Fukuoka. And you.

Fukuoka. And you.
Fukuoka, Japan

Fukuoka, Japan

I was booked on a bus at 10.30, so had time to pack up before wandering to the bus station, a couple of kilometres away. I’ve been in Japan nearly four weeks, and seen different people everywhere, but yesterday I was talking to a Canadian in the hostel, looked up and saw a familiar face and only realised he was familiar from weeks ago rather than hours when he said “weren’t you atch, er Tokyo for shore?” I may have added the last for effect – Dutch, rather than Sean Connery. He even had a photo of me from the hostel we’d stayed in-us both lounging, though really I was dropping out of the conversation playing with potential flights and destinations.

Five minutes later in walked another familiar face, attached to a thankfully unfamiliar body though I’m sure he knows it well. Chilean Paulo in the hostel, too.

Japanese temple with a courtyard
Temple.

The bus trip was uneventful, only one services stop on the four hour JR ride. We arrived at Fukuoka – or Hakata, as it is still known (the train station is called Hakata, for instance, which is important when checking for trains and cost via hyperdia.com, as there’s a Fukuoka station much nearer Tokyo) – just a smidge late. I realised that I had no map of the hostel location; the directions looked easy enough, but were from the train station, and I had no idea if that’s where I was. More importantly, where was the door? I went up a couple of floors, into a mall (transport and shopping, always linked here) but still couldn’t work out where the ground was. Eventually I worked it out, after playing fruitlessly with an info point which promised wifi and information and delivered neither. Perhaps it was more sentient than I realised and was just ruminating on my requests.

It turned out that the bus station was right by the train station, so I made it to the hostel. It was very quiet there – full on the next night, Saturday, but four empty beds in my room. Beds/capsules, in fact, as each person had their own little capsule, with curtain to draw across. A nice way to see out Japan, seeing as I’d not made it to a capsule hotel ‘proper’. By now it was 4.00 and I wandered south in search of the port. A couple of people had highly recommended Nagasaki as their favourite city in Japan, and it is only 2.5 hours from Fukuoka by bus, so I wasn’t sure whether to bob down there or not. Nagasaki is apparently reasonably small, ‘doable’ in a day, but I figured I wanted to maximise my time in Korea, so it would be a flying visit to Nagasaki and given that, the 5 hours bus travel would be a disproportionate amount of time.

Sunset over a port scene
Sun sets over the port.

The route to the ferry port took me past a few temples. I gave them a cursory once over, but was glad that I was walking past more than houses and shops. The port seemed like a nice spot, though of course for me the association I was with exciting travel times to come, which may have coloured my perceptions. Plus 4.00 is a lovely time in Japan right now, the heat of the day gone, sunshine covering everything, the kind of weather that lets you do whatever you want, wearing whatever you want, and no need to think ‘do I need..?’ I was at the terminal just after 5 and it seemed deserted, both ferry line check in counters quiet, a bored lady sat at the information desk and a few people wandering about. Feeling self conscious I made for the observation deck on the 3rd floor and gazed out; there’s something both mournful and exciting about transport hubs without their transport, like a party has moved on, and that feeling was aided by a bench and few beer pumps from a previous event up on the deck.

The last ferry of the day goes around 3pm, hence checkin counters being closed, but both ferry companies have offices on the 3rd floor with staff working even at 5.45, so I reserved a seat on the 8.30 Beetle ferry for ¥13000 (plus 2000 ‘oil’ cost and 500 terminal use – the latter is cash only). It’s only a three hour crossing on the small beetle ferry; a hydrofoil which warns you to put on your seatbelt in case they have to make sharp turns around dolphins or whales. Or Wales, I suppose, but that’s too far away to be a serious prospect.

A sign in shadow, sun setting to the right of a tower at the port
Port side.

The light was failing but I got out to the west of the city, past the uninspiring-from-outside prefectural art museum, for a wander round Ohori park. There are the ruins of Kokotom palace, an archaeological work in progress which looks destined to be turned into a big tourist attraction. Just next door is a track, and part of me wished I’d saved last night’s session for here, watching people race round, though there were no lights so it may have been on the point of closing. Further along were many more runners, a beautiful lake having three paths round, nominally for walkers, runners and cyclists. It is about 2k round, judging by the distance markers – the 300m facing one direction was next to the 1700m facing the other. Well, if I’d saved my session for here, I’d only have had to do 4 laps of the park, rather than the 10 I did in Hiroshima. Course, I would also have had it hanging over me, might not have made it to this park and might not have done it in any case, so I didn’t really think it would have worked out.

I went back to the hostel via the station mall. The convention is to have a food market of the lowest level, here no different, and I picked up some sushi that was noticeably superior to what I’d had from family gu…mart or 7-11, good as both of those were. Better, it was 20% off, I think because it was after 7, so dinner was a bargain. Back at the hostel I booked somewhere to stay in Korea and my first night in Phnom Penh, where I arrive late, then escaped from a stilted conversation with an older German man, leaving him in the hands of an American who was clearly going to swamp him with words.

Three people chatting, lying on mats on the floor of a Tokyo hostel
From Marco. Bumped into him at the Hiroshima hostel, photo from Tokyo.

Words words words, as the trendy vicar at a church I once went to said. Words words words, words words words. They become meaningless when you think on them too much, was the point of the repetition, but really it served to prove only that repeating the word ‘word’ becomes meaningless, rendering your service likewise. Words words words.

Reading: Jeffrey Lord, Jewel of Tharn. A fantasy series from the 60s, rip roaring page turner with unpleasant misogyny.

Quote, WSC “All the people at this club are encouraged to habitually use the word “fun” as an adjective, “asap” as a two-syllable word, punctuate even the most mundane social network updates with “LOL” and generally pretend to enjoy life while all the time in their heads they hear nothing but the echo call of man’s unending solitude.”

Miyajima

Miyajima
Hiroshima, Japan

Hiroshima, Japan

Where does the time go? All of a sudden it has been three days without a blog. The first of those I spent mostly on the bus, in my super comfy seat. We stopped at services several times, to give us tourists a good overview of them, and got to Hiroshima a little after six. I checked in, met Jan the Giant (I was making my bed when he came in, so didn’t spot his height, then in conversation he mentioned people here always stare at someone 6’7″. It wasn’t till the next day that I saw him standing up and even forewarned I nearly commented on his height), Johan the Frenchman and we settled in to await a Jens, James and Jean to compete the set. They never arrived, and the next day we had three more Germans, Robert, Martin and Sebastian.

Hiroshima's bombed dome
Bomb dome.

Wednesday I spent exploring Hiroshima itself, mostly the A bomb dome and peace park. The museum there, with a token entry fee of ¥50, is excellent. The first building – and it’s worth knowing there is another one when you’re in it – gives an overview, coloured sombre by the music playing over the 3 minute video that greets you on entry. Particularly moving, I thought, were the letters sent by the mayor of Hiroshima to every nuclear power whenever they carry out a nuclear test. A real sense of flailing in the wind. The second building has the personal testimonies, some pictures and fragments of clothing, which is gruelling, gory and heartbreaking. Everything is presented very matter of factly, no sense that Hiroshima was victim of an unjustified act necessarily, though the balder the statement the more effective (if only people would learn that in a twitter and Facebook age). The exhibit on the nonproliferation treaty presents the lovely catch 22, that the treaty was set up to lock countries into not producing weapons, but of course those with them already can keep them. The tone of press coverage in the UK generally either ignores our own weapons, or implicitly suggests that of course we’re okay with them, but if those nasty Iranians got hold of them, well, what would they be thinking? Why would a country subject to sanctions and surrounded by enemies want the ultimate weapon anyway?

That evening the giant, the Germans, Johan and I went out for dinner. We were recommended an ‘all you can eat, all you can drink’ place in town and I was standing nearest the map as she explained its location so did the route finding. Surprisingly we got there, and Jan has studied in Japan (as well as boarding school in Wales, man of the world) so had enough Japanese to work out which floor our restaurant was on. We had an hour’s wait, worried we wouldn’t make enough out of the limitless offering but they offered to extend last orders and we stayed. Johan and I chatted happily to start with, but as the wait grew longer one of the Germans shut down, half asleep, and chats were shorter. When we were finally allowed to a table and brought the barbecue cookers, there was much silence and cooking of meat.

Then there was sake, and the chat grew louder. Fabulous – a bargain at ¥3000. How we’d have fared without the giant’s Japanese I’m not sure. He insisted he didn’t know what he was doing, but knew enough to order beer, rice and ‘the tasty beef’ so we got plenty of food and variety. Strips of beef (Canadian, apparently, not the good Japanese stuff), fatty fish, sausage.

We had a final beer by the river, enjoying the fact that you can do that at 1am in autumn, in shorts.

Cosy evening, beer and barbecue in a Japanese restaurant
All you can eat, all you can drink.

Today I went to Miyajima. Takumi had mentioned it and given me some info back in Tokyo so I knew it was an area of beauty, and the ‘floating gate’ looks fantastic. Still, the tree covered hilltops and temple-infested ground are just stunning. Travel is via train or tram to Miyajima-Guchi – tram is cheaper, I think – and then ferry to the island, from right outside the station. Although it is busy enough that JR have two ferries in perpetual motion between shore and island, and another company has three, it is a place where you can always find a spot on your own if you want one. There are three different routes up the hill for the view; given time I would have taken the one through Omoto park, which was almost deserted, but a hangover had delayed my start and I wanted to get back to buy a bus ticket to Fukuoka. If you don’t fancy waking, there’s a ropeway, which makes me think of the rope bridge at the giant’s causeway, but is actually a cable car. The deer here are very tame. Over tame, really, as years of feeding have made them approach people for food. I sat in the square outside the ferry port to have lunch before I got into wilder areas but was soon bothered by a friendly deer. I told him to **** off but then, just as when asking a pigeon directions the other day, realised my mistake – Japanese animal, why would they speak English? We indulged in a low energy, low speed pursuit across the square before I finished my food and could bin the remains and blend into the crowd.

Miyajima floating gate, mountains behind the water
Miyajima floating gate.

Should have been there longer. But a beautiful trip. Arriving back at Hiroshima, via a train chat with Mohammed from Tajikistan, over here to study harvest management, I figured I might as well use my sightseeing bus pass. It was a freebie – or an optional extra I’d accidentally signed up for – with my coach trip. It’s not a vintage tour, no real info, but takes you to the good spots and, if you take advantage of hopping on and off, a good way to get about. For me, just a ride round the city and then off near the bus station. ¥200 for a trip, ¥400 all day pass. I got my ticket and headed back, snoozy but determined to run back to Central Park (recced from the bus) to do my session. Racing round it in the dark was great, and I hit 7-11 for dinner filled with the elation of a day in which I’d done all I set out to, onward plans fixed, and the life affirming feeling of air rushing through my lungs after a tough 20x400m session. Talking that evening I heard of one more deal for foreigners, the Star alliance Japan air pass, which allows you to take any domestic flight with ANA for ¥10000. There’s another scheme for ¥13000, so careful what you search for. The perfect way to see Okinawa and the small islands, as the ‘cheap’ airlines fly to the main island and then you have to change, whereas ANA go to the smaller ones direct.

Weigh a pie

Weigh a pie
Osaka, Japan

Osaka, Japan

I ended the day with that feeling you have when you finally get back to shore after time on a boat. I’m not convinced it was entirely from time on the waves, though, more that I’d accidentally given myself shock vertigo therapy. Ideally you’d call it anti-vertigo, but I don’t think there was much anti in there. Two skyscraper-top observatories, one Ferris wheel and a tower meant I’d seen much of Osaka from above.

Second day of the pass and I headed down to the port area. There you can take a cruise in the Santa Maria, a twice-size reconstruction of Columbus’ original which sails on the hour,11-5. It’s just a 45 minute cruise and unless the voiceover sets new standards in its art, it isn’t going to win awards for being fascinating, as this is a working port. Lovely to be out on the sea, though, a little cooler than the 30something on shore. Waiting for the boat to go I’d watched a little dance that was happening; generally a festive atmosphere wherever I went, on a national holiday, though the port wasn’t as busy as the centre of town despite a queue to get into the aquarium.

After the cruise I headed for the Tenpozan Ferris wheel, billed as either the largest or one of the largest in the world. A contentious subject perhaps. Somewhere there is probably a Ferris Wheel World (rotating you news every month) letters page filled with suggestions of how to apportion the prize. For me, great, might as well be on a big one if I’m going to start imagining ways in which things could go wrong. I thought I’d seen the wheel pause, in fact, from the boat, and that didn’t look so threatening from down there, so maybe I could rationalise my way through it. The views were fabulous, arguably more to interest me than the aerial views of Umeda the day before, and I did a better job at not thinking ‘but what if’. Maybe having sea all around looked a little easier to land on, too.

From there I hopped on the metro for a stop – determined not to have much time on my feet, and there is always plenty of waking to be done. The metro, for instance, generally only has escalators going up, so getting to the train is a stroll, and for each attraction I was strolling. To the Osaka Prefectural government Sakishima Building Observatory building next, which is on the 55th floor, and is presumably so named as a challenge – if you can rattle off the name with no hesitation by the time you’re at the top, you win. Great views. Oh, and a cafe that I decided not to bother with – one member of staff taking an order at one end of the counter and producing the goods from the other suggests their pasta is more microwaved than lovingly prepared. I had an extra ride in a speedy elevator, as I found the lifts on a map, spotted one end was the floor 3-29 lifts, the other 3-51, then had pressed the button before spotting the information that ‘observatory entrance is exclusively on the first floor’. Stomach coping, but wondering what was going on.

Three trips, then, one sea, one circular, one straight up. I rode the light railway the long way round the port then changed to get back to town. All that travel meant it was by now around 4, so I hustled to get to the city fine arts museum before the 4.30 last admission. It’s a grand building next to Tennoji zoo, but on the ticket the pass gets you, not so great. You’re limited to the fine Buddhist sculpture on the 2nd floor, and though the intricate tiny objects are lovely in the first room, after that you’ve lots of lacquered pipe cases, lacquered hair clips, lacquered tissue boxes. Frankly, it’s all rather lacquering.

The exhibition on the ground floor looked more interesting, and unguarded but I decided to respect the ticket. Yawn. I would have headed to the zoo, seeing as I was right there, but they’d had last admission already, so I went to Tsutenkaku tower in Shinsekai. It wasn’t far, and meant I could see from there in daylight and from my final tower in darkness.

Shinsekai, and the tower, look like someone designed them in the 70s, when we figured we’d be in space more regularly by now. In fact the tower was first built in 1912, then refurbished in the 50s, but the decor is space ace shabby. The whole thing is an experience, and one for which I during my hour there was the only westerner. On the ground you see a waiting time – 40 minutes, and I wondered if that could possibly be accurate, when the other attractions I’d been in were a case of queue, lift, whoosh. Here, though, is different. There are two floors, then the lift whizzed you up through the middle of the tower, and at the top there are another two floors. You start with a short lift ride to the first floor and pass holders get pulled out of the short ticket queue and given an explanatory pamphlet which looks slightly insane, with a character grinning at you to talk you through each bit. As you queue for the lift you walk past row on row of pachinko machines. This may not be a place to take pestering kids. The character from the pamphlet appears and insists on a photo with a model of the tower, hands up to make a spire if they can explain it to you and ending with “dadida, nice tower!” repetition of which is the soundtrack to your queue. In the lift the attendant gently cues you in – no idea what he said, but it sounded lovely – then the lights go out, Billiken, god of things as they should be, appears glowing in the roof. A screen at the top shows a clock face whizzing forward and you emerge into the light as the elevator heads up before dropping you at the top. The views are good, of course, showing the faded futuristic alleyways of Shinsekai spoking out from the tower. There’s another queue, with attendant soundtrack, for a photo, this time with Billiken. It is optional, though, just walk past to head down the stairs to the fourth floor – still up high. Here are exhibits, and more pester power. There’s a cafe too, and finally I learnt who the marathon man was. My Japanese friend had mentioned him so I had a name, but this floor was sort of his – he is the famous ‘Glico man’, a company mascot of sorts for a confectionery maker.

`Down in the lift and the clock winds back, before you emerge on the 3rd floor (ground being first, here) with models of people in period costume and a retro feel. Or rather, a different retro feel than the rest of the thing. There were some interesting looking pin badges for sale from machines but I didn’t have 2x100yen coins to grab one. Didn’t even need pester power to fancy it, but if you take kids perhaps you should strategically not have coins, at least not till near the end.

Down one more floor and you’re back to the queue floor, which also has the shop for general Japanesey, hello kitty et al. The queue is round the edge of the floor, you have to go through the shop to get out – I realised by a process of elimination. Right, queued there, only staff through there, I’m in the shop, there are banners over that doorway, must be through there.

It takes longer than it might, and maybe not quite a senior citizen experience – or at least, not without knowing what you’re in store for – but I loved it, it was as if I’d gone to dip my toe in a bit of Japan with an aerial view and ended up plunging the whole foot into a Japanese uber experience.

My last call of the day was Umeda, and my last high of the day. I’d saved the floating garden observatory from the day before, as I wasn’t close enough to see the sunset from there. Tsutenkaku had taken a bit longer than I’d bargained on so I only caught the tail end but again this was fantastic. The Umeda sky building houses all sorts of organisations, German consulate to Willer Express bus company. There are two towers, linked by a walkway halfway and the observatory at the top. The lift takes you to the 51st floor, then a glass-enclosed elevator takes you from one building to the other. Not one for a vertigo sufferer, it said in a guide, but I was okay – it was quite dark by now so maybe that’s why. It was busy at the very top, but the view is stunning and this was the end of sunset on a holiday. There are two floors, the very top is outside, though not in any way that worried me, with the garden itself circular but surrounded by a square enclosure from the floor below. It was also a pleasure to step from the air conditioned building through which I’d walked and seen the sun disappearing, into darkness but with Mediterranean warmth and just a slight breeze despite being 173m up. Wonderful. I carefully used google maps to work out which bit of the river I was looking out and could see I was looking north, just as the river widens, and I mused on how I’d have liked to run by that river. As I looked up I saw the sign bolted to the wall just in front of and below me.

North.

Well, of course. A temporary flash that added “twit” would have fitted nicely. If they can give you info that might be useful here, they usually do. I sat on the floor below and looked out, watching the lights of trains moving over the river. Finally I headed back to the hotel to end my time in Osaka and plan a bit of Hiroshima. I was expecting to pay for the bullet train but on a whim searched for bus seats. The train is very quick but expensive without a pass, at over £60 for just over an hour, so I opted to relax into my journey a bit more with a bus ticket – Willer express let you book in English and of course I realised I already knew where their base was. It costs a bit less than half, takes 5 times as long which seems about right, given the train option is so fast (3 hours train to 15 bus wouldn’t seem so reasonable, I don’t think). I went for the 1pm bus rather than the 7am one, and the next day we headed off, through Japanese countryside. The bus goes straight to Hiroshima, but stops to show you Japanese services, with the driver holding up a sign with the departure time on. Slick, just what I fancied, and easy. Generally buses aren’t recommended, because local ones don’t always announce stops in English, and so many foreigners travel with a rail pass, but if you don’t have a pass or are travelling over longer than the 7/14/21 day length of those, the bus seems good to me.

Oh really

Oh really
Osaka, Japan

Osaka, Japan

I woke, with a plan. Long run, check out by 10, walk to Tennoji and get a two day Osaka pass. After yesterday’s walking extravaganza I’d then have unlimited subway travel, and a list of potential things to get into – potential, because the pass gives you access to 24 attractions, and you’d have to go some to get to them all.

Marvellous. Woke, tried my bread and found it was filled with something syrupy-that wasn’t the idea, this seemed the lightest I could find when browsing the supermarket so I was hoping for just bread. Never mind, small breakfast nibbling round the edge, start the ridiculous ‘h20 sports water’, quick snooze and up at 7. The castle is the beginning of the river path – you can get all the way to Kyoto via 27km of river, I read somewhere – so I was determined to head there. I’d also seen a big park strip near Osaka station, looking similar to the one in Valencia which is made out of a diverted riverbed, but that will have to wait for another visit.

One 5 storey narrow pagoda, and a broader 2 storey temple
Temple.

I struggled early on, but seeing other runners, or the fact that I had climbed a little to the castle and was now benefitting meant I slipped into a rhythm. I thought to head along the path I’d looked over from the castle grounds the day before, wooded over and with the noise of a festival/protest/exercise class leaking up into the hill. I found myself, though, orbiting the castle, and having spent 18 minutes or so doing so the first time, I was nearing 50 minutes and figured I had my route sorted without a short out and back trip elsewhere. That let me switch off route finding and concentrate on passing and then putting away the local just up ahead. I finished with a half lap of the castle to take me over the hour and a half and then ran back.

Job done, boy that felt a virtuous start, 14 miles in the bank. It was noticeably cooler at 7 than the day time, though obviously warming up as time went on. Certainly the early miles scotched the thought I’d had whilst struggling yesterday, that there’s a temperature beyond which I just can’t speed up, but having salvaged some pace later on I ended the run happy.

Tall, green plants, with broad open flower-like leaves (?) at the top
Triffids in the garden.

Quick change, dump the bags and off to Tennoji to buy the Osaka pass. 2000yen for a day, 2700 for two, 28 possible venues. Normally the second day being a Monday would limit the choice a bit, but it turns out tomorrow is a national holiday so most museums are open. I started, seeing as I was near, with the big temple. Shitennoji, they call it, though it seemed nice enough to me. It covers a huge area, lots of disparate buildings and little stalls everywhere, selling trinkets and food. Imagine a Christian church with a perpetual fete outside, though less ****. Most is open access, but my pass got me into a separate temple, with which I didn’t bother, and the garden of Gokuraku-Jodo, which is lovely. It’s also not huge, so a lovely place to go and relax without wondering “but what’s round that corner?”. I walked to the pond of paradise, though paradise seemed infested by triffids. Getting to the temple had involved a very slow walk – it doesn’t half gain a crowd, Shitennoji, and with that crowd mostly elderly, progress along crowded streets is slow. There are backstreets, for sanity’s sake, but the temple entrance is also narrow, so it was back to a slow plod in.

View over the city. Skyscrapers and construction
From the Ferris Wheel.

I hopped on the subway to the castle. Opposite the castle itself is the Osaka Museum of History, in a building with a view over the castle and its surrounds. It shares an entrance with the NHK building behind, and the Kansai Music conference was providing guitar noise in the foyer. I got the lift to the 10th floor where it starts – not the first museum where you start at the top and work your way down, though I can’t confidently say that’s a Japanese standard. Emerging into the entrance hall it was dark, with a recreation of the outside of the Naniwa palace. I’d seen the grounds yesterday, there’s little left of the palace itself and the recreation was beautiful. Suddenly, whether due to the presence of people, weight of numbers or just the right time, the darkened room suddenly became light, as shutters lifted to give a view east over the city and castle. It couldn’t have been better timed for me to see the change at its finest. The rest of the museum was festive and with plenty of dioramas to show the history of the city and so on, but without Japanese the words were lost on me. They give a ‘highlights’ route and suggest it will take an hour, but I walked round the whole thing in that time without great difficulty, including a break in a secluded spot on the corner of the 9th floor with a view over the city.

It was only midday so I retraced the route I’d run and walked already, into the castle grounds. I was moving quite quickly, knowing where I was going, when I heard the sounds of feet banging, loud shouts and screams from the building opposite. Worth a look, surely. It turned out to be a Kendo competition, I’m not sure how integral banging the feet on the ground is; whether it marks a feint, an attempt to intimidate as with the shouting or is part of the move. It’s an aggressive sport, for sure, though like boxing, they end up close up, not quite holding on to each other but hand to hand, stick to stick, for quite a time. A great start.

Stream running through rocks and green grass, narrow trees in a garden
Hondo Garden.

I got to the castle keep and was footsore so took a rest and started updating yesterday’s blog. A Japanese man wandered up and chattered at me. I didn’t understand and he slipped into English; it turned out he wanted to recommend the garden I was near, but I’d seen it. The picture of the keep reflecting on the water yesterday is from there, it really is the spot to see Osaka castle from. He used to make curtains, kimonos etc, traditional things for which there just isn’t much market any more but is in any case retired now.

He was keen to compare notes on Japan, and I thought at first his English was excellent. It was certainly pretty good, but he had learnt to use “oh really?” A lot, and over time it went from nice statement of interest through punctuation and to ‘something said before I’d actually finished my statement’. Of course, the ‘l’ sound wasn’t entirely there. I forget the exact sequence of events but I was definitely humming “I so ronery” later on, and you may spot a link. He was happy just to practise his English with me, but as time dripped by and I’d exhausted my list of places I’d been in Japanese I was keen to either move on or get some food. The Big Mac I’d had before getting on the train was more or less done by now. The keep also gets a crowd, though with the pass I could skip past the queue for tickets, and with legs pass the one for the lift, going straight up the stairs instead. Again you start at the top, viewing gallery on level 8, and work down. I was a bit tired and short of energy to concentrate, but the exhibits on the Tokugawa/Toyotomi war were fascinating and with plenty of English information too. There are dioramas of the castle further down; the later 1629 Tokugawa reconstruction is well known, but they are still digging to find the slightly different foundations of the original Toyotomi building – that was destroyed when the latter lost the war.

Next to the castle is another attraction for which I had free entry, so I took advantage while I was there, having a laze in Nishinomaru garden, where a flautist was playing “in the street where you live”. After a lie around and a drink – yes, a walled garden with an entry fee also has a vending machine – I was ready for the next step.

And that step was food. I considered heading back and checking in to my final hotel, on side 3 of a square, but figured I could take in a bit of Umeda, which had previously been a little too far North for me to head to. It promised to be just 15 minutes so I went first to the Ferris Wheel on the top of Hep Five, a mall. There are two wheels in the list of attractions but as it went up and up I remembered for the 1000th time how bad I am with heights, and I mentally marked the second wheel as ‘optional’. This being Japan, there is some extra tech, and you can plug an ipod in for some music, so I had Muse for company, but wasn’t mad keen on the slow progress over the top of the wheel. Safe as houses, of course. But I still can’t hack it. Good views over the skyscrapers and hardcore shopping area here; although I’ve seen plenty of shopping areas already, it seems there’s always room in Japan for another mall, and railway stations are built with great towers of mall space attached. Dinner – by now essential – on the same floor as the wheel reminded me of Russia, in that a pop song I recognised came on, but then I spotted this was no Bruno Mars but a cover version. How many countries have people faithfully recording their own versions of songs we know?

In a gym, two people practice Kendo, dressed all in black, while others watch
Kendo smacking.

If the mall was hectic, Osaka station defied description, with a confusing multiplicity of entrances and exits. I wandered in a loop trying to find my way to the back of the station and failing – and this without going to the underground section, which apparently spreads through most of Umeda. That might have been the best way to try to get to the floating observatory, which was to be my last stop for the day, given that the railway lines block the North of the station. I tried to think of a similar area in Britain, but our stations are nowhere near the size – perhaps if you combined Thurrock and Liverpool street then dotted St Paul’s and Big Ben around it and tried to find a route through the mall to the cathedral you’d be getting close. By the time I found the right direction it was still some way off and the sun was setting, so my quick goal of seeing sunset – darkness up on the top of the 173m building was aborted in favour of the subway home.

Run: 2:00:35, 23.56km.

Osaka walking tour

Osaka walking tour
Tohi, Japan

Tohi, Japan

Since I hadn’t booked way in advance, I ended up in three hotels in Osaka. I’d accidentally been clever, though – spotting the address was similar I’d booked three that I hoped were in the same district, albeit without checking the map to make sure. It turns out that all are on the same small block, so I only have to leave my luggage at one, check in elsewhere and wheel round the corner.

Osaka castle, reflected in a lake nearby, surrounded by trees
Osaka Castle. Rebuilt in 1931, still stunning even if not quite original.

With that in mind I got up to make sure I could run and shower before checkout, though with that at 11 in this first place that wasn’t too tricky. I generally headed for the port area, down some unlovely streets, turning without seeing much other than machinery though finding a park on the way back.

Small JCBs on the back of a truck, front wheels off the ground as it tilts to roll them off.
I lift my truck.

A slow run, but ground out. Stashing luggage, I walked north, heading for the castle park. That’s around 3 miles away, and commands a great view over the city, as it should. On the way I stopped for a sit down and a look at Ikukunitama shrine, which is a quiet spot amongst the bustle of the city. I dozed on a bench after lunch, then wandered the grounds briefly. Further north, The castle itself is a reconstruction from 1931. The original castle was built in 1583, destroyed by fire in 1615 and was then reconstructed 1620-29. The keep then burnt down in 1665, after a lightning strike, and most of the other buildings burnt during a reconstruction in 1868. Oh the irony. But it does show the perils of the construction – stone foundations for the main structure itself, towering over the moat, but the buildings were wood. Wood! Not so good in fire, and ruined by war. It’s a grand structure, and that Japanese style is something else to one raised looking at western blocky castles. Which are also majestic, mind, but the combination of moat, solid walls and imposing keep is intimidating and very Japanese.

City Museum building; large and white, with what looks like a UFO on top
City Museum.

From there I headed West, hitting the main shopping district of Dotombori, walking down Midosuji street to the apple store. I mostly wandered in for the wifi, though the new iPhone is a good £100+ cheaper here. There was a queue for it, though not a long one.

Multi coloured duck tour bus
Duck tours. Get down.

Heading south I ate and walked amidst the noise and restaurant touts of here and Namba. Frankly, it’s exhausting and by the end I was feeling a bit too solitary. An area you need to be wide awake for, and I wasn’t quite with it. Sitting by the river in 27 degrees at 4 as the day closes is pretty lovely, mind. I headed for Spotaka and got myself some special edition Waverider 15s. Red. New. Tomorrow’s long run is going to be the last blast for the Sauconys, over 600 miles in shoes I was never quite sure about is a good return. I wandered back and checked into the Hotel Taiyo, then moved my bags from the Toyo round the corner. All in all, about an 8 mile walk. The new hotel is a whole extra 500yen (£3) and has air conditioning and a bed rather than a mat on the floor, but otherwise it’s similar. I appreciated the air conditioning, though – it stays so warm that it’s a huge relief to cool down properly. I sorted out my internet life and watched the first episode of Breaking Bad – too many people have mentioned it not to have a look, so I’m right down with the (parents of the) kids now. Tomorrow a long run, 7ish start to be back to check out by 10.

Neon signs and people abound in a shopping street, under cover
Missing noise and kerfuffle. But maybe you get the idea.

On a running note, I played around with my spreadsheet. Up to today last year I’d run 1911km, this 2196. September was poor last year, though, and oddly, I ran further in 4 of 5 months last year, which hardly suggests such a gap in mileage. Last year was a big step from four years of declining totals, albeit with cycling added. The difference between last year and this is mostly from February; last year an injury layoff made it 108km to this year’s 280. So last year was better for periods of concentrated training (with longer layoffs) though I might now be getting somewhere after a dip in August. Today: 1:09:30, 12.52km.

Pale orange in the sky at sunset falls over skyscrapers
Sunset.

Reading: Jane Smiley, The Greenlanders “You may say…that the English are often this: they talk merely to talk, and go idly on great journeys merely to see the sights.”

Bye Bruce

Bye Bruce
Osaka, Japan

Osaka, Japan

Yesterday was a travellers’ day. By which I mean, I let myself off a lack of movement because I am travelling and sometimes I just need to do some washing and sit still. So the fact that I didn’t get up till 10.30, then did some intervals – 7x800m, managed to convince myself they were all under 3, maybe 2.50, actually only two were under 3, bah – and was back with my washing on after midday seemed okay. If a bit slow. But with my washing done and in the dryer, in walks Bruce. The day before I’d got back from my run around 1, no one around, voluble keen girl on reception said “Cleaning! Done! …Relax” (there were hand gestures, too) and I did. Today, I had Bruce. He wandered in, we swapped notes, but soon I realised he was set to transmit. A nice man, a brain damaged man, and someone for whom I cannot muster antipathy now he is not here. But at the time, crikey Bruce, stop talking. Just stop talking.

A tower reflected in the mirror glass on a building in Kyoto
Leaving Kyoto.

A bit like talking to a computer guy – of which he was one, once – I ended up determined that this would be the last topic, then found I was still there minutes later, talking. With the dryer going, and with me having fed it 2×100 yen pieces it was going for a while, I didn’t have the excuse of saying ‘just going out’, because I wasn’t. Though I was more and more hungry, after breakfast of pineapple and banana, which was excellent but NOT ENOUGH. I was also concerned that if I phrased an exit wrongly, he might invite himself along.

Of course, all this makes for an unexciting story, and it is now over in any case. But I will say that an hour and a half slowed and slowed. Eventually I escaped, determined not to stroll and search for a restaurant, even the McDonalds over the road might do me. Next to it, though, a Japanese 24 hour place, and a Japanese man went in right ahead. I watched for a mo to see if he ordered from a machine; spotting that he didn’t, I followed.

A golden car. Blinged up Mercedes.
Car accessories. With WTF.

This was a meal for a runner. The fairly standard several-bowl trayful, a main dish, some rice, some extras (and some tofu), but the rice – go to the corner, get some more. Oh, I did. Initially I thought it a little plain, but under the courtesy screen I could see the bloke opposite me pouring on seeds. Mmm, toasted sesame seeds, as it turned out, and what a difference they made. The day before’s lunch was enough for a normal lunch but its rising ‘full’ sensation came and went as the rice did its thing. After my third bowl here, the full sensation came and grew and with my only having eaten at 3ish I didn’t really need to eat again (other than in exploring the ice creams available from the convenience stores – a ‘Giant’ cornet to style thing today).

After lunch I explored Kyoto a little. The Kyoto app I’d downloaded mentioned mainly temples, and I wasn’t really up for more of those, especially as the route I’d taken to the hostel took me wrongly past the Kosho-Ji temple and when I retraced I found the right one, Higashi-Hongannji, but as I wandered the streets North of the hostel and east of my running river there were signs for temples and it seemed rude not to. As a result I ended up at Chion-Ji, and surrounded by people sight-seeing. This area had a very different feel – a lot of Kyoto is perfectly nice but just another city, but here were large areas set aside for temples, giving a much better idea of how it all used to look. I was short on time before dark, but wandered, looked, snoozed and felt I’d found some of the spiritual heart of Kyoto.

Tenoji city streets. A plaza, with skyscrapers behind
Tenoji.

As darkness set in I made my way back South by the river, stopped for the ice cream I mentioned and felt completely at home. There seemed much more space in Kyoto than Tokyo though that may be an accident of picking a nice hostel. This morning I got up and packed, answering Bruce’s friendly ‘what are you doing today?’ with a conversation-closing (to a man who came from Kyoto the day before) “I think I’ll head for Kyoto”. That made the decision for me so I made a repeat visit to yesterday’s restaurant – the only time so far I’ve eaten in the same place twice, for what it’s worth (and it is something of an accident – I had every intention of returning to the first place I ate in Tokyo, though with the slight worry that his ‘no English menu’ had meant ‘F off’ and I’d pushed past it once but would not be allowed to do so again). Kyoto is near enough that you can get a local train, 540 yen, 850 to where I wanted to be and I was there by 1.30.

Having left my bags, I explored. The streets round the hostel are noticeably poorer than anywhere I’ve been in a city so far. Not the buildings, but the fact that there are more people selling things on the street, and the few homeless people don’t even have their blue tarpaulin homes, at least not here. The vending machines are cheaper (they and convenience stores (7-11, Family Mart or Sunken) are ubiquitous, too, and more of them sell booze. I even saw a Japanese man drop litter earlier. South being unproductive, I headed North, thinking to go to Tennoji park, which I’d seen marked on the map. It turns out that it is a zoo, and not reviewed well on Trip Advisor, so all the greenery seemed to be behind fences, though apparently you can go in the park itself without paying. I could hear the Oktoberfest festivities before I saw them, though they may be a bit expensive to visit – 1100 was the cheapest beer according to the website, and that’s probably only the cheapest because it’s Spaten.

Famous Running Man of Osaka.
Famous Running Man of Osaka.

I soon found myself in the shopping district, and was entertained by a 5 floor computer shop. I could browse the gadgets for days. From there I walked back towards the hostel via a tower I’d seen earlier, and it turned out that this area is one of the attractions, Shinsekai, the old town and ‘typically Japanese’, it says here. Essentially a market and shops, with hawkers trying to pull you in to their restaurants, and a shabby chic feel to it.

Later, having checked with Trip Advisor, I saw that this was their no. 30, but North, near Namba station, were the areas of Shinsaibashi and Dotonbori, so I headed there with an hour and a half of daylight left. There was also the Video Game Bar Space Station, but that proved shut – no.1 attraction by review, possibly showing their unreliability, but I’ll try again. Both districts, loosely gathered around the river, were a bit crazy, with people heading every which way, Japanese women dressed in cosplay style and more hawkers, though here it was all much more glitzy. I also found a great sport shop, over several floors, which have the Wave Rider 17. Barely even mentioned on the internet, model 17 comes in a rainbow style which is quite loud – er, lovely. But to tempt the bargain seeker, particularly one who refused to be spontaneous and went across the road to price compare, only to find that US 10 is their maximum, they have a Wave Rider 15 special edition, right size, under £50. My new training shoe awaits; one more in the Sauconys and they’re dead, Jim.

Reading: Jane Smiley, the Greenlanders

Umekoji Steam locomotive museum

Umekoji Steam locomotive museum
Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto. City of new and old, cheek by jowl, which means it doesn’t always make it obvious how lovely a city it is. Temples are tucked away in with newer buildings, signs taking you round the districts to see them; 10 mins here, 11 there. Having walked past two big temples yesterday, Kosho-Ji on my way to the hostel, and Higashi Honganji when checking out the proper way to the station, I skipped that and headed for the park, once I’d run.

A small pond surrounded by gravelled paths and trees
Umekoji Park.

I’d only run 45 mins the day before so wanted to go further today, ending up with an hour and a half in the 11.00 sun. I suspect the water fountain an hour in saved me, but I was a bit lethargic for the rest of the day. I found food, then the park, which seemed full of youngsters practicing dance. They looked synchronised to me. A group on the far side wherein multicoloured clothing, and later I saw a couple of baton twirlers there too. Turning left I wandered through the manicured part of the gardens – lovely, though really I thought this would take me to the museum, and I saw a family looking at the map that I figured had done the same.

A train turner - roundabout, outside it, train tracks point in many directions
Rotation.

The museum was just a little further along. As strolled to the door I could see I was in good time – it shuts at 5.30, last entry 5, and it was only 3.30. But as I got closer there a Japanese man appeared, miming a steam train at me. I mimed back, smiling – enthusiasm deserves the same in return, though I wasn’t sure why I had to confirm that I was heading for a steam train museum whilst heading for the door of same.

A crane made from flower-decorated paper
O-ri-ga-mi

Course, it wasn’t just that. 3 times a day you can ride a steam train for an extra ¥200, and the Japanese family in front of me paid and started running for the train, with me in hot pursuit. They were semi ushered towards the train while I was at the cash desk – separate ticket for the train. 200yen, 300? The man was indicating 3, but seemed to be asking me the question, and only when he accepted my two did he figure I might be paying for the family. Working as their western bodyguard, or something.

A small model train, with the word 'Spain' printed behind
Spain

We made it, and had our 1k backwards, one forwards trip. The other family I’d seen in the park were already on board, which pleased the bit of me that pretends at psychic connections. Frankly, a fair amount of the ride is through a concrete sided part, and it’s not that great a ride – you probably see the train better from the sidelines – but the whole experience above made me laugh, I was still grinning when I got off, spotting some JNerds taking pictures of the train. Afterwards, they move it onto the train roundabout, spin it all the way round and move it onto a different lane. As an intro to the museum – having dashed, I’d skipped the old station building and it’s exhibits and was now faced with most of the 15 or so trains they have. I allowed myself to say “massively cool”, before I had to admit to myself that it may be many things, but a trip to a steam engine locomotive museum is anything but ‘cool’. The museum is twinned with York and one other locomotive museum, and to prove it they’ve planted a tree together.

Model trains, each on it's own coloured display stand
The greats of Britain, Norway, Germany, Asia.

I lay in the park afterwards, it was cool enough after 4 to lie in the sun, though moving back into the city proper – only the matter of a street or so – was noticeably warmer even as the sun went down. The evening passed in chat and dinner – I even made my own, for quantity-at the hostel. Kyoto council don’t allow buildings of higher than 15 storeys, and there aren’t many even that high, so it has a nice feel to it, quite different to the bustle and businessy feel of Tokyo and to some extent Nagoya.

People practicing in a park
Youths practising.

Train stats. Because that ensures my coolness. One built in 1919, speed 100km/h, produced 289 over 10 years. 20m long, 113.8 ton. It’s the .8 of a ton that really squishes the foot.

Wartime special freight locomotive – produced 285 in 4 years. Look at the increase in productivity on that. 136.8t. 21m long.

“The flapple’s articulation-circuit asserted, ‘I feel a million times better; I’m now prepared to depart for your original destination, sir or madam, as soon as the superfluous individual has disemflappled.'”

To Kyoto and not beyond

To Kyoto and not beyond
Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto, Japan

A fabulous day dawned. Once I was out in it, admittedly at 10 rather than the heat of midday, it felt like a home summer’s day – gone the smack-you-in-the-face heat and the feel-free-to-swim humidity, replaced by sunshine, warmth and brightness all around. I was up well before I left, Dr Dre – no, sorry, to pack – and booking flights. I was obviously tired last night and my credit card saved me from myself, as I had been declined while trying to book a flight using a 3rd party site. This morning I went straight to the airline and booked straight away and more cheaply. Twit. I threw in a booking from that flight’s destination, Bali, to Brisbane for good measure, along with some hostels in Osaka and Hiroshima (there may be no hope for me on the no booking front now) and emerged into the sunshine.

Sandy plot in front of the large sphere and glass-fronted buildings that make up the museum
Nagoya science museum.

My mood hit that perfect nexus of weather and emotion, perhaps helped on the way by yet another bit of Japanese smiley customer service as I left my bags at the hotel. I suppose I shouldn’t have expected anything else, but thought they might have turfed me out to the quite fair lockers in the metro, given that I had picked up such a bargain rate. Daft. I took the chance to try the spotify playlist ’50 best tracks of 2013 so far’ which tended towards the ethereal easy – listening side of life but again hot the mood quite nicely.

A red three-legged abstract sculpture
Art.

Again I failed with the museums. The city science and art museums are just up the road from Ohsu plaza, but the former is reviewed as more for kids, the latter closed. Bah. Pictures in the sun and I contented myself, and with high contentment, as you might guess, wandering to Sakae and Central Park. Same sort of area as yesterday, then, but it’s not an area to tire of. The park is a pun, it being both the Central Park and providing some central parking (and the subterranean mall I’d wandered through yesterday). A small boy was transfixed by the fountain outside the science museum. Another was interested in me later at the railway station though shy when I waved – his mum took his arm and waved me off, though. It was that kind of day. I discovered that on a water fountain with a tap it is perfectly possible to shoot yourself in the face, too, which entertained me as much as the squirty toilet bum cleaners.

Temperature reading on the side of a building
Check the temperature.

A day for new trainers, too. My running shoes started the trip on 300 miles, so they’re a little long in the tooth now. ABC mart have a sale on Saucony kinvara 3s, and I managed to find some size 9s that fit. Though I am usually a 10, shh. But after a smiling torrent of Japanese the assistant made me understand there were none at this store but some down the road. I don’t think he realised I understood, though, and definitely spotted that he wouldn’t be able to give me directions, so off he ran to pick up a pair in each colour. Shiny, but probably for short sharp stuff, so my hole-in-little-toe-spot Progrids will last a little longer.

Busy four-lane highways surrounded by tall buildings
View from a bridge in Nagoya.

The Shinkansen whizzed me to Kyoto in a blink and you missed it 50 minutes and I was there. It felt cooler, though the 32degrees on the readout suggested not. Blah blahs humidity, change, etc. I explored a little in the daylight, gratified that my hostel was near the river (Kamo, or kamogawa) that I’d seen recommended as a traffic and crossing free zone on a couple of sites. The welcome here was fabulous, too. The staff member on duty shares my birthday, to her excitement, though I suspect I am winning by having had several more than her, and was most impressed I was off for a run. Are people getting lovelier through Japan? I am not sure, but certainly if theres a cumulative effect on me it is all good. At its best, in the simple things (clearly ones that matter to me), Japan is all the things Britain nearly consistently is but overall fails at – respect for others, from keeping mobile phones silent, to service staff backing out of a room, people having polite-offs moving out of each others’ way and so on. In Britain after a while I get militant, fed up of moving out of so many people’s way when it is obvious few others are going to, here it’s just the right thing to do, without arrogance taking advantage. Need I add that here if you hold a door open for someone to come through from the other way, no one walks from behind you as if perplexed why anyone would open a door and not walk through? Students in London in particular, take note.

Rocks in a stream, and a suspension bridge stretches towards the city
I never promised you a rose garden.

My great plan of saving my run till the evening, despite Meiji park in Nagoya looking like a lovely spot (but a bit short) worked well, in that I went out for a run in the evening, along the river. It was a bit dark, though, especially for a tempo run, but I coped – at least you can rely on the surface being well maintained here, and if a cyclist doesn’t spot you at first, it’s not with any attitude or invective. Exactly 45mins for a bit over 10k, including a warm up/down mile, I’ll take that. I took it indoors, in fact, for a chat with guests – one was feted as the first Chilean ever to stay here, though he’s now been joined by another. Not feted as anything, though a kindred spirit to me, having given up a job after 10 years to see something more. Last night I booked hostels. This morning I booked flights. This evening, tickets. Days 2-4 of the first Ashes test. Exciting.

Kyoto riverside, weeping willows hanging to one side
Kyoto riverside, picture taken before I ran here later.

Ran: 45:00, 10.43km “History is moving pretty quickly these days and the heroes and villains keep changing parts”.

Ian Fleming, Casino Royale. Now on to Lies Inc, Philip k Dick. I just can’t get enough D… of that particular author.

Typhoon stopped play

Typhoon stopped play
Nagawa-machi, Japan

Nagawa-machi, Japan


Today, Nagoya will be mostly closed for a typhoon. After a quick trip to the castle – closed -I  found myself at the main station for a ride to the railway museum. But that (museum) was also closed; at least I found out before getting there, thanks to a member of staff jumping on my uncertain pause in front of the Aonami line. That was actually due to my subway day pass not working there, since that’s not a subway line, but it saved me the journey and the expense. The station has wifi, so I could check the list of sights and spot that the JR (Japanese railways) towers, built in 1999, were right above my head, with restaurants and beauty parlours on the panorama deck, floor 51.

Two people eating, view from high up over the city behind them
JR Tower.

I took a ride. The lift goes straight from floor 13 to 51, and I emerged feeling slightly nauseous. A ride in itself. The floor itself is small, and you can only get a peek at the view through the windows of the businesses up there. I decided I wasn’t coming without a look, so went for lunch. Lunch is generally the reasonably priced meal – seen as the time when people pay for themselves rather than on expenses – so although more expensive than other restaurants, it was perfectly okay at ¥2400, including fizzy wine, though this is nouvelle cuisine rather than a hearty fill. I amused myself halfway through, realising that it felt a little odd. I noticed then that the places were set with cutlery – I did just use it, but I double-took as I did so. After a burger (Japanese, but still) and now a meal with cutlery I probably owe my Japanese karma another pick at random from a menu I don’t understand. As for lunch, good food plus the view – totally recommended. After another ride down in the lift to floor 13 had left me a bit discombobulated, I let the escalators take me down through 2 floors of restaurants, French, Italian and more, and more shops. Nearer to ground are the ladieswear ones, though unlike Tokyo I managed not to ‘explore’ an entirely female floor, which had left me looking like some kind of Western lunatic. The basement, just like a mall I’d browsed in Asakusa, is full of food stalls selling weird, wonderful and fabulous smelling foodstuffs. It’s a sight to see all of its own.

In the afternoon, with most museums shut, I took the subway down to the port. Or it took me, potato potato. Cricket seems to be big here, every station pointing the way to the South and North Wicket. A big port, big ships, big container area, and all quite festive. Sea train land had a Ferris wheel-another one for me to eschew – as well as zombie panic and other rides. I pondered the wisdom and freshness of the ‘global seafood restaurant’, wondered why McDonalds was hidden behind the aquarium and looked at the pictures in the maritime museum. I watched a video, too, which combined with the large map of the port area to show me where everything was, and pictures too, and told me loads more about the sport fishing area, golf course and container port, none of which I understood. The weather had brightened, at least, so the wind that kicked up was only blowing odd bits of sand at me, not rain and everything else. I followed a tsunami exit route to find the subway and head back into town, feeling I’d had a day by the seaside, though the only beach is a long way from the subway, in the maritime park. It is a big port.

Tall, and thin, the castle rises behind trees
The Castle.

I still had a couple of hours of daylight left, so headed for the central shopping and eating district, Sakae. The (old) TV tower is here, offering elevated views, but I settled for photos after my 51st floor vision. The tower is set in a parkland strip (Hisaya Odori) that runs between two roads (and is itself crossed by other roads, so it’s not quite the running paradise it might be) which is lovely, and the usual stealth shopping rules in Japan apply. Above ground, shops, glitz and glamour of Gucci, Apple et al. Below ground, a mall, leading off the subway station. And tucked away on the 2nd, 3rd and other floors; other shops and restaurants. No suggestion they’re hidden, but there seems to be a virtue in putting your business wherever and then they will come. Shopping on a budget is a bit futile, so I rode back out to the castle and park. The park has an obvious running route round and was covered in runners of all speeds, but also plenty of sights for a non runner-even a windmill. The castle looked glorious with sun on, and I realised the day had become a lovely, by my standards that can’t cope with 30 degrees, sunny day thanks to the earlier rain and wind. I walked some of my running route from last night, glad to see it in daylight, before heading back, footsore and better disposed toward Nagoya than I had been the day before.

Bonus, dude

Bonus, dude
Nagoya, Japan

Nagoya, Japan

Shinkansen! I met a Japanese traveller/staff member (hi Takumi!!) late on last night, and we’d compared notes. He’d been to the UK this year, London and Liverpool, and European mainland, but also travelled though Japan, giving me some useful info along with leaflets on Hiroshima. When I mentioned my train ride and potential destinations we got bogged down in fares, and the pity of not having a JR rail pass for a while before he turned and gave me a grin, commenting on my upcoming journey – “and you get to travel on the Shinkansen!” He was right to emphasise it, it’s a fabulous way to travel.

Red with white detail, a large multi-storied pagoda style temple
Osu Kannon Temple.

So I did. The standard tickets had sold out, so I’d paid an extra ¥1000 for the green car-sort of like first class – which was very roomy and very empty with only two other people in it. The train fair whizzes along, and this is the older kodama version which I think must be slower as well as multi-stopping, judging by the extra time it takes. Heading out of Tokyo I noticed it had leant right over; smoothly, like, this isn’t a ******* pendolino. Acceleration and deceleration are also smooth, the latter accompanied by nice shhh noises from the brakes. I snoozed and before I knew it we were at Nagoya and I could stroll.

My sense of direction hasn’t improved by being used more, and I confused myself as to which side of the station I’d come out, not helped by attempting to use the grand hotel as a landmark and there being at least two. I worked it out without walking too far and then, as per the directions found I “can watch our hotel on the left hand side”. There are apparently other hostels in Nagoya, but none that made Hostelworld so I was left with what reviews assured me would be a spot in a hotel room converted to a dorm. The smiley receptionist, though, told me I was the only one so was on my own. I wondered what a large room would be like on my own. When I got to 705, though, I found they had put me in a single room to myself. Hotel rooms can be a bit isolating, but I’m bang up for this – a quiet night, and I’ve the chance to chill out in what looks an unlovely city, and book some of my onward travel.

Bonus.

An overcast sky, seen from a grey railway bridge
Weather looming, leaving Tokyo.

Hotel Ohsu plaza is right next to the Osukannon temple, itself next to a sprawling district that seems to contain a fusion of mall and flea market. Not the spartan, air conditioned malls elsewhere, more like a British market but with fixed shops. I wandered, discovering as I browsed the running shoe bargains that I am outsize here – I think he even used that word, though it was in isolation rather than a sentence so I may have misheard. Certainly they only have up to uk size 9, though, so I’ll need a better stocked shop to replace my now ageing fast Sauconys.

Sign says What Does Seria Mean in English, but the explanation is in Japanese
Glad to have that sorted out.

I ran later, in the dark-the sun falls below the horizon as if someone has cut its strings, on a nice day it can be sunny and glorious at 5.20 and have the sun setting 20 minutes later. As a result, if you lose track of time, you’ll have to run in the dark. Nonetheless it was straightforward to find the castle and the edge of Meijo park. The park is apparently lovely, but I skirted the edge in the dark and rain, sticking to the paths, many tree shaded/protected, doing three laps before heading back to another lap of the smaller park in which the science museum sits and then back.

The steps leading up to another temple. Open-fronted, the inside is lit and looks cosy even in daylight
Temple Town.

My evening took in dinner from the local 7-11, though even shopping there is a pleasure here, with the cashiers smiley and polite and with a range of foods I have never seen before (though that becomes a little less true as time goes by). A bit of telly, sumo, baseball and some football, and I flaked. Nagoya is nice enough, too many things to see even a few in one day but I’m helped by the fact that Monday is the day many attractions close for a rest after the weekend.

Casino Royale, Ian Fleming.

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