travel stories

The word Bayanzag means “rich in saxual shrubs” and the plants serve the purpose of drawing water to the surface assisting to make this landscape habitable.

An American palaeontologist called Roy Chapman Andrews coined the phrase Flaming Cliffs. The area is known for the number of dinosaur bones and eggs excavated here.

Our home for the night was a very small homestay with a walk across the Gobi to the toilet and wash tap.


We took an afternoon walk to enjoy the sand whipping around some of the smaller red outcrops.

After dinner we learned some of the many games you can play with bone knuckles.


Three original temples stand at Erdene Zuu Khiid, the site of the first Buddhist Monastery in Mongolia. The buildings dating between 1586 and 1610 are now museums, having survived the Stalinist purge of 1937.

The city of Kharkhorin (established by the son of Genghis Khan as the capital) is the home to an impressive archaeological museum showcasing finds in this region and beyond.

For the past month, we have been accompanied on this trip by a pocket-wifi device. We posted it back to the supplier last night and are now reliant on paper maps, city signs and helpful subway staff to help us navigate Tokyo in our last couple of days here.

First stop today was Hama-rikyu Gardens, once the site of a shogunal palace.

Next was Tsukiji Market where hours after the early morning tuna auctions we lined up for a sushi feast before hearing to the Outer Market to check out the action.

Over to Akihibara to find ourselves way outside the age profile in Electric City on a Saturday afternoon.

For a change of pace, the JR rail line took us to Nippori to wander around Yanaka Ginza, one of the old shitamachi districts of Tokyo where pre-World War Two streetscapes still exist, having been left unscathed by bombs. The city’s lower classes lived in this district of alleyways, flowerpots and stray cats, although it’s fair to say that gentrification has taken place in recent years.

Great Wave off KanagawaUnder the Wave off Kanagawa (or The Great Wave) is one of the most popular images ever to emerge from Japan.

This woodblock print by the prolific artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) was just one in the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji.

The Sumida Hokusai Museum opened in late 2016. The current exhibition, Hokusai’s Water Wonderland, focuses on his waves and waterfalls, and how the imported pigment, Prussian Blue, featured greatly in the series.


Thirty-six views of Mt FujiThirty-six views of Mt Fuji -

Hokusai worked in many forms during his long life and was also responsible for small  manga-like how-to-draw manuals, some of which are available free of copyright on Open Culture. 

As you can see, they are still very useful to those learning drawing, even if you don’t read Japanese.


Hokusai and other “artists of the floating world” (ukiyo-e) greatly influenced the French impressionists and Japonisme became quite the fashion in the latter part of the nineteenth century.

As you might guess from the name, Hokusai inspired the series of prints by French artist Henri Riviere called Thirty-six Views of the Eiffel Tower.


The museum is well worth a visit as much for the building itself, designed by the architect Kazuyo Sejima.

Two Australians walk into a bar after 8.00 pm on a Tuesday. Everything else within proximity of their hotel seems to be closed, but this one has a flashing OPEN sign and seems to indicate it’s a dining and drinking establishment.

The four customers at the bar, enjoying cigarettes and their own bottles of sake which the bar retains for them, turn their heads simultaneously. This is not a usual occurrence in this side street of Izukogen.

Still, the barman calls his wife who emerges from the kitchen with the Japanese word for welcome. The two are seated at one of the two tables. It is explained to them by one of the bar patrons that this is mainly a bar, and only a set meal is served. “That’s okay”, the visitors say as they order one set each and a beer for the non-driver.

It is busy in the kitchen if the emergent sounds are anything to go by.  The drinks arrive and soon, an egg salad appears. The food keeps coming. Yakitori next, followed by more beef than these two have seen for the past 4 weeks in Japan. Fried rice accompanies the feast.

In between courses, the host runs through some cities in Australia she knows. When they zero in on Brisbane, she mentions jacaranda trees and the time of year they flower.

Someone is diving into her Japanese notes to keep the conversation flowing. A dessert of watermelon and orange pieces finishes the meal, followed by a “presento” of non-alcoholic beer for the driver.


The couple is us, and we were made to feel most welcome. This was no set meal that our host prepared. This was Japanese hospitality. We left with bows and hugs and a photograph of another memorable night in this country.


Dining Bar, Mitsuko. Izukogen, Japan.

Today, we drove from Matsumoto in the top left corner of this map to a place called Kawaguchiko which is a little north of that mountain in the centre bottom of this map. Yes, that mountain.


This place is stunningly beautiful. We are staying beside one of the Fuji Five Lakes and my travel agent (also known as Himself) has exceeded all expectations in finding this place, across from which Mount Fuji soars. EVERY room has a view of the mountain.

We were extremely fortunate to arrive on an afternoon of full sun and a clear sky. There is a walkway around the lake where you can take in Fuji San, watch boaters and recreational fishers and birds looking for a feed.

I will let the landscape tell its own story via these photographs. Meanwhile, we are here for dinner and breakfast, and settling in for the night.



Jigokudani Monkey Park is one of the most popular places to see Japanese macaques “in the wild”. The pools are man-made, having been constructed back in 1964 for the local snow monkeys to enjoy bathing in an onsen. They are fed daily by the park staff with a diet of raw barley and soy beans and can come and go as they please. This feeding regime is contributing to their survival as, otherwise, these ‘agricultural pests’ would seek their food from nearby farms with unfortunate consequences.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has the monkeys listed on their Red List. These are some of their notes.

There are no major threats at the species level. There are two localities where hybridization with the introduced Macaca spp. is known to occur: Taiwanese Macaque (Macaca cyclopsis) in Wakayama Prefecture; and Rhesus Macaque (M. mulatta) in Chiba Prefecture (Abe et al. 2005). However, in the former case, most individuals have been removed (Watanabe pers. comm.). Each year, over 10,000 individuals are killed to prevent agricultural damage (Abe et al. 2005), and this situation may require more careful population management.

We were here on a very warm late spring day, and unlikely to see any swimming in the onsen. Mostly the monkeys were foraging around for food, or sleeping or having the occasional spat. There were new babies to see. After a while, the adolescents decided that a hot swim on a hot day was a good idea after all.




Our little blue car was released from the car elevator this morning for the ride to Nagano via the coast road.

Kanazawa’s morning was wet and windy. By the time we pulled into a roadside lunch spot, the rain had stopped and there were signs of sun. Buying ramen by ticket can tend to be a guessing game, but you can’t go too wrong.

We stopped at a lookout to see the cliffs of Oyashirazu where story boards related the tales of this most dangerous part of the old Hokuriku (aka Koshiji) Road. The name Oyashirazu means “parents don’t know”. Travellers had to navigate their way through the waves to continue on the road.

A 12th century clan leader was defeated in battle and escaped. His wife followed him and penned this poem after their child was lost in the crossing.

The parents not knowing

on the waves of this shore, a child

vanishes in the foam along the Koshiji Road.


The clouds were low today and the rice fields were a mirror for the sky.


We arrived in Nagano and high-tailed it up to Zenkoji before it closed. The structure of the Hondo or Main Hall dates from 1707. Our ticket entry included going through a pitch black tunnel underneath the sanctuary with only our right hand to guide us along the tunnel wall until we reached the Key to the Pure Land, emerging to see ourselves reborn in a mirror. One touch of the key ensures eternal salvation, so we’re good to go.


We’ll head out to dinner soon in this Winter Olympics City (1998). Tomorrow will include a trip to see the Snow Monkeys.

Sunshine was never so welcome as this morning. We drove up towards Kamikochi in the Chubusangaku National Park to enjoy some stunning scenery. Only buses and local transport are allowed to go into Kamikochi so off on the bus we went.

After lunch we were back in Takayama, walking around the old preserved merchant streets and partaking in our first samplings of sake from local brewers.

For just 300 yen, we bought entry to the Hirata Museum, which holds all sorts of fascinating collections including children’s toys, tools to fashion hairstyles, and playing cards.


A few more steps around this town before heading back to our digs to catch up with the mundane but necessary task of laundry.

Yesterday morning, we walked eight kilometres of the old Nakasendo Way or ‘mid-mountain road’ between two of the post stations, Magome and Tsumago.

We started out with light rain falling, dropping in to a tea house with light coming only from the fire place and the front entrance. One man serves tea and pickled vegetables to walkers for a small donation. Joanna Lumley also visited here in her travel series on Japan.

By the time we reached Tsumago, the rain was dumping from the sky. Refuge was sought in a soba noodle restaurant followed by a visit to Okuya, the “Waki-honjin” of Tsumago. Inns like this were resting places for daimyos travelling between Kyoto and Edo (now Tokyo).

We took the local bus back to Magome to pick up our car and set off for a two hour drive to Takayama. The afternoon had other plans as we ended up sitting in a tow truck to Ichinomiya to deliver a damaged vehicle back to the rental company. A car ran a red light and collected the front of our car. Long story short, we had a long wait in the rain, the local police sorted it all out, the other driver was apologetic and Toyota Rent-a-Car very kindly had a replacement car ready for us when the tow truck arrived. (We had fun with the police swapping translated questions on our smart phones).

We took the expressway straight to Takayama, arriving around 8.00 pm instead of four in the afternoon. Safe and sound and happy for a hot meal and dry shoes and socks.



This is a segment of a Japanese print by Keisai Masayoshi. The print was made in 1787 and depicts The Golden Pavilion or Kinkakuji (金閣寺) in Kyoto.

Here it is today, captured by the opening and closing of a camera shutter.


The top two floors are covered in gold leaf. The temple has had several iterations since it was first constructed in the late 14th century as a villa for the Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. There have been several destructive fires over time. Today’s building was completed in 1955, replacing the one burned down by a Buddhist monk in 1950.