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  March 28, 2009 - April 4, 2009
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Tokyo - March 29, 2009

The customs process was fairly smooth since we had no checked in luggage. We headed towards the JR office to exchange our rail pass vouchers for the rail pass. At the office the attendant made reservations for the Tokyo Station on the Narita Express. From there we were to transfer to a train that goes to Ueno station.
Since Tokyo Station was close to the Imperial Palace we made a little exploration detour. Unfortunately when we arrived at the Imperial Palace it was closed. Walking outside the imperial grounds I noticed that everything was very well trimmed. Every little bush was clipped. Nothing is allowed to grow wild. Order has to be maintained even in nature.
We went back to Tokyo Station to take a train to Ueno Station where our hotel was located. Finding the hotel was not an easy task. The main streets are labeled with English translations, but the smaller side streets were not. Finding our way to the hotel allowed for some exploration around Ueno Station.
The hotel was a pleasant building with simple interior design. The room was fairly large for Japanese standards. First thing on my mind was of course a shower and some rest before the next day of exploring.



On the way to the Imperial Palace we stopped at the Wadakura Square.





Trimmed trees outside the Imperial Palace.



Pictures from around the Ueno Train station.









Tokyo - March 30, 2009

I woke up at 3 am and could not sleep any more. There are advantages in waking up early in a busy Japanese city. You miss all the salary men rushing to work. At 5 am we left the hotel and went to the station to take a train to Shimbashi Station. From there we headed towards the Tsukiji Market where Tokyo's sushi chefs purchase their fish.
Finding the entrance to the market was a little challenging as there were no signs, but we followed in some locals and tourists inside the market. After walking around for about ten minutes I still did not see any frozen whole tuna fish or any other fish.
It was about six in the morning and I thought that the fish was all sold and the market was packing up. Walking some more I noticed a lot of small sushi restaurants (most had enough seating for about 20 people). Making a mental note of possible "breakfast" spots we continued onwards.
We stumbled upon what seemed like the entrance and a large parking lot. At the end there was what looked like a large warehouse and the traffic of people and transport vehicles was flowing in and out of it. Walking closer to the large building I spotted a frozen tuna! Finally on the right path. Before entering we found an ice shop which oddly enough reminded me of a Bruce Lee movie. I stopped to take a few pictures of it.
There was a lot of tuna fish around. Some were very fresh, but most were frozen solid. Once a buyer picked his fish it would be either cut into his specified pieces or loaded onto a truck for delivery to a restaurant. Of course since the fish market is where Tokyo's restaurants get their fish from there were other types of fish available for purchase. Of course you could also buy the favourite eel (unagi). I have never seen a whole tuna fish outside of a store bought can.
It was about 6:30 am and breakfast was up next on our list. Backtracking to where we saw the restaurants we went into a sushi restaurant. We ordered out sushi and barbequed unagi in a rice bowl then waited for it to be made right in front of us since we sat across from the chef. It was about 7:00 am when our food arrived in front of us. I already decided that I did not want to eat the salmon eggs which were part of my meal. I left that adventure to my husband. This was also going to be our first time eating tuna sushi. The meat was very smooth and melted in my mouth. Very fine and fresh.
After breakfast we had headed to the Hama-Rikyu-Teien (Detached Palace Garden). Since it was still early in the morning we had to wait for the garden gates to open (9:00 am). The garden was very well kept and trimmed. You could see the modern buildings behind the garden which was a nice contrast.




The ice shop that remided me of Bruce Lee's movie.





Tuna steak ready for a chef.



Marked tuna for sale.





Boxes filled with different varieties of seafood.



Purchased tuna taken away.



Tuna thawing out.



It was not easy for the man to cut that fish in half. He had to put a lot of his body weight to push the frozen tuna.



These tuna halves are very large compared to the man standing beside them.



Very nicely presented pickled ginger slices.



Breakfast sushi!



Unagi on a bed of rice with dried seaweed.



Sashimi that was ordered by another customer.



Packaged fresh fish.



I had to take a picture of this coffee from a vending machine that came out warm! There are both hot and cold drinks in one machine. What a great idea.



Tokyo's "5th avenue" was pretty empty early in the morning on a Monday.



King Kong!



Japan's rose.



Hama-Rikyu-Teien garden.



Contrast between the new and old.



Closer look at the flower bush.



A recently married couple in traditional clothing taking pictures in the park among canola.





Signs of spring even on the branch!



View of Tokyo from the park.



Propped branches had a protective sleeve made out of bark.





Japanese green maple.



Sunbathing kitty.



View of the park from a hill.





Tea house where imperial guests used to be enterntained.



Nicely shaped and trimmed tree. One of many found at the grounds.





Walking back to the station I found this bush covered in flowers in front of a business building.



Modern Tokyo has a lot of great usage of space.











A lot of colourful signs everywhere.



Just outside Shimbashi Station.



Red bean and rice bun. It was very good and when I wanted to buy more I could not find any as good as this one was.



More pictures around Shimbashi Station.





Very neat Coca Cola aluminum bottle.



Just outside Shibuya Station.



Hachiko Statue - The statue was built by the locals in honour of the Akita dog who would always wait in the afternoon for his master's return. When the professor died the dog still showed up only in the evenings for another 11 years to wait until his own death. The locals brought him food to nourish him during his faithful waiting.



When I took this photo I didn't realize that there was a man drinking in front of me. Oops!



Live advertising!



Steamed pork buns from a street vendor.



Cherry blossoms in the Shibuja-Ku park.



I was very surprised to see a lot of garbage in this park being thrown around by the crows due to their open garbage bins concept.



The trees must grow straight!



This stuffie reminded me of Pokemon.



Harajuku Station is also popular for "Tokyo youth" that dress up in experimenting with different clothes styles.





It was free to go up the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices building to view the city (close to Shinjuku Station).





No smoking is allowed on the sidewalks.



You pick your meal and pay at the machine then give the ticket to the waiter. No waiting for your bill and no tipping necessary.



No space is wasted when it comes to advertising.



Just an interesting feature I found in front of a restaurant.



Kushiage and Kushikatsu restaurant. Kushi means 'skewer' and it is basically whatever you can fit on a skewer which is then deep fried or grilled.



I took a few pictures during the evening hours with the lights on.





A narrow alley filled with small restaurants. Most of them seemed to be serving hot pot dishes.



Matcha Kuromitsu Latte. I purchased this latte since it looked nice on the picture. That was probably my first mistake. It was the worst tasting latte I ever had. It almost tasted like old fried oil with a bit of a green tea after taste. There was no coffee in the drink. At least it looked as good as it did on the picture.





Picture of Tokyo from a museum.



Pretty little wooden restaurant.





Shibuya at night is a pretty busy place. The intersection basically closes traffic in all directions to let people through. I don't think it could work any other way.



Tokyo - March 31, 2009 - Main attraction was to see Mt. Fuji.




My lunch at the Hakone train station. From there we departed to Gora station by a scenic mountain train route.



We took the 3 hour hicking trail up Soun-zan(1153m) mountain which promised a nice view of Mt. Fuji.



The trail was very pretty and mostly well maintained.



Since it was late March there were still a bit of snow in some places.



Due to bad weather Mt. Fuji was mostly covered in clouds and you could only see the base of it.



A closer look at the base of Mt. Fuji.



Coming down the other side of the mountain we ended up in Owakudani which is known for the sulphur gas escaping through cracks in the mountain. People cook eggs in the hot water which turn the shell black and sell them to tourists.













A small water pool I found on the trail. Of course I had to check if it was hot. It was pleasantly warm.



Hole in the rock with gas escaping.



The ropeway that we took back down the mountain.



Back in Tokyo we went to electric town where most "geeks" hangout.







A little shrine to the gods of rice and sake.

Kyoto - Aptil 1, 2009

Our train was at 8:03 am to Kyoto Station. The bullet trains came every 5-8 minutes and were VERY on time. They also stop for about 60 seconds at the train station so you have to be on time otherwise you will miss the train. Because we took the train so early in the morning we had a lot of the day to explore Kyoto as the train arrived at the station at 10:48 am.
Because our hotel was situated close to Gion area we went to explore that area first after dropping our extra clothes at the hotel.


N700 Series Shinkansen has a maximum speed of 300km/hr.



This is the Shinkansen we took from Tokyo to Kyoto which is the 300 Series and capable of speeds up to 270km/hr.



Tiled in lines for people to line up. Order must be preserved everywhere, not just in nature.



I took a few pictures on the way to the Heian-Jingu.





This giant torii is considered as the main entrance to the Heian-Jingu shrine complex.



Entrace into the shrine and gardens.







The Heian-Jingu complex was built in 1895 to celebrate the 1100th anniversary of the founding of Kyoto. They are replicas (two thirds the size) of Kyoto Gosho from the Heian period.



Sacred sake at the shrine.



This and the following pictures are from the "Path of Philosophy" (Tetsugaku-No-Michi). The path is car free and has a lot of people strolling and admiring the nature such as birds and the surrounding trees.











Cherry blossom trees mark the end of the path.



In the Gion Geisha district we found houses built in the typical Japanese style.



Mijako (apprentice Geisha) on her way to a tea ceremony being photographed by not just me, but the man in the picute too! Once a Mijako becomes a true Geisha the rest of the back of her neck gets painted white. Until then she has an unpainted upside down "U" on her neck which starts at her hairline.



Kennin-ji Zen Temple founded in 1202. It is one of the 5 great Zen temples of Kyoto. On the picture is Hatto (main hall).



Side view of Hatto.



One of the buildings that are found at the Kennin-ji grounds.



Pretty entrance to someone's house.



Another view of the buildings around Gion.



Yasaka Pagoda in the distance.



Two Mijako exiting a shrine.



Kiyomizu-dera was founded in the Heian period and dates back to 798. It is also part of the Historic Monuments of anchient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage site. The temple was contructed without the use of any nails and most buildings at the site date back to 1633.



View from the hill just outside the exit from the temple.



Kyoto at night.



Kyoto - April 2, 2009 - More of Kyoto's historic places.



View of Arashiyama (district of western outskirts of Kyoto).



Small temple we found when we made a wrong turn.



Very pretty area of Kyoto. Definitely a change from the concrete jungle of Tokyo.



Tenryu Shiseizen-ji is the head temple of the Rinzai Zen Buddhism. The temple construction was from 1339 to 1345. This temple was registered as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.



Picture of the temple's property building and garden.



Buddhist monk statues.



Tanuki which is the Japanese raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonides viverrinus). It appears almost everywhere you look. Now I wish I bought a ceramic one to put in my garden with my gargoyles.



Bamboo path around the Tenryu-ji Temple. Definitely one of my favourite places I saw in Japan.





Cemetary in the bamboo forest.



Moss covered garden of the Jojakko-ji.





Fushimi Inari Taisha is the most famous Inari shrine. Inari is the Shinto god of rice and foxes (stone fox statues are found along the torii gate path) are his messengers.



The large torii have been mostly donated by businesses and line the mountain trail (Inari-san [233m]) which spans 4km and takes about two hours to comeplete.







View from the top of the mountain of Kyoto.



Stone fox along the path.



Rope tassel attached to a bell.



Smaller and more condensed version of the torii.



Modern Kyoto Station as viewed from the highest point of the Cube shopping center that is attached to the station (11th floor).



Entrance to the Higashi Hongan-ji temple of the Shinshu Otani-ha (branch of the Pure Land Buddhism). Unfortunately the temple (largest wooden building in the world) was under heavy construction and enclosed in a building. Estimated completion date was 2010.





The walls surrounding the Higashi Hongan-ji.



Kyoto Tower just across from the Kyoto Train Station.

Kyoto - April 3, 2009




Entrance to the Jizo-in Temple (Bamboo Temple).



This little temple is a great place to get away from tourists who head to the Saiho-ji (which is famous for its mossy garden). The temple opens at 9:00 and if you're lucky enough to be there before the opening you will meet a very pleasant monk opening the gate for you. He was about twenty minutes late and we saw him running down the path to open the gates for us.



Because we were the only ones there it was very quiet and peaceful with birds chirping. Definitely a great place to think and meditate.





Inside the monks' quarters we sat down for some time to relax.







Bamboo forest that surrounds the temple.



When you exit the temple and turn right on the road then turn right again at the dead end and continue up along the road you will stumble upon this wonderful bamboo forest. If you wander through it you will stumble upon a very large cemetary on a hill.



A restaurant just by the bus stop.



Last day and our last sushi meal in Kyoto. The restaurant is across from the Kyoto Tower just beside a steamed dumpling restaurant.



While sitting at Starbucks (the only place that had a patio across from the Kyoto Station great for people watching) I took this picture.

Kyoto and Tokyo - April 4, 2009 - Going back to Tokyo airport.

The only snag on that day was not calling to confirm the flight ahead of time as we had to wait an extra 5 hours due to an andjusted flight plan. Other than that the wait was pretty pleasant as the airport is fairly large with a lot of different places to check out. I bought some last minute things to bring back home such as Japanese green tea.



Mt. Fuji showed itself on our last day while in the Shinkansen.



Trimmed green tea bushes in the foreground.



Just before we took the Narita Line train to the airport we stopped at a coffee store for some last snack before we left the city behind.

 

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