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"I'm better than dirt. Well ... most kinds of dirt. I mean, not that fancy store-bought dirt. That stuff's loaded with nutrients. I ... I can't compete with that." - Moe Sizlack, The Simpsons 3F10

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Pittsburgh Penguins - 2016 Stanley Cup Champions!

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 24/07/2016 04:32:38
Updated by Joel Dixon at 25/07/2016 01:14:16


It has taken me far too long to write the blog post, but the Pittsburgh Penguins have won the cup again!

Pens Cup 16
Is anyone happier in this photo than super Duper?

Just like last time we had a pretty ordinary first-half to the season, followed by a coaching change and return to form.

While in the early part of the season it seemed to Phil Kessel never met an easy tap-in goal he couldn't stuff up, there wasn't a better, more consistent player in the playoffs (especially amazing when you consider the iron man was playing hurt). Watching The Phil streaking down the wing and firing a wicked wrister at net was as amazing as advertised, but it was his incredible passing abilities (especially on the PP) that really impressed me. Along with Hags and Bonino Bonino Bonino!, the HBK like provided us a third line that no team could cover.

Clutch Crosby performed as he always does, scoring goals and setting up the play at the opportune moments. Matt Murray also played like a veteran of the game, his focus and maturity on display all through his first NHL playoff series. I feel bad for Fleury, he kept us in playoff contention when we sucked in the first half of the season, only to get two concussions and having to turn the reins over to Murray. Geno Malkin also dominated some early games when Crosby was MIA, but a shoulder injury towards the end of the regular season seemed to affect his playoff performance significantly.

I remember thinking back in '09 that the Penguins could win the Cup year after year, but a 7 year gap just shows how hard the NHL is. Still, I wouldn't be betting against the Pens in 2017! Speaking of betting, I could see the team responding well to Coach Sullivan's no-nonsense approach early in the year, so I put $100 on them making the Stanley Cup Final. The $700 I won helped me afford all the usual goodies - championship hat, shirt and puck, locker room towel and bobble-head. I also had to pick a player jersey to remember this playoff series (I bought a Talbot last time after his game 7 heroics). Early on I thought it might be Sheary or Rust getting the nod, with Bonino and Letang having an outside chance. By the end - it was hard to argue against Kessel, so I picked up this beauty:

Kessel
I am yet to eat cookies while wearing this jersey, maybe I shall when I watch the first game of next season

This also marks the first season that I watched every single game of the regular and playoff seasons, thanks to NHL.TV. After every single playoff game that we watched, Pao and I listed to the following song. I'm pretty sure this helped the Pens as much as anything else this season.





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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Inca Trail, Peru - 2015

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 11/11/2015 02:47:14
Updated by Joel Dixon at 11/11/2015 03:04:48


I would assume that most people are filled with a sense of achievement and awe once they finally reach Machu Picchu after the long and gruelling Inca Trail hike. As for me - I was simply ecstatic that I had finally reached a site with a proper toilet. A regular western-style toilet with ample paper supply was such an improvement over the portable toilets, squat toilet or makeshift "to the side of the path next to an archaeological site" toilets I had been forced to utilise until this point. Given that something was forcing me to evacuate all of my hopes and dreams through my backside every 1 to 4 hours - I can't stress enough how delightful that toilet was.

Machu Poochu
Such a comforting sight - aside from the weird "chuck your soiled paper into a trash can instead of the toilet" system they insist on
(I didn't have the foresight to take a photo myself so I had to find this one on the internet - part of a very informative article about the state of toilets on the Inca Trail - great reading!)


But I digress. How did I get myself into this situation in the first place? More than six months ago Pao and I were planning our next trip to visit her family in Argentina and we decided to tack a Peruvian stay to the start to check out Machu Picchu. I had the bright idea that we should attempt the four-day classic Inca Trail for some added adventure. This was towards the end of my first season of ice hockey and I was feeling pretty fit and ready for the challenge - we figured we'd up our gym visits as well to get ready.

So towards the end of my 6-month hockey break I had a whole heap of work to keep me away from the gym and my fitness certainly wasn't at the highest point. Adding to that was the horrible altitude sickness in Cusco which capped off an entirely insufficient preparation. Oh well, we were going to complete the trek or die trying (both appeared to be completely possible results at various points)!

Unprepared
The start of the trail was final point that I was feeling confident about the trek

The first day was the "moderate" testing phase with a leisurely 14 km stroll without too much steep elevation gain or loss. I was quite enjoying it although Pao's cold was causing a constant usage of tissues and I needed to carry her pack up the final hill. We checked out some nice scenery, listened to interesting stories from our guide, ate a few great meals and visited our first archaeological site - Llactapata. Overall I was quite happy with the first day, though feeling a tad worried about the next "challenging" day.

Red Bits
The source of red carmine dye - I've always been interested in where colour dyes came from - I got to see a brilliant red in its natural habitat

Llactapata
The first of the archaeological ruins - reminds me of my Geography homework when we first learnt about isobars

Day 2 was tough. Waking up at around 4:30 am, 16 kms over 11 hours, starting the day with a 900m climb, then a 600m descend, another 400m climb and finally 400m down to the night's camp. Our highest point was 4,200m above sea level which is when the altitude difficulties were most obvious. Pao and her cold struggled mightily with the climbs on this day - so I was carrying her pack as well as mine for most of it. I think I overdid it on day 2 - at the end if it I was incredibly exhausted and pretty much left my dinner untouched (another bad idea but altitude removes appetite). The night of day 2 also had the added bonus of not being able to sleep (presumably also due to the altitude) - all issues culminating in a terrible day 3 (for me).

Jungle Time
There certainly was beautiful sights, but the longer we walked...

Dead Woman
... the less I cared

Stones
Presumably a Beastie Boys Intergalactic remake

I got messed up pretty good by day 3. It was listed as the "Easy Day" because it was only 10 kms mostly downhill. But when "downhill" consists of 1,000 meters of descending via steps, easy day doesn't seem to cut it as a description. I was getting extremely weak as the day and my feet dragged on, by lunchtime the guide needed to carry my backpack as I limped through a shortcut to get to our camp quicker. Thankfully day 3 did have nothing planned after lunch (to recover for the final Machu Picchu day) so I gathered my strength and slept a whole lot.

More Stones
I'm glad I took these photos, because at the time I was passing zombie-like through most archaeological sites

Stop Looking
Stop looking at me, deliciously edible swan rice!

Forever Young
I did take some time out of my busy napping schedule to join the group for a visit to the Winay Wayna site - very impressive

Day 4 was supposed to be another easy day, made more so by the fact that Machu Picchu was the destination that spurred us forward. We awoke at around 3 am so that we would be ahead of most trekkers when we arrived at the Sun Gate - the first chance to see Machu Picchu. That first hour of trekking was actually as easy as advertised and I was starting to feel some confidence returning. When we reached the Sun Gate and took a photo of our first glimpse of our final destination I was feeling pretty good. That's exactly when my stomach and beyond decided to let me know that pure evil was brewing inside me. As I clenched my last line of defence even Pao could hear the gurgling that was coming from deep within me - and it scared the both of us.

Suntastic
The Sun Gate shows that Machu Picchu is still quite a walk away, but we were on the final stretch

We scurried down the hill for what should have been a mere hour of gradual downhill moseying but turned into series of 15 minutes of walking followed by a quick visit to the "Inca Toilet" for some mountain painting (solely a watercolour palette). I tried with all of my remaining strength to keep a hold on my evacuations - but the ferocity of the call seemed to be threatening to find another exit if I was not to comply. This is when I reached a new level of weakness and any semblance of joy for the whole "adventure" evaporated as quickly as my water stores. By the time we reached the "Gringo Killer" portion of the final stretch (the last, almost vertical, set of steps before Machu Picchu) I didn't even have the energy to take a photo of what confronted us. As far as I'm concerned, we arrived at Machu Picchu without a minute to spare as I raced towards to afore-mentioned golden toilet.

Made It
I do admit, after an hour or so of sorting my issues out, I was finally awestruck by such a beautiful example of the early civilization

Jack Smile
I am exhibiting a "Jackson Smile", a smile through gritted teeth named for my nephew

Another View
I can see why so many people want to make the trek out here - I just wish I took the single day option more seriously

And thus ends my harrowing tale of a trek up (down, up and down) a mountain. I'm very slowly coming around to Pao's opinion that that Inca Trail was worth the effort even considering the 5 days of feeling horribly sick afterwards. Not completely there yet (I'm still yet to have a solid poop with almost 2 weeks having elapsed) but I can see the chance of it happening sometime in the future.

Certainly give the Inca Trail a go if it looks like something you'd enjoy - but take seriously the warnings about altitude sickness (we clearly needed more than 2 days to acclimatise) and the level of fitness required. We probably would have made it easily if it wasn't for illness - but you need to account for anything I guess. Oh, and pack extra toilet paper in your day bag just in case.



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Monday, November 09, 2015

Lima & Cusco, Peru - 2015

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 09/11/2015 22:42:56

A "great deal" on flights convinced Pao and I to head back to South America once more to visit her family, so we decided to add Peru and Machu Picchu to the trip to make the long hauls worthwhile. We started off our trip with two nights in Lima and then two nights in Cusco to help us acclimatise to the altitude for the trek.

During the first 24 hours of flights I was constantly stressing over our arrival in Buenos Aires, where we had less than 2 hours to collect bags, clear customs and then check-in to the next flight to Lima with a different carrier. Surprisingly we made it with time to spare, eventually arriving at our hotel quite late without much time to do anything other than sleep.

Why Not?
The kind of behaviour you come to expect from Argentinian travellers. Not pictured is the way they all jump up as soon as the plane lands (still taxiing and seatbelt sign on) to retrieve their carry-on luggage with nary a concern for the protesting attendants

I had heard that inner-city Lima is probably not the best place to spend time, so decided on the nearby Miraflores District for three main reasons: it looked nice from my limited research, it was the location of a highly-rated Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurant and it was close to a cat park. What more would we need?

Rocky Kisses
Also close-by was the "Love Park" with this statue of two people making out. Get a room!

Our first meal in Peru was at Maido for a 15-course "Nikkei Experience", combining Japanese and Peruvian cuisine with over-the-top presentation (our first course resembled a pot plant). The serving sizes were small, but when you have 15 of them, you still fill up quickly. The highlights for me included the regional sausage and roasted plantain appetizers and both the "sea" and "land" sushies. Overall a very delicious meal!

Yummy Plant
It looks like our pot plant is also growing a little Peruvian man

Yummy Rock
Another delicious meal, prime wagyu rib, egg yolk and cecina fried rice. They go to great lengths to ensure you can't steal their crockery

After lunch we headed up to Kennedy Park, known locally as the cat park - and we weren't disappointed. Many cats were indeed at the park, being looked after by local (presumably slightly crazy) volunteers. There were also large speakers playing music that some of the locals were dancing to (with many more looking on) - overall quite a nice vibe at the park.

Cat Food
It appears I'm not the only one that is suspicious of the red-shirt guy eating cat food

Dancing People
I'm sure there was a certain style of music / dance they were exhibiting - but it's all the same to me

With only one full day in Lima we wanted to tick off as much as possible, so even though we were still slightly full from lunch we headed to the Huaca Pucllana restaurant which is next to an archaeological site of the same name. Eating our dinner outside with view of the pyramid was quite relaxing, even though neither of us could finish our food.

Dinner View
Apparently this pyramid allowed the elite clergymen to express their complete religious power and control the use of natural water resources back in the day - isn't that nice

After our brief stay in Lima we headed to Cusco so that we could start acclimatising to the altitude. Almost straight away the lack of oxygen hit me and I was having trouble breathing / walking short distances even though we went straight from the airport to the Sacred Valley (Ollantaytambo's temple hill) which is a tad lower. After a night of restless sleep we consulted a doctor and were taken to an oxygen clinic for the better part of the day. So the majority of our first few days in Cusco was spent in a bed trying to relax. When we returned to Cusco after the 4-day Inca Trail I was far, far sicker and not able to walk much without needing to sit down or run to a toilet. Even so we managed to look around the city a little and get a bit of a feel for it.

Step To It
The terraces of Ollantaytambo - pretty steep as it is, much worse when you are gasping for air

Firstly, the traffic was probably as bad as anywhere I've been (which includes Italy, Egypt and Malaysia). We took a (company-supplied) taxi from the train station to our hotel. Our impatient driver was going about 80 km/h down the wrong side of the road to overtake a bus with a few cars coming directly towards us. Instead of slowing down and merging back into our lane, he continued his course and just expected the other cars to swerve out of our way. Oh, and neither of the back seats had seat belts (almost none did). Fortunately, after a few annoyed honks they did swerve out of our way and we survived - but it wasn't the only close shave we experienced.

The majority of the city had a typical South American feel to the architecture (although the buildings next to the main square had been rebuilt somewhat recently) - lots of stone and plenty of colours. As we were constantly close to the main square we couldn't walk more than a meter without a various commercial opportunities (massage, taxi, tours etc). One thing I did find interesting about the main square is that they had a lot of Western favourites (Maccas, KFC and Starbucks) but there must be a rule about gaudy signs - as each shop had a very simple monotone logo outside their building.

Market
We happened to be in Cusco during The Day of the Living - which amounted to a street market and a punch of annoying fireworks



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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sakura & Bonus Wrap-up, Japan - 2015

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 26/04/2015 13:04:09

With the high of the amazing burger behind us, I don't feel I should dwell on our final stop - so this will be brief. Wanting an easy road to the airport for our flight home, we decided to spend our final day in Sakura, very close to Narita Airport (and also quite nice in the blossom season apparently). Little did we know then, cherry blossoms are scared by a slight breeze or light shower of rain, so the majority of blossoms were gone by the time we made it to Sakura.

We did check out a few of the Samurai houses in the location, which were pretty cool (and unlike Kyoto they actually included props to understand the purpose of each room). We also headed down to the local castle ruins with cool greenery and hidden pathways. But in general, our final day was pretty much a lazy Wednesday.

Dresser
The old samurai houses were fun to walk through

Outside
... though Pao was experiencing this from outside as she felt her shoes had already come off enough

Forest Hideaway
One of the hidden pathways around the castle ruins

After a quick night in the Narita Airport Rest House we were on our plane back home. I've never had a more enjoyable 10 hour flight, leaving at midday meant I didn't have to attempt to sleep (which I find impossible) so I just spent the time reading, listening to music and writing my blog entries. It did mean we arrived home at around 2 am - but we were home and safe and finally able to fit into a bed

To sum up our time in Japan, I don't think it could have gone any better. I put many hours into the planning and I'm pretty sure it all paid off as we were only once put into the position of walking around a city trying to decide on what to do at the last minute.

That being said, the trip to Japan was a little different to some of my recent adventures. It took me a while to figure out why - but I believe there wasn't any big ticket item in Japan that I was looking forward to achieving. My first trip to the US had Niagara Falls and my first ever live NHL game. My second trip had the Stanley Cup and concluded a very long-time goal of being inside the Statue of Liberty. My European adventures had a few (such as being inside a pyramid, the leaning tower of Pisa, Stonehenge and the Eiffel Tower). Even my trips to Sydney generally end with me climbing the harbour bridge. For Japan, there were a number of things I was looking forward to (mainly the food, but also bright lights and electronics) but no huge singular item.

It was a very enjoyable cultural experience all the same, and also such a great time to have fun and be silly with my girlfriend Paola. The fact that the two of us only got grumpy at each other once or twice in the whole 3.5 weeks spending every hour together is a great sign to me. I think I said it best way back in Egypt:

Quoting Joel:
Apparently Mark Twain once said "I have found out that there ain't no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.". While I am surprised at the grammar utilised I couldn't agree with the sentiment more - there will certainly be further travel for Pao and I in our future

I believed it then and I believe it even more now Looking forward to our next trip to South America and the Inca Trail later this year.


This is the 21st 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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Takayama & Gero, Japan - 2015

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 26/04/2015 01:42:47

The Wikitravel article for Takayama was quite complimentary of Center4 Hamburgers serving American-style burgers in Takayama. I'm a huge fan of burgers, but the trip to Japan was more about eating the local fare and trying food that I wouldn't have access to back home. Little did I know, Center4 Hamburgers produces the best burger (and onion rings) I have eaten anywhere in the world - but more on that later.

The only reason we looked into Takayama to start with is the Spring Festival - which is apparently one of the most beautiful festivals in Japan - happening right at the end of our prospective Japan trip. It took a bit of re-arranging, and a hotel in almost close-by Gero (as everything in Takayama was already booked) but we were able to stay in Takayama the night before the festival. Looking through the festival map we received from the hotel, the phrase "all events will be cancelled in the event of rain" got me a little worried.

Given that it was already raining the night before the festival (and forecasts predicted nothing but rain for the next few days) we were both concerned that our long train to Takayama would be all for nought. A little deflated (while checking weather websites periodically) we decided to grab some burgers.

From the first morsel, I knew that this burger was special. Muttering "Wow!" I looked up at Pao and she replied to my thoughts with "I know - this is amazing!" I savoured a second delicious bite before turning my gaze towards the onion rings. Onion rings are very hit and miss - but with as much chance of a hit as you'd expect from Uwe Boll (and not in the boxing ring). Stringy onion / onion mush saturated in oil or too much burnt breadcrumbs is what usually prevents me from ordering the delicious golden rings in the first place - but Pao suggested we get some with our meal. Looking with fresh eyes, I silently hoped that the rings we purchased would please instead of disappoint us (the stakes even higher now that the burger had cut the mustard). Thankfully, the onion rings were more than worthy of the tasty burger with which we had been blessed - a perfect amount of oil and real onion melting in our mouths.

Burgasmic
As Samuel Jackson would say - that's a tasty burger

I think it had a lot to do with the high quality Hida beef and other ingredients from the area, or perhaps a recent lack of Western food that caused Pao and I to crave something familiar, but I think this may well be the best burger I've ever devoured. We actually made our way back to Center4 again the next day for lunch, but there was a huge waiting list of excited customers (we were very lucky to have been admitted the night before). So after our delicious burger meal, we both agreed that - even if the whole Takayama Spring Festival was rained out - the trip was more than worth it.

And the festival was pretty much rained out. The main draw of the two days - the night festival - was cancelled outright due to the rains. The festival floats would no longer be driven around the town like in other years - instead staying parked in their garages. Fortunately, the doors to the garages remained open, so Pao and I could still walk around the town checking out the floats and even catching one of the puppet shows (all operated remotely via wires).

In The Shop
One of the floats stuck in the garage, still pretty impressive

Costume
Final costume check, our puppet was a bit of a diva requiring many last-minute adjustments

Weak Dragon
It was kind of cool seeing the puppet holding a dragon...

Strong Dragon
... until the spectacle was dwarfed by the puppet turning into a dragon!

After the puppetry finished we headed to Hida no Sato (folk village) which was pretty fun to walk around and think back to living in that time period. We didn't hang around too long until we realised the night festival wouldn't go ahead and headed to Gero.

Folk You
These types of buildings were made using primative materials and tools - I'd have no chance even using the latest technology

Gero was only supposed to provide us a bed to roll into after the Takayama night festival, but as we arrived a few hours early we took a walk around the town, and it was quite pretty. Known for many open-air onsen and foot baths the town was a little glum due to the weather - but still provided beautiful scenery. As if not spoilt by food enough, we had another delicious meal in Gero - our first time sampling eel in any form. We had the grilled variety with rice, spring onion and wasabi - so delicious! So much amazing food in such a short time at the end of our trip will ensure I always retain fond memories of Takayama and Gero

No Privacy
Swimwear was requried so we didn't give this onsen a go - but it looks quite luxurious (if a little too public)

Eels Eels
In this case, it was the mouth


This is the 20th 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 23, 2015

Nagoya, Japan - 2015

# Posted by Joel Dixon at 23/04/2015 20:20:23
Updated by Joel Dixon at 20/01/2016 03:14:36


Now, I'm the first to admit that sometimes my destination choices are made for silly reasons. I did re-arrange a bunch of train trips at the last minute to ensure I could still have one hour in Hamburg (so I could eat a hamburger). Nagoya was Pao's time to have a dubious reason for including a city on our itinerary - she wanted a chance to be in Toyota. Not that she has a Toyota (nor a particular love for the car manufacturer, or even cars in general) - but just because going to Toyota seemed like a particularly Japanesey thing to do. Pao is very accommodating of my numerous peculiarities and character flaws, so how could I say no? To be fair however, I'm glad we ended up adding Nagoya to our timetable, we both really enjoyed it.

Oh He Blew It
The Spiral Tower of Nagoya, and what I presume is a giant tuba in the foreground

Our first stop in Toyota was to learn more about the company at the Toyota Technology Museum (or the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology) which brings up an interesting (to me anyway) point. Unlike in Yamazaki, the car manufacturer is not named for its area of origin, but the town was renamed Toyota after the success of the car company (which is even more strange when you consider that the company was originally named Toyoda for its founder - speaking of toy yodas). Also, the company found initial success for the automatic cotton spindles and loom machines in the 30s. The museum we visited was on the original site of a textile factory, and it's clear that they wanted to properly utilise all of the machinery on hand.

Illoominating
An "eternal loom" at the start of the tour. The whole museum conjured memories of Wanted (and got this song stuck in my head)

When I've been to museums or places like Scienceworks before - the exhibits are kind of lame. The difference at the Toyota museums was the demonstrations were pretty hardcore. Most places would show how die casting works with a lump of play-doh being pressed into shape - at the Toyota museum an actual lump of metal was super heated then pressed into the shape of a small engine part. It was really cool to watch. On the whole the museum was a lot of fun, and certainly worthwhile a visit (if you ever head to Nagoya).

Spindleriffic
All of the original machinery was able to be operated, by a simple "start" button or a member of staff if it was more complicated

Assembly Line
Showing how the car parts are put together

Inner Space
These robot arms remind me of Inner Space and the cowboy

After the Toyota museum we went to the Tokugawa Art Museum (which didn't allow photography so you'll just have to believe me) and then a local ex-pat pub for the experience (not much different to back home). After lunch we took a train an hour or so away so we could go to the Toyota district and take a photo of one of the signs (to show we'd been there). While on the train Pao spotted an interesting bridge so we walked that way until we found a soccer match in progress at Toyota stadium. Unfortunately the game had just finished so we headed back to the hotel.

Toyoda Hotel
The photo I took to show I'd been in Toyota...

Bowser Stadium
... which was no longer needed once we visited the stadium (which looked a bit like Bowser's shell to me)

After relenting to Pao's desire to visit Nagoya I discovered that it is also home to the Nagoya Noh Theatre. I was saddened to discover that the Noh theatre in Tokyo had no performances while we were there, but the Nagoya theatre may have had an amateur show playing on one of our mornings - and if not we could at least tour the building. When we got there we discovered that there wasn't going to be a show, but at least we were able to try on some of the masks and check out the theatre.

Masking Table
Two sample Noh masks - feel free to take photos you say?

Sad Demon
Even just with our basic photos you can see the mask making me look sad here...

Hopeful Demon
... maybe hopeful or confused here...

Horrible
... or hideous

Just Horrible
This expression doesn't really help to be honest

Evil Girlfriend
Pao looking positively evil here

After the Noh theatre we headed over to yet another castle - the Nagoya castle this time. But unlike the others, this castle had a huge advantage that we were able to keep our shoes on! Like most, the Nagoya castle was rebuilt - but in Nagoya they re-built it with normal floors and an elevator for a more enjoyable castle experience. After a quick tour of the Castle we continued on to Takayama, hoping desperately that the weather would improve (hint: it didn't).

Nagoya Castle
The castle does look great, but the main thing I was interested in...

Fish Race
... (other than the golden "dolphin" that adorn the ceiling)...

Dango Stone
... is the stone requested from the 20 feudal lords that were marked to provide who provided which rock. This one looks like dango

Fish Head
The castle's mascot (presumably named Fish Head) is half creepy - half even creepier


This is the 19th 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 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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