A Travellerspoint blog

We're Coming Home, We're Coming Home, To Our House

Saturday 20th October

Today is our last day in Japan. Started with a good workout in the gym, much to Chris's annoyance as I disturbed him as I got ready. We had requested a late check out and could have stayed until 3 pm but only needed till 1 pm.

Totally repacked bag and backpack with a spare set of clothes in case we get a chance for a shower in Bangkok. We have a 2.5hour stopover there so it depends how quick we get across to the Lounges and what time we have to board, and of course, if anyone else is having a shower there will be another delay.

The bus ride to Narita Airport was about 50minutes. Notice they had toilets at the back of the bus about halfway into the trip when reading the signage on board.

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If you catch this bus sit on the left side as all the interesting scenery is on that side and on the right high walls and train lines. The bus makes 3 stops - first at Terminal 2, then Terminal 1 South Side and Terminal 1 North Side. You know which one you want as its on your luggage ticket that the man loading you luggage onto the bus gives you as he asked which airline you were flying with.

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Had to wait nearly an hour to check-in as Thai weren't opening the counters until 14:25pm. That's about 2.5hours to get through a baggage check, immigration and walk to the furthest possible gate at the airport, number 46. Took half an hour. One day we will be travelling on a plane whose gate is straight across from the immigration, one day.

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You wouldn't like the ANA business class lounge, Avril, as it only serves beer or you could go to the Sake Bar, but I think no. Very big though, plenty of seating and the food ok too.

We board at 16:25 for our 16:55 flight to Bangkok. Here's hoping for a smooth flight. Maybe if I close my eyes I can be back on the Shinkansen and the side to side rocking and noise will be the same. I tried locking that feeling in when we were travelling as it was quite similar but I just knows my feet are not on the ground.

BANGKOK
Arrived in 21:35 Bangkok time which was a 6 hour flight. Due to board 23:19 for our 23:59 flight to Brisbane. Very smooth flight apart from the bumpy descent but I concentrated on my hangman game though funnily enough didn't seem to get many right all of a sudden. The business seats were all at an angle which had Chris and I in the two centre seat slightly turned away from each other.

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This allowed for a fully flat bed but not much chance of a conversation. If we were aware of this we could have chosen a window and a centre seat which would be more facing even with the aisle.
The transit counter scanned everyone's hand luggage again and then I headed off for a shower in the lounge.

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Arrive Brisbane 11:50 Sunday.

BRISBANE
Landed 11:30am and text the girls that we had arrived. They had only just left for the airport but no problem as we had to get through customs and buy some duty free. This time we were given an Express ticket and so we were through the whole process and through the arrival gates as Erica was just wandering in at 11:50am. Richelle had dropped her off at the gate and gone to look for a park so she needed to turn around and come back to get us, only she missed the turn and ended doing a sightsee drive to DFO and back.
Great to see the girls, they had looked after themselves and the house fine. Were cooking a roast lamb for dinner and even made our bed for our arrival. My request for an upgrade to an ocean view room was met with a 'Good luck with that.'
Great to be home.

Posted by tojoken 00:02 Comments (1)

Tokyo Skytree and a Lesson in Queues and Queuing

sunny

Friday 19th October

Awoke to a beautiful day and decided today would be a good time to go and see the view from the new Tokyo Skytree ( it was entered in the Guiness Book of Records as the World's Tallest Tower on November 17, 2011 but has since been pipped for the title). The metro line, Hanzomon, by our hotel continued on to Oshiage where the Skytree was. We got there about 9:30am, it was only four stops but we had a late start this morning. As soon as you exited the station you could see the tower, no mistaking that you were in the right area.

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We walked toward the tower and finally found a sign pointing to Tokyo Skytree Station (to get to this station you need to catch a different line in and change trains, much easier our way) and the way in. We caught the lift to the 4th floor to buy tickets to the first level which they call Floor 350 (350m high) or Tembo Deck. The queue to buy the tickets snaked through divided lines all through the room and around the corner where you could just see the ticket counter. It seemed to moved constantly so we were encouraged. Ten minutes after we arrived the queues were outside the building and snaking through lines out there.

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We made it around the corner and would you believe another room full of queued lines. We finally got to the ticket counter at 11:20am and after a short walk to the lifts, where you had a bag search before passing through, it was then a short queue of 5 minutes as there were 3 lifts going up to the Tembo Deck. All very controlled only a set number allowed to go through to queue for lift and then the tape is closed behind you.

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View from deck was amazing, such a large area. Apparently you can see Mt Fuji but there was a haze in the distance. Maybe if it had snow on it would have stood out but I could not find it. A big promotion was through the place for Halloween, decorations and photo spots featuring pumpkins and the like. We walked around the deck and the join another queue, this time to get tickets for the next level, Floor 445 (445m high) or Tembo Galleria.

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Another 20 minutes passed while I stood in the queue and Chris went to get coffee. Then, you guessed it, queue for the lifts up to the Tembo Galleria level. probably another 10 minutes, whatever it was a breeze after the queuing downstairs. This lift ride, or Tembo Shuttle, gave you glimpses of the outside view and the lift system above through a clear ceiling as you went up in about 50 secs at a speed of 600 m per minute. The oohs and aahs from the Japanese in the lift were funny to hear, so synchronised.

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Another fantastic view and this level had fewer people and a much better cooling system. That was the aahs we made as we stepped from the lift into the cool. This floor is a sloped 110 metres walk that takes you to the highest point you can go, the Sorakara Point, at 451.2m before sloping down to the lifts back down to Floor 345. Of course there were queues here too and we were rather snuggly pack into these lifts. On this floor were stairs to go down to Floor 340 which has the glass floor. Surprise surprise no queues for this but a queue for the Skytree shop. Sorry, if you want me to spend money in your shop I am not going to queue for the privilege.

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The glass floor was not as big as we expected, just two patches and one of those was solely for those paying to have professional photos so it was a bit of a squash and nudge your way in. Then the final line of queues for the ride to the 5th floor. While we were waiting the 'Skytree hostess' chatted to us about where we were from,how far we had travelled, she was very chatty and thanks us many times for coming today. sounds like it is always like this unless the weather is bad, naturally. There was another shop on the 5th floor with no queues so we had a look before heading down to the 4th, by stairs, where we came in. It was now 1pm. What a mammoth exercise. If you are intending to go it was interesting to see that the queues were half the size at this time. Also it will cost you 2000 yen each to the first level and another 1000yen each to the second level. Well worth the visit and view, maybe bring a book or plan your next holiday while you wait.

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As we left there were two guys handwashing a train. You can see why their trains are so clean.

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We were back at the hotel by 1:30pm and thought we should actually go out the front of the hotel and see what's there. A street full of shops. We tried to have lunch at a place called Tamahide, I had read had the 'finest oyakodon (chicken,egg on rice) in the city but it stopped serving lunch at 1pm. So we walked a big loop around and headed back to the hotel stopping at, what turned out to be, a Chinese food shop. Liked the look of the rice dishes. Have been missing rice as Japan seems to favour noodles and while I like them I prefer them cooked but dry and not swimming in liquid.

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So we ordered at dish each of rice, a pork fried rice and a chilli BBQ pork fried rice. The woman did look at us a bit strangely and repeated order, to which we agreed. She bought over a bowl of egg soup each and then went away with our order. Soup was magic and hit the spot and then the two huge plates of fried rices arrived. As the good kids we were bought up to be, we cleaned our plates, it was had not too it was so good and waddled out of the shop. Cost 1,600 yen ($18) and basically put paid to any thoughts of dinner.

Checked out departure times for the limousine buses that run to the airport, right next door to hotel. Couldn't buy for tomorrow but she said since we weren't leaving until the afternoon there wouldn't be a problem, only the morning ones sold out. Plus an added bonus was the afternoon costs were cheaper because less popular.

Headed off on the metro again to try and find these Louis Vuitton shops in Shinjuku. Got caught out at our change of trains as the line I planned to follow, Shinjuku line, was not part of the Tokyo metro therefore not part of our 2 day metro pass. Basically you put you card into the ticket gate and instead of a green light and doors staying open, you get a red light and the doors shoot across. There's a ticket gate inspector on every gate. He was very nice explaining that this line was exempt, so we bought ticket instead.

Shinjuku was just in dusk when we arrived and we tried our best to find the store but no luck. At one point we crossed four sets of rail tracks twice and they have a very good control system of crossing gates and arrows telling you a train is coming and in which direction. They were constantly going so you had to be quick to cross. While stopped the second time I took the opportunity for a photo and this train with the driver sitting above the main part of train in a higher cab stuck his hand out and waved to me.

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We came back on the Marunounchi line which was included on our pass, just took a walk from one side of the station to the other to find it. What you will do for a free ride. You may be interested to know that both Chris and I have lost weight on this trip due to the huge amount of walking we have done. Couldn't work out why my trousers were suddenly so long and that was why. We also like to run or race up the stairs instead of using the escalators as they are soooo slow and crowded. What the Japanese must think of these silly westerners.

Last photo taken on metro train trying to show how you can see from carriage to carriage to carriage. When you go through a bend, it's like you are sitting in a smile.

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Posted by tojoken 02:58 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

Rainy day in Tokyo

rain

Thursday 18th October

Our first wet day. This is the first time the weather has stopped us from doing all we had planned. We bought two day metro passes from the hotel (980 yen) cheaper than what you could buy them from the metro itself (710 yen for one day) - how often does that ever happen. We headed off for Ginza, which required going back one stop to Mitsukoshimae and then changing to the Ginza line. Chris was looking for a shop that one of his customers goes to when in Tokyo that sells second hand Louis Vuitton. Crassly called 'Blow Job Shops' after the young women who find themselves a sugar daddy who showers them with expensive gifts in return for services, unfortunately most don't like what is bought for them so they sells the off for something they do like. Not just limited to Louis Vuitton, these shops sells all manner of second hand designer items. We did not have any luck finding the store in Ginza as the shop Chris was looking for 'Wako', and where the metro conveniently brought us out in front of, was not the right store we needed. We could not hook up to the free wi-fi in the area so could not search for the right store.

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Instead we wandered around Ginza, a very upmarket shopping area and one of the most expensive real estate areas in Japan. Apparently you can pay upwards of ten dollars for a cup of coffee but thankfully we didn't feel like any coffee this morning. We walked down Harumi-Dori Ave towards a moat that used to surround the Imperial Palace but is now in sections as roads have been put through to accommodate busy Tokyo.

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We passed the Statue of Masashige Kusunoki, a 14th century samurai remembered as the ideal of samurai loyalty - he died fighting for his emperor. He was sent into a basically suicidal fight with his men but he did so without question.

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Then we stumbled on Hibiya Park which had a replica peace bell gifted to the city from America and a huge garden display.

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Called Tokyo Green 2012, there was a Lifestyle Garden Contest where people had created a small version of their idea of a lifestyle garden, small business selling there garden ideas and supplies and then we came across these masses of pink tinged dry looking bushes.

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A Japanese woman came rushing over asking where we were from and signalling for us to follow her, she told us the name of the plant but I had no idea what it was but from her actions gathered it is the plant they use for making their brooms. She then gave me a heart shaped paper and asked me to write name of my country and my name and a message. Not sure what the message was meant to be, something encouraging I think she was saying so wrote Go Go Go. Then I had to take it into the mass of these bushes and she pointed to these groupings saying Japan and then Australia. She wanted to know where in Australia we were from and once I said Brisbane and she popped down an unadorned bush, it made sense. This was a map of Australia and these groups of bushes were the shapes of different countries and the people for these countries who had added their messages. Found out later it was called the Garden of 10,000 messages. She then took our photo and we got her to pose to.

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Weather behaved for most of the morning but started to set in around lunch time. Had a quick look at Tokyo Station from the outside, very old style building. We went to see about going on the monorail. Apparently the JRPasses were meant to gives us free access but according to the woman in the information centre, the monorail is run by a private company and there is a fee. The monorail was back passed Ginza where we had just come from and didn't seem worth rushing around in this weather for.

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We had a burger at this little place by a food hall before giving up on the day and heading back to the hotel. Funny how even a burger had to come with some form of fish, squid rings in this case? One thing with the metro is its all underground so no need to go out into the weather to get back to our hotel. Finally skyped the girls which I think is the first time since we've been in Japan.

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Posted by tojoken 04:14 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

Our Final Destination - Tokyo

rain

Wednesday 17th October

Our holiday is nearing an end. We took off for some final photos of Tatsuko in the morning sun before breakfast. Grabbed the hotel shuttle to Tazawako Station. We were there at 9:30am so I had our tickets for Tokyo changed from 11am to 9:57am. We had to sit across the aisle from each other but better than hanging around a station for an hour and a half. Every train has a lady who goes from carriage to carriage with her trolley of hot and cold drinks and foods. Also there is a pedal on the side of each set of chairs that enables you to swivel them 180 degrees so if four of you were travelling together you could face and talk to each other. We should have tried it and scared the life out of some business men behind us.

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A 3 hour trip today and an hour into journey we stopped for mere minutes at Morioka Station and attached another train and then we really did pick up speed for the rest of the trip. We arrived at Tokyo Station around 1pm and we were stumped. People going everywhere, lots of different names and train lines and we just needed to get out to the Metro lines but had no idea how.

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We tried studying a map and one Japanese fellow tried to help but he was also a visitor. Finally found an Information booth, once you get to there you are ok but we had a devil of a time locating this one. The lady there wrote down the names of the two Metro train lines we needed and the stations we needed to get off for each (after checking her train guide and consulting with the other woman working there) then directed us to the Metro. Basically follow to end of the long hall we could see, turn left and keep going until we see the red Metro circle and we needed to go to the basement for our first train. Chris thanked her and commented how we would never have found it and she laughed and agreed saying there were too many train lines. We needed to get our tickets from the machines once we were in the Metro section. Her directions were accurate and the ticket machines have an English option and the stations are alphabetically listed on a board above with the fares next to them.

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Once you are in the Metro system it is quite easy to follow. You follow the train line name you want and on the track are two poles, one either side, with all the stations that the train stops at and an arrow that shows the direction the train stops at them, so you know which side to stand. They run about every 3-5 minutes and they are very quick.

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In Tokyo the train tracks are secured from people by doors which only open once the train has stopped and opened its doors. These were only at the Tokyo Metro stations and none of the other stations we went too, maybe the sheer volume of people using the stations in Tokyo warrants this for health and safety.

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We travelled from Tokyo on the Marunouchi Line (Red circle with an M) to the first stop, Otemachi Station and then followed the crowds up the escalators to the next level where we found the Hanzomon Line (Purple circle with a Z) and followed that symbol to the track and our train to Suitengumae Station, the second stop. From there we walked upstairs and as we exited the ticket gates asked the ticket checker man which exit we needed for Royal Park Hotel, and he point to the 4 just up the hall from us. When we got there, there was the name of our hotel and the entrance straight from the subway into our hotel. How cool was that.

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Two flights of escalators up to the front counter but we needed the 16th floor as we were staying on the executive level and they have their own check-in area. How flash. We were given cold refreshing cloths, which you needed as the metro was really hot, while we checked in and had a coffee while the final inspection of our room was done. This hotel has wi-fi everywhere available for its guests, yippee.

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View from room is glimpses of Sumidahawa River, that leads into Tokyo Bay and looking down on several levels of expressway. It has started to rain.

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At 5pm we made our way back to the station entrance we came through into the hotel to wait for Maho, the Japanese student who stayed with us for 10days in Brisbane last year when her school came over as part of Erica's schools exchange program with Omiya High School. We could see her as she came up the escalators and she ran through the ticket gates to greet us. So lovely to meet with her again and she would have travelled over an hour to get to Tokyo straight from school. she is the same age as Erica but they have an extra year at school before going to university. She wants to be a tour guide translator which takes four years.

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We were going to look outside for somewhere to eat but it was still raining so we had coffee and cake in the hotel lobby lounge and looked through photos of our trip. She had bought some jam filled pancakes for us to try and a picture of a fish that her grandmother had painted for her to give to us. We tried to Skype the girls while Maho was with us but Erica was at work early and Richelle just heading into a play. She was not familiar with this area so we said we would travel back to Tokyo with her, since we now knew how to travel from there but she had come through from Ueno Station. We went as far as her first change of train at Mitsukoshimae but then she was worried we would get lost at Ueno Station as it was so busy and wouldn't let us go any further with her. While at Mitsukoshimae we looked at before and after photos of Fukushima from the earthquake and tsunami last year and the rebuilding work.

Made it back for the final hour of happy hour, and yes, we left happy.

Posted by tojoken 22:46 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Tazawako, an Onsen and Iris Fans Rejoice

sunny

Tuesday 16th October

Good American Breakfast to start the day, at least how the Japanese see it. Juice, yoghurt to which you add your own amount of fruit compote, salad, eggs (fried, scrambled of omelette) ham or sausages, toast and croissant and coffee. If I haven't said it before, I love this coffee and liquid cream. Great start to the morning and even managed to time a lift into the station on the free hotel shuttle bus. Local bus times are not tourist friendly with the first one 7:20am and then not until 11:30am.

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At the train station, the lady at the bus ticket booth started to answer our enquiry then shot out of her booth indicating for us to follow. Across was the information centre and she talked to another lady in Japanese before leaving us with her. We had obviously exhausted her English ability. The other lady explained that the bus we wanted to catch needed a connecting free shuttle bus to pick us up but it did not run at the time on the schedule. So we needed to catch a later bus and then the shuttle would pick us up. So we had an hour to fill in, which gave us the opportunity to have a good look at the Iris museum,on the mezzanine floor of the train station. We wandered around listening to Big Bang's theme song for the movie Iris, looking at props and film clips from the movie, happily snapping away. Wasn't till we walked out that I saw the no camera sign, oops bit late now. Bought a few Iris souvenirs. Lady was quite interested where we came from and that we knew about this drama and then gave us a couple of Iris museum freebies. Well we were happy.

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Bus for the Nyuto Hot Spring Village arrived 10:50am to take us to Arupa Komakusa. A man, who we found was from Tokyo, happily chatted to us about where we were going and showed pictures on his camera of where he had been. It was a short wait at Arupa Komakusa for the shuttle bus to Tsurunoyu Hot Springs, the oldest onsen in Nyuto. Chatted to a girl from Thailand who spoke a bit of Japanese, her boyfriend is Japanese but working so she's travelling around by herself, another Iris fan. It was about a ten minute ride and the were film billboards about the Iris movie around the place as it had been used in the movie also. The onsen was used in the movie as a date scene where Hyun Joon and Seung Hee are surprised to find that this onsen lets men and women bathe together. The hots springs also offers accommodation (I tried to book here but could only get one night when I needed two) and the ryokan is in the movie where Hyun Joon hides after escaping from Hungary becomes friends with the young local girl.

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Ok, movie trivia finished. It was 500 yen each for the onsen and we headed off to the mix facility. Most onsens we have come across are same sex so this was a good opportunity for us to enjoy together. This was our first onsen and there wasn't a look of information around but I had read up and knew you need to wash before entering the onsen. There were separate changing rooms and as I started to undress I realised we didn't have towels. I tried to enquire from another woman about her towel but only got back that it was her own towel. So redressing I went back to the payment counter and hired two towels. As I came back I passed the other lady leaving and she acknowledge that I had now got my towels. Back in the wash area I soaped up and dipped my ladle I the water and threw it on me only to discover that it was cold water. One tub has the hot spring water and the other cold and you mix it in your ladle accordingly. Lucky it was the cold one and not the hot that I threw on me.

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Cleaned, I entered the first onsen area which was for women only. Three women were there and one baby. As I passed I checked that it was a mixed onsen next door. A couple of them gasped that I was going through but the other one nodded and said yes, mixed. I entered water and was submerged before I reached the men soaking, the only female. But not to be outdone, the others followed through, much to the disappointed of the baby's father as mum promptly gave him the baby and continued with her soaking. It was very pleasant.

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When I returned through to the women's only onsen, the other women were getting dressed so once they had left I took the opportunity for a few photos, not in the mixed section though, don't think the men would have been pleased. Missed the return shuttle by a minute, if that, so had to wait another hour so that put paid to going to look at the dam and left us in limbo as we would have 3 hours to wait until our shuttle ride back to the hotel. So we got off the bus at the Lake Tazawa shops and proceeded to walk the 10 km back to the hotel.

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We passed a restaurant called Orae, which looked like a local brewery with three large copper stills in a side window. Deciding to stop for lunch and a beer we were surprised to find it was another movie location where Hyun Joon and Seung Hee had eaten and drank local beer. The movie stills and table setting by the window were still set up. We ordered the beers that they had, Chris the local beer, Kohan-no-Mori and me the Komachi lager. Along with a couple of pizzas, it was a delightful break. While we were eating several other visitors stopped for photo opportunities. Considering the movie was made 2009, it's good to see its still bringing in the tourists. As we paid the bill we were asked where we were from.

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Very scenic walk back, almost got to hotel, 1km to go, when the hotel shuttle passed us. Chris flagged it down and he let us on but he was going to the station anyway to pick up one other. So we hopped off and finished our trek.

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Three other couples in the dining room tonight. All having the Japanese meal apart from one Japanese couple where she had the Japanese meal and he the Western, like us. Would love to have known why.

Posted by tojoken 04:47 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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