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April 25th

Got up to finish packing.  Took way too much stuff, I could hardly carry everything I took out the door.  We took the Shinkansen from Karuizawa to Nagano City.  We went to the McD's there, it is to the left of the station as you exit towards the big square.  There were many students there, out on schools trips.  The seat warmer in McD's was a bit of a shock, I can do without that, at least while it is not freezing outside.

We took the Limited Express Shinano (train time table for Nagano) to Nagoya, a three hour trip.  It was downhill almost all the way.  Not in a bad way, but we were up in the mountains in Nagano City and Nagoya is on the coast.  The mountains were beautiful, as was the river along the side of the tracks for the second half of the trip.  There are many amazing valleys on this trip, well worth the journey just for the view.  This is the Japan more people should see.

We switched to the Shinkansen at Nagoya for an other three hour trip, this time to Osaka.  I chatted briefly to the woman beside me about Canada.  She very much wanted to visit Canada sometime.  I found the humidity and heat on the train very hard, but Megan thought it was just fine.   The humidity was increasing, as we went further south to Osaka.

When we arrived at Osaka-shin station (train time table for Osaka)  we had to go to the main Osaka station for the subway.  We stored our gear in a locker, but it took us a while to find a locker big enough to fit my bag.  When we did get it in, I had forgotten my sunglasses and hat.  So I went to get change and put the money in a phone card machine by mistake (its in Japanese, ok?).

While Megan was trying to figure out which subway line to take, I suggested a line.  We had to get off at the next stop and go the other way.

Osaka castle is huge and fabulous.  Very imposing and impressive.  We went up into the main section of the tower and took pictures.  Admission was 600 yen.

We had to rush to get to Osaka Aquarium, the Ring of Fire Aquarium, where admission was 2000 yen, but we were only able to stay an hour.  I had to use Megan's camera, as mine probably wouldn't be able to work well through the two meter thick glass.  I used two 800 speed films and one and a bit of a 100 in my camera.  The fish and the aquariums were great,  and there are several new additions to the fabulous collection.  I figured out that people with cameras have right-of-way in Japan, as people let you in if you have a camera up and ready to shot.  Either that, or they were being friendly to a gaijin.  I wish I could have spent more time heer and that I'd had a SLR digital camera.  A hint, don't use a flash if you go there, the pictures won't turn out.  I, of course, didn't use a flash and the pictures came out.  On the few occasions I'd forgotten to turn the flash off, the pictures didn't come out.

Rushing again, we were to met kanako at the hotel at 6:30pm, actually we saw her at the subway station by the hotel at 6:45 pm.  But first had to return to Osaka station (map of station, map 2) and find our bags, after whcih we had a hard and frustrating time finding the correct subway line.  While checking into the hotel, I had a hard time finding my extra cash, as the hotel was a bit more than we'd thought it would be.  I'd put the money in my address book, but that had been the day before and standing in the lobby I was trying not to take absolutely everything out of the bag.

Kanako, Megan and I, went out for Okonomiyaki (a Japanese type of veggie omlette you make yourself, a link for Kansai style Okonomiyaki).  A good value at under 1000 yen with a Coke.  We went through the night club area and there were many kids dressed up, mostly like their favourite J-Pop idols.  When I returned to the hotel, I was flipping around and the strangest channel was one that seemed to be advertising `love hotels'.  Strange, cus your in a hotel, would you really need to use a different one?  Well that might depend....  I saw Mini-suka Police for the first time, very funny.  Five women in blue PVC mini-skirts (link to Example 1Example 2), with a police styling trying to get couples to do embarrassing things on camera for cheap prizes, like a dinner or something.

April 26th

 Breakfast at the hotel was Japanese style.  Cold egg, rice, salmon slab, seaweed and some Japanese & green teas.  Hopefully the western breakfast tomorrow will be more appealing.  I didn't mind it, but I prefer not eating rice and fish for breakfast.

Kanako met us at the hotel and we went by subway to the Expo 70 Park and Musuem.  The park is quite big, especially by Japanese standards.  The museum's exhibits concentrate on Ethnicity and Culture.

We lunched at MosBurger (a MosBurger) and it was great.  A must for anyone in Japanese is this very fine restaurant chain.  Unfortunately, their only outlets in North America are in California and Hawaii, a bit of a commute for me.  The burgers were very good (see future link to menu).

The trip to Osaka Zoo was to the other side of the city.  The zoo was in many ways disappointing, to the point I decided not to go to the zoo in Kyoto, out of fear it might be similar.  I may still go to Nagoya Zoo later, because it is supposed to be a modern zoo.  Osaka has a city zoo, with many of the animals kept in cramped and poor conditions.  Quite a few were noticibly suffering from physociological and health problems.  On the plus side, the new developments are very good and contain many of the modern zoological techniques.  But at least half the zoo is of the old 1930s or so style.  This is my western bias.  Of course, I should point out my main reference is the Toronto Zoo, which is among the best in the world.

We were not able to see the park near the zoo as it was closed, being after 5:30 pm, when we left the zoo.  But there is a greenhouse and other attractions.  If I return to Osaka, which I hope to do, then I will go to the park and most likely avoid the zoo.

The Sega World is nearby and we went there for an hour or so.  The arcade was way better than any in Canada, of course, and I maxed out on some racing games.  Megan and I played Armadilo Racing, at the time, a game that had been out for only a month.  There is a roller coaster that flies through the shopping mall.

We headed back to the hotel, briefly, then to a Ramen shop just down the road.  I had a Ramen with BBQ'ed chicken.  From there we went to Kanako's grandmother's house and then to her parents house, a block away.  I met her parents and brother.  Megan introduced me as `Robert', this is Kanako's boyfriend's name.  After chatting for three hours, they are a very nice family, we headed back to the hotel.  A Formula One Grad Prix was on tv, not sure which one, but I watched it in Japanese anyway.

There is a Kodak  store between the hotel and the subway station entrance, and it sells very cheap film.  A 5 roll pack of 24 exposure, 400 speed film for 870 yen, or about $9 CND.  A great price anywhere. 

April 27th

From the hotel, Megan and I, went to Osaka station.  Our first attempt to get to Kyoto was aborted, as we had taken the local train.  We returned to Osaka and a few minutes later, boarded the JR Rapid Express.  This train took only 35 minutes and made only one stop.  We passed the other train after only about ten minutes.

In Kyoto, we first went to the Information Center for some brochures, its across the street from the station.  We travelled to Tenryuu-ji Temple, only a short walk through a village from Sagaano-sen (station).  This side of Kyoto is very nice.  Its is ringed by mountains on one full side, with the temple on the hill.  Tenyruu-ji is very nice, with individual gardens along a path to the temple.  Behind the temple (and a few hundred yen) is a very tranqual garden.  It is partially moss covered and is hilly.  A lovely pond and large and colourful koi donimate the immediate rear of the temple, below the hill gardens.  Tenryuu-ji is one of the best examples in Japan of hill terrace gardening.  A walk to the top of the hill offers a nice view of that portion of Kyoto.

From Sagano-sen there is a `Romantic Train' to a botanical gardens, we didn't go, but it looks very nice in the brochure.

We easily found our way to a tram line, as it was outside an exit to the temple.  From here we proceeded to Ryooanji-machi (station) and then on to Ryooan-ji Temple, with its world famous moss gardens and stone garden.  The walk from the tram station is up hill through a neighbourhood.  Within the temple walls there is the rock garden and a moss garden, as well as a wishing pool.  Outside is a large gardens with a huge pond, small islands, large koi and a few turtles sunning themselves.

Wandering back down the hill, we took the tram to a point we though we could easily find a connecting JR line.  But for about an hour we wandered around, finally finding a JR station and then headed to Kyoto station, on a train loaded with school kids.  From there we went back to Osaka station and a quick nap at the hotel.  There is a MosBurger across the road and we had supper there.  Luckily, the hotel has a laundry room on each floor and we did laundry.  Had I know, I would have brought far less clothing for this portion of the trip.  I needed change, so I went down to the front desk and said, `Okane o kudasai'.  Which means `Please give me money'.  But he understood and I was able to get change, instead of him thinking I was trying to rob him.

April 28th

Started today by getting up late.  Packed and left the hotel.  We said our good-byes to Kanako.

We went to Daiwa Bank so I could exchange my traveller's checks, but they said they couldn't do it.  So they sent me across the street to Tokyo-Mitsubishi Bank, but they wouldn't exchange Canadian dollar traveller's chacks.  We went to Sanwa Bank but they wouldn't help me until after 11:am, and it was before 10:am then, because I had Canadian traveller's checks.  We left it until we got to Himeji and the Sakura Bank there was very helpful and fast.

When we finally got to Osaka station, we'd just missed a train, so we took a semi-local train to Himeji.  At Himeji station we stowed our gear in a locker and proceeded to Himeji Castle  (inside Himeji Castle).  It is the best castle in Asia and is very impressive from almost any angle.  We took the tour of the castle, well worth it, even if the slippers we were required to wear (no shoes allowed) didn't fit and after my feet had cramped up, I took them off and walked around in my socks.  They were filming a Samuri drama here.

The Himeji Musuem, or Hyooga Prefecture Musuem of History, is just behind the castle a bit.  It is very new and has some very fine (and large) examples of Japanese castle keeps.  As we were pretty much the only ones in the musuem at 3:30 pm, at least in the general area of the children's area, I was asked if I wanted to put on a Shoogun's costume.  Two of the girls who worked there dressed me up in this costume, taking about 25 minutes.  They didn't speak much English and I miss took vacation for vocation, further confusing them.  (Some how, I later got foreigner and coroner mixed up when talking with Megan.)  Dressing up was fun and I got to sit on a large fake horse in the costume, and Megan took my picture.  I also asked the girls to join me for a photo.

We made our way slowly back to the station and 25 minutes from the musuem, Megan figures out she has lost her camera (she had also forgotten her bank card at home, and I'd had to lend her money).  So we rushed back to the musuem, as they were closing and Meg got her camera.  She'd forgotten it in the toilet.

We made our way even slower towards the station, stopping to pick up a snack from a bakery.  Arriving at the station, we found the only train to be a local service train, and this took one hour and twenty minutes to Okayama.

On the trip to Okayama we saw many traditional style houses, mostly in relatively isolated valleys.  It was McD's for supper and I tried their new bacon cheese burger, it is not very nice and I will avoid it in the future.

One thing i did notice in Himeji was that virtually every woman was attractive.  But in Okayama (Okayama Prefecture HomePage, wierd graphics), its the opposite.

April 29th

Other than losing her mind after spending six days with me, Megan didn't lose anything today.  At least that we know of.

We dropped our bags off at the station and headed off for Korakuen Gardens.  The gardens are set out in a strolling design and ahve many small gardens.  The Chinese wisteria was in a beautiful bloom on one pagoda.   The greenhouse was over 40 degrees centigrade and fantastic.  It contained many varieties of orchids and huge cactus.  Both of us finished off all our film in the greenhouse. I took some great photos of the park.

From Okayama station, we took the Shinaksen to Hiroshima.  Once again we stuffed our stuff in a locker and made our way by tram to the Peace Park (Hiroshima City tourist link).  We took pictures of the park and dome, and visited the Korean monument.  Where we met two New Zealanders who also had the `Lonely Planet' travel guide.  We toured the Peace Musuem and wandered around the park.   One monument, for children is covered with thousands of paper cranes sent in from around the world.

As it is Green Day in Japan (nothing, originally, to do with environmentalism, it was to celebrate the Emperor Showa's birthday), the National flag is flying, one of the few days of the year.

Okayama must be the exception, as the women in Hiroshima are very attractive and have great legs.  Sorry for noticing ;-)....

April 30th

Meg's turn to sleep in and we left an hour later than planned.  We took the JR line out to Miyajima then the JR Ferry to Miyajima Island.  The island is quite nice, but overly touristy.  The Itsukushima Shrine wasn't bad (big red H in the water), but it needs a coat of paint.  The walk to the Aquarium was short, over a small hill.  A group of schoolgirls said `Konnichi wa', to me, I turned to reply and tripped slightly on the curb to the entrance of the Aquarium.

Miyajima Aquarium seemed small, but both Megan and I took a combined four rolls of film.   Miyajima Aquarium, is supposed to be one of the largest and most diverse Aquariums in Japan.  There was some fish similar to Osaka, but most were rare or unique.  On the walk back Megan found a stall selling Green Tea soft cones (receipe two). Ugh.

We just about made the ferry by seconds.  My JR Pass let me in fast, but Megan had to buy her ticket.  I stood on the edge of the ferry till Megan got there so they couldn't lift it.  The train to Hiroshima was late, one and a half minutes, our first late train of the trip.  The trip back to Hiroshima was twenty-five minutes.  The rush was then to buy drinks, get the bags and rush to the other side of the station to the Shinkansen tracks.

On the ride back north (about a seven hour journey) we saw the Shinkansen train holding yards just outside of Shin-Osaka.  From Nagoya we took the Limited Express to Nagano City.  There is a  ribbon of rocks on the valley about twenty meters across, as the river winds it's way down this path in the valley.  It is absolutely gorgeous.  Many miles long, interspersed with cut rock facings and narrow channels.  Being able to fly a helicopter down the valley and film it would be great, or even raft long sections of it.  The best area is just south of Kiso-Fukushima.

From Nagano City we took the Shinakansen to Karuizawa and home, but not before getting a stupid taxi driver who could not understand where we were to go and it cost us an extra 200 yen more than usual.  He kept calling for instructions and going the wrong way.  When we finally got to the hotel beside Megan's house, he stopped in the street and we almost got hit a few times.  I was not impressed and did not care about the rudeness of actually opening my own door to get out of the car as fast as I could.  We watched G-Force ( or Gatchaman, a Japanese cartoon {anime} that we watched in the late 70's in Canada) and then went to sleep.

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