That’s it for Japan, at least until next time. From Nikko I took the train out of the mountains, through Tokyo, three Shinkansen hours south to Himeji, where it is warmer and no snow. I finally had nice views, at 130 kph, of Mt Fuji both going south and then on the return.
On my 2010 trip I visited Himeji on a Sunday during the height of Sakura. Thousands were out having Hanami, their cherry blossom celebration and possibly even more were in line to get into Japan’s most significant remaining castle. I remember walking for about three hours in a slowly moving line up through the perimeter walls into Himeji Castle, up the five or six flights to the top and then back down again, always in a line of people. It is a beautiful thing from every view and the interior, all wonderfully crafted woodwork, anxiously protected in numerous ways from fire that has caused the demise of many of these mediaeval masterpieces. I did the visit again. The grey winter day could not compete with my celebratory blossom filled first visit, but I could wander at will as there were a fraction of the people visiting.
It was pleasant spending a few days in Himeji, mostly walking the streets and eating. I am finally getting into a number of the small street restaurants, each offering a specialty of some sort. I never know what that specialty is, but I just point at a picture and the meal has always been great. I am paying about $8-12 and usually have a good sized bowl of rice or noodles with vegetable a meat or fish done in a tasty way. This will often be accompanied by a separate bowl of miso soup, always with some differentiating taste. If I was fussier I could be using my translator to ask about the ingredients before I order, but they have all been so good that I haven’t bothered.
After three nights in Himeji I moved on to Tokyo where I booked into a hotel a few minutes by metro from the Haneda Airport where I will be flying from. I am staying for four nights. Getting to the hotel was the challenge. I arrived by Shinkansen getting off at Shinagawa, one of the many major Japanese Railway stations in Tokyo. My other experiences, always involving a train transfer had been at Tokyo Station. At these stations there are many lines intersecting at up to three levels. Signage is great, but you have to concentrate and be careful because there are many people levels, kilometers of connecting passages and thousands of people. In transferring through Tokyo station I usually had about 15 minutes to find my ongoing platform. It was usually plenty, but I didn’t make any mistakes either. This time I was transferring onto the metro system. Much more complicated.
I found my way out of the JR system and onto the correct metro line but then made one screw-up. On each metro line not all trains stop at all stations, so at first I overshot and had to find my way back to the stop I needed. The next day on my wanderings I spent a little longer to figure out how my metro line worked. On that day I went to the Nikon Museum, which just happened to be in the Shinagawa area, which is one of the dozens of cities that makes up Tokyo which, at 31 million, is by some measures the world’s largest city.
On my second full day in part to minimize transportation complexity I again went back to Shinagawa Station. I found my way back onto the JR system as it was the last day of my JR Pass, and went to Ueno Park, which is where a number of the important museums are. I spent much of the day in a family of three museums under the umbrella of the Tokyo National Museum. I browsed through Japanese and Asian history as represented by the over 100,000 items cataloged in these museums. There was also attention paid to early Japanese Arts and Crafts. My day wandering the Shinagawa area was beset by a cold wind that whistled through the cavernous streets lined with high-rises. Ueno Park was much nicer as the day was sunny with little wind and the park had drawn many people, including a baseball team having a practice. Nice day.
My final day was spent in the Haneda area, where my hotel is. I basically walked the small streets. I was doing a major wash so after two hours I went back to the hotel and emptied the machine that both washed and dried my clothes. Back out in the neighborhood my final Japanese experience was to indulge in one of my travel treats: I had a two hour haircut and shave. My hair was washed before and after the cut. My face was heated with a number of hot wet washrags and I was massaged from the top of my head down to my shoulders. My barber was an elderly woman whose father had started the business. Her husband and middle-aged son were both working on customers as well. And her English was pretty good. Great treat.
My eating experience in Tokyo followed that of Himeji. Each day at least once, but sometimes twice I went into a little eatery. I was sometimes the only one, but there were never more than a dozen other customers. All of my meals were good. I had a reasonable breakfast each morning at my hotel so there was no reason to eat more than one other meal, but I began ordering small portions so that I could go to another place that day.
I am leaving Tokyo without doing much formal touristing by design. I think that I get more pleasure out of walking the quiet streets and sitting in the simple parks than I do visiting prime tourist sites. I had also been to some of these in 2010 when I had a bike and was much more mobile. Tokyo at night is a great attraction for the younger visitors, but is of little interest for me, and so that further simplifies things.
This has been a very different trip for me than my 2010 cycle trip or my 2018 walking trip. Travelling by train, even in the wonders that are the Shinkansen, is not as attractive to me, but it has added an experience that was good as well. It sure is an efficient and pleasant way of getting around.
Tomorrow I’m off to Taiwan. I am expecting a very different kind of place, but mostly I am anxious to see how I do on a rented bike. Until then…
Thanks Ken! I’m enjoying your emails.
div>I’m about to board the Vancouver ferry