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Uluru Adventures

24 04 2011

Term 1 School holidays: Uluru/Kata Tjuta National Park, Kings Canyon, West MacDonnell ranges, Alice Springs. Almost 5000km covered in a week.

Local trains to Kyoto

30 03 2010

We had 2 trips on our seishun 18 kippu left so we embarked on another 8 hour local train journey from Tokyo to Kyoto. The highlight was seeing Mt Fuji from the train when it stopped at Fuji station.

Snow-capped Mt Fuji from the train window near Fuji station.

The overnight train to Sapporo

13 02 2010

On the road again! This time we were headed to Sapporo, Hokkaido for the annual Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival). Sapporo is 1054km away from Tokyo (about twice the distance of Kyoto to Tokyo), so the local train was out of the question given than we only had 5 days of holidays. So we booked the express overnight train from Tokyo to Sapporo that takes 16 hours. There are two overnight trains, the luxury Cassiopeia (named after the constellation), and the Hokutosei (also named after a constellation, the big dipper). We booked into a duet berth on the Hokutosei, leaving Ueno around 7pm and getting into Sapporo at 11.15am the next day.

We ate soup from a thermos for dinner on the train and drank chai. We had special JR yukatas to wear in the cabin and to bed. The beds were quite comfortable, although it got hot in the cabin (surprisingly, since outside it was snowing). Overall, it was a fairly pleasant way to travel the long distance- not that much cheaper than a flight, although more convenient to arrive in the morning and be able to walk straight into town from the train station.


7 01 2010

On our epic local train journey home from Hakuba to Kisarazu we stopped off at Matsumoto to visit the famous Matsumoto-jo.

While I was disappointed that it wasn’t covered in snow like every building was in Hakuba, we were still able to enjoy the pigeon-mountain on top of the castle.

Looking across the inner moat at Matsumoto-jo.

Returning home to Chiba-ken

18 08 2009

Today we had a really long train journey ahead of us. With the help of the hyperpia website we planned our transfers – most were only a few minutes long and not even enough time for a toilet stop.

We went from Uzumasa to Kyoto, Kyoto to Maibara then Ogaki, Toyohashi, Hamamatsu, Okitsu, Atami, Kawasaki and to Tachikawa. Perhaps because it was the end of O-bon the trains were extra busy with people returning home. On some stretches we didn’t even get seats and had to stand up with our luggage. It made for a tiring day, even if the trains were air-conditioned. It was just as well we had packed our bento the night before otherwise we wouldn’t have had time to buy any food for lunch without missing a transfer. We bought an eigo no shinbun (English newspaper, The Japan Times) and read it on the train then did the crossword together on the way home to Kisarazu.

We went a little out of our way to Tachikawa, to the west of Tokyo, as there was a vegetarian taiwanese/chinese place in the station building, Chein Fu. We had tried to go to the Nagoyan branch but it had closed. We were looking forward to dinner and it was fairly good. We had wontons with vegetables, black soybean tofu, cashew and pineapple konyaku ‘prawns’ and guava juice.

Then we still had about 1/5-2 hours on the train to go back to Tokyo, through Soga and onto Kisarazu. Half the people in our carriage had come from Tokyo Disneyland and had Disney popcorn, bags and toys with them. We caught a taxi home from the station as the last bus had already gone. The taxi cost three-quarters of what it cost us to travel by train all the way from Kyoto to Kisarazu. That is, 10 hours of train travel almost 600km cost the same as a 10 minute taxi ride travelling about 5 km. Just goes to show the value for money of the seishun 18 kippu.

Fireworks (hanabi) in Kyoto

7 08 2009

We got up at 7am, had breakfast, made bento, packed our bags, checked out and walked to the station to be on the train by 8.45am. From Hiroshima it was over 6 hours to Kyoto, transferring at Itozaki, Okayama and Aioi. We arrived in Kyoto at 3.30pm. After picking up some maps at the TIC we dropped our bags off at the hostel, went shopping for groceries, made dinner and went out to fireworks at Lake Biwa. It was sooo hot and humid. These summer fireworks (hanabi) were huge – over 10,000 fireworks and 350,000 people. Lots of the girls were in their yukata.

We returned in the throng of people to Kyoto station then returned to the hostel, having an iced chai latte before bed. It was still very hot and humid.

Summer fireworks over Lake Biwa.

Summer fireworks over Lake Biwa.

Long day of travel

4 08 2009

Woke up super early at Kyle and Lacey’s place in Asahi, Mie. Took the 7.15am train to Nagoya central, then the Tokaido line to the West. It was our second longest day of travel – 10 hours on the train making transfers at Ogaki, Maibara, Aioi and Okayama. We were able to follow the train schedule perfectly and make all our transfers as planned. We had lunch in Okayama where we found a supermarket by the station and bought ume (pickled plum) onigiri (rice balls covered in nori), cooked edamame (soybeans), blueberries and ritz crackers. Then we were back on the train for another 2 and a half hours to Hiroshima. We arrived a bit after 5pm, checked into Ks Backpackers which was only a 5 minute walk from the station, then went for a walk to find a supermarket. We found Jupiters, an International store which had coconut chai and refried beans. We had difficulty finding a fruit and veg section, and then when we did, they had no S&B curry cubes or soymilk that we could eat. So we caught the tram/streetcar to the station again and found another store. They also had no curry cubes so we settled on pasta sauce. Hiroshima does not seem the most veg* friendly of places. It was after 9pm by the time we had made dinner. But we enjoyed a lovely cup of chai in the evening before bed.

Tokyo Shopping Adventures

26 04 2009

Today was a big day. First we rode our bikes to Kisarazu station by 9:15 to catch two trains to Minami-Funabashi, where we visited Ikea. We ordered a couch, dining table and chairs, and a rug for Benno’s desk. Also picked up some essentials like a plastic divider for our cutlery drawer, and of course some Swedish (vegan) biscuits and jam.

Next, we headed into Tokyo again and had lunch at Loving Hut in Yotsuya. On Sundays they have a Yum Cha type lunch. We feasted on many dishes including noodles, steamed buns, rice triangles, sugary donuts with bean filling, tofu and mushroom soup, cold rolls, potato slivers, sweet jelly and tea for a bargain set price of 1000 yen.They also have a small range of items for sale, so we picked up some vegan mayonnaise, instant noodles, and a vegan pocketbook with vegan-friendly restaurant listings in various parts of Japan.

Then we headed to Akihabara, famous for its electric town where basically all the shops sell some type of electronics. We picked up a wireless router, some computer speakers, and a shaver for Benno.

Back on the train to Meguro, where we visited Non, a tiny but delicious Vegan Izakaya (food-serving sake bar), believed to be the only one in Japan. We had another delicious vegan Japanese meal with satay tofu, raw avocado rolls, gyoza, brown rice with homemade tofu, iced oolong and tofu tiramasu. We ate sitting at low tables on traditional tatami mats (which means you have to take your shoes off and kneel to eat)

Train back to Tokyo, bus to Kizarazu station, bike home by 11pm. Zzz! Time for bed because Lara starts Mondays with the first lesson at 7.30am!

Please don’t make us leave the country to change our visa status

2 04 2009

Toshy had arranged to pick us up at 9am to go to Chiba. But she slept in and we only made it to the train station at about 10.30. We bought train tickets (650 yen) to Chiba and got on for our 45-55 minute journey. It took longer than normal because of strong winds that were slowing the train down. Once we arrived at Chiba station we had to get on the Chiba city Monorail (190 yen) and go one stop to the City Community Centre that houses the immigration office.

The immigration office was very busy – western gaijin, koreans – and we were told it would be an hour to hour and a half wait. So we took a number and went to lunch. Lunch was tomato pasta at itarian pasta marine. The change of visa cost us 4000 yen each but there were no issues (and no deportation required) with gaining a 3 year visa in our passports (instructor visa for me, dependent visa for Benno) although the man did make a mistake in putting Benno’s sticker in my passport so he had to make a new sticker for Benno and VOID the wrong sticker in mine- I now have 3 stickers on one page (Landing Permission cancelled, Visa Dependent VOID and Visa Instructor).

We headed back on the train, arriving just in time for the bank’s closing time at 3pm so we couldn’t open bank accounts. But we did go to the Land Agent to talk about Internet (looks like it may take a month…) and to the City Hall in Kisarazu with Scott and Matthew (other new teachers to Gyosei) to get our alien cards (foreigners cards that must be carried at all times). We have filled out the forms but will have to collect our actual cards later in the month.

Toshy shouted us all a Starbucks coffee while us gaijin talked about how strange and wonderful Japan is. The first rule of Japan Club is ask no questions.