Tag Archives: Japan

A brief stop in Osaka

只今! After two years, we’re back in Osaka! Just a two day trip from Shanghai and we’re in the Aqua Metropolis again – the Anti-Capital, the town where dodgy areas are other cities shopping areas, all in all a wild place.

This sounds familiar, the boys are back in town. And coming back to Osaka or to Japan in general feels a bit like coming home by now. Hearing all those sounds (beeping, jingles and announcements EVERYWHERE!), seeing the familiar sights and drinking Calpis. It’s like we’ve never been away.

Of course we stayed in our tatami mat hotel room (unfortunately still without the great breakfast from our first visit), just to add a bit more to the familiarity. But we just crashed in Osaka this time for we wanted to travel the north of Japan. Of course we explored the neighborhood anyway (as in geocaching), visited the “shrines” of Billiken – the god of things as the should be – and went for some food. We met up with Maija and Kim to go to a local Teppanyaki restaurant (鉄板焼き, where they cook and serve food on a big hot iron plate) we could recommend. Also we showed them the Glico man, which is a must-see in Osaka (or so they say) and got Kakigōri (かき氷, shaved ice with syrup toppings) for dessert. That completed our adventures with Maija and Kim, but we might meet again in Tokyo for the fireworks.

Actually those were our activities in Osaka. On the next day we were out for some bunnies!

The Special Ferry SU ZHOU HAO

Our most favorite to get to Japan is by ferry, the SU ZHOU HAO, from Shanghai to Osaka. Flying is okay I guess (well, maybe not these days), but taking the ferry is really something different. You can relax, while the ship does all the work. It’s a bit like the train rides we did on this trip so far, but on the ship you have so much more space to walk around and explore. You can go outside whenever you want, they have a nice Japanese bath on board and the food… well, food is available.

The last time we were on the ferry, we soon had a group of 8-10 people who hung around most of the time. That was really a great time. But that was when the Expo was, so a lot of people were on the ship to start with. This time there weren’t as many. There was this Otaku couple from England, who weren’t going to Japan for the first time either (just the first time on the ferry), a South Korean guy from Seoul, who had been traveling the world for several months now (a lot by bicycle) and was writing a book about it, as well as 3-5 other people we didn’t see often enough to enable some kind of exchange. All others were Chinese and making conversation is quite hard. I only managed once with a Chinese business man in the Japanese bath, but that was quite difficult, even when we used all four languages we knew together.

And then there were our cabin companions, Maija and Kim. A Swedish-Finnish couple who took a few months off to travel around. They were great fun to be with. During the day we’d just hang out, reading, talking, taking photos. And in the evening we’d play games. Shanghai, Shitty Pants and Goat Testicles. Also we… hmm, what do you mean? Oh, the games. Okay, maybe a little explanation is needed. Let’s start with the most simple one, Shanghai. It’s basically Uno with two regular 52 card decks (including Jokers), just some slight differences, for example that you could Shanghai (politely ask the person who’s turn it was) the open card when it wasn’t your turn. Shitty pants (as I’ve researched by now, the Finnish name is Paskahousu, which makes it basically a correctly translated title) is a card game where the players always need to raise the cards lying on the table. And then there were the Goat Testicles. Okay, we made that title up, because we didn’t know the name of the game. But the game was a genuine Mongolian game, which you play with ankle bones. The player throws the bones on the table, where they can land in one of four positions, named sheep, goat, horse and camel. Then you have to flip one bone onto another one of the same kind without hitting another bone. You do this until you miss or hit a different bone and after that the next player continues. The winner is the one who collects most of them. You can also tell the fortune with those bones (since Mongolia has no access to the ocean, we weren’t sure if it is good or bad luck to roll them on the sea, so we settled for special luck). As I learned by now over the Internet, those bones come in sets of four in a leather pouch and are called Shagai. If we’d only learned that while still in Mongolia. Those would’ve been a great souvenir and gift.

Out companions traveled a lot more through Mongolia, so we could learn a bit more about the country and culture from them (like drinking games). In return, we were able to give them some starters and tips for Japan.

One more thing about the food. On the ship are some vending machines (going to Japan after all) with drinks and food, as well as two restaurants, a regular and a special restaurant. We weren’t allowed to eat at the special restaurant (just to join the Karaoke later) and the regular one served set meals which were just okay (like a cafeteria). But in front of the restaurant was a display with other meals, which we didn’t seem to get in the restaurant. On the last evening I had the crazy idea to just ask for one of those. That was so crazy that it actually worked. (They should really post a note about this. Or if they have, add one in English.) Looks like you don’t have to be special to get some different meal.

And yes, “special” became our running gag on this trip.

So after our special voyage on the special ship with all the special stuff and our special companions, we arrive in special Osaka for the special immigration and special customs.


Leaving Japan was no problem, the flight was swift, the food okay and we had a quite new entertainment system, that allowed us to watch the movies in 16:9/10.

We arrived in Istanbul. No problem getting into the country, only the long wait for our baggage was a bit annoying. For some reason they were not as fast as we’re used to that. Since we ordered a shuttle service, we were greeted with a sign – nice for a change. After that we were driven at high speed (like 70-100 km/h, depending on the traffic) through Istanbul and arrived at our hotel in just half an hour. Nice place, very close to the main tourist sites. Let’s see what we can check out in the next two days.


We managed to catch our NEX, arrived at the airport, checked our baggage (17.3 out of the allowed 23kg for me this time) and passed security (without any incident this time). Now we are sitting at Gate 34 and the waiting game begins again.


At least they have free Wifi here now. So I can actually publish this without shelling out the equivalent of 5 EUR like last time (though that was still very cheap compared to what they wanted at London Heathrow).

Last Day in Japan

So, that’s been it – the last two days in Japan and our trip is drawing closer to an end.

Yesterday we explored the bay area. While getting there, we found some place between the skyscrapers, where classic bronze statues of harp playing nymphs and colorful rough shaped plastic figures in submissive positions coexist. There is also a steam punk like clock (Miyazaki Clock), which is actually a cafe of some sort. This city never ceases to amaze us.

Over on the artificial island of Obaida is a large recreation area at the beach. Well, at least they call it a recreation area, though it is forbidden to walk around smoking (but okay to smoke at cafes or other designated places with a lot of passerbys), go swimming or play games. We tried to capture the sunset there, yet again the clouds didn’t play along. On the way back we could at least snap a few pictures of the nightly skyline. I want to stress the few, because we walked over the bay over the rainbow bridge (not in rainbow colors then), but because there was all this traffic and all that wind, it was impossible to have a moment where you could have the camera steady enough to make a photo that takes a larger fraction of a second.

But today we left our camera equipment in the hotel, because we wanted to be prepared for a lot of standing around: Sushi breakfast at the Tsukiji fish market! Okay, after waiting two and a half hour in line (well, last time it was a line – this time there was also a line for that line) it was more of a brunch. But worth it – 3,900 Yen and worth every single Yen and every minute waited. This really spoils you, because once you taste the real deal, nothing you get at home can keep up. (At least in our case, living in a German area over 500 km away from the sea.) After some souvenir shopping, that’s been about it for the day.

Now we’re back at the hotel, got most of our stuff packed, tickets printed and some having some meager dinner. Tomorrow morning we will have to board the plane and leave the country. Then we will have a brief stop in Istanbul to cure of our jet lag, have some Kahve and of course see that magnificent city.

A Rainy Day

Well, according to the weather forecast, that’s been it with the good weather. Today in particular was rainy (and the next two days are supposed to be at least cloudy). Not having a real plan on how to deal with that, we just hopped onto the train, rode a few stations, got some caches and got back. Back to Ueno that is, since we spotted the Hard Rock Cafe shop there – which magically transformed money into t-shirts.

Let me use this quite empty blog post to write about something different. Some of you might have noticed, that we didn’t use a particular word since we left Seoul – and that word is coffee. The reason is simple, one does not simply find good coffee in Tokyo. Oh, it’s not like they have no coffee shops, but those are almost all franchised shops – just like Starbucks – that serve you overpriced caffeine-pops. It’s not like their stuff is bad, but then again, it’s not what we are looking for and we just don’t go to those places, if we don’t have to. Our regular dose of caffeine rather comes from the source you see on the photo here. Something I’d never even dare to touch back in Germany. But here it’s cheap, doesn’t taste half as bad and is easily available.

Anyway, after being a bit disappointed by the Skytree rip-off yesterday, we decided to have a coffee there to brighten our moods, since the coffee bar seemed acceptable. Wasn’t bad, wasn’t our most expensive cappuccino ever (that place is taken by a mall café in Kobe with 7 euro-bucks in 2010), but not really satisfying. (In the background of the photo you can see Tokyo at night.) So there’s something we can look forward to for the time back in Germany: Decent coffee! But I also have my hopes up for some Kahve in Istanbul.

Tokyo Skytree

Today’s mission sounded easy: Visit the new Tokyo Skytree. We arrived at Ueno (the closest JR station) and decided against taking the metro to the Skytree and preferred to walk there, so we could see more of the city while also grabbing a cache or two.

The walk to the Skytree was quite nice, found some temples and an area that is obsessed with kappa (some shinto water god/demon that’s half human, half other creatures, mostly turtle). The story behind this is, that a merchant named Kappaya invested in water management for this area and since his name is somewhat homophone with the water creature… well you get the idea. There’s even a golden statue of a kappa (not of Kappaya).

But let’s cut to today’s main story. So we arrived at the Skytree around 14:00 and wanted to get some tickets. But that ain’t easy, folks. After walking around a bit and trying to interpret the Japanese signs, we figured out with the help of some guides, that we can’t buy the tickets to go up to the tower – at least not yet. We were given waiting tickets, that indicated at which time we were allowed to enter the lobby to buy tickets… 18:30. And this is how it really works. You stand in line to get a waiting ticket, that will allow you to stand in a line to enter the lobby at a certain time (in our case several hours in the future). There you stand in a line again to buy the tickets that you need to actually go up the Skytree (for which you need to stand in line for the elevator, of course). Well, at least you can go to the lower observation decks. If you want to go to the upper decks, you gotta go to the lower one first, stand in line there and buy a ticket, so you can stand in line to go up to the upper observation decks. Confusing? Well, you didn’t have to go through this personally.

To make things worse, even though it’s Monday, half of Japan has nothing better to do than go onto the same tower – so it’s quite crowded at the observation decks, making the observation part quite hard, not to mention the photography part. That had it’s own difficulties., like the fact that you you’re not supposed to reach the windows, meaning that you either extend yourself quite a bit till your camera can touch the windows – or that your photographs will have a lot of reflections. The weather was okay, but not perfect, so we couldn’t get the photos we were hoping for. And to finish the that whole stuff, here are the numbers. Going to the lower observation decks: 2,000 Yen. Going to the upper observation decks: Additional 1,000 Yen. Oh, speaking of money. No need to worry about the time you have to spend waiting, since they have numerous shops and restaurants, so you can spend the time spending a lot of it. The whole thing is a bit of a rip-off. We assume that the whole tower will have redeemed itself in one year.

Ōwakudani and Mount Fuji

Two years ago – being in Japan – we wanted to see Mount Fuji, of course. Unfortunately on that day, the weather wasn’t very clear – in fact it was even drizzling a bit, so we couldn’t see Fuji-san at all.

Fast forward to today! We checked the weather, knew which route we wanted to take (there was a little navigational problem last time so we made two trips back then) and were ready to go. This trip included about all means of railway locomotion. Local trains, the Shinkansen, some old mountain train (that goes back and forth on the face of the mountain), a cable car and in the end even a ropeway (no railway, I know). It took almost four hours (and lots of money) to get to a spot from where we could see Fuji-san and these four hours are really long when the means of transportation are slow as hell.

Speaking of hell, that’s a nickname of our final destination: Hell Valley. But the correct name of the location is Ōwakudani (Great Boiling Valley). The name comes from the hot springs and sulfur vents there, which give the place a distinguishing smell. Those sulfur rich hot springs are used for the local specialty: Kuro Tamago – black eggs. Yes, these hard boiled eggs really have a black shell. And yes, we tried them. No big difference to regular eggs, but it is said that you live longer if you eat them, but it is not recommended to eat more than two, according to the legend (a legend we suspect has been brought up by the local black egg industry). Well, I still got two eggs left, so I guess this two-egg counter either resets tonight or I will have to suffer the consequences after tomorrows breakfast. And inspired by those black eggs, you can find a lot of other black themed snack (some of which magically found the way to Tokyo).

Oh and yes, we did see Mount Fuji. What a view! Once the ropeway got over a small hill and you could see Fuji-san for the first time, the whole cabin was up in awe and joy.


Since we weren’t really sure about today’s weather, we went to Yokohama – another metropolis near Tokyo. A really nice city, though you sometimes get the feeling it’s a huge shopping district with an amusement area (kinda like Kobe). Not that we complain, got us some nice photos. Especially from the Landmark Tower (highest building in Japan) once it got dark.

We even got a glimpse of Mount Fuji at sunset from up there. Hopefully we’ll see more of it soon and closer up. Of course it’s not just shopping and amusement there. Also nice parks, the sea, the scenery… well, you get the drift. We explored it while getting some easy caches and filling up our lungs with sea breeze. And in it’s own flooded dry dock lies the Nippon Maru (I) – former school ship, now a museum – strangely adding itself to the mix.

In Yokohama we also found a greater variety in vending machine offerings. For example: Soups in small cans. Yummy.

First Two Days in Tokyo

As you’ve obviously noticed, there wasn’t a blog yesterday. So, today you get two for the price of one! Don’t say we don’t spoil you.

Anyway, yesterday we arrived in Toyko – which was only a three hour train ride, mostly on the Shinkansen. We found the way back to our hotel mostly by bits of memory from our last stay (but had the GPS ready just to be safe). After checking in, checking the room and checking mails, we started a small tour to check the neighborhood. Not much changed, as far as we could tell with all the rain. But we already had our first target anyway: The GPS Store, which was also supposed to have geocaching stuff – and we were in need of some trackables. That gave us our first new experience with the Tokyo rush hour. Whoever is working on data-compression algorithms, should check the trains in Tokyo and learn something (if that’s how to or how to not, is up to them). We found the shop, got our geo coins and that was about it for the day, except dining on Curry.

Today we expected some cloudy weather, so instead of heading to a major location (which all need clear weather for a good sight) we started exploring the town with geocaching. It led us through the urban Tokyo (which surprisingly looked almost rural in some areas), some parks and the usual stuff (but no food this time). It was nice walking through Tokyo again and we will enjoy the in the next few days as well. We just have to figure out when we’ll do what, since the weather isn’t very stable.

On a personal note, a very important stop was at the end of the day: Shopping at a 100 Yen shop, where everything costs 100 Yen (duh) plus 5% taxes. Important because my jeans started to rip at the knee and I needed to fix this. It’s really amazing what stuff you find in those shops, really about anything to start a household and more. But we already learned from another 100 Yen shop that not everything is cheap. While a bottle of Calpis was 88 Yen in a high class super market in Naha, it did – of course – cost 100 Yen at the 100 Yen shop a little to the north. Anyway, we got everything we needed and more, so I could stitch up those jeans while the rest of our dirty cloths were spinning around to get clean and dry.