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The rarely updated blog of Joel Dixon

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Iga, Japan - 2015

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 22/04/2015 11:02:25

I know - we're already three-weeks in and you are probably wondering why I haven't mentioned ninjas yet. Never fear, I scheduled a stop in Iga - home of one of the two most well-known clans of ninjitsu - the Iga (you may have already heard of Hattori Hanzo). Before we get into that - my daily planner insisted that we sample of the locally grown Iga beef, which we did at Kanaya.

Meat Store
With a butcher downstairs, you know the meat is going to be fresh

Pleasure
With almost no English being spoken, I'm positive we made a few faux pas during this meal. Doesn't matter - had beef

After a very satisfying meal we continued on to the Ninja Museum (which included a ninja demonstration - which I was just a tad excited about). Like most people (I would assume) the bulk of my ninja knowledge (and fascination) came from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon (and game) of my youth. I'm still a firm believer that your favourite ninja turtle says a lot about who you are (I'm a devout fan of Donatello - of whom does machines) - moreso than your blood type anyway. But let's start with what I learnt about actual ninjas at the ninja museum.

Ninja Charms
If nothing else, I learnt that baby ninjas are deadly cute

Ninjitsu was not just stealth and assassination, it was more like a way of life. The skills of Ninjitsu included teachings around health, spirituality and meteorology - as well as study in combat and espionage. It is true that feuding lords would hire ninjas to spy on others - but the common trope of a shadowy figure clad in black is generally disputed - it was far more likely that a ninja would we wearing navy blue to impersonate a common farmer (allowing them to carry "farming tools" such as a scythe without suspicion) or even to appear as a travelling acrobat or performer.

Aryan Ninja
The blue (believe me) suit of the ninja, look at all those hidden pockets

The ninja museum also included an hourly combat demonstration and a ninja house with hidden doors and secret compartments. While the demonstration was kind of childish, the ninja house demonstration was worthwhile. The best part however was the museum displaying a heap of old-style weapons, tools and plenty of information of which I was completely ignorant (as is usually the case).

Combat I Guess
I was most excited for the demonstration - which turned out to be lame...

Box Art
... even though this guy's skills were quite impressive

Hidden
The blurry photo is completely due to the speed of the ninja, and not my unsteady hands

Not a long time spent in Iga, but it was plenty of fun and kind of on our way to our next stop - Nagoya.


This is the 18th in the Super Fun Chronological Japan Travel Catalogue series
GET 1 - Nikko, Japan - 2015GET 2 - Ueno (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 3 - Akihabara (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 4 - Ginza (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 5 - Asakusa (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 6 - Shinjuku (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 7 - Harajuku (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 8 - Shibuya (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 9 - Odaiba (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 10 - Kawaguchiko (Five Lakes), Japan - 2015GET 11 - Yokohama, Japan - 2015GET 12 - Kamakura, Japan - 2015GET 13 - Osaka, Japan - 2015GET 14 - Kobe, Japan - 2015GET 15 - Hiroshima, Japan - 2015GET 16 - Himeji & Nara, Japan - 2015GET 17 - Kyoto, Japan - 2015GET 18 - Iga, Japan - 2015GET 19 - Nagoya, Japan - 2015GET 20 - Takayama & Gero, Japan - 2015GET 21 - Sakura & Bonus Wrap-up, Japan - 2015
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Monday, April 20, 2015

Kyoto, Japan - 2015

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 20/04/2015 23:20:08

Kyoto is beautiful. When deciding on targets for the atomic bomb, apparently Kyoto was left off the list because Henry L. Stimson spent his honeymoon there and didn't want to destroy all that beauty. After learning I was going to Japan everyone wanted to know if I was going to Kyoto, before telling me how picturesque it is.

Kyoto was probably the worst city we visited while in Japan.

Now, I've phrased that statement for maximum impact - even though it is true. We found Kyoto beautiful, and there were many enjoyable activities we shared while there - but on the whole I'd have to rank it lowest of the place we went. Everywhere we've been has been so much fun that just a few annoyances or average experiences necessitate a worst. city. ever. ranking.

For a start, it had been a long three weeks up to this point - and we just completed two pretty aggressively busy days. Travelling is draining at the best of times, and our energy levels were certainly getting low by this point (even with the assistance of my new favourite energy drink).

The first night started quite well, we were staying somewhere 45 minutes away by train from the city (couldn't find a single place in Kyoto when we were ready to start booking) and it had a feel of a genuine Japanese suburb (i.e. tourists weren't everywhere). We went for a walk and checked out the local shopping mall, stopping for some dinner when some of the local schoolgirls seemed quite excited to talk to us in English - which was fun. We also stopped into the local Sega World (games arcade) and had more fun in our short time playing Mario Kart than the whole day in Akihabara.

The first day was actually great - we hired bicycles and were pleased that it was a fine sunny day. We took off to 400 year-old Nijo castle looking forward to walking through the squeaking floors, designed to alert guards as to the approach of assassins. When we arrived we enjoyed causing the floor to squeak (with our freezing shoe-less feet) - but that was pretty much it. Each room had a sign with a brief description of what would have been there back in the day along with the occasional creepy mannequin. Funnily enough there were plenty of "no photo" signs along with "no drawings" - are the empty rooms really that important that someone may stop to sketch them for later monetary gain?

Castle
The castle looking pretty spiffy for 400 years..

No Touching
... presumably because it has been protected from the gaze of cameras

We continued on to Ginkakujicho Temple (with some nice sand sculptures and a great garden) and through to the Philosopher's Walk with yet more cherry blossoms and a quaint footpath that we rode down (causing many philosophical musings such as why are there nostrils and buttholes instead of noseholes and buttsrils?). This took us to Nanzen-ji temple which was nice (with a pretty good view from the top of the huge gate) but not too dissimilar to the many temples we had already visited. A quick stop at the Maruyama Park was fun before we headed to the Higashiyama District for traditional-looking streets (which certainly were traditional-looking). This all lead to the Fushimi Inari Shrine which I was looking forward to.

Hmmm
Even though we were pretty blossomed out by this point - the Philosopher's walk was a peaceful journey

Lakeside
The Maruyama Park area looked like it has been superintended to quite fastidiously

Shacks
Many, many offers of a genuine tea ceremony experience - if there's anything tea needs, it's pomp and regulations

The Fushimi Inari Shrine purports to have thousands of vermilion torii gates going up through the forest of Mount Inari - and it was a pretty cool experience. Also, at this point we were both very tired and getting a little silly - which definitely added to the fun. After what seemed like endless walking we finally reached a point with a nice view and sign, assuming we'd reached the top. A quick read of the sign instead informed us that we were only halfway up - convincing Pao to keep going from this point wasn't the easiest - but eventually we made it.

Gate One
The start of our journey we were full of hope...

More Than One
... until we saw the amount of people we would need to shoulder through on the path

You Are Kidding
We can't be halfway! Surely someone just placed the "you are here" dot there as a humorous jape

Dense
The density of the gates was quite impressive in points...

Thinning
... and disappointing in others (unless you were part of the crew installing them)

Gateyard
Unfortunately no vending machine to reward our journey's end - just more torii gates

For dinner we perused the Pontocho area along the river which was supposed to provide excellent meal options. I can't speak for the rest of the restaurants, but we found a tempura place by chance and it was some incredible fare. Afterwards we headed out to the Kiyomizu-dera temple for some night illumination - very ... enlightening.

Alley
It must be high-class dining, we saw a few geishas scurrying along the lane way (as gracefully as possible with their strange footwear)

Fried
The tempura was great - but I would never purposefully select tempura if kushikatsu is also on offer

Light
The lights certainly added a nice novelty to the same ol' looking temples

Day two in Kyoto is when things started to go downhill. Both even more tired than usual in the morning, we only just missed a train and then had a lot of walking to do in the rain. Trying to make the most of our time we decided to cut a 15 minute walk short via taxi - jumped in and asked to go to the (very close by) temple. He did warn us that he was a new driver - but he spent probably 5 full minutes (interspersed with frequent breaks of me trying to convince him how close our destination actually was) going through the GPS until we finally took off. Once we arrived at the "famous" Zen rock garden at the Ryoan-ji temple we couldn't help but laugh.

Not Amused
Our general feeling once finally making it to Ryoan-ji temple

It was rubbish. I know Zen gardens are supposed to be about the essence of nature and all that - but the rock garden we saw was the definition of ordinary. I'm almost certainly displaying my ignorance here - but how did this rock garden gain fame? And why was it so hard to move around in the great crowd that had amassed to view it? Our next stop at the Golden Pavillion of Kinkaku-ji temple was equally lame with even more people crammed in to see it. It was a gold coloured pavilion. I was really beginning to question everyone's generous review of Kyoto at this point.

Thats Handy
They even have a small model in-case the whole garden is too exciting for you to gaze upon

No Arches
I like gold

In the afternoon the day was redeemed firstly with a visit to Nenbutsuji Temple decorated with 1,200 buddha each with a different facial expression. It didn't take too long to go through them all, but it was a fun time (trying to decide which one looked most like me) and before long we continued to the Arashiyama area where the highlight of Kyoto was discovered.

Clever
I thought I had found a buddha with a premonition of future technology (by holding a walkman). I later found out that the buddhas were actually designed in the 80s - so this was no future man

The Arashiyama area is home to the best attraction in the whole of Kyoto - a monkey park. A whole bunch of Japanese macaque monkeys are cared for at the top of Mt Arashiyama, and make for an awesome spectacle. They are taught how to be gentle around humans, so I had a few eating nuts and apples from my hands - a very enjoyable experience. After quite a while just watching the monkey interacting, we continued back to our hotel (via a pretty sweet-looking bamboo path) and called it a day.

Cheeky
This pensive monkey welcomes our arrival at the monkey park

Smart
I think they should teach the monkeys how to hold an umbrella for protection from the rain - how cool would that look?

Monkeys
They both liked the apple better - but wouldn't turn aside a nut

Again - it wasn't a horrible time in Kyoto - I would have thoroughly enjoyed it even if it was our only destination - but I sure am glad that it was not. Something else that probably added to the experience was that Kyoto was the time that we started to encounter many more international tourists - whom are less enjoyable to be around than domestic Japanese tourists.


This is the 17th in the Super Fun Chronological Japan Travel Catalogue series
GET 1 - Nikko, Japan - 2015GET 2 - Ueno (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 3 - Akihabara (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 4 - Ginza (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 5 - Asakusa (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 6 - Shinjuku (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 7 - Harajuku (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 8 - Shibuya (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 9 - Odaiba (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 10 - Kawaguchiko (Five Lakes), Japan - 2015GET 11 - Yokohama, Japan - 2015GET 12 - Kamakura, Japan - 2015GET 13 - Osaka, Japan - 2015GET 14 - Kobe, Japan - 2015GET 15 - Hiroshima, Japan - 2015GET 16 - Himeji & Nara, Japan - 2015GET 17 - Kyoto, Japan - 2015GET 18 - Iga, Japan - 2015GET 19 - Nagoya, Japan - 2015GET 20 - Takayama & Gero, Japan - 2015GET 21 - Sakura & Bonus Wrap-up, Japan - 2015
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Himeji & Nara, Japan - 2015

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 20/04/2015 10:03:14

When I shared my (somewhat detailed) plans with Ryan, he suggested doing Himeji and Nara in the one day and ending up in Kyoto might be a bit much to achieve. Apparently the castle itself takes 2-3 hours to get through (we scheduled 1) and there was a bit of train travel scattered throughout the day. I started to get a little worried about our chances to fit it all in - but soldiered ahead (walking a tad quicker than normal).

As it turns out our very early start and the gloomy weather in Himeji was a huge help - the lines were pretty short and we whisked around the castle in around 20 minutes. Sure, we weren't gazing outside of every window for 5 minutes like some people were - but we also weren't skipping through without looking at anything. On our way out, it was clear that the early start was the main reason for our success - as huge lines of people were waiting to get in. We counted ourselves lucky and continued on to Nara.

Not Cute
Himeji Castle is one of many castles in Japan - but one of the better looking ones (and the one that most resembles the White Ranger a little bit)

Treddin
Probably why we got through the castle so quickly, most of the inside was as bare as this picture suggests

View
There was a pretty nice view from the castle windows

Pretty
We had timed our stay in Kyoto so that we had the best chance of seeing cherry blossoms - we certainly saw that

The main reason for a stopover in Nara was to see the giant buddha - Daibutsuden, but when researching the place I found a few other places that we would be interested in seeing. There was two old merchant residences (one rich, one super rich) that were great to walk through (imagining life at that time), a couple of gardens in various styles and a heap of friendly deer to aggressively beg for our food. It was a short stay - but we both loved our time in Nara.

Per Simon
Thankfully my daily planner reminded me to not eat the persimmon leaves that envelope the traditional Nara-style sushi - it was most delicious

Tea Time
I could imagine myself sitting having tea while watching the commoners walk down the street, silently (and not-so-silently) judging them

Big Walder
A modest garden, but probably quite a luxury back then...

Little Walder
... as this richer merchant's garden would have been even more of a luxury

Our way towards the giant buddha was met with many deer desperately wanting the deer crackers that street vendors were selling. Why the deer didn't just rob the cracker salesmen - I have no idea.

Pooping Waves
He's no Horsey Sorehoof - but he is quite majestic as far as statues go

My Babies
I have quite the captive audience here (this is moments before they started getting a tad aggressive)

Revenge
At least this wasn't me (I threw my remaining crackers at her before making my escape)

Pond Scum
A beautiful pond...

Tara
... and moss garden close to the giant buddha

The main event of Nara was Daibutsuden or the giant buddha, bigger than the one at Kamakura. Once we entered the massive hall the hugeness of the buddha could not be avoided - just sitting there full of enlightenment (one would assume). The big statue was pretty cool, but the other attractions in that same hall were also pretty neat. There was also a pillar with a small hole at the bottom where children (and ambitious adults) would try to squeeze through (promising good luck of course) and Yakushi Nyorai the buddha of medicine. The internet tells you to rub a part of the buddha statue, then the same part of your body for some healing action. I'm not sure if this treatment will make it onto the PBS - once Pao rubbed her knee (after rubbing Yakushi's) it started hurting.

Biggun
Yes - the buddha is big and expecting a high five - mah budduh!

Not As Big
This lady has much less of a gut than I and was still struggling through the hole. I politely declined

Spooky Scary
Looking as creepy as this medicine buddha does - how can it not heal you?

Happy we achieved all we had setout for (with a little time to spare as well), we made our way to Kyoto for (what we hoped would be) a well-earned rest.


This is the 16th in the Super Fun Chronological Japan Travel Catalogue series
GET 1 - Nikko, Japan - 2015GET 2 - Ueno (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 3 - Akihabara (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 4 - Ginza (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 5 - Asakusa (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 6 - Shinjuku (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 7 - Harajuku (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 8 - Shibuya (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 9 - Odaiba (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 10 - Kawaguchiko (Five Lakes), Japan - 2015GET 11 - Yokohama, Japan - 2015GET 12 - Kamakura, Japan - 2015GET 13 - Osaka, Japan - 2015GET 14 - Kobe, Japan - 2015GET 15 - Hiroshima, Japan - 2015GET 16 - Himeji & Nara, Japan - 2015GET 17 - Kyoto, Japan - 2015GET 18 - Iga, Japan - 2015GET 19 - Nagoya, Japan - 2015GET 20 - Takayama & Gero, Japan - 2015GET 21 - Sakura & Bonus Wrap-up, Japan - 2015
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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Hiroshima, Japan - 2015

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 18/04/2015 03:18:43

As we sat on the bullet train on our way to Hiroshima we found ourselves assaulted by an experience for the first time whilst in Japan. A bunch of disrespectful commuters. I'm not sure if they were Japanese, but from the minute that sat down on the train they were loud and obnoxious - immediately cracking open some beers and laughing boisterously at their hilarious jokes. Their faces quickly turning red after a second beer I was caught hoping that they would be getting off at a different stop - but no, they were bound for Hiroshima. Sure, I have no idea who they were and where they were going - and they took their trash with them (which you probably wouldn't see from the Melbourne bogans) - but after being spoilt with quiet trains for so long, this was quite a shock.

Our first stop was the island of Miyajima (which translates to shrine island) the home of the Itsukushima Shrine - and a very striking torii gate out on the water. I timed our visit so we would be there at high tide - and the gate did look pretty majestic floating off the coast.

Gatey
At low tide in the right season you can walk out and touch the gate - but we didn't have all day unfortunately

Peepin
What a co-incidence, if you look directly straight at this sculpture you can see the gate through the hole. I wonder if anyone else has discovered this

I wanted to try the Hiroshima-specific style of okonomiyaki - where they do not mix the ingredients before cooking, instead working with layers. What better place than the Okonomi-Mura (or okonomiyaki republic) with many vendors wanting our business. We choose one by random and it was delicious - we asked for one with soba and one with udon noodles (expecting the soba to be more tasty). For the first time ever, udon tasted the better noodle to Pao and my general surprise. We finished our beers and made our way to the main event of this day trip.

More Pancakes
Watching them make it in front of you help me remember that I could never be a chef

Of course, the main reason for visiting Hiroshima is to learn more about the devastating effect of the dropping of an atomic bomb on a populated city. I've visited the death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, so I wasn't expecting this to be a fun-filled afternoon. What I did find was a heap of interesting and beautiful monuments built to remember those that had perished and promote a message of peace. I think that not going with a guided tour helped us to avoid most of the devastating stories - but it was still quite shocking in parts (especially in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum)- but on the whole I felt more hopeful than hopeless.

Hypocenter
The point where the bomb exploded (well, it exploded 600 meters above this point for maximum impact)

Students
The Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students, designed to honor the middle school and older students that were required to work in Hiroshima for demolition duties as part of the war effort

Bridge
Aioi Bridge was the original target for the atomic bomb

Dome
The A-Bomb Dome as viewed from Aioi Bridge. There was a bit of debate as to whether or not they should destroy the remains of this building after the blast. It is currently covered in scaffolding for strength testing

Bell
The point where the hammer strikes to ring the Peace Bell

Korean
The Korean Monument - a turtle taking the souls to the afterlife

Rocket
The Children's Monument - a cool rocket ship

I had read about the Rest house - which was originally a kimono store before being commandeered as part of the war and used for fuel distribution. The store was very close to the blast, and while the building stood everybody inside died - except for one man that was in the basement at the time. We were able to head down to the basement and it was somewhat eerie - but certainly an interesting experience.

Rest House
The Rest house today

Basement
Stairs down to the basement, foreboding

We spent a bit of time in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum - one of the wings was closed so it got pretty packed in there. Some of the pictures of bomb victims were frightening, it's still extremely difficult to imagine what it would be like to be amongst all that devastation. I think the most amazing display for me was a model of Hiroshima with an estimate of the size of the fireball from the bomb at its largest point. I'm glad that most of the world agrees that detonation of another nuclear bomb is in no-one's interest - let's just hope it stays that way.

Before
A photo taken of Hiroshima before...

After
... and after the bomb

As a change of pace I had planned for us to head to see the first innings of a baseball game that the Hiroshima Carp were playing. Firstly - awesome name and mascot for the Hiroshima Carp - that's a team I can get behind. Pao was a little unsure as to whether she was going to enjoy this part of the trip - but we both loved it. A truly unique experience for us (neither of us have been to a baseball game) made even more interesting by not being able to understand any of the language. The snacks were different, the crowd was chanting something to the tune of step in time (which we participated in - with incorrect words but no less vigour) and we got to watch a run by the home side. I'm disappointed we were only able to watch the one innings, but very pleased we were able to see what we did.

Stadium
The "Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium", I guess it could be worse

Snacks
These were pretty tasty - but I was keen for something else by the end of the cup

Mascot
Go Carp - don't bite that hook!


This is the 15th in the Super Fun Chronological Japan Travel Catalogue series
GET 1 - Nikko, Japan - 2015GET 2 - Ueno (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 3 - Akihabara (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 4 - Ginza (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 5 - Asakusa (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 6 - Shinjuku (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 7 - Harajuku (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 8 - Shibuya (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 9 - Odaiba (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 10 - Kawaguchiko (Five Lakes), Japan - 2015GET 11 - Yokohama, Japan - 2015GET 12 - Kamakura, Japan - 2015GET 13 - Osaka, Japan - 2015GET 14 - Kobe, Japan - 2015GET 15 - Hiroshima, Japan - 2015GET 16 - Himeji & Nara, Japan - 2015GET 17 - Kyoto, Japan - 2015GET 18 - Iga, Japan - 2015GET 19 - Nagoya, Japan - 2015GET 20 - Takayama & Gero, Japan - 2015GET 21 - Sakura & Bonus Wrap-up, Japan - 2015
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Friday, April 17, 2015

Kobe, Japan - 2015

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 17/04/2015 08:43:26
Updated by Joel Dixon at 22/01/2016 00:50:33


Our first taste of Kobe was certainly a strange one. As we made our way up a pretty busy street towards our hotel, we were not sure whether to believe our eyes as we happened across a wild bore eating some trash in the middle of the street. Apparently it was a boar as there are a bunch living in the nearby jungle. But I'll tell you what wasn't a boar - Kobe (see what I did there?)

We caught up with Ryan, a friend of mine from Melbourne that is in Japan teaching English, on the first night and had a few whiskys at a local bar. I tried some Yamazaki as Ryan's girlfriend Akiko would be taking us to Yamazaki for a whisky tour on the weekend. It was nice to sit down with someone else that spoke English and have a chat - as Pao and I had been on our own up until this point - and great to catch up with an old friend again.

The next morning in the pouring rain Ryan took us to the nearby Nunobiki Falls - which required a quick hike up part of a mountain. It seemed that the falls were gathering strength from the rains - as the water was just streaming down. At the top we found yet another drink vending machine - I had to buy one of my energy drinks so that the effort was not wasted.

Dont Go Chasing Them
The water looks nice and inviting when reviewing the photos - but it was damn cold on this morning

Accessible
Whoever had to lug this drink machine up the mountain certainly earned his wage that day

After the falls we made our way to the Kobe Herb Garden - a favourite spot of Ryan's. The cabin along the ropeway provided zero visibility, but once we reached the top we could see well enough. It was a beautiful, calming place with soothing music being played and lots of earthy smells. They also had smelling stations setup which was my favourite part - until we reached the herbal foot bath. I think we stayed there a good 15 minutes apologising to our feet for all the walking they have needed to endure.

Helpful
Hmm, yes - quite.

Surprisingly Nice
It was stranging having a foot bath without tiny fish biting at my dead skin

Akiko took us to a yakiniku place for dinner - which is where you cook your own meat at your table (similar to Korean BBQ). Yakiniku was one of the last foods to try on my list - and it was delicious. I'm not sure if it's just because we had Akiko who know how to cook the meat properly - but it was all so tasty.

Grillz
The grilling of meat - what an excellent invention - why does the wheel get all the kudos?

After dinner it was time for bed - and I decided I needed to try a typically Japan experience - capsule hotel. As part of the salaryman drinking culture around here - it isn't too rare to find people out drinking until after the last train has departed for people's home towns. One solution when this happens is to book a cheap capsule hotel which is basically just a bed for the night to get you through to the first train home. I wanted to give one a go, and I wouldn't be missing too much as our hotel room in Kobe was pretty small and terrible - even the fancy toilet seat couldn't fit on the toilet due to the lack of space in the bathroom. The capsule hotels we could find in Kobe were male-only - so I bid Pao farewell as I trekked back into the centre of the city.

Capsulating
The hotel I stayed at...

Microwaves
... and my particular capsule

Cozy
I had a TV, and Mr. Ducky to keep me company

The experience was just that - an experience that I was happy I could tick off while in Japan. The whole setup was pretty well organised and the capsule itself surprisingly roomy. Having a TV was a nice touch - having no air-conditioning was horrible as it got so stuffy in there. I needed to leave my curtain open half-way to allow some airflow and it was still very difficult to sleep. On the whole - probably not cheap enough to justify the heat and constant noises from other guests alarms going off at 6 am (a business hotel room wouldn't be that much more expensive).

On day two in Kobe spirits were up as we started with a tour of the Yamazaki whisky distillery. Yamazaki was recently named best in the world, and you could tell from the tour that they take their whisky seriously (and are helped by some pretty pure water in the area). I enjoyed the smells and certainly the tastes - and the audio guide went most of the way of explaining what was happening.

Fat Ones
This is this stinky step - the smell in this room was quite overpowering..

Skinny Ones
... but by the time we reach the actual distillation - the smells started getting quite good

Trooper
I'm quite interested in the process of creating barrels - maybe I would have made a good cooper (or just a passable koopa trooper)

Delightful
Bit of a rainy day, but that didn't affect my disposition

We spent the afternoon in Harborland (or Haborland depending on the sign) which had all you would expect from a harbour-side area - but a bit classier and more enjoyable. Pao had some cheesecake which had a block of warm cheese on top (she loved it) while I had a hedgehog chocolate dessert (which of course I loved). As time passed the lights came on and it was all very pretty (I even didn't hate the ferris wheel all that much).

Us
Another pesky photo with us in it

Wheeler
Just forget I posted this - I'll be back to hating on these things soon

Dinner was great as we frequented an all-you-can-eat buffet in the area that was filled with tasty treats. The food was nice - but the all-you-can-eat extended to the ice cream - allowing me to live out my dream of after-hours access to an ice cream parlour (with no disdainful looks after I come back for fourths). We walked back through Chinatown and Pao I and got a semi-early night (as we have a big day planned for Hiroshima next).

Townie
Dark and without any other people, Chinatown doesn't look so welcoming

Kobe was great fun - and it was awesome being able to see a friendly face (and meet his friendly-faced girlfriend) when we arrived. One other point to note - after returning from our Hiroshima day trip, we managed to find ourself a teppanyaki restaurant that was open so we could trial the famed Kobe beef (Kobeguy Steak Land Kobe was the lucky winner). I'm very thankful that we keep trying to find somewhere that was open - because it was yet another top ten meal (of which there's something like twenty so far).

Delicious
Teppanyaki - the only time when mushrooms are edible (other than chocolate mushrooms of course - that shit's always delicious)


This is the 14th in the Super Fun Chronological Japan Travel Catalogue series
GET 1 - Nikko, Japan - 2015GET 2 - Ueno (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 3 - Akihabara (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 4 - Ginza (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 5 - Asakusa (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 6 - Shinjuku (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 7 - Harajuku (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 8 - Shibuya (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 9 - Odaiba (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 10 - Kawaguchiko (Five Lakes), Japan - 2015GET 11 - Yokohama, Japan - 2015GET 12 - Kamakura, Japan - 2015GET 13 - Osaka, Japan - 2015GET 14 - Kobe, Japan - 2015GET 15 - Hiroshima, Japan - 2015GET 16 - Himeji & Nara, Japan - 2015GET 17 - Kyoto, Japan - 2015GET 18 - Iga, Japan - 2015GET 19 - Nagoya, Japan - 2015GET 20 - Takayama & Gero, Japan - 2015GET 21 - Sakura & Bonus Wrap-up, Japan - 2015
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Osaka, Japan - 2015

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 17/04/2015 02:16:16

We arrived quite late in Osaka, and we still wanted to grab some food and check out the city before the night was through - so we were in a bit of a hurry. My plans indicated that we were to walk through the underground malls from Osaka train station for 5 minutes until we got close to our hotel. Turns out this was easier said than done - the subway system is a complete maze. It was almost like there was a second city under Osaka station - one which Google's Street View hasn't completely mapped yet.

No Rocket Clock
The Osaka Water Clock was listed in a 7 most amazing clocks article I read during my reasearch. Then again, Prague's Astrological Clock made the list but Play School's rocket clock did not - so clearly they are not very good at making lists

After getting lost a few times (and grumpy at each other) we finally found the exit we were after and walked to our hotel (which seemed to be right in the middle of the dodgy part of town). We checked in and quickly made our way back through the subway to get down to the Dotonbori area for dinner. Wanting to try the Osaka-style of okonomiyaki (Japanese pancakes) I did my research and selected a well-reviewed option in the area. We made it down there and stood in the long queue - five minutes later someone from the store came out and indicated that the customer 5 people ahead of us in the line would be the last person served that day before closing. I was disheartened as we only had two dinner times scheduled for Osaka. Fortunately I had made backup okonomiyaki plans for just such an occurrence, and we walked over to the backup restaurant and had us some delicious pancakes anyway.

Scientology Free
Japanese pancakes now rank way up there for me - along with Cheese and Potato (with bacon bits) and Canadian's Breakfast

After dinner we strolled through the Dotonbori district as I got my pretty light fix. Night time looked fantastic around the district, but most of the signs look pretty cool during the day as well - with huge moving crabs, puffer fish and giant hand holding some fish. While the atmosphere was pretty cool - there was also a slightly dodgy feel to it all. I have always felt safe in Japan, but this was the closest I got to thinking I needed to be on my guard.

Run Run Run
This is the famous Glico running man. He's quite striking - but I'm not sure why this is the best-known example of the Dotonbori signs

Unfortunate
Worthy of his fame, this animated crab's legs would bend forwards and backwards - imitating the movements that could be watched while the crab is being cooked for eating

Poor Octopus
This octopus seems far too keen about the cooking and eating of octopus balls

Slaughter
Before heading back we watched this very skilled guy making octopus balls while shouting something to the crowd and the staff in the restaurant...

Ok Balls
... I have no idea what was going on - but the food he created was pretty tasty!

Having already covered the Kabuki in Tokyo, Osaka was a chance for us to sample Bunraku - or the art of puppetry. Bunraku plays are actually from where a lot of the Kabuki stories came - and we were really lucky to be able to watch a single act at the National Bunraku Theatre. Even more fortunately, the part we could see was one involving a cheeky monkey - so the story seemed to be catered directly to my interests. The monkey was indeed cheeky, and the play was quite enjoyable. One aspect I found interesting was that the main performers of the puppets (controlling the head and left hand) made no effort to hide themselves, while the helpers that operated the legs and right arm would be covered head-to-toe in black clothing, ninja-style.

Puppet Theatre
Again we were unable to take photos inside the theatre - so here's the outside

After the Bunraku we headed to the Tsutenkaku district, which is basically the area around a big tower. The tower was built to enliven the area - and I've got to assume that it didn't work - the whole place seemed - again - a little dodgy. We had a quick look through a toy store and there was a film of dust on most of the items a few millimeters thick.

Looks Better Than It Is
You can just make out a gold baby thing in the bottom left of this photo, they were everywhere and reminded me of Aphex Twin

One thing that the Tsutenkaku district was known for was kushikatsu - kind of like tempura but with breadcrumbs in the batter and a slightly different sauce. My daily planner told us to go to Yaekatsu, which had a long line in front when similar-looking store very nearby had little or no lines at all. We stuck to the plans and I'm happy we waited - as the food was amazing and we ate far too much of it.

Defeated Foes
You can tell that we have only just started dinner here - as the discarded stick container is hardly full at all

Osaka castle is not something that I particularly had a great urge to visit, but it made its way onto our list of things to do. Fortunately the day we decided to go was beautiful weather-wise - unfortunately this meant the castle and surrounding area was packed with picnicers. After a quick tour of the castle (and putting our shoes back onto our now-frozen feet) we headed to Sakuramiya on the advice of a friend and it was equally lovely (but without a castle). After seeing more blossoms that a 14-year-old with the hots for Mayim Bialik, we headed on to Kobe to catchup with my Australian friend.

Moat
The serene view of this photo does not show the elbows required to get to the front of the bridge to take the shot

Splendor
The outside of the castle, of course no photography was allowed. Apparently the Japanese that Godzilla is powered by the taking of photographs in interesting locations

Sandy
I'm not sure if that water would ever get warm enough to justify swimming

Blossom Sky
Woah


This is the 13th in the Super Fun Chronological Japan Travel Catalogue series
GET 1 - Nikko, Japan - 2015GET 2 - Ueno (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 3 - Akihabara (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 4 - Ginza (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 5 - Asakusa (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 6 - Shinjuku (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 7 - Harajuku (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 8 - Shibuya (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 9 - Odaiba (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 10 - Kawaguchiko (Five Lakes), Japan - 2015GET 11 - Yokohama, Japan - 2015GET 12 - Kamakura, Japan - 2015GET 13 - Osaka, Japan - 2015GET 14 - Kobe, Japan - 2015GET 15 - Hiroshima, Japan - 2015GET 16 - Himeji & Nara, Japan - 2015GET 17 - Kyoto, Japan - 2015GET 18 - Iga, Japan - 2015GET 19 - Nagoya, Japan - 2015GET 20 - Takayama & Gero, Japan - 2015GET 21 - Sakura & Bonus Wrap-up, Japan - 2015
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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Kamakura, Japan - 2015

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 16/04/2015 02:14:44

Pao and I were unsure as to whether we should include Kamakura to our list of Japanese cities to visit. Pretty much all it has is a giant outdoor buddha at the Kotoku-in temple. When I read more about the statue and saw a few pictures, I figured we'd have to fit a brief stop at Kamakura if nothing else.

Soon
Who's that peeking over the fence?

Kamakura was the de facto capital of Japan during the Kamakura Period - and it is around this time that a giant buddha statue was created out of wood, taking around 10 years to complete. After only 5 years the statue was damaged in a storm (and the hall containing it destroyed) so they decided to create a bronze statue in its place.

Huge B uddha
I asked everyone to move out of the way - but they weren't very accommodating

The statue was originally contained with a hall (as was the original wood statue) but it was destroyed by a storm, rebuilt, destroyed by another storm, rebuilt again and then destroyed by a tsunami. At this point they decided to stop building halls for it and leave it out in the open (probably a wise and overdue choice). It was also originally covered in gold which certainly would have made for a majestic sight. As it was - I was pretty happy that we included a visit to the giant Kamakura buddha, and I even got a chance to hop inside him.

Speed Vents
I'm not sure if these air vents would speed him up or slow him down if he were real - but they look pretty cool regardless

All Up Inside
So now I've been inside the Statue of Liberty and the giant buddha of Kamakura. I preferred it inside Lady Liberty (and that's not just because it was a lady statue)

While looking into the location of the giant buddha statue I stumbled upon some information about the Hasedera temple - well, rather some pictures. Heaps of cute tiny statues ensured we would have a second (and final) stop in Kamakura.

Three Buddhas
They know how to make their statues cute in Japan (much like everything else I guess)

More Than Three
They also know how to repeat something over and over

Nice
A final pretty sight just before we left for Osaka


This is the 12th in the Super Fun Chronological Japan Travel Catalogue series
GET 1 - Nikko, Japan - 2015GET 2 - Ueno (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 3 - Akihabara (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 4 - Ginza (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 5 - Asakusa (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 6 - Shinjuku (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 7 - Harajuku (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 8 - Shibuya (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 9 - Odaiba (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 10 - Kawaguchiko (Five Lakes), Japan - 2015GET 11 - Yokohama, Japan - 2015GET 12 - Kamakura, Japan - 2015GET 13 - Osaka, Japan - 2015GET 14 - Kobe, Japan - 2015GET 15 - Hiroshima, Japan - 2015GET 16 - Himeji & Nara, Japan - 2015GET 17 - Kyoto, Japan - 2015GET 18 - Iga, Japan - 2015GET 19 - Nagoya, Japan - 2015GET 20 - Takayama & Gero, Japan - 2015GET 21 - Sakura & Bonus Wrap-up, Japan - 2015
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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Yokohama, Japan - 2015

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 15/04/2015 12:37:39

Yokohama is the 2nd largest city in Japan, well known as Japan's main port city once the country was opened up in the mid-19th century. Originally it was completely left off our list of places to visit - and only made it back on due to a cup of noodles. The Cup Noodle Museum is located in Yokohama, so we thought we'd spend a night in the city after our return from the Five Lakes and before we head off to Kamakura.

The Cup Noodle Museum was a whole heap of fun. Yet another attraction designed for children - I delighted in the opportunity to design my own Cup Noodles container - and select the ingredients that were included in the heat-sealed package. I went with a curry noodle with shrimp, bacon, spring onion, corn and cheese - and for the container I gave homage to some of the cute characters we have encountered on our journey (such as egg man, Domo and Mount Fuji).

Design Studio
The design studio with Pao and my completed cups in the foreground

Taste Studio
The Taste Station (unique name invented by me) where you select the ingredients to add to your noodles

Also available at the museum is a restaurant floor promoting 7 different styles of noodles from around the world. Unfortunately they had nothing similar to the Australian-style recipe I followed when in Canada - but the one I did try (laghman from Kazakhstan) was delicious enough to make up for it.

Noodle Community
It is setup to look like a night street market for food which was pretty cool. The ticket purchasing system confused some of us

Nice
My noodle dish from Kazakhstan. Great success. Jagshemash!

It may appear like we didn't do too much in Yokohama, and that is because we didn't. But how many of you can say you designed your own packet of Cup Noodles (while following strict guidelines designed for kids)?? Yeah, thought so


This is the 11th in the Super Fun Chronological Japan Travel Catalogue series
GET 1 - Nikko, Japan - 2015GET 2 - Ueno (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 3 - Akihabara (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 4 - Ginza (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 5 - Asakusa (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 6 - Shinjuku (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 7 - Harajuku (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 8 - Shibuya (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 9 - Odaiba (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 10 - Kawaguchiko (Five Lakes), Japan - 2015GET 11 - Yokohama, Japan - 2015GET 12 - Kamakura, Japan - 2015GET 13 - Osaka, Japan - 2015GET 14 - Kobe, Japan - 2015GET 15 - Hiroshima, Japan - 2015GET 16 - Himeji & Nara, Japan - 2015GET 17 - Kyoto, Japan - 2015GET 18 - Iga, Japan - 2015GET 19 - Nagoya, Japan - 2015GET 20 - Takayama & Gero, Japan - 2015GET 21 - Sakura & Bonus Wrap-up, Japan - 2015
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Monday, April 13, 2015

Kawaguchiko (Five Lakes), Japan - 2015

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 13/04/2015 12:05:02
Updated by Joel Dixon at 13/04/2015 13:21:04


My desire for visiting Japan included the bright lights, cartoon characters, crazy candy and some of the beautiful shrines (I guess). Pao on the other hand was mainly looking forward to cherry blossoms and views of Mt. Fuji. I'm pretty sure we can give the cherry blossoms a big tick. Now it just came down to Mt. Fuji.

I did a little bit of research regarding the best place to view the mountain - and it wasn't positive. It's possible to view Fuji from the Tokyo Sky Tree - but the big asterix is only on a very clear day. Our first week here has had a spattering of clear days - but on the whole it seems to be very cloudy in Japan. So eventually we settled on Kawaguchiko, one of the five lakes, which is very close to Fuji and should provide great views (on a clear day, of course). Kawaguchiko was also recommended as it could possibly provide the famous "double-diamond" view of Fuji reflecting off the lake. We went back and forth on whether to spend a few nights in the area (to maximise our chance of actually seeing the mountain) or just staying the one (so as to not spend a fortune on one of the few crazy expensive places that were still unbooked during this busy season). After many, many hours of discussion and research, we finally decided to cross our fingers and only book the one night and wake up for sunrise (best time to catch the mountain) - hoping the weather helps us.

Meatballs
The view of the mountain during the train to our hotel - the weather report for the next day was hopeful so perhaps this wasn't all we'd be getting

Once we arrived at our hotel we felt a little better about the stupid money we spent on the place, with a gorgeous outdoor onsen, free beers on arrival and very helpful staff. Once we headed up to our room we saw that we had a giant dining room and I wondered how big the bedroom was going to be. No time to think too much about the bedroom - our dinner arrived and it was amazing!

Spread
Even Pao was happy we ordered the Japanese dinner option - everything melted in our mouths - and we could even use our shabu-shabu skills

After dinner when we were unable to find the door to the bedroom until we realised that the dining room was the bedroom - and after we came back from our onsen they had removed the table and replaced it with tatami bedding. The tatami bedding was fun and interesting - but I certainly won't be replacing our king bed at home with one. We tried to get as early a night as we could for the 5:30am wake up.

Peepin
The first view we had of the mountain - peeping at us over the clouds

The mountain was half-covered in cloud when we first woke, but after a half hour or so the top was pretty much clear so we started taking photos. I was happy with the shots we managed to snap, even though our cameras (and lack of photography knowledge) can only achieve so much.

Double Dustin
Double Diamond photos (or DDs) - great things

Japanish
Probably the most Japanese photo I got while on holiday

Tired Mountain
We were both pretty happy at this point. More tired than anything else - but still pretty happy

We went back to the hotel room and it was pretty awesome sitting at our window in the hotel room watching as the mountain started getting drenched in sun. Eventually the rest of the clouds burnt off, and we got to watch as everyone else in the hotel were taking their own photos - making snarky comments.

Mount Sunny
Lots of sun - but also almost no reflection. Perhaps Mt. Fuji is becoming a vampire?

Mt. Fuji was clear the whole day, really vindicating our decision to only stay a single night. We were very lucky and completely spoilt by the mountain watching our every move as we continued on to the Fuji-Q Highland amusement park. Unfortunately we happened to have been in Kawaguchiko during the school holidays.

Coasting
Our first view of the park - I started to get excited

Standing
Until I saw the line for the first ride - wait time of 2.5 hours

So I only got to go on two rides in the 5 or so hours we were there. The waiting wasn't all that bad as I had Pao there to go off for an hour to find some lunch and bring it back to me in the queue. The two separate two and a half hour lines is probably the most I've ever waited somewhere - but I still think it was worth it. The first ride, the Fujiyama used to be the world's tallest and fastest with the longest drop (all overtaken by Australia's Tower of Terror) and it was a lot of fun. The climbs were also designed with Mt. Fuji in mind - so as we ascended at the start of the ride Mt. Fuji cut an imposing figure which was great.

The Fujiyama pales in comparison to the Dodonpa however - still the fastest accelerating ride in the world, going 179 km/h in 1.8 seconds (also the fourth fastest). The Dodonpa made my afternoon, as we fired out of the tunnel I could feel the incredible speed and see the light rush before me. I would certainly love to come back to Highland again and spend a (non-school holiday) day.

Wading
Fuji-Q also had an ice rink that I would have liked to try - but it was a swimming pool by the time I got there

Just before heading off to Yokohama we had a quick local speciality meal at Houtou Fudou based on internet advice. Yet again the internet comes through as the meal was incredibly delicious - the soup was amazing, veggies nice, noodles interesting (in a good way) and the tofu was easily avoided. One of the top meals of the trip (which is some tough competition) and directly opposite the train station.

Never Touch
I'm pretty sure the ladle was given to us as a soup spoon - if not, I guess I made a fool out of myself


This is the 10th in the Super Fun Chronological Japan Travel Catalogue series
GET 1 - Nikko, Japan - 2015GET 2 - Ueno (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 3 - Akihabara (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 4 - Ginza (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 5 - Asakusa (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 6 - Shinjuku (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 7 - Harajuku (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 8 - Shibuya (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 9 - Odaiba (Tokyo), Japan - 2015GET 10 - Kawaguchiko (Five Lakes), Japan - 2015GET 11 - Yokohama, Japan - 2015GET 12 - Kamakura, Japan - 2015GET 13 - Osaka, Japan - 2015GET 14 - Kobe, Japan - 2015GET 15 - Hiroshima, Japan - 2015GET 16 - Himeji & Nara, Japan - 2015GET 17 - Kyoto, Japan - 2015GET 18 - Iga, Japan - 2015GET 19 - Nagoya, Japan - 2015GET 20 - Takayama & Gero, Japan - 2015GET 21 - Sakura & Bonus Wrap-up, Japan - 2015
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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Meguro (Tokyo) and Studio Ghibli Museum, Japan - 2015

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 12/04/2015 11:26:03

We had been staying in Meguro for three nights mainly due to the convenience of being close to a Yamanote loop station (and because the rest of Tokyo was either booked out or crazy expensive). On our final morning in Meguro we decided to have a quick walk around so we could see what was around town - we found lots of cherry blossoms and a very cute temple.

Cherry River
I'm not sure if you've noticed - but it was cherry blossom season while I was in Japan

Baby Jesus
Look at all the tiny baby Buddha's

No less than 2 people (it was 3) recommended that I visit the Studio Ghibli Museum during our Japanese holiday. I wasn't that much of a Studio Ghibli fan, but that's not because I didn't like the movies - but mainly because I had never seen any of them. After the third insistence that we visit the museum I put it on the list, and also added "watch Studio Ghibli movies".

Buying the movies was easy - actually watching them while also trying to plan the trip was a little more difficult. We ended up watching most of them, particularly enjoying Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro and Porco Rosso. I was also told that I would need to book the tickets from Australia and that they sell out fast, so about two months before we left I looked into exactly how to do that. Sure enough - they were sold out - for the whole three-week period that we were in Japan.

There's only a certain number of tickets available to foreigners, so luckily I was able to go through a Japanese travel website to purchase the tickets (they basically go to the local Lawson's convenience store and buy the tickets that are available locally). Those three people were spot on the money - because the museum was a great experience.

House Mouth
Totoro staring at all the children he is about to eat

So again, this was a bit of a children's experience. Kids were everywhere making noise, getting in the way and just generally ensuring I never procreate. With that said, it was still a great time starting with an animated short feature that is only available to watch at the museum's Saturn theatre - House Hunting (written and directed by Miyazaki). It was only 12 minutes long, but Pao and I both enjoyed it immensely - especially as there were a lot of scenes that were quite Japan specific.

The highlight of the visit was easily the three-dimensional zoetrope of characters from My Neighbour Totoro, using multiple clay models being spun in a circle with strobe lighting to simulate animation. Thankfully children are small, as even though the exhibit was consistently busy I was able to see above the kids and watch the memorising movement.

Thief
Again - I couldn't take a photo in the museum, but here's an example of the zoetrope (clearly someone didn't care about the rules)

Friends
Pao with her favourite robot from Ghibli films - I have no idea how we managed to take this photo without 50 children in it



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