Day 2–Tokyo, the Eastern Capital

On March 13th, just five days ago, the Japanese government decided to relax its recommendation that people wear masks at all times, leaving the decision up to individuals (though I don’t believe it was ever a legal requirement). Since Japan has long had a culture of wearing masks when there’s nasties about, though, pretty much everyone here has still been wearing them anyway. I can count the people I saw on the trains so far without masks almost on the fingers of one hand (though counting people wearing masks under their chins might require at least a couple more hands).

I’ve brought the same pack of fifty regular blue masks I bought before the Croatia trip, but so’s I wouldn’t have to drag the whole thing on the plane I also bought some slightly more heavy-duty masks in individual packs. I discovered when I opened it that it had back-of-the-head straps rather than behind-the-ear  straps, which I was hoping would make them a bit less painful than the ones I had on the flights last year, but they were only less painful for my ears – besides applying even more pressure to my nose, this one felt like it were trying to crush my whole skull. Caught sight of my reflection when going through immigration, and boy was my nose red. (ANA also decided not to require passengers wear masks on March 13th, and indeed I would estimate that the vast majority of the passengers were maskless. Maybe I’ll just wear the regular blue mask for the flight home – I managed just fine all day with one of those today.)

In any case, today began with pouring rain as the forecast promised. I started with breakfast (after a not awesome sleep), then commenced my sightseeing by dashing around the block to the nearest 7-Eleven to get some cash out and buy me a nice transparent umbrella. It’s amazing how much easier it is to deal with the rain when you can see through your umbrella. Though… still not particularly easy.


Took a slightly roundabout route back to the train station so I could see a few local sites like the former Yokohama Bank main branch building, though I’m not entirely sure what it is now – seems to be directly attached to an office building. Also this pair of mail boxes topped with Pikachu and Eevee. I’d also hoped to get a nice shot of the Yokohama Landmark Tower disappearing into the clouds, but the wind was driving the rain right into the camera lens if I pointed it in that direction.


At the station, I hopped onto the train, heading for Ueno. An hour-long trip – did not realise when booking this hotel just how far Yokohama is from central Tokyo – but on the plus side, I could do it with just one train. For Ueno was where I had booked to pick up my Tokyo Metro Underground Mysteries 2014 Revival puzzle pack. This is the second-last day it’s going to run for this year – finishes tomorrow – so I was concerned enough that they’d run out that I booked it on the day it became available, but when I collected it, I couldn’t see anyone else doing the same.


I found myself a quiet corner, and started solving the first few puzzles. The game followed a similar pattern to the later editions that I’ve previously played – the first puzzles are ones that you only use the stuff provided in the kit to solve, solutions yield station names, and when you go to said station, the game directs to you various artworks or designs which are used to solve subsequent puzzles. And once I started arriving at said artworks or designs myself, I started running into large crowds of people also playing. And then I started seeing them on the trains travelling between puzzle stations.


As it’s the very first edition of the game, it was made before they became popular enough for an English (and later Chinese) version to be run simultaneously, so I did this one entirely in Japanese. And it’s not the first time I’ve solved puzzles in Japanese (it’s not even the first time for puzzles created by this company), but oof this was definitely a challenge. A few people I ran into helped to rephrase the game’s wording of some clues into a way that I could understand better (and I helped then with other puzzles in exchange), but for some of the later more complex puzzles I wound up just straight up resorting to the hints website to see if I was even on the right track. I mostly was, but here and there I hadn’t quite translated an instruction correctly. For example, one clue read “read the characters after kanji with five strokes” which I’d interpreted as “if a kanji has five strokes, read the next character instead”, but the meaning was actually “read only the characters that immediately follow kanji with five strokes”.

Lots of familiar stations visited – the one with a 300 metre tunnel between platforms of the same station, requiring you to leave the station to transfer, the ones where reaching the surface from one platform involve walking through the platforms of other lines, the one where I had lunch in 2017 (didn’t have lunch there today), and the one where I had lunch in 2019 (where I did have lunch today, at a different restaurant – I got ta’nin-don, “strangers rice bowl”, a version of oyako don, “mother-and-child rice bowl” which is made with chicken and egg, with beef instead of the chicken, hence the strangers). I was rather starving by the time I got around to having lunch, but felt weirdly full after completing it.


Definitely a workout for the brain. And for the feet too – I feel like the destinations visited covered much more of central Tokyo than the 2019 puzzle (and possibly even the 2017 puzzle), so much time was spent walking from train to train. And standing. Such standing. Maybe next time I’ll bring a folding chair so I can sit while working on things instead of having to juggle everything in my arms or use a random wall to help fold things straight. I did notice more than a few people with clipboards, though.


But oh, the constant rain. Not quite the cyclone conditions that I got during the 2019 event – don’t think my shoes or trousers got particularly wet at any point – but wrangling with the umbrella just added an extra layer of complication. Quite cold too – not helped by the fact that I accidentally left my gloves at the hotel.

One puzzle asked us to leave the station by such-and-such an exit, turn left, turn left at the next corner, walk down to the end of the road, cross at the lights, and enter a park, and when I got there, I went “hold on, this is Chidorigafuchi Park” – generally regarded as one of the top spots in Tokyo for cherry blossom viewing. And the cherry blossoms, or sakura in Japanese, were already starting to bloom. Tried to take some photos, but this is probably the section of my day where it rained the hardest.


In the leadup to this trip, I’ve been keeping an eye on the sakura forecast – sakura viewing (called “hanami”, literally flower-looking”) is such a big thing in Japan, and is so predictable, that the Japanese Meteorological Agency releases a forecast every year for when the blossoms will bloom all over Japan. The forecasts are updated weekly, and for much of the leadup to this trip, they’ve been predicting that first opening will happen in Tokyo sometime next week, with full bloom occurring a day or so before I return to Tokyo. Pretty much everywhere else I’ll be going wouldn’t even get first bloom until after I leave (though, of course, there’ll always be the occasional tree that decides it wants to get started early.

In the last week’s forecast, though, everything had suddenly jumped forward by several days – Tokyo saw first bloom the day before I arrived, and will be seeing full bloom early next week, when I’m heading off to visit other places, so I hope the flowers will still be going by the time I return. Though in exchange, I think everywhere I’ll be visiting this trip will at least have partial blooms going, and some might just be hitting full bloom towards the end of my visit there, so I have hopes. Certainly a change from being too early everywhere I go.

But to continue with today’s activities, at Roppongi I discovered another trio of sakura trees blooming. And I spent so much time there muddling over the puzzle that the rain had actually let up by the middle of it, so I headed out to see if I could take some artsy photos. Unfortunately, the sunlight was also starting to let up at the same time.


By the time I reached the following stop, it was full dark – and there was a whole crowd of puzzle-solvers stumbling around a dark plaza trying to see the clues well enough to solve the puzzle. And then after I’d been there for a fair amount of time, suddenly big floodlights came on illuminating the whole place. Someone gotta adjust the timer on those.

Eventually I found myself heading towards the final destination – actually, the same one as the 2019 puzzle, albeit not the same artwork (this one was underground, fortunately). And after a long day, I was done. This took me from about 10:30am to 7:30pm, a total of nine hours, so I certainly got my money’s worth out of it. But yeah, it was undoubtedly a challenge, but definitely a whole heap of fun, especially doing it with a group of others (though the downside is occasionally you’d see someone solve a clue and pull out some other item from the puzzle kit, making it rather clear that I’d need to use the same thing).


I’d heard that it was possible to walk all the way from Higashi-Ginza Station to Otemachi Station entirely underground, a distance of about three kilometres, and I was sorely tempted to do so, but I was also just plain sore from standing most of the day, and I still had an hour-long trip back to my hotel, so I decided to content myself with just Ginza (where I was) to the JR Yurakucho Station (where my train would stop). Popped into an underground food court on the way, and discovered myself not at all hungry. Lots of things looked very nice, though.

Hopped on my train and made it back to Sakuragicho with little fuss. I did, however, remember there’s a manhole card available at the tourist information centre at this station, far too late to actually get it. Gonna have to try again tomorrow. Or the day after.


Today’s photo count: two hundred exactly (many of them duplicates, because the lens cover doesn’t always open itself all the way when it’s cold, and I usually don’t notice until I actually take a photo and realise the opposite corners are black).

Today’s step count: 16,226 steps, for 10.8km. 48 flights of stairs. (Though I did idly wonder at one point during the day how the Health app counts walking up escalators so far as flights of stairs go.)

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Volume V: Day 1–Haneda, the Winged Paddy

Alrighty. It’s already quite late by Japan time – and two hours later by Sydney time – so it’s probably quite time for bed. Let’s see if I can hammer out the travel day post right quick. Don’t really want to start already a post behind on day one. (Though there’s always the option of just not blogging live, and doing it all when I get back home, but I’ve tried that, and it just makes things weird. Plus, people have told me they’re following along.) Aaaand this rambling isn’t helping me do this quickly. On with the show!

So, today I flew to Japan! My first time visiting another country five times. (I mean, I’ve entered Qatar more than five times, but I’ve only taken four trips there, so I count that as four.) As previously mentioned, I’m flying ANA for this trip – All Nippon Airways. I’d been wanting to fly one of the Japanese airlines for a while, mainly to see how the service (and the meals) differ from Qantas, but it’s always been more expensive. Not this time.

Dad drove me to the airport. Both dad and mum were going to come, but mum had a bit of a sore throat and didn’t want to pass anything to me on the very first day of my trip. Dad dropped me at the departures drop-off and went to park. I’d done the online check-in last night, so it should have just been a matter of dropping off my bag, answering the usual “is there anything hazardous in there?” security question, and moving on, but for some reason the queue was quite long and moving quite slowly, so I was still standing there when dad came in to find me. Made it to the front eventually, said goodbye to dad, and headed through emigration. Long queues in there too.

Made it through that, ran the duty free gauntlet, stopped at the newsagent to pick up my usual Readers’ Digest, then headed to my gate, which turned out to be at the furthest end of that leg of the terminal. The gates each had a long bench with a row of power points, so I decided to go charge my phone, since it was (rather concerningly) already running flat, but I had to try about seven of them before I found one that actually worked. Had about an hours’ wait until my gate actually opened.


Soon, we boarded. I’ve paid for an exit row seat for both legs – for this one I was on the aisle on the left-hand side. Much leg room, though the galley and toilets were right there. Actually, ANA sent me one of those offers where you could bid for a cheap upgrade to Premium Economy, but aside from the fact that I thought I’d bought the cheapest, and thus non-upgradeable, ticket, even Premium Economy doesn’t have the leg room of an exit row seat, so no thanks.


Since I’d gone with a daytime flight (takeoff was at 12:30pm), I settled in to watch some movies. I was hoping to catch some recent films that I’d missed in the cinema, but the catalogue wasn’t as comprehensive as I had expected, even among the Japanese films. Still, there was enough to occupy my time. First I wanted a new live-action adaptation of Whisper of the Heart which came out last year – Studio Ghibli did an anime version of it back in 1995. The film actually felt more like a sequel, being primarily set ten years later, with the story being about the main characters working to fulfil their dreams. The Ghibi film was based on a manga, and knowing how liberal Miyazaki tends to be when adapting works, I’ve got no idea how close either movie is to the manga.

Also watched The Woman King (film about the Agojie, the all-female warrior unit that protected the West African kingdom of Dahomey during the 17th to 19th centuries – quite riveting) and then Samaritan (kid living on the bad side of the poverty line reckon his neighbour Sylvester Stallone is actually a superhero named Samaritan who was believed to have been killed by his twin and nemesis, who was cleverly named Nemesis, twenty-five years ago – good movie, but the twist was kinda obvious). Had a bit of time left, so I started re-watching Encanto, but barely hit the middle of the movie before landing.


In the midst of that, they fed us lunch and a snack that somehow substituted for dinner. Lunch for me was ginger pork and a bunch of sides, though I neglected to photograph the menu (which was a single laminated card that was handed to every person – so much for anti-covid measures) so I don’t recall the specifics. Dessert was a Splice that felt like it had been frozen in dry ice – I had to scrape the surface off it with my teeth so that my lips and tongue wouldn’t stick to it. “Dinner” was a cheese sandwich – a fancy cheese sandwich, mind, “cheese and spring onion with tomato relish” – and fruit. The plane had those digital window shades, and after lunch, they dimmed them right down, so even though it was full daylight outside, it looked like a 70s film with the “nighttime” filter on.


Eventually, we came in to land, and it was a pretty rough landing. Actually almost felt like we only came down on two wheels the first time – the nose and rear left wheel – and started heeling over, but perhaps it wasn’t quite so dramatic as it felt to me. Maybe we were landing crab-wise because it was windy, and that’s just what it feels like from inside. Either way, we then came down with a crash that had everything in the galley rattling.

After a long taxi, we pulled up to the terminal. Once again at the furthest gate from the main concourse. Landed at Haneda Airport this time – fortunately not breaking the pattern of arriving at the same airport I departed last time. Japan’s current entry procedures require a quarantine screening (which to pass requires either proof of three vaccinations, or a recent PCR test), but if you fill out a form online ahead of time (as I did last month), you get to skip that, and you also get a bunch of QR codes for immigration and customs (so I think I actually didn’t need to fill out the paper cards I was given on the plane).

Luggage took a fair while to show up. I bought an AirTag for this trip just in case my suitcase decided to go walkabout again, but the network lost track of it almost immediately after I’d dropped it off in Sydney. Fortunately, when I connected to the wifi at Haneda, it was there in the building with me. Grabbed it when it showed, headed through customs, and walked to the Keikyu train station. (Side note, in 2020, the international terminal at Haneda was renamed to “Terminal 3”, probably to avoid the issue I had with reading my ticket on my first visit to Haneda and going “Does that say Terminal I or Terminal 1?”)

My first hotel for this trip is a Toyoko Inn (of course) – it’s near Sakuragicho Station, which is one stop to the south of Yokohama Station, then a bit of a stroll along a pedestrian overpass. Unfortunately, I don’t have internet on my phone today (I’ve got a 16-day SIM for an 18-day trip, so I’ll be activating it tomorrow), and while I’d carefully looked at where my hotel is on Google Maps, I’d neglected to actually screenshot the route, so I had to navigate by memory and compass.


Managed to get here without issue, though, and got all checked in. I’m on the eleventh floor here, though the only view out my window is the external stairs of the adjacent building. Aaaaall the way down. Since I’m level with the top floor of said adjacent building, I do get some sky, though.


Time for bed. Jumping right into activities tomorrow. Unfortunately, rain is forecast for tomorrow – 100% chance. And for much of the rest of the week, though fortunately with not quite so high a probability. This is not awesome, since (as per usual), nearly everything I’ve stuck on the itinerary is outdoors. Not tomorrow’s activity, fortunately. What’s tomorrow’s activity? Well, you’ll find out tomorrow. Actually, I’ve already mentioned it in the blog. Hint, hint.

Today’s photo count: Uh, just fifty-three. I don’t think that’s the record lowest… but it could be. I did, to be fair, spend much of the day sitting in the same seat, and much of the remainder walking through secure areas.

Today’s step count: 4967 steps, for 3.3km. Almost entirely inside airport terminals. It’s not showing me climbing any stairs, though.

Today’s stamp count: Zero – I did see the Haneda Airport stamp machine, and thought of giving it another go, but I’d packed my stamp book deep inside my suitcase, and didn’t really want to go to the trouble of getting it out, especially considering I’ll be coming back when I depart. Knowing me, I’ll probably forget by then, though.

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So, after my previous trip to Japan, I didn’t really have another one planned. It might have been nice to start a tradition of annual visits – there’s still so much of the country that I have yet to see, to the point that I haven’t even been off Honshu yet! – but in the year after the last trip, we were planning SpockSoc trips to WorldCon (and the Hugo Awards, given for works Sci-Fi and Fantasy, primarily books and other writing) in NZ, and DragonCon in the US. And with those two together, I had no holiday leave left for Japan.

But then, well. The year after the last trip was, of course, 2020. And the moment I could no longer visit Japan at all was the moment I suddenly wanted to again.

This month marks three years since all the borders began to slam closed, and nearly three and a half years since my last trip to Japan. It’s not my first post-shutdown overseas trip – I went to Croatia last July with Dad, which I blogged about on my trips-with-family travel blog – but I decided it’s time to visit the Land of the Rising Sun again.

It actually wound up being quite sudden, almost an impulse buy. Back in January, the company that runs the Tokyo Metro Underground Mysteries announced that after the last three editions of the game were cancelled, for the first three months of this year they’ll be running a revival of the 2014 edition, the very first one. So I kinda went “huh, if I visit in the second half of March, I’ll still be able to catch the end of the availability period, and it won’t be so early in the year as to cause issues for work”. And then “I wonder how much it’d cost to fly at this time of year…”

First I checked Qantas, who’ve served me well for past trips… and they quoted me around $1600 per direction. Ouch. Well, with one specific exception in that if I wanted to fly on one particular day and didn’t mind a layover in Singapore, it’d only cost me $900. And I didn’t mind a layover in Singapore too much – I’ve been wanting to check out that airport for a long time – but just to get a second opinion, I thought I’d check out the prices for ANA as well. $1600 total. As in, there and back. It is, to be fair, still more than I’ve paid for flights on past trips, but it’s still roughly in the ballpark.

So after checking with work, I booked the flights. Then I needed to decide on places to visit. Turns out coming in the second half of March means I’ll also just be catching the start of cherry blossom season in Tokyo before I depart. I’m also hoping to bring the parents on the next family trip, whenever that will be, so for this trip I decided to visit some of the more inconvenient and slightly out-of-the-way places. Where? You’ll just have to find out by reading.

In any case, departure is this Friday. Yeah, this is probably the closest to departure that I’ve written one of these in-between posts (which I usually envision as a way of wrapping up the last trip, but this has mostly just been setting up the next – perhaps I should write it closer to the end of the last trip if I really want a wrap-up).

So, the ol’ stats on the last chapter of the blog:

    • Posts:
      • Total length: 76.5 A4 pages (without photos); 50,055 words; 278,256 characters. 1.8 times longer than the 2018 blog, and 1.2 times longer than the 2017 blog. Boy, can I ramble.
      • Average per post: 4.5 pages; 2944.4 words; 16,368 characters.
      • Longest post: Day 4, when I did just over a third of the Chichibu 34 Kannon pilgrimage. 7.5 pages, 5123 words; 28,509 characters.
    • Money:
      • Unlike past trips, for this trip I charged the flights, travel insurance and JR Pass to the Qantas card (as well as the hotels and day-to-day expenditure), albeit in AUD, but for a change it does let me calculate total expenditure on the trip (with some approximation for the JPY-AUD exchange rate at the time). Namely, it’s 356,183 yen, or a hair over $5000.
      • Hotels total 114,810 yen, an average of 7176 yen per night. I didn’t splurge on any ryokan or other fancy hotel types this trip, so it was a fairly consistent cost from night to night (save that the two non-Toyoko-Inns I stayed in where Tokoyo Inns weren’t available were a couple of thousand yen more expensive per night).
      • I charged more things directly to the card this time than I have in past trips. Those total 141,373 yen, though pre-trip expenditure – flights, travel insurance and JR Pass – accounts for the majority of that (110,656 yen). The total for things I bought while actually in Japan is just 30,717 yen.
      • I also visited the ATM to withdraw cash ten times, apparently, which is more often than I would have thought. Total of 100,000 yen cash for spending money. I might have brought in some leftover cash from the 2018 trip, though it wouldn’t have been a huge amount.
      • Total day-to-day expenditure then was about 130,000 yen, or 7689 yen per day. A thousand yen per day more than the 2018 trip, though I definitely splurged more on gifts for myself than I did in 2018. Or 2017. Also had to spend 4700 yen buying replacements for the power cable I left in Nikko.
    • Photos:
      • Total: 10,224. Two thousand photos fewer than the 2017 trip (though also two thousand more than the 2018 trip) 
      • Average: 601.41 per day
      • Most photographic day: Day 17, the final day, with 1013. That was the day I went to Todoroki Ravine and the Kawasaki Halloween Parade. That said, it’s only seven photos more than Day 9, the Kawagoe Matsuri.
    • Steps:
      • 278,101 steps, for 200.3 km, which is 15 km longer than 2017, the previous leader.
        Though I did have some long days this trip.

      • Average: 16,358.88, or 11.78 km, per day
      • Most steppish day: Day 4, when I strolled the north-south length of Chichibu almost twice – 29,870 steps and 22.9 km
    • Goshuin:
      • Total: 39, counting the Chichibu nokyo in that total – unsurprisingly, another new record.
      • Average: 2.29 per day
      • Most goshuinicious day: Day 4, naturally, with 13.
    • Stamps:
      • Total: 33 – a fair drop from the last two trips with 56 and 57. Guess I just didn’t go places with stamps this time.
      • Average: 1.94 per day. 
      • Most stampinominal day: Day 13 – Hiraizumi and surrounds – with 8. Though those lovely golden ones I got at the michi-no-eki should count at least double.
    • Manhole Cards:
      • Total: 4, one up on the last trip. Could have been 5 if I hadn’t forgotten to get Kawasaki’s 
      • Average: 0.24 per day
      • Most cardular day: Two, on day 11, because I made a point of walking across Toda to get them.

Welp, better get packing for the next trip. On Friday.

Pretty sure I’ve remembered everything that I need to arrange beforehand. Japan’s current entry requirements vis-a-vis COVID are either three doses of a recognised vaccine or a recent PCR, and since I’ve had the former, that makes things straightforward. There’s also a web form you can fill out which generates QR codes you can show to let you skip screening in the airport, which I did last month. Masks are not compulsory, but are still preferred, though fortunately I’ve still got most of a box of fifty which I bought before Croatia last year.

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Day 17–Kawasaki, the River Cape

One of the things that never fails to make me have to stop and think things through in Japan is disposing of rubbish. Bins are usually divided into recyclables (usually PET bottles, glass bottles and cans, though it varies by municipality), burnable rubbish, and non-burnable rubbish, but precisely what’s burnable is what gets me. In my mind, burnable rubbish is paper and wood and maybe food scraps, while non-recyclable plastic – bags and food packaging and such – should go in non-burnable, but that’s not the case in Japan, where non-recyclable plastic goes in the burnable bin. Fortunately, if you’re standing by a bin with a handful of rubbish looking confused, there’s generally someone nearby who’ll come over and point out the right bin.

Decided to have breakfast today.

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After breakfast, it was time to pack, because today I’d be leaving Japan (oh, woe!). And… I may have bought too many books and assorted souvenirs, because I needed to partially kneel on my suitcase to get it shut, even with the expansion unzipped. That said, as per my standard practice, I booked a flight leaving in the evening, so I still had all day to sightsee. In fact, the plane would be taking off at 10pm, so I really did have all day.

(Side note, the Toyoko Inns in both Ichinoseki and here in Kamata used card-keys, but they didn’t use my member card as the key like they had in other hotels. My guess is it’s because I arrived prior to checkin time – they couldn’t make my member card a key, because then they’d have to retain it until the time I could enter my room. I know at least Ichinoseki had the member-cards-as-key-cards system because I saw one woman use hers on the elevator scanner.)

So, I headed out, leaving my suitcase in the care of the hotel. First stop, the Todoroki Ravine. Located in Setagaya Ward at the southern edge of Tokyo, and billed in various places as Tokyo’s only ravine (which I find a little suspect, given how much of Tokyo there is), it’s a ravine cut by the Yazawa (river), and it’s filled with original wilderness forest, but head up to the lip of the ravine and you’re right back in full-on Tokyo residential and commercial areas, including some major roads. Stand one block away from the ravine, and you can’t see it at all. It’s quite similar to Fred Hollows Reserve in Sydney in its… ravine-ness, but also in its completely hidden wilderness…ness. And luckily (because I sure didn’t plan it), it’s a half-hour train ride from my hotel. Well, two trains.

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Instead of taking JR today, I caught the Tokyu Railway – the Tokyu Kamata station is in the same building as the JR Kamata station, but at right angles. I’ve gotta say, though, for some reason I quite like these little terminal stations, with the concourse across the end, and two platforms per set of tracks, so that terminating trains can empty on one side, and then refill on the other. Two lines terminate here, the Ikegami line and the Tamagawa line, and while both headed in pretty much the same direction, Google told me I’d be better off taking the Ikegami line, so I carefully checked which platform I needed to be on… and in a haze of photo-taking, I somehow managed to board the other train.

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No biggie, though. The Tokyo Tamagawa line is a mere six stations long, and I realised my error at the fifth station. However, all it meant was I needed to change trains one more time than I was originally going to need to, and on the plus side, it gave me another station I could admire. So at Tamagawa Station, I changed to the Toyoko Line (yes, that’s the same one that goes to Shibuya) rode two stops to Jiyugaoka Station, where I could change to the Oimachi Line to Todoroki Station. Much up and down of stairs – many of these stations have the tracks intersecting at near-right angles, so it makes for some interesting station geometry.

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Hopped off at Todoroki Station, and I must say this is the kind of tiny suburban station I really quite enjoy – almost as much as the tinier rural stations. The entire station is between the train lines – one island platform with the ticket gates and station office at once end – and all at ground level, so if you stand at the station entrance, you’re standing between two level crossings, with the up-line trains on one side, and the down-line trains on the other. And if you’re lucky enough with timing, you get trains passing on both sides simultaneously.

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Anyway, I left the station and headed for the gorge. I walked down the nearest street, but it turned out to be just a residential street – the green “park” area on Google Maps actually extends a block further north than the real thing (I should have checked Pokémon Go instead). A guy popped out of his house to set me straight, in English, which was quite nice (though I confess I’d already worked out where I’d gone wrong).

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A block further south, I came to the correct park entrance, alongside a bridge rather incongruously named “Golf Bridge” (one information sign implied it’s named such because there used to be a golf course in the area, if I understood it correctly). Headed down the stairs and into the ravine, and… boy was it lovely and serene. More than a few people wandering around, but still nice. A small groups of boy (and girl) scouts that I ran into a number of times.

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The path is apparently an old towpath, and it crosses the river here and there on little bridges – some of them very little. Surprisingly not much evidence of flooding, though I guess it’s been two weeks… and I guess perhaps Tokyo’s flood mitigation infrastructure is better than Utsunomiya’s. There’s also some historical ruins nearby – signage pointed the way to three ancient cave tombs, though I could only actually spot one of them.

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There’s supposedly more than 30 springs within the ravine, and the water quality in the river leaving the ravine is actually better than it is when entering – by the time it reaches Golf Bridge, the Yazawa has already flown through about five kilometres of residential streets. In 2003, the Tokyo Metropolitain Government declared the Todoroki Ravine one of “Tokyo’s 57 Best Waters”, though I honestly have no idea how they decided there should be 57 of them.

Near the downstream end of the ravine, at the top of the cliff, is a temple, Myo-o-ji (aka Todoroki Fudoson – either way, it enshrines Fudo). At the bottom of the stairs to the temple was a little structure that looked a bit like a Shinto shrine, but which Google assures me is a hall of the temple enshrining a bosatsu (= one who has reached enlightenment but vows to save others before becoming a Buddha), next to a very nice-looking pool with two little water falls flowing through stone dragon heads.

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Clambered up the stairs to the temple, and it was clear I was coming in the back door – the front door faces the street. It was quite a nice little temple, with a big platform from which you could gaze down over the forest – though while I could juuuust make out a red wooden bridge through the trees, mostly all I could see was trees. There were also a few people here celebrating Shichi-Go-San (I was amused to see one girl, dressed in full ceremonial kimono, taking a photo of her parents, rather than them of her). And, slightly incongruously, a little café. And also a little display of chrysanthemum, same as Choson-ji back in Hiraizumi, including a few bonsai… same as Choson-ji.

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I headed back down the stairs into the ravine, because at the bottom of the stairs was a more traditional tea house that I’d decided before climbing that I would eat at upon my return. It’s named Setsugekka, which literally means “Snow, Moon, and Flowers”, but figuratively means “the beauty of the four seasons”. It’s got a few benches to sit on out side, quite like an old Edo-period roadside teahouse, but also benches and a tatami-mat room inside too. I was a little torn on whether to sit outside or inside, but eventually decided on inside, and fortunately entered just as a couple sitting by the window left.

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I had kuzumochi, with kinako (roast soybean flour) and brown sugar syrup, which I also had back in 2018, but which I failed to mention at the time is made from the starchy root of the kudzu vine. I find it kind of interesting how kudzu is respected in Japan, but overseas it’s so invasive that most places have an “eradicate on sight” order. (Side note, it’s “kuzu” in Japanese – not entirely sure where the extra D came from in the English version. There is a sound that’s similar “dzu” in Japanese (depending on dialect) – the word meaning “scrap” used to be pronounced “kudzu”, for example, though not any more – but this is not it. “Adzuki beans” get the same treatment – it’s “azuki” in Japanese.)

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After finishing my mochi (fortunately without inhaling a lungful of kinako) and sipping my tea while contemplating the view, I headed on. First I followed the river past the end of the ravine park just to see what was there, then I came back and strolled through a Japanese garden which ran up one side of the ravine. It was quite nice, and at the top was a grassy area with a number of picnicking families, and a fairly nice view over the Tamagawa (river) into Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture (the Tamagawa marks the border between Tokyo and Kangawa).

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I pondered walking back to the station through the ravine, but signs had pointed to a nearby park which contains a big burial mound called a kofun. In the same way as Japan’s oldest historical period is called the Jomon from all the cord-marked pottery that archaeologists found, Japan’s third-oldest historical period is called Kofun, from all the kofun that were found. (The period in between, Yayoi, is named after the neighbourhood of Tokyo where artefacts from the period were first discovered.) It was… well, it was a big mound. There were stairs to climb to the top, but it was a little tricky to capture the essence of it in photographs.

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Also, it was in a park – kids were playing on play equipment to one side, and on the other was a baseball field with a baseball match in progress. A little bit incongruous.

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I decided to stay on the streets for the walk back to the train station. It was time to head for my next destination – and possibly people have already guessed where from the title of this post. On the way to the station, I was astonishing to spot a rice polishing booth sitting by the side of the road, in front of an apartment building – I honestly thought you only encounter those in the more rural areas.

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Google suggested I should backtrack to Jiyugaoka and change back to the Toyoko Line, but I kinda wanted to visit more stations, so I hopped back on the Oimachi Line in the direction I’d been travelling, and rode all the way to the terminus at Mizonokuchi Station, over the other side of the Tamagawa in Kanagawa Prefecture. There, I transferred to the JR Nambu Line. Pop quiz: remembering from day two that “Seibu” means “West Musashi” and “Tobu” means “East Musashi”, and knowing that the JR Nambu line runs to the south of Tokyo, who wants to guess what “Nambu” means? It’s just the one line in this case, though, not a whole company.

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At the end of the Nambu line was my next destination: Kawasaki Station. Who woulda guessed? This was my second visit here, though my first in daylight, but the primary purpose of my visit here was the Kawasaki Halloween Parade, Tokyo’s biggest Halloween festival. Literally thousands of people dressed in extremely intricate costumes parade the streets in front of Kawasaki Station, and tens of thousands of people come to watch – last year’s parade had 2200 participants and 120,000 spectators – a big increase on the first festival in 1996, which saw 150 participants and 500 spectators. Even people working in the shopping centres around the station were in costume.

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It runs from 2:30pm to 4pm – hoping to get a good spot, I’d aimed to arrive at Kawasaki Station at 1:30 and get some lunch in the underground shopping mall, then head up to the parade route. Aha, now naïve. I had some lunch at Lotteria, because I never had so far (it’s a Japanese McDonalds-like burger chain – they were having a special on double and triple burgers on the 29th of every month (and also apparently the 27th and 28th) because 29 can be read as “niku”, which means “meat” – though it was a lot more peppery than I would have liked… and I made an absolute hash of conveying my order to the guy) then emerged from the appropriate exit to find the street already completely solid with people.

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I snagged a spot in a garden bed (others were already standing there, so it’s not like I spontaneously decided to jump on some plants – actually, I took great care not to) from which I could get a good view by holding my camera over my head (trying not to be like the guy in the front row who kept putting his phone into my view). Basically, the participants are divided into three groups. First, group A lined up in front of us, then the MCs would do a whole “welcome, it’s good to see such great costumes” speech, then DJs seated on trucks started playing, and the group kinda shuffle-danced past us. This was repeated with group B fifteen minutes later, and then group C fifteen minutes after that, at which point group A showed up again, so I figured it was just three groups twice over, and decided to extricate myself from the crowd so that someone else could have my spot. Actually, spectators were originally only allowed to stand on the kerb, but while group B was lining up, they moved the barriers so that we could stand on the road, in the outside lane. I managed to hold my place in the crowd, but… honestly, I kinda preferred being far away, because I could see the costumes all the way from head to foot from back there, but up close, the front rows of spectators blocked my view.

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Anyway, they really were some very good costumes. Plenty of zombies and assorted undead. Beastmen, vampires, dragons. A platoon of assorted Power Rangers (though they’re known in Japan as Super Sentai). A group of Avengers. Even a couple of Maleficents. A few costumes I’d seen last night as well. Surprisingly few anime characters. Even a Mr Bean, who I only noticed just now while going through my photos (he’s in the bunch above).

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At one point, a very priest-like person got up on the stage-truck, invited a man and a woman up, and spoke something that sounded very much like a wedding ceremony (though my knowledge of ecclesiastical Japanese is lacking, so I didn’t really understand what he was actually saying). Really not sure if that was an actual wedding ceremony or just play-acting, but I honestly suspect the former.

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In any case, though it was not even 4pm yet (and thus still over six hours until my flight) I decided to beat the crowd and head back to Kamata – making sure to stop by the tiny escalator for a quick joyride… but completely forgetting in the process to visit the Kawasaki Information Centre about 200 metres away for a manhole card. Avast!

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At Kamata, I popped into a snack food shop for some snacks to take home, and unable to get that chocolate-block-in-bread from the other day out of my mind, I went to go find it again – but unable to remember the precise location of the shop, I wound up going up a flight of stairs, down another, up a third, only to find it right at the top of the first flight of stairs I’d originally climbed. Tasty, though.

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Returning to the hotel, I redistributed the contents of my day bag into my backpack or suitcase as needed, then tried to stuff it into my suitcase… but it wouldn’t fit at all. So, plan B: fill the day bag with the snacks I’d just bought, take it as carry-on, and hope noone made a fuss. I also decided to bring my lovely transparent umbrella home as well – my last two trips, I’d just handed it to the hotel staff rather than go through the hassle of taking it home, but this time I guess it had been such a faithful companion that I couldn’t bear to leave it. Plus, transparent umbrellas are real nice – you can hold them in front of your face and still see where you’re going. (Though, I wonder if I bought too big an umbrella this time – when it was hanging from my bag, I kept knocking it off with my feet, or bumping it on the ground.) Changed my t-shirt, jumper and socks while I was at it.

Then, though it was still barely 5:30, and it’d take me about twenty minutes to get to the airport (the main reason I stayed at Kamata for this part of the trip), I decided to head out. Meant I could stroll gently to the Keikyu-Kamata station, check in before the crowds, and then linger over some dinner. And also have a video chat with the family. (So, the fun thing about Keikyu-Kamata Station is that trains leave for the airport on two different platforms – trains coming from the direction of Yokohama stop on the second level and reverse out, trains coming from the direction of Tokyo stop on the third level and continue moving forward.)

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(On the subject of ambling gently, I wonder a bit if my usual practice of hectic activity for the last few days of my Japan trips is a mistake. Basically every trip so far, I’ve spent the last few days visiting the busiest parts of Tokyo, and/or scrambling from place to place on a limited schedule. Point is, I wonder if they give me a sort of… last impression of Japan being crowded, and busy, and noisy. I know I want to get every last bit of sightseeing in that I can, but sometimes I wonder if maybe I’d be better off staying in whatever remote place I’m staying until the last day of my trip, then return to Tokyo and head for the airport in one go. Or something.)

Buuut, I arrived at the station without a hitch. Actually, one tiny hitch: having never arrived at Haneda via the Keikyu Line before, I was a tiny bit perplexed as to precisely where in the terminal I’d arrived, but fortunately managed to find the main concourse without too much trouble. The Haneda International departure concourse is as grant as I remember, except now there’s a big reproduction of an Edo-period wooden bridge on the third floor that I don’t remember there being. I dropped my suitcase off, and then went to explore, while showing the family all the sights on our regular weekly video call.

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There was a TV in the middle of the concourse on the second level showing the rugby, and a roped-off area for people to sit in – and it was so full that people were spilling out the sides. I showed the family the Edo-period bridge, and the big toyshop, and the outside viewing deck, and when it was time to end the call, I went to grab some dinner – I went to ease myself back into Western-style food by having a Japanese-style pizza: teriyaki chicken, with mayonnaise and nori. Very yum. (Molto oishii? Totemo deliziosa?)

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Ambled over to my gate, having a go in a massage chair en route – use up a few coins. Then at long last it was time to board. I booked an exit-row seat for this flight – being an overnight flight, it’d be good for stretching out. And still noone questioned my second carry-on bag. Though I had to go a couple of rows back for an overhead compartment wide enough for the umbrella to go in.

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Second dinner (which I really wasn’t expecting at 10pm) was penne with pangrattato (… which just means “breadcrumbs”. Dunno why they didn’t just say that.) and… some kind of pudding for dessert. Not entirely sure what I’ve done with the menu which would give me the specifics. Perhaps I’ll update this when I find it.

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Watched Yesterday while eating – during a very brief global “The Day the Earth Stood Still” style complete blackout, failing musician Jack Malik gets hit by a bus… and wakes up in a world where the Beatles never existed, so he proceeds to become famous by reproducing their songs from memory. And it’s like… I grant that the Beatles were absolute trailblazers in their time, but I’m not sure I quite buy the screaming hysteria that characters display at Jack re-introducing the Beatles into modern rock and roll. Also thought the blackout aspect of the premise was a bit weird, and was never brought up again – just have him get hit by the bus, and skip the blackout. I was amused by Ed Sheeran playing himself, and not just as a cameo – as a fairly important second-tier character.

Settled down afterwards to get some sleep. And… well, I had my eyes closed for about four hours, and I was certainly unconscious for some of it, but I’m not sure I got any actual sleep. Aside from anything else, I was in the middle seat, but both of my neighbours slept with their elbows on the armrests, meaning I had to sleep with arms folded or in my lap. And the guy on my right jabbed me in the ribs with said elbow every time he shifted position. I did manage to doze off a bit during takeoff, mind, which amused the flight attendants sitting in the jump seat opposite.

Well, by the end of my attempted sleep, they started bringing up the lights and serving breakfast ready for our descent into Sydney. Breakfast was fruit salad and a danish. My feeling on this was “we took off at bed time and landed after breakfast time, yet you serve a big dinner and a small breakfast?”

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Got a few nice photos of country Australia from the air, but soon it was time to sit down and buckle up. We actually managed to arrive half an hour earlier than scheduled… which meant there was another plane in our assigned gate that hadn’t departed yet, so we had to park by the fence and get bussed to the terminal. But honestly, that took so long that by the time we were all there, it probably would have been faster to wait for the gate to become available.

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I grabbed my suitcase from the baggage claim (relieved that it had not burst from the internal pressure) and headed for customs. Decided I’d better declare my shoes, considering I’d been hiking in the forest and squelching through flood-affected Utsunomiya, but she barely gave them a cursory glance and waved me through. Finished off my box of tic tacs for the nice little bit of closure, then headed for the train station. Did a little test on the platform of how accurate Australian trains can stop by standing by a “mind the step” marker and measuring where the door landed – it was about half the door’s width away. Or, I guess, just about as accurate as my most successful attempt on the simulator at the Railway Museum in Omiya (cough, cough).

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The trip home today was a great deal less traumatic than the same trip in 2017, probably because today I did it on a weekday during business hours, whereas last time it was on the weekend… and also it was summer, and I was wearing thermals. The exit from Green Square station on the south side of Botany Road is all fancy and new – and enclosed in a building – as part of the new development, which was very shiny and new – gonna have to go back for another look some time. Managed to get a seat on the bus easily.

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… And then left my umbrella hooked onto the luggage rack when I got off. At least, I’m pretty sure I did – I think I remember hanging it there, and I can’t locate it now, sooo… yep. Quite annoyed with myself that I managed to haul it almost eight thousand kilometres over the Pacific Ocean, only to lose it less than a hundred metres from my front door. I realised what I’d done on Tuesday evening (in the future, wooo), and went to the lost property office on Wednesday morning, but it hadn’t been turned in… and honestly, I’m not expecting that it will be. Humbug, I say! Humbug!

Fortunately, my paper umbrella from Chichibu survived the trip mildly squashed, but otherwise pretty much intact.

Well, home sweet home, in any case. Discovered upon unzipping my suitcase that one of the hooks holding the pull tab onto the slider of the zipper had bent, by enough that the slider just fell off – a mite concerning, as the suitcase could have been opened while still locked. Think it’s just bent from the internal pressure of the suitcase, though.

(Side anecdote, I bought a new pair of sandals to wear at the Ryusei Matsuri if I had occasion to take my shoes off, but wound up never wearing them. This afternoon, after settling in for a bit, I put them on for a quick stroll to the post office and back… and they stripped a big patch of skin off the insteps of both of my feet. Probably a good thing I never wore them in Japan. Think I’m gonna have wear them with socks on at least a few times to get them properly worn in. Once my feet heal.)

Today’s photo count: One thousand and thirteen (includes photos taken on Monday).

Today’s pedometer count: 18,893 steps – 13.3 kilometres – 31 flights of stairs (does not include steps taken on Monday).

Today’s goshuin count: One – Myo-o-ji / Todoroki Fudoson

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Today’s stamp count: Two – Kawasaki Station, because I couldn’t remember if I got it in 2017 (in my blog I seem to be quite confused with station names, at one point calling Kawasaki “Kanazawa”, though I do list the Kawasaki stamp in the footnotes), and after not seeing the stamp in 2017, then not having anything to stamp on in 2018, I finally got the Haneda Airport stamp… except I pressed far too hard and wound up with a blobby mess that soaked through the page. Noooo.

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Previously, on J³

Currently it’s far too late tonight to even start thinking of writing a blog post, and tomorrow evening I’ll be flying home (noooo), so won’t be posting tomorrow either. And then I’ll need some time to recover from the flight, and then I’ve got a few things on in the evenings… point is, it may be a fair while until I can finish this blog.

To keep people entertained in the meantime, here’s some short videos I’ve taken during my trip.

A rocket launch at the Ryusei Festival waaay back in Chichibu:

A festival float in action at the Kawagoe Festival last week:

The flying dango basket in action at Genbikei (it ends a little abruptly because I somehow forgot I was taking a video, and put the phone in my pocket as I reached for the dango):

A time-lapse at the seven-way intersection in Kamata:

And a time-lapse of the famous Shibuya Scramble crossing (uh, spoiler alert):

Well, I’d better make I can still fit everything in my suitcase…

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