Bali – the giant bat mystery

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Sometimes you just get caught up in the whole tourism bubble, and are left later with the thought of “why on earth did I do this”? Seems familiar?

Well, when visiting Bali, I had one of these experiences and suddenly I found myself standing with a stupid crown on my head, holding a giant bat (a BAT!!…. with giant TEETH!!). One thing is that I throughout the years have evolved and stay clear of animal entertainment as much as I can while on holiday (well respected zoos being the exception), but what ever gave me the idea of actually agreeing to holding the vampire-like creature will forever remain a mystery.

Tokyo, Asakusa – Where old times keep on living

Asakusa is a district in Tokyo where you really get the feeling that time has stood still for some centuries. The neighborhood is full of narrow streets with local shops, rickshaws and, of course, both the old Sensoji tempel and the new Tokyo Skytree.

Asakusa can easily be reach through the metro system (Asakusa Station) and you can easily spend several hours just wandering around in the streets, taking in the scenery.

Tokyo – Already in love….

This is the story about my first, but hopefully not last, trip to Japan in March….

After travelling for 24 hours from Norway, we finally reached the capital of Japan, Tokyo. With its roughly 13 million people it’s the biggest city in Japan and hence it is buzzling with life. Or so we thought… We were a bit surprised not to be seeing more people when we arrived and it was not before we were entering the metro system we got the authentic feeling of it being really crowded.

From the minute I sat my first bloated foot (the last leg was for 11 hours, need I say more?) on Japanes soil, I was in love. Everyone were so friendly and helpful, and even though very few speaks English, the airport staff were really good at visual communication and got us through immigration and customs in record speed. Outside the terminal, the transportation options were really professionally lined up. Our express bus had a departure time at 11:40 and guess what, it left at precisely 11:40:00, a punctuality which is no more than an utopia back in Norway. 

Being the world record holder in punctionality is one of the major reasons for my instant infatuation with Japan. In 2017 it was considered a scandal when a train departured 20 seconds too early, and even though no customers complained, the management of the rail company had to issue an official statement apologizing for the incident. Somehow I don’t see this ever happening in Norway where a train (long distance) is considered on time if it arrives its final destination within 5 min, 59 secs of its scheduled arrival time and where bus-for-train has become a common phrase in our everyday life.

When we arrived in downtown Tokyo, the weather was cold and rainy, so we hurried directly to our hotel. Or, at least we tried to… The many tall buildings both impaired visual orientation as well as confused the GPS giving us a bit of a struggle finding the correct way. But, with a little help from some very friendly Japanese, who gesticulated the direction the best they could, we were able to find out hotel. Our final good samaritan did not even leave our side until we were safely inside the hotel building. Amazing! In other words, a wonderful start on our stay in Tokyo:)

Tokyo – Tsukiji Fish Market, Best Street Food Ever!

The day after Tokyo Marathon, in rainy weather and with sore muscles and tons of blisters, we decided to visit the Tsukiji Fish market we had heard so much about. The inner marked, where they in early morning hold auctions (e.g for tuna, which is worth its weight in gold obviously) is now closed for tourists, but visiting the outer market was more than enough.

The outer market consists of a few parallel, narrow streets with street shops and small restaurant. Our umbrellas made it a bit difficult to navigate due to space issues, but we were able to taste some of the amazing street food they were selling, while standing up and holding an umbrella and a beer at the same time.

We also tried one of the many small restaurants that seemingly was just a hole in the wall, but revealed a long, narrow restaurant once inside. Let me just say, best sushi ever!

Shinkansen – Bullet Train of Perfection

Being from Norway, I am not exactly used to speedy trains and if the train is not (for some reason) replaced with bus-for-train, it often does not depart or arrive on time….

Entering Japan, the birthplace of punctuality, where the top leader of the train company has to officially apologize if the train is ever late (which is as good as never). When I was in Japan in March, I took the bullet train and instantly fell in love with this mode of transportation. Standing on the station, we were almost blown away by the sound and pressure of trains passing by with a speed up to 320 km/h. The inside was immaculately clean and the seats were spacious and comfortable. If we had more of these, I would definitely switch from flying to taking the train.

 

Tokyo – Close Encounter With Sumo Wrestlers

As mentioned in earlier posts, Tokyo was an amazing city and it was sad to see our final day approach. But what better way to finish off our trip than with some sumo wrestling? To us westerners seeing 2 flubby men in a skimpy little outfit can seem a bit strange, but in Japan it’s the national sport and the wrestlers are idolized.

We had hoped to see a genuine sumo wrestling match, but unfortunately none were to be arranged during our stay. Instead we settled for an organized tour, ordered through getyourguide.com, but arranged by a local operator. It included an introduction to the sport by some retired wrestlers as well as a show-match. A very touristy thing to do of course, but hey, we wanted to see sumo wrestling, and this was the only viable option to obtain that. The price was about USD 110 and the activity also included the option of going against one of the wrestlers (spoler alert: I skipped that…) and lunch.

We were to meet up in the Ryoguku area, famous for its many sumo stables. We had a bit of a hard time finding the place since the entrance felt like just a whole in the wall, but we had predicted this, so we still had some time to spare when we finally reached our destination.

We were greeted by an amicable middel aged Japanese lady, who fortunately spoke English fluently. She took us to our table, located in a big room with a big mat in one end. Around the room we saw memorabilia of two wrestlers’ former glory.

Soon the show started and we got to meet the wrestlers (which names I heard, but managed to forget like 5 seconds later). They took us through the rules, warm-ups and techniques, all in Japanese of course, but the lady from before translated with

The wrestlers also did 3 show matches, where the big one (still do not remember his name ) won 2-1.

Before the lunch was served, we learned that sumo wrestlers cook their own food. They actually get so experienced in cooking that 50% of them choose the restaurant business as their second careere. They only eat two times a day, but then they eat a lot. The guy below revealed that when he was active he was able to eat up to 300 shushi pcs in one single meal, but now he is down to like a hundred.

The lunch was like all other food we have tasted in Japan; really tasty. We got a «Chanko Nabe», a real sumo lunch consisting of a hot pot with vegetables, proteins an chicken broth.

At the end we had the option of fighting the wrestlers and to take pictures. All in all a great experience and well worth doing when in Tokyo.

Tokyo – All In at the Karaoke Bar (#CoverYourEars)

It would have been a real shame leaving Tokyo without experiencing karaoke, so on one of our final days there, we looked up the venues in the neighborhood for a night of singing. The choice fell on Big Echo Karaokebar, only a 10 minute walk from our Marunouchi hotel.

Before we booked a table at the karaoke bar, however, we made a pit stop for some food and (lots of drinks) at the bar next door as a warm-up. Then we booked a private room with a big TV screen and two microphones for the six of us (with additional drinks to further loosen up the vocal cords…).

Earlier in the day, a couple of the boys were a bit skeptical of the whole karaoke thing and claimed audience status only. But, being in the room with a drink (as in many) in their hand, made that skepticism evaporate within minutes. The whole room took off and we went all in singing wise. We (of course) felt that we were really nailing it, but in retrospect, I think we made a wise call deciding to prohibit audio/video recording of the seance.

Our plan was to only book the room for like 30 minutes to an hour, but 3,5 hour later the staff practically had to force the microphones out of our hands. A super fun experience, and the possibility of booking a private room made even the shyest of us break out in singing.

Tokyo – Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya Crossing is the Times Square of Tokyo with its huge billboards and neon lights. It is also one of the most busiest intersections in the world with people crossing in all directions at once. Check out this to get the feeling of participating in the chaos of crossing the intersection.

We managed to spend a couple of hours just crossing the street from all angles and by just looking at the crowd. The Starbucks nearby turned out to be the perfect hangout for the spotting activities. This intersection has also appeared in movies/TV shows such as Lost in Translation, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and Fuller House and is definitely worth a visit. ..and this is the neighboring area…

Shinkansen- Bullet Train of Perfection

Being from Norway, I am not exactly used to speedy trains and if the train is not (for some reason) replaced with bus-for-train, it often does not depart or arrive on time….

Entering Japan, the birthplace of punctuality, where the top leader of the train company has to officially apologize if the train is ever late (which is as good as never). When I was in Japan in March, I took the bullet train and instantly fell in love with this mode of transportation. Standing on the station, we were almost blown away by the sound and pressure of trains passing by with a speed up to 320 km/h. The inside was immaculately clean and the seats were spacious and comfortable. If we had more of these, I would definitely switch from flying to taking the train.

The Black Egg of Owakudani – Will add 7 years to your life, but at a cost…

One day in Tokyo and one day we went on an excursion to (among others) Hakone and Owakudani Valley, the latter s vulcanic valley with a spectacular view of Mount Fuji in fair weather and with hot springs “en masse”.

Earlier this valley was called “Jigokudani” or “The Valley of Hell” due to the sulfuric smell that hits you the minute you approach. But the view was amazing and the hot springs quite amazing, so the stink was totally worth it.

In Owakudani Valley they have a very special kind of egg, the black Owakudani-Egg. The unique color is due to it being cooked in natural spring water containing sulfur and iron and legend has it that if you eat this egg, you will add 7 years to your life. Well, I did not find the egg very tempting, so on a pure gut feeling, I chose to skip the whole eating experience. The cost was simply too high…