Just before Christmas we enjoyed an overnight stay in Toba. Well, it was raining cats and dogs when we arrived but this was expected. The ryokan was a bit of a disappointment, though Olwen did enjoy the hot baths that are typical of these traditional inns and we did sleep well on futon on the floor! The next day dawned bright and clear (again, as forecast) and we got out fairly quickly to walk a few hundred metres (or yards) to Mikimoto Pearl Island. This was no disappointment at all with a great display by the Ama pearl divers, a fascinating memorial hall detailing the history of Mikimoto-san, the man who pioneered the procedure for producing cultured pearls, an excellent museum and – yes – finally a shop! There was also a restaurant where we enjoyed an oyster-based lunch for an extremely reasonable price (about 15 euros each for the food and another 5 euros each for a drink).
After exhausting the possibilities of the island we took the train down to Kashikojima at the end of the Ise peninsula. If you follow these things, you may remember a recent G7 summit being held there. We had purchased a five-day rail pass for the Kintetsu line (one of three railway companies operating in the region) so the additional travel cost us nothing. (The rail pass also gave us a discount on the entrance fee for Mikimoto Pearl Island). In Kashikojima we looked at various shops selling pearl necklaces, earrings etc. Olwen really liked one necklace that incorporated a detachable bracelet (attached in-line using little magnets and making the necklace longer). She didn’t want the bracelet however and the shop-owner agreed to sell the necklace part alone for a very reasonable price. It was even more reasonable than we thought, in fact, as the necklace was on the “50% off” table and the price we agreed had not yet been discounted so we got a nice surprise when we ended up paying not 40 euros but only 20 euros! The necklace is a twisted three-strand, made of freshwater pearls.
The train ride back to Nagoya somehow managed to take about 4 hours, which was much longer than it had taken us to get there, but there was only one change of trains and we were comfortable.
The next day was Christmas Eve and we enjoyed a party at our church, All Nations Fellowship. Everyone brought food to share and there was a game where teams had to mime Christmas carols. We were not so keen on miming but someone guessed ours very quickly so the embarrassment was minimised!
On Christmas Day we went to brunch at the apartment of a friend from church, Rachel. This time, we were instructed not to bring food as Rachel had prepared everything (we took some chocolate bark anyway). I left after a couple of hours to go back to our flat and pick up my bass since I was playing at the afternoon service at ANF. Olwen stayed on to play various games.
On Boxing Day (also my day – St Stephen’s Day!) we took the shinkansen to Tokyo where we checked in to our favourite hotel, the Shinagawa Prince. We had booked the train that stops at every station so it took a while, but it cost less and there’s a drinks voucher too! One of the stations was Shin-Fuji and we got a good view of the mountain though the skies were not blue unfortunately.
On Tuesday 27th, we opened the curtains to a grey and cloudy day, so we took umbrellas with us when we went to Shibuya by train. It’s another area of Tokyo, where there’s a statue of Hachiko. He’s a dog who met his master after work every day to walk home with him. One day, the master died, but the dog continued to go and meet that train.
Sad. I don’t know if it’s a true story or not.
Just outside the station was a Hello Kitty information booth, so we went in and got some good brochures, such as a tourist map of Tokyo, and leaflets called ‘88 things to do in Shibuya’ and ‘100 things to do in Tokyo.’
We met our old friends Yoshiko and her son Ken, who returned to Tokyo about 5 years ago. We also met Yuka and her daughter Sara who came back here in July 2016. They didn’t all know each other in Brussels but there was enough conversation to last our lunch. After our sushi lunch, the waitress brought out a jar of lollipops for all of us to choose, in the shape of sushi on sticks. 🙂
After that, they all went home and Stephen and I had a look at shops and had a coffee in Macdonald’s, so we could rest Stephen’s foot and also look through the brochures and find out what was near at hand to see before heading back to the hotel.
We discovered a half-hour walk up a narrow road with loads of little cafes and quaint crafty-type shops. At the far end of the road is a famous little Portuguese bakery selling their special custard pies (pasteis de nata) and other things. We bought a custard pie for Stephen and a chicken pie for me. Then we crossed the road into Yoyogi Park, which is a famous place, and we walked there and ate our pies until the siren went to tell everyone it was nearly dark (5pm!) and therefore closing time for the gates.
We came out of the park at a different side, and found a half-timbered building there, looking like Stratford-on-Avon. It was the station building! From there we took the train back to the hotel.
Wednesday morning was bright and cloudless, and our hotel room was looking out a different way than we’ve looked in the past. And there was Mount Fuji in the distance, but still so massive. They say that Fuji is shy and hides behind clouds for 293 days a year. We were able to see the mountain 4 days that week!
Once again we took the train to another part of Tokyo, Higashi Nagano
. Our friend Mikiko met us there and took us to her house for lunch. (In 2015, Mikiko was our professional guide for a day tour of Tokyo and we kept in touch. She and her husband visited Brussels in September 2015 and we’ve kept in touch by email.) She’d made a lovely spread of soup and fried dumplings (gyoza
), and we made our own sushi from plates of sashimi (raw, sliced fish) and vegetables. Then we had a lovely blackcurrant and chocolate mousse. It looked really professional. She’s taken up French lessons and confectionery-making, so these were the desserts she’d made in class the previous evening. Her adult daughter joined us for lunch too. She had spent a year in England, in Tunbridge Wells learning English as a gap year, I think.
After lunch we had a walk then Mikiko left us to do her shopping. Stephen and I went on to Shinjuku to have a little look round the station. We were waiting to see the illuminations there, and we found them – but they were all pink. 😦
On Thursday the 29th we took the train to a little town in the outskirts of Tokyo called Kichijoji and had a Kentucky Fried Chicken Christmas lunch box. A lot of Japanese people think it’s cool to eat American-style chicken on Christmas day, so KFC has developed this special lunch deal and Olwen wanted to try it. If you want to eat it on Christmas Day, you have to order it way in advance! Then we walked around a lake in the park and enjoyed the sunshine before catching the train to another suburb called Kunitachi, where Naomi met us. Olwen taught Naomi in Brussels and her husband was one of my ‘guinea-pigs’ for teaching experience. We had an Italian meal at their house which was really good. Naomi learnt how to cook Italian from a friend in Brussels. She thought we might be fed up with Japanese food after 4 months here, so would like something European for a change. It was indeed a welcome change!
On the way home from there house we stopped at a place called Ebisu, where there was supposed to be a Christmas market till midnight, but unfortunately it had already closed when we arrived. I think perhaps the brochure had got the wrong dates or times. The little wooden huts were there, but they were closed. However, the largest Baccarat, cut-glass chandelier in the world was on show, all lit up as part of the illuminations so we enjoyed seeing that.
The following morning we took a longer train journey to the other side of Tokyo to a place called Shibamata. It’s very famous in Japan because there was a film series which ran from about 1949 and was set in this village. It’s like a step back into the past. We met Asako and Miyuki, one old and one new friend, and Miyuki guided us round the village, the shrine with fantastic wood carvings, the film museum and the tea-house. We ate lunch in a tavern specialising in fried spiced eel. Olwen had wanted to try it for a long time, so that is another thing crossed off her list. It was OK, but nothing to shout about. However, they told us that in Nagoya, eel is eaten in a different way, so we will have to try it again here. 🙂
After that, we took the train into the main Tokyo station which is a beautiful building but is currently under reconstruction so we couldn’t get a proper view of it. We also saw the illuminations down the fashionable Maranouchi shopping street. They were mostly white lights, but the interesting thing is that they are powered by wind and sun.
On Saturday 31st we decided to go in a different direction just outside Tokyo, to Yokohama, which was a lovely last day. We were by ourselves, with no friends to guide us, and we walked and saw the marina, long parkways, beautiful glass windows in the station building, a shopping mall in an old-fashioned red brick building which may have been some kind of wharf-front warehouse in the past, and found our way back to another station. We hadn’t seen much of Yokohama before (only Chinatown for about half an hour on another day trip in 2015) but we really want to go again because there’s a pedestrian walk we didn’t manage to finish and we missed Chinatown completely, though we did have a delicious Chinese lunch in a quiet spot en route.
Finally we came back to Shinagawa, picked up our suitcase and got the fast train home; it stopped only once – in Yokohama and we realised that with a bit of planning we could probably have got on the train there. We saw Mt Fuji for the last time as the sun was setting and were home for about 6pm. It was a busy week, but fun and we enjoyed it.