Good news… we’ve reached Hawaii so we can finally ditch the thermals and wet weather jackets! Talk about a sigh of relief… Anna is much happier with the tropical climate. We attended Gerrit and Amy’s wedding last night which was a great event. It was a late night though, so this post might be a little sloppy – my apologies. Here’s what we’ve been up to this week…
With Tokyo’s cool weather and a general feeling of shrine/temple overload, we decided to head to Odaiba on Saturday. This is a man-made island in the Tokyo harbour that includes a series of shopping malls and arcade attractions. It’s kind of like a Darling Harbour in Sydney meets Las Vegas which was totally unexpected. One shopping mall in particular, Venus Fort, was really over-the-top with large indoor fountains, church facades and ceilings that had clouds and other scenes projected onto it. If you’ve been to the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas, it was very similar. We were a little confused as to why they would go to so much effort for a shopping centre but the Japanese do love their shopping, especially for the big western brand names. The best part of Odaiba though was the Toyota exhibition that showcased race cars and prototype technology, and the historical garage that held a collection of cars from around the world. The best part of Odaiba (according to Anna) was that you get to great shots of the city and Rainbow Bridge. You really do get a good perspective on just how far the city spreads though.
I came to Japan in 1999 on a school trip and there was a new arcade game that was massive at the time called Dance Dance Revolution. All the Japanese kids were playing it and they would queue up for a turn. A song would play and the screen would tell you what floor tile you had to step on. It wasn’t really dancing, more of a quick stepping game. Well with the advancements in technology they’ve stepped it up a notch. We were walking through a shopping centre and saw a crowd building. Being the cheap backpackers that we are, we thought that perhaps they were handing out free food samples. We headed over to investigate and realised that they were watching people performing on the new dance game. It’s now an actual dance game where a series of cameras and sensors watch your body movements while you replicate the moves on the screen. There were 4 people who were going one after another continuously. It was about AU$2 a song and they were playing over and over. The funny thing was that the 4 people were going to spend all night together, but they didn’t actually talk to each other. I don’t know if it was because of the rivalry or if it was because these nerds didn’t know how to talk to people. The highlight was when this one player stepped up with a hood on and started the dance. The crowd erupted in applause and cheers, and as he spun we realised that the hood was covering his face. This guy was showing off the fact that he had learned the whole routine. That was enough for me – I had to get out of there.
The next day was the clearest day we had in Tokyo. It was still cold and overcast, but we figured that this would be the best day to visit an observation deck to get a bird’s-eye view of the city. There are 3 main towers to consider. 1. Tokyo tower which is a knock-off of the Eiffel tower, 2. The new Tokyo Skytree standing at 634m or 3. The Metropolitan government building observation deck. Whilst number 3 sounds the least exciting, the observation deck is 202m up and is well positioned to see the spread of the city. It was also free admission which was the icing on the cake. Visibility was good, but not good enough to see Mt Fuji. From here we headed to Shinjuku which is a popular district on the weekend for shopping and dining. We browsed around for a little bit but decided to walk to Shibuya via Meiji Jingu (Shinto shrine) and through Yoyogi park. The shrine was like many others we had seen, but the extensive acreage was very impressive considering it was in the middle of Tokyo. Yoyogi park was very busy which was surprising considering how cold it was. You can tell the locals are looking forward to Spring time as they were throwing the frisbee. The main attraction for Yoyogi park are the weirdos that dress up and hang out. We saw the typical groups dressing up in Anime costumes or girls practicing the dance routines of their favourite girl bands, but the best were the Rock-n-roll dancers. Seriously, what a bunch of dorks – they come every weekend and stand around talking and dancing. I can only imagine how uncool an impersonation of The Fonz would sound with a Japanese accent.
Shibuya is much like Shinjuku with its abundance of clubs, bars, restaurants and shopping. We walked around and took in the sights and smells of the area. Shibuya is also famous for its “Scramble” intersection where pedestrians criss-cross from all directions in a free-for-all. Surprisingly it is much easier to navigate than it looks from afar. It is an experience, but NYC’s Times Square still has it beat.
Our last day in Tokyo was cold and wet. We felt like we had covered off what we wanted to see in Tokyo so we headed to Tokyo Disneyland (my idea… I’m still a child at heart). Apparently it’s best to visit on a rainy day because the lines are more reasonable. If that’s true then I’d hate to see the lines on a sunny day because the place was very busy. We went on all the main rides which was great, but the cold winds and wet feet really dampened the mood of the day. It may be the happiest place on earth, but they didn’t mention it was weather dependant.
Our journey to Hawaii was via Shanghai which doesn’t really make sense when you look at a map, but it was the cheapest option. We managed to get a little sleep on the red eye flight but not much. The food isn’t anything to rave about on China Eastern, however the chinese dumplings for breakfast was an adventure. We arrived safe and sound with luggage so we can’t complain. Not long after our arrival I was off to meet the boys for a bachelor party. Bernie hired a Mustang which was awesome until I realised that I was in the backseat. With my head resting against the rear glass and my knees close to my face, I kinda felt like a sardine in a tin can. But it was a Mustang after all – it was sweet. We played a round of golf at the Royal Hawaiian which was very interesting. I haven’t played on a course in at least 5 years and this course is the toughest I have ever seen. Water hazards and rough makes up most of the course. It didn’t matter though because we had motorised carts, beers in the cooler and fantastic scenery. This was the part of the island where they filmed parts of Jurassic Park. From here we headed out for dinner and some cocktails in Waikiki. All very civilised and I was glad to be there to helpGerrit celebrate the upcoming wedding. I think Anna appreciated some alone time to browse the shops, stroll along the beach and sort out our washing! She’s lovely.
The morning after the bachelor party was a little slow for me, so we stayed local and checked out Waikiki. It’s amazing how investment in the area seems to come in waves. It looks like they had a boom in the 70’s and 80’s then it stopped. Everything is looking a little tired and definitely doesn’t have the consistent investment like Las Vegas. The city appears to be on the cusp of another investment boom with the airport redevelopment and new accommodation towers under construction. The beach is beautiful but crowded. Not too crowded but definitely not serene like in Sri Lanka. We did the hike up Diamond Head which is a volcano crater for late afternoon photos of the area. The walk is mostly sealed but it’s an adventurous climb. The track twists and winds around the inside of the crater and as you approach the top there are a series of tunnels, steep inclines and a circular staircase. The views are beautiful and well worth the effort. We broke our walking record with over 34,000 steps that day. Lucky we racked up the steps because we headed to Tiki’s Bar & Grill for a proper 3 course dinner with drinks. It has been a long time since we’ve had a 3 course meal and this one was compliments of Anna’s team at Rabobank. This was her farewell present – Many thanks from the both of us.
We visited Pearl Harbor to see the USS Arizona Memorial and to look through some of the museums there. It was interesting to see since only 2 weeks ago we were in Hiroshima learning of the devastation there. It was sad to think of the sailors that were left in the sunken ship. We were surprised by how busy it was there with all the visitors. I guess it ties in with the strong American patriotism. I tried to get on board with the patriotism and found a very attractive $7 american flag singlet in Walmart. Anna wasn’t convinced as I didn’t have the matching mullet. What a shame. We walked around downtown Honolulu a bit, but there’s not too much to see really.
Yesterday we headed out for hair cuts and then to collect our attire for the wedding. Many thanks to Iain who carried our outfits here from Sydney. The service was in a cathedral which was very elegant inside. Everything went to plan with the exception of Gerrit trying to put the ring on Amy’s right hand! It was nice to seem them smiling and talking to each other throughout the service.
The reception was at Halekulani Hotel which is one of the top hotels right on the beach. We had drinks on the balcony with a sunset backdrop. From there we went inside for a delicious feast and heartfelt speeches. You can tell both sets of parents are so proud of their kids. Naturally we kicked on to the karaoke bar at 11pm and finished up around 1am. It was a fantastic night and everything went perfectly.
Today has been very relaxing with a breakfast feast at Denny’s and then catching some rays at the beach. Life is tough.
Until next week… Cheers & Beers
Fail of the Week
Tokyo Disneyland was our last day in Japan so we were trying to keep our cash holding to a minimum. We figured that we could pay by most things on the card, and then just draw out a small amount as we needed it. Since Disneyland is for tourists we figured they would have ATMs to allow this. Well as it turned out they had ATMs for Japanese cards only. We could pay for meals by card so that was ok, but we then needed to pay for the train home. We roamed around the district near the station and eventually found an international ATM. Unfortunately it would only dispense 10,000 yen notes (AUD120), so we ended up with way too much.
It wasn’t the end of the world, but when it was wet, cold and dark it just seemed crazy that in was so difficult to get cash out. Oh and when we had to exchange the remaining yen to USD, they stung us for high commission!
Our tips for touring Japan:
- Buy the JR rail pass before you leave for Japan (cannot buy once you’re there)
- Only certain ATMs take international cards (look out for 7-11 ATMs)
- Make sure you check out cheap hotels, because they can work out better value than a hostel
- Pre-book accommodation – they don’t really do walk-ins
- Don’t be overwhelmed by the rail network. All the ticket machines have an english option
- If possible, try and time your trip for Cherry Blossom season. It’s very cold right up until they come out in Spring.
- The locals are very accommodating but appreciate it when you give it a go in Japanese first.
Average spend for Japan was AU$107.50pp per night for everything excluding flights.