine and museum. I was really getting tired now as it was about 4:30 pm a very long day for me and my injured knew was paining me. Got back to the room and rested about 3 hours until our dinner reservation a 8:00 pm. We took a taxi to another sushi traditional Japanese type restaurant. We almost did not get seated as the hotel had screwed up the reservations and we arrived at the wrong restaurant on the wrong night. They decided to serve us after several calls to our hotel booking agent. We were finally seated in our own private room with very low tables with pits for your legs. The food was quite exotic and mostly outstanding. My favorites were the barbecued Spanish Mackerel, the vegetable Tempora course and the desert, a homemade cherry blossom ice cream with fresh fruit to die for and cherry blossoms on the side. YUM! YUM! I think this is one of the most expensive restaurants I have ever ate at $360 each which included beer but no wine or Sake. When leaving they accompanied us providing a hand carved shoe horn to reinstall our removed shoes at the entrance. They even escorted us to a cab to return us to our hotel. Cab fare was about $35 each each way adding yet more expense to that dinner.

 

04/05/18 We both got up at 6:00 am to start the day. We charged all our electronics and checked our emails. I worked a couple hours on this diary. Had French croissants at a local coffee shop for breakfast. You will not find many US type breakfast coffee shops in Tokyo. Malcolm left on his own to do a tradictional tea ceremony this morning while I continued to do diary and processing of my photos from yesterday. We intend to visit the Tokyo National museum next to the same park we went to yesterday. We have no guide today and will try to go on our own via the subway. Not understanding the language is the biggest obstacle. Hopefully by using goggle maps App, we will make it to and from without a guide. It turns out that Goggle maps does not work well in Tokyo especially the walking mode because of all the tall buildings in the Ginza district. Once we found the right subway entrance point we had no problem making it to the National Museum. It was free and definitely worth seeing. We spent about 2 hours and took a cab to the Ginza Artisan Crafts district to look at some cooking knives. I was tempted to buy a carbon steel meat cutting knife for $400 but decided not to, as I have lots of reasonable knives at home. We then took a cab back to our hotel. Malcolm found a French restaurant listed on the web that was only about 3 blocks from us, so we headed out on foot for an early French dinner. It turned out to be a very excellent huge local restaurant with a world class chef. We were the only round eyes in there with perhaps 200 guest in attendance. The food and service was awesome. The Kitchen was open and they must have had 25 chefs working in there. We selected a Shiraz $55 bottle of wine that was excellent. Another plus for this restaurant was a live 2 piece piano saxophone Jazz band that played old time US classical jazz instrumental’s. The many waiters worked as a team and were all up tempo and extremely friendly. A great experience and even better, no tip is required or recommended in Japan. We thought we were lost going home so we decided on a Taxi and it turned out we were only 2 blocks from our hotel. As I said the Goggle map app was just not reliable.

 

04/06/18 Got up around 6:30 am. Did a quick egg McMuffin breakfast at McDonald’s this morning. At 10:30 am we walked about 5 blocks to a traditional Japanese Kabuki Theater where Malcolm had reserved tickets for us and our guide. The play lasted for 5 hours!!! Of course it was all in Japanese and we used voice translators which were not easy to read unless you got your head close to the Kindle. The play was actually several little short stories mostly about Japanese historic battles. The sets were pretty and the music was Japanese like, weird, and exciting at times. The theater was beautiful inside and out. There were about 5 breaks. We purchased a Bento box lunch which was good. The cost was approximately $140 for the translator, lunch, and tickets. Our guide loved it. I would not go again unless a friend wanted to go real bad. The round eyes in attendance were 2% at most. It was way too long and some of the skits were hard to follow. There was sometimes a long delay between live voice and translator. After the play our guide put us on a subway train to Asakuasa a very popular tourist area with nice views of Japanese Shrines and gardens. This was great for photography with the golden hour sunset lighting. I went crazy shooting rapidly. The guide liked the theater so well that he decided to buy us a typical Japanese dinner at one of his favorite restaurants. It was excellent and I had the best squid I have ever eaten any where. The Sapporo draft beer was also good.

 

04/07/18 We got up, showered , and packed our bags for our exodus to Gotembo where Mt Fuji is located. We decided to store our bags at our hotel and visit the Tokyo Fish Market before leaving Tokyo. We took a cab to the market area which was like a huge Farmer’s Market similar to Pike’s Market in Seattle but probably 10 times larger. It was a Saturday so it was very crowded. Virtually any kind of high quality seafood was available for purchase. It was extremely crowded but an experience I would not want to miss. The fruits and vegetables were very high quality and extremely tasty. I think they far surpassed what we have in the US. Even though it was extremely crowded the people were all very courteous, patient, and friendly. We also visited the wholesale packing and shipping area where thousands of workers cut up the fish and pack it in Styrofoam boxes to be shipped all over the world including the US. Next we had a sushi lunch at a restaurant just outside the fish market area. We then returned to the hotel to pick up our luggage. We had trouble getting a taxi to the Tokyo Bus Terminal. A local girl on the street seeing that we were having problems with the cab driver stepped in to help us. Finally after lots of talking the cab driver under stood where we wanted to go. The Japanese are very helpful and patient with the tourist. We arrived in a short time to the bus terminal and purchased a ticket to Gotembo near Mt. Fuji. In 1.5 hours we arrived in Gotembo and walked to a Nissan car rental to pick up a rental vehicle for the next 2.5 weeks. What a hassle to rent a vehicle in a foreign country. The car was a hybrid and OK except for the horrible gps installed in the car with which Malcolm had real problems. It would not talk in English. We took off and got lost on the way to our hotel. We inadvertently got on the freeway and a 6 minute trip turned into a 45 minute debacle. We finally made it to our hotel called the Mars GardenWood and got checked in. Another great hotel setting which included a beautiful clear lake with Koi fish and streams flowing in and out of it. The Lake was surrounded with what appeared to be some old growth trees. Our room on the 5th floor had a panoramic view of snow capped Mt. Fuji and the Koi lake below. The lake had fountains shooting in all directions which was coordinated with music and multi colored lighting by a computer program. The hotel buildings and the surrounding restaurants blended in perfectly into soft scape and hard scape landscaping of the complex. I actually liked this hotel better because of the landscaping and world class restaurants. At night we went to their Teppan-yaki restaurant which had the best food of any Hibachi type restaurant I have ever dinned at. It took 2.5 hours to finish our feast including perhaps 7 courses including a bottle of red French beaujolais wine, all prepared to perfection by our French chef at his grill. This was my favorite dining of the entire trip. Retired to bed happy and full.

 

04/08/18 Got up at 8:00 am and prepared dirty clothes for the hotel laundry. Our hotel room included a Japanese breakfast but we screwed up the hours and arrived too late. Hopefully we will not do the same tomorrow morning. I went back to the Nissan car rental with Malcolm to get a different more modern car that had a GPS that speaks English instead of Japanese. I think goggle maps on our phone was plenty adequate but Malcolm wanted backup gps. I am spending the entire day at the beautiful hotel relaxing, resting my knee, writing my diary and archiving my photos to my computer ssd. Malcolm went off on his own via car into the mountains to visit an outdoor museum. He was on a steep winding mountain road while watching the gps and side swiped a guard rail doing a quite a bit of damage to the left side of car. It is still drivable and he thinks the insurance will cover it. By the way it is really cold and windy here near Mt Fuji. The low is in high 40’s with perhaps 50 mph wind gust. I want to fly my drone here to get footage of Mt Fuji but it is too windy. When Malcolm got back around 6:30 pm we went to the hotel Italian restaurant as it had a 5 star rating. It was good but not as good as the Teppan-yaki restaurant last night.

 

04/09/18 Slept relatively well and got up to a lovely clear view of Mt Fuji out of our hotel window. We made it to the included Japanese hotel breakfast this morning which was an amazing collection of all types of low calorie breakfast foods all served in pretty bowls, platter, and cups decorated in Japanese designs. This was perhaps a $25 to 30 value. Too bad we missed it the first day. We checked out and got on the road around 11:00 am heading for Matsumoto about 3.5 hours by car. We decided to take a route along the perimeter of Mt Fuji through a long canyon with a river, lots of scenic views of Mt Fuji, and numerous lakes for the first 1/3 of our 140 mile trip to our hotel Matsumoto Hotel Kagetsu We stopped at an ice cave place that we decided not visit, but there were nature trails all over the place. We took one and walked about 2/3 mile to a beautiful view point of Mt. Fuji where Malcolm and I spent a while composing photos of the mountain with our mug profiles in the foreground. It was quite cool up there in the high 40’s or low 50’s with a stiff breeze. At the time I did not have Linda’s knit stocking cap to protect my bean from the cold. It seems that perhaps 20% of Japanese wear a mask to protect themselves or others from catching a cold. There were small plots of land which had black rich looking volcanic soil that Japanese perhaps rented or leased to grow some of their unbelievably good vegetables and fruit. This drive was very enjoyable and Malcolm’s driving was fast but reasonable on the curvy mountain roads. When Malcolm reached the freeway he went into a frenzy; his driving became very aggressive with speeds way over the 80 kmh speed limit, like 110 up to 150 kmh, Apparently he was also tired as he could not stay in the middle between the lanes. The out of lane alarm on the car was going off every 3 - 5 minutes. He changed lanes continually. His driving was almost as stressful as Linda’s friend Ben who considers it a necessity to make his trip in the shortest time possible. I turned off my gps for a bit and as fate would have it we missed a turn and had to leave and re-enter the freeway, a tricky thing to do on the Japan freeway system. Thank God for the goggle maps app on our phones. Without it we would be in trouble as all the freeway signs are in Japanese and totally unidentifiable. We made it to the hotel at 2:30 pm but could not check in until 3:00 pm They did greet us warmly carrying our luggage in, parking our car in a space they had across the street. A young girl from South Korea who spoke English perfectly took us to the room. Her speech was slow but she was absolutely charming with a great sense of humor. Malcolm has continued to find excellent housing for us on this trip. This huge 3-4 room suite was just awesome with lots of amenities like: antique furniture, a computer table large enough for two, blazing fast wifi, movie projector on ceiling over the bed, sitting room off the bedroom, 2 bathroom vanity areas, a huge shower room with high tech fixed and portable faucets, dining room, espresso maker, icebox, humidifier, dehumidifier, etc. After unpacking and relaxing a bit we went out for sushi at a restaurant where Malcolm had made reservations. The food was average, but we had a great time socializing with a family from Australia who spoke great English with a nice sense of humor. We had walked about 6 blocks in the cold finding the restaurant OK, but on the return it was really cold and windy so I wanted cab. Two cabs refused to take us. Finally the 3rd took us home, about 5 blocks and did not charge us. We did not at all understand this action! Went to bed, but the overhead movie projector would not turn off. Finally I crawled up on top the bed reaching it and disconnected the power cable. SWEET SLEEP.

 

04/10/18 Got up at about 6:30 am and showered. We both worked on our computers and then went down stairs to the sweet shop for Cappuccino Coffee and cinnamon toast with honey and blueberry preserves. Then we walked to the Matsumoto Castle about 5 blocks away, which is one of Japan’s premier historic castles. It covered about 3 city blocks and the grounds around it are beautiful with lots of cherry trees in bloom. We procured an English speaking guide who took us through the grounds and the castle. The building is also known as the “Crow Castle” due to its black exterior. The castle was made from all old growth wood timbers. The workmanship of the joints on the structure is precise and of amazing quality. The castle was built in the 16th century and most everything is original. Before entering the castle you are forced to remove your shoes and carry them in a plastic bag. The floors are all well finished wood which were very smooth and I got no splinters. The walk through the 4 story castle is a real adventure as the stairs are narrow, extremely steep, and the steps width varies from 8” to 20” In most areas of the stairs there was bamboo railings to hold on to (but not all areas). As my knee is still sore I was concerned about this dangerous endeavor. The guide carried my shoes for me which helped a lot. I made it up and down without any slips or falls. The castle had a huge moat system, water fed from 2 local rivers which is still in operation. The inside of the castle was quite dark as the lighting was all natural. There were artifacts of all kinds from 16 century and after. There was a huge collection of flint lock guns which is why the Samurai warriors became obsolete as anyone could now kill them. Their swords and skills were not longer pertinent. The main problem with the defending the Japanese castles was the threat of fire as they were constructed of wood. If visiting Japan do not miss this castle. We then went out for lunch to a local small soba noodle restaurant which was OK but it took us forever to order as the owner did not understand English. We may go back again early for the homemade soba noodle made from freshly ground soba flour which has limited servings of 20 meals per day. Walked back to hotel for rest and relaxation. At night we walked 2 blocks to an upscale French restaurant called Taiman. The 6 course meal was so outstanding and the service was the best of the trip. We were the only diners in this beautiful upscale huge restaurant. We had a nice bottle of french southern rhone wine. Total time for dining three hours. My second favorite restaurant of the trip. Walked back to hotel in the cold 49 degree air.

 

04/11/18 Got up and showered around 7:00 am. My nose was bloody this morning as it was extremely dry yesterday. Now I see why all the rooms have humidifiers. Had an American breakfast at the hotel. We headed out on foot for The Matsumoto Museum of Art. We did some window shopping along the way. It started raining as we got near the museum. There was a great special exhibition by Yayoi Kusama, a very famous artist who painted in New York for 15 years and then came to Japan around 1980 until now. She is very prolific an0d her type of work is quite varied. She is on the verge of being crazy but is extremely creative. Stopped at a soba noodle restaurant for lunch walking back to the hotel. I was tired and slept the entire afternoon until dinner time. We had dinner at a very small sushi house which Malcolm found on the internet. It was the best sushi of the trip and the most reasonably priced only about $30 each. The sushi chef was a women (very rare in Japan) and her husband was a very out going person who was also a pro bowler. We met two guys from France there who worked at Air Bus. They were both very friendly and spoke good English. We took a cab to and from as it was raining lightly. The average rain fall here is only 42”. Worked on computer an hour or so before bed.

 

04/12/18 All the toilets are similar in Japan and much more advanced than the average US toilet. Here are a few features they have; lids return down slowly with no slamming, seats are continuously heated, when you get off the seat they automatically flush, the flush system is electrically operated. I would like one or two installed in my house. We checked out at 10:45 am and took off in our Nissan rental car for our Shirakawago-go: Farmhouse Stay in the mountains. It was a beautiful drive mostly through snow capped mountainous similar to the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada’s. I never saw so many tunnels in my life. Some were in excess of 5 miles long. We followed a river a long ways which was highly dammed with many huge reservoirs. The water color was a beautiful aqua green. I guess their glaciers are grinding up minerals into the water. We stopped at a winter ski area resort for a Ramen Noodle lunch which hit the spot in the cold weather. Malcolm’s driving was a bit more sane today as his speed was reduced from previous runs probably because these roads are quite treacherous with pin to pin turns. Malcolm does not seem to really enjoy the scenery as he was listening to rock and roll dowop music on his head phones singing along with music while driving. I think Malcolm enjoys the city’s more than the open space nature places which is fine. We made it to our destination at 3:00 pm just right as check in was at the same time. This Shirakawago-go is best known for being the site of Shirakawa-gō, a small, traditional village showcasing a building style known as gasshō-zukuri. Together with Gokayama in Nanto, Toyama, it is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. It is located in a valley with a fast moving class III river flowing beside it. The old well constructed wood houses with thick thatched roofs were really scenic. Most every house had a rice paddy next to it. The elevation was 7100’ feet so it was quite cool up here. Every place in the valley had a nice view of the surrounding snow capped mountains. We had trouble finding our farmhouse residence for the night, but finally my iphone goggle maps took us right to it. My wifi device worked great all over Japan . The goggle maps app worked perfect in driving mode, but in walking mode it was a bit erratic. There was parking right next to the farm house and we hauled our luggage to the door. We had to remove our shoes before entering the farm house. We were shown our room a 12’x12’ square with nothing in there except one low coffee type table and a mat covering the entire room floor. There was a closet which had several sleeping mats, blankets, bean pillows, and thick comforters. I insisted on getting our sleeping mats and bedding set up before dark. The wood floors were shiny clean and very smooth on my shoe less feet. There were men’s and women’s public bathrooms, also a master bath house which was only open from 6 to 10 pm. I decided not to bathe and to sleep in my street cloths with a heavy sweater on. Actually there was also a flue less portable gas heater in the room which proved to keep us very warm, but I was worried about carbon monoxide poisoning. By the way the reason for this stay here was to experience how the Japanese lived in olden times. I doubt if they had heating however. We walked the World Heritage town which had a museum, restaurants, and a few arts and crafts store. I purchase some phyllo pastry doe wrapped sweet bean paste candy that was very good. We returned to the farm for dinner. There were 3 couples in the farm house. The food was put on small little tables only about 12” high. Most people sat on their knees to eat, but not me with my sore knee and back, so I started kind of laying sideways and then later did sit with my legs crossed on the floor. Dinner included hot tea, soup,steamed white rice, lots of cold vegetables mostly marinated, and various cold smoked or cooked fish. The highlight of dinner was some kind of gas little grill which cooked steak and vegetables which were excellent. One couple at dinner perhaps Italian spoke no English and only communicated with them selves. The other couple, a mother and daughter from Australia, were very outgoing and friendly. The daughter was an artist and the mother was an executive with a construction company. They were both frequent world travelers and both Malcolm and I interacted with them a lot. No alcohol was served with dinner!! Retired around 8 pm and slept reasonably on that hard sleeping mat. A Japanese breakfast was served at 7:30 am which was also quite editable. All of this including room and breakfast cost us $95 each.

 

04/13/18 We got on the road at 10:00 am and drove through mountains and pretty farm lands to the city of Kanazawa having a population of around 1/2 million. We could not check into our HOTEL MYSTAYS PREMIER Kanazawa until 3:00 pm so we parked the car and headed for the main tourist attraction via up and back city bus to the Kanazawa Castle Park and a world famous garden KENROKUEN GARDEN. We decided to stop at a Japanese noodle restaurant before going into the parks. We shared a hot and a cold Udon noodle dish which were both great. We did the garden first which was awesome. I took lots of photos of the well manicured tree’s with excellent soft scape and hard scape objects skillfully placed in the park. There were several reflection ponds and a few cherry blossom trees in full bloom. Next we did the castle which was not nearly as good as previous castles we had visited. We then had great trouble trying to catch the UP AND BACK CITY BUS back to our hotel. Finally got the right bus and made it back to the main bus terminal. Now we had trouble making the goggle maps work for the 5 block walk back to the hotel. I did not have the MYFI with me and the Tmobil data signal was intermittent so hence the problem. Must always carry the MIFI in the future. Malcolm was stressed because we had a sushi restaurant reservation at 5:00 pm. We made it to the hotel and got a cab making our dinner appointment just in time. The small quaint little sushi restaurant turned out to be excellent, = or better than any other sushi house we have dined at. The staff one sushi chef, one su chef, and two waitresses were an excellent efficient well trained team. They just kept serving you more sushi until you put your hands up and said STOP. I quit about 3 servings earlier than Malcolm. Malcolm was in heaven eating all that rare sushi, beer, and local Sake. I only had beer. Caught a cab back to the hotel and hit the rack after a very long stressful but fun day.

 

04/14/18 Got up about 6:30 am and organized my electronic equipment and then worked on this diary. At 10:00 am we purchased another up & back bus ticket for our days travel around the city. We took the bus to the Budist Ninja-dera Temple. The Tokugawa shogunate prohibited construction of buildings higher than three stories. Viewed from the outside, the temple appears to be a two-story building, but actually it is a four-story building with seven-layer internal structure. The temple is built around a central water well which is approximately 25 meters deep; the bottom of the well is said to connect to a tunnel to Kanazawa Castle. The main building has a complicated layout which includes a middle floor and middle-middle floor, and contains 23 rooms and 29 staircases. There are different contrivances to fool the enemy such as hidden chambers and stairs, completely unexpected and reversible trap-like doors and floors, secret tunnels, escape pits. The lookout on the top affords a view of the surrounding area. In addition, the temple walls and roof are very strong and durable enough to withstand typhoons and heavy snow. We had a shoe less guided tour of this amazing beautifully crafted temple including all the hidden doors and stairs.
We then walked around the area looking from the outside at several temples. We dubbed this area TEMPLE ALLEY. Jumped back on bus and did lunch at same Udon Noodle restaurant as yesterday. We then walked a 1/3 of mile to a tourist area that had lots of craft shops, candy shops and restaurants of every cuisine imaginable. Malcolm was not impressed, so we jumped on bus taking the longer part of the loop back to our hotel area. Rested in room for a couple of hours.

Malcolm had again booked another sushi restaurant for dinner tonight. It was raining so we needed to go by taxi. It was a small sushi bar only about 8 seats and 2 small rooms with seating on floor mats. They put us on the far right which according to Malcolm, is the least desirable and respected seating position, mostly because we are round eyes. We had a excellent waitress who watched are every move constantly attending to our every desire. She spoke excellent English and had traveled in the US. The quality of the sushi is equal to the best places we had dined at, but portions were slightly smaller. The highlight of dinning experience was the baby wiggling squid course which was cooked by the waiter at our table on a very shot stone. She said “sorry squid” as she did it. The exotic vegetable were also outstanding at this restaurant. This was a very fun dinning experience.

 

04/15/18 I am on my own as Malcolm is driving 1.5 hours to another town for a local festival on a day trip. Three hours of driving for a an up and back is too much for me in one day. I headed out via IN AND OUT BUS to the local Farmers Market at 10:00 am taking the long part of the loop doing some site seeing before reaching the Market. It was very similar to the Tokyo Market but a bit smaller. Lots and lots of fish of every variety known to man. The fruit and vegetables were of the highest quality. A cantaloupe like melon also showed up here at a cost of $30 per melon. Malcolm wants to buy one to see if it really is $30 good. I think we have had some at two of our sushi upscale restaurants. I looked all over the market for dim sum but could not find any. All the good cheap restaurants had long long lines so I decided to do the little venders for lunch. I found a little place that had small Teriyaki beef on skewers at $1.20 each and so delicious that I had 3 of them and also cooked on a skewer was large scallops, shrimp, and bell peppers marinated with a bit of teriyaki sauce at $3.80 each what a bargain. For desert I had 4 large very sweet strawberries also on skewer Caught the loop bus back to impressive modern city main bus terminal and window shopped a bit in the many upscale shops. I found a wonderful French bakery and had two pastries and cappuccino for my second lunch desert. Walked back to my room about 3 blocks and relaxed the rest of the afternoon Malcolm got back around 5:30 pm. I think food is the main reason Malcolm booked this trip. He made a reservation at an expensive Kobe type steak house for tonights meal. The cab ride out to the steak house was $30 one way. Dining at the restaurant was a real experience because they could speak virtually no English. I insisted on a good wine if we were going to spend $130 each on the dinner. The short wine list was all in Japanese and the owner could not describe any of the wines to us. Malcolm convinced him to bring out all his French wines which were few, so we could read the labels. Finally out of 5 bottles he brought to the table we decided on a $110 bottle of French Chateauneuf du Pape which was very enjoyable with my excellent tenderloin Kobe steak. Malcolm hates to buy expensive wine from restaurants, but I convinced him that this food was also over priced and if I was going to spend that much on the food then I wanted a drinkable wine regardless of the price. This dining experience turned out to be an enjoyable highlight of the trip and definitely not the most outrages price we had paid for dining so far. By the way it included appetizer, salad, corn soup, and desert all really good. This Kobe beef is way way better than any Kobe beef I have ever had in San Diego. We again were the only round eyes in the restaurant and the last ones to leave. A taxi was called for us and we got back to our hotel at 10:30 pm.

 

04/16/18 Got up at 7:00 am and started getting ready for our 4 hour drive to Kyoto. Malcolm decided to go back to a park for a bag he lost and actually found it in lost and found. We gassed up our little Nissan car and got going around noon. Once we got on the freeway it was easy trouble free driving. Speed limit fastest was 80 kl/hour but Malcolm in a hurry as usual while wearing his head phones drove between 110 to 150. After lots of whining by me about tail gating, high speeds, and going over the lanes on both sides causing the car system to continually beep at us; he did stop tail gating and now stays about 6 - 8 car lengths back of cars. The other 2 whine items have little if any change. He did offer to let me drive about 2/3 rds of the way but I was a bit sleepy and decided not to because of the right seat placement of the driver. We arrived about 5:00 pm at the beautiful THE CELESTINE KYOTO GION hotel. Malcolm was worried that it may be located in a bad area as it seemed to be in a back alley. It was actually in a very high upscale area of Kyoto with high end restaurants all over and it was about 3 blocks from bus routes and downtown Kyoto business and restaurant areas. The very modern room was awesome except it had no computer desk, so we had to use a little small tea table and two chairs which were in the room. All rooms we stayed in Japan had electronic keys which locked all utilities when leaving the room. Of course it was always expected that you remove your shoes when entering your room or when entering most restaurants. This I found to be a real inconvenience. Malcolm had no dinner reservations for tonight so we walked up about 3 blocks to a main street and found a very small husband wife type perhaps French restaurant which turned out to be very good and priced very reasonable. I picked it because it looked quaint, French, and had some English signs. Malcolm was reluctant but ended up liking it. The owner of the restaurant had a high speed pretty looking racing motor cycle parked in side which immediately made Malcolm and the owner friends because of their love for motor cycles. I had light dinner; French Onion soup, green salad, and apple French pastry pie. Malcolm ordered lots of Frites (french fries) which I helped him eat maybe they were the best non mealy fries I have ever tasted. There was one other fun Australian family of 3 brothers and wives in the restaurant who we socialized with. This started out our Kyoto trip nicely. Walked back to room confronting a bit of rain and wind.

 

04/17/18 We slept late getting up at 7:00 am. Had no breakfast. Malcolm immediately gets on his computer or smart phone when arising. He is a product of the internet and social media age. Every spare moment he has usually finds him poking characters into his iphone. We got ready to tour the sites and met a free guide at our hotel. He was a competent and friendly guide. He was slow moving however and if you asked him a question he always had a story like response taking him for ever before he got to actually answering the question. I encouraged public transportation because of parking and heavy traffic in this city. We ended up using bus, taxi and foot mobile Our first stop was Rengeoin temple the home of 1001 wood gold leaf Buddhist statues. Very impressive but no photos were allowed because it is still religiously active. Prayer sessions by the monks were in progress while we were there. Besides the full scale 1001 statues there where many paintings, statues, fighting instruments, and various artifacts of old. The guide kept us here way longer than of comfort for me.

Next we walked about 3 blocks to a underground train to visit Shimogamo Shrine (UNESCO World Heritage Site). It was a long 40 min. trip. The grounds around this site were very beautiful similar to a northern Wisconsin mixed forest. Probably walked 5 - 6 miles today minimum. My knee hurts a little at times, but is mostly healed. Good thing as I lost my walking stick. Again the guide went over board explaining the history and details of this site.

Next we walked a long way to find an open everyday restaurant picked by the guide for lunch. Ended up in another noodle restaurant which had very tight seating and tables. My Udon noodle soup with Tempora Ebi (shrimp) was very tasty and my first food of the day. My cranky feeling of food depredation subsided nicely.

Caught a taxi to our next stop Obai-in Temple ( sub-temple of Daitokuji temple). This was a Zen temple with beautiful gardens both soft scape (abundance of trees, flowering bushes, and flowers) and hard scape (statues, water features,and small white rock with various zen designs). I loved the bright red Japanese Maple trees. The temple is still active with monks and others in attendance. No photos were allowed, but I sneaked about 10 photos on the sly. The structures are made of beautifully hand crafted Japanese Elm wood using amazing joints. Some of the rooms have art paintings and are well adorned with ceramics and other art items. Again the guide kept us too long. I think it was his first time there and was in more awe of it than we were.

We walked about 5 blocks to a bus stop and took about a one hour bus ride back to near our hotel and then walked walk another 4 blocks to the hotel.

Had dinner tonight at Gion Namba a Japanese kaiseki restaurant similar to a sushi restaurant but only one special chef’s menu is served. It was raining and the taxi had trouble finding it. We had to walk the last block or so into a scary looking alley. The place was very small but very high quality. Both Malcolm and I liked it and considered the high cost to be within reason.

 

04/18/18 Slept good until 8:00 am this morning still full from last nights extravaganza sushi chef’s dinner. I tried to find coffee in this high end hotel but they claimed none was available until 1:00 pm. Then I realized that there was an espresso maker in the room but neither of us could figure out how to use it as all the switches were in Japanese. I gave up on coffee, but Malcolm went down to the front desk and got somebody to come up and show me how to make it. It was relatively easy once I saw it done. We also found espresso cups to use, instead of dinky little tea cups. Stayed in the room until 12:00 pm working on diary and drinking espresso. We finally got out around 12:30 pm and walked about a block to a restaurant name Tempura Endo. This was by far the best Tempura I have ever eaten. We ate on a low counter with sunken areas for your legs to go into. To gain access you kind of have to crawl into your seat. Very comfortable once you got in. The chef with his wok, knives, and cutting boards prepared all the food in full view. We were served many little starter things; such as tofu, Tamago literally “grilled egg” a type of Japanese omelette, which is made by rolling together several layers of cooked egg. These are usually prepared in a rectangular omelette pan. We probably had 14 different things to eat. Some of my favorites were the various vegetable Tempuras corn kernels, every imaginable type of green vegetable, shrimp, and crab. Every thing is served right out of the hot oil. YUM YUM About 4 other people were at the bar with us. We met a friendly traveling artist here who was very friendly with us, We discussed a variety of topics regarding world travel to various countries. By the way, we ordered a 1/2 bottle of French white wine which really kicked up the experience as well. We now decided go by bus to the Kyoto Imperial Palace. I picked a bus that goggle maps suggest. This turned out be a disaster waste of about 1.5 hours. We apparently missed the stop for the palace about 10 minutes into the trip and ended up taking the long entire loop of 1.5 hours in the heavy rush hour traffic. Malcolm and I were not happy campers. It was now too late to try again so we got off the bus near our hotel and walked to our room. I decided to try out the Spa free bath and Malcolm joined me. The place was really clean and had a live bamboo forest with a sleepy cat statue all adding to the zen like atmosphere of the place. The water was in 102 to 104 F. temperature range. This really made my body feel relaxed and my sore muscles were soothed by the clean warm water. We relaxed in the room until 7:30 pm and then walked to the Akai restaurant where Malcolm was expecting upscale Spanish dinning. But NO, what we got was another Japanese Sushi restaurant with a fixed menu. The price was equivalent to the most expensive restaurant we dinned at and was equally bad and very disappointing. The wine was too expensive to buy for Malcolm’s taste and we therefore had to drink beer which filled me up prematurely preventing me from eating some of the course’s. This is a lesson for me regarding future dining and that is - only eat one large gourmet meal a day. The dinning was done in one room with no other guest visible. Anyway we finished, paid our bill and took the short two block walk back to our room.

 

04/19/18 Arose at 7:30 am showered, made espresso, and had some fruit offered by Malcolm. Malcolm for breakfast has no coffee or tea and eats fruit only purchased at markets the day before. I should probably follow a similar practice. We both shower every day in the wonderful, clean, and large Japanese showers.

We left the hotel at 10:00 am via cab to try again to visit the Kyoto Imperial Palace. This was one of the best sites we visited on the trip. My bridge friend Ron Kay highly recommended this site and he was definitely right. The grounds surrounding the beautiful mostly orange structures were immaculately maintained. Several gardens with streams, large ponds, wooden bridges across the streams, flowers, bushes, Japanese Red Maples trees, Elm trees, and many other trees which blended in perfectly with the serene palace grounds. We spent about 2.5 hours here and then left to find a local restaurant for lunch. We found a small one that turned out to have a French flare and the food was excellent. We had apple & Gorgonzola cheese French style pizza, a green salad, and a pasta special with fresh mushrooms and a light red sauce which included a nice glass of French Wine. I liked the food better than the high end Italian restaurant, we went to later that night.

Next we caught a Taxi to a another World Heritage site not far from the Imperial Palace. It was OK but certainly no UNESCO site in my opinion. We walked the grounds about an hour and then caught a cab back to our room. Sorry to say that I forgot the name of it.

At 8:00 pm we walked to a presumably Italian restaurant called the Okai. It was mostly quite good but the food was 90% Japanese fish and sashima type courses. The last course before desert finally produced a vegetable,shrimp pasta dish. The pasta was barely cooked and one could almost hear the dry strands breaking in your mouth. Fortunately the cost at this restaurant was moderate and every thing else was very good especially the fried duck and our Chilean Cabernet wine. We left about 10:15 pm and walked back to the hotel.


04/20/18 Arose at 7:45 am to get ready for our drive to Matsue area - Ryokan Yuzuriha Hotel a 6 hour drive. Left about 10:00 am and drove mostly on freeways through beautiful mountainous terrain with mixed forests with really brilliant shades of green, yellow, and red. I told Malcolm again that I disliked his fast lanes switching style of driving and that I may have to stay at the hotel for the next 4 days. He decided to slow up and promised to drive in a more civil manner the rest of the trip. Hopefully he will keep his promise. We arrived around 5:15 pm after long gruelling drive. Thank God again for Goggle Maps. We perhaps had only about four minor missed turns on this journey.
Checking into the room took a while but we finally got checked in and were shown our suite type room on the 2nd. This is the largest room of the trip. Japanese style; 5 rooms and a hallway. A bedroom 12’x12’ with 2 Japanese style beds call futons (which is nothing more than a pad and a comforter, not nearly as comfortable as our mattresses at home), a rec room 12’x12’ with a TV and a large table perfect for our computers, a kitchen room with stove, sink, and frig, a toilet room and a very nice shower and wash room with sink and then a hall which connects all of the rooms together. All rooms were very clean and Japanese style decorated sliding doors and windows with white frosted glass with many panes and few hanging pictures here and there. Very happy with the room.

The owner of the small hotel, a bit of a wheeler dealer, lined us up a very small Italian restaurant a short distance away which he drove us to. The food and wine was good and inexpensive. The only other patron was a French women who was also staying at our hotel. They played American Jazz while we dined. We decided to walk back about a 1/3 of mile to our hotel. The hotel was located in a residential district on the side of a mountain and seemed to be quite safe, but of course most areas in Japan are safe. Made it back OK in the brisk cold in low 40’s. Retired shortly after returning as I was very tired from the long drive.

 

04/21/18 Got up about 6:30 am and showered. Got my drone all charged up and took it out to a green grass plot of land near the hotel. There was no wind at all and the air was crystal clear. I got some nice clear footage of the mountainous landscape around the hotel. The green textures of the forest were amazing. The drone maps feature of the area here in Japan even worked. We took off for the 1.5 to 2 hour drive for Matsue around 10:00 am. There was a short stretch of nice sandy beach along the Sea of Japan Ocean where we stopped at a pastry shop. I had a donut, sweet roll and a cappuccino for breakfast. As the beach was almost deserted, I decided to fly my drone on this beach taking off from a concrete walkway near a tree. It was a hazy day but I think I got some good footage of the ocean shoreline and looking back onto the land I got 2 Windmills that were producing electric power. Malcolm took off his shoes and waded into the water for some photos. The weather in high 70’s was perfect for the beach and I could not believe that it was nearly empty. We continued on to Matsue arriving hungry but we could not find any of the noodle houses so we tried a sushi house which had a conveyor system, but Malcolm thought it looked bad. Parking was a real hassle in this town. Finally we decided to skip lunch and go to the medieval Matsue Castle and eat later. Malcolm found a free guide who spoke great English. We both enjoyed the tour our guide gave us and castle was impressive but quite challenging to walk up and down the 5 levels of very steep slippery wooden stairs. My knee still pains now and then but seems to be about 85% better. The grounds and water ways around the castle were very calming and soothing. Next, Malcolm wanted to go to a Samarai residence near the castle but the signs did not successfully guide us to it. The signage for tourist’s in Japan really sucks. We are really getting hungry now at 4:00 pm but no restaurants are open until 5:00 pm. I found an up scale one 30 yards from us, so we waited until 5:00 pm to go in. We went in and looked at the menu but Malcolm again was unhappy because the food he liked was on a set menu with no substitutions. I was so hungry I would have ate almost anything and this restaurant had lots of à la carte items that would have been perfectly fine. Anyway we left. Now we tried to find several Sushi restaurants, the first one by car and then others later on foot. It was a Saturday night and most were booked or did not like round eyes. Finally I spotted one that had some English advertisements on the door, so we walked into the small 2 chef restaurant and they invited us to dine. The decor was somewhat seedy and there were only 2 patrons in there besides us. At all the previous restaurants language was a real problem but one of the chefs was young and spoke some English. I was very skeptical but we ended up having a good time as everyone in the place was very congenial and fun loving. Some of the sushi was very marginal, but some was very good. The Sea Eel sushi and rolls were the best of the entire trip It was dark now and I was very tired. Malcolm started driving on the long laborious 2 hour drive back to our hotel in the mountains, so far away from us. Malcolm kept his promise about slowing down his driving and eliminated most of his wild weaving in and out of the various lanes. None the less we did about 4+ hours of driving today and my MS symptom were becoming exacerbated. Tomorrow he wanted to drive even further to an art museum 1 hour beyond Matsue. I had to tell him that another long day including even more driving was not good for my health and I must cancel on this one. This is only the 2nd time on the trip I have left Malcolm to travel on his own. Last time he scraped a mountain side rail with his car. Hopefully he will not do this again. I do not believe in long day trips as I would rather just visit the places close by and there are several here. But to each is own preference.

 

04/22/18 I slept well last night in spite of the long stressful previous day. I may have to fast today if Malcolm takes off with the car as there is no food at this hotel except a morning Japanese breakfast. It cost $15 and Malcolm thought it would be bad. Anyway I had a banana and some previously confiscated packaged little pastry things with green tea (uhg ugh) for breakfast. I will only dream about having lunch. I may do some diary, photo storage on computer, surfing the web, short walk, and some laundry to fill my day while Malcolm does his 4 hour driving to and from the art museum he wants to visit.

Well, this morning Malcolm did a long walk in this little town and discovered that it is a tourist area with well preserved ruins all over the place and it even has 24 UNESCO sites, so he is all happy again and is not doing the long 2-3 hour one way drive and will stay in this area. It turned out that there is a small cafe a few doors down from us so I got a cup of coffee. It was about 10:30 am now and Malcolm wanted to go on another walk to show me the historical ruins and investigate further some of the more interesting sites. There was a ticket office near the center of town where we rented some translator head sets which explained in detailed English the 24 historical sites in the area. We took off on foot to tour them. Around noon we found a Japanese restaurant which had deep fried pork cutlets, deep fried chicken, soba noodles, etc. I ordered soba noodles with a side of the pork cutlets which was very good and Malcolm ordered fried chicken. We continued to view the ruins taking lots of photos. We paid to see one of the heritage sites which was basically caves with many stone Buddha statues that were sculptured in 1730. They were impressive but I am not sure they deserved to have World Heritage status. There is an old and new silver mine close to us with World Heritage status also, but the guides only do Japanese so we decided to skip it. By 3:00 pm I was tired and we returned to the room for a bit of rest before dinner. The manager of the Hotel at 6:30 pm walked us next door to the cafe for a home cooked Japanese meal. The dining was outside on a rickety newspaper covered table; make shift lighting was provided. The hotel manager, Cafe owners, and 3 other Japanese guests were in attendance. They were so friendly to us when we arrived. They provided us beer, and/or sake to drink. The starting course was a delicious and very fresh yellow tail sashima salad. The main course 2 was tempura vegetables mostly a green vegetable something like Chinese broccoli. An electric fry pan with grape seed oil was constantly hot and battered vegetables were randomly added to the oil. The sashima fish was not all consumed, so I requested that some of it be cooked tempura style which was SOO delicious. Gorgonzola cheese from Italy was next served to us. It may have been the best I have ever tasted. YUM YUM The last course was something similar to pizza with cheese, red sauce, and fried fish. It was too heavy for my taste, but I consumed it to be polite. While eating these courses tempura was continually being cooked. The cooking was done by the lady cafe owner and two of the men also participated in the cooking. It was an enjoyable event. Of course language was a problem, but a policeman guest who had asked Malcolm to move his car off the street the first night was a fun person in attendance. His smart phone had a voice translator that worked very well and we mostly used this and Malcolm’s smart phone translator to communicate. They were interested in us and we in them. They all loved baseball. The policeman had a great sense of humor and made us and the other guests laugh a lot. This Japanese outdoor rustic dining experience I will never forget. Malcolm of course organized this all, without his outgoing personality and his interest in the Japanese culture it would not have happened. He was a great traveling companion. We returned to the hotel. A few minutes later the policeman guest returned my iphone that I had left on the table. We thanked him profusely. These Japanese are very honest people.

 

04/23/18 I arose at 7:30 am this morning and had a nice long hot shower. This room is really amazing. It has high ceilings with carpet on it that matches the floor. Windows all over with many repeating frames within each large frame. Open structural nicely finished large pine beams. All the sliding doors also have pine frames with excellent workmanship. The main bedroom with the futons have finely finished wood floors with a large rug in the middle. Very spacious huge closets with precision cut wood trim. Some high windows in the upper A frame & roof which affords wonderful indirect lighting during the day. This room is provided with every modern convenience except high beds. I have gotten used to the futon floor beds now and got the hang of getting upright from a prone position. Malcolm wanted to go back about 25 miles to the beach on the Sea of Japan to take swim in the ocean and have photos taken of him. Before doing this we stopped at the same bakery we previously stopped at to have some delicious pear french pastries, cappuccino coffee, and tea. This took about 40 minutes and we headed back to hotel. I decided to stop along the ocean where there were some pretty off shore islands to fly my drone. I got some great footage, but unfortunately it did not get saved on my drone ssd card and I lost it all. BUMMER. Took us an hour to get back as we temporarily got lost for 15 minutes. We went to a trail head that supposedly went to an old 1720’s World Heritage silver mine site. We started driving to it, but I insisted that we park the car and walk as it was too steep and curvy. The 1/2 mile uphill walk to it through very beautiful green lush foliage with old growth pine trees comparable to Idaho and Colorado mountain trails. When we finally reached some of the old mine tunnels they were either blocked shut or were guarded and required an entrance fee to get in. We passed but really enjoyed the drive and walk up hill into the beautiful lush green mixed forest. A few people had residences way up here and we talked to one home owner who had a good looking Akita dog blocking the trail, We were worried that the hound may not be friendly but it turned out that he was a pussy cat. Malcolm was worried and insisted that I photograph him more quickly before he got bit by the beast. We reached the car and drove back looking for another heritage site which we never found. Got back to the hotel and rested up for our last dinner here. The hotel chef made us another local fare type Japanese cuisine which was really delicious. It included beer, saki, tempura, sashimi, white rice, teriyaki fish with vegetables, several other fish dishes and miscellaneous delicacies. The desert was vanilla ice cream with a hot phyllo type pastry around the outside. YU YUM. Was really full when I hit the Futon tonight.

 

04/24/18 Got up to pack for our 3.5 hour drive to an airport for our flight to Tokyo. We got up about 8:30 am and got ready for our drive to the Yonago airport and a flight via AMA to Tokyo. The drive to the airport was very scenic with many bridges over the bays and water ways between a series of islands and little juts of land here and there. Malcolm was very concerned that we may be lost, but goggle maps brought us right to the airport. The Nissan Car Rental was very convenient to find in the small airport. Malcolm checked in with them and showed them the damage. It took Malcolm at least an hour to close out the return of the car. It turned out that the cost of the damage was all waived accept for a $200 charge for loss of use while the car is being repaired. We then checked in for our flight and were offered a flight which was 2 hours earlier which we grabbed eliminating 2.5 to 3 hours of boring waiting around in the airport. The flight was only 2/3rds full and we arrived in Tokyo on time. We were at the wrong airport however and had to take a 1.5 hour bus ride to the big airport. We made this transport with no problems while I listened to my new Audible book title called “ The hidden life of Trees” which I highly recommend. Malcolm love’s the info desk’s and found that a free bus shuttle was available to our hotel called the Nikko Narita. We caught the bus with no problem and checked into the hotel. It was nice to have a US style bed again. This hotel is the most minimal US style establishment we have stayed in. No restaurants existed near us so we ate at yet another Sushi house in the hotel. It was just barely OK and of course overpriced because we were captive as nothing else existed within walking distance of the hotel. This hotel is only minutes from the airport, hence the overpricing of the basics. Retired early.

 

4/25/2018 Got up at 6:15 am and showered. It is still raining at a steady pace here in Tokyo. We are headed down town via high speed express train to meet our Tokyo guide this morning for some shopping, lunch, more shopping, visit to Tokyo Modern Art museum, and dinner. At 10:30 am we took a hotel free shuttle bus to the airport where we caught the express train to take us on a 1 hour high speed 100 mph trip to down town. It cost $25 per person and had assigned seating. It was extremely comfortable, smooth riding, with big open windows for viewing, and included high speed wifi. This was very near a bullet train moving at 100 mph, but the real bullet trains reach speeds of 200 mph. I considered not going on this trip into Tokyo but the bullet train was a real fun experience. Our guide was waiting for us when we got off the train. He said that it was a 10 minute walk to the luncheon restaurant he had picked. I have to realize that Japanese exaggerate how fast they can accomplish things. It took us almost an hour to find this restaurant on foot. The long walk was worth it as the tempura and soba noodle lunch was excellent. Next we walked and did the underground railroad to many upscale shops of all kinds, some in hotels, and others individual shops. Going up and down the stairs to the under ground trains were the toughest for me. I was near exhaustion at the top of each stairs.

 

04/26/18 We checked out of our hotel at 11:00 am and caught the shuttle to the airport for our Japan Airlines flight leaving at 5:25 pm. We checked our bags and then headed to the post office to mail my rental myfi device back to the Japan company I rented from. But then we realized that the myfi return envelope was in Malcolm’s bag that we had just checked in. I insisted that we go back and see if we could retrieve the bag. We did and to my surprise Japan airlines retrieved the bag for us and we got the wifi out of the suit case and delivered it to the post office. It took about 45 minutes, but how many US airlines would do this for you? I was impressed the entire trip, on how accommodating the Japanese people are. We had all kinds of time and I wanted dim sum for my final lunch in Japan. We caught a free shuttle bus to Terminal 1 which had a dim sum restaurant with excellent reviews. I had a cucumber salad, chinese greens salad, and pork pot stickers all of which were excellent. Malcolm also enjoyed his entrees fried chicken wings, rice, and vegetables dish. Caught the bus back to terminal 2 and went through security and walked to our gate for a 1.5 hour wait. The flight left on time and our seats on the isle were reasonably roomy. The flight took 9 hours. The food and service on the airline is excellent. I mostly listened to an audible books title called the “The hidden life of Trees” which I highly recommend. The food and service on Japan Airlines is the best of any airlines I have travelled on. They even served Hagen Dazs ice cream for desert.

The San Diego GO entry emigration system was again a pain, as they pulled me out for interrogation again delaying me 30-45 minutes. They claimed that they would try to remove these hold tactics on me from their software for future entries. Linda and Charlie Dog picked me up. It was great to be home on US soil again.

Last updated on May 31, 2018