This morning we flew north to the island of Hokkaido. We made an early morning subway journey, miraculously avoiding the infamous rush hour at Tokyo Metro Station, reserved seats for our purchased NEX Express tickets, and bought a scratch breakfast for the ride out to Narita.

 

The flight north was a treat, with views of spectacular snow-covered mountains.

We caught a bus into Sapporo after my beginner’s language skills prompted the bus  attendant to go out of his way to assist me to purchase the tickets from a vending machine.

Our digs for the next two days have everything we need, including a laundry on the premises. The size of the room gives new meaning to the term living in each other’s pocket. At least we get the opportunity to be very polite to each other every time one of us needs to move about in the space

Enough of the minutiae, today’s Sapporo activities included:

A walk through Odori Park towards the Sapporo TV Tower. The cherry and plum blossoms are due with just a few deciding to bloom.

 

A lift to the top of the Sapporo TV Tower with views of the city.

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A train ride and walk to Sapporo Beer Museum for an educational experience, perhaps not the major motivation for the visit, and some tastings.

 

This was followed by a lamb and vegetable dinner named Genghis Khan by the beer garden operators.

 

We are back in our tiny room on this quite cold night in Sapporo. Tomorrow we will seek out this city’s famous seafood and Ramen Alley, and head up to the heights for a larger perspective on this port surrounded by mountains.

 

We were fortunate enough to arrive at this Buddhist temple just on 3 pm and be able to watch Goma, a fire ritual performed 5 times a day by monks of the Shingon sect. No photographs of the ritual are permitted. It involved taiko drums, fire and the chanting of Sutras. Very impressive.

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Afterwards we had coffee and tea near the temple grounds where we watched the world go by.

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A train ride out to Ochanomizu and a short walk leads to Ochanomizu Origami Kaikan, a 6 story centre specialising in high quality traditional Japanese paper. The current gallery exhibition features samurai hats. There are classes in paper craft going on all the time. The staff are happy for visitors to wander around, including into the paper making workshop where we watched paper being painted and hung.

All things origami and washi paper are available in the shop which we will visit again at the end of this trip. I was in heaven.

We flew into Narita airport yesterday evening after around 9 hours in the air.

Entry formalities went smoothly. Once we collected our pre-ordered pocket wifi device from the Post Office in Terminal 2, bought Suica cards for the subway, and purchased tickets for the Narita Express into Tokyo we were on our way into the city. It was raining as we emerged from the subway station in the Akasaka district for the directionally imperfect walk to our small but perfectly formed room, complete with pillow selection on your way up.

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We dropped into a busy local restaurant well after 9pm and enjoyed some warm food and a most convivial atmosphere (smokers notwithstanding) where noise levels happily rose with every entry and exit of customers. (We have actually come back tonight from a second visit to Youyusyonin).

 

 


The rain set in for a good part of today. No surprise, then, that our first purchase this morning was two umbrellas. Today’s destinations were the National Museum of Tokyo, Ochisnomizu Origami Kaikan and Fukugawa Fudo-do, all of which rate their own posts which will follow in due course.

At Ueno Station we had lunch at a soba noodle bar where you order your meal at the vending machine outside the restaurant.

 

We spent a good deal of time in the subway system today. Even during the busiest rush hour crushes, everyone is polite and helpful. Single lines to the left going up escalators assist fellow travellers rushing for a train. We had unsolicited offers of assistance with directions and have been made to feel welcome in every cafe and restaurant we’ve visited. I think we’re going to like it here.

Tuesday 24 April.

Yes. It’s the start of another trip. We’ll be spending five weeks in Japan, eleven days in Mongolia and a couple of days  in Beijing (as we head homewards) to see what’s changed since we were there in 1994. We’re topping and tailing the Japan chapter of this trip in the capital, Tokyo.

I’ve been hitting YouTube, language apps and books for the past few months so as to, hopefully, give us a head start on day-to-day communication and help with the recognition of traffic signs and the like.

As far as the blog goes, this time I’m taking my old iPad2 to which I’ve added a cheap and cheerful bluetooth keyboard. The Sony A6000 (loaded with some new apps to try) will be the camera of choice, with Snapseed as the editing tool. And I’ve packed a small sketch book and a few pencils and water brushes just in case. Time and fatigue levels allowing, an occasional haiku may appear.

See you tomorrow in Tokyo.