May, 2010

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by Harumi Okochi.
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Doll Festival Decoration in Yanagawa

Hello, friends.

Do you remember Mr. David Maclennan
, who lives in Tasmania, and he has written for me three times on this page. I asked him again to write about his latest trip to Japan.
Please enjoy!

Two Unplanned Trips to Japan.
by David Maclennan

Our interest in Japan only started in 1990 when we hosted an AFS Exchange student from that country.  We have made several trips to Japan since then, and the saga continues.

After our previous four and a half week trip to Japan in 2007 we had eventually decided that we would return in 2011.  The basic planning for this trip was well and truly underway when Ann, who is a beauty therapist, came home one day and said that one of her clients had mentioned that there were some cheap airfares being offered to New Zealand.  So, it was onto the internet site of our favourite airline and a return fare was being offered, not to New Zealand but to Tokyo for AUD238.00 which was unbelievable.  It came to a bit more than that by the time you added taxes in but, nevertheless, it was still very cheap so we decided to book it and spend a couple of weeks in Japan later that year in October 2009.  Trip number one.  Sorry New Zealand!

About two weeks after we had booked and paid for the fares Asuka, our AFS “daughter”, emailed us to tell us that she was getting married in March 2010.  We had no option, we just had to go.  Trip number two.

Hagi street after thunder

We had decided to make the 2009 trip a very rushed one, trying to see as many friends as possible in the short time we had.  Consequently, it was “hello” one day and “goodbye” the next.  However, we did manage to see a couple of new places - Yamaguchi and Hagi - if only for a few hours.  And guess what, it rained while we were in Hagi which curtailed our trip up to the area of the castle ruins.  Mind you, we did meet a very nice lady while sheltering in her carport from the rain.  When the rain stopped, we set off once again only to be met by the same lady several minutes later on her bicycle with two umbrellas for us.  How very kind and thoughtful.  The same sort of thing happened to me a few trips back in Arashiyama when, after I had asked a lady how to get to the Post Office, she did not know but came back a few minutes later to show me.

People here, in Australia, frequently ask us why we go to Japan so often.  It was summed up in an article in the Flight magazine on the way back this time.  The travel writer said there were a number of reasons why she liked and wrote about a particular place and we feel that for us the reasons we keep returning to Japan were all embodied in her article.  They were, as far as we can remember, as follows.

1.  The People.  We have found that people in Japan are so friendly and helpful.  Besides those examples above another from the latest trip springs to mind.  We had to change trains at Tenjin station in Kyushu.  We had never been there before so I went off to ask a Ticket Collector where to go.  I had left Ann looking after the cases while I did so.  The Ticket Collector left his post to direct me which way to go.  In the meantime, a gentleman asked Ann what she was doing and when I returned he escorted us, carrying Ann’s case, not only to the platform but also talked me through the process of getting tickets from the machine.  This is just one example from scores of others.

2.  The Food.  For me food is very important.  The taste, the presentation and the service.  Food does not have to be very expensive to fulfill all of the above.  Obviously, the quality is better the more that you pay.  But for us, some of the best meals are ones we have had at station restaurants.  In Kanazawa two examples are outstanding.  Late afternoon - coffee (freshly ground and made), fresh sandwiches and a dessert all for ¥500 each.  Evening - an okonomiyaki (the best we have tasted in Japan) and beer all for ¥1500 each.  Needless to say, the meals at Yoyokaku are superb.

3.  The Accommodation.  People say “Isn’t it very expensive in Japan?” and we tell them that you can find cheap accommodation anywhere, because all you need is a bed to sleep in each night.  You can find an adequate ryokan providing dinner, bed and breakfast for as little as ¥7000 each for the night.  But again, you get what you pay for.

4.  Safety.  Japan is one of the few places in the world (and we have visited over 18 different countries) where we feel truly safe at all times.

5.  The Culture.  Because the culture of Japan is so different from what we are used to, we find it so interesting.  Not only that, there is so much to learn and see.

6.  The Scenery.  The scenery differs wherever you are in Japan and from season to season.  The plum and cherry blossoms in spring, the beautiful autumn colours and the snow in winter.  Kenrokuen in Kanazawa epitomizes all of this.

7.  Travel.  It is so easy to get from place to place either on the shinkansen, local trains or by bus.

Well, that has taken us off on a tangent, so back to the tale and this year’s trip and the highlights in chronological order.  Our first port of call was Kansai airport where we returned some luggage to another AFS student, who was with our grand-daughter for last year, and we met with her parents who were very nice people indeed and arranged to meet in Kyoto before we returned home.

After dinner at Yoyokaku
with Korean Honeymooners Kim and Son

  Then it was off to Karatsu.  At Yoyokaku, we met a Korean couple who were on their honeymoon.  Den-san took the four of us around for the day to show us some of the sights.  A great day was enjoyed by all, and even if the weather was not the best the hospitality was wonderful, as always.  We finished off the day with a sumptuous meal of “shabu-shabu”.  An excellent start to the trip.

After Karatsu, we went to Yanagawa - the Venice of Japan.  We stayed at Hakuryuso ryokan which proved interesting in that the only person who spoke English was a Russian maid.

Gondolier in Yanagawa

We had a pleasant stay and went on a “gondola” on the canals, at one stage being serenaded by the boatman.  Yanagawa was decked out for Girl’s Day with dolls and mobiles galore.  They were on the streets, in shops and on the banks of the canals.  It was a very colourful two days.  Then it was off to Tokyo to meet up with some friends before the wedding.

The wedding was very different to the one we attended in 2007 which was a traditional Shinto wedding

Asuka's wedding

This one was carried out in a western Chapel with an American minister.  Nevertheless, it was an excellent afternoon and evening.  We would not have missed it for the world.

We arrived in Kanazawa the day after the wedding and in the evening it started to snow.  It snowed for the next 24 hours but only lightly and it was most enjoyable walking around in the ten centimetres of snow as we very seldom see snow at home.

Finally, we arrived back in Kyoto, a place where there is so much to see and do.  We have spent over three weeks in total in Kyoto over the years and there is still so much more that we want to see.  The Yamada’s were there to take us out for our final day.  And what a day it was, visiting a couple of temples and shrines that we had not visited before.  Walking through the back streets under the plum blossom before being taken out to lunch.  Two and a half hours and nineteen courses later we went for another walk before heading back to Kyoto Station and saying goodbye until next year.  We did not need to go out for dinner and I think it was the first time that I have not been able to finish my breakfast the next morning.  What a lunch!!!  What a way to finish the trip.

Roll on September 2011.

Thank you so much David-san, for writing for me again.
Thank you, readers, to read David-san's essays.
If you want to see his previous ones, click below and see them.

David's trip #1

David's trip #2
David's trip #3

Thank you very much for visiting this page.
I hope you will return next month.
Yours, Harumi Okochi
Proprietress of

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