Tag Archives: Japan

What do you know about the history of sport in Nigeria?

19 Nov

It’s a little-known fact that the first football match that I went to see was a friendly between Japan and Nigeria at the St Mary’s stadium in Southampton. I’m not a huge football fan and the weather was bleak (torrential rain), but the atmosphere was electric. The fans were incredibly friendly and also lived up to national stereotypes: there was the flashing of a thousand cameras every time a Japanese player got the ball, and the sound of the drumming from the Nigerian fans was thunderous. I LOVED IT! However, since then, I’ve not really seen or read much about Nigerian sports (although if you read my blog regularly, you’ll know how much I love Japan!)

A colleague has recently written some great articles that I think may be of interest to many people…

Ola Pic

My name is Olaojo Aiyegbayo and I am a freelance sports’ writer. I have published two sports’ stories so far – one features ‘Pele, Arthur Ashe and the 1976 Nigerian military coup’ while the second one is on ‘Pele and the Nigerian civil war’. I am Nigerian by birth hence my interest in telling stories about Nigeria’s sporting history. My articles are written to appeal to not just Nigerians but non-Nigerians as well. You can reach me via @olaojo15 or ola@horebinternational.com


Please do have a read of Ola’s articles – they are well-researched and I found them both to be compelling.

Do you remember my trip to Japan?

18 Nov

In April, my husband (Stu) and I cycled across Japan with our friend, Jez. He has finally finished editing his beautiful photos and blogging about the trip. If you are interested in cycling in Japan, I would strongly recommend that you have a look: http://www.hollinsheads.com/event.php?event=Japan%202015



Have you ever been cycle touring? Where’s the most interesting place that you’ve cycled?

What’s the most amazing place you have swum, biked or run (or all three)?

19 Aug

For me it would have to be Japan. I didn’t do a lot of swimming there (I’m not sure that bathing in the onsen [hot springs] counts), but I did plenty of running and cycling.

I travelled there in April with my husband, Stuart and our friend Jez. We spent a few days in Tokyo before travelling to Kanazawa before cycling across the Japanese Alps chasing the cherry blossoms.

It is a truly stunning country with beautiful landscapes, tasty food and friendly people.

Some days were warm, sunny and snow free. This is one of my favourite pics from the holiday. © Jeremy Hollinshead

I was really excited to get started!

Ready to set off from the Shirakawa Go Eco Institute. It was a completely stunning location, but cycling 5km up at 15% incline on an icy road in the dark possibly isn’t be best way to round off your first full day of cycling.

Because we had to carry all of our possessions for over two weeks, I had a limited amount of clothing – 2 SOAS cycling kits, waterproof trousers, jacket, gloves, buff, headband, calf guards, jeans, SOAS hoodie, a couple of t-shirts and a dress. I hadn’t realised that we were going to cycle through the snowy Japanese Alps, so ended up wearing almost everything for a couple of days!

Outside a traditional ryokan before the start of a day’s cycling adventure © Jeremy Hollinshead

Nearing the top of a tough mountain ©Jeremy Hollinshead

Isn’t the scenery stunning? ©Jeremy Hollinshead

Out for a little walk under the sakura ©Jeremy Hollinshead

A little pose on our arrival at the Sanzen-In temple © Jeremy Hollinshead

Carb-loading with yams at Kanazawa Castle

The snow made us a little bit sunburnt!

With our running tour guide, Su-San, in Tokyo

Running by the Imperial Palace in Tokyo

Cycling in Gokayama ©Jeremy Hollinshead

Cycling through a traditional village

Appreciating the stunning foliage ©Jeremy Hollinshead

There are lots of other places that I love, but if I can only choose one country (I can’t even narrow it down to a prefecture, let alone a city), it would have to be Japan. I’d never done a cycling holiday before, but I loved the freedom that it gave us, as well as the opportunity to experience life off the beaten track.

Where’s the most amazing place that you swum/cycled/run?

The impact of World War II on Japan – Hiroshima and Himeji

14 Apr

Last night’s sleep was a lot better, which was a relief. I went to bed quite early and wasn’t disturbed too much. I woke at 5:45 and decided that I might as well get up as that would give me an hour to get ready.

After a quick shower, I got dressed and Stu and I went down to the second floor where the kitchen and social area are located. Yesterday, we bought some plain yogurt and some granola/muesli for breakfast, so I got some bowls and spoons out whilst Stu made us some hot drinks.

I had believed that the granola had pistachios in it, but on closer inspection, I realised that it had roasted beans in it and something that may have been dried tofu. Whatever it was, it was absolutely delicious.

At 6:45am, we met Jez and headed to the station. Kyoto is a massive station, so we needed to allow enough time to find the right platform. At 7:20am our Shinkansen bound for Hiroshima arrived. I spent some time catching up with my blog, before we arrived at 9:05am.

Signs told us that it was about a 30 minute walk to the A-bomb dome, so we decided not to catch a bus or get on a tram. The weather was lovely – warm, with not a cloud in the sky.

As soon as we arrived at the Peace Garden, we saw the dome. As the bomb detonated immediately overhead, it was one of the few buildings that was not totally destroyed in the blast.

A bomb dome

© Jeremy Hollinshead

We walked around the building until we came to Mito Kosei. He was in utero when the bomb detonated. He worked as a school teacher and now volunteers his time to tell his story. Fortunately, it is safe to live in Hiroshima, but the impact of radiation on the genetics of survivors’ descendants is not known. Mito’s blog can be read at blog.livedoor.jp/mitokosei He also asks that people watch a film called That Day – it was produced by an American couple and features an interview with Mito.

© Jeremy Hollinshead

We walked through the garden and saw the various statues and memorials that have been erected, before entering Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. It is only 50 yen (about 30p) to enter, so we decided to hire head sets for 300 yen each.

The museum was a solemn and heart-breaking experience. I did not take any photos. I had not realised that a huge number of junior high school students (aged 12-15) had been killed in the blast. They were being employed in building demolition, so that if the city were bombed, the fires would not spread. Thousands of children went to work that morning and never went home. The museum also included the horrific stories of children who were affected and somehow managed to struggle home through the devastation to their parents, only to die of radiation sickness or their burns within the next couple of days. The scale of the devastation was unprecedented. My visit to this museum is something I will never forget. To give you an idea of what it’s about, here’s some information from the museum’s guide:

At 8:15am on August 6, 1945, the city of Hiroshima fell victim to the world’s first atomic bombing. the entire city was virtually levelled; thousands upon thousands of lives were lost. Many of those who managed to survive suffered irreparable physical and psychological damage and still suffer the effects today.

The Peace Memorial Museum collects and displays belongings left by the victims, photos, and other materials that convey the horror of that event’ supplemented by exhibits that describe Hiroshima before and after the bombing and others that present the current status of the nuclear age. Each of the items displayed embodies the grief, anger, or pain of real people. Having now recovered from that A-bomb calamity, Hiroshima’s deepest wish is the elimination of all nuclear weapons and the realisation of a genuinely peaceful international community.

View of the A bomb dome

©Jeremy Hollinshead

After we left the museum, we walked back through the garden and headed to the statue in memory of the children who died. Sadako Sasaki started making paper cranes when she was ill in hospital with leukaemia. It is an old superstition that making a wish on a thousand paper cranes will make a wish come true. Sasado made her thousand paper cranes and continued to make them until her death. Today, they are used to symbolise people’s wish for peace.

After we left the park, we decided to walk to Hiroshima Castle. We didn’t have long, but decided to stop for a drink and a slice of cake.

Hiroshima Castle us a modern reconstruction as, understandably, the original was destroyed in 1945. In the grounds of the castle are a eucalyptus tree and a willow tree that survived the bomb.

When we left the castle, we stopped St a Post Office for Jez to send some postcards. I noticed some beautiful 3D cards for sale, so I bought a couple. I already know who the recipients will be. I hope they like them!

At the station, we found our first supermarket – thus far, we’ve only seen convenience stores. I was delighted to find an ooki akai ringo (large red apple). I remember being blown away by the size of the apples on my last visit to Japan. We also bought some sandwiches and Stu chose a packet of lemon crisps.

It was then a dash to the platform to catch our Shinkansen to Himeji.

As soon as we left Himeji station, we were able to see Himeji Castle, which is at the end of a long street. It has only recently reopened after a six year restoration project.

Himeji © Jeremy Hollinshead

We all took lots of photos of the castle on our way in. It was the most expensive site that we have visited at 1000 yen (about £6.50), but it was worth every penny. It looks truly stunning from every direction and the interior is also interesting to see. As usual, we had to remove our shoes to go inside, which made the steep staircases feel a little dangerous, so I gripped hold of the handrails!

When we left the castle, we decided to try some local delicacies. Stuart had a melon ice cream, Jez had black sesame and I had a black sesame and soybean milk ice cream. Although I love the flavour of black sesame, Stuart’s was more unusual and refreshing.

We had a couple of hours before catching our Shinkansen back to Kyoto, so we decided to go for a meal. We found a pizza restaurant and the boys had a beer whilst I had a glass of melon soda, before heading to the station, for the hour long trip back to Kyoto.

Himeji © Jeremy Hollinshead

I just love the melon-flavoured food in Japan. I also love melon pan and hope to make some one day: japanese-cooking-class-tokyo-mari.com/recipe/2014/05/31/melon-pan-recipe-how-to-make-japanese-melon-bread/


Takayama to Tsumago

10 Apr
Yet another early start today. Despite going to bed at 10pm, I was exhausted by the time the alarm went off at 6am, as Stuart was coughing and snoring all night.
Breakfast was a pot of yoghurt with fruit and a muffin that we bought in a convenience store last night.
By 7am, we were out on the pavement unzipping our bike bags and loading the bikes up.
It was a short walk to Takayama station, where Jez and I reserved tickets for the 8am train to Hida.
We packed our bikes back up and went to get on the platform but were stopped by the guard. It wasn’t possible for us to go onto the platform before an earlier train had arrived and left.
As soon as the 7:40 arrived, we could see the challenge – there were hundreds of school children on it, who came pouring out of the station. As soon as they had gone, a slightly smaller group of children boarded the train.
Soon it was time for us to board. As usual, our carriage was the furthest from the entrance, so we had to lug our stuff to the far end of the platform.
It wasn’t easy to see where to put our bikes, so we stacked them by the door and then found our seats.
The seats were spacious and comfortable, and we could see through the large windscreen at the front, where the driver was sitting.

After the train started moving, the conductor went to the front of the train, where he bowed before starting to check tickets. A few minutes later he returned to explain that we needed to move our bikes.
We had to carry the bikes down a couple of carriages… They ended up sitting in First Class!
When we arrived at Gero, we unloaded the bikes and then spent a few minutes on the platform as it was quite busy. Jez tried out a new beverage from the vending machine: hot milky chocolate tea. This one was a hit!
When we came out of the station, a taxi driver kindly took a few photos and warned us that it would rain.
It was then onto the road.


Again the scenery was stunning. Down in the valley by the river, the cherry trees were in full bloom. This was the theme for the day – as soon as we climbed, the trees were in bud and then we would descend again and the trees would be in bloom.


By 3pm, we arrived a traditional village, Tsumago, and decided to have a look around. It was a little cool and we felt a few spots of rain, so we pulled on some jeans. We weren’t sure where to put our bikes, so we put them in a gutter in the coach park and left them there fully-loaded and unlocked. This would be unthinkable in the UK, but we were confident that they would be in exactly the same place on our return.
We wandered up to the village and went in search of a cafe to buy some hot drinks as Stu was a bit cold.
We managed to find a cafe, which had an interesting system: read the menu, select your food/drink and then go to a machine and enter your order and the correct amount of cash. This produces a ticket which then has to be presented to the waitress.
Something that has surprised me about Japan is the popularity of coffee. Cold tea is available from vending machines, but hot tea is not often an option, even though hot coffee can be bought.
After our drinks, we wandered around the village for a while. We paid to go into a traditional house/museum and a member of staff came out and gave us an impromptu tour. It was really interesting.



When we left the museum, it had started to rain, so we decided to return to our bikes and cycle to the ryokan (traditional guest house). Fortunately, our bikes were where we left them, so we removed our jeans and got pedalling as quickly as possible.
As soon as we left, we were on a hill. Jez and Stu swiftly pulled away from me, but I was ready for a couple of kms climbing. Shortly afterwards, I saw Stu and Jez on the other side of the road… We were almost there!
On arrival at the ryokan, we tucked our bikes on the porch and were shown to our room. As it is a traditional inn, there was a small table in the middle of the room with a cushion on each side and a tea set on the table. We had a cup of tea, put our stuff away and went down for dinner.



Wow! What a spread! We had a shared table with Jez and it was entirely covered in food. I avoided the fish, but found that there were lots of vegetable dishes.


After dinner, we went to the social area and chatted with some Aussies and a young English guy.

Shinkansen to Kanazawa

7 Apr

Our train for Kanazawa was at 10:30 this morning, so we got up at 7:30am.
This gave us enough time to finish packing before leaving our hotel.

At 9am, Jez joined us at our hotel and we wheeled/carried/dragged our bikes to Ryogoku station. We had to go up a long flight of steps to the platform. There was already a train there, but we decided to move further down the platform and wait for the next train, as it was still quite busy.
We managed to board the next train, before travelling one stop and getting off at Kinshicho, where we changed for Tokyo. As usual, this meant changing platform and going up and down steps. Without luggage, it is easy, but with a bike (wrapped in a travelling bag), two panniers and a top box, it’s more of a challenge!
The train to Tokyo was quite busy, but I managed to get on without hitting anyone with my baggage – sumimasen (excuse me) and gomen nasai (I’m sorry) are useful phrases to know!
As expected, Tokyo station was very busy. It was a long walk from our platform to the area where Shinkansen depart. We worked out that we needed platforms 20-24, but couldn’t find where they were. I left Stu and Jez with our bags and asked at the information desk where we needed to go. I managed to understand that our train would depart from platform 21 and also the directions to that platform… What a relief that I was paying attention during the lessons where that information was covered!
We carried our luggage to the platform, but there were only small kiosks selling snacks, so Jez and I left Stu, to go in search of lunch.
The station is enormous, and we were unable to see the sandwich shop that we had passed 10 minutes previously, so we went into a bakery. I selected two bottles of water and then looked at the sandwich selection. Tiny sandwiches seem to be popular here. There was a selection pack with about 8 small sandwiches in it, but I chose a bread roll and a small pack of ham for Stuart. I picked up a salad pot with miscellaneous vegetables for me. There were also some adorable cakes that looked like frogs. As they were green, I was hoping that they were melon cakes again, although there was also the possibility that they might be green tea flavoured.

Jez and I paid for our purchases and hurried back to our platform, getting a little lost on the way.
We had a few minutes to work out where we needed to stand. Although Germans may pride themselves on their efficiency, they are no match for the Japanese. There are lines on all Japanese platforms indicating where the stand and wait. These lines match exactly with where the doors of the train will open. The lines are also labelled with the carriage number and seat numbers. (For double decker trains, there are two queue, with an indication of where the line up for upstairs or downstairs). Everyone waits silently in the queue and boarding is an easy process on the whole.
Our train arrived, but we could not board immediately, as the train needed to be cleaned first. This was a simple process that took a few minutes as people usually take their rubbish with them. I was intrigued to see that all of the seats swivel around, so that passengers can always face the direction of travel. The staff who had been working on the train all exited from the door nearest us and lined up outside the train, facing the platform. They then bowed as one and marched off. I simply could not imagine this happening in the UK!
It was then our turn to get on, however, boarding a train with multiple panniers and three bikes is certainly not easy. Behind the final row of seats, there was a large amount of room for luggage. I put my bike there and Jez slide his in next to mine. On the other side of the carriage, someone had already put some cases, so we picked up Stu’s bike and put it on top of mine. There were also luggage racks above the seats, so we put our panniers there.
I was surprised by how spacious the train was. There were two rows of seats on the left hand side and three rows on the right. Each seat has a fold down table and access to a plug socket. The seats all recline and there is a huge amount of leg room.
After we had departed Tokyo, there was a drinks service. Stuart and Jez ordered coffee and I ordered a cup of tea. I was surprised to be given a bottle, but it seems that they do not serve hot tea. I do not love cold green tea, but it was OK.
Jez then got out his list of Japanese phrases. I thought this would be good revision for me. I was pleased to find that I knew most of the phrases, although I was puzzled by one phrase that Jez had written down. I asked whether his Japanese friend had given him the phrases, but he explained that Google had provided them for them. The phrase that Jez had written to say that he is unable to speak Japanese translated as a refusal to speak Japanese, which amused me.


After a 21/2 hour ride, we arrived in Kanazawa. We passed through the Japanese Alps on our way here and saw many snow-capped mountains, so we’re not surprised to find it considerably chillier than Tokyo.

The hotel that Stuart and I are staying in is close to the station, so we wheeled our bikes there and checked in, before setting off with Jez to find his guest house. It didn’t take long to locate it, but it was closed until 4:30pm, so we decided to assemble Jez’s bike, lock it to a nearby lamp-post and then walk back to our hotel with his bags so that we could go out exploring.
After a brief stop for me to add more clothing (cycling jacket, buff and my SOAS beanie – never have I been so grateful for a hat!), we headed off towards a garden that Jez had read about.
We soon found that we were at the market. Although it was after 2pm, the market was still quite busy. There were many seafood stalls, and there was also fruit and veg for sale. Strawberries are very popular here, but I’m always impressed by the size of the apples – I’m sure Japanese apples are the largest in the world!
Just after the market, we found that we had arrived at Kanazawa Castle. We stopped and posed for some photographs, before entering. The castle grounds. We have arrived at exactly the right time for cherry blossom here. Everything looks stunning.


After having a wander around the castle building, we headed out through a gateway, where we were met with the most spectacular display of blossoms. There were crowds of people around and we also saw a young couple having their wedding photographs taken.


On the other side of the street was the entrance to Kenroku-en Garden. Usually, there is a fee to enter, but during cherry blossom week, it is free for everyone to enjoy. We passed through some market stalls, and Jez decided to try a local delicacy: toffee cherries – like toffee apples, but cherries. Apples and strawberries were also available.


We really enjoyed our stroll around the gardens, taking far too many photographs and enjoying the sights. Everyone seems to be in a carefree mood, and there were lots of families out.


By the time we had finished looking at everything, I was feeling cold, so we stopped at the market stalls again. I decided to buy some sweet potato fries – however, what I received was not at all what I was expecting. I thought that the potatoes were being dipped in salt, but it was sugar, and they weren’t sweet potatoes, they were yams. Anyway, they tasted good 🙂

We walked back through the castle grounds and through the market to get back to our hotel, where we agreed to meet Jez an hour later. This gave us enough time to organise our panniers and do a bit of work on our bikes. My bike had a flat tyre, so Stuart fixed it whilst I did some organising.
When Jez returned, we had a look on google maps to see where restaurants were located. We could see that there were several clustered in one area, so we headed down into the underpass to find them.
We walked around and perused the menus, before deciding on a typically Japanese restaurant (the Italian one that sold paella had an English menu, but I wasn’t convinced).

I ordered grilled tofu and some buttered potatoes; Jez ordered salmon and chicken skewers and Stu ordered chicken and some grilled squid. My food arrived first, so I invited the others to try it. I was surprised that Jez had never had tofu before – I forget that only vegetarians in the UK tend to eat it.  When the boys’ food arrived, they eat had large plates. Their side dishes arrived after their main meals and they struggled to eat them.


The restaurant soon started filling with groups of Japanese business men. I have noticed that the sexes do not tend to mix here. Groups of school girls or boys are often seen, but I’ve not seen any boys and girls in school uniform talking to each other. Likewise, at our last hotel, there were lots of young women in suits, but there were no men with them. Apart from the waitress, I was the only woman in the restaurant!
It seemed like a sports bar. Baseball was on TV and the food was the kind of thing that might be eaten as tapas. The drinks menu only had two soft drinks: cold tea or alcohol free beer.
After our meal, we decided to go in search of a convenience store to buy some snacks for our cycling tomorrow. We headed into the station and picked up some chocolate. Then we popped into Starbucks for a warm drink and cookie before returning to the hotel.
Everyone has been so helpful so far, but I feel terribly guilty that I do not speak Japanese very well. I really think I should have made more effort to get out my textbooks and at least revise what I studied before we came here. Fortunately, words are coming back to me, but I’m frustrated when I can’t remember the correct constructions or specific pieces of vocabulary. I’ve also limited myself as I don’t have a dictionary.
Have you been on holiday to somewhere that you couldn’t speak the language? Did it bother you?

To read about this form Jez’s point of view (and see some beautiful photos), visit: http://www.hollinsheads.com/results.php?event=Japan%202015&event_episode=02

Jez’s arrival in Japan

7 Apr

Our friend, Jez, arrived in Japan today, so we agreed to travel out to Haneda Airport to meet him. Fortunately, Haneda is not as far from where we are staying as Narita is, so we were able to leave our hotel at 8am.

The weather had been forecast to be sunny, so we didn’t need to wear jumpers when we left the hotel, and we certainly didn’t need them on the train, as it is always warm there. After a change of line, we got onto the monorail that goes out to Haneda. It was an attractive journey with quite a lot of things for us to look at.

We were a little late arriving at Haneda (about 9:10am), so we decided to have a look around the arrivals hall, to see whether we could spot Jez. We had only walked about 100m when we spied Jez. The airport is totally different from Narita, Heathrow, Gatwick and other large airports – I was amazed by how quiet and empty it seemed.

Jez had already dropped off his bike box, so we decided to queue to sort out his Japan Rail ticket, before doing anything else. The queue was much shorter than at Narita, so it didn’t take long. Jez then needed to collect a parcel and sort out his wifi, so we went back upstairs. Unfortunately, the collection point was at Terminal 1, so we agreed to stay with Jez’s bags whilst he popped to the other terminal. This was fine as there was free wifi at the airport 🙂

Just under 30 minutes later, we were rejoined by Jez. We decided to try to find something to eat before heading back into the city. There were several cafes and restaurants located on the upper floor of the airport, so we headed there to find something to eat.

After eying up some traditional fish restaurants, we settled on Mos Burger. I think this is a Japanese burger chain as I’m sure my friend Shizuka said she used to work in one.

I spent a bit of time trying to decipher the menu and worked out that there was a vege burger option. When we went in, the sales assistant produced a menu in English. I was correct – it was an avocado soy burger. Delicious! Stu and I ordered a portion of fries to share and a glass of Pepsi each. It was a little early for lunch, but as we hadn’t had breakfast and Jez was hungry, it was a good plan.

After eating, we went back to the monorail station, where Jez decided to make his first purchase from a Japanese vending machine. He selected a bottle of pocari sweat and seemed genuinely excited about the experience.

The helpful signs showed that although it was only 2 minutes until the next train, if we waited 5 minutes, we could get a train that would take us straight to Akihabara. We were also informed by some signs on the platform that there was a good location from which to take photographs, so we walked to the end of the platform for Jez’s monorail photo opportunity.

There were plenty of seats on the train, but we decided to stand so that Jez could hold onto his bike.

When we got to Akihabara, we made our way to the JR ticket office. As Jez is very organised, he had written down all of the ticket reservations that we needed to make. We just passed his spreadsheet over to the sales assistant who was able to process all of the bookings.

The lights outside of the station had caught Jez’s eye, so we headed out to see ‘Electric City’, before wandering around trying to find the Tokyo Metro station.

After a little while, I went to the information desk and was able to ask in Japanese for the metro station and I understood the instructions that I was given. It seems quite tedious in a language class to spend time asking directions and having to learn words such as: left, right, bridge, traffic lights, turn, go straight ahead etc, but I am now relieved that I was paying attention in class.

After another short ride, we made it to the stop nearest Jez’s accommodation – a hostel called K’s. This is where we experienced true a Japanese address, as we only knew which ‘chome’ the building was in. It took a bit of searching, but a kind man saw us looking and pointed in the right direction.

Whilst Jez dropped his stuff off, we indulged ourselves with some more free wifi and a small cup of tea each. The staff at the hostel are well-travelled young Japanese people, so they all spoke good English. They gave us a map, and we decided to set off in the direction of a temple.

This whole process had taken several hours, so when we saw a 7-11, we decided to stop and buy some lunch to take with us. I selected a finger roll filled with cheese and sweetcorn, some rice wrapped in seaweed and a banana, along with a bottle of lemon soda.

We continued walking along the street, until we saw the gates of a temple up ahead. I had thought we were heading towards a temple that we had seen earlier this week, but as we got closer, I realised that it was one we had visited at night last time we were here (6 years ago).

Whilst Jez was taking some photographs, Stuart and I were approached by a television crew who wanted to interview us about the cost of accommodation in Tokyo. Stu has been the one to organise the trip, so I haven’t been too involved in looking at the prices, but as far as I’m aware, the hotels here are not as expensive as many in London and the hostels are very reasonably priced at about £20 a night.

We crossed the road and were immediately greeted by a barrage of sound and colour. A group of girls were walking past in kimonos, so a tour guide asked them if they would stop and pose for some photographs. They politely agreed, so we took a few shots.

The path leading up to the temple is lined with small shops selling omiyage (souvenirs), so it was very busy. There were quite a few women (and some men) walking around in traditional outfits. I think many of them delight in being the centre of attention as they seemed happy to pose for photos, although it seemed strange to see a couple of young years wearing such traditional attire pull out a selfie stick and start snapping away.

Before getting too close to the temple, we decided to sit on a rock and eat our lunch. The roll was quite nice, but my rice snack had fish in it (I did wonder!), so I didn’t eat it. The banana was delicious. I have missed eating fruit and hope I can find a delicious apple soon.

The temple is spectacular. It is located next to an enormous pagoda that is truly breathtaking. Again, this is all juxtaposed against the new additional to the skyline, the Tokyo Sky Tree. We took many, many photos, before paying a small fee to look at an exhibition of traditional Japanese paintings and woodcuts. The entrance fee also allowed us to walk around the monks’ garden, which seem tranquil after the bustle around the temple.

An elderly woman (who may have been a nun) was offering small cups of green tea, so we accepted before continuing our stroll around the garden.

By this stage, Jez was starting to flag, so we walked back to his hostel, before walking back to our hotel.

After repacking all of our belongings, we walked back to Jez’s hostel. The staff had recommended a local Indian restaurant as being a place where we could find vegetarian food, so we set off in search of it.

Along the way, we were passed by a group of small boys, all wearing gis. We had noticed a dojo near to Jez’s hostel, so they must have been to a class there. I was surprised by two things: firstly, we were always led to believe that it is inappropriate for a gi to be worn outside a dojo and secondly, in England, no parent would allow a child of six or seven years old to walk home. I think it is acceptable here asa the roads seem safe and there is such a low crime rate.

After a while, we found the restaurant. It had an enticing aroma and the Indian staff could not only speak Japanese, but they also spoke good English.

Stuart and Jez ordered a tankard off Asahi beer each and I ordered a coke. They then ordered chicken curry, whilst I ordered a vegetable curry and a peshwari naan. We had to choose how hot we wanted the food to be on a scale of 0-5. Stu chose 3 and Jez chose 4. I don’t like very hot food, so I chose 2, which turned out to be hotter than I expected. Fortunately, the naan was one of the next that I have ever had (and peshwari naan is one of my favourite foods).

At that point, Stu and Jez were both starting to flag, so we went our separate ways and agreed to meet in the morning at 9am. It’s going to be a challenge getting our luggage to Tokyo station, but I’m sure we’ll manage it. It’s going to be so much easier when we’re on our bikes!!!

To read about this from Jez’s point of view, please check out: http://www.hollinsheads.com/results.php?event=Japan%202015&event_episode=01

Vegan food, clothes shopping, Harajuku girls and some Japanese pro wrestlers

5 Apr
Today was the first day since we arrived in Japan that we haven’t needed to set an early alarm. Stu was excited so he thought this meant that we could eat breakfast (a meal we’ve not had yet in Japan). Unfortunately, we were both so tired that we slept until 10:30am and could quite happily have turned over and slept some more. By the time we had both showered and dressed it was 11:30, so we decided not to bother with breakfast, and to aim for brunch instead.

On our walk to the Sky Tower yesterday, we found a vegan cafe in the park. I was quite excited so this meant that I would be able to order anything off the menu and even if I didn’t like it, there would be no reason that I couldn’t eat it!

We walked up to the vegan restaurant, where I spent a few minutes trying to decipher the menu. I wasn’t too worried about what I ordered as I knew I could eat anything, but I didn’t want to order 2 side dishes or something stupid like that. Then I noticed a large menu in English. Hallelujah! I was so happy 🙂

I placed an order for deep fried tempeh, white rice and coffee for Stuart and vegetable curry, tempeh, brown rice and orange juice for me.
The cafe was an enormous room with very few tables. In England, I would expect a cafe of this size to have twice as many seats! 


When the food arrived, it was accompanied by a delicious salad, and Stu also had a small cup of miso soup. It was really nice to have a delicious meal that I knew was vegetarian.


After lunch, we walked to the Sky Tower again. It was raining and the clouds were hanging low. We couldn’t see the top of the tower, so the view must be disappointing today.
We went into the shopping centre and headed for Uniqlo. My in-laws very kindly gave me some Yen for my birthday, and I knew what I wanted to spend them on. I selected two skirts, two tunics and a t-shirt.
The changing rooms are different from English changing rooms. Clothes have to be placed in a basket outside, you then remove your shoes and step onto a platform inside. Only two items can be tried at a time. I decided to try on the skirts first. They were both above-the-knee, flared skirts with elasticated waist-bands. I was relieved that a large was big enough for me, as they did not have XL available. (They had also sold out of S!)
I liked the slightly pleated red and navy striped skirt, but I preferred the navy and white patterned skirt with cerise accents. It looks like a typically Japanese pattern, and is loose enough that I should be able to cycle to work in it (with thick tights or shorts for modesty!!!) 

The tshirt and tunics were a special kabuki collection, utilising traditional Japanese designs. Although I liked the tshirt which had a row of women wearing kimonos in it, the cut was a little loose. The tunics were navy with white patterns on them. A braver/shorter person might be able to wear them as a dress, but I think I’m too tall! I was pleased that the M was big enough for me, so I didn’t try on the L. I think I will wear it with skinny jeans or leggings.

We then made our way to the subway station. It was a little confusing, so we ended up changing to another line, before changing to a JR train.
When we got to Shinjuku, it was raining, so we went to Takashimaya department store. I love department stores, but Stuart does not. We browsed the Japanese exhibition hall, where there were lots of food samples, and also went up to admire the beautiful kimonos. I had a quick look at the stationery, before we went to look at the bicycles on offer. There were several models of Tokyo Bike, a Felt, a cinelli and a whole selection of Giant bikes. There were several models of Giant Escape (my work bike), as well as a few Giant Defys!
We then decided to stop for a drink, so we wandered across the street to St. Marc Cafe (chococro). Stuart had a black coffee and I had a delicious Belgian hot chocolate. It was the best hot chocolate that I have had for a long time – far better than Starbucks, which is not good. We also shared a mango ice cream, before heading back outside.

We thought it would be good to visit the nearby park, where most of the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. Unfortunately, we checked the information boards and discovered that the park closes at 4:30pm and it was already 5pm.
We walked around for a bit and then caught a train to the (in)famous Harajuku area, which is renowned for being the centre of Tokyo’s youth subculture.

For the first time since arriving in Japan, we witnessed huge crowds… And also quite a few westerners. Japan can be a little disconcerting, as it has a relatively homogenous population, and most immigrants blend in to western eyes, as they are from Korea and China. I’ve heard that there are also a lot of Indian immigrants, but have only seen two Indian families since we have been here. 

Shinjuku is Tokyo’s equivalent to the Lanes in Brighton. Outlandish hair and fashion are the norm, and many of the shops have names that are strange combinations of English or French words. 


Shinjuku is also famous for its crepes. They are often filled with ice-cream and rolled up like cones. They looked delicious, but Stu and I decided not to try them.


For our evening meal, we decided to try a restaurant that is near to the Edo Museum, as it advertised the fact that it has English menus.
When we arrived, we were surprised to find a faux traditional interior. There was clearly some sort of event going on as people were watching something and we could hear the sound of drums.
We were shown to a table and given a large picture menu to browse. We chose: grated yam on deep-fried tofu; nakasatsunai edamame; smoked squid tempura (for Stu) and although I was tempted by chips, we selected a rice ball each. We also ordered Chinese tea and were surprised to be given iced tea!


The meal was delicious, although it was very strange to be seated in a restaurant where people were smoking. This seems to be one of the biggest changes since we were last here. We have seen very few smokers, and although there are smoking booths on some streets, they are rarely in use. There was a smoking room at the. Shopping centre yesterday, and the cafe we went to earlier today had a smoking room. However,  in the restaurant that we went to this evening, the woman at the table next to us seemed to light up after every few mouthfuls, which was a little off-putting.
When we left the restaurant, there were crowds of people outside. It was only as we got to the museum and convention centre that we realised why… There had been a large pro wrestling match on. There were still crowds of people lining the exit, as the stars were just getting on their bus. I managed to get a couple of snaps, but I can’t remember what names were being shouted!
Stuart was a little cold, so he came back to the hotel to put the kettle on, whilst I went in search of dessert. The delicious bakery was closed, so I went to the 7-11 and bought some snacks. I bought us each a tiny cherry chocolate and then a small pot of cheesecake ice cream and a chocolate cake to share.
Tomorrow is our last day in Tokyo. It will be sad to leave, but I’m excited to get on my bike 🙂

Sumo and Sky Tree

4 Apr

It was another early start today, as we had signed up for a running tour that started at 8am. We weren’t sure how busy the subway would be at that time on a Saturday, so although we had read that the trip should only take 15 minutes, we. Thought we had better give ourselves at least 30 minutes to get there.

The first dilemma of the day was what to wear. I had originally planned to wear my favourite black running shorts with my SOAS vest, but the weather felt a bit cooler, and I also realised that that outfit only has one small pocket. After some deliberation, I selected my SOAS cycling Jersey as not only does it have short sleeves, but it also had three spacious pockets, with enough room for my essentials: inhaler, packet of tissues, wallet, phone and rain jacket.
When we got to the station, we needed to work out what kind of ticket to buy. We wanted to travel from Ryogoku to Kayabacho, but the stations are on different subway lines that are run by different operators, so we needed to buy a conversion ticket. Fortunately, the subway is very cheap, so it only cost us ¥280 each.
The train was not crowded, but several groups of school children got on – most of them on matching sports kits with the name of the sport (mainly volleyball and tennis) written on their track suits. There were also a few children wearing school uniform. (Later in the day, I asked whether Saturday school is usual, but I was informed that it is usually only children at fee-paying schools who have to go on Saturday mornings.
When we arrived at Kayabacho, the instructions to get to the headquarters of Tokyo Great Cycling Tour were very clear, so it didn’t take us long to walk to Shinkawa.
We arrived just as they were opening, so an older gentleman let us in. We were pleased to find that there was free wifi, so we were able to spend a bit if time catching up with friends online whilst waiting for our guide and the other guests to arrive.
It wasn’t long before Su-San arrived, so we just needed to wait for the other 3/4 runners who were expected. After a while, we realised that they weren’t going to turn up, so we set off.
Our guide, Su-San spoke English really well – probably because she worked in London for a couple of years. We set off at a steady pace and before long, we were at our first stop – a small shrine tucked in between some other buildings. Su-San explained a little bit about the rituals to us and then we set off again, this time at a slightly faster pace.
The second destination was a sumo stable in Nihimbashihamacho. The ground floor practice room has large windows so that visitors can look in. I was surprised at how small the room was – just large enough for a ring. There were several young men taking it in turns to wrestle. An older sumo wrestler must have finished his training for the day, as he had on a cotton kimono or yukata. He left the practice and came outside where he mounted a bicycle and pedalled off. The sight of the large man on a small shopper bike was quite comical.


We then moved on to the financial district of Tokyo, Nihombashimuromachi. This is also where Mitsukoshi department store is located. The Bank of Japan headquarters has an impressive building, which is even more spectacular when viewed from there air as it is in the shape of the Japanese yen sign!


Next stop on the tour was the imperial palace. We ran outside the wall for a while. There were a lot of runners going past – apparently, the perimeter measures 5km, so it is an easy route for people to run. We also saw a couple of serious-looking cyclists – they had clipless pedals and road bikes 🙂
Running in the grounds of the imperial palace is not allowed, so we walked down the gravel path to get a better look at the buildings. The Japanese royal family’s buildings are tucked away from view, but we were able to see some ancient bridges.
Unfortunately, by this time, it had started to rain quite hard, but it wasn’t cold.
On the other side of the road from the imperial palace, we could see Tokyo Railway Station. It has recently been refurbished. It is built in the same style as Amsterdam Railway Station and looks a little incongruous next to a tall skyscraper, but I’m quickly learning that Japan is a land of contradictions with the old juxtaposed by the new.
We ran over towards Maranouchi, which used to just be a business district, but is now also an affluent shopping area. Again, there are traditional style buildings next to modern tower blocks. In between some of the buildings was a little shrine. It was created to remember a rebel who was killed. Several times, various people have tried to build over the shrine, but bad fates (including death) have befallen them, so it is now kept sacred. I inquired about why there were lots of frog ornaments at the shrine. It is because the word for frog sounds the same as the verb ‘to return’ (kaeru), so people give frogs if they want to return to a place.
It was then a short run to Ginza. One of my favourite buildings here was the headquarters of Mikimoto (pearl jewellers), as the building is very unusual – unfortunately, I didn’t take a photo 😦 We stopped outside the kabuki theatre. Many people were queuing for tickets, as it is possible to buy on-the-day tickets to watch a single act of a kabuki play. Underneath the theatre is access to subway stations, and there is also a large market where souvenirs (omiyage) can be bought. We had a look and enjoyed the warmth and respite from the rain!
The next stop was the fish market. It is very strange to be in a beautiful and wealthy area one moment and the next to be in a traditional, bustling area… However, it is very clean and despite the trade, it doesn’t smell bad. We stopped at one of the stalls where we were given some traditional tea, before we crossed back over the road and saw some of the sushi restaurants.
Tsukishima was the next area that we visited. We were running quite quickly at this point, so I was glad to stop and take some photos of the beautiful sakura!
Next to where we saw some orchids yesterday, there was a narrow alleyway. Su-San beckoned to use to follow her, so we did. I was amazed to find that down the narrow passage way was a small shrine. It was even more amazing to see that in the shrine was the enormous trunk of a tree that was still living. The shrine was sandwiched between houses and when we stepped back outside, we could see the branches of the tree above the houses!
We then visited a hundred-year old shop that specialises in preserved food. Su-San bought two vegetable dishes that we tried after our run. One was a vegetable that was a bit like rhubarb and the other was horse radish.
Just done the road, was a large glass display cabinet. Inside it was a portable shrine that is carried during festivals. It was very intricately made.
We then ran back along the river to Shinkawa, only stopping for some photographs under the cherry blossoms.
I really enjoyed this running tour and would recommend it to any runners who visit Tokyo. We covered 14km, and although some parts were quite quick (5:00/km), it was never difficult to follow Su-San, and I’m certain that she would have slowed if she thought it was too much for us. She is clearly a very good runner as she was able to talk and run at the same time, even doing that pace. She also told us that she has run Tokyo marathon three times.
After the running tour had finished, we decided to head back to the hotel to shower and change before finding lunch, as we didn’t want to get cold. We decided to have a cheap and simple lunch, so we visited the konbini (convenience store) opposite the hotel and bought some noodle pots. I think mine was vegetarian – the picture and the words that I could read indicated that it was – and Stu had a chicken noodle pot. We also bought a packet of crisps to share. The only ones that didn’t appear to be beef flavoured were garlic and basic pizza crisps, which were a bit unusual. We also bought a cheesecake kitkat. The instructions on the packet seem to indicate that it can be oven-baked, but it’s not clear whether this is merely a serving suggestion, or whether it is meant to be served that way.
After lunch, we decided to walk to Tokyo Sky Tree, which is the new antenna. It is the tallest building of its kind in the world and could easily be seen from our hotel room, so we figured that we ought to be able to navigate our way there.
I told Stuart that I wanted to walk a particular route to get to the tower as I could see an athletics track from our hotel room and wanted to get a closer look. I was quite surprised when we got there…
It was a school playground and was the shorted track that I have ever seen!
Stuart then guided us in a particular direction as he had seen that there was a ‘water park’ on the map. This turned out to be Oyokogawa-shinsui-koen Park. It is about a mile long, with a river running through it. It had been beautifully landscaped, with different sections, including a play area for children, a large open area, and an area where groups were picnicking under the trees.
There were lots of joggers and cyclists sharing the footpath, so there were warning signs along the edge. These particularly amused Stuart.
By the open area, there was a mosaic depicting the four seasons, and on the other side of the area, there was a mural that appeared to show samurai, so we think it might have been telling the history of the area.
Towards the end of the park, there was a fishing section, where groups of men were sitting with rods and nets. I don’t know what they were fishing for, but they seem to be having an amicable time.
We left the park by some beautiful floral displays asa we could see that we were very close to the Sky Tree.
When we got to the tower, we found that there was a special booth for international tourists to buy tickets. They were more expensive tickets than local people could buy, but they also allowed us to bypass the queues to get in a lift and go up the tower. The waiting area was attractive – the ceilings were intricately decorated and had lights that changed colour.
When we reached the first viewing platform, the views were magnificent. It was a little cloudy today, so we could only see 30km, but that was far enough. (On a clear day it is possible to see Mount Fuji, which is 100km away!)
Partway around the platform was a cafe. Stu wanted to sit down and have a drink, so we looked at the menu. Originally, he was going to have a coffee, but I wanted to try one of the ‘recommended’ drinks – after all, if I’m unable to sample most of the food, I must try what I can. There were three flavours: Apple vinegar, blueberry vinegar and lychee vinegar, which could be combined with soda, mineral water, milk or soy milk. (An ice-cream type vinegar dessert was also on offer). I thought that vinegar and milk might be a flavour combination too far, so I went for blueberry vinegar and soda; Stu chose Apple vinegar and soda. Stu’s drink tasted quite like cider, whereas mine distinctly tasted of vinegar, although after a few mouthfuls, it seemed to mix together better (or maybe some of the ice melted) and it became more palatable!
We continued on around the viewing deck, until we were back where we started. Stuart had been keen to try the glass walkway at a higher deck, but we would have had to pay extra and as it was quite cloudy and grey and the viability was poor, www decided not to bother.
Below the tower is an enormous shopping mall. We spent a little time browsing the television characters store, before moving to the clothes stores. Many of them have ‘Japlish’ names – weird combinations of English words.
Most people here wear socks with sandals or ankle socks with skirts, and I’ve seen women wearing some beautiful tights, so I was not surprised that there were a number of shops selling socks. There were also rows and rows of toe socks which can be worn with traditional sandals.
Stu was starting to flag a bit, so we stopped and had a coffee and a very small plain waffle each, before leaving the building. It was now dark and the tower looked beautiful as it was lit up.
Tokyo is a very safe city with a low crime rate, so we decided to retrace our steps back through the park. Most of the parties had gone, but we saw some groups of boys cycling home from their baseball practice – they all had on their uniforms still and each one had a bat in the basket of his bike.
It has been another amazing day, but I’m grateful that we can have a lie in tomorrow, as I’m completely shattered. Stu and I haven’t planned tomorrow’s adventures yet, so if there is anywhere in Tokyo that you can recommend, please let me know! 🙂

Tokyo via Helsinki…

3 Apr

Wednesday morning started at 5:45am as we wanted to be on the road by 6:30am. This was a fortunate decision, as we had travelled less than five miles before we got stuck in a traffic jam. The traffic was slow-moving for an almost an hour, which gave me plenty of time to ponder what I had forgotten. Every trip, if forgot something. This time I realised that I had forgotten to put on any jewellery – fortunately, it is all locked away somewhere safely as I had been considering not wearing it anyway – I don’t like wearing rings when I’m cycling.

We arrived at Heathrow with plenty of time to check in. We were only allowed one case and a hand bag each, so we were expecting to have to pay for over-size/heavy baggage, but were relieved that we were not asked to pay extra 🙂

As we will be cycling around, we have no room for additional items and can’t afford to buy souvenirs, so we chose not to browse the shops at Heathrow. Usually, I would have a look at the perfumes on offer, but as I seem to be becoming allergic to everything, I decided not to risk it 😦 Stuart and I chose to while away some time in Pret a Manger with a hot drink and an almond croissant each – yummy!

Soon, it was time to board. We picked up several free newspapers before boarding, which was a good decision as there was no in-flight entertainment. Sadly, I didn’t have a pen, so we couldn’t do the crosswords. As usual, Stu was a gent and let me have the window seat – I like to periodically check that the wings are still attached.

It was a fairly short flight, so after 2-3 hours it as time to start the descent. I hadn’t really thought much about Finland in advance, but had assumed that as it is now spring that the snow might have melted. It was really exciting to come through the clouds and see that everything had a beautiful white dusting on it… However, I managed to restrain myself from shouting, “Wow! they’ve got snow here’, unlike the small boy in the seat in front of me 🙂

I was surprised by how busy Helsinki airport was, as I didn’t realise that it is one of the fastest routes to Asia from Europe. Over half of all of the travellers looked Asian, and the staff were doing a good job of speaking English and several other languages, none of which sounded like Finnish, which has a scary number of vowels in each word.

At the moment, Helsinki airport is being refurbished, so large areas were cordoned off. There was free wifi and charging points, but very few seats and very few places to eat. In the end, Stu and I went to Starbucks where he bought me a salad, as there was nothing else vegetarian.

We found that we had not been allocated seats together, and were told that it was not possible for this to be changed, so I gave Stu a big hug before we boarded the plane and then walked down the aisle to Row 54 where my seat was. I was allocated 54D, but the overhead labelling was a little confusing. I sat down where I thought my seat was, but after a while, a couple arrived and we decided that I was in one of their seats. This caused a problem, as none of us could located 54D. There was an empty space on row 54 – not an empty seat, but an empty space the size of a chair. I walked back down the aisle to a stewardess and asked her where my seat was. She gestured back down the aisle, but I explained that I could not find it. She looked a little exasperated, but walked back down the aisle with me. When we got to Row 54, she seemed as surprised as me that my seat did not exit. Clearly this was a problem. The plane looked full and I had no intention of disembarking. I wondered whether I would be upgraded.

The cabin crew started discussing the situation between themselves. I’m still not sure whether my seat existed or not, but the didn’t want to move the person who may have been in my seat as she was part of a couple. I was walked down the plane and left standing at the front. I felt really embarrassed, even though the problem was not of my making. Finally, an empty seat was found, in the centre of the middle row. It was next to a young Japanese guy who was on his own. As he had an aisle seat and Stu did as well, he was happy to swap with Stu, so the seat problem got resolved. 🙂

After take off, I decided to watch a couple of films. The first one was a family drama with some well-known actors, followed by Gone Girl. I listened  to the audio book of Gone Girl when I had my eyes layered, and although it was slow to get started, by the time I had heard the first third I was hooked (it was about 26 hours long!) the film was ok, but there are lots of parts of the novel that were left out that fleshed out the characters more.

When the staff started bringing the food around, there was another problem – although we had specifically ordered me a vegetarian meal, I was not on the list. I know that Stu had correctly completed the information online, so i can’t help but feel it was linked to the non-existence of my seat. Eventually, I was given a plain salad. I can’t say that a bowl of plain leaves excites me, but it was better than nothing. Shortly afterwards, we were served Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream, which was much appreciated.

After the meal, I tried to sleep, but there had not been a pillow or blanket left on my seat and I didn’t want to cause more problems by trying to attract the air hostess’s attention, so I just curled up as best I could next to Stu dreamng about one of the best travel blanket & pillow I saw in the commercial right before boarding.

A couple of hours later, breakfast was served. It was a very strange omelette with spinach. It was vegetarian, but I wasn’t really grateful for it!

I considered watching ‘Birdman’, but I was too tired to concentrate much, so instead I watched a few episodes of The Big Bang Theory.

After we had landed, I had to wait until the cabin was nearly empty, as my bag was in the  overhead locker at the back of the plane. By the time we got to the baggage collection, our suitcases had been put out. We made our way towards the exit, as we knew we needed to unpack our bike boxes and repack everything to make it easier to carry.

The gentleman at the left-luggage facility was very kind and friendly. He carefully explained the opening hours and charges before asking us about our trip. He sounded genuinely interested, which was nice.

Our next challenge was collecting our Japan Rail passes. I got us a luggage trolley, but we couldn’t fit it into the lift with our bikes stacked sideways on it. Eventually, we got downstairs and found the place to queue… And what a queue it was! International travellers cam get a special train pass, but it requires validation at the office, which can only be done in person with a passport. We queued for over 90 minutes, before we were able to catch a train.

The train was an interesting one, with upper and lower seating areas. We saw the stewardess in the first class section and she directed us in the opposite direction, so we hauled all of our bags upstairs and made ourselves comfortable. After a while the stewardess appeared again and explained that we were actually sitting in First Class – oops. We then had to carry our bags to the other end of the carriage and down the stairs. We sat in the first seats we found, which were ones that have to be given up to the elderly/infirm/pregnant. At first this was not a problem, as the train was empty, but it got busier and busier the closer to the city we got. When the othe seats had filled, we felt we should stand, but it wasn’t easy as we each had a couple of bags along with our massive bike bags.

When we arrived in the city, www had to change trains for one stop. Again, it was a busy train, but we made it and managed to negotiate several flights of stairs to exit the station. By this time, we had been awake for 24 hours and were exhausted. I was struggling to carry everything, so Stu left me with the bags and went to locate the hotel. He checked us in, so we just needed to get up to our room.

After a nap and a shower, we both felt much better… Although we didn’t really want to get up. We went out to explore the area around the hotel. It’s in quite a quiet district, so there were not many restaurants or shops.

We managed to locate an Italian restaurant, but I was frustrated by how much of my Japanese I had forgotten. After some discussion with the waiter, we placed an order and then waited to see what would arrive. Success! We got some olives, a mixed salad, spaghetti bolognese for Stu and a margarita pizza for me 🙂 I was quite thirsty and would perhaps have preferred a large glass of water,  but we also ended up with 4 glasses of rose wine!

When we got back to the hotel, we both wanted to go to bed, but decided that we had better assemble our bikes. We need to put both wheels back on, straighten the handle bars, put the saddle back on, reattach the pedals and attach the pannier rack. My bike was fine, but Stu’s was much more challenging. It took quite a lot of head-scratching and we had to do some improving with his rear mech hanger. Finally, it was done – time for a well-deserved sleep.

Japan is notorious for being challenging to navigate, so we got up early to be able to cycle the 6km to Shimbashi. We thought we would cycle to the right area, and when we had located the shop, we could buy breakfast in a nearby coffee shop. We removed the front wheel from each bike, covered them up with their travel bags and went outside the hotel. Reassembling them outside attracted a bit of attention – especially from an elderly Chinese lady who seemed to think my helmet was hysterical. Only children here wear helmets.

Once our bikes were assembled, we changed shoes and went to head off… But Stu’s chain fell off. We tried to fix it, but realised that there is still a problem with the rear mech hanger. We didn’t have enough time to fix it, so we wrapped the bikes up again and went back into the hotel.

A swift change later and we were at the train station. It was after 8am, so the trains were packed with commuters. I didn’t see any staff with white gloves pushing people onto the trains, but everyone pushes hard until anyone who is on the platform has been squeezed into the train. It was hot and uncomfortable, so I was relieved that we didn’t have to go far.

When we got out at Shimbashi, we consulted my printed notes. Unfortunately, only the first half of the directions had been printed, so Stu sorted out his phone so that we could use Google maps.

I had been warned that lack of punctuality is very discourteous in Japan, so I was worried we would arrive after 9am. We arrived on the dot and found out that there would be some other people on our tour who hadn’t yet arrived. This gave us time to catch our breath… And choose our bicycles.

All of the bicycles were made by Tokyo Cycle, which is a popular brand here. They are plain colours and have 8 gears, as well as a stand. I was surprised by how light they were. I chose a blue-grey bike and Stu picked a limed green one.

Our guide for the trip was a lovely young man called Nori. The other guests were a couple who live in Singapore: Simon, who was from Singapore and his friend who was Norwegian.

First stop on the tour was Ginza. This is Tokyo’s high-end shopping district, so we didn’t spend long there. It has a famous building with this clock tower – this has featured in many movies.



Ginza is also where the largest and most famous kabuki theatre is. There was a special event going on as a kabuki actor was receding a new name today.


The next stop was Tokyo’s fish market. It is the largest fish market in the world. This area has been a fishing area for over 400 years and the market has existed in the same building for 80 years. A new fish market is currently being built and it will move there next year. This is part of the regeneration for the 2020 Olympics. Although I don’t eat fish, the market was a fascinating place with lots of smells, colours and sounds. There also appear to be no driving laws in this area, with workers from the fish market driving all over the place on little electric carts. We also stopped at the site of the first Nishinomiya restaurant. This is a well-known chain that also has branches in Singapore. It is a kind of fast food.



The next part of our tour took us along by the river. It was very windy as as the trees are in full bloom, the petals were falling like snow.



We turned back inland to a residential area. We could smell some delicious food, so we stopped at a little shop. It was selling cooked items that are served as side dishes or meal accompaniments. There were all sorts of things, such as tuna and crab… And even grasshoppers. Our guide told us that although he likes most of the items very much, he doesn’t like grasshopper!


We then moved onto one of the man-made Islands. The cherry blossoms were particularly beautiful. Behind us, there was an old lady who had lots of beautifully multi-stemmed orchids on her steps. I asked whether it was a flower shop as I assumed that the old lady grew the flowers. Nori asked a few questions and then explained everything to us. A company had bought the orchids for a corporate event and then the flowers had been given to the old lady who was selling them. Whilst we were there, quite a few other old ladies stopped by to buy the flowers. They were very expensive and are the kind of flowers that are usually used for celebrations in Japan. 


The weather turned a bit grey and cloudy at this point. We cycled off over a bridge, where we could see the work being done on the new fish market. We were also able to see the only barbecue area in Tokyo. Outdoor fires are banned – I assume this is because the area is so populous and a fire could be devastating.


Next stop was over the Bridge of Big Dreams to Odaiba. We arrived just in time to see the Gundam show. Gundam is a popular robot character from anime. Outside the shopping centre is a massive statue of Gundam that was created to celebrate his 30th anniversary. The statue has a moving head and flashing lights for eyes. He is clearly a popular character amongst Japanese youth. We could also see an enormous Ferris wheel… It was not until we got close to it that I could see just how large it was.



We then cycled off along by the river again and through another park. This time we passed a television crew who were interviewing people about the cherry blossoms. There was also an enormous replica of the Statue of Liberty, which seemed a little incongruous.


It was then time for our lunch break. We went into a Japanese restaurant, where nori was able to order me some rice and vegetable tempura. We also had some salad as a starter. It was a very filing meal that tasted delicious.


After lunch, we had a boat trip around the local area, before landing back on the main island. We arrived at the jetty just before a enormous ‘ninja ship’ arrived. I think Nori said it was used for a film about the Shogun and now hosts ninja shows.


We then cycled on to my favourite part of the tour: a visit to Zosoji Temple. As the location is very old, it combined Buddhism and Shinto. There was a special event going on today, so we couldn’t see inside the temple. The service was being broadcast, so we could hear some beautiful traditional chanting. The temple was destroyed in World War II, so the temple that we saw is a large modern building that was built in a traditional style. It is interesting to see it juxtaposed against the Tokyo tower on the skyline.



Nori taught us the traditional way to wash before visiting the temple – how we should use the scoop to ladle up water and wash both hands as well as our mouths. Like the tea ceremony, every movement has to be done in a precise manner.


The temple is dedicated to a spirit who looks after the souls of unborn children, so there were hundreds of little statues of children. These have been dressed by parents who are praying for their stillborn infants. Most had on traditional knitted red bonnets and neckerchiefs, but a few were dressed in a much more modern style.



Behind the smaller temple, we saw the mausoleum of the Shogunate. It was very peaceful there. It is a popular place for people to visit and we saw a group of young women who were dressed in kimonos for their cherry-blossom viewing.



There were also the usual things that can be seen at many other temples and shrine, such as the pieces of paper that represent people’s wishes/prayers.



The final stop on our cycle tour was to see the Tokyo Tower. It was built after the Second World War out of old battleships. This was to symbolise that Japan didn’t need them any more and wanted to lead a peaceful existence. After many skyscrapers were built, it no longer served it’s purpose and a taller antenna was built, but for many people the orange and white shape is symbolic of Tokyo.


We then cycled back to Miracle Cycle Tour’s headquarters, where Nori reminded us of our route and served us some rice cakes and drinks. It was sad for our tour to end. Nori was a brilliant guide – friendly and informative.


The trains back to our hotel were much less crowded than in the morning. We left the station via a different exit and I was amused to see some photo opportunities – I think Stu was less amused!



When we got back, we spent a bit of time in the hotel lobby as it’s the only place in the hotel with wifi. Then Stu had a nap whilst I went out foraging. Neither of us was very hungry, so I decided to walk to a bakery that we saw when we arrived.

I couldn’t read many of the signs in the bakery, but that wasn’t a problem as it was self-service. That’s a bit like Russian roulette for a vegetarian. I selected something with a frankfurter in it for Stu and spied something square with beans in it that I fancied. I also selected what I thought was a green tea bun and another item that looked like it might be sweet potato.

When I left the bakery, I used the footbridge to cross the road and walked back done the street to a shop I saw earlier. I had assumed it was a supermarket, but when I got close to it, I could see lots of toiletries and jars of tablets. I decided to go in anyway and realised that it was indeed a convenience store and not just a pharmacy. I noted that it sold lots of noodle pots, including one that seems to be yasai ramen, or vegetable noodles, so that might be a meal later this week. I selected a large bottle of water and then looked for another drink. I almost bought coke, but what’s the point in travelling half-way around the world to eat and drink exactly what you would have at home? I selected a small bottle with a milky green fluid in it. No idea what it was, but it looked healthy 🙂



When I returned to the hotel, we settled down for our feast. Stu thought his cold hot dog thing was ok, and I enjoyed my bean paste bun. We then split the other two items. The ‘sweet potato’ cake turned out to be some sort of maple syrup swirl, which was unusual, but not as much of a surprise as the ‘macha’ bun that wasn’t green tea. When I broke it in half, I saw that it was orange inside and had some sort of creamy filling. A single bite proved just how wrong I was – it was a delicious cantaloupe melon bun. The drink was a pleasant accompaniment as it was also melon flavoured 🙂

Have you ever been completed surprised by food? Is there any Japanese food that you can recommend to a vegetarian?