A Travellerspoint blog

Home Sweet Home

sunny 16 °C

Here we are safely back home on our little Pacific island and although we've travelled 42,000 kilometres since January we have felt at home the entire time. Despite New Zealand's unique flora and fauna the geography is very similar to that of British Columbia - a rocky shoreline encircling ranges of snow capped mountains surrounded by temperate rainforests and pristine lakes...
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The culture of New Zealand was also familiar to us and was reminiscent of the England of our childhood. There is far less American influence than in Canada, and British favourites like Devonshire cream teas, fish & chips, and Cornish pasties are everywhere.
Tasmania, with its tiny population, was built on the backs of transported prisoners and the architecture has a distinctly British style. This corner pub/hotel could be anywhere in England...
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And this is an original 1825 hasp on the door of Richmond Goal – the first of Tasmania’s infamous prisons for women transportees...
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We felt completely at home in Tasmania as we did throughout the rest of Australia. The main island of Australia is vast and although we drove some 7,000 kilometres in three weeks we barely scraped the southeast corner. Thanks to friends in Melbourne, Mount Victoria and Sydney, we got a solid introduction to local life, however it was the variety and quantity of wildlife that surprised us most. We loved seeing the flocks of emus in the outback. This mother had three chicks...
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We especially loved seeing the kangaroos, the koalas and, of course, Australia’s iconic black swans...
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You might think that we felt so at home in Australasia because of the similarity between our language, customs and cuisine, but, in truth, we felt just as comfortable in Japan. Maybe it is the Japanese people’s incredible politeness and honesty that we enjoy. We thought we had seen everything when the waitress chased after us with a 50 cent overpayment, until the check-out clerk at a Tokyo supermarket ran into the street because we had not taken the 1 cent change for a carton of milk. We have so many wonderful memories of this trip, but the flowering of the cherry trees at Kanazawa Castle will forever symbolize Japan in our minds...
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Despite a few showers when we arrived in Tokyo, the sun soon came out and the Sensui-ji temple at Asakusa looked amazing in the early morning light...
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However, it didn’t take long for the tourists to show up...
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With Tokyo’s population exceeding the whole of Canada it’s not surprising that the city has vast shopping centres. The best known is the Ginza where we went looking for a birthday card. We were directed to a shop with 17 floors dedicated entirely to stationery - all manner of paper, pens and cards – and were surprised to see that the 11th floor was described as ‘The Farm”. Could that mean stationery dedicated to agricultural business? No – it is actually a farm...
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... a hydroponic farm growing vegetables for the 12th floor restaurant. Nothing surprises us in Japan and we spent our final night in the Akasasa district at the Ninja Restaurant as guests of our friend Yoshie. Ninjas were spies and assassins in 15th and 16th century Japan when it was
considered unseemly for the samurai warriors to engage in subterfuge. The ninjas were a feared underclass because of their believed ability to make themselves invisible and to kill silently. We were greeted outside the restaurant by a ninja warrior dressed entirely in black and led to our 'dungeon' through a labyrinth of dark tunnels and secret doors. We were then served a multi-course haute-Japanese meal by a 'Ninja' waiter who couldn't have squashed a rumour let alone a fly...
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So, that’s it folks, another part of the globe explored and explained. We trust that you enjoyed the experience – we certainly did. We truly appreciate your presence, and your comments, and we hope you travel with us again the next time we pack our bags and head out on another Blissfull Adventure.
Sayonara for now.

Posted by Hawkson 20:28 Archived in Canada Comments (8)

Signs of the Pacific Islands

rain 17 °C

The Japanese are masters at catering to every eventuality. Nothing is left to chance and, because it frequently rains in Japan, umbrellas are always at the ready. Hotels, restaurants and even some stores, freely hand over umbrellas to departing customers to ward off an unanticipated shower, and the tourist information office at Kanazawa station had a whole stand to choose from…
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But the Japanese don’t stop at thoughtfully providing services for human visitors. There are always accessible toilets for handicapped people so why shouldn’t there be special toilets for the dogs that assist them…
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Much of our trip through the wilds of New Zealand and Australia focused on the wildlife and we were frequently amused by the many road signs directed towards these creatures. For example: we couldn’t understand why penguins needed to be told to go slowly…
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Or why ducks need to be guided to a parking place…
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Although this sign sensibly suggests to koalas that they should keep to the treetops…
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Drive-through car washes are as common downunder as they are in Canada but we have never previously come across run-through pet washes…
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However, we don’t know who determines what a ‘Select Pet’ is. Would Donald Trump’s hair qualify? Just asking!!

We are often amused by signs in foreign countries. For instance we wonder what kind of person takes a caged animal out for lunch at this Japanese restaurant…
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And are the kangaroos in Nelson Bay dangerous opponents on the bowling green – or just downright dangerous?
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We are now in Tokyo and after successfully dodging storms and showers for the past 11 weeks we have finally run into some rain. Fortunately the hotel has given us umbrellas so we are off sightseeing. Tonight we join the Ninjas for dinner – this should be entertaining. See you soon.

Posted by Hawkson 23:14 Archived in Japan Comments (4)

Just Another Sightseeing Day

The Cherry Blossoms of Yoshino

sunny 19 °C

It is claimed that there are thirty thousand flowering cherry trees in the Kii mountains surrounding Yoshino in Eastern Japan, so it’s not surprising that legions of people flock from all over the world to witness the Mankai – the moment of perfect blossoming. We had already experienced that magical moment in Kanazawa and knew that Yoshino’s blossoms were past their prime, but we stuck to our plans and caught the local train from Nara…
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We hit the ground early to avoid the crowds, as we do on most days, and spent two hours on three different trains before we began a tortuous bus ride up the mountain on a couple of buses. After just three hours we experienced views like this…
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While the cherry blossoms may have faded, the mountains looked resplendent in their spring green coats under a perfect sky. Though we couldn't escape the crowds altogether...
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Once we had the cherry pics in the bag we had to walk 10 kilometres up and down, (and back up and back down again), to visit the mountain's shrines and temples; like the Kinpusen-ji, the second largest wooden building in the world…
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Here the monks were parading with their elaborate conch horns…
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James was invited to play one and to everyone’s surprise played a very tuneful duet…
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Every day tens of thousands make the trip up the mountainsides of Yoshino to visit the sacred places and to see the cherries in bloom. The Mankai was early this year so many people were disappointed, but there is always the roast chestnut lady to cheer folk up…
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By the end of the afternoon we were beginning to flag so we started our return journey to Nara. These Japanese ladies did what so many Japanese do on trains – they slept…
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All that was left for us to do was to visit the herd of deer that live in the park surrounding the Tōdai-ji temple in Nara. These deer are fed biscuits by tourists and have learnt the Japanese art of deeply bowing in order to show respect – and to get another biscuit…
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No biscuits for us – just delicious tonkatsu… deep fried pork, shrimp and crab in a crisp panko crust for dinner. Will this fabulous food ever end?

Posted by Hawkson 06:28 Archived in Japan Comments (4)

The Yin and Yang of Japan

semi-overcast 17 °C

It is very easy to romanticise Japan. It is, to western eyes, exotic in almost every respect. It has seemingly strange customs and there is a populace that is, in general, simultaneously demure and extrovert. These young ladies in their rented kimonos were not at all camera shy as they posed by a bouquet of flowers outside a newly opened teahouse in one of Kanazawa’s old quarters. (Yes- the flowers are real)...…
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The traditional architecture of Japan relied heavily on wood and paper which, being highly flammable, led to many historic districts being wiped out in fires. Fortunately, some buildings have survived, especially in rural areas. These picturesque thatched farmhouses are in the mountain village of Shirakawajo near Takayama…
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This ancient woodcutter’s hut is in Hida – Takayama in the Japanese Alps…
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While this is one of the many handsome ancient streets in that small city…
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However, Takayama is a extremely popular with tourists and by 9am the street often looks like this…
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Parts of Japan are undeniable scenic, but there is a darker side – a side that never appears in the travel brochures featuring such beautiful sights as the cherry trees blossoming in the snowy mountains…
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Japan is a heavily industrialised nation dependant on the manufacture of vehicles, ships and numerous electrical and household products with familiar names like Honda, Toyota Sony and Mitsubishi. The greater Tokyo area is home to some 37 million people and is the most populous conurbation on earth. It is therefore inevitable that there are many places that are not exactly tourist friendly. For instance: In Takasaki we were surprised by the number of people wearing facemasks until we realised that the air was heavy with industrial pollution. There are also grotty back alleys like this in sleepy Sado Island…
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The Japanese customs and etiquette can also be somewhat wearing on foreigners. Sitting on the floor to eat lengthy meals can eventually dull the appetite and sleeping on a tatami mat is only marginally more comfortable than concrete. However, there are plenty of McDonalds and western hotels in the larger cities for western softies. We tolerate the discomfort and are rewarded with breakfasts like this in a Takayama ryokan. (Note the Japanese style egg and bacon)...
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The mountain city of Takayama in the centre of Japan is best known for its twice yearly festivals when 300,000 visitors show up to watch a parade of floats celebrating spring and fall. These enormous Yatai floats date from the 18 century and are pulled through the streets by up to 40 men…
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Only two more stops on our itinerary – Nara and Tokyo. And we have plenty more cherry blossoms in our immediate future.

Posted by Hawkson 01:46 Archived in Japan Comments (4)

The Sakura of Kanazawa

sunny 18 °C

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As the warmth of the spring’s sun makes its way northward across the Japanese islands the last drab days of winter are shrouded in a mist of pink and white that rolls relentlessly across the landscape until it blossoms into a dense cloud of such intensity that we are left tearful by its beauty…
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There are certain times and places in life that exude peace; that calm the spirits of the most restless person; that softens every heart – but there is nothing more peaceful than to stroll under the blossoming cherry trees of Japan when they are at their zenith; the moment known as Mankai…
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With blue blankets spread under the blooming trees, the Japanese sit and wait for that instant of absolute perfection and then applaud as that moment passes and a single petal falls…
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We sit under a tree as the petals drop like gentle flakes of snow; wafting in the warm evening breeze; twisting this way and that. Let it land on me. Let it be my lucky charm for the coming year. And then, as the sun sets on the evening of the Mankai, the lanterns of Kanazawa castle turn the blossoming canopy into a pure white coronet above the moat in the twilight…
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…and as darkness finally falls the rivers become mirrors that reward us with a stunning reflection of the perfect blooms…
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Our sleep is shrouded with pink organza dreams but we wake to a different world.
Storm clouds shadow the cherry trees and our windows are battered by wind and rain. The Mankai has passed in the night and a blizzard of cherry blossoms is swept into the air to lay a white blanket underfoot…
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An ode to the Sakura
Now that our blossoming youth has faded into memory, and our cheeks rosy with age, we can but wait the harvester’s hand.
Unlike the cherry trees we will never bloom again but, no matter when the fruit of our lives is plucked from this earthly tree, we will forever remember that moment of perfection when we stood in awe ’neath the blossoming cherry trees of Kanazawa...
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Posted by Hawkson 00:18 Archived in Japan Comments (7)

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