A massive storm was moving in towards Japan, and so it was no surprise to wake up to a rather wet Yokohama on our day of departure to Kyoto.
After yet another nice hotel breakfast room breakfast, we purchased umbrellas from the FamilyMart convenience store downstairs (seriously, these are everywhere!), and Ryan and I braved the wet weather to take a quick stroll through Yokohama Chinatown, which is incidentally the largest Chinatown in Japan (and in fact, Asia as well)!
(Mind you, we only did this because the impressive gate was literally next door to our hotel!)
After our brief, wet walk, we returned to the hotel, grabbed our luggage and checked out, making our way on foot to the train station in order to eventually end up at the impressive Shin-Yokohama Station, where the mission was to find the Shinkansen (bullet train) counter, organise tickets and enjoy a high speed rail ride to Kyoto!
Once again Ryan navigated all of this pretty much effortlessly, and before long we were on the platform, waiting for the bullet train which was guaranteed to be exactly on time – as pretty much all Japanese trains are famed to be.
(As it turned out, we were exceptionally lucky. Not long after we left, the storm became much, much worse, leading to the closing of all public transport routes!)
The bullet train ride was an absolute thrill let me tell you. Comfortable seating, reminiscent of a plane’s seating arrangement (complete with snack trolley!), the journey was an incredible pleasure – everything rushes by at incredible speeds, meaning that if you blink you miss it!
Oh, and at this speed the train banks for turns, which itself is a pretty weird sensation.
I can’t remember how long the journey itself from Yokohama to Kyoto took, but I do know that my eyes were glued to the window pretty much from start to finish!
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An awesome travel treat indeed! :)
Having ended off a long but super sightings filled day in Tokyo, Ryan and I took the train back to Yokohama, deciding along the way to make use of the remaining light to take a walking trip through to the Nissan Stadium before turning in for the night.
Nissan Stadium (officially the International Stadium Yokohama) played host to the final match of the 2002 FIFA World Cup Finals, which saw Brazil beat German 2-0.
Inaugurated in March 1998, Yokohama International Stadium is the home stadium of Yokohama F. Marinos of the J1 League. Also, it has the highest seating capacity of any stadium in Japan, with a total of 72,327 seats.
Visiting stadiums isn’t necessarily a very tourist like destination, but seeing as South Africa took part in the 2002 FIFA World Cup, it was kind of worth the walk for the two of us, and admittedly, seeing the South African memorabilia up on the walls among all the world giants in the stadium shop was kind of awesome.
Outside of the people making use of the stadium’s swimming pool facilities and a few people out for an evening walk, the stadium grounds were of course pretty deserted, giving Ryan and myself the perfect opportunity to spend some time checking out all the FIFA World Cup memorial sculptures and works.
By this stage, my feet were absolutely killing me, so I sat at the top of the plaza steps while Ryan went for a walk right round this immense concrete stadium.
Honestly, I have no idea how I did eventually make it back across Yokohama to our hotel, but I know the trip must have taken more out of Ryan than what he was letting on – after all, we were barely back in our room before I heard some snoring and grabbed this snap! :)
So yeah, we actually enjoyed our unplanned evening trip to a desolated stadium. How else would we learn that German keeper Lehmann’s hand isn’t all that much bigger than Ryan’s?
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UPDATE: Ryan was quick to point out that I completely forgot the fact that once back at the hotel, whilst I rested he popped out for more exploration, hence the exhaustion. Makes sense. This all happened a year ago, so no doubt I’ve already forgotten one or two of the finer details! :)
Related Link: Nissan Stadium
With the Yokohama Oktoberfest beer garden now well and truly behind us, onward we marched towards the giant, neon lit ferris wheel in the distance, stopping only because we were distracted by the lights coming from the rather prominent Yokohama World Porters building in front of us.
As it turns out, the Japanese love for themed things truly knows no bounds, because the first floor of World Porters is of course… Hawaiian themed.
No joke. Surfing videos, tiki statues, palm leaves – well you get the picture. Still, it was interesting to walk about, and in the process we did manage to lay our hands on a weird ice cream soda float thing with a massive block of ice in the middle.
Which was nice and refreshing if I remember correctly.
Back on our mission to make it to the brightly lit ferris wheel in the distance (which turns out is the world famous Cosmo Clock 21 ferris wheel, once the tallest ferris wheel in the world, and also star of the 1992 Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth movie!), we eventually stumbled across the Cosmo World amusement park.
Being neither kids nor romantic, we didn’t stray in the park for too long, but certainly took long enough to admire all the cool kids attractions that certainly would have been a fun outing back in the day when we were still running around at knee height!
Continuing our late evening stroll, we came upon the Dockyard Garden at the foot of the Landmark Plaza, just in time to be treated to the the jaw-droppingly amazing and technically stunning Yokohama Odyssey 3D projection mapping show – which kept us (and by now our aching feet) completely enthralled from start to finish.
(I’ve blogged about this artistic technical wizardry before. An absolute must to take in if you are ever in the area!)
And because Yokohama didn’t seem to want to stop showing us interesting things, next in our line of vision was the magnificent, permanently moored Nippon Maru sailing ship (built in 1930 and employed as a training ship for the cadets of the Japanese merchant marine), currently used as a museum ship that is open to the public.
However, we were now near our ultimate target for the evening (even if we were struggling a bit to find the official entrance to the building).
(Image swiped from Google, because well, we were there in the evening and it was dark.)
From Wikipedia: “The Yokohama Landmark Tower (completed 1993) is the second tallest building and 4th tallest structure in Japan, standing 296.3 m high. When built, it was the tallest building in Japan until it was surpassed by Abeno Harukas’ in 2012. Also, at opening, it had the highest observation deck in Japan.
The building contains a five-star hotel which occupies floors 49-70, with 603 rooms in total. The lower 48 floors contain shops, restaurants, clinics, and offices. The building contains two tuned mass dampers on the (hidden) 71st floor on opposite corners of the building.
On the 69th floor there is an observatory, Sky Garden, from which one can see a 360-degree view of the city, and on clear days Mount Fuji.
The tower contains what were at their inauguration the world’s second fastest elevators, which reach speeds of 12.5 m/s (45.0 km/h). This speed allows the elevator to reach the 69th floor in approximately 40 seconds. The elevators’ speed record was finally surpassed by elevators of Taipei 101 (60.6 km/h) in 2004.”
The night time views of Yokohama from above didn’t disappoint, and were in a word, breathtaking.
Ryan and I spent a fair amount of time just chilling and taking in the night time scenery – and of course discussing the phenomenal lift speed that got us to this height in the first place!
Eventually we made our way down from Sky Garden and ambled around a bit in the by now deserted shopping sections of Landmark Plaza, eschewing the more fancy stores for views of the more nostalgia awakening ones – like this brilliant Pokemon Center we stumbled across.
And that was that.
Tired, sore feet, and no desire to walk back to Yokohama (from my side anyway), Ryan relented and expertly guided us to the nearby JR Sakragicho train station for a quick train hop back to our Super Hotel Yokohama rooms.
Where needless to say, I slept rather well.
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Amazingly though, Ryan had already figured out what is said to be a particularly complicated train fare system, and on our first try (with a
little lot of help from Google Maps), we effortlessly navigated our way out of Shinjuku, Tokyo, and headed via train to our hotel back in Yokohama.
After a short while of putting our aching feet up for a bit of rest and recovery, we once again put on our shoes and headed out, this time walking towards the waterfront area that we had found the other night.
However, this time around there was still a bit of sunlight to be seen, meaning that we actually stopped to look at the historic site we had walked right by the first time around – Kaiko Hiroba Square, the spot where the historic Treaty of Kanagawa was signed (under threat of force it should be said) between the Empire of Japan and the United States of America.
Signed by Commodore Perry and the representative of the Tokugawa Shogunate (effectively the administrators of Japan at that time), this first treaty between the two nations effectively meant the end of Japan’s 220-year-old policy of national seclusion by opening the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate to American vessels.
(It also ensured the safety of American castaways and established the position of an American consul in Japan. The treaty also precipitated the signing of similar – usually unequal – treaties establishing diplomatic relations with other western powers.)
Anyway, the site is now home to a beautiful water-based art installation, commemorating the signing of the treaty, as well as a small Archives of History museum.
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Continuing our walk to the waterfront area (which is actually part of Yamashita Park we later discovered), we also encountered the Yokohama silk museum – but seeing as neither of us are particularly tickled by silk (though that said out aloud, does sound kind of nice now that I think about it), we made do looking at the old but pretty statue and continued on our way.
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The first thing we spotted as we entered the west end of Yamashita Park was the intriguingly out of place “India Water Tower”, an Indian water fountain that had been presented to Yokohama by an association of East Indians living in Japan some time ago.
There are some great views of the area from here (not to mention quite a number of fitness enthusiasts, lovers, and families taking advantage of the relaxing space), and one of the things that you can also spot close by is the impressive Hikawa Maru – a luxury trans-Pacific passenger liner that operated between 1930 and 1960.
Nicknamed the “Queen of the Pacific”, during its operation the vessel crossed the Pacific Ocean over 250 times and carried 25,000 passengers and cargo between Japan and Seattle & Vancouver. It also operated as a hospital ship duing World War II.
These days however it is permanently docked at Yamashita Park, open to the public and functioning as a bit of a maritime museum.
(Sadly, we didn’t actually know that back then, otherwise I suspect Ryan and myself might just have made a little time to take a peek onboard!)
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We next headed up the stairs and started our journey along the Kaiko Promenade, a popular, lengthy tourist-friendly route that essentially follows the tracks of a discontinued freight rail line from Yamashita Park all the way to the Minato Mirai (Harbour of the Future) area, passing a number of historic sites (like the Customs Tower, and the Aka-Renga Red Brick Warehouse) and tourist attractions (like the Cosmo World amusement park, World Porters, and the Landmark Plaza) along the way.
At this stage the evening was kicking in pretty quickly, as you might have noticed by the diminishing amount of sunlight in my quickly snapped photos!
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And then we came across something quite unexpected.
As we neared the historic Red Brick Warehouse, we stumbled on a massive Oktoberfest celebration on the go, complete with beer (lots), noisy revellers, loud German music, and of course, beer maids!
Though that said, I guess we do celebrate Oktoberfest here in South Africa as well. Right. So, any excuse to down more beer then I suppose!
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However, seeing as Ryan isn’t a beer (make that alcohol) drinker, this then wasn’t a stop for us, and so instead we marched on, ignoring the now set sun and heading straight for the bright lights of the Cosmo Clock 21 ferris wheel in the distance…
So our first day in Japan (with Terrance as tour guide) was a pretty good one.
Temples, Towers, Robots and Baseball, one certainly couldn’t argue against us deserving a bite to eat and something decent to drink in order to cap off what had been a truly excellent day out and about – which is why after an enjoyable late night stroll around Yokohama and a bit of its waterfront area, we found ourselves entering a decidedly un-Japanese establishment.
Celts is literally a classic Irish sports bar – from the layout, signage, decor, finishing, right through to the large screen televisions (beaming UEFA Champions League soccer of all things) – in the middle of Yokohama, Japan!
Authentic pub food and a wide range of draft beers, cocktails, spirits and of course, whiskey. After all, you can’t have an Irish bar without whiskey, now can you?
(That said, you also can’t be in an Irish sports bar and not have a Guinness either – a situation Terrance and I quite quickly rectified!)
The food was good, the atmosphere pleasant, and it was a great way for us to put our feet up after a long day and deservedly relax a little.
(Terrance also introduced me to some of the local Japanese spirits, and on that note, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the varied beer and spirits that I encountered throughout Japan. They certainly have a healthy drinking culture and produce some great alcoholic beverages themselves!)
So yeah, Craig and Ryan, tourists in Japan, go to an Irish pub for supper. A good indicator that we’re not gastronomic tourists then…
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Having already enjoyed a jam-packed day in Tokyo that saw us wander around Zojoji temple, view Tokyo from above via the iconic Tokyo Tower, and stand in the shadow of a giant Gundam in front of DiverCity, we scurried back back to Yokohama to make it back in time for our evening date – a Japanese league baseball game between the Chunichi Dragons and home team, the Yokohama DeNA BayStars!
The circular-shaped, American-styled stadium was opened in 1978 and can seat 30,000 spectators. In addition to being the home ground for the Yokohama DeNA BayStars (it’s primary function), this multi-purpose stadium has also been used in the past to host sports like American football, as well as a number of large musical concerts – including the likes of Madonna, Michael Jackson and even Tina Turner performances.
As it turned out, this was actually the final game of the season, which meant a good fan turn out and a pretty decent game to boot (though if you’ve ever watched professional baseball before, you’ll know that sometimes it can be a bit on the boring side – which I guess is why they have such entertaining mascots – go DB,Rider! – and dancing girls!)
Japanese sports fans are extremely well mannered just by the way, meaning that you only shout when your team is up to bat, after which you give the opposing side fans a chance. No such thing as booing your opponents!
A particularly cool gimmick was these weird balloons that the BayStars fans let go during one of the breaks. Shaped a bit like sperm, the balloons make a whistling noise when let up in the air, making for quite a colourful sight/sound experience.
Sadly for our home team though, the cheering wasn’t enough and the Yokohama DeNA BayStars had to finish off the season with a crushing 4-1 defeat to the Dragons – a sad blow for DB.Rider and co.!
However, this being the end of the season meant that we were in for quite a treat.
After a live speech from the coach to the fans, an awesome season wrap-up film was shown on the big screen, followed by the team doing a lap around the stadium to thank the fans – during which the stadium was illuminated with nothing but the spectators’ cellphone LED lights!
And of course, what is a season ending game without a spectacular show of fireworks? :)
All in all, an absolutely brilliant way to spend our seconding evening here in Japan!
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I had no trouble in having a good sleep in my bed in our small Super Hotel Yokohama room following our first night in Japan, and indeed, woke up refreshed and super excited to tackle this wondrous new world full of signs that I couldn’t understand but an environment that nevertheless I felt quite capable of navigating.
Terrance was with us on our first day here in Yokohama, and following his lead, Ryan and I successfully navigated a particularly delicious breakfast in the hotel’s cafeteria (true, we weren’t particularly adventurous in terms of food tasted), before we nipped out to explore a bit of the beautiful Yokohama Park that was literally just outside the door (whilst Terrance returned to his room to prepare for the long day ahead).
Yokohama Park was established in 1875 by British technologist Richard Henry Brunton, who designed this cozy park between the Japanese part of town and the foreign settlement. In those days, foreigners played cricket there sometimes, and soon baseball games to promote international friendship were taking place between Japanese and foreign teams. Now the park is dominated by the Yokohama Stadium, the home ground of Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars.
It’s a stunningly beautiful and tranquil park with interesting sculptures, a Japanese garden, a fish pond, a kids play area and of course lots of trees and flowers – the park is known in particular for the 69 cultivars of tulip that reside there, resulting in stunning mid April displays when anything up to 160,000 of these flowers may bloom!
Without getting lost, we managed to find a spot where Terrance eventually arrived to pick us up, and off we strolled towards the nearby JR Kannai train station, which given that this is the stomping grounds of the local baseball team, is bedecked in DeNA Bay Stars mascot livery!
This was our first introduction to the relatively complicated Japanese train system. Luckily for us though, the big cities are making a push for more and more English language signage, meaning that together with Terrance’s fledgling Japanese, we (and by we I mean Terrance) worked out how to get to where we wanted to be and what tickets to buy (through very clever ticketing machines I might add) – our destination, Hamamatshucho in Minato, Tokyo.
After all, we were going to be hitting one of Japan’s most iconic symbols as our first tourist sight – the legendary Tokyo Tower!
Train rides in Japan are very different from train rides in Cape Town. Well, rather, the train part is very similar – the noise levels however are completely different! (Let’s just say, this was one of the first trains where a) we could hear ourselves think and b) we were definitely the loudest onboard!)
We arrived in Hamamatsucho which is a very productive business and commercial ward in Minato, and in the process stumbled across one of our very first sights – the Tokyo World Trade Center Building.
Completed in 1970, this 40-story commercial skyscraper is one of Japan’s earliest skyscrapers!
Anyway, fixated on the sight of Tokyo Tower in the distance, and mesmerized by all the surrounding tall buildings of this obviously busy and well off part of the city, we grabbed our cameras and started walking…
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So as I outlined before, last year Ryan and I embarked on a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun, he an already quite seasoned international traveller and me heading overseas for the very first time in my entire life. (In other words, together he, Terrance and Yuko pretty much made all the arrangements, while I stared like a lost little puppy in the background).
Anyway, the 30th of September finally arrived, and Ryan and I met each other at Cape Town International, eager for our adventure to begin – even if the first leg was to be an agonizingly long 9hr 45min flight from Cape Town to Dubai aboard an Emirates Boeing 777-300ER.
First mistake though. Security immediately relieved me of my shampoo because the bottle was too big. Rookie error on my part for sure. That said, surprisingly, my small set of screwdrivers passed the screening with no mention at all!
Anyway, amazingly, I managed my first ever overseas flight reasonably well, ingesting movie after movie, enjoying the surprisingly good airline food, sleeping, and playing the odd two player game over the in-flight entertainment system against Ryan.
(Ryan however didn’t have quite as good a flight as me – but he blames part of that for the fact that I took rather more of his personal space than what a thin person normlly would!)
Dubai’s International Airport was my first real taste of the size of what a real international juggernaut airport is like, and needless to say there was quite a lot for me to take in – not that I had all that long to do this mind you – first time around, we only had about an hour to kill before the next 9hr 35min flight kicked off!
(Oh, and in case you were wondering, there was no way in hell my little set of screwdrivers were getting through the screening this time around though – all Ryan could do was literally face palm in disbelief at this horribly incompetent flier that his brother was turning out to be!)
The second leg of our journey was much the same for me as the first, long, boring but not particularly uncomfortable and I was more than entertained from start to finish. Ryan however again suffered a bit, but to be fair, I hadn’t shrunk after a mere 10 hours or so, meaning that I was still stealing a fair chunk of his allotted personal space!
(Seriously, he must have hated me for the segments where we were forced to fly or sit next to one another – which in hindsight I think was pretty much all of the time!)
Eventually we were given the signal that we were approaching Japan’s Tokyo Narita International Airport, and after filling in the necessary declaration forms, we sat back, enjoyed a smooth landing, and then more or less breezed through customs – before at long last finally being reunited with an excited Mr. Brown himself!
Surprisingly, we were still relatively fresh after our long flights, and with Terrance leading the way (his reasonably decent Japanese proving invaluable to us now), we made a few stops around the massive airport complex in order to collect the few pre-booked odds and ends (like our mobile data sim and portable modem), before being shuttled around by bus and then on board a fancy looking train – possibly the KEISEI Electric Railway’s Skyliner, but I can’t really remember because a) it was dark, b) it had been a long flight, and c) it was a YEAR ago – heading out of Tokyo and into Yokohama where we were going to be based for the first leg of our three part trip.
(Of course, this late in the evening already it was dark, and thus not much to see, but already just the sheer scale of Tokyo and its surrounds compared to our own minuscule Cape Town kept me absolutely captivated from start to finish of our train ride!)
In Yokohama at last, Terrance treated us to a short taxi ride to the Super Hotel Yokohama, which proved to be our first real taste of how the whole politeness thing of Japan works. The taxi experience itself was pretty cool – doors open automatically, we are not permitted to stow our own luggage as this is considered rude, and everything is precise, cordial and proper – i.e. about as completely opposite of minibus taxi experience as what you can get.
Locating the Super Hotel Yokohama proved to be relatively easy – checking in slightly less so. However, Terrance persevered, and together with our e-mail printouts and one or two phone calls for a language assist, he gained us access to our rooms for the night – our very first taste of just how cramped living space in Japan really is!
(Ryan and I shared this room. I’m pretty much standing by the door for this shot – on my right is the door to the bathroom… capsule.
Yes, the toilet is very cool and very electronic – but it is very small and in the end, my big bottom’s personal nemesis for pretty much the entirety of our Japanese adventure!)
Amazingly, after all our travelling and despite the lateness of the night, Ryan and I were so pumped that we immediately wanted to head out for a stroll in the middle of the night – something unthinkably dangerous to do in South Africa mind you – a request which Terrance was most happy to accede to.
After all, this was his wonderland to show off – and thus, our trip to Japan had finally officially begun! :)
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(P.S. I slept like a log that evening once we had eventually got to bed – after spending who knows how long trundling along the city streets and taking in all the late night sights!)
In October 2014 I embarked on my very first overseas trip ever – to the one destination that I’ve always wanted to see above all others: Japan.
Terrance, a friend I have known since primary school, has been living in the land of the Rising Sun since 2011, teaching English as part of their JET programme. In that time, he also found a fiancé in the form of Yuko Omiya, and thoroughly besotted with this wonderful woman, the date for their wedding was set: 12 October 2014.
Of course, he was very keen to have any of his South African friends come up and join him and Yuko on their big day, and although it was certainly something that I wanted to do, it wasn’t something that I could actually afford to at the time (you know, all the usual expenses that comes with being a married adult with children and bonds to pay).
However, my brother Ryan certainly could, and as such, he implored and convinced me to join him on the trip – and thus our Japan 2014 adventure was forged!
Surprisingly, we didn’t actually put loads of research into the trip, in fact, it boiled down to less than a handful of Skype and e-mail chats with Terrance, and one or two real life meetups for Ryan and myself. However, it took almost no time at all to come up with a plan that would see us in Japan for a period of two weeks, travelling to the metropolitan marvel that is Tokyo, then to the rich spiritual, historic and cultural hub that is Kyoto, and finally enjoying the fresh, more rural air and pace of Ina and Komagane, situated within the Nagano prefecture.
With our destinations and our period of stay in each decided, Yuko handled the task of tracking down affordable accommodation for the two of us (it was much easier to organise that on their side than for us to try and do it from here), while Ryan handled the nitty gritty of all the flight tickets, insurance, etc. – and once the final hurdle of getting our Japanese visas via the embassy in Cape Town was cleared, all that was left was a little bit of wait time until we finally took to the skies.
Needless to say, I was excited as a puppy dog who has just discovered he can actually chase cats and they WILL run away!
The trip itself was everything I could ever have wished for (I’ll sum it up as amazing, and not at all what I might have imagined), and despite the fact that we actually spent very little time with Terrance and Yuko as a whole, Ryan and I were more than capable of getting around by ourselves in a land where very little English is spoken – and get around we most certainly did!
(Though to be fair, a big thank you to the wonder that is mobile data and Google Maps is in order.)
I’ve got 47 photo albums taken over the course of those 14 incredible days, all neatly sitting on my hard drive, patiently waiting to be uploaded and thus see the light of day – and although it is now nearly a year later (life as a dad to two small kids is so incredibly busy), I think that you’re finally in for a treat.
In other words, prepare for an upcoming deluge of amazing sights courtesy of probably one of my most favourite countries in the whole wide world – this is Japan 2014! :)