A Travellerspoint blog


Best city in Japan?

sunny 24 °C
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On the move again today, from Hakone to Osaka. We're getting better at the relatively early starts; in reception ten minutes prior to 9am pickup today. Punctuality is super important in Japan, i.e. your being ten minutes early is expected and factored into transit times it seems. For those who know me well, you'll be smiling wryly at how much of a challenge this presents, and Scott is smiling with you as he encourages "come on Anna, it's rude to be late in Japan"...punctual Bakers!.

We said goodbye to the gorgeous mountains as we travelled from Hakone back to Odawara station, where we boarded another bullet train. This is obvious but they go so so fast, which you don't realise when aboard, but blimey do you when one screams past you if it's not stopping at the station you're at. As a result of the warp speed, we travel 430km to Osaka in just over two hours (don't freak out mum but they don't have seat-belts, eek!!).

The first thing to say about Osaka is that Japan's second city is another sprawling metropolis like the first, and coming in from the 'countryside' we really noticed the contrast of the tall buildings and neon signs, not yet lit as it's only lunch time. Straight to our hotel to drop off heavy bags and refresh before a walkabout.

Slight deviation now - It might sound odd but you hear a fair bit about fancy Japanese toilets, and we felt they deserved a mention, the array of washing and drying options really is true, typically with heated seats, in all but public toilets in our experience so far. We've also learned why they are so; aside from the futuristic tech side of Japan, cleansing is really important here, including it seems, one's bottom!

Right, anyway, Osaka. Can be summed up in two words; EXTREMELY. COOL. We went out from Saturday afternoon to night time and it was literally like the best bits of London grouped together. We wandered from an eight-storey sports shop (Ollie has a new football) to uber stylish clothes/record shop/cafe area, to garden square where Ollie and I played with new football (and catch with some Japanese kids "Daddy I made some new fwends*") whilst Scott went to said record shop (Flake Records) before dinner. After dinner we ended up in the teenage hangout part of town with Punks and Grunge kids smiling at Ollie as we walked past shop after shop selling what might-not-be-totally-genuine branded things at very reasonable prices! We are going to hang out here some more tomorrow (Osaka, not with the teens especially) it's so good, before heading to Kyoto. Suffice to say we are feeling Japanese and we like it a lot!!!

  • * note this is not a typo! Ollie is not saying 'r' yet, so friends is "fw-ends". Either cute or nauseating, as you like. To add to the cuteness/nausea he bought some biscuits in a shop and said thank you "arigato" in Japanese, ahhh.

NB: There is a lack of photos of this leg of our trip due to our camera being lost...we are back up and running now with camera no.2 though so not much of a gap!

Posted by Bakerfam 04:14 Archived in Japan Tagged #japan #bakertravels2014 #osaka Comments (4)


Hot springs and Japanese Inns

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Thursday & Friday:

After saying 'sayonara' to Tokyo early Thursday morning, we headed to the main station to board our first Shinkansen (bullet train) venturing 80 km south to Odawara. A short bus trip got us safely to Hakone our next destination, where we were staying the next two nights at a Ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn) with onsen (hot spring bath).

The change in landsacpe and surroundings was striking, we had left the neon lights of the city behind and found ourselves ascending and weaving through lush forests (equally as stimulating as the capital) but for polar opppsite reasons. It felt like a Japanese lake district of sorts.

Hotel check-in times in Japan are very strict (as is punctuality) so we had most of the day to kill before we could unpack and settle in. With that we spontaneously hopped aboard the first bus that passed and headed to Lake Ashi for an explore and subsequent boat trip (we've loaded some photos of how beautiful and scenic this place was). The lake is relatively close to Mount Fuji but unfortunately the weather was slightly overcast and we were denied a view of Japan's largest mountain.

We made our way back towards the Ryokan using Hakone's Cable Car/Ropeway system. This was pretty epic with steep climbs and equally extreme drops as the cables navigated the way home over the small mountains that surround Mount Fuji. Some of them have sulphur spots where you can see hot smoke leaving the mountainside and smell is really strongly as the cable car passes by.

After what proved to be a very active day, we checked in to our Ryokan. Very little English was spoken here so we communicated as best possible with a few Japanese words, frantic hand signals and many smiles. We we're provided yukatas to wear and made our way to the room.

Shoes off at the door, 2 futon beds, a zabuton (low table with cushions), some wardrobes and absolute peace and quiet was what awaited us. The room was perfectly basic in a traditional Japanese style. We settled immediately in our new environment.

Now ....for the Onsen experience! The Japanese often talk of the virtues of "naked communion" for breaking down barriers and getting to know people in the relaxed atmosphere of a ryokan (!)....so with a deep breath and head held high Anna and I individually (men and women are separated) got involved. Onsen etiquette is as follows; remove yukata, enter the onsen (naked obvs) sit at one of many basin/ washing areas and rinse yourself with a bowl of water a few times over, then enter the hot spring bath (which really is one on the nicest treatments I have ever experienced) for a few minutes. Step out again, thoroughly wash hair and body - rinse thoroughly (ensure you do not splash neighbour nor take any soap suds back to the bath) and enter the bath again. Onsen water is believed to have healing powers derived from its rich mineral content.....the after affect is truly something. Other bathers (all Japanese - tourists/ families/ business people) really do not care about your lack of clothing of theirs for that fact, bathing is a unique part of Japanese culture and history, so to observe and respect the strict rules is key. (FYI - you can carry a small flannel for modesty reasons if desired, which must be placed on the head when in the bath....(!) but that is your choice).

Our second day was spent taking it extreeeeeeeeemely easy as we were jaded from the recent travel and events of the last 24 hours.....that only meant one thing, grab the flannel and head back to the Onsen to relax some more before the next leg of our trip. A wonderful experience.

Posted by Bakerfam 17:00 Archived in Japan Tagged #japan #bakertravels2014 #hakone #onsen #ryokan Comments (1)


Exploring the different wards of Tokyo

sunny 28 °C
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After a much needed rest Tuesday afternoon was spent exploring Tokyo (Tō "east" and kyō "capital") further. We are trying to include things that will keep us all entertained and as a result spent three hours in Hakuhinkan toy shop (one of Tokyo’s biggest). Photos attached of Ollies favourite bits; giant Scaletrix, train track and planes display. Lunch at the top floor Teppanyaki restaurant was pretty good too.

More walking apres toy shop, with coffee in hand and Ollie asleep in the (legendary) carrier we meandered to Tokyo Central Station to activate our rail passes. It is reminicent of King's Cross i.e. redbrick, but not as grand. We then decided to head back to our hotel and chill ahead of a whole day tour the next day so took the lazy route back (taxi) with yet another super lovely driver, this time speaking lots of English. He said he'd been to London backpacking in his youth and really liked it, all except the food, brilliant. Ended the day in our new routine, chill, enjoy film* and build/rebuild lego masterpieces.

  • * film options in case you're wondering are Cars 1&2, Chipmunks Chipwrecked (horrendous but Ollie loves it) and Dispicable Me 1&2 (which we all like lots!).


Today our travel helpers** had booked us a full day guided tour around Tokyo with a wonderful lady called Michiko. We met at 9am (note, too early with three yr old!!) and headed straight for the Sensouji Temple near our hotel. On the way we passed several restaurants and Michiko stopped at one with a fish tank in the window, full of blowfish we were advised. Turns out they have enough poison in one once of them to kill 3000 people and as a result can only be prepared by specially licensed chefs but are enjoyed by the Japanese as a delicacy not for flavour (they don't have much), but for texture. Michiko smiled and asked if we'd like to try some?! Having just met we politely said "no, thank you, how interesting though". In our inside voices however, conveyed by a look to each other, we said "is she kidding? Do we want to try a dish that could quite easily kill us on the off chance the chef is having an off day and misses the crucial mark separating delicacy from killer dish, actually Michiko we're ok thanks, all good on the killer fish front, thanks for asking though".

Anyway.....back to the temple. Although we'd already walked around the temple site, we learned so much revisitng it with Michiko, which just goes to show the value of a local guide. We've annoted the photos with notes for those who fancy a history lesson (a fun one!). Yet again in Michiko we encountered complete loveliness - gently spoken, full of knowledge and patient with our frequent needs to stop, adjust something, find a loo, have a snack, etc etc!

From the Temple we took the tube to the Hamarikyuteien gardens which are now under the care of the city council having been passed to them after the last Shogun gave up his power. They're reminicent of Central Park NYC (albeit much smaller), overlooked by skyscrapers and a respite from the office if the number of office workers we saw picnicking was any indication. Michiko said that in Japan people typically take an outdoor lunch to break up the long working day (10+ hour days plus commute are typical!).

After the gardens we had lunch together and by now we'd realised that Italian food is kind ofthe second cuisine in Japan after food from the Asia region. So with a big lunch for Ollie in mind we had Italian (again!). Have to say, people say Japan is expensive, which it is for imported goods and nice clothes, but what's a lot cheaper that we'd expected is really tasty food (e.g. lunch for four was 20 quid), super efficent public transport, hotels and food shopping. On the topic of shopping, after lunch Michiko amended our tour route to take in a massive Muji store (heaven) for a little retail therapy; the shopping here is amazing, you could literally remortgage and go nuts!!!

We finished the day with some baseball practice (super popular in Japan apparently) and a funfair in Ueno park and a well earned sit down for tea and cake with Michiko. At this point we managed to talk more about Japanese culture and learned so much; from the social culture which Michiko said is not couple focused but team focused i.e. after work men and women go out drinking in large groups, boys and girls separate, to parenting choices (well we had to cover co sleeping and baby sling usage, both big here!) and a bit about Michiko herself (she loves musicals, saw three in London this summer, so cute).

We ended the day saying goodbye at the tube station, swapping contact details and heading back to our hotel so grateful for how much we'd learned in one day.

  • ** we should at this point say thank you to Lizzie from Round the World Experts who planned the whole trip with us (http://www.roundtheworldexperts.co.uk/), and On The Go Tours who curated the Japan part (http://www.onthegotours.com/) - all travel angels to us.

Posted by Bakerfam 07:19 Archived in Japan Tagged #japan #tokyo Comments (3)


Intro to a most amazing city

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Sunday night saw us embark on a seven hour night flight from KL to Tokyo, Japan. We've wanted to visit Japan for years and were pretty excited, however to bring us down to earth and remind us that we are doing this trip with a three year old, the following happened. Ollie had been slightly off colour all day - we thought a mixture of tiredness and sickness...it proved to be the latter. 30 mins before we were due to board Ollie (whilst lying on Anna) threw up - covering Anna and our travel pillow (!) nice.....no tears though, he immediately turned to me and exclaimed 'I feel much better now Daddy'...as poor Anna trudged off to the bathroom to clean up!

Ollie slept the majority of the flight (he's proving to be a great little traveller) We landed at Narita airport Japan at 8.30am Monday morning extremely tired (Anna and I only managed 45mins sleep each). Given our frazzled state Narita airport was a welcome surprise as it was quite serene. First off it was very quiet, with pretty much the only sound some yoga/ Brian Eno influenced music playing throughout. The building itself is quite atmospheric, Barbican like in style and still pristine. This was followed by a transfer with the sweetest gentleman driver we have met so far who got us to Tokyo smiling.

After a swift check in the rest of Monday daytime was spent catching up on sleep before an evening exploration of Tokyo (photos attached). Closing point to our first day is that we are blown away by Tokyo already, clean, safe, full of friendly people, calm and with an atmosphere that is hard to do justice in words.

Posted by Bakerfam 06:01 Archived in Japan Tagged #japan #bakertravels2014 #tokyo Comments (2)


We're so over it (jet lag that is)

semi-overcast 30 °C
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After posting the first blog entry at 2am on Friday morning, we went back to sleep eventually and woke up at midday, having totally missed breakfast, and half of Friday. Oops.

Got ourselves up and out into the heat of the day, only to run straight into a new restaurant serving Ollie's favourite, pasta!! Whilst not really sampling a taste of Malaysia, a refuel was so needed and the team at Trilogy so typically welcoming, that we got involved. They also had a pool table which kept us amused for a bit before heading for the tube.

The tube is cool, both literally (air con) and figuratively. For a single journey you get a blue plastic token which the entry and exit barriers take like our London tubes take tickets. You have to pay in cash (despite machines that say otherwise) and its all super clean and very efficient. Two stops from our local station took us to KL City Centre (KLCC) where we got some Lego (which is turning into a trip feature) and supplies, plus tickets for the Petronas towers tomorrow. Despite the lure of a seven story shopping mall (joking, online shopping only for Baker Fam), we headed back to the pool for some much needed cooling off, and more broken sleep!!


We had (somewhat optimistically) booked ourselves to visit the Petronas Twin Towers at 9am today, which actually gave us the catalyst we required to get up and out and break through the sleep barriers that we've struggled with so far. The iconic centre piece of KL was well worth the visit with stunning panoramic views of the city centre and beyond that you'd expect from a building 452m tall. In the photos you'll also notice our trip buddy, Hadleigh Bear. Hadleigh joins us from Ollie's new school, and will be in photos from every destination, which the school asked us to send so that Ollie's class can keep up with his adventures ahead of him re-joining them in January.

Straight afterwards we headed to a nearby water/play park for Ollie to stretch his legs and for some picnic lunch. It was around midday now and the humidity was proving a test for us all, so back to the hotel for a siesta. More pool action (where Ollie is making friends with kids from all over the globe), and a lazy evening of lego/reading/packing, as tomorrow night we fly to Japan.

Before we leave tomorrow we're planning to see a couple more sights here in KL, as this is our only stop in mainland Malaysia. What we can say so far in terms of vibe, is that we’ve seen a contrast of wealth directly adjacent to a more humble existence, new skyscrapers going up next to run-down apartment blocks, but a universal trait is that the people in KL (who come from many and varied cultural and religious backgrounds), are friendly, welcoming, super polite and kind. We’ve barely scratched the surface, so would definitely come back.

Posted by Bakerfam 08:57 Archived in Malaysia Tagged #bakertravels2014 #kualalumpur #malaysia Comments (2)

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