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Discovering Japan.

A fabulous insight from Angela one of our Ponders team on her recent journey to Japan.

Since I was 15 years old and at school learning about the culture in Japan, MY DREAM was one day I would visit Japan.
Dreams can come true!!!
I made it come true by booking on the Great Railways tour “Discovering Japan”.
No need for any vaccinations for Japan and no visa required.
It was a 13 day trip from London Heathrow with Virgin Atlantic but you can get local flights. Flying into Narita airport, Tokyo took approximately 12 hours flight give or take half hour.
I chose to travel in April because I was particularly interested in seeing the famous cherry blossom parks and gardens full of this amazing blaze of colour everywhere along the street in peoples gardens along the road side just about everywhere. Depending on the weather and which part of Japan you are the blossom is fullest early April in Shinjuku Park, Tokyo, £1.20 admission fee.
Hiroshima, Takayama and Matsumoto all had blossom in full bloom
Our English speaking guide informed us we had hit the jackpot with the blossom because after we left Tokyo it rained and the wind blew all the petals off the trees.
Hakone and the Mount Fuji area the blossom trees were still in tight bud ready to burst into colour and flower in late April ready for the next trip which arrived mid-April.
So we saw the blossom in the other areas, but sadly not all places as the temperature was much cooler.
Once arriving in Tokyo you realise how clean, safe and amazingly exciting it is. So much to see and do with a very good metro system fairly easy to administer with help of the English speaking railway workers.
Wonderful shopping, restaurants, parks, museums. We came across a ‘3 coin’ shop which was the equivalent to our pound land!!
Temples and shrines are a short ride away by coach, the government building 45 floors high had a restaurant with spectacular views over Tokyo so safe so clean and modern.
Of course there is Disney Land in Tokyo a great day out as well as. Hotels in Tokyo are all high rise and of a good standard.
The highlight of the trip beside Mount Fuji was the travel on the fantastic Bullet trains.
We went from Tokyo to Hiroshima the train stopped at 9 station in 5 hours, reaching up to 186mph. Japanese train hostess passed through the carriages with drinks and snacks on a trolley.
We stayed at the Riga Royal Hotel in Hiroshima 4 star plus central location with good facilities.
We were recommended a pancake restaurant on the 4th floor where the smell of fried food just hits you and the Japanese gathering together made it an ideal travellers place to experiment.
The shopping was just amazing in Hiroshima. The city is vibrant but calm after the destruction of the A-bomb which we learnt about on a walking trip. It had a serene feel to the atmosphere.
We walked to the Hiroshima Memorial Park and the A-Bomb dome museum called this because the dome was the only building remaining after the bomb struck on 6/8/1945 at 8.15am and flattened the whole of Hiroshima completely. The hire of headsets with commentary is an absolute must at 500 yen (£3).
Having seen devastation in WW2, Hiroshima is now a symbol of peace and a beautiful rebuilt city.
The paper cranes are a sign of remembrance and people make them from all over the world and bring them to this park in memories of those who died.
By tram we travel to Miyajima Guchi ferry by tram which took us to miyajima island. We enjoy a walking tour and visit to Itsukashima shrine. Very interesting and beautiful island well worth a visit. Back to Hiroshima by ferry and tram.
After leaving Hiroshima we made our way to Kyoto, Japans capital for more than a 1000 years by bullet train taking 2 hours passing the longest bridge in Japan called Akashi.
On Arrival in Kyoto the most amazing station in the world. Waterfalls, light shows, shops, restaurants, outside cafes, we walked to the hotel Riga Royal very traditional hotel. On arrival we were amazed to see a display of Geisha girls performing, and handing out the Japanese rice wine sake.
In Kyoto the highlight was the Kyoto tower which we went up and checked out the view.
The view point from the 32nd floor had telescopes which you could view up to 45 kilometres away.
At night they have a dancing fountain show to music pretty spectacular not as good as Dubai though!!
We came across a chain of restaurants called the soup shack excellent price, combo trays, soup and rice or rice, soup and curry every variety under the sun. The food has not disappointed us yet!
Places to see in Kyoto:
Kinkakuju Temple (Golden pavilion) 10kg of gold in weight two tiers at the top, its reflection still in the water. The temple surrounded by nature, cherry blossom, pine trees, crane bird’s and coy carp.
Kiyomizu temple, orange in colour amazing photos, and many girls in kimonos. Here we have cherry blossom ice cream-delicious.
Tea ceremony takes place in a typical Japanese thatched farm house set amongst formal gardens. All very interesting it’s like drinking pea soup!! 100% fermented so the tea is frothy as it has been whisked up and you are supposed to slurp it to signify you have finished.
The ceremony takes around half an hour.
Kyoto is the home of the geisha school. The narrow alleys quiet and beautiful with little restaurants all vacated by the geisha girls entertaining men with dancing and singing and listening to their problems.
Here we find a restaurants and have tempura prawns, tofu ,miso soup, sticky rice, marinated chicken skewers, fried fish slices and pickles washed down with oolong tea (or beer)!
We board the Kintetsu express train to Nara where we visit Todai-ji temple and its great Buddha (ponders cover picture).
The deer park was quite fun with tame deer roaming around. You could buy biscuits to feed them but they were after any food!
We returned to Kyoto by train and have lots of free time.

Depart Kyoto to reach our destination Nagoya and change trains boarding the Wide View Hida train for a scenic journey into the mountainous Japanese Alps to Takayama.
A fascinating town of narrow streets, wooden houses which is almost untouched by time. We explore many ancient temples, shrines and traditional inns. We learn that it snowed here 2 days before we arrive but for us the sun was out and it had all melted.
The river Miyagawa runs through this pretty town with lots of bridges to walk across. The cherry blossom isn’t fully out as it’s been too cold. We stroll down the streets dipping in and out of souvenir shops.
In the Hotel Buena Vista we sample the public baths on the roof top 9th floor. The tradition here is to be naked. Quite an experience, the baths were very hot, just what we needed to soothe our aching muscles.
In the afternoon we leave Takayama for the Hida folk village an open air museum dating back 500 years.
Continue to Matsumoto by coach and visit the Matsumoto castle an impressive fortress completed in 1593.
Continuing our journey to the base of Mount Fuji where we arrive at the visitors centre and watch a DVD to learn about the snow-capped peak that last erupted in 1707.
This drive shows us the weather in japan goes to the extremes from hot to cold. We stay at Hakone hotel for 1 night set in the foothills of Mount Fuji surrounded by lakes, forest and hot springs. We enjoy a short cruise on tranquil Lake Ashi a former crater lake. Cable car up to the sulphurous hot springs of Owukudani stinks of bad eggs from the sulphur. We continue back down to visit French gardens which had all sorts of beautiful flowers quite spectacular. Travel back to Tokyo in a ‘romance car’ (train) on a picturesque narrow gage line.
Tonight we have a farewell dinner. We enjoyed the food, Tappan Yaki, sticky rice, miso soup, true Japanese style. Tappan meaning ‘cooked on a hot iron plate’ and ‘Yaki’ meaning grilled.
This trip is the really the best way to see Japan the train was fast efficient, exciting on time and the whole experiences were truly Amazing.
I will go back and visit the beaches and other Islands next time , there is so much I didn’t do, but the little taste of Japan I had has made me want to visit again and again.

1833 1908



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