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Tag Archives: Japan

Train travel is great. We traveled around the Tokyo area by train every day. It was great because trains or subway stations are located throughout the Tokyo area. They are on time and if you miss a train there is usually another one in a few minutes. The exceptions would be if you take a train to an outlying area where the trains might not run as frequently. You should know that trains stop running at midnight so you need to plan accordingly. Trains are very clean and quiet, There is no eating allowed or talking on cell phones. In fact it is rare to hear people talking on the train. Trains can be very crowded during rush hour so we planned our day accordingly. If you travel with a backpack it is suggested that you store the backpack on an overhead rack or wear it in front. Getting to and from the tracks on escalators has its own rules. You stand on the left and leave the right open for those who want to walk up the escalator.

Tokyo is clean. It is the cleanest city I’ve ever seen. With few exceptions we did not see litter on the streets in spite of the huge number of people. There are almost no public garbage cans or recycling cans to be found. This means that if you purchase something to eat or drink you are required to carry any litter back to your hotel. This is a good reason to carry a backpack and have a plastic bag handy.

Tokyo has recently enacted new smoking regulations that prohibit smoking on public streets. This is a big change since our last visit where we encountered a lot of smoking. The city has erected smoking stations throughout the city. We saw a number of them where there were long lines of men waiting to get in so they could smoke. Even parks and fairs have smoking stations

Japan knows how to do bathrooms up right. They have plenty of public bathrooms and they are free. For the most part they are very modern. They are usually a room rather than a stall. Unlike bathrooms in the US they are very clean. The toilets are usually Toto which means they have a bidet included. They have wipes and hand sanitizers available. Most have music or sounds of running water that you can turn on. We did encounter the traditional Japanese squat toilets in some of the parks.

We saw almost no graffiti in Japan.

We saw very few homeless people and even those we thought might be homeless might not have been. There were no panhandlers at all. It is nothing like what we find in large cities in the states.

Don’t tip in Tokyo it is considered rude. The price you pay for a taxi, or a meal is set and that’s what should be paid.

English is not spoken by most Japanese. It is interesting that they have one of the best programs in the world for teaching English in the schools but it seems to be lost once a person is out of school.

Tokyo seems to be very safe. We walked around at night with no problems. We did see police stations as we walked around but we saw very few police walking around.

Our first objective of the day was to find Todoroki Valley Park. It is only a 20-minute train ride from Shibuya Station. This is a wild and untamed gorge, with a jungle-like canopy. It was forged by the Yazawa River as it heads for the larger Tama River and it is the only valley in Tokyo. A short 1.5 km walk along the river will bring you to a shrine and temple and small waterfalls.

More photos from the day can can be found on my website.

After walking a short distance we found this small bridge over the river. This lead to the Todoroki Valley Park Caves which were used as burial sites.

Retracing our steps we returned to the path along the river where we encountered a picturesque bridge which leads to the Chigo Daishi Mieido a small shrine that features a statue of Kobo Daishi. Fudo Waterfall is right beside the small shrine and originates from the mouths of two ornate dragons.

Following the steps leads to another small shrine.

Continuing up the steps leads to the Todoroki Fudosan Temple.

Chōzubachis, are used by worshipers for washing their left hands, right hands, mouth and finally the handle of the water ladle to purify themselves before approaching the main Shinto shrine temple.

There was a Chrysanthemum exhibit taking place at the temple including Bonsai  Chrysanthemums.

Walking back down to the Yazawa River we continued our river walk. We found a small Japanese Garden. Some of the trails were closed but we were able to walk through the garden and out of the gorge. On the way we found several small ponds a small bamboo forest, fruit trees and flowers.

There was a small gate at the top of the garden so we went through it and found ourselves in the Todoroki Fudo Children’s Park. We sat on a bench to change batteries in our camera and while we were doing so a group of small children on an outing showed up. The care takers had their hands full. As soon as they took the child out of the wagon the child was off and running or crawling.

We retraced our steps back to the train station and caught a train to Oimachi Station where we changed trains for Hamamatsucho Station and our destination which was Hamarikyu Gardens. The lines in the second photo tell riders where to stand when waiting for the train.

I found this giant spider along the sidewalk and it was close enough to get a good shot.


We had to walk a short distance from the train station to Hamarikyu Gardens. I took this photo because of the odd shape of the building. It looked like you could almost touch both walls at the same time. There was also garbage on the street. This is a very rare event in Tokyo. It looked like a bird might have gotten into the garbage. Normally garbage is covered with a net to prevent that from happening.

After a short walk we arrived at Hamarikyu Gardens. Many of the parks in Tokyo are free but most of the formal gardens have an entrance fee.

I believe this is part of the Sumida River with in the background.

As I recall this park was a villa for a feudal lord and this was his duck hunting blind. It was a very elaborate setup with everything choreographed to bring the ducks to the lord.

This park had some wildlife that I was able to photograph.

As we were wandering around we noticed this water bus leaving the dock so we walked over to see what was going on. Checking at the dock we discovered that water buses leave from the dock about every hour. Since we had not ridden a water bus we decided to walk around the park for a bit more then come back and take the water bus up the Sumida River to Asakusa.

Everyone was in line early hoping to get a good seat but as it turned out there were not all that many people on the bus.

In order to get out to the Sumida River we had to go through a set of locks.

These are some of the sights along the river on the way to Asakusa.

It looked like most of the bridge crossing the river were under construction or renovation. They must spend huge sums on infrastructure repair. Too bad this country can’t afford to fix out infrastructure.

Several couples in traditional costume were waiting for us when we docked in Asakusa.

A shot of Tokyo Skytree from the Asakusa docks.

We saw more people dressed in traditional costumes as we walked over to Sensō-ji.

We were looking for a McDonald’s for some ice cream and coffee and we found in in a shopping area.

Just across the street I notice a shop that was renting out traditional costumes. This is near Sensō-ji where we also saw quite a few people dressed in native costumes.

We then took a train over to Shibuya where we wandered around some fancy shopping centers while we waited for our son to finish work.

We then took the train to Ebisu and walked down to Specialized Group where he was just finishing up work.

We all caught a train to his apartment where we watched the Green Bay Packer Game. After the game Justin an Carla took us to dinner at a local restaurant just down the street.

We then headed back to our hotel which was about a 15 minute walk from his apartment.



There were always groups of school children taking trips on the train. We encountered this group when we returned to Kobe Station from one of our trips.


Lots of bikes on the street. These were parked along the main street near our Airbnb. The Kobe Train Station had a large parking lot for bikes.


The trains in Japan were great. We had no problem getting around. They were clean and always on time. If you missed a train there would be another one in a few minutes. Most of the station platforms had electronic signs that would periodically flash the information in English. The same was true of the signs in the trains. Announcements were also periodically made in English. The funny thing was that it seemed like they would go on forever in Japanese but when it was translated to English it was only a few words.


As I mentioned we had a Japan Rail Passes. This saved us money and made it much more convenient to ride the trains. We didn’t have to stop and pay every time we wanted to take a train we just had to flash our pass. It didn’t cover all of the trains so we purchased a train card that we could put money on. This was also very convenient as we traveled around. The same card worked in both Kobe and Tokyo.

The Major Train stations also contain shopping areas for food and groceries. This particular store was my downfall and the reason I gained weight in Japan. It was located directly across from where we exited the Kobe Station Platform. It sold delicious custard filled croissants. So every day we would stop and load up on baked goods before returning to our Airbnb.



Eating in Japan was not a big issue and the food was relatively inexpensive. We happened to find this small restaurant on a backstreet while walking back to our Airbnb. We couldn’t read the menu but most of the restaurants either had pictures or plastic mockups of the food. In this case we took the waiter out to the front display and pointed to what we wanted. As it turned out she spoke a little English and was quite the jokester. This meal cost about $6.50 which was about what we liked to pay. You could probably double that if you ate in the tourist areas.



One of the things that is quite different in Japan is the fact that Beverage Dispensers on the street dispense hard liquor including beer and sake.


Japan was very clean. The odd thing is they have very few garbage cans. There were no garbage cans on the streets. We saw some in the train station platforms and in convenience stores. People are expected to carry their garbage home to dispose of it. The U.S. is a pig sty compared to Japan.

As I mentioned in a number of my blogs we arrived in large cities in the middle of the night. There were always people walking in the streets. We never felt in any danger walking around the back alleys of the cities. This is not something we would do in a U.S. city.

The sidewalks in Kobe were quite different than in the U.S. They had one lane for bikes, another lane for blind people and one for pedestrians. The lane for the blind had bumps on it and I found it hard to walk on. The problem was the lanes didn’t seem to mean anything. No one paid any attention as to where they were riding their bike or waking. This really surprised me because Japanese people seem so organized. I was always a little concerned that we would be hit by a biker but it didn’t happen in spite of the large number of bikes.

Escalators were another interesting thing. They were everywhere particularly the train stations where people were rushing to catch trains. In Kobe the rule was you stood on the right side and people walking or running to catch a train would do so on the left. When we arrived in Tokyo we found that wasit was just the opposite.

More photos from our visit to Japan can be found on my website.

On our third day back in Kobe we took the train to Kyoto to visit Sogenchi Gardens, the Bamboo Grove and Nijo Castle. We changed trains in Kyoto and took another train to Arashiyama where we walked out to the Bamboo Grove and Sogenchi Gardens.

Sogenchi Gardens

Sogenchi Gardens

Bamboo Grove

Bamboo Grove

This was one of my favorite places to visit. The Bamboo groves and the gardens were beautiful. It was early fall and the trees in the Gardens were just starting to turn color.

Bamboo Grove

Bamboo Grove

Bamboo Grove

Bamboo Grove


My wife found this sign in the women’s restroom at Sogenchi Gardens. It got quite a chuckle but it does make sense because of the type of toilets found in Asia and the middle east.


Sogenchi Garden

Sogenchi Garden


It was on this trip that we discovered green tea ice cream. At the time we didn’t know what it was. We kept seeing the large displays for ice cream but the ice cream was green. We decided to buy some but still couldn’t figure out what flavor it was. Later Justin told us it was green tea. Before we returned home we bought a supply of matcha green tea so we could make green tea ice cream at home.

We returned to Kyoto later in the day and took a bus out to Nijo Castle. The train service in Kyoto is not nearly as good as Kobe so traveling to the tourist spots is via bus. We really didn’t have enough time to see the sights in Kyoto so a return trip is probably in the cards.

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle


We took a late train from Nagasaki to Hiroshima and this time we had reserved seats. Our Airbnb was some distance from the train station but we still had enough light to figure out where we were going. By the time we reached the Airbnb it was dark. Although we found the place it would have been a lot easier if we arrived before dark.

The next morning we walked down to Peace Memorial Park. It was a holiday in Japan so there were a lot of people around.

Memorial Cenotaph

Memorial Cenotaph

A bomb dome

A bomb dome

After walking around the park we noticed Oktoberfest was underway so we stopped. It was a short visit after we found out beer was going for $15 a serving.



The following day we took the train and then a ferry to the island of Miyajima. On the train we met a woman in her 80 who was traveling alone and doing just fine. I thought that was remarkable but then I realized I’m just about 80 myself.


O-torii was our first stop on the island. The tide was out so we were able to walk right up to it. Hard to get pictures in Japan because there are just too many people everywhere.


We decided to take the tram up Mt. Misen rather than walk because it was so hot and humid. I have problems hiking in hot weather. Still it was quite a hike to the top of the mountain from the tram station. When I was ready to leave I told Justin that I was going to start down because I was the slowest one. Apparently it went in one ear and out the other because he and Linda spent some time looking for me at the top. They thought I might have fallen off the rocks.

Mt. Misen Miyajima 15-9-_2879

By the time we were down from the mountain the tide was coming in and O-torii was surrounded by water.


The following day it was raining so we purchased a pass on a tourist bus that runs around the city. Our first stop was the Peace Memorial Park. We toured the museum. Another rather sobering experience. Unfortunately part of it was closed for renovation they are upgrading the experience to use modern technology. Apparently the holidays were over and there were a lot of school children at the park. One of their assignments was to ask people where they were from. As usual the girls were doing the assignment and the boys were fooling around.


After the peace park we walked around the shopping district to stay out of the rain. When the rain stopped we caught the tourist bus to the main train station and walked to Hiroshima Toshogu Shrine and then hiked the Steps leading to Mt. Futaba Peace Pagoda.


Steps leading to Mt. Futaba Peace Pagoda Hiroshima Japan 15-9-_2721

There were some nice views of Hiroshima from the top of Mt. Futaba.

Hiroshima from Mt. Futaba 15-9-_2731

This was a large cemetery on the slopes of Mt. Futaba.Cemetery-on-Mt.-Futaba-Hiroshima-Japan-15-9-_2749

We then caught the train back to our Airbnb for our last night in Hiroshima.

We were scheduled to travel to Nagasaki, Japan early in the day. Unfortunately our plans did not work out and we ended up spending the day in Kobe.

When we planned our trip we sent Justin a detailed itinerary for his approval and comments. Then we  skyped with him to go over the itinerary. As it turns out he hadn’t really looked at the itinerary and while he was skyping with us he was also playing a video game. I thought he looked a bit distracted when we were talking with him. The end result was that we were scheduled to leave for Nagasaki early on Saturday but he had to work at his school all day on Saturday so we were not able to leave for Nagasaki until late in the evening.


Instead we spent the day at Takatori School watching an all day display of athletic ability. It was something to see but it was really hot and humid. I had forgotten to mention that we found the humidity in Kobe oppressive. Linda and I are cold weather people and have yet to figure out how people can live in heat and humidity. Linda’s hair looked like a brillo pad most of the time we were in Japan.


The athletic field was gravel which I gather is common in some areas of Japan. It made for a tough day if you happened to fall on the gravel and a number of kids did. Some of them also collapsed from being out in the blazing sun all day.


After Justin was finished with his work we headed back to the Crowne Plaza to pick up our bags. We stored them at the hotel because the high speed trains depart from Shin-Kobe station which was attached to the hotel.

We found seats on the high speed train and headed for Nagasaki. When we were about an hour away from Nagasaki we had to change to another train. As it turns out we did not have reserved seats on either train. As a result we had to stand the last hour of the trip into Nagasaki Station. We never made that mistake again. Justin claimed he never had a problem before but once we discovered that we could reserve a seat on the train at no extra cost we always reserved seats. I should also mention that Linda and I had rail passes so all we had to do was show our pass to get a ticket or in the case of local trains flash our pass as we walked through the turnstiles.

We arrived in Nagasaki around midnight and started looking for our Airbnb. It was not all that far from the station and we had detailed directions and pictures. However, things look different at midnight than they do during the day. The streets in Japan are more like a beehive than a grid pattern so it is difficult to find your way around. We got to the general location using Justin’s phone but couldn’t find our Airbnb. I suggested we ask someone, there are always people on the streets in Japan. However, Justin was determined to find it on his own. Fortunately a young lady stopped and asked if we needed help. Even she had problems finding the place. Turns out It was down a small alley in back of a parking ramp. We probably would have found it in the daylight but it was a little more difficult at night. The good thing about Japan is it is safe to walk the streets at any hour. No way I would be wandering around Duluth in the middle of the night.

The next morning we walked back to the train station to catch a bus out to Nagasaki Peace Park where we spent the day. It was a very somber experience.



Prison Remains

Prison Remains


The following day we took a bus out to Mt. Inasa where we had some great views of Nagasaki.

Nagasaki from Mt. Inasa 15-9-_1196

Later in the day we took another bus out to Glover Garden where we hiked around and had some nice views of the harbor.


More photos from our visit to Japan can be found on my website.

Last fall my wife and I flew to Japan, on a three week trip, to visit our son Justin and do some traveling. We figured it would be our only chance to travel around Japan with a native speaker. This will be the first of my blogs describing our trip.

We drove up to Duluth, Minnesota and departed from Duluth at 4 in the morning. We caught our first plane in Minneapolis and flew to Chicago. From Chicago we flew to Tokyo where we caught our last flight to Osaka. In all we were up for about 36 hours. This is a shot from the plane window as we were flying to Osaka at sunset.


Our son met us in Osaka and we caught the last bus to Kobe. It was late at night when we arrived in Kobe so we hung on to Justin as we zipped through the train station and caught the underground to our Hotel.

We were staying the ANA Crowne Plaza which is connected to the Shin-Kobe Shinkansen Station. If it hadn’t been for Justin we would probably still be trying to find our way out of the underground. When we arrived they were kind enough to upgrade us to a suite. Justin was impressed because our suite was bigger that his apartment. This was the view of Kobe from our hotel room.


We planned to rest up from our trip so we slept in until 9am then headed down for breakfast. Wow what a spread. I’ve never stayed anyplace that had a breakfast compared to the ANA Crowne Plaza.


After Breakfast we decided to walk down to the Sannomiya Station which seemed to be the main train station for getting around in Kobe. We wanted to go to see the earth quake damage but couldn’t figure out where it was. As we were looking at a map trying to figure out where things were in relation to the station a young woman came up and volunteered to take us to our destination. We walked through several beautiful parks on the way including Higashiyuenchi Park.

Higashiyuenchi Park 15-9-_2987

We ended up at a park dedicated to the earthquake but we realized later we really wanted to be at the Earthquake Memorial Museum. After walking around the park we decided to head over to Harborland and Meriken Park to look around.


After walking around the park we worked our way back to Kobe Chinatown and on to one of the large malls in Kobe then back to Sannomiya Station where we were to meet Justin and headed off to find a place for dinner.


Dinner was our first experience ordering a meal in Japan. When you go into a restaurant you are seated then your waiter disappears. They only return when you holler to them  them. I suspect Linda and I would still be sitting in the restaurant waiting for service if it wasn’t for Justin. Some of the chain restaurants have a buzzer that you can ring to wall your waiter,

After supper we walked over to Kobe Station where we were going to catch the train to Justin’s apartment. He took the opportunity to give us a tutorial on riding trains in Japan. There are a variety of trains and the key is to know which ones stop at the station you want to stop at. On the train platform there are symbols painted showing where the train stops and where you should be standing to get on the train. The electronic signs tell you which side of the platform the train will arrive at, the time and which symbol you should be standing by. Fortunately the information is periodically displayed in English.



We took the train our to Justin’s apartment which is only a few blocks from the school he teaches at. It was almost dark by the time we arrived. After the tour we were given detailed instructions on how to get back to our hotel. Fortunately we had walked down a couple of main streets from the station to his apartment so it wasn’t a problem getting back to the station. However, when we walked up to the platform and it was dark and were confused on which direction we should be heading. We missed the first train but we finally concluded that the trains that were full of people were heading out from the city so we took the empty train back into the city. We finally made it back to our hotel late in the evening. This is a view from his apartment.

View-from-Justins-Appartment Takatori-Japan-15-9-_2975

More photos from our visit to Japan can be found on my website.