OCTOBER 10th 2019

Our final destination in Japan was Shizuoka which is 143km from Tokyo and is on the coast.  It is well known for scenic views of Mt Fuji and for it’s green tea production. Our journey from Osaka took two and a half hours and we found our hotel was next to the station, and in the city centre as well.  We had two nights booked and the rugby game was against Georgia.  Unfortunately a typhoon warning was out once we arrived and it soon became obvious that there would be no transport anywhere for the next few days.

Undeterred we walked into the city and explored the area and especially the tea shops where I bought a packet of powdered green tea which is a speciality of the region..  The other speciality is fish and so we took advantage of the fact that trains were still running and jumped on a local train to the fish market at the port.  Here we found a wonderful market with little cafes and restaurants serving all day.


Everywhere we have been in Japan the market has beautiful fish roe and it is plentiful and really delicious.


Oysters are also a speciality here and they are really huge – of course Eva had to try!


We found a little cafe and had a sashimi lunch which was delicious. We were highly amused with the signage…


More delicious food awaited us that night as we found a very typical restaurant in the town where there were no foreigners, no English and only one other woman inside!  It seems Japanese men call in to restaurants for a meal after work and before they go home. This place was no different, the men all in business attire and carrying briefcases and most smoking heavily!  However, the sashimi there was excellent.


The day of the match dawned windy and wet – clearly the typhoon was on track but nothing was cancelled.  Although we had tickets for the game, we opted to watch the game from a bar close to the hotel and with other patrons – both Japanese and European – mostly barracking for Australia.  A tasty meal at the bar with new friends created a very convivial atmosphere. Seems we made the right decision as the rain increased and it was uncomfortable for those at the stadium which wasn’t under cover.



All our future travel plans had to be cancelled and revised as no one was going anywhere the following day.  All trains, buses and road transport were cancelled and everything was closed, fortunately the restaurants at the hotel were serving food so unlike some, we didn’t have to worry about stocking up with dried noodles and anything else the corner shop had in stock! We had an extra two nights in the hotel, frantically trying to find accommodation in Tokyo and a flight out – to anywhere!  Eventually we found a room in a small hotel at Hanaeda airport and managed to get a flight to Hong Kong so we could hook up with our original return plans.  Another night and day in Hong Kong was organised and sadly our plans to go to Macau and drive across the new bridge had to be abandoned. The typhoon didn’t impact on us in Shizuoka apart from wind and rain but it was quite devastating in other areas closer to Tokyo.

A final lunch in Tokyo at the station and a meal at Hanaeda brought the end to our fantastic five weeks in Japan – we love the country, the people, the culture and the food.  We will definitely return.









OCTOBER 8th, 2019

Osaka is Japan’s second largest metropolitan area after Tokyo and is only a thirteen minute ride on the Shinkansen train – or half an hour on a Special Rapid Train – from Kobe.  As we had the Japan Rail Pass we chose the former and were in Osaka almost before we knew we had left Kobe!

Our hotel, The Imperial, is on the water and the views from our room were beautiful both by day and night.  There is a lovely Riverwalk just outside the hotel as well.


We explored the neighbourhood on foot and later caught a local train to Namba in the Minami area.  This area is lively at night with illuminated billboards and flashing neon signs.  There are dozens of shops and restaurants and bars all vying for business and we strolled the streets and observed the people.  It is incredible how many are watching their smartphones even whilst walking, waiting for transport or friends, or just because…


The shops had a variety of goods but one which was totally fascinating was a kitchen ware store with literally thousands of items of stock.  How I would have loved to have been able to take stuff home but with very light luggage that was not possible – fortunate perhaps.


We found a tiny restaurant which had amazing sashimi and tofu so once again we feasted very well in a local establishment with no tourists other than us!


This city has whiskey and gin distilleries – and no doubt a plethora of sake makers but we found a gin which suited our palates and was, strangely enough, made in Kyoto!


Having been to the Osaka Castle on a previous visit and disinclined to visit more museums with little English explanations, we decided to do a Red Bus tour of the city which proved to be very enlightening.  The city is vast and has many different areas and the best way to cover it overall is to do the Red Bus Tour – as we have found in other cities in the world.


There is a lovely river which cuts through the centre of the city and a few parks but there are also acres of concrete and old dwellings mixed in with brand new skyscrapers – which makes for an interesting vista.


Then there are the traffic wardens who take their jobs very seriously


and finally even modern art finds it’s way into the urban metropolis


For a couple of days of hectic city life, Osaka fits the bill but my preference will always be the slower paces such as Kobe.  We enjoyed Osaka and no doubt will return, meantime our last rugby game was scheduled for Shizuoka and that was to be our final stop in Japan.



KOBE – and a step back in time

6th OCTOBER 2019:  Our next destination was Kobe, a city which opened as an international port in 1868.  It is a beautiful location that stretches between mountains and the ocean. For me this has a personal connection.  My grandparents were married here in 1914.  My grandfather worked for Lever Brothers – now Unilever – and was sent to Japan in 1912 to open a soap factory for the company.  Foreigners began working and settling in Kobe only forty years beforehand and the settlement was in its infancy. The area known as Kitano was where the foreigners built their homes, it was close to the port and on the slopes of Mt. Rokko.  I was keen to see where my family lived and worked, especially as I have done a considerable amount of research on life in Kobe at that time.

Our train journey from Oita took about two hours to Osaka which is very close to Kobe. We had booked a hotel right on the water and close to the old foreign settlement.  As it happened this was where the Rugby Fanzone was situated and so we were able to wander down to the area and see a match on the big screen, have a few drinks and enjoy the atmosphere and try to win prizes!



This area is relatively new and the port has grown in recent years.  In 1945 during World War 2 the main area of Kobe was destroyed by bombs but the Kitano area was saved as it was a foreign settlement.  However, years later earthquakes devastated the city and many areas were affected – although once again, somehow Kitano escaped relatively unscathed.

The Port area – known as Harborland – is full of restaurants, shops and bars and we had no trouble finding a great place to eat as well as watching entertainment.


Many of the restaurants had plastic images of the food on their menu – including one for children complete with an Australian flag! This is quite useful when language is a problem – just point to the dish you fancy.

We took a taxi up to Kitano which has now been designated under the “Important Preservation Districts for Groups of Traditional Buildings” act by the government. Immediately we could see the attraction the early foreigners saw – on a hill with cool breezes and a view.  Several houses have been restored and are open to the public either as museums or restaurants and it is a lovely area to stroll around.


Some of the streets are very narrow and steep and in the past would have had rickshaws as transport or maybe just two feet! This is where my grandparents had a house, which is sadly no more but the block is there with a remains of a building.

Close to Kitano is the Shin-Kobe Ropeway which is a ten minute cable car ride up Mt. Rokko. At the top is the Kobe Nunobiki Herb Garden which is one of Japan’s largest herb gardens with about 75,000 herbs and flower gardens with around 200 varieties plus a series of Glasshouses, fragrance museum and cafe and restaurant.


It was a beautiful day and we had stunning panoramic views on all sides of the cabin.  We could also see the western part of Osaka and the Seto Inland Sea.  Passing over waterfalls and cultivated gardens, the ride was a surprise to say the least.



At the top we found a European style building which was the Fragrance Museum and cafe and a pleasant outdoor seating area.


After a cold drink and a wander around the museum and shop, we were advised to walk down to the mid station and along the way admire the herbs and gardens and the Glasshouses mid way.  It was fascinating; the herbs were all grouped in various categories – the Potager (kitchen herbs) was lush and sweet smelling, as were all the herbs which are tended daily and made me wish I could do even half as good a job at growing!


Then we reached the Glasshouses and another surprise awaited.  This was a tropical paradise with masses of flowers, potted plants and a mini waterfall and stream in several greenhouses.  It was totally magical and in one we came across what was to be my favourite of the whole exhibition – a beautiful statue of a Mother and Child, presented in 1993 by the Italian city of Terni to Kobe.  The sculpture embodies the desire for eternal friendship and for love to be nurtured throughout the world.


The lushness of the tropical garden complete with butterflies and birds made it hard to to tear ourselves away, there is so much to savour and enjoy.

In another section is an area representing the interior of a home – with a dining setting and bunches of dried herbs.  Outside is a gorgeous terrace where we had a glass of wine before taking the cable car back to the bottom.


This Ropeway and Gardens is definitely something every visitor to Kobe should do, it is surely one of the best places to be in Kobe.  At night the views are apparently amazing with the sunset and then twinkling night lights of the city.  We didn’t do it this time but if we ever return, that is on the Must Do list.

Our time in Kobe was short but sweet and once again, we felt that it warranted another trip to Japan – next time to visit the onsen at Arima which is close by.  For now though we have lovely memories of this “City of Love” with strong feelings of family.


OITA – A welcoming city

OCTOBER 3rd 2019 :  I had never heard of Oita when starting to plan this trip.  It is located on the southern island of Kyushu and was around three and a half hours by train from Hiroshima.  Again we took the Shinkansen but to Kokura station where we changed to a smaller train which travelled over the bridge linking the two islands.  This area is known for numerous hot springs and onsen and the town of Beppu – around 45 minutes from Oita – is famous for onsen.  Our time here was limited but had we known what a delightful place this is, we would have planned a different itinerary!

The city of Oita was chosen for our World Cup rugby match against Uruguay.  On arrival at Oita station we had no doubt we were in the right city!


This huge statue (made of a sort of paper mache) greeted everyone exiting the station and there were numerous flags and advertising throughout the city.  The community was obviously very proud to have been chosen as a venue for several games.  My favourite is this one below


This cat heralded everyone on the main street and was on our walk from the station to the hotel.  I love the look on his face!

Unlike other major cities in Japan, this one has a relaxed feel about it and is modern and unhurried.  Many of the streets have cobbled paving stones and some of the buildings are historical and have been restored and are used for galleries, a museum, and coffee shops.


On our first evening we wandered from the hotel to look for a place for dinner and came across a pedestrian area where there was clearly a celebration of sorts happening. TV camera were in action and reporters were wandering around.  We were “dragged” into the midst of this and found ourselves in a street party.  There was a jazz musician, a dancer and several pavement bars and food outlets.  They were delighted we had come across this event – I think to publicise the game and the fact that tourists were coming to the city – and we were invited to sit and enjoy the party with the hosts! What a night it was!


Language was no problem – with my very few phrases, sign language and the help of a phrase book, we found new friends and had a wonderful evening with excellent restaurant recommendations from the locals.

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to explore far from the city as the following day we had to get to the stadium for the game – this was some way out of the city and involved a bus ride which was interesting as it gave us more insight to this place and the organisation was exceptional.

On arrival at the Stadium the noise was deafening – the Taiko Drummers were in action.  If there is one thing I love about Japanese music, it is the Taiko.  Here in this enormous space the atmosphere was electrifying.


As in other venues, there was a sea of green and gold and there was uplifting music and cheering – especially when Australia won against Uruguay.  I have to admit I don’t know that much about rugby but have become an expert on the crowd behaviour after three World Cups over twelve years!


Walking to the Fanzone later that evening we had more traditional food stalls and very welcoming locals.


Sadly it all came to an end too soon and we had to farewell Oita but with a determination to return and explore more of this southern island of Kyushu.

HIROSHIMA and a call for PEACE

OCTOBER 3RD 2019 : We decided to spend a night in Hiroshima on our way to Oita for another rugby game.  It was a good decision.  Hiroshima is far from depressing – it has new buildings and wide, leafy boulevards.  The public bus system is easy to navigate and our first destination to visit was obviously the Peace Park.  On 6th August 1945 Hiroshima became  the target of the world’s first atomic bomb attack. The Peace Park is a reminder of that day and has many moving messages of Peace.  I personally found the museum a bit confronting and could only take in so much sadness, however the Park itself is wonderful with lots of statues, memorials and the central feature, which is a long tree lined Pond of Peace leading to the cenotaph.  This is a curved concrete monument holding the names of all the known victims of the bomb. The Flame of Peace at the pond is set to burn until all the world’s nuclear weapons are destroyed.

Hiroshima-03Just beyond the cenotaph is the Atomic Bomb Dome which is a very sobering sight.


This building was built in 1915 by a Czech architect and was the Industrial Promotion Hall until the bomb exploded almost directly above it.  Everyone was killed but the building was left standing and a decision was made after the war to leave the shell standing as a permanent memorial.

I loved the Children’s Peace Monument which was inspired by a little girl who was 2 years old at the time.  When she developed leukaemia at the age of 11 she decided to fold 1000 paper cranes.  In Japan the crane is a symbol of longevity and happiness and she believed that if she achieved her target she would recover.  Sadly she died before she reached her goal but her classmates folded the rest.  The monument was built in 1958 and her story inspired a nationwide spate of paper cranes which continues to this day – we were given some on arrival in Sapporo for example.  Surrounding this monument are strings of literally thousands of colourful paper cranes sent by children all over the world as well as Japan.


We walked all over the park and enjoyed the serenity of it all as well as the monuments which are artistic in their own way and very meaningful.

Later we walked to Hiroshima Castle which was originally constructed in 1589 but was totally destroyed by the bomb.  It was rebuilt in 1958 and is now a museum.  The Castle is surrounded by a moat which is full of carp – and weeds – and is impressive.  We climbed up to the 5th floor – looking at the historical artefacts on each floor which didn’t have much explanation in English, so again imagination came to play – and we had a wonderful view of the city and surrounding park.




Strolling through the Park we came across a Shinto Temple and a wedding party had just arrived.  It was a thrill to see the traditional dress.  The bride in a Shinto gown and the groom in a dark coloured costume which involved a skirt.  This prompted a google search on Shinto weddings!

We enjoyed this cosmopolitan city and the covered shopping malls but most of all we came away with a deeper understanding of the dreadful nuclear event of 1945 and the ramifications it has had for generations afterwards.




OCTOBER 2nd 2019:  We started this trip with the idea of seeing more of rural Japan and venturing into previously untapped areas.  Now, with the Olympics in Japan in 2020 everything is geared towards ensuring visitors see and do it all!  We heard about a wild river trip through the hills of west Kyoto and at the same time we could see the famous Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama.

We had to get to the town of Kameoka and this we did by taking a local JR train and then we found a local bus which took us to the departure point for the boats. The boats depart hourly and take 20 passengers – we found that they departed when full and within the half hour we were aboard a small wooden traditional flat bottomed boat which was steered by three boatmen with bamboo poles and oars.

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The ride takes about two hours and is around 16 kilometres along the Hozu river. Beautiful mountains line the river banks and the colours were just turning autumn red which made a simply beautiful landscape.

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Eagles, cormorants and kingfishers were abundant and there were sections of the river that were calm and others that were quite thrilling with strong currents and shallow water over rocks – rather like white water rafting!

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It was quiet and so peaceful and we saw small temples and little settlements along the way.

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Finally we reached Arashiyama and the Togetsukyo Bridge.  This region has been designated by the Japanese Government as a Place of Scenic Beauty.  We farewelled our crew who were smiling and so helpful and in spite of language problems we managed to learn a lot about life on the river and the people who live as they have done for hundreds of years.

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Arashiyama is known for the Bamboo Grove and hundreds of tourists visit each year.  It was a bit of a shock to find lots of people wandering in the small village – having spent two hours in peaceful solitude on the river – but we found a small restaurant for lunch and then made our way to the Bamboo.  It was the biggest disappointment – too many people and nothing much to see or experience because of the crowds so we left fairly soon! It was impossible to get near the temple or to hear the legends of the place – so I guess we just have to imagine what happened in the past!

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KYOTO – Japan’s Oldest Capital

October 1st 2019 and another train trip – this time to Kyoto.  We were getting very confident riding the Shinkansen and now that all signs are in Japanese as well as English it is much easier to find where you have to be and at what time.  We had booked an ‘apartment hotel’ and found it on one of the main streets of Kyoto and within walking distance to the Gion district.


A small hotel with very friendly and accommodating staff, we found our apartment which, in reality, was a small double room with bathroom.  A tiny kitchen was squeezed in and in order to make a sitting room, the bed folded up into the wall.  It is ingenious how space is used in Japan!

Kyoto is known as old Japan – with quiet temples, peaceful gardens, shinto shrines and wooden houses.  As well there are geishas in the Gion – or entertainment district – and today they are also very much a tourist attraction.  We had a pre dinner drink by the river one evening and a young geisha introduced herself and sat with us for a photo before moving on to the next table!


Nevertheless it is lovely to see traditional dress and the colours are vibrant although how the poor women walk in the traditional shoes I will forever wonder.  I am told they have to have one size too small – maybe that is why the steps are so mincing.

A highlight for us was walking the Path of Philosophy.  We caught a bus to  Nyakuoji-bashi where the Path starts.  The walk itself only takes about half an hour and is named for one of its most famous strollers – a 20th century philosopher called  Nishida Kitaro who is said to have meandered lost in thought along the path.


The path runs along a canal lined with cherry trees and colourful plants and tiny shops selling traditional paper, handicrafts, tea and porcelain are along the way. Beautiful houses with stunning gardens line one side of the canal and on the other are bench seats where people were sitting having their lunch or just meditating.  It was all so peaceful.


Another highlight was a visit to the Nishiki Market which is covered and has a lot of weird and wonderful foods such as pickled vegetables, Japanese sweets, yakitori skewers, and tofu as well as knives and kitchenware. Souvenirs to take home from here include pickles, tea, sake, rice crackers – and if we were allowed, dried fish snacks.  Sadly we cannot take those home but we enjoyed them whilst there!

The narrow pedestrian streets and wooden houses, colourful lanterns and elite restaurants and bars make the Ponto-cho area a pleasant place to walk in the evening.


Kyoto has something for everyone and there is so much to see and do that a return visit is very definitely required!



September 26th 2019 and we had a two and a half hour journey to Tokyo from Kanazawa aboard the Shinkansen Hokuriku line.  Knowing we were travelling during a meal time, we decided to buy bento boxes from the well stocked shop at the railway station.  These lunch boxes came elaborately packed and with a variety of foods inside.  I opted for a smart red and black box with matching chopsticks and inside were tasty morsels of rice, pickles seaweed salad and a couple of other things I didn’t recognise but which were delicious!



Richard’s box was called “The Samurai” and was larger but what was in it was anyone’s guess.  I think I made the right choice!


The train – a super high speed Shinkansen was comfortable – we were in the Green Car – and scenery flashed past almost too quickly!  My only comment overall about these high speed trains after travelling on them for almost 5 weeks, is that there are far too many tunnels!


Stations are clean and very well organised – with hostesses for the Deluxe and Green cars. On board snacks and drinks are sold from a trolley and cool towels are handed out at the start of your journey – which is a lovely touch.


Tokyo is easy to get around.  The sprawling city can be accessed readily by public transport which runs very regularly and efficiently.  We were staying in Shinjuku but managed to get around with our Suica transport cards allowing us to travel on buses and trains merely by swiping the card – and topping it up when credit ran low.

A modern city in many respects, I love how the old blends with the new.


There are a lot of parks and gardens and iconic structures such as the Tokyo Tower and the Skytree Tower.





Everywhere we went there were reminders of the World Cup Rugby being played all over Japan – that is why we were there after all.


And even at the Fish market – where we had THE most delicious lunch, we were promoting the rugby!


We attended an Australian Rugby Union function at Tokyo Bay – which was quite a long way from Shinjuku but we took the train and found that, the world over, people are the same and obsessed with their devices!


Tokyo Bay is close to Haneda airport – the old International Airport – with lovely views from the park close to the cruise terminal.



The function was prior to the game Australia v. Wales and was an opportunity to meet up with old friends, hear about the team and meet some new people along with delicious food and wine/beer.  An ingenious way to refill beer glasses was a roving waiter with Heineken beer on tap…..



We were given a bag containing memorabilia and cheer aids – including these rather fetching “Happy Coats”


Then it was off to the Tokyo Stadium for the game – with a capacity crowd, of which around 40,000 were apparently Australians, the atmosphere was electric.



It was a good game but sadly we didn’t win this time.  One win and one loss so far with two more games to go.  Meanwhile we have more exploring to do!








If you would like to step back in time and experience life in rural Japan a century or more ago – then a visit to Shirakawago is the answer. We took a bus from Kanazawa to the World Heritage listed village which was a journey of about an hour and a half. The village is located in the Gifu Prefecture and has a population of just over a thousand people. It is a mountain village with steep forests which drop into the Sho River. A number of tunnels have been built in recent years which makes it easier to reach the village from Kanazawa, Takayama and Gifu.

The village is known primarily for its traditional houses built in the Gassho style. Some of these are more than 250 years old.

These houses are built to withstand heavy snow but are also susceptible to fire at any time of year due to the wooden structure and thatched roofing. They are characterised by the large, steep thatch roof which resembles hands folded in prayer. Today the residents are farmers and rice fields are throughout the village. During our village the farmers were harvesting the rice.

It was amusing to see traditional scarecrows in place – which obviously have some effect.

It is easy to stroll around the village which has a very peaceful air – unhurried and with very little traffic.

It seems to be a village of harmony which welcomes visitors yet maintains a traditional way of life.

From there we hopped onto a local bus to the city of Takayama – about 50 minutes away. The population here is around 88,000 but again it is easy to walk around, especially in the traditional area which is part of the Hida province.

Several streets with old houses which now house many restaurants and craft shops lie parallel to the Main Street of the town. Craft here is mainly carpentry, lacquerware, pottery and the charm dolls known as Sarubobos. These are traditionally passed from grandmothers to grandchildren and mothers to daughters and are now sold as souvenirs. The local foods are mountain vegetables, beef, soba, ramen and sake.The Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine is right in the middle of the town and is a 5th century shrine which is visited by more than 1,500,000 people annually. In 1683 it was officially established for the protection of the town. It is truly an awesome place to visit and a tree in front of the shrine is said to be 1200 years old.

There are many other attractions to visit in Takayama including hikes, a Ropeway, back country skiing, Markets and visits to the Hida Folk Museum. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to do it all, so we will just have to return!


I had heard that Kanazawa, located between the western mountain ranges of Honshu and the Sea of Japan, was often referred to as Little Kyoto. I was not disappointed. This is the most charming place and one which I sincerely hope we will visit again.

A Castle town with beautiful gardens, narrow streets, traditional precincts and some intriguing samurai houses, it is easy to walk around and explore several parts of the city in one day.

We stayed in a typical Japanese dwelling in a cute neighbourhood within walking distance of the station.

Familiarising ourselves with the area, we walked first to the Omicho Market which sells everything from fish to clothing.

A short stroll further on and we found the magnificent Kanazawa Castle with its magnificent Kenrokuen Gardens. The gardens have been Heritage listed and are a place of serenity with winding streams, lakes, ponds and landscaping.

Moss was everywhere and many of the trees were centuries old.

Another quaint area is Higashi-Chaya-Gai which is an old area along the river where there are old samurai houses and narrow streets, lots of tiny restaurants and craft shops. We saw some Kimono clad ladies walking slowly along the street and immediately imagined ourselves back in time.

We saw a few ladies wearing kimono and one totally fascinated me and I wondered about the comfort of this type of dress – particularly on a bus one day when one lady was unable to lean back in her seat due to the obi behind!

It is the simple things that make a place memorable – and we will always remember Kanazawa with affection and hope to return one day in not too distant future.