Dispatches from the back of the sock drawer of life

Category: Japan 2019 Page 1 of 3

Posts on my trips to Japan in 2019

Osaka Pt. 2: Billiken

January 11th 2019:


Onsen to start the day, then checked out and dropped my gear in a locker at Nara station. Took a very long walk out into Nara park, my they do have a lot of deer here. Strolled back down through the temple complex, and to LBK one mo’ time for a light lunch, gyoza and edamame just the ticket.


Express train to Shin-imamiya station then changed to a local tram service – very cute old tram, sadly probably won’t get to ride more of this one this trip. Realised that I was very close to Tsutenkaku tower, another one of the one on the Towers association list – so of course had to tick that one off!


It was located in another shopping and eating district called Shinsekai, a little like Dotonburi. The tower is a famous landmark round here (large illuminated ‘Hitachi’ sign down the sides), so was much busier than Beppu. Great views from the outdoor observation deck at the very top. There was a shrine and a whole load of items related to Billiken, the good luck god – or as his many statues state on their base, “The-God-Of-Things-As-They-Ought-To-Be”. Apparently you tickle his feet to make him smile and bring you good luck.

Turns out the area I’m staying is known as Den Den Town – bit like Akihabara, lots of electronics and DVD/games store. Seemed to be a much higher percentage of ‘adult’ stuff advertised though…

Yet another long walk – was heading to a little brewpub called ‘Beer Belly’ to try a few locally brewed beers.

Minoh Beer: Makiochi Bright, seasonal. Very fresh, Kolsch style
Minoh Beer: Cabernet Ale. Belgian fruit ale in style, nicely balanced, cherry notes
Beer Belly: Winter Ale. Heavily spiced, so much clove! First taste too much, after that better. Chef/brewer thought he’d overdone it compared to last year!

The Umeda Sky Building observatory really does look like a UFO.

Metro back down to Namba, decided I’d try and find one of the izakayas – Uranamba Torameyokocho – that we’d visited with Yaeko.

After wandering around aimlessly trying to figure out where it was, I’d obviously wandered into ‘that’ part of the neighbourhood, as I was offered massage service several times in the space of 5 minutes. Finally got there, and decided to settle at the counter doing kushikatsu.

Started off with deep fried Avocado wrapped with bacon – OMG. Then followed with:

Quail eggs
Fry all the things!

No pickles though.

Dark Side of the Moo

Did I mention I love this place?

On the move again – Nara!

January 9th 2019:

Farewell cheese toast…

One more February Café cheese toast.

Shinkansen from Shin-Imamiya to Kyoto, magnificent views of Fuji finally as we passed Fuji City – I call this series “8 Views of Fujisan from Shinkansen”. Then express on to Nara, very pleasant weather and views.


Checked into the same hot spa hotel as last trip, very nice – and got an even better deal than last time. Guessing this week demand drops a lot compared to the New Year holidays just gone. Laundry into the machine then hopped in the hot spa for a soak – could get used to this…

Wandered out through the streets of the old town Naramachi, looking for the tiny brewpub I visited last year. Came across a ‘Brighton Tea Room’, and ‘Jump The Gun’ which had lots of mods and rockers inspired fashions – quirky!

Nara Beer

Nara Beer was still there, beer range expanded, had great chats with one of the two barmaids who was happy to practice her English (which was very good). She was studying at Nara University, and graduating and starting a job in April – similar to Yaeko, seems to be the timing here. She’d been travelling over the last few years and had holidayed in France, but was keen to come to England someday.

January 10th 2019:

Welcome rest

Nice lie in, and Starbucks for brekkie. Set out to hike the same forest trail again, much colder than the last time I was here. Hike up the river gorge just as spectacular in winter, no snow here just chilly. Was happy to see the Kubikirijizou rest stop – this marks the end of the steepest part of the climb. Had a nice new shelter since last time, with a guest book hanging up – jotted a hello from England. Lots more pics of deer as I walked down through the complex of temples.


Stopped into LBK for a sit down and swifty (just to check they’d be open for dinner later of course!) – was great to see that they’d expanded their range of local beers from the Nara Brewing Company. Then back to the hotel to soothe my legs in the onsen. Back out in time to catch sake tasting again at Harushika in Naramachi, second of the four collectable glasses (they do one for each season, different colours).

Architecture of the old town is wonderful. If it weren’t for the lamp posts and suspended power lines, I could be back in time hundreds of years.

Funky little bar called LIGHT – interior all looks like moulded concrete but is actually screed over wood, and when you look into the rafters you see that it is still a very traditional old Japanese building. The shopping trolley tables and plastics stools were pretty funky as well.

LBK for dinner. Sadly no Wagyu beef on the menu, but the 24 hour slow cooked ribs were a treat.

Streets of Tokyo

January 8th 2019:

Good reading at the cafe

In the morning, went to find some of the places related to Katsushika Hokusai’s life, having had the fun of printing one of his most iconic works the other day. It turned out that Hokusai’s grave was in a neighbourhood very close to my hotel, so after a February Café cheese toast I wandered over – took a little tracking down, as GPS can’t say which side street you should use to access the site from!

It was nice to walk the little backstreets of Asakusa for a change – too often travelling between the landmark spots relies on either metro or the wide main streets. Hokusai’s grave is in a small temple courtyard, very simple. The weather had been so unseasonably warm of late, the tree at the gateway was actually bearing blossom already. As I walked on, happened upon the Pelican bakery that provided the café with its awesome bread.

Next stop was the Hokusai museum in the Sumida neighbourhood where the artist lived all his life. He was so dedicated to his art and spent so much time on it, he would no concern himself with trivial things like house cleaning. It’s said that when the house became too dirty, he would just move – and that he had lived in around 90 different places in his 90 year life. I like him even more now.

Walked there along the banks of the Sumidagawa, some nice reproductions showing how it would have looked in Edo times. The museum was very impressive – the general exhibition showed just how prolific he had been as an artist, including whole books of sketches about how to draw – some read like guides to modern cartooning, and indeed Hokusai is viewed as the creator of manga which ultimately became the Western cartoon tradition.

A while ago, I had found an interesting story in the Japan Times, about an architect and academic that led walking tours of Tokyo’s forgotten landscapes. As Tokyo evolved from the Edo era town into the massive metropolis we see today, parts of its topography have been preserved, with steeply sloping streets showing where rivers once ran:

“Yet a closer look at the topography of the yamanote turns up a more complicated picture: The yamanote itself is perforated by rivers that run toward the bay and rivulets that end in swamps and pools. The result is an undulating unevenness, a series of hills and valleys. It’s a topography that sets Tokyo apart from other Japanese cities, and most cities in general.”

So I decided to follow one of the routes mentioned in the article.

Steep streets

Steep street down from Shinanomachi station led into a quiet little neighbourhood. The river was still there – just buried, you could occasionally hear rushing water as you passed manhole covers. Long winding route before finally a steep ascent back onto one of Tokyo’s main streets.



Decided I couldn’t leave Tokyo without a visit to Akihabara. Came in via a Metro station I wasn’t familiar with, and on the walk over to Hitachino Nest Brewing Lab happened across something I’d read and seen video about – the creepy vending machine corner!

A street corner, with a whole cluster of the ubiquitous vending machines seen all over Japan. But actually inside the dingy corner building as well as outside. At first they seemed ordinary enough, with the usual drinks. Then a row of toy trains on the top shelf of one…. Large plastic beetles in cans… the cans of food (soup and oden)… and finally the boxes. Many, many boxes, each with what appears to be a short story on the outside, and no indication of the contents. One YouTuber dared to try one out, and found that it just contained a box of vegan crackers. Weird? You betcha!

Some excitement on the next street, as the driver of a lorry carrying a shipping container realised in time that he was about to drive under a railway bridge which would be too low for his load… cue lots of police and traffic cops running around excitedly.

Hitachino beers awesome as ever.

Last orders at Campion Ale. Got chatting to a couple of guys, Alex from England, George from Romania, both studying Japanese at a language school. Alex’s girlfriend has been working in Tokyo for a while, so he’s decided to move here as well, 6 months in. George just wanted a complete change of scenery after working in Israel, looking to work in the same design related field once he has enough Japanese under his belt. Like the couple I met in Aso, this is more food for thought. Need to hit those Japanese textbooks once I’m home and start seeing what the possibilities are.

Walked about 14km today. Legs a little tired to say the least…

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