From Kimono to French Maid

Well, I have returned from my sojourn in Japan with an ailing credit card, sore feet but a relaxed soul, at least for a few weeks until the drudgery of corporate life sinks in again. This was my second trip to Japan and was a spur of the moment decision when we both saw the cheap Jetstar airfares ($1400 return for two people). I did say that I would never fly Jetstar again after the flight from hell; drunken louts in the exit rows throwing food, being bribed by the attendants with more alcohol to calm down and then firing up their mobile phones while getting off the plane with the aircraft refuelling. And yet I flew with Shitstar again? Alas, it seems my soul can be bought quite cheaply after all.
This trip concentrated on less specific locations to devote more time to them. As such, we stayed between the main urban corridor from Tokyo to Osaka with side trips to Kitasaki, Kamakura, Atami-Izu, Hakone, Uji and Koka.
In Tokyo, we based ourselves in Akihabara, the electronics district, which on this occasion was not so cheap compared to Australia. The main part of AKB comprises four or five blocks of continuous electronics stores as well as a surprisingly high number of the ubiquitous “maid cafe’s” that have taken over Japan. We both visited one last time we were here and once is definitely enough. The sight of pretty teenage Japanese girls in short skirted French maid outfits acting overly naive to sweaty, lonely hearted “salarymen” is just depressing. What I noticed this time is how many more of them we saw advertising their premises out on the street. Thankfully, we spent some time in Ginza to cleanse our minds but in the process emptied our wallets. We also had a surprisingly enjoyable day at Tokyo DisneySea. A more adult oriented Disney park, the rides were great fun and it’s hard not to get caught up in the happy atmosphere when every park employee is mandated to be permanently cheerful.
A trip up to Kamakura to visit the ancient seat of power as well as some spectacular temples and shrines and then the great Daibutsu was a fantastic side trip even though the weather took a turn for the worse. Pretty soon it was time to head to Hakone which is famous for its Onsen and for me, the old Hakone checkpoint which controlled the flow of people into and out of Edo-era Kanto. We took a boat trip on Lake Ashi on a very kitsch Spanish galleon after crossing the mountain in a cable car. To get to the cable car, we had to take a 40 minute zigzag rail trip from our ryokan overlooking a fast flowing and romantic river. Later that night, we took a walk around the town in our yukata and spied a whole stretch of river with fireflies that we walked within. Akiko even managed to get a few to land in her palm which was amazing.
Atami-Izu is another famous spa town, 2 hours south-west of Tokyo. We booked into a seaside hotel before heading out to see a lovely suspension bridge to an island along a rocky part of the coast further south. On our return into town, we walked down the shopping street and came across the cleanest fish mongers I have ever seen. In fact, it feels wrong to call it a fish mongers; more like a fish themed art gallery. From here, we walked home via the canal and came across the Will Adams memorial. Will Adams was the first Englishman in Japan and went on to be granted Hatamoto status by the Shogun and also inspired my favourite author, James Clavell, to write my favourite book, Shogun. You must read it if you have not yet had the pleasure.
From Atami-Izu, we pushed on down to Osaka where we caught up with Akiko’s dad, did lots of shopping in central Osaka including the new Osaka Train Station as well as getting out of the city to visit the old ninja province of Koka (home of the famous Koga Shinobi clan). We had initially intended to visit the “Ninja Village” but got sidetracked by the museum set up in the old clan leaders’ house. Well worth a trip if you want to see the true history of these amazing warriors rather than the Hollywood version. We also managed to get to some great restaurants including some hole in the wall takoyaki places and Yakiniku restaurants as well as a sushi train that would send out special orders on a little Shinkansen bullet train line sitting above the slower moving carousel of morsels you normally expect to see. My father-in-law is a great character and, typical of Kansei people, is always ready to have a laugh. My kind of guy and I just hope I can learn Japanese soon enough to communicate with him better.
Whilst in Osaka, I also joined the throng of people supporting the Hanshin Tigers by visiting the Official Hanshin Tigers merchandise store and challenging the shop assistants to find things in my size. They came through with flying colours and were very happy to see a gaikokujin supporting their team. I explained to them I was already a fan of the Detroit Tigers (Motor City Kitties) and with an Osakan wife, Hanshin Tigers were a natural fit.
Our last stop before returning to Tokyo was Kitasaki, on the Sea of Japan. This is another famous Onsen town and we visited five of the seven bathhouses that this town is famous for. Earlier in the day, while shopping, we came across a wonderful chopstick shop that had more designs of chopsticks than you can poke a stick at, pun intended. More importantly, we had a great conversation with the proprietor about his work, the 1-1 draw between Japan and Australia the night before and his town before asking him to engrave my name into the chopsticks I bought. We walked around in the evening in our yukata again and took some photos before returning to the ryokan for a kaiseki feast.
Our last day in Japan was spent in Tokyo again and after putting our bags in a coin locker, we spent the day walking around Ueno Park, mixing with the locals on a warm, lazy Sunday afternoon. What a great park. It contains a zoo within it as well as many museums including the Japan National History Museum and the Science Museum. Anyone who knows me knows that I cannot walk past a museum so with limited time, we chose the National History museum. Fantastic! Everything from Jomon era pottery to kabuki kimonos, Edo era katana to traditional woodprints, this museum is well worth a visit and after another quick visit to the Yodobashi store in AKB, we headed off to Narita and our flight home.
Another holiday to the Land of the Rising Sun, over too soon and still with many things yet to see.

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One thought on “From Kimono to French Maid

  1. mmm…maybe a career in travel books awaits? Surely there’s more room on those crammed shelves for one more travelogue. Sounds like you had a ball, can’t wait to see the photos.

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