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Ever since Gerchard and I started our world travels together over 20 years ago, I have made a journal when we travel.  With practice I can now actually get to the end of the trip before I stop writing....That is the bad news for you if you choose to read on....This is the first time I will try sharing some of this journal. I will attempt to give the abbreviated version but I am afraid even that will get a bit wordy.  My advice is read only the interesting bits.  In general I will attempt to get the names and details correct but here is the disclaimer "Everything you are about to read is based on what I thought I heard and should not be mistaken for actual reliable data....In many ways just like all of history...this is what I thought happened."

Friday in April 2013:

It was a dark and stormy.....no that's not true....We left Perth Friday on the late afternoon flight to Singapore. The weather was just fine.  It is about a 6 hour flight but our next flight did not leave until the next morning so we tried out the "Transit Hotel".  This is bigger than the tubes the Japanese are famous for but not a 5 star place either.  You rent the room by the hour.  There are 2 twin beds and a small bathroom with shower. It is clean and we got about 5 hours of sleep in a prone position. The advantage of this hotel is that it is inside the airport terminal so you do not have to go through customs, immigration or security to get a few hours of sleep.  Our bags were checked through to Japan so we did not have to worry about them either.
This trip has been a first for us in that we arranged a "tour" of Japan.  Now. do not imagine a classic bus tour  where we meet up with people and tour the country together.  It was more of a tour where you were scheduled to meet different groups in different cities to see some preselected sites.  You will find your own way to the tour and your own way back to your hotel and If you miss it ...too bad, so sad.   It did not work out too bad but the down side was something was scheduled every day. So it was up early get where you are suppose to go and back late each night.  After about 6 days Jakob and Emily had run out of steam and patience and were on a anti Japanese food strike....but I get ahead of myself. Back on that  Saturday in mid April as we landed in the airport outside of Tokyo it was all new and fresh like our cloths which will not see much laundry time since as I said we are busy every day.


We were met at the airport by our first tour guide.  His job is to get us on the bus to our first hotel.  It takes around an hour by bus from the Airport on an island offshore into the heart of Tokyo.  We pass Disney Japan on our way.  It is a little surreal.  You are driving through a heavy  industrial district with factories and warehouses in a gray monotone  for miles and there in the middle is a splash of pink and a spire of a fairytale  castle and maybe a roller coaster like thing.  I guess there was room there.
The hotel was very nice.  It is a tall highrise near the downtown you get breakfast.  Bearing in mind our kids are not the most adventures eaters of food it was unclear when we started if they might actually starve  to death in 10 days on this trip.  The food was mostly tradition Japanese food.  The kids searched hard to find something to eat.  In the end some sausage seemed safe with a medium boiled egg and some bread.  I thought the fish was good.  I had brought a stash of granola bars to avoid being accused child abuse for malnourished children.


Our tour starts at the hotel near ours where we are met by a bus that stops at all the hotels in the area picking up tourists.  We are deposited in the cental Tokyo bus station and pointed  to lines, to be sorted out  like fish with assembly line efficiency to the various tours.  An entire fleet of buses await to whisk tourist off to their tour of choice.  Ours this first day was the Nikko shrine.  We specified an English speaking tour, something I learned to do after we spent two weeks in the Galapagos Islands on a German speaking tour because, well obviously, Gerchard's name was so obviously German.  Taking an English tour I guess I expected Americans, Australians and Brits.  It makes you grateful for the fact that the British Empire spread out across the globe when you realize that on the English speaking tour we were the only native English speakers.  There were tourists from Portugal, Russia, Germany, Spain, Korea, and France.  English offered a common language since there were not alot of tours in the other languages if you just wanted a day outing.
Nikko is a World Heritage site and is a 3 hour drive which gave our Japanese guide, a nice young man,  sometime to share with us some of what it is to live in Japan.  The cost of living is high, although after living in Australia my perspective has changed.  He told us that Tokyo is a city of 12 million people.  The average income is around $39000 ( I am translating to US units). Monthly rent on an apartment would be $1200 which would get you about 550 sq feet of space.  This fact only could explain why the Japanese have a negative population growth.  The income taxes are only about 10% with only 5% sales tax but social security is around 14.4%.
Because of the population density the people are used to lining up. As a little aside the guide told us that a Krispy Kreme donut shop opened in Tokyo in 2005, anyone from the southern USA knows these stores. I don't know if they are found in the north or west. The lines when the shop first opened were around the block.  He told us that he held off for months but finally gave in and stood in line for 2 hours to buy a dozen donuts.  He did allow as how they were delicious.
Nikko Shrine If you are still with me, I did mention wordy, we arrived at the Nikko shrine.  It is 103 buildings in the forest in the Tochigi Prefecture (think state) at the foot of several large mountains.  It includes a Buddist temple which is one of the major religions of Japan and a Shinto shrine, the other major religion in Japan.  Many Japanese seem to combine the two so the temples and shrines are often together or near each other.  This particular site is dedicated to the Shogun Tokugawa leyasu who founded the Tokugawa shogunate that ruled Japan for 250 years.  He wished to be buried on this scared mountain to watch over the people forever.  Although the shogun was born under a different sign, the son who built the temple was born under the sign of the dragon so there are dragons everywhere.
This first day was actually among the most spectacular places we visited.  Between the architecture, the gold, the carvings and the chance to observe it was really amazing.  We were allowed into the Buddist temple to hear the echo that that resonates through the building.  We were shown into the Shinto shrine and how the prayers are offered.  There is alot of taking your shoes off in these places but you get used to it after a while. 

Nikko near stables