I’m back in japan

first day of origami conference . I met some quite interesting people. The first couple I met had a wedding that was inspired by Babylon 5. then I met an artist from Sydney who is the president of the Sydney origami club. and a fashion designer who strive to make iridescent clothes.

A bunch of us decided to walk back to our hotel’s after the welcome reception, of course as soon as I got halfway it poured with rain, luckily I had an umbrella with me and was able to duck undecover so I didnt get too wet but I guess I’m not gonna go out to watch the fireworks tonight. there is some rakugo on television tonight watching that but not understanding a single word.

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How much did it cost?

Well, I suppose some people might want to know how much this type of holiday cost:-

Accommodation (booked through Agoda) = $2200 for 21 nights in 3 fantastic hotels.

Japan Rail Pass = $575 for 2 weeks use.

Cash expenses (transport, food, souvenirs, etc.) =$1000

Credit card (theatre tickets, expensive souvenirs, electronic items, etc.) =$575

GRAND TOTAL =  $4350  (thus about $200 a day, living in reasonable luxury)

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Day 29 – さようなら Sayonara

That’s all folks…my last day

…at the moment I’m watching a documentary/drama about the early childhood of Ken Noguchi  (a half-egyptian, half-japanese environmentalist and mountain climber while I wait to check out today) …. kind of funny to listen to his mother speaking arabic while reading the subtitles in japanese…it also brings home how monocultural this country is…in Australia almost no-one stands out in anyway…but all non-Japanese continue to immediately stand out here in Japan…

…and then off to the airport later today…if I do anything in the meantime I’ll have to tell you about it another time.

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Day 28 – 後楽園 A garden for enjoying power later on

This morning I visit a gem that is NOT mentioned anywhere in Lonely Planet.

Koishikawa Korakuen 小石川後楽園

A beautiful lanscape garden dating from 1629. It was completed by Tokugawa Mitsukuni (a grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu) and designed with  teh help of Shu Shunsui, a Confucian scholar and refugee from China. The name is based on a maxim from Hanchuen’s “Gakuyoro-ki” that states

there is a need for those in power to worry about maintaining power first and then enjoy power later

So I suppose after three generations the Tokugawa clan could build a park for enoyment. The residence next to the park is now the Tokyo Dome, but a quarter of the original park, about 7 hectares has been preserved.

You don’t realise you are in the middle of Tokyo (somehow sound doesn’t travel far anywhere in Japan..still don’t know why?) until you catch the reflection of a skyscraper in the waterand I think this is my favourite shot…with skyscrpaer fully refleced in the water…to me it represents the idea of enjoying power after maintaining power

Apparently specific sections in the garden evoke the Chinese Rozan mountain and Lake Saiko, and the Oikawa River in Kyoto. The  twisting paths and ups and down give different views designed to remind the visitor of every major type of structure in china and japan:  a castle moat, a Confucian full moon bridge, Kyoto’s Togetsukyo bridge and Kiyomizu Temple, a shrine, and an Edo-era drinking house. There are areas that resemble forest, mountain, river, lake, rice field, and plum orchard. Koishikawa Korakuen epitomizes the archetype of the lanscapes of Japan, which go from ocean to forest to hills and mountains.

After this very quiet and pleasant morning, I return to the Bunkamura museum in Shibuya (and manage to find the Kinokuniya store I was unable to find before…the signs here are only in Japanese and I never knew which kanji they use for Kinokuniya). The special exhibit is called

The Past and Present of Designs that Open the Way to the Future: 1960s

Postmodern design seems to be the same the world over, but it is a pleasant stroll through the galleries. The most amusing object that was designed is also on sale in the gift shop, a device for attaching a pencil to your hand so it acts like a sixth finger, but moves out f the way when you type.  Now whoever makes the best comment, can have this unique designer creation as a gift 😉


This is my first weekend in Tokyo (and by lunchtime the crowds are unbearable…I think I had forgotten how crowded the city can be!) The rest of the day is spent shopping in Shinjuku at Takashimaya, Tokyu Hands and Kinokuniya…here are some xmas displays made out of emtpy drink bottlesand I also buy a new piece of luggage as well…I ask the store assistant to carefully check that it complies with the online cabin restrictions, I watch carefully as she looks of the dimensions etc.

No-one has yet tried to guess the purpose of the yellow object from yesterday  (though I’m not giving that away).  Here is a clue:  it says Calbee on the side.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that yesterday during the intermission at the theatre all of the ushers went up and down the aisles showing people the following signBrilliant!  I want them all over Sydney too!  If you can’t guess, it says NOT to lean forward while watching the show because you will break the sightline of the person behind you. I don’t think Australians even realise how much a difference leaning forward makes! The theatre has a very steep rake (as steep as the State Dress Circle) but it is still annoying when someone in front leans forward!

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Day 27 – The Gypsy Baron

Day starts early, I’m off the Hibiya to queue for tickets to another Takarazuka revue: “The Gypsy Baron”…this time I am third in line,  the couple in front of me are seeing Takarazuka for the first time…so I know more than they do 😉

I’m prepared with breakfast and my iPod this time….given the theatre hold 2069 people, it’s amazing that EVERY performance sells out (though not surprised that Noh does not sell out…),  I get a good seat (2500 en,  about $30) right in the middle of the back row and I have sports binoculars with me this time as well.

It’s still early so it is off for a stroll in nearby Hibiya Park:  quite pretty for a public park across the moat from the Imperial Palace:  I find a topiaryand come across a pair of nannies walking a tribe of children

the sign says that this is an ancient form of currency from the Yap islands…I think the sign is quite old, since in 1924 it was estimated to be equivalent to 1000 en. Not a very poratble kind of currency! Now not quite what time I took this next photobut maybe I should head of to my museum for the day…at the train station I see this posterThen I’m off to Roppongi (which means Six Trees) to the new Mid-Town Complex (built only a few years ago) and the Suntory Museum:  there is an exhibit about Tsutaya Juzaburo, the famous publisher who discovered the great ukiyo-e woodblo0ck painters Utamaro and Sharaku, and was also briefly woirking with Hokusai as well. I get the audio guide, and for once it is not patronising…it gets right into the good stuff about the exhibit. I really enjoyed this exhibit especially after watching the movies about all of these characters recently at the art gallery of NSW and seeing the Utamoro exhibit in Sydney…he only painted a very small number of pieces and almost all of them are on display…as well as a reconstruction of the original Tsutaya shopfront.

Some of the buildings in Roppongi seem gto lack depthand the street art is a minimal surface (maybe?)The Gypsy Baron

The Tokyo crowd is much more mixed that that back in Takarazuka itself…the musical is set in a Hungarian village and involves lost treasure, a pig farmer with three daughters and a baron who becomes also a gypsy. After the break, the troupe put on their cabaret style revue…I like this one a lot because the scenery is all art deco and the routines are 1920’s and 30’s….gangsters etc.  with lots of latin american dancing.  About 15 mins before the end the power fails and there is a delay..I almost decide to leave early..I’m glad I didn’t…the finale involves a song that starts with

“In the beginning I was very frightened…I thought I would die if you were to go away…I spend many nights…”

I recognise the lyrics and instant before I recognise the tune…it is the Japanese version of “I will survive” performed to a Tango.

Then right at the end the female voice appears in a giant white feathered peacock outfit…can it get any cheesier…YES…becajuse a moment later the male voice appears in an even larger silver peacock outfit!!!

They are doing “Studio 54” next year…shame I will have to miss it!

Finally a puzzle: the following gadget can obviously be used for many things, but it has a specific purpose and target audience can anyone guess (look closely for clues)….

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Day 26 – 笑ってコラえて ”Laugh till you drop”

Well I’m writing this for the second time because the web-site just threw away everything I typed, usually I’m logged on so it automatically backups! So it’s going to be a lot shorter than the first time..

The title is based on a TV game show I watched last night…they say this line every few minutes and make a kind of tap-turning action with one hand…?


Two shrines near Akihabara at a place called Ocha-no-mizu which means Water-for-Tea,  also btw Akihabara means Field-of-Autumn-Leaves.

Kanda Shrine dates back 1,270 years, but the current structure was rebuilt several times due to fire and earthquakes. It is situated in one of the most expensive estate areas of Tokyo. Kanda Shrine was an important shrine to both the warrior class and citizens of Japan, even Tokugawa Ieyasu paid his respects at Kanda Shrine.here is a frieze showing a priest with rats???and this is the local Tanuki (they are famous for the very large….hmmm…dangling appendages)Now there were meant to be real tanuki in Jigokudani Park, but I think they are shy and I didn’t see any.

Yushima Seidō a Confucian temple from the Genroku era of the Edo period (end of the 17th century). Famous for the world’s largest statue of confucius…though only just found that out.no vantage point where he is not shaded by leaves!!! I liked the gargoyles more.

Ocha-no-mizu is on the main canal, and you can see various bridges including this familiar oneAfternoon:

3 hours of Rakugo (sit-down comic monlogoue)…I don’t understand all that much because they speak at speed of shinkansen. Each performer goes for 15-20 mins, it alternates between Rakugo and other styles (comedy duos, magic acts, musical acts).  The comedy duo notice the foreigner in the audience (i’m in the 4th row and the theatre is half empty) and they incorporate my presence into their routine (very funny and embarrasing, even if I have no idea what they say about me…though at one point it was…hey the foreigner got the joke and is laughing what about the rest of you?).  The last comedian begins with a rant about walking for 15 mins carrying his garbage because no bins on the train during APEC…now that bit I understood perfectly.

Finally, I found an authentic turkish kebab place near the station, run by turkish people! Most foreign cuisine restaurants in japan are still run by japanese and adjust cuisine to local tastes.

…and another thing…In Tokyo on train station escalators…you stand on the left and move on the right….not the same as Osaka at all!

If you haven’t seen a map of the Tokyo subway system here it is…

Click to access routemap_en.pdf

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Day 25 – 葵上 Lady Aoi (from the Tale of Genji)

I forgot to mention, that yesterday while I was on the shinkansen I went to look for a garbage bin where the icons said there shoudl be one, but it was missing.  I asked the snack-lady as she went by…

“Gomi ga nai, anooo APEC furetto”  “No rubbish, it’s an APEC threat!”

Indeed, even though APEC is in Yokohama, there is an obvious increase in security throughout Tokyo at the moment

Well, my body must be trying to tell me something…I slept in till about 9am this morning…well the play I am going to is not until 1 so plenty of time…

I thought I might visit a museum in the morning, I check online to see what exhibits are on, and choose one in Shibuya (because it is close to Sentagaya where the Noh theatre is located)…well I get there alright but dioscover the exhibit does not start till saturday morning…that will teach me not the read the website properly…  I recall there is a reasonably large Kinokuniya store in Shibuya (not as big as the one in Shinjuku I think)…so I ask the girl at the information counter where it is…she takes out a map, carefully marks my current location and where the store is..it is directly across from the station, but she says there is a very large bookstore on the 7th floor of the building I am in..so I go there first…yes, it is huge and it even contains an entire row of the “yellow cover series” Mathematics mongraphs in English!

Anyway, teh carefully drawn map leads exactly to the building indicated by there is no Kinokuniya sign anywhere on the building…I ask a policeman…he takes out what looks like a Gregory’s street directory and makes a phone call..then shows me a street on the map….he claims the store is several blocks away….hmmm…this is why I prefer not to ask for directions (Always safer to work it out youself before hand!)…anyway, I decide I’ll go and have a bite to eat at the theatre before the play starts…but turns out play is only 1:30 long…so I’ll eat afterwards…not really hungry.

This is the theatre

and this is the garden INSIDE the theatrethere is also a restaurant and an exhibit of Noh masks.

Now Noh is one of the most traditional, highbrow types of theatre…so I am quite surprised to find how hi-tech the theatre is …. in front of every seat is an LCD screen that plays Japanese or English subtitles and if you’re in the front row, the display folds out of your armrest (just like on a plane)

The above photo is taken from my seat…so I’m going to get a really good view and since I know the story by heart…don’t need to look at the LCD screen at all (no photos allowed during performance of course: but there are some photos of another performance of this play at


Noh used to be held outdoors, and the white pebbles around the stage is a reminder of that…it was moved indoors during the Meiji era. To the left of the stage proper is a long catwalk…the hashikakari…where EVERY character makes their entrance from behind this 5 colour curtainThe 5 colours green, yellow, orange, white and purple represent water, earth, fire, wind and sky…but I like to think of them as zuchini, squash, carrot, onion and eggplant! Guess what I’m cooking when I get home?

All roles are played by men. Male characters do not wear masks, but female characters and demons have special masks.

The performance I see starts with a 15 min warm-up comedy called a Kyogen. This one is called Sako no Samuro and is about a hunter and a zen priest who try to outwit each other with words. It culiminates in a pun based on “hana” in japanese meaning both flower and nose…the woman two rows in front of me thinks this joke is hilarious…I guess reading the English translation ahead of time spoils the fun.  There is a 20 min break, what! We’ve only just started…why a break, the next bit is only an hour?

The main story is a segment from a chapter of the Tale of Genji and by some bizarre coincidence it is EXACTLY the segment we studied in Japanese 9  (thank you, Cockerill-sensei for choosing this scene…how did you know?)

…so I basically know this section down to the detail of every character in every sentence…naturally, it was even in our exam!

The title character Lady Aoi is pregnant (she has got pregnant in the normal way from Prince Genji) and possessed by an evil spirit…she is portrayed by a kimono that is laid down at the front of the stage and remains there for the entire play. Reminds me of a seminar given by a colleague of Rebecca Suter, who studied why descriptions of clothing are far more common than descriptions of people in Tale of Genji!  The prince, Genji, also does not make an appearance.

The main character is the Lady Rokujo, a former lover of Genji, who resents Genji’s current wife  and is unknowingly haunting her.  The play is about the exorcism, which involves a priestess who summons the spirit and determines its identity…and a priest who casts the demon out!

At one point Lady Rokujo, goes to the back of the stage and raises the kimono over her head…obviously “her” mask is being replaced…when the actor eventually turns around again , “she” is now wearing a demon mask with horns….

The passion of the play is mostly in the accompanying music as the movements themselves are quite slow and precise, and the masks mean there are no facial expressions…the Bunraku puppets showed more emotions on their faces!

As each actor leaves the stage, there is a round of applause at the moment they pass back though the 5-colour curtain. Now, I’m in a slightly mischievous mood, so when the inanimate kimono representing the title character is picked up and carefully carried back through the curtain, I also applaud…but it turns out 2 or 3 others in the audience have had the same idea.  Well, after all the kimono gave a flawless performance as Lady Aoi and did not get a single line wrong  😉

Only a few days left…I found a huge toy store next to the station…on a whim I ask about Karakuri Ningyo dolls,  the shop clerk knows exactly what I am talking about and says they are no longer made and offers me a choice of various crappy modern counterparts…he is not all that surprised that I am less than impressed…I think I may have found the last one in that dusty Hiroshima store!

People have also stopped being surprised at my Japanese…maybe my accent has stabilised to a local one???

Tomorrow Rakugo Leon gets to go and listen to some Rakugo…this time there will be no English translations, not even in advance…how will he cope…tune in next time and find out

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Day 24 – Autumn colours and…snow monkeys!

Today, a journey into the Japanese Alps, a colder climate, finally some amazing autumn foliage and of course the amazing snow monkeys!

Now before you enjoy my blog, I have rewritten a small japanese song… (un)fortunately you don’t get to hear it, and it is based on a little enka song I know by Sayuri Ishikawa …I’ve renamed it

地獄谷 猿景色 — Jigokudani Monkey Scenery

上野発の朝行列車 おりた時から — When I got off the morning train from Ueno
湯田中駅は 山の中 — Yudanaka station was in the midst of mountains
北へ帰る 人の群は 誰も無口で — The people travelling north, did not say a word
山風だけを きいている — All I could hear was the mountain wind

私もひとり 連絡バスに乗り — I was all alone as I got on the connecting bus
露天風呂猿見つめ 泣いていました — Staring at the open-air onsen monkeys I cried
ああ 地獄谷 猿景色 — “A, a, aah! Jigokudani Monkey Scenery”

ごらんあれが かわいそうな 猿子はずれと — “Look at the cute baby monkey!”
見知らぬ人が 指をさす — say strangers, as they point their fingers
かすみでくもるカメラ窓 ふいてみたけど — I try wiping the camera lens clouded by mist
普天風呂に猿 見えるだけ — but all I see in the onsen is monkeys

さよならあなた 私は帰ります — Farewell to you, but I have to go home
猿の音が 胸をゆする 泣けとばかりに — The monkey voices shake my heart, bringing me to tears!
ああ 地獄谷 猿景色— “A, a, aah! Jigokudani Monkey Scenery”

Now if you want to hear the original (slightly superior) version of the song,
here it is on youtube

Well the day begins very, very early I leave the hotel before 7 am, catch the Yamanote line to Ueno, then catch the Nagano Shinkansen to Nagano, transfer to the Dentetsu line for Yudanaka and then catch a bus to Kambayashi Onsen. Each train connection takes me higher and higher into the mountains!  I’m wearing my thermal underwear (well after I lugged it all the way, I should get to use it at least once).  The weather forecast is cloudy with chance of showers….well it is very overcast, but it doesn’t rain…and of course after I leave the sun comes out.

I should have eaten on the shinkansen because there is about only 5-10 mins at each of these connections…but after 3 hours I get off the bus…now I have to walk for 2km (some of it uphill) to get to the monkeys!  I’m sure I can cope until lunch time…I buy a coffee from a Soba shop that is getting ready for business, and the lady says come have lunch please on your way back.  A good idea!

So before I get to the monkeys, let’s have a look at these autumn views first as a warm up…and then I beheld the valley from the mountain of the monkeys…

and now the monkeys themselves…

three “not-so-wise” monkeysthey love to groom each other (it’s the monkey equivalent of gossip)though sometimes you just have to groom yourself…hmmm, was that there before?now grooming can lead to other more interesting things, and I caught one couple in flagranti delicto…(monkeys not humans!) but they stopped as soon as I turned my camera on them, so no naughtly pics on this blog…sorry and of course they love the hot springs!and the onsen is almost as clean as the one in my hotel!they don’t look their best when they first come out of the onsen, dripping wethave you said aawh yet?some of the babies are scared to go in the onsenand some like to stay near the safety of an adultand some just seem to be scared!!!!(hmm, she reminds me of a colleague just after the ARC results were announced!)

and these two look like proud grandparents to me

There were quite a few fights and squabbles which I captured on video, you can check them out when I return.

So just before we go a final groom…have to look our bestThis is the live-cam website on the onsen…


and yours-truly has been immortalise by the 11am freeze-frame for Nov 9, but you need to look at it within one day, otherwise it will have gone!  A little reward for those 3 people still checking out my blog everyday…some comments please!

Well, I could stay forever, but it is a long trip back…starting with a 2km hike back to the bus stop…and the clouds look ominous

Now after all that the journey back is quite eventful…I of course stop and have Sansai Udon (that’s appropriately mountain vegetable udon…for those not keeping track) and I have timed it perfectly, the bus is due in 10 mins…when we get to the train station the express is due in about 40 mins…but that’s okay…until…

…well it doesn’t arrive…I ask what happened, well apparently the train has hit a car at a level crossing (I think…the explanation  is of course in japanese)…the next train is the LOCAL and it’s due in almost an hour…well, nothing to do but wait…

The local train is full of primary school kids who are fascinated by the foreigners with cameras!oh and the way back from the Shinkansen window I see a black silhouette against the deep red western sky…the shape is unmistakeable…Mt Fuji at last…well, its shape anyway

I’m back at my hotel…tomorrow it’s time for some very classical Noh theatre.

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Day 23 – よろしく秋葉原 Say hello to Akihabara

So the ride from Osaka is about 3 hours and un-eventful..I have a reserved seat on the 11:40 but arrive in time to hop on the 11:13 which is empty…on a hunch I assume that the un-reserved sections are quite empty and you can probablt get a row of seats to yourself 9and your luggage)…three french boys even decide to sleep one each to a row of three seats (the japanese are far too polite to ask them to shift, even when the train gets reasonable full at Nagoya…it takes another foreigner, a german I think, to get them to sacrifice some of their space).

I doze off for a while on the train, I have my packed obentoo that I bought at the station and I read abojut APEC in the newspaper…I keep an eye out for Mt. Fuji but sadly, the weather is not clear enough today…

So after a quick change at Shinagawa onto the very useful Yamanote line I’ve arrived at Akihabara station (famous for its Electric Town!!!)…first impression: I can see my hotel from the station exit…yeah!

Second impression,  very wide pavements and clean…oh and teh cafes here seem to be named and themed after anime characters…here is GUNDAM cafethere is even a queue to get it!  If you can’t be bothered waiting the takeaway window sells little fried sweets in the shape of Mobile-Suit Gundam.

My hotel is very modern, much like its counterpart in Kyoto,  but my bed is a bit smaller (so that’s what semi-double means) and there isn’t a lot of space for hanging clothes…though luckily as in Osaka, I manage to slide my suitcase under the bed…so no tripping over it all the time… It is rightnext to the train lines, but you have to concentrate to hear the trains…It is also close to the local fire station…here they are next to a giant ruler (that’s like a measuring device type ruler, not a warlord type ruler, sorry Hideyoshi you don’t get a mention today!) on the side of a buildingit must be a training exercise.

Across the street is a 24hr Donburi restaurant selling meals for only 240 en (less than $3) and next door is a fresh-food greengrocer and supermarket (the eggplants and zuchini look amazing…but I have nowhere to do any cooking…I buy a big Fuji apple instead,  nice oranges as well that look more like mandarins). The UDX building behind my hotel has two floors of restaurants each specialising in a different cusine…don’t know what UDX is, but they must be important beacuse the have the tallest building and the Tokyo Anime Centre is on its 4th Foor (but closed on Mondays ;-( )

I’m only one street away fom the main street of Electric Town, yet it is very quiet here…it seems that 90% of the shops cater to video games or mobile phone (or video games that you play on your mobile phones)…It seems that all other devices are going out of fashion……some stores are so big they devote an entire floor to a single game, DragonBallZ gets two floors!

…and of course Pachinko parlours and lots of places you can go and dress-up as your favourite anime character…hmmm, I wonder who I will pick?

Could this be Japan’s answer to Nana Moskouri?and Akihabara is all ready for christmas as well..I guess it is not called Electric Town for nothingAnyway, after a long day of train riding (actually 3 hrs isn’t all that much…especially when you have a comfy row all to yourself and a  nice obento, plus 3 hrs of podcasts to listen to) it’s time try try out the 露天風呂 a special word for open air bath…the one at this hotel is twice as large as the one in Kyoto and you can walk around this type of garden on the roof…I can’t see any stars, so i don’t know if it is overcast or there is a giant black tarpaulin somewhere high above…I’ll find out next time…but it is open, because I can hear the nearby trains.

Pssst, don’t tell my Mum, but I finally found the little present she had asked for, in an unexpected store!

Tomorrow, I head off to meet some little creatures who also like onsens

BTW, I’ve only just discovered that if you click on the photos on my website you can see the FULL-SIZE versions…I guess you all knew that anyway!

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Day 22 – A day of rest

Well I didn’t go anywhere special or do anything interesting today (for the first time in 21 days!)  so I guess all my regtular readers can also have a well-deserved break.

But here are some random photosThis is a love hotel around the corner from Bunraku theatre, as is thisIt’s important if you are having an affair that the hotel be discreet!Now some movie is about to start…wish I knew what it was aboutdoes it say “Harii Pottaa”?

The Japanese provide precise information about where to stand on train platformsdepending on which train you are waiting for… It’s all very simpleLike us they drive on the left and mostly walk on the left as well..except on escalators where you move on the left and stand on the right….oh, and at train stations every staircase has its own rule, with little arrows to remind you…but only those going upstairs can see the arrows, those walking down the stairs have to guess!


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