Over a dinner last year in Melbourne, a friend of mine suggested that as she had never been to Japan, she would like to go. Not having scheduled anything (but always looking for an excuse to go), I volunteered to become ‘tour guide’ for a week and suggested the end of November / early December when it is cold (to try and put her off). No adverse reaction. This was a little surprising. To try and dissuade my friend, I then proposed a punishing itinerary of four cities in four days with the rest of the trip looking around Tokyo. Still no adverse reaction – my bluff called, I guess. But, like I said, any excuse to go is welcome.

Because of the complexity of the Japanese language (and primarily because no-one understood the reasons for ‘A’ to ‘N’ in the last Japan report), it’s just mass narrative prose this time.

Getting there: Qantas (via Sydney). As usual, nothing fancy but with tales of woe and the fear of engineering, toilet failures, sudden descents and bits falling off not quite expunged from recent memory, there was some trepidation flying the Australian Airline. Ancient 767-300ER (OGQ) to Sydney without on-demand entertainment followed by an newer A330-300 (QPH) to Narita with AVOD. The flights were full, probably vindicating QF’s decision to reduce capacity to Japan. Note to intending travellers: thanks to the war on terror, you get fingerprinted on arrival at NRT at immigration. It doesn’t take that long but it is a nuisance.

Immediately after getting there: No time to waste, validated our Japan Rail Passes, got some of the other tickets we needed for our various journeys and then straight on to the Narita Express to Shinagawa (110 minutes), then quick transfer to the Tokaido Shinkansen to Shin-Osaka (three hours). Why Shinagawa and not Tokyo ? Simply because if you are taking the Tokaido Shinkansen (i.e. west of Tokyo), you can save yourself pain and suffering transferring from the Narita Express in Tokyo terminus (five levels underground, at least two lifts, multiple escalators, lugging of baggage and consequential loss of dignity) and have an orderly transition from one platform to another one nearby.  Fantastic !

On about four occasions, I’ve tried to see whether I could Mt. Fuji from the Shinkansen. Tried when I first when to Japan, tried again on a number of occasions since and at the end of the last trip from Fukuoka, gave up in disgust. Imagine my absolute surprise when I did this time – clear as a bell. The camera held up well as I snapped away as fast as I could.  Some of the shots were ok.  That had to be a sign of good luck !

After getting to the hotel (Hotel Shin Osaka – small, definitely not luxurious but functional, only a few minutes from the station and all we required anyway), we headed into Osaka, firstly stopping in at Yodobashi Camera at Umeda (one of Japan’s biggest electrical / gadget stores – the prize exhibit currently is a 103 inch flat TV screen from Panasonic) and then through to Shinsaibashi and the HQ for Sogo, one of the better and bigger department store chains in the country.  For my friend, a good introduction into the zany world of Japanese consumer electronics and the incredible presentation and service ethic in Japan. Oh, and some of the weird food as well – something not necessarily known is that pickled vegetables are big in Japan.

Kyoto – Temples & shrines: Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka to Kyoto (one stop) – the five places we targeted were the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji), the Zen Rock Gardens at Ryoanji Temple, the Gion District (kimonos, theatre and traditional restaurants) and the Kiyomizu Shrine. I’ve written about my impressions before (see 2006 report) about most of these so, a quick summary should suffice. It was a lovely late autumnal day and the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji) was beautiful as it always is.  The mid-morning sun shone favourably on the Ryoanji Temple stone garden and the surrounding ponds also which made for exquisite photographs. A walk in the Gion District is always interesting as you don’t quite know what you will find.  We walked both sides of the Gion looking into the various shops that took our fancy.  Pickles, handmade Japanese sweets of various descriptions, arts and crafts ware, kimonos and other silk ware abound.  Ducking into the restaurant alley full of ancient-looking buildings,  we saw a few young ladies in various formal and informal kimonos walked around – it is more than apparent that a modern hairstyle does not match the gravitas of a proper kimono !  The discovery of the trip (pretty much) was found in an antique store where my friend was taken by a couple of lead-light lamps.  I’m no expert or connoisseur, but they looked pretty good.  Having thought about whether to buy them and the logistics of getting them home over takoyaki (octopus balls, to you) , we returned to the shop and she bought two of the three lamps (three would have been a bit much !) there.  Not something you expect as a souvenir from Japan, yes, but memorable nonetheless. And so to Kiyomizu Shrine.  Up the hill past the shops selling their wares (yatsuhashi – a type of sweet – being particularly popular), and through to the temple proper.  But first, a small diversion.  Within the precincts of Kiyomizu-dera is Jishu Shrine, dedicated to the god of good matches. As my friend is getting married in the New Year, a visit seemed to be the right thing to do. That done, the walk around the Kiyomizu precincts was predictably crowded but not any less pleasant.  While the best of the autumn colours had passed, there was more than enough to enjoy and take in on this great afternoon.  Unfortunately, we ran out of time (and light) to see the Sanjusangendo Temple which was a pity. Although, to get there we had had to endure being sardined in a bus – not the most pleasant experience, especially for my friend who had to carry her lanterns with her. 

We decided to stay in Kyoto for dinner.  I had been told that the food in ‘The Cube’ which is around Kyoto Station and Isetan was pretty good. We tried to find an example of kaiseki food with a Kyoto flavour and tried a place called ‘Aoi-jaya’ which had a relatively inexpensive kaiseki option. It’s hard to describe what kaiseki is given that most people know Japanese cuisine as sushi, sashimi and tempura (and possibly ramen). Originally concocted as a simple meal to be served as part of the Tea Ceremony, a typical (if one exists) kaiseki meal consists of about 8 to 12 small courses. There is a heavy emphasis on seasonality of ingredients and presentation. It is literally food as art and something to be savoured. And being in Kyoto, there is generally a relatively high tofu content.  Being autumn, the focus turns to fish and vegetables braised in soy and stock which are very nice if you are used to that kind of thing but which might be a little surprising if you are not. While not the best meal we had on the trip, it was a useful insight into some key elements – the blending of flavours, use of seasonal ingredients and the art of simple presentation. Compare that to the ‘Kyoto-style spaghetti’ place (the Japanese are cultural magpies, if nothing else) just across from us and the contrast is huge.

Hiroshima & Himeji : Modern and ancient history and peace and war in a day. An early Shinkansen to Hiroshima to look at the Peace Park, the Memorial and the Museum. From the station, you get one of the Hiroden tramcars, many of which have been plying their respective routes since the end of the Second World War.  I hadn’t been back to Hiroshima City for over twenty years. But you don’t forget the A-Bomb Dome and the Museum in a hurry. Personally, it is something you should see if you are travelling in this region of the country.  And of course it is a reminder of why peace is infinitely preferable to war. It’s hard to imagine what the area must have been like after the devastation caused by the bomb.  The Memorial Museum has a great deal of information and exhibits, some quite gruesome, outlining what Hiroshima was like pre-bomb and post-bomb.  Just about everything was wiped out – buildings, vehicles and people. The fact that Hiroshima became a thriving city again only about a decade after the end of the war speaks volumes about the resilience of the people. 

To leave in rather a hurry may be have been somewhat unbecoming but this was a punishing schedule – not for the faint-hearted.  Having only spent about three and a bit hours in Hiroshima (including lunch of Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki, a sort of Japanese pizza / pancake), we made tracks back to Himeji to see the famous Himeji Castle. The castle is a UNESCO World Heritage site and scenes from the James Bond movie “You Only Live Twice” (set in Japan, obviously) were filmed outside Himeji Castle – in the screenplay, the special Ninja force of the Japanese Secret Service train here. Although actually untested under battle conditions, the Castle was designed with a number of mazes and passageways (including deliberate dead ends) and in a spiral pattern. So, the defending forces could take up positions and monitor and fire on the invading forces with relative ease (it should be noted that the Castle was originally built in the 1300s but the major defences were designed and rebuilt at the turn of the 17th century). If you are anywhere near the castle, you should go and see it. However, extensive refurbishment work is planned for the near future so check your guides prior to booking your journey. Even if you can’t get in, the exteriors are fantastic.

Osaka – Kansai Food Heaven: There’s an old saying that you go to Kyoto to wear kimono and go to Osaka to eat until you drop – certainly, the locals are proud of their food.  No more so than in Dotonbori which is near the Namba (south) area of Osaka.  Although there are many places to choose from (many of which are multi-storey with a different type of cuisine or speciality on each floor), one institution we couldn’t see was ‘Cui-daore‘ (which roughly translates as ‘fall down from gluttony’).  Anthony Bordaine had profiled this Osaka institution in the second series of “No Reservations“.  Sadly, after 60 years of continuous trading, it closed down (due to a severe drop in turnover in recent years) in July, however there is still a lot of discussion as to how to bring parts of it back, particularly the mascot Kuidaore-Taro.

To the food – we started with a tonkotsu ramen (Chinese-style noodles in pork broth) at Kinryu Ramen. Easy to find, just look for the big dragon on the building (actually, there are more than two branches if one is full). Sit on the fake tatami but enjoy real ramen. Very tasty – you can help yourself to the extras which include garlic, ginger and kimchi (if that’s what rocks your boat with your noodles).  We moved on to the takoyaki stand which is actually part of Takohachi Restaurant.  Was there any difference between the Kyoto version and (supposedly) the authentic Osaka version ? Yes – the latter are very hot (but don’t look it) ! You would do well to have a cold drink beside you just in case (too late for me).  After that shock to the roof of the mouth, we made our way to the giant spider crab which adorns the front of the “Kani Doraku” restaurant.  After prevaricating over how messy a meal of spider crab could be, we decided to try their kani chirashizushi (pieces of crab meat scattered over sushi rice). Very good. Travel tip: http://www.bento.com is an excellent resource for the places to eat at in the Kansai (Osaka / Kyoto / Kobe) and Kanto (Tokyo / Yokohama) regions.

Also in this area are the famed neon signs including the ‘Glico‘ runner (Glico is a popular caramel candy) near the Ebisubashi (Ebisu Bridge). Everyone there knows where this is.  As well as being a popular pick-up location, the bridge also has a reputation for ill-fortune and curses. Probably the best known of these concerns the Seibu Lions baseball team. Seibu won the Japan Championship in 1985 and as part of the celebrations, fans gathered on the bridge, yelling out the names of the team one by one. As the names were called, a fan who resembled the player would jump into the canal. However, when they called out (American player) Randy Bass, someone had the idea of seizing the Colonel Sanders statue from a nearby KFC (no longer there) and tossing it into the canal. For reasons that cannot be explained, no-one has been able to retrieve the statue from the murky depths of the canal despite repeated efforts to do so. Legend therefore has it that Seibu will never win another Championship until the statue has been retrieved. Believe it, or not.

Two a half days in Megalopolis Tokyo:
Half day: A late-ish start (relatively speaking), out of Osaka and back to Tokyo for two and a half days on a mid-morning Shinkansen. Good way to catch up on sleep. With the hotel (Yaesu Terminal Hotel – stayed there before, small, elegant and functional) only a few minutes from the station, we continued the kick-ass pace.

Meiji Jingu (Meiji Shrine): An oasis of green and calm within Tokyo and is highly recommended.  In an earlier report, I detailed the historical significance of the Meiji Restoration so I won’t repeat myself here.  The Shrine itself was completed in 1926, some 14 years after the death of the Emperor Meiji, it covers over 175 acres and has about 120,000 trees within the grounds.  While the original buildings were burnt down during air raids in World War II, they were rebuilt after the war and completed in November 1958.  A recent addition to the Shrine are dozens of barrels of French wine from the Bourgougne region – some Grand Cru and Premier Cru chateaus have donated a barrel of their best for consecration at the Shrine. To me, it seems a bit out of place here.

Harajuku: Famous for its mad modern fashion.  Someone made the comment that I have no place going there as I am too old – nuts to that. Not being the weekend, we didn’t see too much of it but Takeshita Street is always worth a look.  I like taking photos of the ‘Takenoko‘ boutique – words cannot do justice to what is on offer which is spectacularly colourful, gaudy, ornate and a mishmash of various styles. Pictures available on request. Near to both is a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant nearby called Kakiya – I was told it was worth eating at.  It was ok – not particularly busy and none of the ‘usual’ makizushi on offer either but sufficiently good.

I’m not a big fan of the Omotesando area – I feel ill at ease amongst the rich and haughty and high fashion. In some respects, it does remind me of the Champs Elysee in Paris (so you have to wonder why Japanese women seem to fall head over heels for the City of Light – no matter) particularly at night.  However, when someone told me about the Tokyo Oriental Bazaar (great place for souvenirs), we thought it might be worth a look.  And it is, if you are a foreigner looking for unique souvenirs such as pottery, utensils, wall hangings, laquerware and so forth. The prices for Kutani sake and tea sets are amazingly cheap, I think. Definitely worth going to if you are stuck for ideas on what to get yourself or someone else.

Shibuya Crossing I’ve mentioned the Starbucks located here before.  It featured in Lost In Translation’ and they shot a number of scenes from and around the area. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you should cross the street just so you can say you did it. Then take a pew on the 2nd floor Starbucks and see whether you can match Lance Acord’s camera work for the five second shot he took from there ! We had a look around Centre-Gai up towards Bunkamura and the Tokyu department store also. I have gotten lost here on a previous visit and was a little nervous about finding my way back to the station. No problems on this trip – partly because of the location of the LABI electronics store and a bustling branch of Don Quixote (think a cross of The Warehouse and a Persian Bazaar but without decent / organised stock control in some areas) which was interesting to look at.

“Commuter crush” on the Yamanote loop line: Pictures of people being sardined into trains in Tokyo used to appear in all the Japanese language text books. But you don’t know how bad it is until you are part of it.  While I wouldn’t say that I am used to it (you never get used to it), it’s an experience. The best way to experience it is close to rush-hour on the Yamanote line (look for the trains with the green stripe – it’s one of the major lines in Tokyo) or the Keihin Tohoku line (blue stripe).  By this time, we were crush veterans – after being sardined in Kyoto, the Tokyo trains were a piece of cake.

Day 1: – ridiculously early start (2.00am) – why ? To meet up with our guides to see the world famous Tsukiji Fish Market at 4.00am.  We arranged to meet with Naoto Nakamura (aka Mr. Maido), a man who has worked for over a decade in the fish / fish-trading business and, amongst other things, is a writer / novelist. For those of you not familiar with Tsukiji, the market has been around for something like 300 years in one form or other and opens most mornings (except Sundays and holidays) at 3:00 a.m. Fish and other seafood start arriving by ship, truck and plane from all over the world. One particular highlight is the unloading of tons of frozen tuna – you have to see this to believe it. If you really like your fish / seafood, you have to come here.  The auction houses / wholesalers then estimate the value and prepare the fish for auction. The buyers (all licensed) also inspect the fish to estimate which fish they would like to bid for and at which price. The auctions start around 5:20 a.m and end around 7:00 a.m. Afterwards, the purchased fish is either loaded onto trucks to be shipped to the next destination, or on small carts and moved to the many shops located inside of the market. There the shop owners cut and prepare the products for retail. In case of large fish, for example tuna and swordfish, cutting and preparation is elaborate. Frozen tuna and swordfish are often cut with large band saws, and fresh tuna is carved with extremely long knives (hocho – some well over a meter in length).  As an acquaintance put it, you can see a whole tuna being ‘samuraied’. Unfortunately, due to meddling tourists, Tokyo City Council severely restricted access to the market to tourists and foreigners generally from April.  Damn those gaijin. You can visit the market after 8.30am but you won’t see any of the important action.   Trivia: about 2888 tons of fish and seafood pass through Tsukiji each day, valued at over USD 20 million.  There are about 450 different kinds of fish and marine products on offer. About a third of the fish is fresh (we saw the live fish market), another third frozen and the rest is dried or in other forms. Most days will see in excess of 40,000 people in and around the markets, the vast majority of whom are buyers.

Sushi for breakfast – on the recommendation of Mr. Nakamura, we went to Sushi Daiwa. The Omakase Set costs Y3,500 which does seem pricey but it is amongst the best sushi meals I have had for sure. The freshness of the fish alone (we had tuna, tuna belly, kingfish, sea urchin, prawn, eel & egg) is worth it. There are two parts to the restaurant, which incidentally is a family business. The father runs one half while the son runs the other. Highly recommended. 

We headed back to the hotel for a catnap and then headed out for a bit of shopping – we started at Maruzen (one of the best book stores in Japan) who were open from 9.30am – a welcome change from the ‘usual’ 10.00am starts. Then to Takashimaya Nihonbashi Department store before 10.00am precisely. We were there at 9.45am sharp – in the past, they offer complimentary (small) cups of green tea to keep you warm. Not the day we went – perhaps a sign of cost cutting.  About five minutes prior to opening, one of the door staff come out to let you know that they will be opening in precisely five minutes and to take note of the current special promotions – very Japanese. Interestingly, my friend was on a mission to look for a Japanese kimono comb – it might sound a bit strange but it was a very educational experience for me. There are a number of potential designs and colours and sizes. Some are designed like flowers, others not so. Some are light and delicate, the ones I have seen before are laquerware. The search continued at Mitsukoshi Nihombashi and Daimaru Tokyo Station where one would have thought a wide and varied selection would be on offer – not so.  To break up the search, we ventured into the basement food halls in each to see what they had. Mitsukoshi saved me a trip home to the Tohoku region with a useful selection of sweets.  More about Daimaru Tokyo later.

Imperial Palace:  Back in time to change and shower and head off to the Palace for the tour.  Thanks to some good research and polite requests, we were also able to participate in a tour of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo – you don’t get to go in to the actual Palace as such (naturally) but this walk around the grounds is as good as it gets.  As my friend aptly put it, now she knows what it’s like to go on a Japanese organised tour. Present your pass at the main gate (Kikyo-mon), get grouped into tour parties and individuals and then you march in. But only as far as the meeting hall. The Chief Guide then shows you a map of the areas, tells what you will see and what you won’t and then advises all that unless you leave your belongings in the locker, you won’t be able to return to the meeting hall after the tour. And no, the toilets won’t be open either so go now. And the gift shop is open now but won’t be so get your souvenirs now. There follows and introductory video with English subtitles and then you get marched outside to form lines of four-in-a-row before being marched off to see the various buildings. The Chief Guide reminds us that as we are a party of some 300 or so, please do not stop to take photographs until the entire tour party stops. 

Unless you are reasonably familiar with the Kunaicho (Imperial Household Agency) and the Nijubashi (this bridge is the most photographed part of the Palace), you might find it a bit tiresome. You pass the Kyuden (the formal reception area of the Palace) twice although no-one important will come and wave to you (that only happens on the Emperor’s Birthday and New Year’s Day). That’s pretty much it – there are no chances to go inside any of the buildings for security and cultural reasons. Judging from the reaction of the majority of the tour party, everyone seemed happy enough that they had seen it.

Moving on, we then headed out North-East to Asakusa. Before heading to the Sensoji / Nakamise-dori, we quickly ducked in to the Kappabashi area which is the place when it comes to kitchen gear and ceramics. It was a rushed visit but we did look in for sushi knives at Niimi and other stores.  But I was looking for something in particular. If you’ve ever been in Japan and gone to a restaurant, then you will have likely seen the sample displays in the windows of the food which, although made of plastic, looks good enough to eat. We went to the two closest shops, one being Maizuru.  I know this one from a number of various travel blogs and it has a good selection.  What I was looking for was the gravity-defying fork in the plate of pasta or the gravity-defying cream cup and cup of coffee (bear with me on these descriptions – photo available on request).  It has to be said that these are not cheap – indeed for the price of the sample I bought (pasta), you could lunch very well anywhere in Japan. But it’s the novelty value of the thing. My friend also scored a beer can with fake ice encrusted on it – but it looks extremely real. Until you pick it up !

Sensoji at Asakusa is one of the places all the tourists go to. I’ve actually only been once. A particular reason for having a look is the Hagoita Market at this time of year (not sure whether it will have started at this time) – it’s a type of traditional badminton but the market only takes place at this time of year.  If it’s your first time in Tokyo, it is a good place to visit and to pick up souvenirs. Amazingly, at the last shop stocking the kimono combs nearest the main temple (there were quite a few, by the way), my friend struck gold – it is a lovely piece of work in the shape of orchids which she likes. Another memorable souvenir with a story to tell about it !

Wendys Japan: Being somewhat “sushi’ed out” after the morning’s exploits, we decided to get the subway back to Omotesando and head to Wendys just to see how different it was to what you get in NZ.  And it is different – some of the differences are subtle (for example the Big Classic equivalent has no kaiser bun and the meat seems to be a bit overseasoned with cracked pepper and the fries are not as chunky) and some of the differences are striking. The special of the moment is the Creamy Asparagus Bacon Burger (which seems a bit odd – no takers between us).  I had the Negi Yakiniku (Grilled Beef with onions) set – pretty good translation of a good Japanese beef dish into a burger.  All good fun and more entries into the notebook. But I still think France leads the way with the option to have a beer with your burger and fries.

Not a bad day, all in all !
Day 2: How do you spend money like it is going out of fashion ?: The answer is easy – shop in Japan, particularly Tokyo at this time of year.  And it is so much easier with an NZD / JPY exchange rate that is sinking faster than someone trapped in quicksand ! With Christmas and New Year around the corner, the gift-buying / giving season was in full swing, there are plenty of hideously expensive things for sale.  The price of fruit is climbing again, for example with dessert apples going for about NZD 5 each and whole melons in the hundreds of dollars.  Welcome to Japan, folks.

Having done a lot of the look-around the day before, it was a relatively relaxed day. We targeted gadgets and knick-knacks to try and get a feel for what was around.

Akihabara: Electric City. We went anyway (despite the stabbing incident in June where six people got hacked down by a complete nut-case).  You have to, if you have any interest in what your next cell phone or computer is going to look like. And I would say it will be pretty flash, bigger screens than now, more features, games, better camera and hopefully better call quality.  I am (nervously) waiting to see whether Telecom NZ’s WCDMA mobile network will integrate with NTT docomo’s FOMA / WCDMA network next year.  That would be a huge plus although that’s not to say that vodafone NZ roaming (on Softbank Japan’s 3G network) isn’t any good. It’s just that NTT’s network is more extensive.

If there was one thing I needed to get out of this trip, it was a Japanese-made rice cooker. Unfortunately, while the selection for 110 volt machines is seemingly endless, the ones for “overseas use” are pretty limited, even at the bigger chain stores.  I did have a solution to the problem in the form of a store specialising in ‘overseas use’ electronics – LAOX is a smaller chain but no less powerful in terms of its buying power – and got what I was looking for.  I’ve bought things from here before and you can claim the tax back if the purchase is over Y10,000 and you present your passport.  We had a quick browse of their souvenir and luggage options (we’d run out of space in our suitcases by this time) and also managed to pick up some pretty good bargains in those departments also.

Shinjuku: Having returned to the hotel to drop off our purchases, we took a fast Chuo-line train to Shinjuku.  The two places I always frequent when here are Takashimaya Times Square and Isetan.  Both are huge, full of outrageously expensive items and boutiques within the stores themselves but we really only had time for TTS although we did quickly look around Isetan.  Recently, a number of people have asked me what they can do in a day (or less) in Tokyo – after thinking about what I might do (and discarding the majority of those options), I ended up recommending that they get the Narita Express from the airport to Shinjuku Station, finding the South Exit (very important), heading down the stairs and turning right. Get a store guide, work out that the link between TTS and Tokyu Hands is on the 5th and 7th floors of the main building (although Tokyu and TTS share a bank of escalators), and start shopping. Tokyu Hands (there is a branch in Shibuya also) is great at this time of year – Christmas decorations, costumes, cards and presents are in abundance.  And get lunch at the B1 of TTS – the yakitori we tried is very good, actually.

Daimaru, Tokyo Station: The old complex was starting to show its age a couple of years ago but I knew it was to replaced by something new. And it is very good indeed. If you only had time for one store and you could get to Tokyo Station, you would be well pleased with Daimaru.  Only one criticism – the cakes and sweets are located on the ground floor left (as you come out of the station) and the rest of the food is on and around B1.

TI’s Veuve Clicquot NV price index: Rather like The Economist’s Big Mac Index, I have been using the price of Veuve Clicquot NV Champagne (750ml bottle) in December as a guide to price inflation and economic health in Japan.  At its peak, prices per bottle were in the Y10,000+ (NZD 160+ at the applicable exchange rates) range. That was when times were good and oil was cheap. Not too many years ago, in order to boost flagging demand, prices finally tanked at Y5,000 (about NZD 75 at the time) when no-one seemed to want to buy anything and bonuses were non-existent. Things have improved since and now the going rate appears to be Y7,500 (roughly NZD 150).

Fin: We had covered a lot in just under a week, saw several of the key temples and historic sights, used the Shinkansen as a commuter train more or less, and spent a lot of money. But we both knew that there was a lot more to see. We’ll each get around to it one day in our own time. But if anyone is keen on doing this itinerary in the future (and you want me to go with you), let me know ! 

Getting home:QF A330-300 (QPC) to Sydney – I’m not a ‘frightened flier’ but when you lurch to the left rather violently on takeoff and then assume the ‘Airbus Death’ position (nose up, 85% power and not climbing) for five minutes, one has to wonder what is going to happen. The 767-300ER (good old OGD) back home was very tame by comparison. The inflight meals prepared by the excellent Tokyo Flight Kitchen were very good, particularly the Japanese options. Also, the Qantas Lounge at NRT is excellent and in fact is also used by Air New Zealand right now.  The one at SYD isn’t as flash but will do nicely. Saw the QF A380 at SYD as well – huge !

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About TI

TI is based in Auckland, New Zealand. TI's somewhat eclectic interests include (but are certainly not limited to) legal humour (the law can be funny), good wine, the search for the best possible chocolate, alcoholic beverages, travel, commercial aircraft, photography, weird news stories and classical music.
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