Saturday, May 20, 2023

Back Home from Japan

After our last stop in Taipei on May 17, we spent a few days at sea before returning to Kobe on the 20th. We then took a 5 hour bullet train ride from Kobe to Tokyo and then to Narita International Airport.

Click the picture below to see a photo album with some of the best photos from this trip. The album has a summary slide show or you can click any photo in the album and scroll through the pictures manually. The manual review displays a description for each picture. For more detailed information including date and location, click   ⓘ   or   ⋮    during the manual review.

To see a map showing where the pictures were taken click on the map screenshot below. Click a pin in the map to see a link with a description of where the picture was taken. Click that link to see the picture and more detailed blog description.

Click this link or the picture above to see the Japan Trip map.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023


All too soon the day of our last stop on the Japan cruise arrived - albeit in Taiwan and not Japan. Although we would return to Kobe Japan in three days' time, we would have a hectic schedule that included a 5 hour bullet train ride from Kobe to Tokyo to catch our 6:10 pm return flight. So this, our stop in Taiwan, was our last day to tour.

Our ship actually docked in Keelung, a half hour drive northeast of Taipei. We had booked an excursion from the cruise line, the National Palace & Chiang Kai Shek's Memorial Hall tour that went from 8 am until 1:30 pm. On our return from that tour we'd still have some time left, but the area in Keelung near the ship seemed mostly industrial.

Our first stop, after a bit over a half hour in what appeared to be rush hour traffic, was at the National Palace Museum. According to Google maps, this museum has "one of the largest collections of Chinese art & artifacts in the world." Even the outside appears to be a work of art. The looks are deceiving as well, as much of the building is actually below ground, so it's even larger than it appears in the picture below.

Our next stop was at the National Revolutionary Martyrs' Shrine, perfectly timed so we could watch the changing of the guard.

After watching the changing of the guard we went to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.

Our last stop was to catch a glimpse of the Taipei 101 Tower. When first opened in 2004 this was the tallest building in the world. It kept that honor until 2009 when a taller building opened in Dubai.

Although the tower is meant to represent a stalk of bamboo reaching into the sky to connect heaven and earth, to some western observers it appears to be a set of Chinese food takeout containers.

All too soon it was time to head back to the ship and from there to Kobe, Tokyo and finally San Francisco. It was a wonderful trip, especially the week on our own planned in meticulous detail by Elizabeth. Although this was our second time to Japan, this was by far our most memorable experience in Japan, as well as South Korea and Taiwan.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Taipei photo album

Tuesday, May 16, 2023


Ishigaki is actually a prefecture of Okinawa. This was our last Japan stop before returning to Kobe at the end of our cruise. The ship was at Ishagaki from 9 am until 6 pm. We had booked a 6.5 hour "Best of Ishigaki '' excursion that started at 9:30 am and that was pretty much our entire day in Ishigaki.

Our tour started with a half hour drive to the Tamatorizaki Observation Platform. It was a beautiful day with a dark blue sky and white fluffy clouds

Next our tour took us to a stop where we could see both Yonehara Beach and Yoneko Yaki Kobo Shisa Farm. Yonehara Beach looked to have some great snorkeling and it was a great day for it!

It would have been fun to spend the day at Yonehara snorkeling. However, that wasn't part of our tour and, besides not being dressed for it nor having enough time to go snorkeling, we wanted to also see the funky artwork at Yoneko Yaki Kobo Shisa Farm. The "farm" (more of an outdoor art gallery) was just an easy walk across the road from Yonehara Beach.

In addition to having a craft store where smaller items were available, and of course could be shipped back home for you, there was a large outside area displaying larger than human sized versions of similar funky artwork. They all look like hallucinations from a psychedelic trip! A good trip in most cases.

Our next stop was at the Kabira Park Observation Deck. This location is another great spot for snorkeling as well as jumping off point for scuba diving and tour boats. It seemed to be one of the busier and more hectic stops on our tour with lots of people and boats coming and going.

By then it was well past time for lunch and so we headed to the Shabu-shabu restaurant for a hot pot lunch - though it was large enough for us to be considered dinner. Don't have any pictures of the delicious lunch as I was, once again, too busy eating to take pictures.

After lunch we headed to the last stop of the day, the Emerald Sea Observatory Deck. It was definitely the high point of the day, both literally and figuratively. We could even see our ship.

Although I don't have any pictures of it I'm sure we had some musical send off from Ishigaki. But after the long day and big late lunch I was probably too tired to take any pictures or videos of it.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Ishigaki photo album

Monday, May 15, 2023


This was our first time on Okinawa. We booked a seven hour Princess excursion, "History & Nature Of Central Okinawa" which started at 8:30am. That would take up most of our time in port at Naha.

Our first stop was the Katsuren Castle ruins, a 45 minute drive from the port. Can't say that the ruins were especially scenic or photogenic, but we did get a nice workout on the 300+ foot climb to the top of the hill where the castle used to be. It did have a nice view of the surrounding sea as shown in the photo below.

As a part of the Gusuku sites and related properties the castle ruins are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

On Miyagi Island we visited Kafu Banta, the location of the Hanari Power Spot, the Nuchima-su Salt Factory and with a great view of Ndakachina Beach as shown in the photo below.

The Nuchima-su Salt Factory has an interesting tour of a salt factory which produces salt using a special method that preserves more of the minerals than most processes and is, of course, more expensive than most salt. Some say that this salt is part of the reason Okinawans live so long, even by Japanese standards. An Okinawan has a 40% greater chance of living 100 years than most Japanese, and three times greater chance than those in the US. Though one BBC article suggests that it is more related to their diet being so high in sweet potatoes and even more a result of a lower rate of smoking, more physical activity, and maintaining an active social life into old age. And, of course, genes.

Our last stop of the day was at the Southeast Botanical Gardens. Though it's billed as a botanical garden and has many plants you can buy, it almost seemed as much a zoo as a garden. It was here that we saw a Capybara.

The capybara is the world's largest rodent. A native of South and Central America which is closely related to guinea pigs. Not sure how it made it to Okinawa. A cruise perhaps? They definitely look well fed. According to WebMD: "They prefer areas where they can easily graze and swim" and "must live with other capybaras for their physical and psychological health."

Given that, I'm sure they'd love cruise life.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Okinawa photo album

Saturday, May 13, 2023


On our first cruise in Japan almost 10 years ago we had also stopped at Kobe. 10 years ago we took a ship excursion to a sake factory and Mount Rokko. This time we had booked a private, mostly walking, half day tour. Walking is still the best way to get to know a city. Having a private tour we were also allowed to customize it to what we wanted to see, though I left the arrangements to Elizabeth. She had been doing a lot of research on what to see and do in Kobe.

We had some spare time before meeting our tour guide, so we started the day with a short trip to view the Ikuta Jinja Shinto Shrine. This may be one of the oldest shrines in Japan.

Our tour started with viewing some of the buildings and architecture of Kobe. Our guide then took us to the Kobe Chinatown and, most importantly, showed us the best places to get authentic Kobe beef for a later, on our own, lunch.

We then went to the Kobe waterfront, location of the "Be Kobe" sign and Earthquake Memorial Park. In 1995 a 6.9 earthquake killed over 6,000 people, 4,600 of them from Kobe. The Kobe waterfront is also where many of the people leaving Japan to immigrate to other countries left from. That is the inspiration for the statue in the picture below. It's a bit different from how we're used to thinking abut it. As an American we are a country of immigrants coming to our country, not leaving from our country.

Our next stop was the Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway which took us to the observation platform on the top of the southern Rokku mountain chain. The view on the way up and at the top was awesome. There's also a waterfall part way up but it didn't seem to be flowing very heavily when we were there. There's also an herb garden and some other observation areas part way down the hill. If we'd had more time it would have been fun to walk down from the top.

High on Elizabeth's list of priorities for our visit to Kobe was to eat some authentic Kobe Beef! Our tour guide has warned us that many restaurants serve beef which was not raised since birth in Kobe and therefore, in his mind, was not real Kobe Beef. Therefore we went to one of the restaurants recommended by the tour guide. Lunch for two at Kobe Beef Koujyu (I think that's the name of the restaurant?) was $127, which was not bad considering. It's sort of like Benihana where they cook the food for you on a hot grill at your table. The cook slices it for you as well so you can eat it using just chopsticks along with rice. He also cooked it as we ate so it is always fresh off the grill (or allowed to sit for the appropriate time). How was it? Worth the price! Each bite was tasty and tender. Yes - it was the best beef we've ever had!

As with all of our stops in Japan, we were sent off with a warm wave from the locals. In this case though, it may have also been friends and family of those aboard. Although a week earlier we had left from Yokohama near Tokyo, many people left the ship at Kobe. A new group of passengers boarded and many of them seemed to be Japanese.

We found out later from one of the crew members on the ship that to work on this cruise, which is exclusively a Japan cruise, if you're in a customer facing role you need to be able to speak some Japanese. After our Kobe stop our ship seemed to have more Japanese than any other nationality.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Kobe photo album.

Thursday, May 11, 2023


We had been to Kagoshima on our first Japan cruise almost 10 years ago. Back then we had taken a tour to the island where the volcano is, though all I really remember is that it was drizzling most of the time and we didn't get many pictures. You can see the blog from that day here. Although I don't remember there being as much smoke from the volcano then as there was on this trip, our last visit was just two months before there was a massive eruption that sent ashes 20,000 feet (6,000 meters) into the sky.

This time we had booked an excursion with the cruise line that would take us to Lake Ikeda and then to the Chiran Samurai Residence Village. Although the tour was 6.5 hours long at least a couple of hours of that was spent on a bus going to and from Lake Ikeda, with a stop on the way back at the Samurai village. And of course, given that we were all from a cruise ship, there was lunch in there as well or else they'd risk a mutiny on the bus.

Our first stop, Lake Ikeda is the largest lake in Kyūshū island, the island Kagoshima is located on. It was formed from the caldera of a now extinct volcano. In the background of the picture below is the distinctive cone of Mount Kaimon, another volcano which erupted 800 years ago.

Some believe that lake Ikeda contains a monster named Issie, similar to the Loch Ness monster Nessie.

During the Pax Tokugawa era, a period of relative peace in Japan from 1603 to 1868, Samurai were resettled into villages. Below is a garden in one of those homes in the Chiran Samurai village.

Each Samurai homes is surrounded by a high stone wall and looks almost like a mini-castle. Many of the homes are still occupied by descendants of Japanese Samurai, the house having been passed down generation to generation for hundreds of years. Each house has a garden, though most aren't quite as elaborate as the one in the picture above. Most are rock gardens with no water at all. They all have a peaceful almost serene feeling about them.The Japan Experience website has more information on the Chiran Samurai Residence Garden.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see the photo album for Kagoshima.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Jeju Island South Korea

We'd seen Jeju Island on some of the Korean shows we watched at home and were looking forward to seeing it in person. However, the part of Jeju Island we docked at, Seogwipo, is on the other side of the island from the city of Jeju and didn't seem nearly as scenic as what we'd seen on the Korean shows. For example, we had to pass next to a naval base with visible guards and high barbed wire topped walls to get on and off the ship.

No matter, we had booked an excursion with the cruise company and that kept us busy from 8:30 am until 3:30 pm. The ship departed Seogwipo at 4:00 pm so we didn't have any time to explore the area on our own anyway. From the little we saw of the surroundings outside of the naval base it was mostly industrial.

The excursion first took us to Yakcheonsa Temple which has Korea's largest wooden Buddha statue. Nearby there is also a mineral spring that flows the year round and has a small waterfall.

The tour then took us to Cheonjeyeon Waterfalls with its three tiered waterfall. Nearby is a fountain with stone sculptures of turtles and carp. Some people believe that the turtle statue will bring good fortune and that the carp brings health and wealth. I think somewhere in there, though, it was required that you toss a coin and it landed on their back in order to have good fortune or health and wealth?

Our next stop took us to the nearby Yeomiji Botanical Garden which has over 2,300 plant species in indoor and outdoor gardens. The indoor garden is covered by a large glass structure built in the shape of a sunflower.

Since this was a tour filled with people from a cruise ship, our next stop was a large hotpot lunch with more than enough food to fill our stomachs. Sorry there aren't any pictures, I was too busy feeding my face.

We ended the day with a stop at a series of trails with views of the Oedolgae Rock and other parts of the shore. It was nice to be able to stretch our legs after that big lunch. There was even a view of our ship far off in the distance.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Jeju Island Photo Album

Tuesday, May 9, 2023


After a day at sea we reached Nagasaki for the second time. Here is the blog from our April Nagasaki stop.

This time we saw some additional sights we hadn't been able to get to during our first trip to Nagasaki including the Sofuku-ji Zen temple and other nearby temples and shrines and the Megane Bridge.

After a short trolly ride we reached the Megane Bridge

We then took a streetcar and walked a short distance to the bottom of Mt. Inasayama where we took a cable car to the Mt. Inasayama Observatory.

We ended the day with a trip to the historic mansion at Glover Garden and mansion but were a bit disappointed by it. Part of that may be because, though it has beautiful views of the Harbor and surrounding areas, we had just come from the Mt. Inasayama Observatory with even better views.

As with most of our stops in Japan, a local band played for us as we departed the port.

Click this link or a picture above to see more pictures from Nagasaki.

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Leaving Yokohama - Cruise 2

Not many pictures today as we sailed out of Yokohama on our southern Japan and Taiwan cruise. Our hotel room looked out over the harbor so we were able to get some shots of our ship coming into port. We also took a few pictures while leaving port but as you can see there weren't nearly as many people bidding us farewell as we left due to the inclement weather. Luckily it wasn't raining too hard so we were able to walk from our hotel to the ship, a bit over 1/2 mile. Click this link or a picture below to see more pictures.

Saturday, May 6, 2023


Back to Yokohama...

Hard to believe it had only been a week since we'd left Yokohama. We'd been to so many places and seen so much since then. And so it was with a mixture of happiness and melancholy that we said goodbye to Osaka and took the bullet train back to Yokohama the day before our second cruise was due to leave. Orginally we had planned to spend the day in Osaka and then take a later train to Yokohama. The ride is an easy 2 hour 300 mile ride on the bullet train with only 3 stops along the way. But because we'd fit in so much before, including a day trip to Osaka when we'd still been in Kyoto, we decided to take an earlier train to Yokohama.

Okay... so the real reason was that there was, of all things, a German beer festival going on in Yokohama. Our friends from the first Japan cruise had spent a few days in Yokohama after that cruise and told us about the beer festival. Luckily it was still going on for two more days and so we (I) was able to take advantage of it to sample a large variety of German and German style beers. Don't get me wrong, I like Japanese beers, but after almost a month of drinking mostly Japanese lager beers I was ready for something different! There actually had been another beer festival going on in Osaka, another hotspot for Japanese craft brewing, but it had been difficult to attend, requiring you to purchase a glass before hand and other restrictions. The Yokohama beer festival was first come, first served (pun intended) and, best of all, every beer booth served flights, where you can taste a variety of smaller servings of different beers in one purchase.

This was definitely fate and so we (I) could not pass it up! To top it all off, the festival was taking place at the Red Brick Warehouse just 1/2 mile from our Yokohama hotel. Yes... it was meant to be and far be it for me to tempt fate (excuse my mangled English - no snide comments please).

Of course every relationship requires give and take, compromise. Elizabeth was being an angel about all of this, and being supportive, but she deserved something as well. So we also made our way to Yokohma Chinatown to sample the soup dumplings. Believe it or not, Yokohama has what some say is the largest Chinatown in Asia (I assume that's outside of China).The area we went to had a number of shops specializing in soup dumplings and the shop we picked had one of the longest lines, so I assume it was one of the best. Only the best for my sweetie :-)

Click this link or a picture above to see more pictures.

Friday, May 5, 2023


Saying goodbye to Kyoto, we checked out of our hotel and took the train to Osaka. In retrospect I almost wish we had relocated to Osaka the day before as that would have allowed us to visit the aquarium in the morning, perhaps before it became so crowded. Entry to the aquarium is timed, so I'd also recommend buying your tickets ahead of time on the aquarium online website. As it was, after dropping off our bags at our Osaka hotel we went to the aquarium, purchased tickets and then waited until our entry time which was a number of hours later.

Once in the aquarium we did have an enjoyable time, though for the first time in Japan it seemed as if children outnumbered the adults. In some ways the enthusiasm and energy of all those kids seemed to compensate for the hectic and sometimes noisy kids that crowded against glass walls of the aquarium exhibitions. It also helps that you're taller than most of the kids, giving you easier viewing. All in all the Japanese children seemed very well behaved, though there seemed to be families from a number of other countries that were sometimes much noisier and more hyper.

After returning to our hotel to check in we made an evening visit to the Umeda Sky Building a "connected skyscrapers with a rooftop garden observatory" for some great night shots of Osaka.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Osaka photo album

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Uji and Osaka

We started the day with an early morning trip to Uji to to see the Byōdō-in temple. We'd tried to do this the previous day on our way back from Nara, but the line was much too long and the grounds were very crowded. Going early was definitely the way to go! We were able to enter the grounds almost immediately, it was much cooler than the afternoon before and the light was much better for photography. It's too bad there's only one morning per day as this seemed the best time of day to go to many of the sights in Japan for so many reasons. If you visit Japan, or anywhere scenic for that matter, don't waste your mornings by sleeping in!

By the time we left Uji on our way to Osaka Castle, the Byōdō-in temple was getting very crowded. It was nice to leave the crowds behind and head to our next site.

Taking the JR train back to Kyoto we then caught another train to Osaka to visit the Osaka Castle. According to one of our tour guides, it's preferable to live in Kyoto, though maybe that's if you like the big city life which our tour guide seemed to. To him Osaka seemed to be a less expensive but less desirable area to live if you like the big city ameneties. Perhaps similar to our urban (Kyoto) versus suburban (Osaka) relationship in the US.

By then the castle was also getting a bit crowded, but it's a much larger area since the Osaka Castle is in the middle of a larger park like setting. It was here we saw probably more families with children than I think we'd seen anywhere else in Japan. I guess just like in the US, people find it easier to raise children in the suburbs instead of the big city. Though Osaka is still much more of a city than any of the US suburbs we've visited. Still, it did seem like a very nice place to raise a family and a bit more open and less crowded than Kyoto.

If I lived in Japan I think Osaka might be my #1 choice. Not only does it have a bit more open feel than Kyoto but it's also right on the water. And thanks to Japan's outstanding rail system you still have an easy half hour trip to the larger city of Kyoto, even less to Kobe.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more picture from Uji and Osaka.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Kyoto Day 3 and Nara

Our third day in Kyoto was another very busy day, but this time on our own. Although, per my Google Fit app, we didn't walk as many steps as on our first day in Kyoto, when we had 27,179 steps, we did end up with a fairly credible total of 22,191 steps. In addition the walk through the Thousand Gates area (see the picture below) had some pretty steep uphill walks. Luckily, that's where we started our day, while we were still fresh and the day hadn't yet gotten hot.

After the Thousand Gates visit we used our JR Passes to take the train to Nara which is famous for the bowing deer. The deer here will bow to you in the expectation that you'll give them some food. Local vendors sell packets of the thin wafer food which the deer like. They won't eat just any food though. If the food has fallen on the ground they somehow know and will refuse to bow for that food. The area was packed with both people and deer, as shown in the pictures. There is a video of a bowing deer in the photo album

On the way back from Nara to Kyoto we stopped in Uji to try to see the Byōdō-in temple. However, the line was very very long and it was getting late so we gave up knowing we could visit it early the next day when we were fresher and the crowds were thinner.

We ended the day with a trip to the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Entrance is strictly limited with only a certain number of people allowed on the grounds at one time. When entering you have to show identification such as a passport, your name and address are noted and you are given a small placard with a unique number on it. The areas you're allowed in are very limited and the entire grounds are closely monitored by security personel. As you leave the palace grounds you return the placard. And of course if you don't return the placard, they know who you are since you showed your ID to gain entrance.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Kyoto and Nara photo album

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Kyoto Day 2

Another busy day in Kyoto. We had booked an early morning private tour which started with Kiyomizu-dera, an "Iconic Buddhist temple on Mount Otowa known for the scenic views afforded from its sizable veranda."

To see more pictures, including the world famous veranda, click this link.

We did a lot of walking that day, which is the best way to see a city. On our way to Nijo Castle we saw a number of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. We ended the tour after taking a bus to Shariden Kinkaku which literally translates to "Temple of the Golden Pavilion" and is a world famous Buddhist temple.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Kyoto Day 2 photo album

Monday, May 1, 2023


Following a full day and second night in Hiroshima we used our JR passes to take an early 8am bullet train from Hiroshima to Kyoto. If driven by car the 235 mile (378 km) distance would take almost 5 hours. Using our JR passes the bullet train took us from Hiroshima to Kyoto in under 2 hours. Even with multiple stops and a train change in Osaka, we averaged close to 120 mph! Less than the bullet train top speed of 200 mph but still much faster than driving by car.

The translation of the Japanese word Kyoto is "Capital City" and Kyoto was the capital of Japan for over 1,000 years from 794 to 1868. For modern day travelers Kyoto is well located with fast train service to both Osaka and Kobe. Kyoto is also convenient for local trains to Nara, where the world famous bowing deer are, and Uji, an area known for its Buddhist temple.The JR rail pass allowed us free travel on most intercity trains and many of the local trains such as those to Nara and Uji, making it convenient, fast and inexpensive to travel between cities.

Because it was so easy to travel to so many areas from Kyoto, as well as the many sights in Kyoto itself, we spent four nights at the Daiwa Roynet Hotel near the rail station. A word of warning though - there are multiple Daiwa Roynet hotels near the Kyoto train station. They are both walking distance from the station and I'm sure we weren't the only ones to go to the wrong one. That's probably why they had a ready made map showing you how to get from one Daiwa Roynet to the other. It's just a 10 minute walk according to Google Maps, but that's probably without luggage. That's also if you take the most direct route, which is through the train station. But in Japan train stations tend to be large, multilevel complexes. By the time we left Kyoto we were "fairly" familiar with the train station, but having just arrived we took the more "scenic" route around the train station, taking about 20 to 30 minutes.

Once checked in at the (correct) Roynet Hotel, we dropped off our luggage and headed back to explore the train station. According to the web page for the Kyoto station there are around 130 shops and restaurants in the train station. And at least one Craft Beer Market! Where we, of course, stopped for a lunch of beer and pizza. See the album for a picture of the extensive beer menu. The album also shows some other pictures from the train station, which tend to be interesting structures in their own right. Just touring the train station turned out to provide some interesting photographs on that first day.

Following the lunch and self guided tour of the Kyoto train station, we took a fast elevator ride to the top of the Kyoto tower. This offered some beautiful 360 degree views of Kyoto.

We finished the day with a "Local Eats and Streets, Gion and Beyond" evening tour of some of the Kyoto restaurants and temples. Unfortunately we only have a few pictures from this tour. But needless to say it was an interesting tour and we ended up returning to the hotel just before 11:30 pm. Another long and fun packed day!

Between the walks to/from and within train stations, our exploration of the Kyoto train station and the evening tour this day ended up being our day with the most steps: 27,179.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Kyoto photo album