Monday, 25 May 2015

Bucket List #101 - Experience an Earthquake

Sometimes I'm so funny I make the ground shake.

I've been laid low in Yokohama with an extremely sore foot, but Kim and I did manage to make it out onto the bikes briefly to go and get some lunch at a place she saw down the road that took her interest.

It was on the way back from lunch that we rode past a police station which had all of its lights flashing red on the outside, and I quipped to Kim that something was 'going down'.

Five minutes later, just as we stepped out of the elevator onto the 10th floor of our hotel, the whole building started to move and shake ... we were having an earthquake.


I thought this was the coolest (albeit slightly scary) thing ever and I immediately wondered why I'd never put it on my bucket list.

I even got an emergency warning message on my phone ... not quite sure what it says though...


I did get a little bit worried after a minute or so as the building continued to shake and twist and creak, but mores because the cleaner lady, who was in the hallway with us, started looking quite worried, but apparently we survived because I'm typing this.

Strangely though neither of us were particularly keen to jump in the lifts and head off anywhere ... and two hours lately Kim's still threatening to sleep in her clothes with her shoes on ...

For my next joke, I shall predict a typhoon on our flight home ...

Sunday, 24 May 2015

I want one ...

I want one ...


I think that's all I need to say.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Shimanami Kaido (Onomichi) - Japan's Cycling Road

You know what's really cool about Japan?


You don't have to wear a helmet when riding a bike.

What's even cooler is that this seems to work really,  really well.

You see there's a whole class of cyclists in Japan that we just don't see in Australia: Normal people.

Yep, people of all ages, in normal clothes, on bikes, pootling around doing their shopping, going to school, or just getting from point A to B.



There are still the lycra clad, helmet wearing, strava chasing cyclists hurtling around on the road as well, but they're in the minority ... sort of like in Australia, and I also stress - pretty much all of them are wearing helmets.


Foreground: 87 year old lady getting her groceries with her cloth cap on.
Background: 36 year old male with lycra, helmet and bianchi bike.
People seem to be making a decision as to what's best for them and when they need to wear a helmet.

Maybe we could learn from that.

What I also like about Japan is that when you cram 128 million people onto a relatively small island chain then the sheer economics of that much production allows you to do super cool things ... like build the Shimanami Kaido (the Cyclists Highway) ...


Now I'd only found out about this place about a week before we flew over here, but the very idea of it just excited me ... somewhere just north of Hiroshima (well just north by high speed train), they'd built seven bridges to link together a series of Islands, and then, because they're Japanese and they can, they'd built super-duper dedicated cycle lanes on all the bridges and then linked them all up to create 70kms of dedicated cycleway from one end to the other.


I mean why not?

Apologies for the blurry photo but that circular ramp is the on ramp just for cyclists
and I had to show you that.
Dedicated cyclist lanes on the bridges.  Do notice how long this bridge it.
Just the engineering cost of the on and off ramps for cyclists on each of the bridges must have exceeded Tasmania's annual expenditure on roads (never mind cycling infrastructure),  with some of the on ramps stretching for 1.6kms of perfectly graded, concreted, walled trail often dug 3 or 4 metres into the ground.

Then because that was too cheap, they went off and paved a whole lot of the cycleway as well ...


One bridge had a dedicated cyclists lane underneath it.

Most bridges had a separated cycling lane on top.



And then there was the signage and navigation aids, and I have to say that they employed what must have been one of the simplest and most effective navigation aids I've ever come across on a cycling route ... they just painted a big, blue line the whole friction' way with arrows and distance markers thrown in for good measure ...

Just follow the blue line ...
No worries about taking a wrong turn because of a missing sign anymore ... if you've been cycling for more than a 100 metres and you haven't seen the blue line ... then just turn around.

And if that's not easy enough, they even add destinations in case you somehow get turned around.



Yep, we quite literally just cycled out of the train station in Imabari City and then followed the blue line for the next 80kms (the '70km' route actually starts at the first bridge 7 kms into the ride, hence the extra distance).

There were only two spots on the whole trip where we actually had to look at the map (free maps in english are available everywhere, plus if you have an App like Maplets you can just download a GPS enabled version of the map to follow on your smartphone (again in English).

I was thinking what a great idea these blue lines would be for the routes from our airports into Hobart and Launceston ...

Of course, there is one final element to a perfect trail, and that's the place you ride through ... and boy oh boy does this ride have 'place' in spades ...








And to top it all off, the riding it pretty darn easy.  Admittedly our GPS showed we covered around 80kms (not 70 as promised) and there's plenty of  climbing up onto the bridges, but overall we managed this ride in around five hours (with stops) on our 7 speed Dahon folding bikes and still had the energy at the end of the day to ride up to our hotel room, which was at the top of the highest point in Onomichi City (and this time I don't exaggerate).

The view from our hotel room.
We loved this ride, even though we actually made it harder for ourselves by bringing our own bikes and therefore found we have to book one day ahead and catch a special bus at 7am to transport our folding bikes to the other end (it's sort of set up for you to hire a bike at one end and then drop it off at the other end - check out the webpage).

We also love our little hotel on top of the hill (so much so that we came for a night and three nights later we're still here).  It has a great Thai restaurant and it's the first room we've stayed in that has actually been bigger than a matchbox.

Yep, we didn't come to Japan to visit the cycling road, but the cycling road has definitely become my favourite part of our holiday in Japan.



My only complaint about the whole ride is that because I wasn't wearing a helmet, I've now got a terribly sunburnt forehead.

They should definitely make wearing sunscreen mandatory.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

What I wish I'd known about Japan ...

I was given lots of travel tips about coming to Japan, but there were also some gaps in what I was told as well, and so I thought I'd enlighten you to a few things I wish I was told about Japan ...


Firstly I wish I had been told how frickin big railway stations are, and that you can't just leave bikes on streets in many cities.

Kim and I are very over packing and unpacking our bikes and gear at every train station and every hotel.

Another of the problems we hit when we were over here is that the power plugs don't have earth pins (ie. they only have two pins that plug into the wall, not three).

We hadn't considered the implications of this until we were over here and realised that this meant our adaptors also only had two pins that go into them ... which was a problem because my (sorry) Kim's Macbook Pro has three pins which wouldn't plug into our adaptors.... and we were staring down the barrel of having to ration pineapple's 8 hours of computer battery over two weeks.

We wasted many hours solving this problem ... searching the internet for solutions (there weren't many useful solutions provided), we considered a trip back out to the airport to see if we could find a three pin adaptor there and we even hunted down an Apple Store in Tokyo to buy a Japanese power supply ... But then ran back out again when we found out the price ($100+ dollars just for a power cable).

Finally our hotel concierge suggested we try a large electronics store down the road, and sure enough on level 6, hidden away in a crowded aisle, we found our three pin adaptor for the bargain price of around $5.50.

But we'd wasted hours doing so.

Another thing I wish I'd known about is the strange way that "free WiFi" seems to work in Japan.

For example, today we got to the train station and I realised when we got there that I'd figured out how to get to the wrong station (I'd planned on going to the the shin-onomichi station not the onomichi station -what a beginners mistake)

Suddenly having no idea how to get onto the right train, I went in search of some free internet and found it ... But, as I say, free wifi has a catch over here  - you need to pre-register for it.

This is the screen you get when you log into the free train station wifi ...


You either needed to scan a QR code ... which as it was on my phone screen was obviously unscannable by my phone, and even if it was scannable, it wouldn't work because I didn't have internet access.

Similarly, I could send them an email next time I actually had internet access to get the internet access I needed now.

Not very useful.

Just for the record, one of the benefits of having our own bikes is we were able to just catch the train to the wrong station and then cycle to the right station which was only on the other side of town.  That's how we're solving things in Japan.

Another thing we've discovered is that our Japan Rail Passes (costing $500 each) are brilliant - but not quite as brilliant as we'd been led to believe.

They did get us into Tokyo, and allowed us limited, but sufficient, travel around the city (they work on the JR train loop around the city, but not on the tram systems)

They got us 2/3rds the way to Mt Fuji ... but we had to pay for the last leg.

We've also discovered that the Nozomi fast trains (running south out of Tokyo) are now nearly ubiquitous ... and you also can't go on them with JR Rail Passes, meaning we've often found ourselves waiting an hour or so to get onto the next JR Pass train, while Nozomi trains have been taking off every 10 minutes.

The Nozomi trains also seem to go all the way through, whereas we're finding we need to change trains on our tickets (which takes us back to how frickin' big train stations are when you're carrying two bikes and all our other gear).

Offsetting these negatives, there are also some things I wasn't told about that we've come to love about Japan.  For example, I love these:


What is it you ask? they're a 'please come serve me now' button that we're finding at many of the cheaper restaurants.

I mean how many times have you sat in a Tasmanian restaurant wishing a bloody staff member would come and take your order or check up on how the drinks are going?

Did you say practically every single time?  yes, you did.

These buttons solve all that hassle, because when you want a waiter, you press the button and they appear ... Anyone who knows me will understand just how much I love this button.

We've also come to realise, and accept, that Japanese are as likely to go out to an Indian, Chinese, Thai or even Australian restaurant as we are in Australia ... and so we're now having a great time just trying all the different cuisine's.

Food is generally really good here in Japan, although at lunch today I was seen to dip my chicken and wedges into what I thought was a sauce in a small black bowl ... only to find that this was in fact my mango dessert.



I guess that serves me right for chuckling at a girl the other day who got a cooked english breakfast from the buffet and then smothered it all in blueberry jam.

So those are the ups and downs (so far) of Japan.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Hiroshima

What was I saying about this trip having a superficial feel to it ...

Kids bike after Hiroshima bombing
Well that was before visiting ground zero at Hiroshima and seeing the impacts of that day.

I may have had a tear of three come to my eye as I wandered through the Hiroshima museum.

But that's just a maybe and will be hotly denied if anyone tries to hold me to it.


Not sure if you can read the text above, but it says in the first autumn after Hiroshima it was said that nothing would grow back at ground zero for seventy five years, but then the first new buds sprouted soon after, and in the green that came back to life among the charred ruins, people recovered.

In my vernacular - that plants return was very, very cool.

But ... here's the crux ... imagine the Hiroshima bombing happening today in our world of TV war and clinical battles.


Imagine an ally, or an enemy, deliberately sending a bomb like that aimed at the civilian population ...

Then ask yourself ... would it be right or would it be wrong? Could Hiroshima ever be justified again?

I'm troubled by the fact that in my mind it could be ... and I don't know if that is just a sign of my frustrating world view which always see's things from many different perspectives, or whether it says something about me that I may not want to hear.


Regardless, Hiroshima has made me think.

As we'd say in Australia - Lest we forget.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Kyoto

I started reading the book "Riding the trains in Japan" today, but to be honest gave up about 30 pages in as it was all a bit deep thinking for me.



However, in those thirty or so pages it did make the very interesting argument that todays travel writer needs to be very selective in what he or she writes about because todays reader only wants to know the story of the unique and the special ... they want to read about the amazing temples and the remote bamboo grove.


In today's world of sponsored journalism, no one wants you to write about long plane flights, frustrating airport transfers, the problems with ordering meals or finding somewhere to stay, and they definitely don't want you to write about how the world is becoming more and more ... the same.

Which would explain why even my mum has stopped reading my blog.

So, today (and yesterday) we were in Kyoto and, yes, it was pretty darn cool.

We clocked up around 70kms of riding in the two days, and we visited cool temples (where we weren't allowed to take photos), we rode down small backstreets and along busy highways ... we even cycled along rivers.  We visited places where we had no idea why exactly we were visiting them, and most importantly we got to visit the cool bamboo grove that we'd seen in the Lonely Planet guide (which we've borrowed from the State Library for the visit).

Yep, all up, we've had a pretty cool two days in Kyoto and we could do a travel writer proud ...


















































Kim even ate more Japanese food ...


As did I, although some would say that Wasabi and Soy Sauce Dorito's don't count ...


But ... and it' a big but, I was also reading the Lonely Planet's guide to Japan on the train down here and it made the very interesting point that if we could speak Japanese and get to know the locals what we'd discover is that they are very much, in fact boringly so, like us.

And that's the feel I got in Kyoto - sure there's the Geisha's and the old sites, but ultimately, 80% of what we rode through in Japan was just suburbia ... albeit a much more densely populated one that what we've got back home, and one where you can't park your bikes on the streets (true story).

I guess I'm coming to understand that I have much more of an idealised vision of Japan than I realised, and due to the language and communication barriers, I feel like I'm only getting the most superficial experience of the Country.

But as the guy who wrote "Riding on Trains in Japan" said ... who wants to read stuff like that?