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by Japan island tour 2017 on 05/09/2017
August 12th to 27th 2017
Tokyo, Chichijima, Kyoto
Ogasawara_Islands There are other travel agents, but Sandy from Japan Travel Centre goes that extra mile. After rescuing our trip from the complexity and high costs introduced by a rival Agency, she took steps to pre-book all our day trips so language barriers were reduced to a minimum.
Tokyo Day 1 (Shimbashi, Ginza, Tsukiji and Hama Rikyu):
From Tokyo’s Haneda airport we took the monorail to Hamamatsucho and hiked for 20 minutes to Shimbashi’s Royal Park hotel. We hadn’t allowed for the heat and the humidity, nor for the adjacent hotel having a similar name (Shimbashi’s Park hotel), but eventually we dropped our bags at the right reception, fuelled up on coffee and followed the sky-walks to Ginza. After pounding the spectacular high-end, high-priced and highly architected shop fronts, we returned via Tsukiji’s Fish Market to the Hama Rikyu gardens. A hike of 13 miles all told. Dinner was salmon and boiled rice street food in the Shiodome City Centre.
Tokyo Day 2 (Asakusa, Sensoji Temple, Nakamise, Ekimise, Akihabara):
Started with a macrobiotic breakfast in the hotel lobby, before buying a Metro day-pass and navigating our way to Asakusa. The Sensoji temple is worth seeing, but it was the colourful market stalls around Nakamise that captured my imagination. We followed that with a wander around one of Tokyo’s million multi-floor Department stores. The Ekimise served excellent sushi on the top floor and after lunch we walked the Tobu Line and the river area near the Asahi brewery, before decamping to Electric Town in Akihabara. It was busy and we were tired, so we didn’t absorb as much of it as I’d have liked. We’d hiked 14 miles before I dined on tofu and thousand-year-old eggs, some dishes just have to be tried…
Tokyo Day 3 (Mount Fuji, Lake Asahi and Komagatake):
A pre-booked day trip to mount Fuji. The tour departed the hotel at 08:30 and we didn’t return until 22:30. After ascending to the highest drivable point on mount Fuji, then viewing Fuji from a boat on Lake Asahi, before viewing it once more from the vantage point atop Komagatake – we saw nothing but mist and fog. The cloud cover was so low at one point that we nearly lost the bus from across the parking lot. It was a fun day out though with a very entertaining guide who arranged great sashimi for lunch at a lakeside café. However, we cheated later that night and ate pizza at an underground Italian restaurant near Ginza. Which was especially naughty as we’d only walked 6.5 miles.
Ferry from Tokyo to Ogasawara Day 4:
On day 4 we took the Yurikamome new transit line to Takeshiba and boarded the Ogasawara Maru ship bound for Chichijima island, some 1,000 kilometres south of mainland Japan. It takes a little over 24 hours to get there, but Sandy had reserved a Deluxe cabin which was very comfortable. All the announcements were in Japanese so we twice missed the restaurant opening times and made do with microwaved chicken nuggets, chips and peas for dinner followed by apple pie and coffee for breakfast.
Chichijima Day 5 (Ogamiyama Shinto Shrine, Observatory and Futami Port):
Arriving at Chichijima, we were met at the pier by friends from the Hotel (Bougain) and from one of the day trips (Sea-Tac) that Sandy had pre-booked. It’s immediately obvious that Chichijima is different, unspoilt and non-commercial. You don’t meet reps or agents – you meet new friends who proudly welcome you to paradise. After checking in, we hiked uphill past the Ogamiyama Shinto Shrine and onto the Observatory which offers spectacular views over Futami, then we ate swordfish at Charlie Browns that night, washed down with beer and local rum. Another fitness aberration having only hiked 8.2 humid miles.
Chichijima Day 6 (Ogiru Beach):
Hotel Bougain serves compulsory breakfasts at 07:30 – no deviation. If you’re not at table, someone bangs on your door. Full breakfast is a generous combination of Rice, Miso, Omelette, Sausage, Ham, Salad, Pickles, Grapefruit and Corn. Sometimes doorsteps of honeyed toast are added for good measure. This really sets you up for the day, if not the decade. With 75% humidity, 31o Celsius feels like 37o, so salty breakfast fortification is a survival necessity. We took the island bus to Ogiru beach on day six, where we met some friendly students from Tokyo University before eating a Sushi dinner at back at Bougain. Miko ordered for us – she’s a super friendly islander who’s home from Sydney for a visit. Great meal after hiking 8.5 miles in the heat.
Japanese toilets merit special mention. Heated seat, incorporated bidet and the option of baffle music come as standard. We encountered buttons to raise the lid and optionally the seat at the big city and a cistern that doubles as a hand basin on the island. They flush via full evacuation like a sea toilet – what’s not to like?
Chichijima Day 7 (Dolphin and Whale Tour):
The Sea-Tac dolphin and whale tour. Sea-Tac treats you like a long-lost nephew for the day. They’re chatty, attentive, keen on water safety and insistent that you have a great time, swim with dolphins, see whales and report back to the world. We met loads of dolphins – up close and personal – in their own natural environment. We snorkelled about the crystal-clear coral, lunched and trekked out to the deep ocean for a couple of hours in search of whales, but no whales were to be found. We had dinner at Bar Creyon, where I opted for wild chicken with egg and rice, which was filling after 5 miles of walking.
Main meals on Chichijima are expensive, averaging 7,000 yen or £50 a night. Late in the week we worked out that beer makes up half this cost, I guess it’s an expensive import item. No one offers itemized bills or receipts, just a large number preceded by a yen sign. Alternatively, there’re elaborate vending machines for those days when money’s tight.
Chichijima Day 8 (Visitors Centre, Fishing Port, Aquarium, Miyanohama Beach):
Hiked the main street and visited the Visitors Centre, the Fishing port and the Aquarium. Found a posh boutique but had to limit spending to earrings and a glitter-globe because they don’t accept plastic. Hiked over the hills to Miyanohama Beach where we bumped into some of the Sea-Tac crew, who again greeted us like family. Took an off-road route back through a forest boardwalk to the Observatory and the Ogamiyama Shrine. Bougain served the best garlic steak rice dinner in the world, which was welcome after 8 miles of walking in the heat.
Chichijima Day 9 (Forest walk and Night hike):
Sandy had pre-booked two trips with the Sebori brothers from Pat Inn, a forest walk and a night hike. Both were informative, offered breath taking views and touched on WWII, the tsunami and the emerging volcanic island. The night hike brought us close to the stars, close to wild fruit bats and closer still to the strangely luminous ‘Green Pepe’ fungi; but it was the opportunity to release baby turtles back into the ocean as part of the island’s conservation effort that was really special. We walked 9.5 miles and met a new friend from Osaka.
Chichijima Day 10 (Dolphin tour, Minamijima Island and Ogi-ike Lagoon):
We were back on the water, this time with the Pink Dolphin crew. They took us to Minamijima island to see first-hand the world famous Ogi-ike lagoon. This is a rare privilege which UNESCO might one day withdraw for conservation reasons. Already the number of tourists and their duration on the island is already restricted. From Minamijima we did more coral snorkelling, fed the sea snakes (visible beneath the glass bottomed boat) and set off in pursuit of friendly dolphins. We had dinner back at Bougain after a 5 mile hike; chilli prawn followed by breaded pork served with rice and egg. Miku, our Sydney based islander, says she’s thinking of staying ‘Home’ on Chichijima for a while. Who wants to leave paradise?
Ferry from Ogasawara to Tokyo Day 11:
Nothing prepared us for the awesome Chichijima farewell. It felt like the whole island turned out to wave us off. We had warm hugs from the Sea-Tac crew, help with our baggage from Bougain and farewells from Pat Inn. Micronesian drums were played and garlands of flowers were thrown as our ship disembarked, then a flotilla of small boats escorted us out of harbour with people feverishly jumping overboard with enthusiasm as we headed seawards. Sandy had booked us a suite for the return journey and, like the veterans we were, we dined on Yakisoba from the on-board vending machines. The suite was a godsend as the return seas were rough.
Tokyo Day 12:
Arriving back into Tokyo, we navigated the Yurikamome and Metro to the Hyatt hotel in Shinjuku. After checking in, we explored the Bic Centre, ate great steak and rice at the top of a sky-scraping Department store and toured Mosaic Street, walking 6 miles in all.
Tokyo Day 13 (Shinkansen train to Kyoto):
We embarked on the last of Sandy’s pre-booked day trips, this time touring Kyoto via Bullet Train (Shinkansen). It was another long day out, departing at 08:00 and returning at 21:45, but we met some great people, fell in love with Kyoto and almost missed the train back. We toured amazing Shinto and Buddhist shrines, but it was the 1,001 gold laminated statues of Sanjusangendo that fired my imagination. Although the green-tea flavoured custard in a chocolate and cinnamon bun was a close second. The high-speed train lines adopt extreme camber in places, which makes nearby building look like they’re leaning-in. Having missed the rendezvous with our guide and arriving breathless at the return platform with only minutes to spare, we thought at first that we’d left a ticket in the barrier, so exiting the station at Tokyo would be tricky – but fortunately the ticket turned up enroute.
Tokyo Day 14 (Cat café, Takeshita-Dori, Jingu-Bashi, Chiyoda-Ku):
Our last full day in Tokyo, so we (eventually) tracked down the original ‘Cat Café’ for a feline fix. They were a bit OCD about shoes and bags and separate lockers, with separate shoes again if you want the loo, but otherwise amazing. What a concept. It was like a homely petting zoo in the heart of the city where twenty cats looked disdainfully at both locals and tourists alike. From there we took the JR Line to Takeshita-Dori which was like London’s Carnaby street on steroids. Gothic, Punk and general Youth culture pervaded the shops, hung out of cafés and promenaded the pavements. We were trying to hike from there to Jingu-Bashi when we got shanghaied by a million costumed folk dancers who were taking part in some competition, concert, audition or all of the above. This was a gift for tourists, so we snapped pics, clapped hands and cheered like we knew what was going on… Eventually retreating to a roof-top garden for beer, more street food and frozen coffee. Took a stroll around Chiyoda-Ku gardens on the way back and decided to hike from there to the hotel which turned out to be 12 tropical miles. Ate in the hotel and checked-out in anticipation of our 05:00 transit back to Haneda.
Back home to England:
Many thanks once again to Sandy at Japan Travel Centre for organizing an amazing adventure.
ABTA’s assistance and Code of Conduct.