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Old 25th May 2019, 07:28   #1
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Default The Land of the Rising Sun - 20 day holiday in Japan

I am at a stage where I am not able to make up my mind whether to shift/relocate, pull out all stakes or continue to soldier on here.That said, the best compromise for now at least, was to stay here and keep holidaying abroad.

Wife and me decided that a holiday abroad should be attempted at least once in two years. We tested the waters with a 10 day trip to Singapore and KL in Oct 16 which came off as a grand success. The self imposed two year clause expired last October with no headways made thanks to career compulsions.
A resolution was made this new year to wrestle and overcome the monster called procrastination and avail of the much delayed holiday.

We prefer to travel with friends and had traveled to Singapore with a friend and his family. With kids of the same age and the ladies being best friends, this was a great touring group. Contacted the old friend and asked him if he was game. He jumped in on the opportunity.

The obvious and easiest trip to plan was Western Europe. Having been there earlier alone, it seemed the perfect place to spend three weeks. Post my customary due diligence, I finalised an itinerary
Amsterdam-Bruges-Brussels-Paris(with Euro Disney)- Cologne-Munich-Garmisch Partenkirchen-Halstadt-Vienna-Munich.
All airbnb listings were perused, countryside farms identified, and detailed itinerary drawn up. The centerpiece of attraction for the kids was to be (but obvious-eurodisney), for the ladies- Paris and for the petrolhead gents-an eight day road trip across the Bavarian Alps in a BMW z4

While budgeting the trip, we realized that the cost of renting the child seats (my friend needed two of them) would be more than the cost of the car rental itself. We examined all possible alternatives (including carrying it from here), but realised that this was an unavoidable expense and a deal breaker at that.

This put our best laid plans in a major spin. With the prospect of the road trip seeming more improbable by the day, the familiar habit of procrastination reared its head once again. A couple of months flew by and I realised that it was now or never. We decided to keep Europe for a later date and evaluate other destinations.

Dubai (simplest, but too many relatives (for my colleague)), Maldives/Mauritius (seriously! the sea again? - with us employed in the marine field), Australia? (Is there enough for 4 active kids to do?-better visit when team India visits next) were all considered and shelved. Heck! This looked like turning into another Goa vacation.

It was then decided to revisit the USPs of the Europe trip. Fast trains, pretty places, Disney! With four children aged between 5-12, accident parks were a must! I always knew Hong Kong had the nearest Disney but never regarded it as anything more than a stopover. During the search, we then realised that Japan not only had a Disneyland but also a Disney Sea, Universal Studios as well as extreme amusement parks with some of the world's tallest, fastest and gravity defying roller coasters. So,
Fast trains-check,
pretty places-check,
Disney-(and a lot more) check.

I am a firm believer that the first step should be to book not-refundable tickets. Just see how everything falls in place thereafter.

Started trawling sky scanner and other portals for the best deal available, when I came across an offer by an aggregator. These tickets were cheaper than the airline's parent portal so decided to take the plunge. I booked eight tickets from Bombay to Tokyo on 26 Sept and return from Osaka to Mumbai on 12Oct. I used a friend's credit card to avail of the fabulous offer and had to book these in two sets of 4 tickets each, one for each family. All put, the tickets cost me 36k/head for the return trip.

Last edited by handsofsteel : 26th February 2020 at 19:31.
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Old 25th May 2019, 07:54   #2
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Default re: The Land of the Rising Sun - 20 day holiday in Japan

In this duration, my friend was away out of (his)town and reachable only intermittently. (Did I mention, he stays in another town?)

The moment he came back, he asked for a copy of the tickets to surprise his wife (Japan had been on her bucket list for a long time). Having sent a copy of the tickets, I received a call back within a minute. He pointed out that the date of the onward trip on his 4 tickets read 26aug instead of 26 sep

Frantically, I checked the tickets (they were non-refundable remember?) and was dismayed to see that he was right. Checked up the remaining tickets to see that everything else was in order. I then called up the aggregator's call centre and there was no response. I e-mailed them thereafter only to receive an email that the entire fare for the onward trip for 4 tickets (72k) would be deducted with a few exceptions. Post a flurry of emails, they decided to offer me a discount of 20k on the substitute booking (my colleague obviously couldn't spend an extra 31 days there).

Crestfallen and a few sleepless nights later, I realised that another colleague was at gurugram on leave and asked him to walk into the head office of the aggregator with a view to eke out any additional discount.

Imagine my surprise when a few minutes later, the guy called up and told me that the 'Chief Manager' had agreed to waive off all charges except the mandatory 3k being charged by the airline. Along with GST and sundries, I paid approximately 12k (for 4 people) for changing the date on the tickets. This beget the question as to why did the call centre ask me to pay up the exorbitant amount? The head office shrugged off this question with a simple answer, "unko ye sab nahin pata rehta". To compensate me further, I was given a voucher of rs2600/- which went a long way in assuaging my guilt.

Last edited by handsofsteel : 20th August 2019 at 19:55. Reason: Typo
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Old 20th August 2019, 20:14   #3
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Default re: The Land of the Rising Sun - 20 day holiday in Japan

The initial excitement of the trip manifested itself in me planning various itineraries. Post various permutations and combinations, I arrived at the following:-
Tokyo-6 days (including one at Fuji)
Hiroshima-1 day
Day trip to Mt aso to see the fabulous Nakadake crater
7 day stay at Kyoto of which 4 days would be day trips around the city (having trains speeding at 250kmph does help in casting the net wide) and the remaining 3 days would be spent within the city proper.
The programme was largely influenced by the fact that JR(Japan rail) allows foreigners to buy a 7/14/21 day pass for unlimited travel. Therefore, activating my pass on departure from Tokyo would ensure that I had the same available to explore much of the country before my Kyoto exploration.
Accommodations were booked accordingly. Us being vegetarians, preferred to go the air BNB route (with a kitchen). To be on the safe side, we booked only with recognised "superhosts". The stay at Tokyo was surprisingly cheap at less than 5 Grand a night. Kyoto, though, was another ball game at 7.5k/night.
With acco out of the way, next came the Visa. The consulate general at Mumbai is located off peddar road. A study of the website revealed the usual documents to be carried with no surprises. My friend and I went across with the entire bunch of documents only for the staff to return most of these as not required. The Visa cost for Japan came as a big surprise at rs510/- per head. The entire process took precisely 7 minutes from entry to exit with the visas promised on the fourth day.
On the designated day, I reached the consulate and collected the Visa only to realize that I had forgotten my wallet. With cash being the only mode of payment accepted, I had no other option but to turn back. I enquired regarding the hours of operation and I was informed that they were open till 5:00 in the evening. Son enough, I sent my staff after lunch with the authorisation only to find out that Visa collection was only from 09:30-13:00.
I went the next day for the third attempt and this time around, was issued with the passports/Visa within a minute. A point to note was that the currency notes had to be mandatorily new to be accepted. To summarize, the entire process was very efficient and over in a jiffy (not for me though).

Last edited by handsofsteel : 30th October 2019 at 21:08.
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Old 30th October 2019, 21:49   #4
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Default re: The Land of the Rising Sun - 20 day holiday in Japan

Refining the itinerary was a tedious process.
Tools used :-
1. Hyperdia.com for a minute to minute detailed schedule of all trains.
(No app available)
2. Japan transit place app (available only online)
3. Tokyo Subway navigation app (available offline)
Planning trips was a nightmare within Tokyo as the subway network resettled a game of pictures with similar sounding babes and stations not to mention 9 different lines. Not for nothing is the Tokyo Subway one of the largest in the world (and the busiest). Notwithstanding, 3 weeks of burning the midnight oil left me intimately familiar with the layout of the safe, a fact that was to come in very handy.
I realised that a few free tours (that I had taken for granted) had all been booked online by more enterprising people. These were
1. A tour of the Toyota factory (somewhat compensated by the superb Toyota commemorative museum)
2. A tour of the Mazda assembly line (7.2km long!)
3. A tour of the Tokyo imperial palace.(Covered the superb Nijo palace at Kyoto in lieu- remember "The Last Samurai"?)
In hindsight, I would strongly recommend those interested to book these online at least three months in advance.
There were a further few amendments to the itinerary, the trip to Mt Aso to see the nakadake caldera had to be cancelled view the ongoing eruption and heightened activity state. Thanks to the JR Pass yet again, we decided to visit Beppu (on Kyushu) to see the volcanic hells.
Moral While on a holiday to Japan, be flexible with your itinerary. More on this later.
Our final itinerary looked like this:-
Days 1-5: Tokyo including Disney Land and joypolis amusement parks.
Day 6: Kawaguchi-ko for Mt Fuji and a visit to FujiQ amusement park which houses the world's tallest (79m), longest (2.04km), twistiest (14 turns), fastest acceleration (0-180kmph in 1.56 secs) and maximum negative angle roller coasters. Boy! Did we have a ball
Day 7: Travel 893 miles to Hiroshima (in less than 4hrs!) Go to the UNESCO site of Miyajima.
Day 8: visit Hiroshima (we ended up doing this on day 7 itself, leaving us free to visit Beppu on Kyushu island. Shift base to Kyoto in the evening.
Day 9: Nagoya for the rail museum followed by a visit to Legoland for the kids and to Toyota museum for me.
Day 10: Himeji -Japan's finest Castle followed by Nara (the world's largest wooden building housing Japan's largest Buddha)
Day 11: Osaka for the Universal Studios Japan
Day 12: Arashiyama bamboo forest followed by a visit to Fushimi Inari and a climb of Mt Inari
Days13-15: Kyoto
Day 16: Osaka for the aquarium and the giant Ferris wheel en route to Kobe airport (for the night flight to Tokyo)
Day17: catch a flight back from Tokyo to Mumbai
It took me three weeks of painstaking research to make a minute by minute program of the entire 17 days. It speaks a lot for Japanese efficiency that we could complete the entire program (with one exception which I will cover later). The entire trip worked out to Rs 4.5 Lakh as per the plan (there was an unanticipated expense of 7 lakh which I will come to later ) which we could easily manage despite an unforeseen act of God.

Last edited by handsofsteel : 26th February 2020 at 20:00.
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Old 10th November 2019, 09:26   #5
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Default re: The Land of the Rising Sun - 20 day holiday in Japan

The flight and travel anywhere was uneventful and smooth. ANA had several instructional videos for first timers in Japan. One of these was to prove handy and how
During the trip, I left my bag behind on one of the inter-city trains. A good 9 hrs later, complained to the station authorities with the details of the train. In less than 5 minutes, I was told the location of the bag which turned out to be a station 90km away. I opted to go in person and pick it up. Thanks to the speedy rail network.. I was back with the bag in 1 hr and 18 mins.
A few salient points before I start with the pics:-
1. Any trip to Japan will involve a lot of walking. We walked at least 15-20,000 steps everyday.
2. Urban cities are all multi-tiered. There are at least 3-6 levels below ground level with an equal number of levels above making commuting very very convenient and roads practically pedestrian free.
3. Japanese are exceedingly polite and will go out of their way to escort (yes you read it right) you till your destination if asked for directions.
4. Do not expect the locals to know directions to even prominent sites. Even for a few meters, they are heavily dependent on navigational apps. So think twice before asking for directions as this may result in long detours at Google's mercy.
5. Carry a small bag to dump trash as you will not find any dustbins (except in stations).
6. Do not eat or drink on the go.
7. Put mobiles on silent in public places including trains.
8. Buy a pasmo/suica card on arrival. These are prepaid cards for cashless transactions usable practically everywhere. These are refunded in the same zone where you issued them from. PASMO does not deduct a service charge while SUICA deducts 220.
9. Food is expensive! 6 slices of bread cost 175, 3 bananas 230, a kilo of rice at 590 and so on. Drinking water is tap water and freely available. Being vegetarians, we carried a lot of food (2 full suitcases of ready to eat which we supplemented with local purchase).
10. This should come at the top actually. Whatever you do, blindly take a JR Pass. It gives you unmatched flexibility in changing/planning your itinerary. We paid 56k odd for a family of 2+2 for 7 days and racked up costs of 1.1-1.2lakh per head in the seven days. I realised that even a 21 day pass would've been far cheaper than the actual travel costs.

Last edited by handsofsteel : 10th November 2019 at 09:31.
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Old 10th November 2019, 09:44   #6
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Default re: The Land of the Rising Sun - 20 day holiday in Japan

My 40th Birthday
One fine day during the trip, I woke up to my 40th birthday. After much rumination and introspection, compiled a bucket list. Opened up team-bhp and found a thread by @CrazyDriver regarding heavy discounts on Kawasaki bikes. With the encouragement of my friend and despite dire warnings from my better half, I took a decision to book a Kawasaki versys, a bike that I had been lusting after for ages.
Also, as the day happened to be the commencement of ticket sales for the icc world T20 at Australia, decided on an impulse to book tickets for a match each at the MCG, SCG and Adelaide. (Quite a birthday, eh?)

Act of God
Japan is a land of natural disasters. Just before our trip, the country had witnessed a typhoon. This was two weeks prior our yep giving rise to concerns regarding our itinerary etc. However, when we landed at Narita, there were no signs of any disaster. During the latter stages of our trip, there were reports of a super typhoon-hagibis- making landfall. However, we had clear skies and weather everywhere batting one day of a mild drizzle. On the penultimate day, post sightseeing at Osaka, we departed for Tokyo en route to Mumbai.
As ANA does not have a direct flight from Osaka, they routed us through Tokyo. We reached Haneda domestic airport, Tokyo at 2200h only to be informed that all ANA flights for the next day had been cancelled in anticipation of the cyclone. We were then directed to Haneda international airport to try our luck at rescheduling our journey. Tokyo has two international airports, Haneda and Narita. Haneda is the hub for LCCs and has a domestic terminal as well while Narita is the newer one, international only and 70km out of the city.
We were exasperated to find that the staff continued to maintain that any rescheduling could be done only at Narita. As public transportation (including subways) stops at about 2300, we wanted to be mighty sure that there was a way out at Narita. (With kids and ladies in tow, we didn't want to go all the way to Narita and find the airport shut) asked to go back to Tokyo (it's pretty expensive too). Finally, after a great deal of effort, near about midnight, we managed to convince the staff to reschedule our tickets for 13th(from 12th). By this time, the transports had shut down and we were forced to spend the night at Haneda. We booked an Airbnb for the next day and waited for resumption of transport at 0500h the next day. However, the typhoon had made landfall (heavy Bombay rain) shutting down everything including bullet trains, taxis, subways, monorail etc. We had no option but to cancel the Airbnb. The host very graciously agreed to refund the entire amount. The airport authorities had arranged for a few buses to Narita which we then decided to catch to be closer to the scene of action. By this time, we were ready to spend the night at Narita airport. (Shades of Terminal?)
One we reached Narita, traveling through desolate City roads, we were told that all flights for the 13th too had been cancelled. Our tickets were then rescheduled to 15th(all flights on 14th being full).
We were all provided sleeping bags and some emergency rations. Courtesy the rugby world cup, we found hundreds, nay, thousands of people of all nationalities camping at the airport. The best part is that the several departmental stores and restaurants at the airport had zero mark-up on their prices (unlike our country). Prices were same as that on the street.

Last edited by handsofsteel : 10th November 2019 at 18:20.
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Old 10th November 2019, 18:49   #7
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Default re: The Land of the Rising Sun - 20 day holiday in Japan

We awoke to sunny skies on 13th morning. A rush to the ticket counters ensued in the hope of flights resuming. We were soon to learn that the Japanese do not change a decision. While other airlines resumed their operations, ANA remained adamant about the cancellation. We found out that an air India flight was scheduled to Delhi at 2000h that evening (13th) & requested ANA to route us through Delhi to Mumbai on air India. ANA confirmed that our request had been sent to their booking office, seats blocked but for some indecipherable reason, boarding cards could be collected after two hrs.
After two hrs, we were asked to come back to the counter after another two hrs as their servers were very busy. Finally, on the third attempt, they gave us an inter-airline request form with our PNR
numbers printed and asked us to report to air India counters at terminal 2(we were at terminal 1) by 1700h. Exuberant at having found a way out of the airport, we set about spending the last of our yen in right earnest
We bought gifts, shopped for Royce Nama chocolates (it is said that there are chocolates and then there's Royce ) and exhausted literally our last conversation and proceeded to Terminal two.
Not to sound disparaging, but the scene at the Air India counters was typical. Chaos, Inefficiency, bureaucracy and obduracy reigned. It was staffed by... surprisingly, Japanese.
Our luggage was checked on and then we were made to wait for over an hour with no reason given. With 40 mins to go for gate closing, we were informed that our request confirmation had not yet come from ANA and therefore we couldn't board the craft. Our luggage was also returned back. They asked us to pay cash and travel if urgent. Livid, I left out families there and rushed back to Terminal 1 to confront the ANA staff. I was intimated that the fault was all Air India's who were refusing to honor their promise. I demanded to see the computer and was shown the same by the staffer who said, "Sir, your booking is for 15th!( 2 days hence)." This made it apparent that there was a slip up from ANA's side else the system would've cancelled our tickets for the 15th. In the interim I was joined by the two families who had been escorted back by ANA staffers as the AI flight had taken off. On being made to understand that we were the affected party due to ANA's oversight, they went all out and finally accommodated us in a hotel for the night and reimbursed us to cover the costs for the entire enforced halt. We were booked by the next day's flight to Phnom Penh, thereon to Bangkok and from there to Mumbai, thereby bringing the curtains down on an eventful trip that ended in us touching four countries in a day.

Last edited by handsofsteel : 26th February 2020 at 13:52.
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Old 26th February 2020, 13:41   #8
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a few pictures, day wise,
Visit to the Osaka Aquarium highly recommended with the adjoining Ferris wheel
The Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel - once the biggest in the world
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The mythical Megalodon to scale
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Denizens of the Deep - Rare Octopus
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Giant emperor penguins
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Countryside Osaka
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Last stop at Kyoto- The Higashi Honganji Temple
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Last edited by vb-san : 27th February 2020 at 13:51.
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Old 26th February 2020, 14:17   #9
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Kyoto, Arashiyama, Inari and Tofukuji

Tofukuji Temple complex
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Maxi scooters - Found these unique as these were as long as a car and probably smaller than an Avenger
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Kinkakuji - the golden pavilion
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Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
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Kyoto Tower at night
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Fushimi Inari - the climb to the 1000 Toris
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Last edited by vb-san : 27th February 2020 at 10:44. Reason: Photo captions added
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Old 26th February 2020, 14:43   #10
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Himeji and Nara
Nara houses the oldest temple in Japan which is also the largest wooden building in the world. The wooden statues therein, are also the biggest in the world.
Himeji is home to the extensively renovated White Swan Castle.
Attention to detail abounds in both places with painstakingly engraved and hand painted manhole covers on the road (the photos were all greater than 4mb, so couldn't be posted here).


Pavements at Nara
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Simplicity and Elegance - typical Japanese
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Another simple design for a Street lamp
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Typical paid parking lots available in all residential localities (only the privileged have their own parking, rest park on a daily payment basis)
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One of the four protectors (one for each direction)
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Todaiji Temple - The largest wooden building in the world- the original, burnt down in a fire, was almost twice this size. This was rebuilt in the year 800AD and houses the great Buddha - the Daibutsu
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The Daibutsu - Vairocana Buddha. Legend has it that the head was so heavy, it could not be seated properly and fell 26 times over the years.
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Guardians of the Temple - the world's largest wooden statue. Intricately carved and beautiful.
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Even the deer use the zebra crossing. This is a very normal sight at Nara. The place is infested with deer which are looked after by the visitors and act as scavengers. They obey all traffic signals for crossing of roads (learning by observation?)
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Random view of the total countryside from Himeji to Nara
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The beautiful seven senses gardens at Himeji, cost of ticket included in the entry to the castle, worth every minute spent. Seven gardens illustrating the seven different styles of Japanese styling.
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The white swan castle - Himeji
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Early morning shot of the castle - Though it opens at 9, make sure to reach early for some breathtaking shots
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Scaled model of the entire complex
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Last edited by vb-san : 27th February 2020 at 10:40. Reason: Photo captions added
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Old 26th February 2020, 15:35   #11
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Nagoya-Home of Toyota and the Rail Museum
Nagoya is a quintessentially modern, boring city. But, being home to Toyota, would've been sacrilegious to miss it. So, off we went.. to Japan's best Rail Museum followed by me peeling off to the Toyota museum leaving the kids at the nearby Legoland.
Toyota Museum
There should ideally be a separate thread on this museum alone but due to paucity of time, I will restrict myself to a few interesting lines:-
1. The green truck in the images below was their first ever truck. Notice the shape of the grille - a Japanese demon.
2. Check out the broom on the front tires - necessitated due to the atrocious roads those days.
3. Check out the logo on the bonnet.
4. The black car was their first ever in house designed car (unlike the truck which was an American design).
5. Toyota wanted to highlight the space inside and therefore personally chose this layout of door opening.
6. Also wanted to emphasize the speed of the car and hence a different logo to convey 'speed'
7. The horn was the first ever paid accessory on a Toyota (notice its position between the knees).
The museum had a functional assembly line (ironically manned by Kawasaki robots) culminating in a paint shop.
8. The rest of the pavilion was filled with legendary Toyotas with the star attraction being the hallowed 2000gt which set several land endurance records thereby pitchforking Toyota into the rarefied league of the makers of reliable automobiles.
Note - this car was only 45 inches tall !!
Quoting from Wikipedia-
Toyota entered the 2000GT in competition at home, coming third in the 1966 Japanese Grand Prix and winning the Fuji 1000 Kilometres race in 1967. In addition, the car set several FIA world records for speed and endurance in a 72-hour test. Over 72 hours at the Yatabe Test Circuit, while enduring monsoon conditions, a yellow-and-green-painted 2000GT managed to set an average speed of 128.76 mph. In the process, it broke 16 existing endurance records.

Carroll Shelby also entered a pair of 2000GTs to compete in the 1968 SCCA production car races in the CP category. Initially Shelby built three cars, including one spare. Although it performed well, it was the only season the car competed in the US. Toyota took back one of the cars and rebuilt it into a replica of their record car, which still resides in Japan. The two remaining Shelby cars remain in the United States.

(Note- Carroll Shelby was one of the protagonists of Ford vs Ferrari)
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Last edited by handsofsteel : 26th February 2020 at 15:38.
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Old 26th February 2020, 16:34   #12
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Default re: The Land of the Rising Sun - 20 day holiday in Japan

Rail Museum
The Japanese are crazy about their trains and their insane speeds. Everywhere you go, the trains are a visible form of pride amongst the general populace. Toys, key chains, trinkets, museums, models are everywhere. There are several rail museums across the country with three prominent ones - Saitama (near Tokyo), Kyoto and the most famous of them all at Nagoya.
All these missions have a few things in common-
1. A spectacular painstakingly intricate working diorama which depicts the rail network and it's functioning across the country
2. The evolution of designs along with the speed records
3. Working simulators to give one an experience of driving a high speed train
4. Actual engines and coaches of various designs over the years
5. Souvenir shops
The world record in the forties was held by a Japanese steam engine at 160+kmph (pictured below)
The Japanese were the first to breach the 300/400/500/600km mark. Take a deep breath.. They smashed the 500kmph mark in the 60s!! (1968 to be precise)
The only train in the world to cross 600kmph (603kmph) is.. Of course Japanese..
Some pictures..
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Last edited by handsofsteel : 26th February 2020 at 16:46.
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Old 26th February 2020, 16:59   #13
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Default re: The Land of the Rising Sun - 20 day holiday in Japan

Beppu
Beppu is a small town in the Kyushu island famous for its hot springs. Springs and geysers abound across the town and are visible from a distance. The entire town bears the look of a sauna (photo below)
The are seven springs which are very famous (with four together and the other three clustered together). A day's stay is advisable to catch all seven and also manage a bath at one of the many commercial baths. As we took a detour en route from Hiroshima to Kyoto to pass through this beautiful town(checking in our baggage at the lockers at Beppu) and were traveling on pre booked reservations, we missed out on the second lot of three springs.
The vibrant colours of the springs are to be seen to be believed. Do not forget to have an egg boiled at any of these springs
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Last edited by handsofsteel : 26th February 2020 at 17:15.
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Old 26th February 2020, 17:20   #14
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Default re: The Land of the Rising Sun - 20 day holiday in Japan

Hiroshima and Miyajima
A must see in every tourist's itinerary, this is a haunting experience which will leave you disturbed. I would rate it on par with the concentration camps at Dachau.
The UNESCO heritage of Miyajima is a short train/ferry ride away and can be clubbed within the same day. Unfortunately for us, the floating Tori was being renovated ahead of the Olympic Games and was hence shrouded.
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Last edited by handsofsteel : 26th February 2020 at 17:29.
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Old 26th February 2020, 18:10   #15
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Default re: The Land of the Rising Sun - 20 day holiday in Japan

Snapshots from Various Trains
The shinkansen is a network within a network. Go to a station, you will find a separate shinkansen enclave within - with its separate access cards, gates, platforms etc.
There are several types of shinkansen, Hayabusa - to Hokkaido, Nozomi and Mizuno (not allowed in jr pass) and the common ones like sanyo, hikari, kodoma, sakura etc. Each has a different interior layout and engine. The platforms have clear and separate markings for coaches allowing people to form separate queues for each 'class of train'.
Then amongst the normal trains, you have Thunderbird and Sonic (which are faster with limited stops), rapid, limited express and express. Limited express is faster than the express, rapid being faster than LTD express and so on.
However, shinkansen or not, Urban metro or rural town, a few things are common-
1. All pervasive neatness
2. No dustbins on the platforms (make sure you have a dumping bag with you, searching for a bustbin can be quite a chore)
3. Enough and more food options (veg and non veg) in the stations.
4. Punctual service
5. Access friendly stations/services
6. Sparkling clean loos. (The Toto toilet seat is one of Japan's biggest exports with hundreds of customised options- sounds, temperature, shower pattern, force etc etc )
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