Friday, 30 November 2012

My Adventures In Japan - Day 10

Wednesday 14th November 2012

It was our final day and we only had one big thing left to do, and that was to ride the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto.

During our break at the Skytree yesterday we went to Tokyo station to buy tickets for the Shinkansen. Tickets are quite expensive at around £105 each way, and we'd swayed over whether we should go or not, but in the end we decided that it would be a shame to come all this way and miss it.

I love going on the train, so this was pretty exciting for me! Tokyo to Kyoto is approximately 370km/229miles and it took just over 2 hours at speeds of up to 300km/h. The Shinkansen website is pretty confusing but I found this handy guide which tells you everything you'll need to know. We opted for a reserved seat ticket because of the distance we were going but you can buy unreserved tickets for slightly less. The cars are pretty spacious and it's a nice smooth journey with some great views, including Mount Fuji.

There's a handy tourist information in Kyoto station and a lovely English speaking lady gave us a map and helped us organise our day.

We got the subway to Imadegawa Station which is right next to Kyoto Imperial Palace. There are two tours in English daily at 10am and 2pm and you have to apply at least 20 minutes in advance by filling in a form and showing your passport at the Household Office on site. Entry is free.

After registration, we took the train to Shijo Station to grab some lunch beside the Nishiki Food Market. We couldn't find the restaurant we were looking for and although the market is great there was still nothing for a veggie meal here! I did get some awesome geta and socks to match!

In our search for food (which resulted in us sharing some dried mango and a little bag of chocolate digestives) we ended up running late for the Imperial Palace tour.  Well, part of that was because we couldn't find the entrance and ended up walking right around the outside, which is a long way especially with aching feet. And it had started raining. So starving and broken, we arrived at the gate and were quickly ushered in.

The tour was really interesting and the life of an Emperor seems pretty sweet! You get carried about everywhere (Emperor's are not allowed to set foot on the ground outwith the palace), your family has to stay in a different part of the residence, you get your own beautiful garden and you get to take naps in a cool tent thing! Ok, that's a simplified version of it, you have to do proper important stuff too but it sounds pretty good to me! This hour-long tour is definitely worth taking.

The office were able to give us information on buses directly from there to our next destination, Kinkaku - ji Temple.

This temple is also called the Golden Pavilion and is covered in real gold foil and is just beautiful as it reflects in the Kyokochi pond.

The ground also have a few other hidden surprises, but they do pale in comparison!

At the end of the tour we both lit a candle with a specific prayer written on it and placed it with the others, which seemed like the perfect ending to an amazing and possibly life-changing trip.

The End

Thursday, 29 November 2012

My Adventures In Japan - Day 9

Tuesday 13th November 2012

We woke up a bit late this morning so swapped the schedule over and did our "last day" things today.

We bought one-day passes for the Metro so we could scoot about all over the place, and this cost ¥710.  You can also get a one-day pass which does the Metro and trains too which is ¥1580 and there are cheaper passes for children.

Our first stop was in Onarimon where we visited the Zojoji temple. Within the grounds there are a lot of statues and buildings to see.

There are also these statues of children which, despite their colourful bonnets and fans, made me feel sad.  I've since found out that they represent jizobosatusu, the protector of the souls of stillborn children.

We went into the temple to pray (following the same ritual as yesterday) but this time there was a ceremony taking place.  It's hard to describe how wonderful this was.  There were two young men rhythmically pounding big drums with wooden sticks and chanting along with it. Every now and then the volume would increase or decrease but it felt like a heartbeat, vibrating through me and I didn't want to leave.

But leave I did, and we headed to Tokyo Tower. We were advised that it wasn't really worth going in, and as we were going to the Skytree later, we decided to spend the money instead on these amazing filled Marion Crepes.  Mine had ice-cream, chocolate sauce, cream, strawberries and cheesecake in it! Yum!

Then it was back on the Metro to go to Oshiage and Tokyo Skytree. Prepare for a rant...

...ready? This place is tourism hell! It's the tallest building in Japan and therefore has a LOT of visitors. You have to get a ticket, which tells you your allocated time to enter. For us, that was about 4 hours later than the time we were there.

On our return we had to queue at our allocated queueing time to join the main queue which didn't move until our allocated entry time had been reached. Once we finally got to the front of that queue and got our ticket, we had to queue to get in the high-speed lift to the observatory.  Then you have to wait or squeeze your way into the windows to see out and if you try to take a photo, you often have the reflection of the lift signs or monitors shining back at you! End of rant.

It costs ¥2,000 (£16) to get to the tembo deck at 350m and a further ¥1,000 (£8) to go up to 450m to the galleria. To be honest I didn't really think it was worth it.

When we got down we ate some horrible cold noodles with soy dipping sauce from one of the restaurants but I did buy a Rilakkuma bear which made me happy again.

Our last stop of the day was just beside the Shinjuku Sanchome station. It was a bit difficult to find as our map said it was in Manui One shopping centre, but we couldn't see it. We spoke to someone inside another centre and found that Manui stores have signs that say OIOI outside them, not Manui.

This centre was full of doll-like outfits and shoes but we were on a mission to find LeLe, the other Blythe shop. Again, it was nice to see it but there wasn't much to buy. There were lots of nice dolls there though!

On our way out I grabbed some pretty nail stickers and false nails before they closed and we got the Metro one more stop, back to Shinjuku and back to our hotel, to put our feet up and watch one of our favourite tv shows!

Next: Our last day!

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

My Adventures In Japan - Day 8

Monday 12th November 2012

Today we ventured out of Tokyo properly for the first time to visit Kamakura.

The JR line train goes directly here from Shinjuku and there's a really handy tourist information desk within the station.  We went there, got maps of the area and popped into Delifrance for some tasty pastries to take with us. The staff were really helpful in letting us know which were the veggie ones which was handy, We learnt pretty quickly that just because it looks vegetarian and there's no mention of meat or fish, doesn't mean it is!

We got on the bus at stop 1, as directed.  When getting on a bus you enter at the middle, take a voucher if there is one (although we never saw any) and sit down. When you leave the bus you press the button and get of at the front, giving the driver your fare or putting it in the machine beside them. There was a screen at the front and a woman's voice to advise you which stop was coming up and where the bus was going. The screen also told you the fare.

Kamakura is a really lovely place, it has a real small town feel. It was so peaceful despite being quite busy with tourists and school trips. The fact that it was such a lovely day probably helped a bit too!

Our first stop was the Diabutsu, or Great Buddha which resides within the grounds of Kōtoku-in temple.

This is probably one of the most peaceful places I've ever been in my life.

After cleansing our hands in the clear, cool water, we entered the temple to fantastic views of this 13.35m/almost 44ft tall Buddha. We were surrounded by beautiful trees and birdsong and the smell of incense.

We headed to the shops and ended up at Kōsoku-ji Temple, which I wasn't really impressed with, probably as a result of seeing the Diabutsu first, the men at work with ladders and equipment everywhere and another massive face-eating spider!

On our way to the Hase Station we found a 100yen shop! This place is great! I bought lots of Hello Kitty things, crafty things, gifts and general nonsense.

We hopped on the train back to Kamakura Station where we started our day and walked up Komachi-dori which is through the red gate. It is a street with lots of gift shops and restaurants and a couple of awesome Studio Ghibli shops!

Komachi-dori also leads up to the Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū shrine. There are quite a few steps at this one!

I prayed properly for the first time in Japan here. We'd read up about what to do when praying, but we observed for a short time and followed what most people did.

When you enter the grounds for a shrine there's a water trough like this one:

Using the tin cups, you ladle water onto each of your hands. We also read that you pour water into a cupped hand and rinse your mouth before spitting it out into a separate area, but we never saw anyone doing that so we weren't going to do it! I just left my hands to dry naturally, but people did use their hankies to dry them.

When you enter the shrine you wait until there's a space and approach the front.  Bow from the waist twice, put your hands flat together as if you are away to pray (because you are!) and clap them together twice. If there are a few of you, try to clap at the same time. We saw people doing that and it sounds nicer anyway.  Pray.  And once you're finished you throw a coin in the collection, which is usually in front of you or just at the door. Only throw one coin, once you're inside you'll feel how peaceful it is and that any noise should be limited. When leaving, bow out of the door facing inwards.

All shrines also have a display outside (like the bottom picture). People who have visited to offer prayers during the services can write their prayers onto a small wooden plaque which is then added to the display.

Next: Metro-hopping to catch some big sights!

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

My Adventures In Japan - Day 7

Sunday 11th November 2012

Despite the turn in the weather, today was another exciting day for me because there's one thing I really wanted to do when I was in Japan.

We got the train to Shibuya, which is a pretty confusing place when you step out of the station! You're faced with a bus depot and we had to go upstairs onto the walkway and decide on our direction from there. I'm amazed we managed to get to our destination because the map was pretty confusing but I'd been warned that it was hard to find.

Then we saw it, the bright exterior next to the dull surrounding buildings, it was Junie Moon!

For those who don't know, Junie Moon is the official shop for Blythe. It's not a big store, and I was hoping for a wider range of accessories, but they did have a lot of lovely dolls to look at and I felt that it was a better museum than a doll shop. I only got a couple of photos, you're not meant to take pictures inside.

I bought some socks and a Hopeful Heart Care Bear for Blythe, but I also managed to buy a little something that I'd wanted for a while and had set my sights on long before our trip...

..and this is Vesper, my new stock Manuheauli'i Paradise Girl Blythe. Her hair is amazing, so long and soft, but I plan to mattify her face, once I become brave enough!

I had to carry her about all day, dying to take her out of the box, but we had other things to see and do!

We headed back towards the train station in an attempt to find a restaurant we'd read about. In order to get there we had to tackle what is widely regarded as the world's busiest pedestrian crossing, which apparently up to 2-3,000 negotiate at any one time.

After lunch we did a little shopping, how could I not go into this Disney Store?! And why did I not buy that Minnie Mouse?! I also had my first ever Krispy Kreme doughnut (and my second too)! Yum!

It started to rain as we approached Yoyogi Park, so I'm not sure if we missed most of the Harajuku girls I'd heard about or if they just weren't there.  There were young guys with light sabres too but they were just finishing up.

We did manage to catch the Rockabilly dancers before they left and seeing them was my main reason for going.

It was getting pretty dark by the time we got to Meiji Shrine, which is just adjacent to Yoyogi Park.

There are lots of shops in this area, and I don't think I've mentioned this before, but in Japan the majority of shops are open til pretty late into the evening. I'd really wanted to look around but my feet were absolutely aching again, so we visited a couple then grabbed something to eat in a local coffee shop before heading back to fix up my feet and watch The Three Muskateers in Japanese!

Next: The Great Buddha of Kamakura

Monday, 26 November 2012

My Adventures In Japan - Day 5 & 6

Friday 9th November 2012

Remember when you were little and it was Christmas and you were so excited you could hardly breathe and you felt like you were going to explode? That was how I felt today.

For today was the day that we travelled to Tama Center, the home of Sanrio Puroland, also known as Hello Kitty Land!

OK, so it doesn't look like much from the outside, but the inside WOW!

This place is the cutest place on earth and it made me totally gush with girly-ness and I was a mess of ecstatic grinning and hand-clapping and waving at people dressed up in costumes! I was worse than the schoolkids that were there!

This is what greeted us:

See what I mean?! Cute eh?!

I refrained from hugging them til their little heads fell off and we ventured into the main area. Our first stop was the boat ride:

We then saw a couple of shows, one in the main bit with the Jewelpets and one in the Entertainment Hall featuring Ichigoman and Darkgrapeman. They were good, but not as good as the Wizard Of Oz and Mymelody's Legend of Stars and Flowers!

There was also a Christmas themed parade where everyone sat around the outside and floats and dancers put on a show circling the massive tree in the centre.

Everywhere you go here there's something cute to look at.

And the shopping was excellent! I especially love Cinnamon and my new bag!

We paid ¥4,400 (£35) each for a passport which gave us entry to all the attractions and shows. Passports for kids are either ¥4,000 (£32) or ¥3,300 (£26) depending on their age, but you can save money by purchasing in advance or by buying a Welcome Ticket which is only for entrance and free shows. Although there's no vegetarian lunch option here the staff were really helpful and altered a dish for us.

Oh and before I forget, a word on public toilets.  You get two types, Western or Japanese, Western being the ones we're used to and Japanese ones being a sort of sunken bowl/trough.  So if you have a preference, check first.  Carry tissues or toilet roll and a hanky, which you'll see for sale pretty much everywhere, to dry your hands with.

But back to Sanrio Puroland.  This was my favourite day of the holiday because I am a big kid and I'd actually like to live there.  It may be too sickly sweet or girly for some but all the kids (big and small!) got into the spirit and seemed totally mesmerised.

Saturday 10th November 2012

Our mission for today was to head to Nakano Broadway, a huge maze of shops under one roof selling all sorts. We were there mainly for Mandarake, which sells all sorts of anime, manga, Blythe, Studio Ghibli, Re-Ment, that sort of thing.  It not only sells new things but also some second hand stuff too.

There were a few bookshops and we decided to buy some Japanese books so we could attempt to read them at some point. I picked up a graphic novel, a kids book and a Blythe sewing book.

There were a few sewing books for dolls but it's pretty hard to choose because they are quite expensive for the number of outfits you get, especially if you only have one type of doll, and you're bound to like outfits from a few books!  The main ones were Dollybird and Dolly-Dolly, so I just picked an issue where I like most of the outfits. Plus it's all in Japanese so I'm not sure how well I'll get on with following the instructions!

We had lunch at Korinbo, a very small vegetarian restaurant within the centre and got a great meal for  ¥1,000 (£8).

All my doll friends will be happy to finally see some pictures of related stuff, so here goes:

There were a few dolls for sale here, some boxed, some custom and some unboxed.  I took a shine to one doll but she had some strange markings on her arm which made me think that she was a factory doll and although her hair was a beautiful colour it was in really bad condition so I decided it wasn't worth it as she wasn't any cheaper than buying one on eBay.

I treated Blythe to some new outfits, which were pretty reasonably priced because they were second-hand.

The Star Trek uniform is obviously not for Blythe, but the packaging had barely any description so I decided to get it anyway.  I might be able to do something with it.  The ballerina outfit seems to be mostly from Blythe Prima Dolly Violettina, although she's missing a tu-tu so I'll need to pick that up.  Does this outfit usually have tights? If not they're an extra!

I also got a poncho from Pow Wow Poncho's stock outfit and a Jenny t-shirt, which Blythe is modelling in amongst some fabric which I bought to make bedding! I'd hoped to pick up some cheap fabric but it costs pretty much the same, but I got a few remnants to make a kimono and other clothes for her too.

Next: Shibuya and Harajuku, complete with the Rockabilly dancers and the start of the more spiritual side of Japan.
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Maira Gall