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Japan, March 2018

Tokyo & Nikko

On Day 3 we met a tour guide, Mr Kawabe, who joined us for the day.

Mr Kawabe met us at our hotel lobby at 9 o'clock. As it was a sunny morning we decided to walk instead of taking the subway train to Ginza for the Tsukiji fish market. To visit this market, you have to choose between arriving at 3.00 a.m. for the fish auction, or 9 a.m. as visitors are not allowed between. We visited at the later time but most of the market activities had finished with only a few stalls still operating.

Next our guide took us to Tsukiji Hongwanji Temple. This is not a traditional Japanese temple but is built in an ancient Indian architectural style. From there we walked to the Imperial Palace. Unfortunately the Palace is not open to the public and the Imperial Gardens were closed as it was Monday. We made a note to come back in a couple of days to see the gardens. For lunch our guide took us to his favourite Tonkatsu (deep fried breadcrumbed pork fillet and prawns too) restaurant, a traditional Japanese style restaurant with tatami mat floor seating. It was the best Tonkatsu meal I have ever had.

After lunch we revisited different areas of Ueno park, the five storey pagoda and Kaneiji Temple. The park today was still packed with people with many food stalls along the path leading to the pagoda. It was Easter Monday. After the park and pagoda we took a walk in the Shinjuku area which is known as the liveliest nightlife district in Tokyo. We began at the Golden Gai, a warren of tiny alleys and narrow wooden buildings housing many tiny, closet-sized bars. It was still only late afternoon but we got a look at some while they were preparing for the evening. Most of the Japanese bars are drinking places for mostly men, little rooms no bigger than a single bedroom. Most of the customers sit on stools along the bar, shoulder to shoulder. There are many of these little bars in subway stations or the basements of shopping malls.

We walked past the famous Kabukicho cabaret Robot restaurant. We have not tried it yet. Robots are everywhere in Japan even in shops or in some hotel lobbies for greeting guests.

On Day 4 we took a bullet train for a day visit to Nikko, a UNESCO world heritage site with temples, pagodas and shrines. The train journey takes about one hour. Coming out of the station, a right turn and 30-40 minutes walk through this pleasant, sleepy town past many shops and restaurants brought us to the Nikko Toshogu Shrine. The first famous sight to greet you is the famous red Divine Bridge. The colour red shines beautifully among the trees, the hills and the river below. It is not allowed to walk on the bridge itself but we can all take as many photos as we like for our souvenirs.

Across the road we began to walk up the steps and uphill paths, passing the museum on the way before reaching a torii gate and the entrance to the wonderful Toshogu shrine. Near the entrance stands a five storied pagoda as if guarding this brilliantly decorated shrine in its beautiful rural setting. There are many courtyards with beautiful carvings and paintings of animals such as elephants and monkeys. There are several decorative and colourful towers in the main courtyard. From there it is a few steps upward to the imposing gold decorated Yomeimon gate with the entrance in the centre, to the right is guarded by a general and to the left is a mythical beast that is part giraffe and part dragon.

From the Sleeping Cat gate we climbed hundreds of steps up to the inner shrine, The Leyasus Tomb. It is worth the climb in this very spiritual and wooded setting, peaceful and tranquil. Japanese visitors would make their prayers at the tomb. Later in the afternoon we walked through the local village over the river bridge to visit the Kanman-ga-Fuchi Abyss. This is a wooded river gorge, the path lined with Jizo statues. They are small stones effigies of the Buddhist protector of travellers and children. Finally we made our way back to the station for the return trip to Tokyo.

On Day 5 morning we visited Akihabara, known as 'electric city'.

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