Japan Trip
August 6 - 13, 2005

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Betty and I (Ed Thelen) decided to take a short (1 week) trip to Japan, and while there, take in Expo2005 near Nagoya. Neither of us had been to Japan and were most curious -

Due to a variety of circumstances, we wound up going in early August. We had heard that Japan in August was hot and humid (muggy), but after living in California we had forgotten what "hot and muggy" really feels like. Well, our memories were quickly refreshed, and we found out why the stereotype of old Japan is all the people with fans active.

Folks - those fans were not for looks or theatrics, they were for survival.

The first tour we selected did not attract enough people (only 8 of the required 15) by mid-June to look like a "GO" so we asked for our money back and tried to get onto another tour that would include EXPO2005 before EXPO closed in early September. We finally found a bus tour with a few spaces, but it would go in early August - not the most favorite time -

The trip - how to organize this report? As you may be aware, organization is not my strong point - so I will follow the format of the published (Itinerary) organized by experts :-)) Inserting our photos and comments in boxes between the days :-))

Executive summary:


Following text from http://www.choicestholiday.com/asiae/16.html



Visit Tokyo, Asakusa Kannon Temple, Imperial Palace, Bullet Train, Hakone, Owakudani, Boat-ride on Lake Ashi, Mt. Fuji (5th Station), Shizuoka green tea plantation, Nagoya, AICHI WORLD EXPO 2005, Kyoto-Kyomizu Temple, Nara, Todaiji Temple and Osaka Castle.
Includes Round-trip Air ticket, Expo's admission, Deluxe Hotels (2 nights Japanese tatami hot spring hotel), 3 meals daily (Japanese-styled/Buffet), Licensed Chinese/English professional guide.

Betty and I responded to an ad by Choicest Holiday in a Chinese language newspaper. Choicest Holiday had a relationship with ???, a "tour wholesaler". ??? (which supplied pins saying "Super Vacation Wholesale Tour Package") gathered a bus load (40) people from at least 7 travel agencies through out the U.S. and managed our bus tour in Japan.

The flight to Tokyo (Narita Airport) was as comfortable as middle economy seats in a 747 could be expected to be. :-|

I struck up a "conversation" with a young Japanese man (Masayoshi Ojima) in the next seat. His English was almost as limited as my non-existent Japanese. With help from the phrase section of my Fodor's tour book, I found that he lived in Nikko (prominent in the tour book - 160 km north of Tokyo - barely visible on a commercial map). He was returning to Japan from sell?/technical-support? ink used in ink jet printers at Hewlett-Packard. He is a dye chemist and also services accounts at other printer companies such as Canon.
Masayoshi gave us a good hand fan - which turned out to be a life saver in the Japanese hot muggy August :-)) - Here is the fan in operation at Station #5 on Mt. Fuji, a relatively cool place. :-))

Day 1 - TOKYO (D)

Arrive at Narita Airport. Hotel shuttle bus transfer to hotel. You may take the hotel shuttle to the nearby shopping malls on your own accord. A delicious buffet dinner will be served.
Hotel: Narita Excel Tokyu or similar

At the airport, we almost had the only glitch of the trip - no one holding up a sign to greet us in this strange land. Airport Information called the emergency cell phone number on our trip info - and the phone answered :-)) The pickup person was in another terminal of the airport - there was a mix-up about which flight we were to be on and he had expected us several hours earlier :-| He came quickly and got us onto the hotel pickup bus. "He" was Yan, our tour guide for the next six days - we felt we were in good hands :-) And indeed we were :-))

Welcome to Japan - the land of small narrow roads and streets. The bus seemed much too large for the small winding road. We were not on any kind of main street - at least not a U.S. main street. We arrived at this very large modern airport hotel on this small two lane road - I thought we must be on a back road - but there was no back road to this hotel. "Fortunately" there were few automobiles or - I'm still shaking my head -

People discussed whether this was a four or five star hotel - to me it was *grand*.

I'm used to zero star economy hotels - a private shower if you are lucky ;-))

Two of the hotels we stayed at had impressive peaceful gardens - in crowded Japan. Here are a few of the photos I took at the Narita hotel:
(Left) Notice the overcast sky - and unclear air. It is hot and muggy, I'm sweating.

We didn't see the sun while in Japan.
(Right) Through the leaves you can see the "main" road past the hotel
- maybe one quiet car/bus every two minutes.

And oh yes - the buffet was indeed delicious. I started to gain the 8 pounds I acquired in the next 6 days :-|

Well - might just as well discuss this subject here - Japanese toilets.

Not so many years ago - so I am told - the Japanese used the two foot pad, open hole in floor kind used world wide before some Brit (named "Crapper") invented the "modern" flush kind. The Japanese leap-frogged the issue with this version, which combines the French "bidet" but I don't know about such things -
Betty reports that toilets in high class stores in the Ginza district even have a nice blow dry feature. Frankly - when I was a kid, the farm had a "two holer" with a slivery wooden board seat. I'm just getting used to the 1910 style indoor plumbing - don't rush me - I'm kinda slow about these things :-((
Ya know - put all the seats down and sit down on it - like to put on slippers, and the thing makes watery rumbling noises - the world is just outa control !! :-((

AND OH YES - We had a small earthquake about 11:30 P.M. local time - probably not enough to feel if you were walking, but definitely could feel if standing, siting, laying down. Later I found it was a magnitude 4.6 about 445 miles north, 100 miles SE of Sapporo of beer fame.

As an ex-amateur seismologist, I was trying to stay calm and identify the P and S waves. However, Betty was not calm - believing that the earth should remain a firm reference - and willing to let people know when it isn't. I also got confused by the tinkling noises going on - Betty later said that those were the metal clothes hangers banging each other in the closet.


Today we shall visit the capital of Japan, Tokyo, a city with an abundance of attractions. Our first stop is Asakusa Kannon Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo. A variety of traditional and distinctive souvenirs are available. We proceed to Ginza - a representative of the current modern Japanese culture, which have shopping malls and brand name boutiques all area the area. Then we visit the Imperial Palace, the official residence of the Japanese Imperial Family. In the afternoon we shall enjoy a panoramic view of Tokyo at the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office. Proceed to Meiji Shrine to commemorate the Meiji Emperor and Empress Showa. Drive to Shinjuku, the heart of Tokyo, renowned for the streams of neon lights. Shinjuku is also renowned for being a shopper's paradise and a food haven. Your tour guide will lead you to the shopping area. Please enjoy a traditional Japanese "Sabu Sabu" for dinner. We shall stay at the renowned Ikebukuro or Akasaka area tonight.
Hotel: Ikebukuro Metropolitan Crowne Plaza Hotel or similar

Narita (Tokyo's now major international airport) is over 60 km (about 40 miles) east of downtown Tokyo. As the map indicates, there is a major road to Tokyo - major being 2 very crowded lanes each way. We took almost 2 hours to go that 40 miles - slower the closer to Tokyo.
Narita is relatively rural - fields of green rice growing on every flat uninhabited spot. Our tour guide, Yan, (born in Taiwan, has been in Japan last 16 years) explained that the Japanese Department of Agriculture controls the marketing of all rice - and that none is exported. This raised some tourist eye-brows as there is rice in California stores that implies it is from Japan.

As we slowly drive into Tokyo the road gets higher and higher. Soon we appear to be at the ten story level of apartment houses.

Dear friends - Large structures are considered scenic, Europe has cathedrals, Asia has temples. You must see them - so I will give you your medicine now. Our tour guide stated that there are two major religions in Japan - Buddhist (Great Lord Buddha) & Shinto (Sun Worship) - and that there is some trick to telling which is which with out going in - but I forgot.
However, this is the Buddhist Asakusa Kannon Temple and associated shopping mall. Shopping malls in Japan seem to be narrow but spectacularly long - this is about the middle. Notice all the skinny people - any spare fat is on foreigners.
And this is along the long wide path to a major Shinto temple. As you can see - the water bottle is ever present - and getting dry. Betty and I are hot and tired - jet lag? - and abandoned the quest, retreating to the (slightly air-conditioned) ice cream store near the bus parking area.

And of course the castles and palaces - This is the Emperor's Palace converted in about 1860 from the palace/fort of the last (incompetent) Shogun which, when faced with a revolutionary army and irritated Emperor, just walked away. The Emperor moved from Osaka to here (Edo), renamed the city to Tokyo, and had new buildings made to replace the Shogun's buildings. The fortifications were apparently left basically untouched - as they had been in the 1600s.
Panning from left to right - the guards are at the 1st of two bridges, to a small fortified area

The second bridge leads from the fortified island to the palace grounds.
This is as close as visitors get to the private residence of the Emperor - The Emperor comes out to wave to gathered crowds on Japanese New Year - for 8 hours :-|

The "panoramic view of Tokyo at the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office" was a view of low clouds above and white ?smog? below. On a clear day, we were told you could see Mt Fuji (actually only 100 km, 60 miles, way - probably a real treat in the winter when capped with snow :-))

We went to the Ginza shopping district and lurked in the fanciest store (not pictured) for almost an hour. Note the lack of autos - the streets are not crowed! - The highways certainly, but most Japanese take the train/subway - with many street accesses.
Actually, for the price you do get something - there are attentive sales folks everywhere. None could speak English but it was very interesting. I wanted to take a picture of a very high style artistic piece that was obviously designed to hold stylish dresses. (Calling it a mere "clothes rack" would miss the point completely.) I made the mistake of asking permission to photograph it (sign language) and was quickly refused :-(( - I gotta remember to be pushy like the paparazzi photographers :-((

Then we went to a shopping district "for the rest of us" - and there was a really neat dollar (100 yen) store :-)) After fun shopping, we went into an entertainment district (near where the guide said gangsters hung out) and went to a non-obvious second floor restaurant and had a spectacular Japanese "Sabu Sabu" dinner. (All the goodies one chose to eat to dunk into pot of boiling water - another pound gained :-))

Off to another *great* hotel - but I was too tired to look for a garden.


In the morning we shall drive up to the world-famous, breathtaking Mt. Fuji's 5th Station (subject to weather conditions). Its beauty will take your breath away and leave you in awe of its splendor. Thereafter to Hakone, be mesmerized by its tranquility and scenic views. Proceed to visit Owakudani, a sulphurous erupting area with smoky hot rivers and hot springs. We shall embark on a serene and mesmerizing boat ride on Lake Ashi, which fills the crater of the extinct volcano Mt. Hakone. Tonight we are staying in a traditional tatami hot spring hotel, and enjoy a special Japanese style dinner.
Hotel: Izunagaoka Sakanaya Hot Spring Hotel or similar

We left Tokyo, bound for Mt. Fuji, WSW of Tokyo, on more crowded two lanes each way roads. Occasionally we in the bus could peer into 4th and 5th story apartments, but mostly stayed low - *lots* of road construction - the tour guide said that another underground train tunnel was going in - and the usual tunnel boring machines were not being used - soft soil? too many existing structures?, ??? We traveled slowly at first, then later at nominal highway speed.

Whizzing along the highway. We are driving on the left hand side :-)) That is more rice growing. Notice the electric power transmission lines, which are very prominent in Japan. Yan said that there is a lot of rain and electric power available from the central mountains. (I was trying to pry about nuclear power but didn't get far.)
The 5th Station on Mt. Fuji is at 8,000 feet - and the starting point for most hikers and there were plenty (say 150 when we were there). From this point they have a slog up a steep trail with an elevation gain of about 4,000 ft - to the summit at 12,387 feet (tallest mountain in Japan).
And 8,000 feet *is* cooler than sea-level - adiabatic cooling is about 3 degrees F./thousand feet :-)). Life is good.
Here! Try some :-)) Enjoy :-))
The low clouds played about the summit - teasing us photographers - and then for about 3 minutes we got a fairly clear shot of the non-snowy peak.

Japan is of course very volcanic and mountainous - guide books say that about 3/4 of Japan is unsuited for agriculture because of the terrain. Apparently the Pacific Plate is sliding down under Japan yielding the many earthquakes and volcanoes. We next visited the lake in the caldera (collapsed crater) of an ancient volcano, and hot springs on the side of the caldera.
We took a quick spin on this vessel. This lake is in the caldera, like Crater Lake in the USA
Just have to have a little fun :-))
Does this remind you a bit of Yellowstone in the USA? Well, it is turning out that Yellowstone is a *mammoth* caldera.
The guide said that we should go up to a little shack where they boil eggs in the hot sulfury water - smells like hydrogen sulfide ;-)) The eggs turn black, and are supposed to add 3 years to your life if you eat them. The guide says he expects to live to over 200 years old.
And a close-up. The next day these eggs started losing their black color. Other tourists who kept their eggs in plastic wrappings did not have this color loss. We think the H2S was out-gassing from our eggs, reversing the coloring.

OK - For me, the *big deal* - we stayed the night in a traditional Japanese hotel by a hot spring - which supplied mattresses as a special concession to western guests. Remember the heat? Only the guest rooms had air conditioning! There were no elevators, and we were on the third floor. To prepare for this, our tour guide had recommended the previous day that we pack a bag for this night so we wouldn't have to tote our main luggage up the stairs :-| - Good Idea!
OK Folks - Here it is. Entering the steel faced door, you enter the changing room to put on the supplied slippers. The titami mats in the main room will be damaged and dirtied by our outside shoes. There are separate green rubber slippers for use in the toilet room, but since the toilet is modern, not the hole in floor to squat over, the rubber slippers are probably unnecessary. The main room is air-conditioned. The wash room is unfriendly and the stone tub was frightening to me. The balcony was hot, but does overlook a garden area.
Stepping through the sliding paper door from the slipper room, we see the specially supplied mattresses for the western guests. Frankly, titami mats are not all that yielding, but we were not used to getting down on the floor to sleep either. And clambering up from the floor in the morning!
Looking back at the "front" sliding paper door, we see the chair with no legs, the low table, and the attractive ceiling. The hotel was near a hot spring, and had two large hot tubs, as a modern concession, one for the ladies and one for the men - both nude. To be fair? the signs were switched every 8 hours so each sex could experience each tub on alternate days. I imagine hot tubbing would be more appreciated in cool or cold weather.
Tradition - just like the song from "Fiddler on the Roof" :-))
We go down to the un-air-conditioned dining room - and sit on French style chairs - thankfully.
We didn't notice at first, but our cooking pot is paper! In this shot, the candle has gone out and the pot is empty of goodies, but it had been boiling and filled with seafood! There were over twenty pots like this and there had been no accidents. One "pot" showed a little browning where a piece of meat had laid flat on the paper - preventing proper fluid circulation. Most of us drank the soup stock - great stuff -
It is morning, we are leaving. This is the view from the front of the traditional hotel. On the other side of the bus, the manager and desk clerk were bowing goodbye to us.


We are going to have a tour to Shizuoka, one of Japan's top three green tea plantations. Marvel at the lushness of the green tea tapestry. Be sure to enjoy a cup of ceremony-prepared green tea. This is a wonderful experience. We then take a short but significant Bullet Train ride from Yokomatsu Station to Toyobashi, then proceed to Gamagori by bus. Enjoy a relax and traditional tatami-styled hot spring hotel.
Hotel: Quality Inn Gamagori or similar
On the way to the tea farm, our guide Yan instructed us on the formalities of the tea ceremony. Because the powdered tea used is often regarded as acidic/bitter, a sweet is offered before the tea. Then there is the ritual of the tea bowl itself. The offerer gives it two small rotations with his/her right hand while offering the tea, and the receiver gives two more small rotations with his/her right hand before drinking the tea. Of course we will be in slippers than street shoes.

Here a little sweet green ball is presented, with a mutual bow of course, to each participant.
And in a few moments, with another mutual bow, the tea is presented. Remember the rotations. I thought the tea rather rich, and not at all bitter - quite tasty :-))

We then went to the train station for a ride on the bullet train. While waiting for Yan to purchase our 40 tickets we noticed occasional sudden bursts of rumbling sounds. There was no build up to the sound - no preliminary sound. Just a sudden 5 second pulse of very firm rumble - then just as suddenly silence. The rumbling wasn't loud enough to make talking difficulty - but very was definitely there.

Ah - now we each have our ticket and out onto the train platform. Suddenly the rumble is here again - a flash of blue/white train streaking by - and the rumble and train are just as suddenly gone. I am fascinated that there seems no warning, no build up of sound - just this 5 seconds of whizzing rumble - then nothing.

Well - lets see - 60 miles/hour is 88 feet/second, assuming 180 miles/hour that is about 270 feet or 90 yards per second. That is considerably faster than a 747 landing or take off speed. I wait - looking down the track - a slight curve and electric support poles obstructs the distance - I see a head light coming - in less than a second the pulse of whiz/rumble is in front of me - and 5 seconds later it suddenly stops - just like that - and the train is gone - puff -

Lets try to take a movie - 'cause a still shot seems impractical. AH - here is a little station bell and train light. Camera on making movie -
OH - the train is much too slow - it is stopping here!. Ratz!
OH - this is OUR TRAIN!

To make my long story short, I did not get a still or movie of a speeding bullet train from the outside.
I do have one movie from the inside a bullet train - 21 megabytes of nice movie, with people talking in normal tones - much less noise than a jet airliner - and no noticeable jiggle - much *much* less sway and juggle than the slow AMTRAK train from Los Angeles to San Jose in the U.S. (Betty gets ill on U.S. trains - no problem on the bullet train.)
[It is non-trivial in time/money/resources to adapt a rail line to high speed use. For many years, the Americans have been trying to solve the rail/road-bed problem with fancy "smart" train suspensions, (especially in the N.E. corridor) but have trouble even keeping the wheels near the rails at speed. And the uneven American rails take a real beating! :-(( ]

Back on the bus, Yan advises that we will not be spending the night at another traditional Japanese hotel - something about a conflict with an EXPO2005 group or something. Everyone seems relieved/pleased to hear we will sleep in normal western style beds again :-))


For the whole day today we shall visit the highly-anticipated Aichi Expo 2005, based on the theme "Love" and "Nature's Wisdom". Join the official mascots Kiccoro and Morizo in sharing this golden opportunity for cultural interaction, learning about the world's vast collection of wisdom and methods of interaction with nature. This is a global event with participation from numerous countries and 131 exhibition halls will be opened for your enjoyment. Late afternoon we proceed to Kyoto - the old capital noted for its preservation of ancient cultural heritage and scenic natural beauty for over a thousand years.
Hotel : Kyoto Holiday Inn or similar

Grumble, grumble, grumble - comments that although the Japanese seem ahead of us (U.S.) in some ways, even the first class hotels do not have Internet connections in the rooms, and here instead of having to spend 1000 yen ($10) for 10 minutes at the business Internet room - we had to leave the hotel, and go around the corner to an Internet cafe. Grumble, grumble -

Anyway, off to Aichi Expo 2005 - :-)) We vote to stay as long as possible, to leave at 9:00 P.M. rather than the scheduled 3:00 P.M. even though that means a box diner on the bus and arrival at the hotel after midnight.

We park in the West Entrance area - since there is no sun, I am totally disoriented and bring out the GPS. It is hot and humid - we had been warned that we could not bring bottled water into the EXPO. We grumble a bit more and walk a lot from the furthest bus lot up into the EXPO grounds.

Here is the Japanese Pavilion - and a long line. We join at the 90 minute sign - 90 minutes wait to get in. Yan gets some wheel chairs for us. Yeah - sitting is more fun than shuffling. After a long time we get from the temporary sun shade area to the permanent sun shade area, which has 2 foot diameter rotating fans distributed in the upper parts. Damn it is hot - and not even sunny - we break out of the line to buy more bottles of water.

An enthusiastic Japanese with some English helps push the wheel chair up the ramp - he explains that last year he spent 4 months touring the U.S. on a motorcycle. I imagine that he was doing it in competition events, but no - just touring for fun :-)) He had seen Mt. Rushmore, New Jersey, and other interesting points :-))

We get into the pavilion - I hate to say this - but I'm not a pavilion fan - they all seem the same - nothing to challenge a 4th grader - just some pleasant pap about the "environment". :-((

We head for another pavilion that promises to take pictures of us the visitors and make our faces into movie actors. After about 30 minutes in the line, Yan gets us wheel chair folks into a place that has cooling fans. Betty sits in the wheel chair and I wander about - and notice a bank of 36 PCs that seem busy - maybe doing video processing?

We wait and talk and wait for maybe an hour in cool bliss when suddenly some Japanese wants us to rejoin the line. OK - so this pleasant racket comes to an end. I totally abandon the wheel chair.
We eventually get into this pavilion, are split into groups of 20, and our faces photographed with some sort of 3D equipment. After a short time we see us introduced as movie stars in space suits - our faces are somewhat stylized but mostly recognizable - fortunately I have a mustache and can find myself - we never recognize Betty. There is some kind of space shoot-em-up-and-save-the-federation and it is over. OK -

Yan comes up excitedly and says that there is only a three hour wait to see some robot band play music. We sit in a very long line when I decide that I want to see the rest of EXPO. So we leave the line and arrange a meeting place. Lines everywhere, Canadian pavilion, U.S. pavilion, ... even the Saudi Arabian pavilion. So we go to the Argentinean pavilion, Mongolian pavilion, combined Peru/Ecuador/Venezuela pavilion, ... meet an outgoing/pushy? Japanese father from the local town, eager to impress his two kids with his ability to communicate in English (his kids a lot less impressed than we are) - many fun adventures and snacks ;-)) - a lot more fun than sitting in a three hour line to see robots - I think - .

We mostly meet at the agreed Western Entrance at 9:00 P.M. - except a couple of teens who seem to have gone off to do their own thing - by 9:45 the laggards are finally rounded up, their mother apologizes, and we leave, for box lunch on the bus. We have seen about 12 hours of EXPO2005 - hot and tired and satisfied -

Day 6 - KYOTO - NARA - OSAKA (B/L)

Today's tour in Kyoto includes Higashi Honganji Temple and Kiyomizu Temple, both of significant cultural interest. Later we shall proceed to Todaiji Temple, the world's largest wooden-built temple and Deer Park where numerous deer roam freely. Late afternoon visit Osaka, enjoy a memorable photo-taking session outside Osaka Castle. Shop at Shinsaibashi, the longest shopping street with an abundance of choices, enjoy a fantastic shopping experience.
Hotel: Kansai Nikko or similar (For passengers who depart from "ITM" will stay at Hotel Crevette or similar)

Would you believe we have seen enough temples?
You paid for - and are going to get the whole treatment !! :-(( ;-))
This red structure is the introduction to the entry structure on the sky-line. The main temple is hidden behind all the above. Remember, this "flat area" is high in a very hilly town.
OK - then here is the supporting structure of the temple area in this hilly town. There is a major temple area up there - several large structures that appear to be on level ground - but going down this stone stairway you get a totally different perspective.
Those are *major* hardwood timbers - I bet not from Japan. - Just from where from and how they were transported to this location, and placed and braced, boggles my poor little mind !!
Back on flat land again - Deer running free in town near a Buddhist temple - look, grass all eaten - I have no idea what town anymore -
This is said to be the largest wooden building in the world - The Buddha in there is so large that agile people can crawl through a hole the size of its nostril. (The Buddha is so large that I missed it completely in the dark when looking up at the colorful alter.) Lost in the size of the picture are the lightning rods and 8 conductors coming down from the corners and sides of the roof. (Yes - lightning hit it and it burned to the ground many years ago.

OK - remember the miniseries "Shogun" of many years ago - No? - well rent it - I did as homework for this trip.

And Osaka castle was at one time the capitol of Japan, not the modern Tokyo. And in fact, in the civil wars of the 1600s, this great fortification fell to outside forces!! What times !! What battles !!

The plan

Offender's side

Defender's side

Castle, Shogun & Consort
The documentation said that 2,000 men died building this fort/castle. Wonder how many died in military action trying to defend/take it?
Dear Friends - Our tour guide recommended this noodle house (wish I could remember name or where). So while others finished shopping the last evening, we dined - OH did we ever! This must have added the final pound - and worth every inch - I even drank the bowl/tub and "helped" Betty. If there is a proper heaven, this food has gotta be in it. The tour guide said they use tuna fish stock. Words fail. $15 each (1500 yen) and the waitress spoke good English - violating Japanese custom, I gave her a good English tip :-))

Day 7 - OSAKA - U.S.A. (B)

Your pleasant and memorable Super Deluxe Japan Tour ends today. Fly home with cherished memories.

Many people head off for other tours in China, Philippines, Taiwan - Betty and I head back to cool California :-)) Thank God -literally! - for air-conditioners and air-conditioned buses! We met many fun people and had a great time.
A bus load of fun folks - We even had a pair of local attorneys with son and granddad ;-))

Best Regards

Ed Thelen ed@ed-thelen.org :-))