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James's Travel log

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This is an ongoing, rambling project that should be finished the day after I die. Until then, feel free to read about some of my zany adventures, both in Canada and in other places.

Log entries 91 - 100 of 117 Page: 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

May 29, 2000 02:00 PM Off to Kobe for a conference

Off to Kobe for a conference I went to Yokohama to stay with a friend from university. At her suggestion, we had dinner at the El Torito near Yokohama station. The view from the 28th floor was amazing, Mt. Fuji at sunset is incredible! The food was pretty damn good too.

We got up early and headed to Shin-Yokohama station to catch the shinkansen (bullet train) to Kobe. I had been on it a few months before on our trip to Kyoto, but how fast it went still blew me away.

Apr 23, 2000 02:00 PM Back to Chikura

Back to Chikura I got back in my car about 11:30 and headed back to Chikura. Yasuko accompanied me back to Tokyo and was very helpful directing us.

After I dropped her off, I stopped at the National Azabu grocery store and picked up some goodies. Then I continued on to Chikura, arriving just in time for dinner.

Apr 22, 2000 02:00 PM Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle We spent most of the day touring the grounds of Matsumoto Castle.

The castle was especially interesting as it is one of only a few to have survived from the days of samurai and the shogunates. Most were lost in the civil war after Emperor Meiji reasserted imperial power and created the militarism and imperialistic goals that led to the attack on Pearl Harbor and World War 2. They were deliberately burned to destroy the samurai's power base.

The castle is known as the Crow castle, as it is all black, which was unusual during its heyday. Inside, one can walk where samurais and noble lords lived. The steps are very narrow and were built at a 70-degree angle, to make it very difficult for attackers to climb.

As an interesting footnote, this castle served as the base for both sieges of Ueda Castle.

We headed back to Chichibu just after lunch and the drive was very interesting. One the way here, we had traveled mostly by the large toll highway system, which is fast but can be very expensive. For our return route, we drove through back roads and over mountains. One of the highlights of the trip was a massive spiral overpass we had to drive across to get through a huge valley.

Apr 21, 2000 02:00 PM Nagano City

Nagano City We got up and drove to Nagano city, the capital of the prefecture and where most of the 1998 Winter Olympics were held. We went to Zenkoji Temple during the afternoon. One of the most interesting things about the tour was the point where you head into the basement and walk through pitch-black catacombs, finding your way by following a wall.

We wandered through a market and found a store that sold hockey stuff, and Jason bought himself a Team Japan Hockey jersey.

We headed back after lunch and then went to Matsumoto Castle in the evening and saw the whole donjon all lit up. Too bad my photos didn’t turn out…

Apr 20, 2000 02:00 PM Ueda Castle

Ueda Castle We piled into Jason’s car instead of mine and headed off. Big mistake. He has no stereo and his car makes an annoying pinging noise when he exceeds 80km/h.

We drove north into Nagano prefecture and stopped in Ueda city. Ueda Castle was really cool. While its donjon did not survive to the present day, most of the walls did as well as two guard towers. It is built on a hill and dominates the valley.

The history was especially interesting. Twice troops laid siege to Ueda and both times they were repulsed. The last siege was the largest. Apparently, the nephew of the last shogun to unite Japan (Tokugawa) laid siege to this castle with almost 40,000 troops. By the time he was forced to retreat, he had lost over one-third of them (15,000)!

Being farther north, the cherry blossoms (sakura) were just starting to bloom, so the whole province was beautiful.

We continued on to Matsumoto City, where we checked into our hotel and had dinner in a izakaya (pub) next door. It was one of the best yakitori (bbq) places I’ve eaten at in Japan.

Apr 19, 2000 02:00 PM Easter weekend in Nagano

Easter weekend in Nagano Well, it’s the Easter weekend, and because they don’t celebrate it here in Japan and it’s still the beginning of the school year, I took it off so I can head to Saitama to hook up with friends and then head into Nagano.

I got off work @ 2pm and thought about it, should I take my car or the train. With it raining, I thought it would be easier to take my car, so I hopped in and left Chikura at about 3pm. The drive is only about 350 km, which, at 80 km/h should take 5 hours. But I had to drive through Tokyo during the evening rush hour, so it was going to be a bit longer than that. Especially seeing as I’d never driven to Tokyo before and didn’t have a map.

I made good time until I hit downtown Tokyo at about 5:30 pm. Then it was almost total gridlock and oh so enjoyable stop and go traffic. I decided to ‘wait out’ rush hour and stopped in Shinjuku to get dinner and maybe pick up a map from Kinokuniya.

I got back on the road by 7:30 and before I knew it, it was 10pm and I was outside Chichibu city. I pulled into my friend’s place about 11pm, had a drink or two with him and his sister, and then hit the sack.

Mar 30, 2000 02:00 PM Back to Kanto

Back to Kanto Our Shinkansen left at noon, so we didn’t have time to see a bunch of shrines today, so instead we stopped at Kyoto Movie Land, which is where a lot of samurai movies and shows are filmed. The place was kind of cheesy, and I wouldn’t recommend it as a must-see, but if you’re into samurais and ninjas, it would be worth your time. Personally, I say go to Arashiyama instead…

Before we got on the train, we stopped at the Sanjo Shopping arcade again…don’t blame me, that’s what happens when you travel with women who love to shop. I didn’t find much of anything this 3rd time, but anything was better than just sitting at the train station platform for the train.

After we got back to Tokyo, we went in Akihabara and looked around some, then checked into our hotel, as the next morning we were heading to Tokyo Disneyland for the day.

Mar 29, 2000 02:00 PM Temples and Shrines galore

Temples and Shrines galore We all got up and headed out to see some more shrines.

Well today, we went on a tour of the Imperial Palace. Jason’s girlfriend said that foreigners can get on a tour here much easier than Japanese, because of the demand. I guess the average family has to write in advance and the wait can be up to 2 years long! Yasuko was able to come with us as our ‘tour guide’.

While most buildings are obviously off-limits, they are kept in excellent condition, and the gardens are amazing! The first shrine we stopped at was Kinkakuji, which loosely translated means golden temple. Built hundreds of years ago, it is covered in golf leaf and spectacular.

Our next stop was the Hirano Shrine. It was very interesting because of the long line of red Torii gates. We also topped by Kitano Tenmangu shrine as well as about 4 or 5 more that were along the way as we walked.

The highlight of the day was supposed to be Nijojo (Nijo Castle), but it was a bit of a letdown. Thinking of castles, I had thought it would be something physically imposing and very impressive, but instead it had rather low walls and wasn’t very interesting. I guess the big reason for this is that it was designed as an administrative building rather than a fighting castle.

We went back to Sanjo Shopping Arcade and went into the British pub there. The food and beer was affordable and quite tasty. Who knew Brits could make a decent pizza?

Mar 28, 2000 02:00 PM Going to Kyoto

Going to Kyoto Well, Jason’s family is here from Canada, so we are heading out to Kyoto for a few days.

We took the Hikari shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto from Tokyo this morning. It sure moves…275 km/h! We left early in the morning and got there by about lunchtime. We stopped and visited the Kyoto Craft Centre and I bought the coolest little mobile for my desk. We then hopped in a cab and went to see some of Kyoto’s famous shrines.

First stop was the Heian Shrine, one of the bigger and more well-known shrines. Then it was off to a smaller one, the Jishu Jinga Shrine. Then we went to Kiyomizudera, probably Kyoto’s biggest and definitely one of the more famous. It built on a hillside and was huge! As per usual custom, we washed our hands prior to entering the temple. The water poured from a dragon’s head fountain that I thought was very cool.

Then we headed downtown to the Sanjo Shopping Arcade for dinner. We went to Capricciosa, which just like the locations in Tokyo, was fantastic. Portions big enough to share at great prices!

Jul 16, 1999 02:00 PM Off to Japan

Off to Japan Well, it’s off to Japan to teach English. And it's going to take the better part of a day to get there.

We landed in Vancouver at 7am local time and then had to wait for our flight to Tokyo, which left at 3pm. We wandered around the domestic terminal and waited for Jason’s sister, who was in Vancouver to see a concert. She showed up and we each wished each other well, than she left for Edmonton. We went over to the international terminal and went through security.

Because we flew business class, we got to go into the Air Canada lounge, which was pretty awesome. Huge comfy chairs, all the snacks and booze you could want and a place to drop our carry-on bags.

It turned out the flight was delayed, so we didn’t board until after 3pm, and didn’t get airborne until after 4pm, but it was alright. Man, business class was awesome! Once you try it, it’s hard to go back to economy. The chairs were much wider, each had a small TV (hidden in the armrests), and reclined almost vertical. Then the food came! Instead of the usual ‘Chicken or Beef’ option, we were presented with a menu and asked which main course, side dish, etc we wanted. Wow! We were given all sorts of amenities to use and had our choice of 4 movie channels!

The flight was great and went smoothly. After landing, we went through customs and then out into the night air. It was sweltering! +36 and 100% humidity! Then it was onto one of several dozen buses and off to our hotels in Tokyo.

When I got to my hotel, I called my penpal Masae, and we went to Royal Host for coffee and to chat. Then it was back to the hotel and off to bed, as I had to get up early for meetings the next morning.

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