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Monday, October 31, 2016

5F Day 10: Sendai to Hiroshima

No educational articles today.  Just my simple Shinkansen (bullet train) series of rides from Sendai to Hiroshima via Tokyo and Shin-Osaka.  I left at 9:30 in the morning and arrived at 5PM.  First my Westin Sendai breakfast:

Yes, that's all, for I plan to buy a bento in Tokyo Station for my ride to Shin-Osaka.  I saw my first train coming at the Sendai Station, so I tried to take a photo:

Ah, a bit too early. However, I noticed a beautiful fall setting in the window across the way:

Sendai is in full fall bloom.  My bento meal:

Four kinds of fish with sparkling sake and macha tea.  Come on now, has anyone else ever had bento on a train with sparkling sake and macha tea?

I was extremely lucky, for an hour out of Tokyo, I awoke just in time to take this a fabulous photo of Mount Fuji from my seat:

There are people, such as friends from Hawaii, who catch the Shinkansen to Kansai, and have never even seen Mt Fuji.  Normally you need to be watchful from 40 minutes out of Tokyo, but this train happened to stop in Odawara.

The Sheraton Hiroshima, now 5 years old, is located a few minutes walk from the Shinkansen stop, you can almost see the train in the window to the left.  A view from my room of the Red Bus that takes you all over town, for free, because I have a Japan Rail Pass.

Tomorrow, the Hiroshima Peace Park.

I went down to the Club Lounge, and was very impressed.  I thought I'd just have a drink or two with some veggies, for the Japanese restaurant at the hotel is offering to people who stay here half price for dinner:

Then I was swayed by a whole assortment of dishes that convinced me to have dinner here:

After all, the drinks are free.  That green block is a basil Gouda cheese.  Terrific!

A shot of Miyajima (the dark island to the left), with Matsushima, one of the three best ocean tourist sites in Japan:

To finish, I had a double expresso cappuccino with a couple of sweet tidbits.

Good night.


5F Day 9: Nikko, the Most Beautiful Spot on Planet Earth

My astonishing day started with breakfast at the Tokyo Westin:

If you look real close, on the left horizon is a white statue:

This the tallest statue of the gem-bearing Nyoirin Kannon (328 feet).

Anyway, off I went today to Nikko, not having a clue that this could well be one of my best days of my life.  Day #35 of my Grand Around the World Trip, for example, rates up there also as one of the best, for unexpectedly:
  • My Blue Bar Pigeon made a first appearance, picking on my breakfast at the Westin Venice.
  • At Quadri in St. Mark's Square I had the best Italian meal in my life, infused with truffles.
  • I was privileged to secure the last seat in a tribute concert to Antonio Lucio Vivaldi of his complete Four Seasons in a smallish auditorium where he composed much of these pieces.  This site was only a few yards from Quadri.  
Off I rode to Nikko, where the final leg was a quaint train where 75% of the riders were foreign:

I mention this because the Westin Sendai has no White, Black nor Hispanic occupants.  I can generally tell if there is a Chinese tour, and there was none.  I hear that visitors remain leery to visit this area of Japan because of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Map from Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture to Nikko, Tochigi PrefectureSo I got to Nikko on a Monday, and this was, supposedly, the peak of Fall Colors today.  I can imagine how terrible it must have been over the weekend, for the combination of tourists, locals driving cars and whatever, made it almost impossible to stick to any kind of schedule on this weekday.

I made several mistakes, mostly to my advantage.  If you ever travel here at peak, purchase your 2000 yen (around $19) bus ticket to Chuzenji Onsen, which theoretically allows you to drop of and get on at-will all day.  Forget the getting off part.  The infrastructure cannot handle the overload of people.

Plus, the information made available is confusing.  I bought a ticket and was told to use line 1A.  No matter what ticket you buy, you go to 1A (well, there is a 1B, but no one was there).   The line was very long, but they somehow squeezed most in line to get on the bus.  I showed my ticket to my bus driver, and he must have said, in Japanese, you must get off at Chuzenji Onsen.  Initially, I could not take a photo because I was standing.  

Finally, half the bus got off at Akechidaira, where there is a ropeway (left, from stock photo).  So I finally got a seat where I could take a few photos.  My "mistake" was that I did not get off at the lake, so I continued to the last stop, which took about half an hour more.  At the end, I had to show my ticket, and the bus driver scolded me for staying on the bus.  After a while I figured out he wanted more money, so I gave him around $7.  Best mistake I made all day, for when we got back to the lake, where I would have dropped off, the line to get on this bus back to Nikko was at least four busloads long.  The next bus came in half an hour.  And the line would only enlarge, for this was by then mid-afternoon.  Me?  I was the first to get on at the the top, so I had the best seat:  front seat left.  Best as I could tell, many in that line at Lake Chuzenji will not get home until late at night, and maybe not even then.

So, feeling lucky, here are all the photos I took in Nikko:

You say, what's the big deal about that photo?  Well, for hours, this is what I saw in varying splotches of fall color.  While the the eastern part of the USA, the Shenandoahs and New England, for example, are mostly red and yellow and orange, there is something about the artistic nature of Nikko's.

There were severe handicaps.  For one, my bus did not exactly have the cleanest windows.  Second, the Sun seemed almost always in my face, so I could not photograph the best scenes.  What you'll see below are the best of what I managed to take:

That's Lake Chuzenji, above and below.

I can go on and on, but, in general, the photos are a bit fuzzy and not quite composed well.  I was constrained.

I can assure you that Nikko's beauty transcends any of the photos I took.  I will need to return someday soon and just walk around, with a better camera,  Perhaps stay at some hotel on the shores of Lake Chuzenji for a few days.  Catch the colors with the right shading at the ideal time of day.

On the other hand, life is not perfect and what I've captured above will hopefully convince you to someday visit what could well be the most beautiful spot on Planet Earth, at least for a few days around Halloween.

But my day did not end in Nikko.  When I got to Utsunomiya to catch the bullet train to Sendai, it was 45 minutes to my departure, so I went to the JR office to leave earlier.  Apparently, the train I caught was quite filled, so the agent placed me in a window seat with the masses.  The seats are not as wide and the environment not as cushy.  I had purchased some spicy shoestring potatoes and sochu, and the 25 means 25% ethanol, almost six times the ethanol of a typical beer in the USA.

In a somewhat inebriated state, I enjoyed the passing countryside while listening to my...not sure what it is called.  Not an iPod, for my device is the size of a postage stamp, with 4,000 songs.  During the hour plus ride an incredible series of tunes came on, almost in chronological order:  Wakare No Isochidori (a song that was popular before I was born, but, somehow, is meaningful to me), the Tommy Dorsey version of I'm Getting Sentimental Over You, Happy Talk,   Rock Around the Clock, You Cheated, To Know Him is to Love Him,  Born too Late, Scotch and Soda, You Light Up My Life, Johnny Get Angry, Honolulu City this point, it occurred to me that these tunes were so significant to me and that my life was flashing by that surely, the Shinkansen was destined to have its first tragic accident...when we arrive in Sendai.

I walked to the Westin Sendai, took a long bath and went down to the Executive Lounge for a champagne:

I then went up to the top floor for dinner.  This could well have been my best teppanyaki meal ever:

Then came the Sendai wagyu beef:

Frankly, this wagyu was okay, but did not have that Miyazaki quality.  That distinctive taste was missing.

My teppanyaki finished with garlic rice, miso soup and tsukemono.  All in all, the quality, service ambience, view and culmination of a great day made the experience memorable.  

What a day.  Tomorrow, I'm on to Hiroshima.


Sunday, October 30, 2016

FABULOUS FALL FOOD and FOLIAGE FANTASY Day 8: Matsushima, the Town that Survived the Great Tohoku Earthquake

Well, it's Day 8 and I finally saw some fall colors, thus I can now use 5F for Fabulous Fall Food and Foliage Fantasy.  The concierge here at the Westin Sendai said the closest place he could recommend was Matsushima, said to be one of the three most scenic spots in Japan, about a 40 minute train ride north of Sendai. According to The Japan Times:

Matsuo Basho, arguably Japan’s most famous haiku poet, is said to have been at a loss for words when he first saw the hundreds of pine-clad islets scattered around Matsushima Bay during a 17th-century journey to the Tohoku region. (This a haikai drawing with one of his popular poems:  Furu ike ya / kawazu tobikomu / mizu no oto--An old pond / a frog jumps in  the sound of water)
The epicenter of the Great Tohoku Earthquake was just outside of Matsushima.  The devastation should have been catastrophic.  However, those 260 islands buffered the damage.  This is one of those towns where people had to quickly climb the hills to survive, but only 15 were killed because the tsunami height "only" reached 12.5 feet, compared to nearly 50 feet elsewhere.  The tourist part of the town was destroyed and remained closed for more than a year, but this was the only city in this entire area that was largely spared.

Interestingly enough, the primary temples and shrines all escaped damage, for they were built at an elevation that the tsunami lapped, but did not inundate.  They were mostly first built in the 9th century, and reconstructed by samurai ruler Date Masamune in the early 1600's. 

 The Entsuin Temple, in particular, is surrounded by maple trees, and lit up at night from later October into November.  Here are the day and night shots I took:

Walking around I saw this sign:

And a persimmon tree:

I took a cruise around the bay:

Those sticks in the water are what you see of the oyster fields.  While this is the specialty of Matsushima, I had a simple soba with some hot sake:

The noodles were perfectly al dente and the total cost of all the above...less than $10.  On the train, my bento with a cup of sake and a Grand Kirin (never had this before--very hoppy):

I caught the Japan Rail Senseki Line, which was destroyed by the tsunami.  I snuck a photo of four teenage girls.  Of course all of them are doing something with their smart phone.  They happen to be sitting where the pregnant, old and lame should be.  Actually, the train was not full.  Note how they're dressed and the footwear:

At Sendai Station, take the West Exit, where you can see the Westin:

Then the view back to the station from my room on the 36th floor:

My breakfast this morning at the Westin Sendai:

This is, after all, a Food and Foliage trip.  Tomorrow:  Nikko, which is supposed now to be at the absolute peak of Fall Colors.

I should mention that for several days there has been no ocean storm anywhere in the world.  Very unusual.