Dispatches from the back of the sock drawer of life

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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.


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.


Geek #1: Sakura in Tokyo

Friday 31st


Naha Airport has wonderful displays of tropical orchids dotted throughout, a nice reminder of the place you are arriving into – or leaving.

2hr 30mins flight back to Haneda Airport in Tokyo, where I was very excited to purchase a Suica card – personalised with my name! These ‘IC’ cards (SuICa, ICoca, Pasmo and others) are similar to London’s Oyster transport cards, but also allow you to make contactless payments in combinis, vending machines etc.

My home for the last few nights of the trip was the Hotel Kaminarimon in Asakusa, sadly closed for renovation until 2019. Simple hotel with traditional rooms, right next to the gateway to the shrine.  Quick trip to Shinjuku for dinner, then an early night.

Saturday 1st

Breakfast at Cafe Danke in Asakusa, tiny cafe with just 4 stools at the counter. Their speciality – Butter Blend Coffee, the beans are roasted, then steeped in melted butter before grinding and brewing. Very smooth flavour but still strong. Interesting technique! Paired with a very tasty cheese on toast.

Walked through Kappabashi to pick up a sharpening stone for my knives, then on to Ueno Park. Spent a few hours in the Tokyo National Museum, impressive collections of artwork across many centuries.

Then on to Ueno-koen (Ueno Park). I’ve visited several peaceful spots so far to view cherry blossom (sakura) – this wasn’t one of them, but it was fun! Loads of sakura viewing parties (hanami), and plenty of food and drink stalls. As you can see from the photos, much drinking to be done.

Walked on to Yanaka district, an area that escaped most of the devastation caused by the Great earthquake of 1923 and the Second World War. Many fine old buildings and temples. Strolled around Yanaka-reien cemetery, visited the resting place of Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last of the shogun – fitting, as we had visited the shrine of the first shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu in  2 years ago.

Rounded off the evening in Campion Ale, a great little brew pub run by English owners. Selection of beers all brewers in house, plus a proper handpump on the bar!


Sunday 2nd

Set out after a lie in and packing. Headed over to Shinjuku to try and find a Nintendo Switch for James – alas Tokyo appears to be a Switch free zone. However there were a group of real life Mario karters riding the road…

In search of another craft beer place (sadly closed at this time on a Sunday), I came across a magnificent bronze statue of a noble beast, the Tanuki Yokai. Notable for his large… package, these tricksters are legendary in Japanese folklore.

Train back past Asakusa to the Tokyo Skytree – however as it was Sunday, and school hols, queuing would have taken a very long time. So walked back to the Sumidagawa (Sumida river) to discover many more Sakura revellers lining the banks.

There were also what I only describe as floating karaoke party boats – touring up and down to look at the trees and blossom, while belting out distinctly Japanese songs.

Then on to the Sakura-bashi (Sakura bridge) where I found a local Taiko group entertaining the crowd – very talented, including the young new recruits.

And so back to the monorail and Haneda Airport for a very late flight home. Until next time…

Return Of The Geeks – Goldfish, a Palace, and Beer!

Tuesday 23rd

Hello goldfish!

Hello goldfish!

We spent the morning exploring Yamatokoriyama. Goldfish motifs were to be found everywhere – the area has fish farms spanning an area of some 100 hectares,  and they produce 80 million goldfish and 2 million Nishiki-goi carp each year, the largest yield of such fish in the country. During the Oshiro-matsuri Festival (Castle Festival) held in April every year, competitive exhibitions of fish are held among the cherry blossoms in full bloom. Also, every August, a goldfish catching championship, in which the best goldfish catcher in Japan is decided, and a goldfish examination take place.

The town was also once known for the production of indigo dyed fabrics, and deep troughs run down the centre of many side streets – these would have been filled with running water, and used to rinse the fabrics after dyeing.

As we headed back to the station, two men walked past us looking a little like the

Air conditioned jacket...

Air conditioned jacket…

Michelin man (photo rather blurry as I was trying not to be noticed…). I noticed a whirring noise as they walked past – and then realised that their jackets had a fan mounted on either side of their waist, and were blowing air through to keep them cool!

We then took a stroll around the grounds of Koriyama Castle – the castle was destroyed in the Meiji Period (1868-1912) but several outbuildings remain.

Cell block Q

Cell block Q

Local train to Kyoto then shinkansen to Tokyo, and found our hotel – the wonderfully named Hotel Villa Fontaine Tokyo-Ueno Okachimachi. Reasonable room for Tokyo, however the middle section of the hotel did look a little… prison-like!


Headed to the Asahi Beer Hall and Tower while James went climbing, then met later – he was very pleased with his Pikachu phone wallet! Amazing views from the tower.

Wednesday 24th

Morning service

Morning service

Found a cool little café for breakfast near the hotel. Bread began to be part of the Japanese diet after the second world war, and forms the heart of what is known as ‘Morning service’. Thick sliced white bread, home made strawberry jam, coffee, and a small cup of a chicken soup stock – heaven!

Dinner time!

Dinner time!

We took a long walk through the eastern gardens of the Imperial palace – most of the year this is the only part of the palace grounds open to the public. There was something of a feeding frenzy going on by the Koi carp in the moat…



imag00412While looking for lunch we came across an “intriguing” menu item amongst the station restaurants. Ahem.


Gilded Kappa

Gilded Kappa

Later, James headed off to climb, and I made my first visit to Kappabashi – also known as ‘Kitchen Town’. The street’s name is believed to come from either the kappa (raincoats) of nearby residents which were hung out to dry on the bridge, or from a merchant named Kihachi Kappaya who funded the project to build Shinhorikawa River for water management. However, due to the homophone with the popular mythical creature, Kappa, the shops along the street have officially adopted the kappa as their mascot. Images of kappa appear frequently in the area, from merchandise to displays, even web sites about the district.

This street has everything you would need if you wanted to open a Japanese or Chinese restaurant – utensils, knives, uniforms, décor, even the ticket machines used at many Japanese restaurants. And the ‘model food’ that many use to show off their dishes is just incredible – the two examples below being utterly bonkers!






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