15th May 2012
Today was a travel day and it was raining, so don't expect too much! We were heading to Nagoya on the FAST train. So, after Mike got back from his two hour run(!?), we packed up in a hurry and headed to Toyko main station. Our train was at 0950, so we were travelling right at the end of rush hour, but even so, it was very busy. We elbowed our way onto the train, and tried not to fall over backwards with our rucksacks!
At Tokyo, we bought bento boxes, and then Jane had several attempts to get us onto a train to Nagano rather than Nagoya. (Easy mistake to make I think). Luckily, the guards were having none of this, and sent us on our way, and me into a panic that I may have booked a hotel, train tickets and a tour round Toyota factory all in different cities... I checked, I hadn't. Perhaps I even deserve the (planner)2 in my job title!
We bought ourselves a bento box each for brunch, and headed to the platform. As usual, Mike's choice looked better than mine.
I have a knack of always picking something slightly inedible. Although this time I might have had crunchy bits of chicken grizzle in mine – but Mike had a scary array of undefined fish. Both came with the obligatory piece of tie-dyed tofu.
Once we got past the barrage of guards (stopping us from heading to Nagano) we made it to our platform just as our train was coming in. Suddenly, an army of uniformed cleaners swooped out of nowhere, and in about six minutes, they completely cleaned the train. I think there must have been four per carriage. All the men in blue, all the women in pink. Very effective. Not sure about efficiency though.
On the train, as members of staff entered the carriage, they always took a bow before proceeding to check tickets / sell coffee / sell buns with bean paste in them... etc. Very formal and proper. They have high expectations of the passengers too. The guard was not happy that my rucksack strap was dangling; he gave me a pronounced bow before sweeping it up onto the rack correctly. Last time I made sure my straps were not dangling from my rucksack was the time I left my bag on a train at Clapham Junction... Not sure I was 100% happy with his fastidiousness – but I let him off with it because of the bow!
We disembarked at Nagoya, and I was amused that one of our fellow passengers got off the train, ran to a handy Kiosk, bought a packet of cigarettes, before jumping back on. Now, let's be clear, if I am not standing in line at the spot where the door will be, ten minutes before the train arrives, I am tense. To watch somebody presumably leave all his bags on a train (and his very expensive seat) to grab some cigarettes is astounding to me. Do not think that these trains hang around either, they stop for a very short time. By the time we got to the stairs, it was gone.
At the Ryokan, I think we took them by surprise. I'm not sure they've seen guests for a while. Our room was not ready, but the thing that worried me a little was that none of the rooms were ready (I know this, as me and our host had a little misunderstanding; I was asking for a moment to reorganise my bag before he stored it; He thought I wanted to get changed and was trying to find me one of his ten rooms that would be acceptable) In our two days here, I saw one other guest... slovens!
Anyway, host was a very nice man, and gave Mike a map telling us where we could go for two hours and stay out of the rain, as well as a recommendation for a restaurant – the big pig. More on this later!
The Ryokan is beside a temple, and as we walked towards Nagoya centre, we passed the gates to the temple garden. I do like a Japanese garden, and honestly, they are best in the rain. Somehow it is more atmospheric.
This garden is not the best I have ever seen – but it had the advantage of being here, and being free to enter! This is Mike in the rain ahead of me, walking towards the exit... Eventually he dragged me out, and we headed into town.
The Ryokan man had suggested that we take a look at the Ozu street shopping centre. I think he suggested this mostly because it is under-cover.
There is a network of streets that make up this shopping centre – all undercover. We entered via the street nearest to our Ryokan, which is the street furthest from the centre of Nagoya. It was strange. all the shops were hippy shops selling the kind of stuff you would find on a bad market at home. Nevertheless, we perservered, and spotted some intersting stuff, like this lucky cat. You see these everywhere in the world – even in your nearest Chinatown, but not normally wearing a neck brace. Not sure that is a particularly lucky cat, honestly!
Cute toys are everywhere in Japan. Cute basically came from here – in fact the Japanese word for cute, kawaii, even sounds cute. I'm not sure about this though. The only clue we could find was that he is called BAD GRIZZLIE or something similar. Seems to have been so bad that he has been shot in the head! Remember, this is a teddy bear, presumably intended for children. That's a bit shocking I think!
I may have mentioned before that the only vegetables we have eaten are generally of the pickled variety? Well, I think we discovered why in a food market today. This is a picture of tomatoes and strawberries. Very nice tomatoes and strawberries, I am certain, although, I'm really not sure they are worth the price. The tomato punnets are priced at 2,980 Yen. This is about 30 CHF, 30 USD or £25 (not certain of the Euro exchange rate, but trying to cater for as many facebook friends as I can!)
Having exhausted all the entertainment that the shopping arcades had to offer we had a coffee in a tiny coffee shop. Again, I believe they were surprised at the idea of customers, but once they'd remembered how, they made us welcome enough. In choosing this coffee shop, we had snubbed the “french maid” shop, where the waitresses were decked out in frilly french maid outfits. I don't know why – I suppose every business needs a mission statement. Theirs is, I presume, “we will provide horny men with tantalising glimpses of french lace whilst serving mediocre coffee”? I did peer in to french maid shop, and spotted that one of the customers was dressed like Michael Jackson, complete with pork pie hat with a glittery band around it. (do I mean a pork pie hat? I think you'll probably know what I mean)
In the coffee shop, we'd had a review of the entertainment that Nagoya had to offer ten years ago, when the guide book was published, and were thrilled at the idea of a pachincko museum! It was just a few stops on the subway, so we decided to head out there. Unfortunately, the global economy being what it is... etc... all that stood in the place of the pachincko museum was a derelict building and some old adverts for the restorative powers of pachincko. This is a photo from within an actual pachincko parlour instead. This man has won millions of ball-bearings, and is clearly a pachincko hero (Mike's photo, not mine).
From here, we dejectedly wandered to another coffee shop, for a cup of iced coffee. This is a drink I can trust. No matter how hard they try, it is virtually impossible to screw up.
It was still very early, but we could not be bothered going back to the Ryokan to come out again later for dinner, so we went to big pig restaurant. It was odd. This is the place that the Ryokan man recommended, yet nobody spoke any english. Not even an english menu.
We muddled through though. Here is Mike with our meagre portion of food that we managed to order... This is two standard set meals from the menu. It was an immense amount of food! (Also, I seem to have done something funny to the perspective. Not sure how, but my plate of breaded pork is not really bigger than Mike's entire body!) The restaurant is famous for its pork with miso sauce (the brown stuff just to the very right of the picture at the front). It was good. Not sure that this Japanese diet is as healthy as people would have you believe!
Thought for today. If you don't want people to park bikes against your bike stand, well, don't leave it where people are likely to park bikes!