Japan Trip 2023 – Day Eight

May 11th

Ryokan owners were away this morning, so no breakfasts were being made.

Handed the key in to their son and set out for the train station on foot, having consumed one of the tofu bars bought yesterday.

An hour’s walk that only became problematic when I decided to check my progress with Google maps. Having been lead around the block, I went back to instinct and had no further problems.

Now on the train for Kofu.

Should be the easiest travel day of the trip.

And indeed, so far, it was.

Am now sitting in my hotel room with a cold beer watching dark clouds brewing over the mountains. Am hoping for thunderstorms.

On arrival at Kofu, I stored my luggage in a locker at the station and headed to Maizurujo Park, only a few minutes away.

Maizurujo Park

This is what remains of the Takeda castle; much is just small reconstructions, but some of it is the original sixteenth century stonework. Was occasionally harassed by Japanese school boys yelling “Hah row!”, because they were, “crazy Japanese boy”.

Maizurujo Park

Maizurujo Park

Maizurujo Park

As I had taken an earlier than planned train, I decided to visit the Kaizenkoji temple today instead of tomorrow. This temple was built by Takeda Shingen. Locked my hat with the luggage, so I may be a little burnt.

Visiting this place was always an, “if I have time”, option, but, in retrospect, it should have been an essential. The web reviews ignore much of its more interesting aspects.

They have not tried to hide its age, which is aesthetically pleasing.

Inside there is a dragon echo ceiling. Two dragons are painted on the ceiling, and they say, if you stand under their facing heads and clap, they will roar back in return.

Dubious about all things Buddhists say to me, I nevertheless duly stood and clapped. I did this numerous times, because the responding growl from the ceiling was fantastic!

It truly was magical.

To the side of this main hall is a corridor leading to the back of the building, where you descend into a darkened passageway built in the shape of the kanji, kokoro. It is pitch dark and you have to feel your way through, back to the light, as a form of metaphorical spiritual rebirth.

When I descended, the passage was full of screaming school children, clearly a representation of one of the Buddhist hells.

They soon exited, none even noticing me in the narrow, but lightless passageway.

I then continued on in silence to be reborn back into the temple.

Lightening from the thunderstorm in the distance as I write this.

As I am leaving the temple on of the attendants takes me aside pointing to a nearby building, saying much in Japanese that I could not understand. All I really got was, “second floor”. So I thanked them and went to the second floor of that building.

It was a small museum. Some interesting artefacts, very nice wooden statues, but also scrolls and letters from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with calligraphy that was sublime; far exceeding anything I saw in the Narita calligraphy museum.

Temple grounds

Temple grounds

Sunburnt and tired, I indulged in a taxi back to the station.

Collect the luggage, some beer, some kombini natto sushi, and a fifteen minute walk to the hotel, where I am now watching bad samurai television inside and a thunderstorm outside.

Tiny hotel room

Thunderstorm was a no show.

English language Miss Marple movie on television to distract me instead.

Missing Tanwyn, particularly after today’s temple visit.

Sunset from the hotel window

Kai Cho



Japan Trip 2023 – Day Seven

May 10th

Woke up full of anxiety and ready to go home. No reason. Many unexpected challenges on this trip.

This pen is running out for one.

Solved that challenge.

Morning practice seems to have dealt with any other issues.

Breakfast was largely a repeat of yesterday, so, delicious.

I do not like this new pen, will need to find an alternative some time today.

The only other item on the agenda is a trip to the miso brewery, which should be easy to reach by bicycle.

Stopped on the way for some cold Boss and to buy a new pen.

Do not like the pen I bought and have had to buy another one.

Spent a lot of money at the miso brewery on three year old miso and ten year old shoyu, plus some rice biscuits just for Tanwyn.

Saw a raptor overhead on the way and when I was close to the brewery, I stopped to confirm directions and a crow on a nearby power pole began to caw directly at me. Very nice.

The tour of the brewery was not quite what I was lead to expect from the multiweb reviews. Having purchased my items, I asked about seeing the brewery in my poor Japanese, they had no English, but understood and left the checkout to open a couple of warehouse doors, so I could see the barrels.

Big barrels, two small rooms of them.

Tour done.

Google maps said there was a small, family run sake brewery not too far away. It had excellent reviews regarding the wine tasting and the quality of both the tour and the actual sake. So, on my bike I went.

Checking to stop final directions, a crow on a nearby power pole began cawing directly at me.

Sake place was as small as promised. The owner, however, was very reluctant to engage with me and I soon left without being offered any tastings or purchasing any product.

I like the latest pen.

Currently relaxing in a park that seems to be a hang out for the local old people. The pond has large koi that leap completely out of the water trying to catch pigeons. There are occasional raptors circling; turtles and crows. Is very pleasant.

Will eventually, slowly, make my way back to the ryokan, having done all I came to Matsumoto to do.

Have instead headed back to the castle grounds for one last viewing.

More pleasant than sitting in the ryokan room for the afternoon.

Enjoying a very relaxed and lazy day.

May need to buy another of these pens, quite nice to write with.

Stopped by Frog street on the way, following Tanwyn’s suggestion that pickle plates might be a good gift for Joe.

There was such a shop there, but nothing Joe worthy.

Did pick up a frog chopstick rest for Zoe, though.

Said to the shopkeeper in Japanese, that my daughter loves frogs, to which he replied, in perfect English, then she will enjoy that very much.

A good news text from Cinnamon, as I sit here looking at a five hundred year old Japanese castle, listening to an audio book on the relevance of Epicureanism to modern life.

Might sit for a bit longer.

Crows are cawing.

Back at the ryokan, have stocked up on tofu sticks for the evening and breakfast, along with some Chip Stars in honour of Zoe.

To round out the day a cawing crow landed at the base of the weir, just as I arrived back.

Bicycle legs can give no more.



Japan Trip 2023 – Day Six

May 9th

Once again, the day begins to the sound of a crow calling.

Is four degrees and there are snow capped mountains outside my window.

Plan today is to do some much needed laundry and visit the castle, then see what happens from there. Hoping I can remember how to ride a bicycle.

No misogi this morning.

It seems I am not alone in the ryokan and have no wish to share my ritual with naked strangers, unless they are also participating. It is not a spectator sport.

Breakfast was excellent.

At first I thought they were a little lost with how to find enough food for a vegan, which explained the seemingly odd addition of a hash brown. But there was more than enough food without it, including some tempura vegetables. Each small vegetable dish was prepared differently and each one a delight in their own right. Nice to have a little extra protein in the form of yuba in the miso soup.

A good Japanese breakfast is a joy to all the senses that exceeds the sum of its parts. Only enhanced by not having eaten since the last one.

I did notice the Japanese guest rejected their natto.

A little wobbly, but yes, I can still ride a bike. Last time would have been before Zoe was born. Brings back fond cycling memories.

Sitting in a laundromat waiting; also brings back memories, fond and otherwise.

Brief trip to a local shrine while the washing is being done.

Is a large shrine and when I approached the main building, I noticed someone at the entrance to the grounds watching me from the footpath, they were some distance away, but they were not moving off, just standing there staring. It was slightly disturbing and I wondered whether they were making sure the ignorant and blasphemous gaijin was not going to take photos of the inner sanctum. (I did, but not so they would notice).

Eventually I moved towards the entrance by a less direct route and they then approached the inner buildings. Turns out they were just waiting for me to be done, so they could have their turn.

Walking is poor preparation for cycling. Back at the ryokan; my legs hurt. Looking forward to a recuperative bath later.

Managed the day using only old style analog tourist maps, no apps at all.

Castle was very good, both it and the surrounds were beautiful.

Is a very small castle, not the smallest I have visited, but certainly the second smallest. I may have seen an information board that said 12.67 Matsumoto castles would fit inside one Aizu castle.

Or I may not have.

Many of he staircases were only one step removed from being ladders and all were narrow enough to cause regular bottlenecks as people needed to go both up and down. Claustrophobic samurai would have been forbidden to carry weapons inside the castle.

Many beautiful flowers in the grounds and the moat was a stunning shade of green.

The carp in the moat could easily swallow a small child whole and patrolled the banks like U-boats.

From the castle I went to the two craft / art streets recommended by many internet sites and the ryokan proprietors for gifts. Perhaps something for Zoe’s birthday?

Just more expensive tourist crap that no one needs and less people should want.

From here to an enormous shopping complex.


Perhaps something for Zoe’s birthday?

Just stepping inside the building may have put my body project back by two years.

The hobby / toy shop full of anime had some promise, but no, was a cartoon illusion.

Stopped at a supermarket on the way back to the accommodation.

Found some very expensive savoury vegan tofu sticks and stocked up on kombu – one fifth the price you pay in Australia, when you can find it and that is before postage. Also beer and sake.

Hope is that protein loading in the late afternoon will stave off the emotional crash and the cry for counselling from already stressed out Tanwyn. So far seems to be working.

Still lonely, still missing them both.

Poor timing on the bath.

Interrupted minutes after beginning the preparatory washing. Have not shared a public bath since the horror opulence spa of Dragonsword. There are not enough pages left in the journal to revisit those days, but suffice to say, this one was fine; a little awkward for the two of us, but fine. And both of us seemed content that neither was one of those chatty bath companions. Not quite pushing the boundaries, but nudging them a little.

That said, the bath was hot and relaxing and is, as we write, working its magic, so I can tomorrow, literally, get back on the bike.

Cold, after bath beer, very good.

Almost bed time.

Pleasant evening texting Tanwyn about honeymoon / wedding ideas – very exiting.

Cannot find the Matsumoto castle information leaflet provided at the gate. Lost? With the missing nuts? But I found and ate those.

So many Japanese “cooking” shows are less about how to cook and more about watching people’s / celebrities’ reactions to eating food. Why are people watching this? Why am I?

Too much sake.

Time for bed.



Japan Trip 2023 – Day Five

May 8th

The day begins to the sound of rain, crows in the distance and the temple bells.

From the ryokan window

Travel day. Always interesting.

Another delightful breakfast.

I have no idea what much of it was, but it was all delicious. The natto sandwiched between thin slices of deep fried tofu and served with a smear of mustard and shoyu, was a highlight. As were the enoki mushrooms in the miso soup.

I ate it all too quickly.

One of the biggest struggles with the trip so far, is slowing down. It was designed so that there would never be any need to rush, but it is a difficult habit to break.

So much rain.

How many umbrellas will we go through today? Hoping the new one I bought yesterday, on returning to Narita, is more sturdy.

Ticket officials helped me purchase a reserve seat from Shinjuku to Matsumoto relatively painlessly. Good first step.

Worked the machine at the other train station to ensure I made it to Nippori.

First cold machine coffee of the trip

Nippori to Shinjuku was Japan train packed and was done without purchasing a ticket somehow.

Sorted that at Shinjuku and then purchased the base fare from Shinjuku to Matsumoto.

Shinjuku is crowded. There was a tightly packed coil of people, perhaps thousands of them, lining up for something mercantile in the middle of the station; never discovered what. Many will have died from old age before they reached the centre.

Currently, comfortably sitting in a very nice train heading towards Kofu and hoping the drinks trolley will come by again soon.

There is a weird thing on some Japanese trains, where, instead of putting a lock and engaged sign on the male toilet door, they have a window so you can see inside, but the space is so small that the occupant’s back fills the window, so you cannot see any genitals, but you know not to enter.

Matsumoto station was a bigger complex than expected.

Google maps did its, by now expected, confused attempt to navigate to the ryokan by foot; so in the end took a taxi.

This was a good idea as the place was a lot further from the centre of town than I had thought.

The room is also a lot smaller than expected and they say they cannot provide breakfast on my final day; no real explanation as to why. Their English is not much better than my Japanese.

View from the room

Tried the bath, was very nice. Not sure about morning misogi, we shall try and see.

Is possible I am currently the only guest.

Website says laundry facilities; I can find none.

Information says beer vending machine; I can find none.

Time to open the kombini sake, I think.

Nice cup, old looking hands

Kai Cho



Japan Trip 2023 – Day Four

May 7th

Temple bells are ringing and it is raining.

Ye gods! The breakfast was good!

Inspires one to take up Japanese cooking again. Rice, with a selection of exquisite small side dishes: lotus root, daikon, some, I think mustard greens, seaweed, smoked tofu with a hint of wasabi, a boiled tofu mixture served in a light broth, the natto came with a cane whisk and a dash of mustard, Biwa fruit jelly, miso soup with mushrooms and wakame, lettuce and tomato salad, umeboshi and green tea. At least that is as much as I can remember.

Decided to catch an earlier train, so did not have time to purchase an umbrella on the way to the station. May regret that if I do not find one elsewhere.

Finally put some money on the Suica card, as there is a quick change over between here and Kashimajingu station.

Very wet.

Eventually found an umbrella at a shop outside the shrine.

Shrine and surrounds are beautiful – dark forest full of enormous cedar trees, hundreds of years old.

Tsukahara Bokuden (1489 – 1571) founder of Kashima Shinto Ryu – “Swords are not tools to kill people but ways to better life”

Even with the umbrella, it was difficult to keep the camera dry.

On the walk back to the station, the wind bent the umbrella in two, rendering it useless.

A two hour wait for the next train.

Have decided not to attempt the Katori Jingu, as transport options home are dubious and conflicting. Might have risked it nevertheless, if it wasn’t for the rain and possible thunderstorms, with, again, no umbrella.

Currently still waiting at the train station.

Sunday may not have been the best day to attempt so much public transport. I was always concerned as to whether both could be easily done on the one day. At least with the rain, the crowds were small.

Back at the ryokan with a bag full of alcohol and some chips. Also I found my lost nuts!

A bath, some, well, lots, of sake; sitting watching the rain over the temple and missing my family.

From the ryokan window

A tiny bird occasionally flies to the top of the street sign pole in front of me and disappears head first into it, to emerge a little later, upright, and fly off.

Kai Cho



Japan Trip 2023 – Day Three

May 6th

I have survived the night.

Today is a travel day. Long and dark and full of terrors, as the saying goes. Plan is to arrive at Shibuya station with more than enough time to unravel the labyrinth and buy tickets and find the correct platform.

Sorry Zoe, I had hoped to buy tickets early, stow the luggage and search Shibuya for a birthday present for you. Unfortunately, they would only sell me one of the required tickets, so rather than be stressed at the exchange due to lack of time, I did not stay around in Shibuya. It was particularly filthy this morning, with garbage, broken glass and vomit.

I am now on a train I hope is heading to Keisei Narita, I suspect it is the local train Tanwyn warned me against, but I am not certain it is even going to Narita. We shall wait and wait and see.

Indeed it was the local train.

Two stops before Keisei Narita, I was politely evicted from the train into gale force winds. Last two stops have to be done through the Rapid Express at that time on a Saturday. Information gleaned from the station timetable, not from a ticket officer in Shibuya who, despite working in a station full of gaijin tourists flocking there, attracted to the noise and bright lights like suicidal moths to a flame, spoke no English. My Japanese was little better, despite how well I am doing on the apps.

Narita qualifies as full city, but it is still a step removed from Tokyo.

Put the luggage in a locker and walked the tourist street to the temple complex.

No incense for Tanwyn. Sad.

Ignored all the Buddhist stuff

and headed for the parklands and the shodo museum. Beautiful.

There was a room full of kana scrolls and small kana pieces, reminiscent of my very first visit.

Bought a frog themed weight, paralleling Katie’s turtles.

Walking through the parklands was good; slowing.

Everything, everything in my life has a quality of haste to it. Even preparation for this trip involved such things as brisk walking. But here, I have so much time, but have yet to realise it. In the parklands, I began to slow down for the first time in a long time.

Was good.

Eventually returned to the luggage and made my way to the ryokan.

Is a beautiful place, overlooking the temple complex. Would highly recommend it, though they seemed confused over the difference between vegetarian and vegan and the exclusion of eggs and dairy from a vegan breakfast. How many kombini natto sushi can one eat?

View from the room window

Is only really my second day in Japan, but I miss Tanwyn and Zoe so much. Is wrong to be here without them in a place like this.

Nights are the worst.

And sunsets.

Kai Cho



Japan Trip 2023 – Day Two

May 5th

Children’s Day Public Holiday

Not too bad a night’s sleep, considering.

Nothing is open till eleven, if at all, given the holiday. Plan is to make a leisurely walk to the Meiji Shrine and see what unfolds for the day.

Will attempt the use of offline maps to save on data roaming. I see this more as an experiment than an actual viable plan.

Made it to the shrine using the offline maps, though it did mean negotiating through some seedy Shibuya back streets punctuated by love hotels, strip clubs and wasted individuals sleeping on the foot paths.

You can always tell you are getting close to a major attraction by the rise in gaijin numbers.

Currently sitting drinking coffee watching the leaves fall around the giant torii entrance.

As an aside, one of the Lawsons close to the hotel looks like it has vegan options, but the only way to tell would be to turn on data roaming to use Google translate.

Back from the shrine and in the hotel, mid afternoon; hot and tired.

Navigating back and trying to find somewhere to eat was less simple than it might have been. I did find a vegan optioned café on the way from the hotel, but could not find it on the way back, no matter how much I wandered the same streets over and over again. Everywhere was so crowded, I doubt I could have got in anyway.

I think if I had to choose a place I would most not want to live outside of a war zone, Shibuya would be one of the top ones. It is quintessentially all I hate about Tokyo.

The Meiji Shrine and gardens was interesting to visit again after thirty years, I think many of the same people are still there, along with their children and grandchildren.

Was a worthwhile venture, if only as a component of the tripart Jingu shrines of the Tokyo area that are part of my current pilgrimage. The crow calls and occasional actual crow was nice.

Gave up on avoiding data roaming so I could find something edible in a kombini. Ended up with lettuce and seaweed salad with natto sushi and Sapporo beer.

Seems something of a waste to be sitting in my hotel with so much of the day remaining, but there is little Shibuya has to offer me. I came to visit the Meiji Shrine, which I have done.

I don’t even particularly like emperors, and emperor worship even less.

On Tanwyn’s first Japan trip, we once described walking into a late night kombini in Toyota as akin to stepping into a colour television. Shibuya is that writ large.

For now I will just relax in air conditioning, rest my legs and have my first Japanese beer of the trip.

Some hours later and am mentally and emotionally struggling to deal with Tokyo. This place is anathema to my view of Life. Even the green spaces, the parks and shrines are full of noise and obligation, from the tourists to the wedding ceremonies, to the tiny children’s baseball games. There is no where to breathe here, no where to just be. It is, for me, a trigger for claustrophobia and anxiety.

Texting with Tanwyn, making a meaningful connection with a meaningful person has helped. As has really bad kombini sake, Leonard Cohen and a bath.

Tomorrow Narita.


Kai Cho



Japan Trip 2023 – Day One

May 4th

Made it to the hotel in Shibuya.

It was a very long journey.

Said goodbye to Tanwyn and Zoe at the airport, but that did not seem quite real.

Take off was delayed by about half an hour due to late passengers and technical difficulties.

At first I thought I would be able to fully recline my seat, as there was no one sitting behind me, but not long after take off they pulled curtains around that seat and someone sat there. Who or why they needed such privacy ws never revealed.

Vegan food booking did not make it to the plane, though for one meal there was a plant passed pasta meal available; it had the consistency and mouth feel of mashed potatoes, but with less taste.

The last few hours was a mental struggle, not helped by the in flight headset failing.

Customs and immigration were relatively painless and quick, as was the luggage collection.

Someone gave me unsolicited help buying a bus ticket and I made it to Shibuya station in plenty of time.

From there it was block after block of noise, crowds and coloured lights.

Google maps loved the area and did not want me to leave. A taxi was more cooperative and I made it to the hotel just in time.

There was a moment at the airport when the combination lock on the luggage stopped working, but it was only me forgetting to push the button. And another moment in the hotel room when I could not find the wallet full of cash, had I left it in the taxi? But it was in a different pocket of the camera bag.

Is now time for sleep.

Kai Cho



Japan Trip 2023


Back in 2019, it was decided that a solo Japan trip would make the perfect sixtieth birthday present for me.

So we planned, booked and began saving.

Then we had the Covid years.

By 2023, Japan had opened up again, and the trip was back on, funded thanks to the death of my mother and enough inheritance to cover the costs.

Following a family tradition begun by Tanwyn, back in 2004, I kept a brief travel journal and have decided to publish it here as a safe place where no one will ever find it.

Kai Cho