Hear me talking to Rod Quinn on ABC Local Radio’s Overnights on July 18. I check in from Tokyo and chat about the typhoon, the Olympic Stadium and the owl café.
Here are the pulsing lights of Tokyo, as seen from the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt Hotel in Shinjuku. I was in the New York Bar, which features heavily in my favourite film ever, Lost In Translation. No Suntory for me though, I went with some wine from Francis Ford Coppola’s vineyard. A nice thing to see on the menu.
Once upon a time in pre-Meiji Restoration Japan, people who wanted to travel between the two important cities of Edo and Kyoto would walk or ride along one of two trails. The trail along the coast was called Tokaido, and the inland trail was called Nakasendo, or “central mountain route”. You can walk the Nakasendo today, but as the complete distance is over 500km most people only do a small section, between two villages called Magome and Tsumago. We walked it this week. A network of ever-smaller trains and buses will get you to one of these two villages and then you can trek to the other one. We decided to start in Magome.
The walk isn’t very difficult and the path takes you past classic wooden houses with wide tiled roofs, lush forests and flower gardens, bright green rice paddies and sweeping views of the Kiso Valley.
Along the way we stopped at a small “rest room” where an older gentleman served us tea and cucumbers.
We stayed in an exquisite traditional inn called Maruya, just out of Tsumago, run by a family who served us dinner and breakfast. Mats on the floor, thin sliding doors and green tea on arrival: it was the real thing.
The walk was around 8km, and we did the last 1km in the morning to get the bus from Tsumago proper. It was some of the loveliest scenery I’ve ever seen, and the adorable Shiba Inu that came to say hello was a bonus.
All you need to experience a slice of life in pre-industrial Japan is a pair of comfortable walking shoes.
Many cities in Japan were, at one time or another, the capital. Nara is one of those. It’s about 40 minutes away from Kyoto on the train and its big drawcards are its antique temples and its huge park full of deer. These deer were once considered sacred due to a visit from a mythical god who was riding a deer. Today, they’re only “national treasures” but in any case they seem to have a good time interacting with all the humans and trying to steal their stuff.
There’s more to see in the park. Beautiful ponds and pagodas, for example.
The highlight is the astonishing Todai-ji palace, which is apparently the largest wooden structure in the world.
And of course the giant buddha, which is a wonder to behold, although my photos could never do it justice.
A successful day trip, even though it’s hot and sticky beyond belief right now in Japan!
Train travel in Japan is really wonderful. You can reach almost any place and the trains are fast and clean. We used bullet trains (shinkansen) and the regular local services to go from Toyama, near the coast, to a little city further south called Takayama. Hopefully these photos convey just some of how lush, green and lovely the scenery was, winding over rivers and past mountain villages with little gardens, all impossibly bright in the hot sun.
Takayama itself is quaint and friendly with plenty of streets and buildings just as they were centuries ago. We stayed in a traditional hotel called a minshuku, with sliding doors and mats on the floor.
On the way back, I got the view from the other side of the train. Lucky me.
I’m in Tokyo with my mother. I would not have known that such a thing as an owl café existed if it was not for my friend Chelsea. Apparently there is more than one owl café but this is the one that I was able to find directions to online. It’s called Fukuro no Mise just across from Exit 10 at Tsukishima Station. I dragged Mum along early in the morning, only to find that it opened at 2pm, only to find THEN that we had to make a reservation, pay 2000 yen each and come back 2 hours later. BUT IT WAS WORTH IT.
There’s really nothing to explain. For the price of entry you get to spend time with calm and mysterious owls for an hour, and have one drink, although beer is an extra 200 yen. The owls can sit on your hand, head or shoulder and you can pat them on their little heads too.
About half of these photos were taken by my mother Isobel. She didn’t want an owl on her arm so she was happy to be the photographer.
Here’s more info about the Fukuro no Mise owl café.