Nov 05

2013 – Week 43

The plan to do weekly blog posts lasted nearly 3 months, so it was a start. Let’s see if I can finish off the end of the year with weekly posts.

Reading

On holiday, I read a lot of books about Japan or by Japanese authors. When looking up what would be good to read, a lot of the recommended books were not available on a Kindle, so did not make it with me, but I plan to find them and buy. So reading there included:

  • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami By a Japanese author and set in Japan, but not really about Japan. it’s a bit fantasy, a bit ‘novel’ and not really the type of book i would normally read. But strangely satisfying in its weirdness.
  • Lost Japan by Alex Kerr (Lonely Planet). A collection of essays about Japanese life and culture over the last 30 years from the perspective of an American. it’s more a yearning for what has been lost rather than what is there now
  • Shogun, James Clavell. I’ve never read this, but have a vague recollection of watching it on TV. Really food story telling about early 17th century Japan.

Moving away from books, articles I have been catching up on include:

Doing

  • Attended Playful 2013. After last years blogposts, I got asked back to do some liveblogging again for this conference. Post of the posts are already live – there’s a couple more to add though.
  • Saw Much Ado About Nothing at the Old Vic. With James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave. I’ve never seen (or read) this play before so, with nothing to compare against, the casting of an older Benedict and Beatrice was fine with me. Having seen Othello earlier in the year though, it did bring home that women seem to be untrusted when it comes to love and fidelity in these Shakespeare plays.
  • Had a visit from the parents. They brought along some GORGEOUS planting pots to keep my growbag garden out of growbags and a lot more tidy!
    Untitled
  • Saw part of Rhizome’s Seven on Seven London event, after seeing that Naveen, someone I knew from New York would be talking
  • Caught up with Robert Scoble, an old friend from the US, who was over here publicizing his new book, the Age of Context.

Training

I’m adding another category – as I’ve managed to get into the London Marathon, then it think it would be useful to keep track of my activities! This was the first week of my marathon training plan!

  • 3.68miles (10:36min/m)lunchtime jog. First real outing since the half marathon, also first one at lunchtime. Think I’m going to be doing more of these in the winter!
  • 5.17m (11:40min/m) Run into work
  • 3.02m (11:32mim/m) Evening jog, nice and steady
  • 6.58m (10:39min/m) Weekend long run
Oct 21

Japan: The Last Days

Japan Last Days: Tokyo

After the touristing of the last 2 weeks, the last 2 days were basically travel. First of all we travelled from Hiroshima back to Tokyo via Shinkansen, the bullet train. We were staying in the Shinjiku area, so wandered along to the park Hyatt (as all the reviews say, made famous by the film Lost in Translation). We were too late for afternoon tea, but had a drink and watched the darkness fall across the city from the 41st floor. Pity the weather was so bad, as I guess it looks wonderful with clear skies!

Untitled

Japan Last Days: Tokyo

Then the travel home.Up at 5. train to airport, 12 hour flight. And miracle of miracles, the tubes actually working to take us both back to our respective homes. At the airport we were offered a deal for one of us to be bumped down to economy (for miles or pounds) but the answer was definitely no! I’m guessing somebody said yes at some point – maybe the deal got better, given that the cash offer was less than the premium we had paid!

Untitled
Flying across Siberia

That was it. it’s over, we are home. No more travel. We loved Japan, Sofia and I, and want to go back. There’s so much more to see.

Oct 18

Japan Day 14: Hiroshima

Japan Day 14: Hiroshima

Today feels like our last full day in Japan – tomorrow is travelling back to Tokyo and getting ready to leave.

We’re still in Hiroshima and the plan today was to walk round the Peace Memorial Park and visit the museum and memorials there.

First was the A-bomb Dome. As a concrete building, it was one of the few remaining standing in the centre of Hiroshima and has been left (after much deliberation over the years) as a permanent reminder. It is preserved in the same state of disrepair as it was after the bombing.

Japan Day 14: Hiroshima

Wandering around the rest of the park, there are many more memorials. To students, to Koreans, to all the victims. The cenotaph contains a record of all the people who have died, all those who experienced the bomb, updated every year on 6th August as the aging survivors die.

Japan Day 14: Hiroshima

The Children’s Peace Memorial probably had the most activity around it, as large groups of schoolchildren queued up to take their turn. Each class bought paper cranes, 1000s of them, connected and threaded into other shapes. We saw one group line up, the nominated student read from a book to the memorial, then the whole class sang.

Japan Day 14: Hiroshima

Finally, they presented their assembly of paper cranes to be added to the collection. After posing for pictures, they left to make way for the next group.

Japan Day 14: Hiroshima

The Memorial Hall winds underground, leading to a circular mosaic of tiles, one for each person impacted, making a picture of the flattened city after the blast.

Japan Day 14: Hiroshima

This is where the records are kept, the written and video stories and screens show the never-ending scroll of names and pictures.
The Peace Memorial Museum is split into two parts. The first examines the history of Hiroshima, of Japans involvement in the wars in the area and how Hiroshima was a main staging post. It factually goes into the politics and decisions made about why the bomb was used and why Hiroshima was chosen as the target.

Japan Day 14: Hiroshima

The second section was the stories of the victims and the survivors. How the city was destroyed, remains and artifacts of the day. One such as these steps from a bank, forever scarred with the shadow of the person who was sitting there at 8.15am on 6th August 1945, waiting for the bank to open. It’s an image that stuck in my mind when I read Hiroshima by John Hersey in the 80s, when the Cold War always meant another nuclear attack was still thought possible and the Protect and Survive information was out there.

Japan Day 14: Hiroshima

That was our visit for the day. A lot to think about, too much. So we had lunch in the sun and discussed other things. Like do Japanese schoolchildren actually spend anytime in school as they always seem to be on trips. At every single location we have been there have been school parties, in lines, in groups, being shouted at my teachers/guides with megaphones or filling in the ubiquitous workbooks. They all want to say ‘hello’ to us foreigners and giggle.

Or how the stereotype of Japanese tourist with the ever-snapping camera is not just behaviour when they’re abroad but it’s magnified here. If we ever thought we could not take a photo, maybe because we were in a shrine, no matter, we just copied the actions of the other Japanese tourists.

Tomorrow, back to Tokyo for the last night then we board the plan for London. Where I believe it’ll be cold and wet!

Today’s photos can be seen on Flickr
Day 13 post – Hiroshima and Miyajima : Day 12 post – Nara
Day 11 post – Kyoto : Day 10 post – Kyoto : Day 9 post – Race day at Suzuka : Day 8 post – Sill at Suzuka : Day 7 Post – Suzuka : Day 6 Post – Hakone to Nagoya : Day 5 Post – Hakone : Day 4 Post – Tokyo : Day 3 post – Tokyo : Day 2 post – Tokyo : Day 1 post – Tokyo

Oct 17

Japan Day 13: Hiroshima and Miyajima

Japan Day 13: Hiroshima

An early start to the day as we headed to the station to catch another Shinkansen, heading further west to Hiroshima. It takes just over 2 hours (discounting the standing at stations) to travel the 224 miles, speeding through the countryside. Except it wasn’t really countryside, as you’d call it in the UK. There’s no rolling fields, it’s all suburban. It seems that except for the mountains, everywhere we have seen has been built up, the trip was an endless strip of city and suburbs. There’s an occasional field, sliced into strips, some with cereal or rice, others cultivated with a variety of plants, like an allotment. In one small section, there were longer sections of fields, but every couple there were groups of 4-5 houses. Japan has a population if 127m, that’s over twice the UK, but a population density nearly 3x as much. And if you can’t build in the many mountains, that means they’re nearly all squeezed into the coastal plains. We saw no real farmland- where do they grow the rice? And definitely no animals in any of the fields. Just houses and more houses.

Arriving on Hiroshima we jumped onto a local tram, dropped the bags off and then nipped back to the station to get a train out to Miyajima island. Well, a train to catch the 10min ferry ride across the sea to the island. We were there to see the floating shrine. Unfortunately, it wasn’t floating today, as we arrived at low tide.It basically stuck up out of the mud.

Japan Day 13: Hiroshima

Before we got there, it was time for me to try the local delicacy – BBQ oysters. Well, grilled oysters as they are called, but they’re basically cooked on a BBQ. Served with a squeeze of line they were great.

Japan Day 13: Hiroshima

We headed onto the beach for a quick paddle and to stare at the torii. This is usually photographed sticking out of the water, we got sand and barnacles.

Japan Day 13: Hiroshima

The shrine is quite small really, bridging across the two sides of the bay. As we reached the middle, we got caught up in what looked like a marriage – the first marriage by interpretive dance I’ve seen. Well, it looked like a marriage party and I assume the ceremony took place elsewhere, but we just say the man in the mask do 10 mins of dance to drums, flutes, kazoos and a broken bagpipe. (I don’t know what the instruments actually were but that is what they sounded like).

Japan Day 13: Hiroshima

More photos, more beach wandering and the ferry took us back to the mainland.

Japan Day 13: Hiroshima

We tried one of the izakayas this evening, a sort of pub that serves a mix of food. This one was the first one we had been too with no English, so it was a matter of point and hope. I ended up with a mixture of rice in stock, chicken cabbage and egg, which I am informed via Twitter was ‘oyako donburi’ . Very nice it was too.

Japan Day 13: Hiroshima

Tomorrow we head to the Atom Bomb dome, as listed on the signs.

Finally, my sign of the day. Everyone needs an emergency Escape Mouth.

Japan Day 13: Hiroshima

Today’s photos can be seen on Flickr
Day 12 post – Nara
Day 11 post – Kyoto : Day 10 post – Kyoto : Day 9 post – Race day at Suzuka : Day 8 post – Sill at Suzuka : Day 7 Post – Suzuka : Day 6 Post – Hakone to Nagoya : Day 5 Post – Hakone : Day 4 Post – Tokyo : Day 3 post – Tokyo : Day 2 post – Tokyo : Day 1 post – Tokyo

Oct 16

Japan Day 12: Nara

There’s so much to do in Kyoto we haven’t even started to scratch the surface. But today, we took the decision to head to Nara, the old capital of Japan. Or should I say older, as it was capital from 710 for 75 years. It’s about an hour SE of Kyoto.

Like most of the towns we’ve seen, the arrival location is never that impressive, but we headed out up the main shopping street through to Nara Park.

Japan Day 12: Nara

First was Kofuku-Ji, transferred from Kyoto in 710. Nothing remains of that time, as with most temples, they’ve been destroyed by fire, earthquake or the Shinto tradition of rebuilding every 20 years. These are still current reasons for changes. Every single temple we have been too has big warnings about smoking and lots and lots of fire extinguishers. When you’re made of old wood, fire is probably enemy number one! The main hall is in midst of being renovated, due to be revealed in 2018.

Japan Day 12: Nara

There are some old elements remaining, this 5 story pagoda was built in 1426.

Japan Day 12: Nara

We carried on through the park, running into the deer that run free across the whole area. Most of the stalls carry deer biscuits and they’re used to being fed – the bolder ones tend to demand it!

Japan Day 12: Nara

Even with the all the people around, they carry on with their lives. It’s obviously mating season and we had to avoid the deer sex and male fights.

Japan Day 12: Nara

The second place we visited was Todai-ji. A large temple complex containing Daibutsu-den, which was until recently the largest wooden building in the world. Rebuilt in 1709, it’s 1/3rd smaller than the hall that stood there before.

Japan Day 12: Nara

And the reason it is so large? It houses the Great Buddha – a statue 16m high, with 437t of bronze and 130kg of gold. It is HUGE! There are other large statues in the building as well, all of whom add up to an overwhelming presence.

Japan Day 12: Nara

It’s not just the statues that are awesome, the building is too. You can’t help wonder how they put it together. But there is something completely unexpected. In one of the back columns, one of the huge columns supporting the roof, is a hole. According to guides, the hole is the same size as one of the nostrils on the big Buddha statue. Apparently you’re supposed to climb through this hole. There’s no sign as to why you should climb through it, but apparently it is to gain enlightenment in the next life! It is very popular with the large groups of school children that visit the hall. However, having taken a look at the hole, i decided that it was probably big enough and I had to have a go!

Japan Day 12: Nara

As you can see, I made it :-)

Whilst there, we also added our names to one of the tiles that will be added to the building. A little bit of permanence and history, at least until they rebuild. It’s hard writing Roman script with the brushes, the Japanese characters looked so more elegant!

Japan Day 12: Nara

A few more temples further up the hill (almost every temple we have visited has been up a hill. We have climbed a LOT of stairs) then we headed back. But not before being waylaid by a Japanese Tv show and asked to smell some mushrooms. They smelt like the deer dung but are allegedly a delicacy. We have no idea if we will make an appearance.

Japan Day 12: Nara

A late lunch was taken, this time a Nara specialty of kamameshi, which is rice, vegetables/meat/seafood cooked in an iron pot. The skill is cooking it so the rice just sticks and gets crispy!

Japan Day 12: Nara

Once back in Kyoto we called into the Japanese equivalent of Poundshop and stocked up on some essentials. No major events this evening, just a repacking of everything to send the cases back to Tokyo whilst we go on to Hiroshima for the last city of the trip.

Today’s photos can be seen on Flickr
Day 11 post – Kyoto : Day 10 post – Kyoto : Day 9 post – Race day at Suzuka : Day 8 post – Sill at Suzuka : Day 7 Post – Suzuka : Day 6 Post – Hakone to Nagoya : Day 5 Post – Hakone : Day 4 Post – Tokyo : Day 3 post – Tokyo : Day 2 post – Tokyo : Day 1 post – Tokyo

Oct 15

Japan Day 11: Kyoto

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

A day in Kyoto. Despite the many, many temples and shrines, World Heritage Sites and Cultural Treasures, the main part of Kyoto is basically ugly, like most cities in Japan it appears. Any charm has been destroyed as buildings are built and rebuilt, modern, flat, grey. Electricity lines snake down streets, not underground but in the air like mad knitting. There’s no space between houses, no gardens, the buildings in the city built tight next to each other, the same pattern repeated as you move to the outskirts. Now and again you get an old building that has survived, but most seems to be as new as possible.

To get any idea of what it may have been once, you need to get to the outskirts. We went to Arashiyama this morning and houses in their own plots, tidy, organised gardens, single stories are what you find there. Totally different to anything we have seen so far, in the cities or from the train. We went to visit Tenryu-Ji, a temple that was established in 1339.

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

All the buildings are modern (ish) but the gardens date back to the 14th century, designed to work with the background mountains, called ‘shakkei’ or ‘borrowed-landscape’. This is the first real sculptured gardens we have seen so far. We sat and contemplated the view for a while.

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

Next, a walk along the edge of the mountain, through the famous bamboo grove. Gorgeous towering bamboo trees reach up to the sky and you walk through the green-tinged light.

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

Back into the village, a quick meal of noodles from a roadside stall and then train and bus to the complete opposite side of the city, the other mountains.

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

Here we visited Kitomizu-dera, another ancient temple, established in 798 but with most buildings dated from 1633. If the morning was about contemplation of nature, this was definitely the interactive temple. We climbed up and up, through the graveyards before hitting the forecourt, full of people, especially schoolparties.

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

Into the main hall, with a verandah jutting over the hillside supported by huge pillars and a view over the city.
You could go down under a building, into the pitch dark, following a guideline to the magic stone, figuratively entering the womb of a female budhisvatta. At the heart, there’s a stone that you can turn either way and make a wish. I’m guessing there’s some pretty slick ball bearings under the stone to allow it to do that!

Up to the main interactive section, a shrine or action for everyone. You could rub the statue for luck. You could write your sorrows on paper and dissolve them away, wish a curse on your enemies.

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

Or you could walk the 18m between the two love stones with your eyes closed. Make it and hit the second stone, you would find true love.

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

You could also be terrified by the love messenger bunny, in bronze or red-eyed furry glory.

Japan Day 11: Koyoto
Japan Day 11: Koyoto

The final activity was to reach out and catch the water from the spring, wash and drink it and make a wish. This place is all about the wishes.

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

We headed back to change as tonight we were off out to treat ourselves. As we’re in Japan, we have to try Kobe beef and the Itoh Dining by Nobu seemed to be a good place. The 7 courses that followed were definitely worth it! (and we finally saw a real geisha on our way to the restaurant)

Japan Day 11: Koyoto

Most people we’ve seen so far seem to obey the walk/don’t walk signs, they wait, even if a small road and no-one is heading your way. They often have a count down so you can tell how long you have to wait. When they do turn green, they start making a noise and I have no idea what defines the noise they make, as it does not seem to be connected with the type of sign. There are two main noises. One goes cuckoo, cuckoo. The other goes pew, pew-pew. Today I heard a third, going cuc-cuckoo.

Tomorrow we head out of the city for a visit to Nara, the previous capital.

Today’s photos can be seen on Flickr

Day 10 post: Kyoto : Day 9 post – Race day at Suzuka : Day 8 post – Sill at Suzuka : Day 7 Post – Suzuka : Day 6 Post – Hakone to Nagoya : Day 5 Post – Hakone : Day 4 Post – Tokyo : Day 3 post – Tokyo : Day 2 post – Tokyo : Day 1 post – Tokyo

Oct 14

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

A new city! Today we travelled from Nagoya to Kyoto, to continue with out sightseeing touristy part of the trip. We boarded the Shinkansen for the 40min trip. We had intended to forward the luggage, but it turns out, that it takes 24 hrs, so we took them with us. Somehow, despite not really buying a lot, both suitcases seem to have got a LOT heavier!

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

Luggage left at hotel, we headed out into town. First of all, we wandered along the row of Nishiki market. It’s like Borough Market, except mainly fish!

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

I thought about it, but in the end wasn’t tempted by the octopus on a stick.

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

Then across the river through Gion, taking a look at Shimbashi, one of the really old style streets. Some lovely old houses along streets that looked pretty quiet.

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

We headed on to Chion-in, a temple at the base of the mountain. It’s an active temple, the centre of Pure Land Buddha teaching. Plenty of different buildings, trails through the forest, burial grounds. They have a 47t bell up a hill. How did they get it there?!

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

The main building is currently being restored, with a completely new building been put around it. It’s going to take until 2019 to finish it.You can walk through the different buildings and shrines, some of which are connected together with ‘nightingale’ floors, that creak and squeal like the sound of birds when you walk across them. In the main working area, we watched people line up for private services, where they sat and preyed whilst the monk/priest sang and banged a variety of percussion.

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

Back down the hill, through the park. It’s a national holiday today so it was pretty busy. Then to Yatsuka-Jinja, regarded as the guardian shrine of Gion. very colourful buildings and a place where we encountered lots of kimono wearing women,

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

Somewhere, there’s a service that dresses them up for the day, and they then wander round for the photo opportunities.

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

Finally the main bit of the Gion district, first in daylight and then returning after dark Old wooden buildings, lots of tourists, quaint streets, but not that much else to see.

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

Dinner this evening was sushi, at a lovely place called Hisagi Sushi. Well, sushi for me, definitely not one of Sofia’s favourite foods.

On the favourite subject of toilets, our hotel this time has a remote control, so you don’t have to turn sideways to activate the various spraying elements. The basic Japanese squat toilet requires too much flexibility to be comfortable but I’m don’t prefer the ones that you’d need an electrician to fix if it went wrong! And it may just be me, but having a toilet that plugs in, even if it does give you a warm seat, just feels odd!

Favourite sign of the day – all about Beautification Enforcement areas.

Japan Day 10: Kyoto

And on the favourite subject of toilets, our hotel this time has a remote control, so you don’t have to turn sideways to activate the various spraying elements. The basic Japanese squat toilet requires too much flexibility to be comfortable but I’m don’t prefer the ones that you’d need an electrician to fix if it went wrong! And it may just be me, but having a toilet that plugs in, even if it does give you a warm seat, just feels odd!

Now our feet and legs are tired. Time to retire before hitting more sights tomorrow.

Today’s photos can be seen on Flickr

Day 9 post – Race day at Suzuka : Day 8 post – Sill at Suzuka : Day 7 Post – Suzuka : Day 6 Post – Hakone to Nagoya : Day 5 Post – Hakone : Day 4 Post – Tokyo : Day 3 post – Tokyo : Day 2 post – Tokyo : Day 1 post – Tokyo

Oct 13

Japan Day 9: Race Day at Suzuka

Japan Day 9: Race day at Suzuka

Today was the day of the Japanese Grand Prix. The 15th race of the season. A race where Vettel could win the championship. My second GP of the year. And the reason why Sofia and I are in Japan.

But this isn’t a race report. These blog posts are more about my travels in Japan. So there’s not that much to say today!

We caught the morning train to the circuit and decided to follow the locals in their traditions. Not camping out in car parks though!

Japan Day 9: Race day at Suzuka

We found ourselves a spot under the grandstand, spread out our mat and camped out there, waiting for the race.

Japan Day 9: Race Day at Suzuka

The fans come prepared, with ground mats and masking tape. The mats are taped down and that is their space. It’s respected, no one intrudes or steps on it and people snooze, eat, chat or read. There is a similar respect at Silverstone, when it comes to race watching positions, but in Suzuka, this is about pre-race waiting.

Japan Day 9: Race Day at Suzuka

I decided on a hamburger for lunch. I assume the owners of the van knew what they meant by their slogan, but not 100% sure!

Japan Day 9: Race day at Suzuka

Other people had pizza. And ate it using chopsticks!

Japan Day 9: Race day at Suzuka

The race was brilliant! At the circuit, you can only see a certain amount and without commentary it is very hard to follow. But in this case, Twitter filled in the gaps and we were able to keep track of what was going on. Vettel won the race, but not the championship. Guess he’ll take it in India.

My souvenir was the Bernie puppet, only available in Japan. There’s a Jenson one too!

Japan Day 9: race day at Suzuka

Still absolutely in love with the train system. Amazed that they only let people with seat reservations onto reserved trains, no filling up the aisles. Makes for a calm journey.

We had to double check it was still Sunday – it seemed to be the busiest day on the transport and shopping mall so far. Japan does do Monday to Friday work weeks??

I’m not sure why, but all the red wine I have had has been served chilled. Sake, coffee, tea, chocolate, they offer you hot or cold. Red wine, no choice, it’s chilled!

Tomorrow, we head for Kyoto.

Today’s photos can be seen on Flickr

Day 8 post: Sill at Suzuka : Day 7 Post – Suzuka : Day 6 Post – Hakone to Nagoya : Day 5 Post – Hakone : Day 4 Post – Tokyo : Day 3 post – Tokyo : Day 2 post – Tokyo : Day 1 post – Tokyo

Oct 12

Japan Day 8: Still at Suzuka

Japan Day 8: Still at Suzuka

Another day at the races. Today was qualifying. We got there for 10ish, plenty of time to wander around and watch weird audience games, people watch and then take in final practice.

Japan Day 8: Still at Suzuka

We met up with Hiro, whom I had met last February in Barcelona for F1 testing. He’d managed to go to 4 GPs, was now at the Japan one and would be heading to Brazil. A man very economical with his holidays!
Lunch was Japanese curry from one of the many, many stalls dotted around the track.

Japan Day 8: Still at Suzuka

Qualifying was fun – especially the last session. Webber pipping Vettel to pole was well liked in our bit of the stadium.

We were amazed at how clean and tidy the race track was as we were leaving. Very, if any, rubbish was left around. Everything was binned. Very different to many others that we’ve been to.

Japan Day 8: Still at Suzuka

Heading out of the circuit, we weren’t too sure how the booked trains would work. How would you get onto the platform for your train. We needn’t have worried, it was all organised. If you had an unreserved ticket, you lined up and they called you to the platform ready for trains to arrive – just enough people to fit into each train. If you were on a specific booked train, you lined up ready for that, in carriage order. When it was time for your train, each carriage was called up and placed exactly at the right spot to get on the train. No crowding, no pushing, impeccably organised. Brilliant. (The train was 8 mins late though, first one we’ve seen late!)

Japan Day 8: Still at Suzuka

Back in Nagoya, you could see it was obviously a shopping day. They had music playing along the streets again. Just loud enough so you couldn’t hear the bikes behind you. They don’t ride bikes on the streets, all the action is on the pavement. I’m surprised there are not more collisions, but it seems to work, just about.

Tomorrow is race day!

Today’s photos can be seen on Flickr

Day 7 Post – Suzuka
Day 6 Post – Hakone to Nagoya
Day 5 Post – Hakone
Day 4 Post – Tokyo
Day 3 post – Tokyo
Day 2 post – Tokyo
Day 1 post – Tokyo

Oct 11

Japan Day 7: Suzuka

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

So today was the day, the start of the event we have built our holiday around, the Japanese Grand Prix. At the start of the week, rain was predicted, but the day dawned sunny and bright and stayed that way. it was 29C at the track and the only use of umbrellas was for shade.

There are special trains put on from Nagoya to Suzuka, about an hour away. We found the platform and waited as it filled with more and more fans. Inside Japan had sorted out all the seat booking for us, making the journey a little easier than squeezing into the unreserved carriages.

At the station, just follow the fans.

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

The circuit was easy to find and really, really busy – although it’ll be busier on race day. There were loads of stalls for merchandise and food,making it really fan friendly. (although I’m not sure what this is!)

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

One immediate thing struck us – the cigarette advertising, It’s not allowed in Europe, but here, it’s everywhere. A big stand and sponsoring the smoking areas. Oh yes, the strange control of smoking means you can only smoke in designated areas – including specific indoor rooms. Not wandering around outside.

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

They also had a Ferris Wheel, free if you were at the race. A quick whirl gave some great views of the track!

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

There were plenty of fans making signs for drivers at the first ever craft corner we had seen at a race!

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

Some more behaviour differences was this one of staking out a section around the circuit, taping the mat down. Most were under stands, so protection from sun or rain. The mats were left there, I’m guessing ready for the next day

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

And for some reason, a woman in a brides dress carrying a bouquet was driven round the circuit. No idea why!

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

We have brilliant seats – at T1/T2, prefect for the race.

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

As Friday you’re allowed to wander around, we also did that, to see the rest of the track. Well, Sofia did. I had a last minute chance for a Paddock Club ticket from Marussia and watched practice 2 from there :-)

The trip home was just as easy, the queue was orderly and organised and we managed to be positioned so we got right on the train into a seat!

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

Finally this evening, we met up with a friend, who had found a tiny little restuarant for Okonomikaki and fried noodles. Absolutely delicious.

Untitled

And that was today! Except for my sign of the day. A pointer for a Lat Rine

Japan Day 7: Suzuka and F1

Oct 10

Japan Day 6: Hakone and travel

Sleeping on a futon to the sound of a waterfall is definitely an experience. A good night sleep. The breakfast this morning was also an experience, very, very different and will no alternatives. Grilled fish, salad, pickles, chicken/okra, miso soup, rice and a soft boiled egg. I had a go at everything – and finished most. Except the soft boiled egg. I really don’t like those.

Untitled

Today, the sun was out so we tried again to get up the mountains. First of all we consigned our bags to the baggage movers again, sending them on to the station. Then back on the train up the mountains, then the cliff hugging cable car and, finally, the ropeway, the dangling cablecar. Up and up and up we went, to a summit of 1144m.

Japan Day 6: Hakone

Over the first crest was a surprise – a smoking volcano, with vents pouring out sulphur and a reek.

Japan Day 6: Hakone

Then down, down further, straining for a glimpse of Mount Fuji but it was not to be. The clouds had gathered, the rain was threatening and there was nothing to be seen.

Japan Day 6: Hakone

The last stop was on Lake Ashi, 720, above sea level, formed 3000 years ago when the volcano blew and left a caldera that filled. Now it’s a tourist haunt and our Hakone Travel Pass took us on to the cruise ship that wound it’s way to the end of the lake and back. We treated ourselves to the upgrade to first class, so we had the front deck to ourselves, unlike the crowding behind!

Japan Day 6: Hakone

Japan Day 6: Hakone

One lake cruise later and it was back up the cable car, over the mountain, down the mountain, back on the cable car, back on the train to the station at the bottom of the hills to collect our bags, another train back to Odawara and then jump on the Shinkansen to head further west to Nagoya, our home for the next few nights. And magically, our bags we’d sent on their way on Tuesday were sitting here ready for us.

This was today’s favourite sign – in the one western toilet in a block

Japan Day 6: Hakone

No Japanese food for us tonight, it was time for steak! A quick wander round the block then back to chill. It’s an early start tomorrow as we head for the F1.

Oct 09

Japan Day 5: Hakone

Japan Day 4: Hakone

So today we said goodbye to Tokyo and escaped to the wilds of Hakone, a mountainous region to the south-west of the capital. First up, we said goodbye to our suitcases, sending them by the luggage transport system direct to Nagoya.

The we boarded a series of trains. First the underground line. Then the local train line. Then, at Tokyo station, we got on one of the famous Bullet trains, the Shinkansen. A very mean and pointy looking train! But very comfortable. Just over 30 minutes later we arrived at Odawara, to board a train into the mountains, then one further train, running on a single track system, with passing only at stations.

Japan Day 4: Hakone

Each of the latter two were older than the previous.
It deposited us in a place called Tonosawa, a small village at the start of the Hakone region. Here we’re staying in a traditional ryoken, Ichinoyu Honkan, established in 1630. That’s older than most countries!

Japan Day 4: Hakone

Too early to check on, we headed on further up the hill, by the old train, then a mountain cable car from Gora. The intention was to take the dangling cable car (which they call the ropeway) and head over and down to the lake, passing a volcano and with a possible glimpse of Mount Fuji in the distance. But it was not to be, wind and rain and grounded the cable car and we were stuck this side of the mountain. Well, we could have taken a bus, but decided, not today!

Japan Day 4: Hakone

Back down we went, in the pouring rain, to find a lovely little cafe in Gora, called Studio Cafe Shima. A shout out to them for being lovely, with brilliant wifi and a nice line in train cakes!

Japan Day 4: Hakone

More travelling down the mountain to the ryokan, to find out bags in the room, a view over the waterfall, the water heater on for tea and the outdoor bath filled with hot spring water, ready for a soak. Brilliant. We LOVE IT!

Japan Day 4: Hakone

Divide and conquer again. Sofia used the room bath, I went to the private bathing room. (not ready to try the public rooms!).

Untitled

Then it was to the hotel restaurant for the included dinner. There’s little other choice in the village. No matter, this was a multi-course feast. Tofu, tuna, boil your own meat in broth, dumplings, salad, pickled veg, rice, miso soup. Then crisp pear sorbet. Loved it!

Untitled

And I did dress for dinner! Then time to roll out the futon time to relax before we head for the busy days of the F1 ahead.

Untitled

One last thing, just to confirm, we have spent the day avoiding touching doubtful things!

Japan Day 4: Hakone

Today’s photos can be seen on Flickr
Day 4 post: Tokyo still
Day 3 post – Tokyo
Day 2 post – Tokyo
Day 1 post – Tokyo

Oct 08

Japan Day 4: Tokyo still

Japan Day 4: Tokyo

Our last full day in Tokyo. As I said yesterday, we were planning a split strategy. Sofia went off to the zoo to see pandas and then to an out of town theme park to see Hello Kitty! I carried on in town. First up, the Tokyo National Museum, to look at the history of Japanese art and artifacts. An interesting overview, with some great quirky things, such as the terracotta grave statues which I wasn’t allowed to photograph. Or one of the very early editions of The Tale of Genji, the ‘first novel’. (by early, think it was 13th century)

Japan Day 4: Tokyo

By the way, cute. The Japanese appear to love cute. Everywhere has cute mascots etc. Here’s the museum ones.

Japan Day 4: Tokyo/

Then back down to Ginza, where I treated myself to sushimi. Not worth trying this with Sofia, as sushi and sushimi definitely not on her list. Again, I saw how pretty cheap Tokyo food can be, paying 1700Y for lunchtime fixed meal, of sushimi (prawn, tuna, salmon and other stuff), miso soup, rice, pickled vegetables, something with noodles and savory egg custard.

Japan Day 4: Tokyo

Then a wander round the Imperial East Gardens, the only part of the palace grounds you’re allowed to access. One of the challenges I’ve found is trying to understand the history of the place, as the signage, although much of it in English, does not seem to explain what things were or how they realte. this was true in both the museum and in the gardens. It wasn’t until nearly the end of the walk that I worked out that there used to be a HUGE palace in that area.

Japan Day 4: Tokyo

And I also saw my first Japanese style toilet. I’d read about them, but not seen them, until now. Thankfully for me, the bathrooms also had the western style ones too!

Japan Day 4: Tokyo

Back to the hotel, for relaxing, doing some washing and organising our luggage forwarding. We’re off into the mountains tomorrow and packing light. The luggage is going directly to Nagoya.

For dinner, we again stuck to local, heading up to the alleys around the Shenzi temple. After being refused service in one small restaurant (we think they were closing, it could just be they did not want to deal with English) we found somewhere that served up the Japanese omelette style of food, which I had with the deep fried pork cutlettes. Very tasty!

And that’s it for Tokyo. We’re here at the end of the holiday for one further night, but only limited sightseeing.

Today’s photos can be seen on Flickr

Day 3 post – Tokyo
Day 2 post – Tokyo
Day 1 post – Tokyo

Oct 07

Japan Day 3: Tokyo

Tokyo, Japan, Day 3. Today was a day built on changes. The original plan was to visit a bunch of museums, all around Ueno Park. The problem was that neither of us had properly read the guidebooks and failed to realise that they all close on a Monday!

We first of all wondered through the Ueno Park, visiting some of the multiple temples that are present in the area.
Benton-do is built on an island in a pond, a pond completely filled with Lotuses. (if you know me, you’d know that I was disappointed that these weren’t the car variety). This temple is dedicated to the goddess of the arts, wisdom, the sea and the protection of children.

Japan Day 3: Tokyo

It’s a temple with the same plan as all the others. Purify yourself with washing, wave the insense smoke at yourself, ring the gong, pick your fortune. The fortunes are apparently multi-lingual, so Sofia decided to take a chance – and ended up with good luck all round. To ensure this happens, she followed the plan and tied it to the washing lines.

Japan Day 3: Tokyo

Next stop was Kiyomizu Kannon-Do. This appears to be one of the real old ones, never rebuilt, inlike many of the others. It’s dedicated to women wishing to conceive, who would leave a doll here, a doll that would be ritually burnt every 22nd September. No photos were allowed of the temple, but it did have the best purifying dragon-statued fountain.

Japan Day 3: Tokyo

Plus this brilliant circular tree, looking over Benton-do.

Japan Day 3: Tokyo

Also, why do they tie bibs onto statues? They can’t be that messy eaters!

Japan Day 3: Tokyo

We finally wandered far enough to see the museums. And to realise they were closed. so a quick replan needed! It’s a good job we had our walking shoes on, we decided to hit another road passing through different neighbourhoods.

First up was Kagurazaka, what was formerly the geisha quarter and is now a brilliant set of small streets, with lots of restaurants and interesting shops. We managed to pick a lovely Tempura restaurant for a quick lunch (and cheap! so far, we’ve not being paying too much)

Japan Day 3: Tokyo

We made a stop at the Yasukuni Shrine which had a completely different atmosphere to others we have seen, a lot more serious.

Japan Day 3: Tokyo

Then we headed into the centre of town, crossing over 2 of the 3 moats that surrounded the Imperial Palace. The final moat is not crossed on a Monday, I’ll have to come back tomorrow.

Japan Day 3: Tokyo

oh..we also saw a turtle!

Japan Day 3: Tokyo

Then down towards Tokyo station and then Ginza, the major shopping street (think Oxford St crossed with Bond Street). Sofia was most impressed with the 6 storey Uni Qlo store (we did not pop in to shop).

Japan Day 3: Tokyo

After a LOT of walking, time to head for dinner. The guidebook pointed us towards a restaurant that was listed as French-style yakitori. Unfortunately, it no longer seemed to be there, having changed to being pure French. Never mind, it was pretty busy for a tucked down an alley restaurant, so we just went French…and it was great!

Heading back, you can tell it was a working day. The streets were definitely full of ‘salarymen’ either head down charging for home, or wandering slightly worse for wear after a few after work drinks. A change from the last couple of evenings.

Questions still to be answered – why are so many people wearing face masks. Are they worried about catching something? Or is it the polite thing to do if you have a cold? I definitely think the latter could be applied in London.

Secondly, every time we pass certain supermarkets, there are a row of men reading the magazines, just standing there. It seems to be accepted. Are they reading comics? Manga? Porn? A combination?

And that was today, day 3. Tomorrow is our last day in Tokyo and we are planning a split strategy. Museums for me, Hello Kitty for Sofia!

Today’s photos can be seen on Flickr

Day 2 post
Day 1 post

Oct 06

Japan Day 2: Tokyo continues

An early awakening, 6am, but nothing earlier than usual. So jetlag appears to not be hitting too hard today. First up, the hotel breakfast. Rice and meatballs and miso soup. Plus coffee and chocolate bread.

Untitled

Today was going to be a fairly light day. We caught the tube over to Shibuya to take a look round the shopping district there. One lesson learnt is that they stand on the wrong side of the escalators here, on the left hand side and you pass on the right. All very confusing.
It was easy to keep to the main shopping streets, they were the ones that were playing music from the loud speakers. Outside the main station was Shibuya Crossing, supposedly the model for the Oxford Circus crossing. Not sure what the fuss was about, it’s just a huge street crossing, but the Starbucks above it is great for people watching.

Tokyo Day 2, Shibuya to Rappongi

You have the girls in the typical costume of long socks and shorts (or short skirts). And men who would fit right in with the Shoreditch Hipsters.

Add a sprinkling of Western tourists, definitely a minority amongst the tourist population of Tokyo and the occasional women in traditional Japanese dress.

Tokyo Day 2, Shibuya to Rappongi

Shibuya shopping district is full-on on-trend stores, record shops and just loads of tiny boutiques. Plus the occasional multi-story amusement arcade, with grab-a-toy by the dozen along with photobooths of all descriptions.

Tokyo Day 2, Shibuya to Rappongi

Tokyo Day 2, Shibuya to Rappongi

We then started to wander over towards the Rappongi district, through more residential areas. Dotted throughout the streets are vending machines, such as this heavily sponsored set. Most are standalones though. And despite the theory that you can get almost anything from vending machines here, we’ve only seen ones for cigarettes and drinks.

Tokyo Day 2, Shibuya to Rappongi

Once at Rappongi we found our destination, a pub to watch the Formula 1 from Korea. However, instead of watching in the local language, by some technology miracle, we watched Sky tv. At least I think it was Sky…could have been a mild hallucination after I tried the snake venom drink :-)

Tokyo Day 2, Shibuya to Rappongi

Finally, heading back home, i got my first try of local food. A restaurant called Komagata Dojo, which has been there for over 6 generations in the same family. Dojo are small, eel-like river fish that are served in all sorts of way. The house specialty first cooks them in sake, then miso broth and then finally at the table, where they are heated over the table stove, with spices, sauce and loads of spring onions. Very, very good. We learnt the hard way that you don’t give tips here..as the waitress ran after us down the road to hand us back the 500Y coin and then was very surprised and very, very thankful we had left it for her. We’ll avoid that then! (She totally deserved it, was very very good and showed us all the things we needed to do to prepare the dish)

So that’s day 2. Another easy evening before we go mad and hit up a whole load of museums tomorrow.

Food at Komagota Dojo

For the full set of photos, See Japan Day 2 on Flickr

Sep 29

The London Marathon

You know, some things seem like a good idea at the time. Way back in April, before I’d ever run my first race, the ballot for the 2014 London Marathon opened and the proceeded to close pretty quickly. 125,000 people signed up for the possibility of 25,000 places in the London Marathon. I was one of those who signed up, more as a speculation than a certainty. I had no idea if I could run a 10k race, never mind over 4 times that distance. There was also no chance I’d get in, the web is full of mentions of people who did not at their 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc attempt. It’s not a straightforward 1 in 5 chance, they apply some assessment as well, so most chances are low. The ballot is one of 4 ways to get into the race. You need to be invited/be elite – that means they could be paying you for the entry, as these runners attract the media. You can be good for your age, getting a qualifying time at another marathon. Or you can go for a charity place, committing to raise at least £1800 (that seems to be the going rate) for the charity of choice.

You’re guessing the punchline already. I got in. With all the odds stacked against me, I got in. Which was a shock, to be sure. My sister, whom I entered as well, did not get in and she’s not sure whether to be upset or happy she didn’t – fitting in the training will be a problem. I’m the same. Happy and astounded one minute that I’m going to be running in one of the biggest events of the year; terrified and wondering what I have let myself in for.

However, I’ve paid my money, I’ve committed to setting off for the 26.2 miles on April 13th next year. I’ve committed to 6 months training to up my distance from a half to a full marathon through the cold winter and dark nights. The fitness journey continues.

Meanwhile, one consideration I need to make is if I’m going to raise money for a charity or not. So far, that’s not been done. I decided I needed to focus on running rather than money raising for the races I’ve done so far. But for the London Marathon, I’m considering my options – it is the biggest fund raising event in the world apparently. As you look through the websites of the charities, you see that there is a huge competition for fund raisers, with different packages on offer by the big charities. These usually consist of training support, a vest for the run, a pre-race pasta party of some kind and a post race feed and massage. this is why I assume that as well as committing to raising money, charity places often have to pay an admin fee to cover these extras. So do I raise money? And who do I choose? Questions to ponder.

Sep 11

Meeting the challenge

Way back in January, I took at look at my ambitions for 2013. One f them, in typical New Year fashion, as a physical change. I’d tried before, and failed, but hoped that by adding another dimension to my tracking would make a difference. And it absolutely did. Using the Fitbit, Myfitnesspal and a long term goal, this year has been one of physical change.

On 8th September 2013 I ran a half marathon in an official time of 2 hours, 16 minutes and 18 seconds. If you have known me at any time over the last 20 years, you know that me doing that is a minor miracle! I don’t run. I have never really run and even at my fittest, when I never ran.

Ready #rttb Run to the Beat

But running is the easiest exercise to fit into the day. It’s also the easiest way to meet my step target that the Fitbit sets. So I started, In January, with a Couch to 5k programme, finding it hard to even run for a minute. If I was going to be doing this running, I set a goal, entering the Run to the Beat half marathon, that a friend from work had completed in 2012. My sister also entered – so now the challenge was on.

It’s 9 months later. I’ve tracked 3,464,503 steps on the Fitbit. I’ve tracked 419,289 calories eaten, 573,251 calories used. I’ve lost fifty pounds in weight. And I’ve ran a half-marathon in a not too bad time for my first ever race of that distance.

The targets have been met…now to keep it going! New challenges and goals to set, to keep me focused. have I mentioned I’ve entered the ballot for the London marathon?

Mar 21

2013 Week 10

2 Mar to 8th Mar

After the quiet of last week, this week was a little more exciting.

Reading

Doing

  • Went shopping! Yes, not that much of a strange activity for most, but for me to volunteer to go shopping with friends is very, very unusual. It was all to do with getting out and trying on some new sized clothes, as I appear to have lost about 2 dress sizes so far this year. (well, at least in some stores). Bought one top, but had a great time trying things on, then drinking fizzy stuff, which is the only sensible way to finish off a shopping trip
  • Work dinner at BAFTA, A chance for the senior team to get together and let our hair down a little, even if it was a Monday night. A lovely full service dinner was pulled together plus a few drinks. A few of us even ended up in the Ritz, some place I’ve always wanted to have a cocktail in, even given the slightly large price! I was sensible and went home relatively early, others were not so and ended up not very well the next day!

    Cocktails at the Ritz

The rest of the week was the usual round of work, a bit of gym, and that’s about it! I was saving myself up for the next few buys weeks I think.

Mar 20

2013 Week 9

Sat 23rd Feb – Fri 1 Mar

You’d think i could do this, wouldn’t you. One post a week, that’s all I need. But no, I end up doing other things over the weekend and then at work time and the one post gets left behind until major catch up sessions like this one! So what did I do way back at the end of Feb?

Reading

Not a lot. I have no saved links for this period, so it must have been quiet!

Doing

  • The weekend was spent washing, tidying and sorting things out after a week away. And sorting out all my photos to organise the F1 ones into teams. One of those non-exciting housework weekends.
  • The rest of the week was fairly quiet too. Well, except for being a person down in the team,, so we were covering that work. And I was finalising a slight re-organisation of the team. And I was reviewing the interview results from the previous week, where the first round interviews for my replacement person had been taking place. We decided who to invite back and set them a brief to respond to, concious that by doing so, we probably compromised their next weekend!
  • On the Friday, I went along to ‘An Evening with Joe Saward‘ who’s an F1 journalist. It was set up as a Q&A session where the audience just threw out questions and Joe answered and told stories based on his long experience with the sport. It was interesting how different the crowd was to the other regular F1 event I go to (#badgerbash, more on this later in the year) with the audience being primarily mature men with very few women. I think that’s a result of who the journalist is.

Well, that was a quiet week (outside of work!).

Feb 26

2013 Week 8

A quick follow up to catch up the weeks.

Reading

  • Fitbit talks about tracking and privacy. I’m using a Fitbit and I love it. Just wearing it makes me think about being more active, to climb the stairs instead of the escalator. As mentioned in the article, the ecosystem is great and I hope increased competition does not restrict this.
  • A comment on whether Silicon Valley really is a meritocracy or if that’s just the white male view. The concept of privilege is not going away, nor is the vastly different perceptions of it.
  • Moshi Monsters and why kids love them. Yep, building a new kids property is hard. Moshi pretty much nails it
  • Why Americans are WEIRD. A challenge to the accepted wisdom that people’s behaviours and perceptions are fundamentally the same, based on biology, so using western (and primarily US) people for studies would apply worldwide. this research shows that is not the case and Americans are often one of the most outlying of groups

Doing

  • HOLIDAY! yes my first holiday of the year. Now, most people would not call what I did as a holiday, but I enjoyed it. It was a trip to Barcelona to watch the F1 testing. So every day, travel up to the circuit and sit and watch cars go round for 7 hours. In the freezing cold and occasional rain. Then back to the city for tapas and red wine. A lovely week and one that is planned for next year too!

    2013 Barcelona F1 Testing Day 3

  • Forgot to add this for the last week entry, but I have completed a further 2 stages of the LOOP walk. Over the two weekends, I have travelled from Bexley to West Wickham Common. Three sections done, 21 to go!

    Walk the LOOP 3  -Petts Wood to West Wickham Common