Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

ANZCO confident no repeat of horror year

July 10, 2019

ANZCO’s 2018 pre-tax loss of $38 million was the worst result in the company’s history. The exporter has traditionally posted a profit, even in difficult years for the meat industry which has always had a chequered history, so it is critical to assess what went wrong and, more important, how to make sure it doesn’t happen again. (more…)

Japan Diary

December 24, 2018

Saturday 8 – Wednesday 12 September

Arrived at Shiba Park Hotel at about 8.30 but check in wasn’t till 3, so we caught the subway to Asakusa and looked around for a couple of hours, then caught the train back to Daimon. Went to visit a nearby garden with lakes, hillocks and pine trees.

 

Checked in and showered before going out to find something to eat and drink. We found a small restaurant where we had a couple of beers and snacks, then walked back to a restaurant in the street towards the hotel. Had another beer, sake and a couple of light dishes, including tempura eggplant.

 

Next morning after breakfast we decided to spend the day at Ueno Park visiting museums. We spent a very interesting time at the National Museum which traced Japanese history from the beginning with lots of art, samurai swords and armour, geishas and kimonos. After lunch we visited the Museum of Science and Technology which had a lot of information and displays about geology, plant life and mechanical inventions, but with no English translations.

 

Back to the hotel and out to forage for food and drink, more sake and very good mackerel.

 

Day three was our day with a guide in the morning and a tour of Tokyo’s street food in the evening. Kei took us on a great tour of the underground as our main means of transport which involved a lot of walking and not a lot of scenery, although we saw one lovely garden, the park where sake barrels and burgundy barrels line opposite sides of the walkway before reaching the biggest shrine in Tokyo, an abortive attempt to go up the Observatory tower (it was closed), a walk along the Ginza before a very good Tendon lunch very close to the geographical centre of Tokyo.

 

After lunch we went back to the hotel for a rest before our street food tour. This was actually a walk in the rain along a very long street full of nothing but restaurants before finding somewhere for dinner, so no street food as such. Our guide Shin introduced us to Kirin Ichiban Shibori, a new premium beer, and ordered many courses of food including shabu shabu.

 

On our last day in Tokyo we had tickets for the Sumo wrestling tournament at Ryogoku in the afternoon, so we went early to visit the Tokyo Museum next door which concentrated on the Edo Period (1603-1868), ending with the change of feudal government to the Meiji Restoration which transferred power from the shogunate to the emperor. This resulted in the modernisation of Japan over the next 70 years, leading to war in the Pacific.

 

Dinner was a bit of a mistake. The restaurant in the same street as the hotel was full, so we found another which specialised in sashimi which was far too much of a raw fish fest for us. We ordered too much of the wrong thing and had another jug of sake to make up for it.

 

Wednesday 12 – Sunday 16 September

Next stop Kyoto. We caught the Shinkansen without any problem and watched the countryside and cities rush past for two and a half hours. Our hotel was up a pedestrian street just off a main city street with a huge shopping arcade as an extension.

 

After checking in we walked to the Kyoto Museum – very disappointing with only two rooms of exhibits about Kyoto’s history, an appalling audio guide and hardly anything to look at – and an Arts Centre which turned out to be an art school, but no public gallery space. On the way back towards the hotel near the shopping arcade we found Tato’s tapas bar where we stopped for a couple of glasses of Spanish wine and some tapas.

 

The owner, Jorge, was fluent in Japanese and English and entertained all his guests with a nonstop commentary on everything from sport to politics to his travels and life in Japan with a wife and child. We went back there the next three nights for a wine before or after dinner because we enjoyed the atmosphere so much.

 

On the Thursday we had a reservation at the moss garden and temple for 10.30 so we took a taxi to make sure we got there in time which we did with time for a coffee at a pop up in front of a house opposite the temple gates. The husband and wife team served excellent filter coffee, although it took so long they can’t have made much money, but he turned out to be a musician. He went into the house and brought out his hand pan on which he played some beautiful harp like music.

 

Next the temple with calligraphy lessons and chanting before walking round the moss garden with 160 different moss species. There was some tree damage from the previous week’s typhoon but it was very restful and attractive. We decided to catch the bus back into the city and succeeded in getting off at the right stop for the Niijo Castle which used to house the Shogun in earlier days. Again not a lot to see inside apart from state rooms with reproduction paintings of tigers and occasional figures of the shogun and samurai in session. Also the gardens were off limits because of typhoon damage. Again this was disappointing.

 

After a brief lunch in a local cafe we walked to the Imperial Gardens but after a short stroll and a longer sit down we walked back to the hotel.

 

On Friday we had a guide for the day. In the morning we caught the train to the north west of the city to visit two temples and gardens, one with a temple all in gold leaf (stunning) and the other with a very minimalist rock and gravel garden. After lunch we headed across the river to the east side of the city to walk around small streets with antique shops and a geisha training academy before visiting another temple, although by now it was raining and we were getting tired so we stopped for a caffeine and sugar boost instead. At night we stopped in the arcade at a deep fried pork restaurant for dinner which was very good.

 

The Saturday was damp, but we set off on the bus across the river to find the Philosophers’ Walk beside the canal which was very quiet and relaxing. It took a couple of hours to return to the city with some rain along the way. In the evening we were booked for dinner at the smart Tempura Endo restaurant which turned out to be pretentious and overpriced, costing about eight times as much as the night before. Very mediocre.

 

Sunday 16 – Tuesday 18 September

We caught the Shinkansen to Hiroshima and before leaving were able to have a good look at the stunning new Kyoto station building with escalators up six floors and magnificent views of the city.

 

By the time we checked into the Sunroute Hotel it was nearly 2 and we were starving. Just round the corner we found a cheap, tiny restaurant serving, I think, Mazuren which was a very tasty bowl of noodles with an egg and sauce. After lunch we wandered along the river side towards the A Bomb Dome which was directly where the bomb fell and the only building in about a 500 metre radius to survive almost intact.

 

We crossed the river and walked back through the Peace Park, looking at the very impressive War Memorial on several levels, a timeline of the events leading up to the Atom bomb and the gardens, but not the Museum which was still closed for renovations. The overall impression from an area in complete ruins 70 years earlier was one of peaceful harmony and a determination such a disaster should never happen again.

 

Hiroshima impressed as a city which had come to terms with the past and faced the world with optimism. This was reinforced by our boat trip down the river, looking at the buildings and bridges which had all been constructed since the 1950s and the oyster beds between the river mouth and Miyajima. The island boasts the famous Torii gate which appears to float when the tide is in, the Itsukushima Shrine behind it on land, parks with many species of trees, a six storey pagoda and a craft brewery. We had oyster don buri with a bottle of local caramel beer for lunch which were both very good. In the evening we decided to try local speciality okonomiyaki, a pancake with sorba or udon noodles, topped with pork, shrimp and cheese among other things. On balance it was a bit too heavy on the noodles and made me think of fried spaghetti cooked on a hotplate but it was filling and tasty. There was a long queue back down the street, so it was popular with locals and tourists alike.

 

Tuesday 18 – Thursday 20 September

On Tuesday morning we caught a taxi with a friendly driver and an automatic translation service to take us to Ujina Port to catch the ferry to Matsuyama on Shikoku Island about 75 minutes’ journey away. On arrival we caught a coach into town and were dropped right outside our hotel, having seen the city improve progressively the further inland and away from the port it was. Our hotel was ideally located within walking distance of the castle, beautiful gardens, a shopping and restaurant arcade, Ropeway Street leading past shops and restaurants to the cable car, and the tram stop for both the Dogo Onsen baths and the station.

 

On Tuesday afternoon we walked across the moat and round the park which formed part of the castle lands, seeing the Ninomaru Historical Garden originally constructed in the early 17th century. Wednesday morning was devoted to walking round the castle built between 1602 and 1627 with magnificent views over the city and entailed a lot of climbing up and down very steep stairs to see all the exhibits, as well as the gates, windows and loopholes in the castle walls.

 

After descending in the cable car, we toured the replica chateau built in 1922, Banso Suiso, whIch should have been impressive, but was somewhat lifeless because there were only a few portraits and photo montages, but hardly any furniture. It is now used for weddings and functions.

 

Next stop was the tram to the baths at Dogo Onsen, a very smart suburb with older buildings including the early 19th century baths where we had our first Japanese bath experience. After that it was time for lunch next door at the Dogo craft brewery bar. After all that exercise it was time to get back for a rest before dinner. We headed back up Ropeway Street and found a barbecue restaurant where we sat at the counter and ordered, although unfortunately the sardines were sold out. However one of the chefs carefully cooked two snapper fillets which he had caught the day before and presented them to us with his compliments.

 

Thursday 20 – Saturday 22 September

After breakfast we caught the tram in pouring rain to the station to catch our train to Takamatsu and the forecast wasn’t any better for the next few days. Luckily on arrival we found our hotel was only about a two minute walk from the station and it was a very smart new building with large conference facilities just over the road from the port.

 

In the afternoon the rain stopped for a time and we caught the local train to the Ritsurin Gardens which have been awarded three Michelin Green Guide stars, started in the early 17th century at the beginning of the Edo period and completed 100 years later. They were truly stunning with magnificent pines and maples, large rocks and beautifully landscaped lakes and water features. The gardens were one of if not the loveliest thing we have seen on our trip.

 

It rained again most of the night, but it had stopped in time for the fast ferry trip to Naoshima Island where we visited three museums, Benesse House, Lee Ufan Museum and Chichu Museum, all housed in massive concrete buildings designed by Tadao Ando. Many of the artworks were specially commissioned and Ando’s designs accommodate them, particularly those at Chichu (Monet’s water lilies and a massive polished granite ball by Walter de Maria) which are lit by natural light despite the works being in an underground space.

 

We walked back to the port and it started raining again as we arrived in time to catch the mid afternoon slow ferry.

 

Saturday 23 September

It was time to pick up our rental car and begin the Ryokan part of our trip. We collected a hybrid Prius from Toyota a short walk from the hotel which involved masses of forms and examination for damage, a cursory explanation of how to drive the car and an equally short demonstration of the GPS system. Trying to find our way out of Takamatsu, looking for sites of interest on the way, was confusing and stressful, as we seemed to be going in the wrong direction most of the time. However we found a lovely temple site up multiple steps and in the middle of very tall trees.

 

We set off for Kotohira, as we didn’t feel we had made much positive progress since leaving Takamatsu and fortunately found a small, crowded noodle cafe by the road with parking on the verge. Suitably fed and watered we carried on our way. We arrived too early for checkin at the Ryokan, so decided to visit a large park and garden near Kotohira which had large planting of cosmos, but nothing else was out. There were children’s play areas, large expanses of grass land families on bikes enjoying their weekend.

 

After walking round a man-made lake with mass hydrangea planting beside it (severely clipped back for winter), we returned to the hotel and checked in. It was a new experience, for me at least, with Japanese baths, futon bed on the floor, a magnificent Japanese dinner and breakfast. The baths were most impressive, strictly segregated, many different baths, a sauna, cold and rock pools. The dinner was served and partly cooked at the table with masses of different tastes and textures.

 

Sunday 24 September

In the morning we were back in the baths by 7 am, as we were under guidance to get to breakfast before 8 to avoid the worst of the crowds. Next it was on the road heading for the Iya Valley and Kazurabashi Hotel. This turned out to be even more stressful than yesterday, as we tried to enter tourist items to visit on the GPS, mistakenly thinking they were before our hotel destination, but apart from one they were very close to it.

 

Our first stop was the Harashi Kurasan cable car with a beautiful temple at the top which we walked round and up a number of steps, although not making it right to the main building up several hundred steps. There were other buildings and a bell tower that made up for our omission.

After that stress levels rose, as the GPS didn’t seem to know where it or we were going. Without a real map to put an area in context, we found it very confusing and frustrating.

 

We finally found the hotel and it was a lovely Japanese style hotel with rooms with a view, comfortable chairs as well as those at floor level if needed and very comfortable futons, public baths and an even more impressive dinner, again partly cooked at the table. For breakfast we had the full Japanese treatment, although a western breakfast is an option tomorrow.

 

Our day’s sightseeing started at the Kazurabashi vine bridge strung between four large cedars on opposite sides of the Iya Gorge which is an absolutely spectacular stretch of river with rapids with huge rock formations on either side. Nearby was the Biwa-no Taki waterfall, also magnificent. The next venture was almost still born, because the road was so narrow with a lot of traffic that we abandoned our plan – very unadventurous, but suitably cautious to protect the rental car.

 

We went instead to Oboke back on the main road beside the Yoshino River, one of Japan’s longest, and visited the delightful Heike Yashiki Museum of Folklore which was completed at the end of the Tokugawa shogunate at the time of the Meiji restoration; it was then owned by a doctor who was descended from the Heike clan which had escaped to Iya from Kyoto and became rulers of the local domain. He had looked after the Meiji emperor Antoku and the house was full of tools of his profession, a sewing machine, doctor’s bag and projector from the late 19th century. The house had a thatched roof that is said to be able to withstand 50 winters.

 

Next we took a boat trip through the Oboke Gorge which also has spectacular schist rock formations. On the way back we stopped at a Forest Adventure place which also offered a monorail trip amongst the tall trees for the less adventurous. It was hardly worth the cost of the eight minute round trip!

 

Another beautiful Japanese dinner and a couple of glasses of sake ended the day.

 

Tuesday 25 September

After our morning bath ritual and a (sort of) western breakfast, we were farewelled by the elegant manager who had performed a greeting and song at dinner and the reception staff as we set off back up route 32 in one of its many variations for Tokushima. The trip was uneventful with a quick break at a service area by the expressway and we arrived at the car rental depot soon after midday.

 

Our hotel, another JR Clement beside the railway station, wasn’t ready until 2 pm and we walked round in a circle to find an Italian deli/cafe which did a pizza special with salad and glass of wine. After lunch we walked round the park below the ruins of Tokushima Castle at the bottom of the hill across the railway line before checking in.

 

Our evening plan was to walk across the river and have a beer at the Awa craft brewery and bar, but it was closed, as we found out later because it was the Tuesday after a public holiday. Disappointed we strolled along the very pleasant riverside in the dusk, then crossed in search of Hassun’s restaurant and bar which our travel agency had recommended as a quirky, but cheap place with good food and a charismatic host. Hassun turned out to be an entertaining grey haired Japanese guy who spoke pretty good English with a strong accent and a wife who looked up translations for him when needed.

 

He had a collection of a thousand LPs, Japanese, British and American, with a preference for 70s folk and rock. We had a beer and talked to him for half an hour before the next clients arrived, a couple of English language teachers, Irish and English respectively, who spoke and understood Japanese. The woman had been to Hassun’s a year previously, but the Irishman had only been in Tokushima for two months after spending two years in Tokyo.

 

Hassun cooked us some dishes for dinner as well as emerging to choose more music, while his wife poured us some wine. We chatted happily for an hour, listening to some good Japanese 70s and 80s LPs, before the couple’s requests for Derek and the Dominoes and Johnny Cash took over. The restaurant cat, Peter, was brought in to greet us and be photographed, although not surprisingly he got a bit grumpy after a few minutes.

 

After a very pleasant evening, we wandered back to the hotel.

 

Wednesday 26 – Friday 28 September

I am writing this while sitting at the port waiting for our ferry to Wakayama before catching the train to Osaka. After all the forecasts of rain, as well as typhoons and earthquakes, the weather has been very kind with very little rain and hardly any wind. This morning is no exception and the two hour ferry journey should be calm.

 

After a very calm crossing to Wakayama, the weather was getting murkier and it was raining quite heavily by the time we reached Osaka. We caught a train from the port to the station and had lots of help to make sure we were on the right platform and train for Namba near our hotel. We came up an exit to catch a taxi which surprisingly agreed to take us several hundred metres only to the Cross Hotel. It was very smart, as was our room on the 14th floor.

 

After a cup of tea we wandered outside with our umbrellas and walked through the nearby Dotomburi shopping arcade which was very noisy and full of life despite the rain. After trying the delicious local speciality street food octopus dumplings, we escaped the mall, crossed Mido-Suji and wandered down a side street where we found a Spanish bar (no visible sign of a Spanish owner this time, but flags and posters) which served decanters of wine and small dishes, including paella, sardines and eggplant. We spent a couple of hours there and then returned to the Cross for an early night.

 

The Friday dawned reasonably fine and we had our best breakfast so far of the trip. We got hold of a map of Osaka from reception which made it possible to get our heads round the city and its subway system. The nearest station was Namba, less than five minutes walk away from the nearest access point, where we found a very helpful official guide who fixed us up with subway passes for the day, free entry to the Aquarium and discounts on other attractions.

 

We took the subway to the pleasure port where we found the aquarium, shopping malls and a massive cruise ship, after stopping at a cool cafe (industrial chic) for the obligatory espresso. The Aquarium was amazing, starting on the 6th floor with otters and warm water fish and moving down through Ecuadorian rain forest, Aleutian Islands, Pacific Ocean, Cook Strait, Ring of Fire, Seto Inland Sea, Great Barrier Reef and the Antarctic. The sealife was all housed in massive tanks with super thick glass with the temperature adjusted according to the natural habitat of the relevant species. There were lots of primary school groups which added to the enjoyment.

 

We next set off for Osaka Castle which is the largest in Asia surrounded by a large moat which had only ever had water in two sides since it was built in 1583. It had a chequered history, being burnt down not many years after construction by opposing armies and again in 1868 to prevent it being taken by the restored Meiji emperor. The present castle was rebuilt in 1931 to the original design, but we contented ourselves with looking at it from the outside, as the inside was unlikely to be particularly interesting.

 

The park was littered with fallen trees and branches after the typhoon, but must be beautiful in spring and autumn, although it wasn’t at its best at the time.

 

We decided to try and find the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living which provides displays of live in 1830, as well as dressing in Kimonos to get into the spirit of the 19th century (Vanessa passed up the opportunity). Our GPS sent us on a wild goose chase from the nearest subway station and it took us at least half an hour walking in a circle and help from a local to find the village on the eighth floor of an office block. It was less than absorbing and not really worth the effort, but it had some interesting street and shop reconstructions to simulate the times.

 

It was high time for our cup of tea and a rest, having walked nearly 12 km according to Fitbit by the time we got back to the hotel after 5. We went out looking for somewhere congenial for our last dinner in Japan and, after a brief excursion into the shopping mall, escaped to the pathway beside the river and found a really cool bar which served beer, wine, sake and small dishes, just up our alley. A couple of beers, a decanter of (cold) red wine and some sardines, shredded squid, Wagyu beef, ajillo with octopus and vegetables and some French fries saw us very well fed and watered.

So ended our last evening in Japan.

 

We had a leisurely breakfast, checked out and had a coffee before walking to Namba station to start the journey home. It was a beautiful day and Osaka looked at its brightest and freshest. We absolutely loved the city, an ideal finishing point to what has been an enthralling and fascinating three weeks. We leave Japan totally impressed by the delightfully friendly people, the wonderful food and some amazing experiences, as well as walking close to 150 km over the three weeks.