Peter P Kavanagh

Dispatches from the back of the sock drawer of life

Enoshima: Rush hour and bird bandit.

January 7th 2019:

(C)rush hour

So, today was time to head to the coast and see if I could get some Mt Fuji viewing in. Headed out early to face the joy of rush hour in Tokyo – had to let 3 trains go by before getting on one, though the locals happily cram themselves in until the doors could only just close.

View from the air

Changed trains at Shinagawa, for the service down towards Kanagawa. Was the train late? Nope, still showed as the 9:11 even though it left at 9:17. Changed onto the Shonan monorail at Ōfuna Station, second time riding this one. Suspended monorails are good fun – gliding along above the level of the traffic, with great views off to the mountains to the west. Arrived at Enoshima station, strolled down and across the bridge to the island itself. Had to chuckle at the signs telling you to beware of hawks (a particularly nice specimen pictured on top of a street lamp), turns out I was laughing too soon…

Ice cream spotted

Wasn’t in the mood to climb all the steps up to the top of the island, luckily for a modest fee you can ride a set of escalators past the shrines that take you most of the way there. Along these were sets of adverts, and one kept catching my eye – the current seasonal ice cream flavours, one umeboshi (pickled salted plums) and the other apple + camembert cheese. Decided this would be a good idea after some Fuji watching.

Sadly – no Fuji today, clear skies locally but over towards the mountains the clouds thickened in just the right (or wrong) spot to hide the key player. After surveying the beautiful views for a bit, decided ice cream was in order. At the counter, they helpfully pointed out another of the warning signs, this time mentioning kites instead of hawks, and cautioning that they were ‘looking to steal your food!’. Wasn’t going to be outwitted by a birdbrain, no sirree.

The apple + camembert was really nice, good combination of sweet fruit and creamy cheese (not an overpowering blue cheese flavour). Parked myself by a railing right next to a palm tree, figured the birds wouldn’t risk flying that close. Had finished most of the ice cream above the top edge of the cone, when I heard a whooshing noise and a powerful downdraft of air hit my head – and the whole top section of the cone disappeared, carried away in the beak of a big bugger, must have been a metre wingspan easy.

Looking around, he must have made a pinpoint bombing raid, dropping low between palm trees behind me – most impressive. Had to admire my winged bandit.

Walked back down the stairs past the shrines to the shopping street at the bottom. Having been done out of part of my ice cream, decided to try a local speciality – octopus senbei (crackers). Octopus was dredged in cornflour and a light corn batter, then placed on a two sided hot press that had a mechanism to clamp it down really tight. Over the cooking time the chef would crank this tighter and tighter, until you could hear a squealing noise as the water in the octopus was instantly turned to steam. End result a light cracker a couple of millimetres thick, crunchy and absolutely delicious.

Print with woodblock

Rode the Enoden (Enoshima electric railway) up line 4 stops to Fujisawa then all the way back to Kamakura. Main line train back up to Asakusa. Chilled out at the hotel for a bit, then went to Mokuhankan and spent far too much money on prints.

Decided I’d have an evening cruise so rode ferry Hotaluna (the sister ship of the Himiko we rode on our first trip here) down to Hinode pier, then local Metro to Odaiba. Primary reason was to visit Toys’r’Us, to track down a limited edition Lego set only released in Asian countries (Japan, China etc) to celebrate New Year.

Learned that they have a Statue of Liberty there…

Metro onwards to Shinjuku to my favourite dinner spot there, salted salmon set for dinner.

Tokyo: Towers and Art

January 6th 2019:

Tasty!

Found a little café near the hotel (February Café) – cinnamon honey toast to start the day. The archetype of bread used for ‘morning service’ – thick sliced, pillowy, snow white. Apparently from a little bakery called Pelican, an Asakusa landmark for 75 years, their bread is in high demand each day. Toast it, then add cinnamon, a layer of sweet whipped cream and some rock sugar – wow.

It me!

Hopped the Metro over to Daimon station, and walked via the grounds of Zojoji temple to Tokyo Tower. An impressive landmark, the tallest in Tokyo until the Skytree took the top spot – and built in only 18 months. Great views, and a ‘hidden room’ experience as you head to the ‘top deck’ viewing platform – a mock up of the library room shared by the instigator and the architect of the tower, where you learn a little about the history of the building in between changing elevators. Another one ticked off that towers list!

Could have walked up the 600 odd stairs to the main deck level – but thought better of it, and walked down instead. Great way of seeing the interior of the tower structure.

The shop

Back to the hotel for a bit, then walked into Asakusa for my afternoon experience. David Bull is a carver of woodblocks used to make ukiyo-e, traditional Japanese woodblock prints. He’s been in Japan since the ’80s, I’ve seen him present a few of the Journeys in Japan programs on NHK World, and on the flight over I happened to see a documentary about a video gamed themed series of prints that he produced along with an American illustrator, Jed Henry. Ukiyoe Heroes was a very successful Kickstarter project back in 2012, and I decided I needed a few of these prints in my life.

So when I saw you could visit his shop Mokuhankan for a print party – signed right up!

A small group of 5 of us worked through the process of printing our own small version of Hokusai’s ‘Under the Wave off Kanagawa’, a print many people will recognise. David and his assistant Kawai guided us through the steps of inking each block, aligning the paper, and using a ‘baren’ to rub the washi paper against the block. David is a force of nature – extremely animated and enthusiastic about what has been his life’s work, great fun session. And the print turned out OK as well!

Stopped off in a little sake shop for a quick taster on the way back, then snapped a couple of shots of the local landmarks.

Taketomi, then points North East

January 4th 2019:

The Tower

Rough night – very hot even with just a sheet over me. Kept it pulled up tight – every now and then something let out a loud ‘squeak!’ in the room, I have no idea what it was. Lots of wind and rain overnight.

Walked the village in the morning, it was really something – low coral walls, and traditional Ryukyu single storey architecture has been carefully preserved to show how life was always lived here, and to bring in decent tourist income. From the arrival of the first ferry, to the leaving of the last, the lanes are trafficked by cyclists and also by water buffalo drawn passenger carts. The local guide tells of the history place, and entertains the passengers with shamisen playing and traditional folk songs. The buffalo need almost no instruction by the driver – they could walk their route in their sleep, and indeed some appeared to be doing so.

Since the tower was in a bad state of repair it couldn’t be climbed, but for 100 yen a nearby café allowed you to climb to their observation terrace – a fine view of the island. Some excellent examples of shisa guardians on the rooftops.

That’s not right…

Decided it was time to change plans. Headed back to Ishigaki. Cancelled the Iriomote stay and car – though the sun had come out today, some rough days were forecast. Plus my forearm looked like one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s – didn’t really want to risk more bites.

Memorial

Afternoon bus tour of Ishigaki, stopping off at some sightseeing spots. First stop was an amazingly decorated memorial (and actually a grave) of some Chinese people who died here in 1852. The Toujin Grave and Kannondo Temple commemorates Chinese labourers (in reality, little more than slaves) who rebelled and attempted to escape on Ishigaki, many were shot.

Didn’t realise that it included a glass bottomed boat ride off the most popular spots, Kabira bay, where we even saw giant clams and sea turtles on the reef. Some lovely views of the island as we travelled around. Then Blue Cabin again, and plan for flight to Tokyo tomorrow.

After getting off the bus, found a little izakaya with good local beef gyoza, and Elton John’s greatest hits – love this country.

January 5th 2019:

Checked out of Blue Cabin, and went next door to Blue Café for breakfast. Didn’t really have anything planned so decided to head to the airport early – couple of hours to kill there so caught up on writing this nonsense. Vanilla Air flight to Tokyo Narita.

Got a special discount ticket on the plane – Keisei Skyliner Express to Keisei Ueno, plus 3 days of Tokyo subway, 3200 yen. Bargain. Was staying at the APA Hotel Asakusa Ekimae, so plumbed that into Google Maps and away I went. I thought it odd that the hotel was right next to Tawarimachi station not Asakusa Station (station = ekimae), but was only 1 stop along so close.

That’s when the evening got weird. First thing was the hotel’s ‘self service’ check in desks – a huge Wacom touchscreen display which as I recalled didn’t work too well last year. It hasn’t improved, every terminal had a staff member helping guests. So they couldn’t find my reservation so I showed the guy my Expedia confirmation. He gets all apologetic, and gives me a printed map – showing that I was at the wrong APA Hotel, the APA Hotel Asakusa Tawaramachi-Ekimae. Pretty similar huh? And any search for APA Hotel Asakusa Ekimae only came up with this one. Turns out the one I’m in (close to the actual Asakusa station), doesn’t exist on Google Maps – even though it’s been open 3 months now.

AHA – further searching shows the problem. When entering the name of the hotel, Google Maps presents its usual list of results. Default one it jumps to is the Tawaramatchi one. The actual one I needed was fourth one down – yes, there are actually 4 hotels called APA Hotel Asakusa <something>. Nightmare.

So one stop on the Metro and a 5 minute walk later, I’m at the correct hotel – and they still can’t find my reservation at first. Their first try was to scan my passport – no match. Then put in Peter Kavanagh in the name search – no luck. Gave him my Expedia confirmation number – still no luck! Guy had to go and check another system, then come back to carefully enter Peter P Kavanagh – which finally worked. Turns out it needed an exact match to my name on Expedia – no partial matches would work. Who designed this thing???

Beer? Nearly…

By now it’s nearly 9pm and I’m thirsty. Asahi Sky Bar at their HQ was 5 mins away so head there – it’s bloody shut early! Last chance – head to Campion ale. Success! Golden ale just the ticket. Then early night before an early start for Tokyo Tower tomorrow.

 

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