Tag Archive | Japan

Calling All Travellers

“Calling All Airbnb Travellers in Tokyo” was an email subject line guaranteed to catch my attention the night we arrived in Japan. After a nine hour flight and 90 minutes of train travel we had just checked into our tiny yet beautifully appointed Airbnb apartment in Funabori. Our host Masakatsu had given us a warm welcome and some much needed dinner. Our vacation had begun.

Our accommodation, in a three storey building on a quiet side-street, suited our needs perfectly. The kitchen was compact and well-equipped and the living room, charmingly arranged for Tea Ceremony, fitted two futons perfectly. One of the benefits of booking with Airbnb is that travellers stay in real homes in local neighbourhoods. Our traditional Japanese apartment was in a typical Tokyo suburb, with a vending machine on every corner, a 7/11 store on the main street and a train station within walking distance.


The email I received on our first night was from Wakana Ando, who works for Airbnb in Tokyo. It was a first for the online accommodation booking site – an invitation to meet up with other Airbnb travellers and an Airbnb hostess to explore Jiyugaoka, a suburb of Tokyo on the opposite side of the city from Funabori. We would never have thought of going there on our own and replied immediately; the opportunity to meet some kindred spirits and visit a different part of the city was too good to ignore.

Our hour long train journey across the city took us to the end of the Shibuya line and then on a local express train to Jiyugaoka Station where we met the rest of the group. Our 75 year old hostess, Haruko, has been an Airbnb hostess since it first started in Tokyo and has welcomed many people into her home. Her name means Spring Child and there was a spring in her step as she led us on a meandering walk away from the main streets to her favourite places in Jiyugaoka. We wandered along the indoor alleys of a local department store. We rang the bell at the small Buddhist temple after being instructed in the proper way to cleanse before praying. At La Vita, we admired the canals and posed on the little bridge. We peered through the gate of a traditional tea house set in a beautifully formed garden and we stopped to marvel at the enormous apples at a roadside fruit and vegetable stall, all the while listening to Haruko’s stories about her neighbourhood.






As we wandered, we introduced ourselves to the other members of the group. We met Katrina from Miami, who, like us had only just arrived in Tokyo, but unlike the rest of us was planning to stay and work for several months. Fellow Australians, John and Susan, were using their Airbnb apartment as a home base for three weeks while exploring Tokyo on bicycles. Our lunch destination was La Boheme, an Italian restaurant serving tasty Italian food in Japanese style. Wakana had asked us to choose from the menu prior to the day so our delicious meals were ready when we arrived. As we sat together around the table more stories emerged, from the Canadian couple who had taken six months off to explore Asia and the American photographer hoping to build a new career with his photos.


airbnbAfter lunch, we continued our gentle stroll until we arrived back to the train station, where Wakana and Haruko bid us farewell. We didn’t go straight back to central Tokyo though. Instead we ventured out again down the narrow streets of Jiyugaoka, this time on our own, to continue exploring. We had journeyed to the other side of Tokyo and we were going to make the most of it, thanks to that intriguing subject line from Wakana.


A Night at the Theatre


You don’t have to understand Japanese to enjoy a night at the theatre in Tokyo. A traditional Kabuki performance at Kabuki-za in the Ginza runs for around four hours but if that’s too long you can just buy single act tickets on the day. Make sure you read the instructions on the website as timing is critical and if you’re not there on time for your act you’ll miss out.

We arrived at the theatre quite early and, following the directions given by the doorman, made our way to the single act ticket office on the fourth floor. Tickets purchased, we found a nearby Indian restaurant for a delicious dinner and then returned to the theatre in plenty of time for our performance.



In true Japanese style the procedure for entering the theatre was organised with precision. We had to line up single file in seating order before quietly entering the gallery on level three. From our elevated position we had a great view of the stage and could see the musicians tuning up their traditional instruments on each side. We had been given a brochure about the performance we were about to see which included a synopsis of the story. Even this prior knowledge, however, was not enough for us to follow what was happening. It didn’t take us long to realise we didn’t have a clue what was going on, so we just sat back and enjoyed the amazing display of drums, music, acrobats and actors.

All female roles in a Kabuki performance are played by male actors but the elaborate costumes, masks and make up meant it was impossible to tell. Photographs are not allowed inside the theatre so beautiful posters displayed in the foyer and outside the theatre show the most famous actors in their extravagant costumes.



The single act we saw lasted for 45 minutes. It was perfect for sampling the drama and spectacle of Kabuki – no Japanese language skills necessary!

* To get to the theatre, we travelled on the subway to Higashi Ginza Station. Exit 3 leads directly to the basement level of the theatre and escalators go to the theatre entrance at street level.

* A single act ticket cost ¥1000. Tickets must be purchased on the day of the performance and paid for in cash.

Tokyo Imperial Palace ~ Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Symmetry

The Tokyo Imperial Palace is the main residence of the Emperor of Japan. Although the buildings aren’t open to the public, visitors can view them from Kokyo Gaien, a large plaza at the front of the palace. A large moat with massive stone walls is crossed by several bridges including Meganebashi – Eyeglass Bridge.


There’s plenty of symmetry to be seen in the ornamental fences, lamp posts and entrance gates.




Even the guard on gate duty is symmetrical!


Weekly Photo Challenge – Symmetry

Deception at the Trick Art Museum

A day trip to Mt Takao would not be complete without visiting the Takao Trick Art Museum, across the road from Takaosanguchi Station in Hachioji-shi. After enjoying the splendid views of Tokyo and Mt Fuji from the summit of Mt Takao, exploring the mysteries of trick art was a fun way to end our day.


The deception began even before we entered the museum, with a ticket office so realistic we nearly bought our tickets there. This was just the first of many experiences this afternoon where our eyes would play havoc with our minds.


We were met at the real entry by a friendly girl who instructed us on using our 3D glasses to get the best out of our visit. Then, with a gracious bow, she sent us off into a realm of trickery and optical illusions. We put on our 3D glasses, turned the first corner and found ourselves transported to the streets of old Cairo.


Peepholes offered tantalising glimpses of a mysterious world beyond the wall, until we passed through a hidden door and were transported back over 3000 years to the world of ancient Egypt and the time of Tutankhamen.

Danger lurked around every corner, as we balanced precariously over snapping crocodiles, watched as stampeding elephants passed by and hoped the hungry lions would stay behind bars.

In the Ames room and the Mirror room, where all was not what it seemed, our thoughts began to unravel like the wrappings on this Mummy.


Our entry included a free drink from the vending machine out on the balcony. While some of the choices seemed a little strange, at least the vending machine was not an illusion.



We relaxed in the autumn sunshine, sipped our banana milkshakes and realigned our minds, while this artist continued his work.


Wait! Was this deception or reality? It was hard to tell…

Find out how Justin Beaver nearly met his end at the Trick Art Museum!

Unusual! Unexpected! Unbelievable!

When we travel, we like to find somewhere a little different to visit, so with this in mind I googled “unusual things to do in Tokyo”. My search found classes in calligraphy, Ikebana and Tea Ceremony, but it was “mountain temple walk” which caught my attention. Some more research revealed that the mountain was Mt Takao, the temple was Yakuo-in, and both were located in Meiji Memorial Forest Takao Quasi-National Park. With the added attractions of a cable car, a chair lift, and hiking tracks this seemed like the perfect day trip for us.

We travelled by train from Shinjuku to Takaosanguchi Station, a 50 minute journey through the suburbs past temples, shrines and cemeteries, schools and homes to the western edge of Tokyo. A shaded footpath which wound its way along the river bank led us to Kiyotaki cable car station. The six minute cable car ride was the beginning of our ascent of Mt Takao and we rose steeply through the forest to Takaosan Station.



From the station we began our uphill walk, passing food stalls and souvenir shops until we came to Tako-sugi – the Octopus Tree. The roots of this 450 year old cedar tree have wound themselves tightly around the stones at its base like the legs of an octopus. Legend tells how the tree roots which blocked the path moved themselves rather than be chopped away; today the tree is symbolic of a path leading to good fortune.

We continued upwards, the track lined on one side with red lanterns and prayer walls and an avenue of giant cedars on the other, until we came to the gate to Yakuo-in Temple.



The entrance to the temple was guarded by several tengu, long-nosed mystical beings who drive away evil and welcome the good. Beyond the gate was the temple complex with Yakuo-in, established in 744, at its centre. The area around the Buddhist temple was busy but the atmosphere was one of peace and prayer, with people making offerings at tiny fountains and buying charms at the colourful stalls. Worshippers fanned the smoke rising from the enormous incense burner towards themselves in the hope of absorbing some of its reputed healing powers.



The walking track circled behind the temple and continued uphill, mostly shaded by the forest with the occasional gap in the trees revealing tantalising glimpses of distant mountain ranges. We sat on one of the many benches along the track to eat our picnic lunch, the cool shade giving us some respite on this warm autumn day.


After a rest we ventured on, signs pointing the way up a final flight of steps, until suddenly, we stepped out of the forest into the open air at the summit of the mountain. At an elevation of 599 metres, we could see where the outer edges of Tokyo met the forest while far away in the distance the skyscrapers of the city were softened by the heat haze of midday.


A short walk to the northern side of the mountain revealed the majesty of the Tanzawa Mountain Range, and there, nestled amongst the blue-tinged line of mountains was Mt Fuji, delicately framed by a backdrop of pale cloud. Yoshi, our guide on our day trip to Mt Fuji, had said the mountain top is only free of cloud an average of two days each week and here it was; beautifully clear for the second time. Nowhere in my research had I read that Mt Fuji was visible from Mt Takao, so seeing the sacred mountain again was an unexpected surprise and the perfect reward for our uphill walk.


Reluctantly we bid farewell to Mt Fuji, retraced our steps from the summit of Mt Takao past Yakuo-in to the tree-lined path below. After hiking up the mountain we chose the easy way down, on the chair lift from Sanroku Station to Sanjo Station. It was only a 12 minute ride downhill, but it seemed much longer as we glided silently through the trees and caught our last glimpses of Tokyo stretching away into the distance.


Our day trip out of Tokyo was more than unusual. It had turned out to be the most memorable day of our holiday; a day filled with walking, temples, mountains and a breath-taking view – unexpected, unbelievable – truly a privilege!


Two Museums, One Story

There are more than 100 museums in Tokyo covering such diverse interests as stamps and sumo, bicycles and beer. With such a variety of choices, how does a visitor decide which museum to go to? On our day trip to Mt Fuji our guide Yoshi gave us an invaluable piece of advice. “If your time is limited, go to the Edo-Tokyo Museum and the Tokyo National Museum. There you will find all you need to know about Tokyo.”

Edo was the historical name of Tokyo and the Edo Museum recounts the history of the city from 1603, the beginning of the Edo period, to the present. Outside, the building resembles the shape of an old storehouse in the Kurazukuri style, while inside a reconstruction of Nihonbashi, the old bridge into Edo, leads visitors to the exhibition hall of the museum.




Full-size replicas of important buildings are placed side by side with scale models of the old city in a display where the smallest details of Japanese life are captured. Elaborate carvings, paintings and giant paper lanterns decorate the façade of the Nakamura-za Kabuki Theatre where musicians play traditional Japanese instruments. On the stage actors in lavish costumes and ornate props are ready for a performance of the kabuki play Sukeroku.



The view changes from life-sized to miniature in the dioramas of street scenes in Edo. They are populated by dozens of tiny figures going about their daily lives: men take their day’s catch to the market while a washerwoman hangs out a yukata to dry. My favourite: the kimono-clad lady shading herself with a brilliant red parasol as she walks along the street.

While the Edo-Tokyo Museum tells of Tokyo’s architectural and social history, the Tokyo National Museum houses a vast collection of art works including 87 Japanese National Treasures.


Archaeological and cultural pieces dating from antiquity through to the end of the Edo period are displayed on the first floor – allow a few hours to take in the delicately executed calligraphy on scrolls from the 16th century, exquisitely embroidered 17th century kimonos, and beautifully worked Samurai armour.

Yoshi was right – for an overview of the history and culture of Tokyo, a half day spent at each of these two museums is perfect. Now, how do I get to the Beer Museum?