My Life in Motion

Archive for the month “February, 2021”

Typhoon Hagibis

The thing with staying in a capsule hotel during a typhoon is that you have no idea what is going on outside. The sleeping floors had no natural lighting or windows, and with no external stimulation at all, it was impossible to know how bad it was getting. I’d gone to bed the night before with the news already showing lots of flooding and issues to the east, and when I woke up, the news showed scenes of devastation elsewhere. A tornado had also hit one region, and the footage rolled in of flooding and landslides. Typhoon Hagibis was a category 5 super typhoon, one of the strongest to hit Japan in decades, and Tokyo’s airports were grounded. My flight was out of Osaka airport the following day and I could only hope that it wouldn’t be cancelled. Knowing that Osaka’s tourist attractions had been shut as part of the typhoon preparations, I had nothing particularly to get up for, but my grumbling stomach eventually drove me to get up and head downstairs to the hotel’s cafe for some breakfast.

I popped out of the elevator at reception and walked down the stairs to the cafe which had floor to ceiling windows and was surprised to see no blustering winds and no scenes of destruction. It was raining steadily but not even what I would class as pouring, and as I looked out, I saw people going about their daily lives as if nothing was going on. Either the worst had passed, the worst was still to hit or we just weren’t close enough to the eye of the storm. I couldn’t believe it. I mulled over my options and decided that although little would be open, I could at least take a walk and stretch my legs. One of the things I love about Japanese hotels is that they provided free umbrellas so after procuring one, I headed out, and decided to wander down to Dotonbori.

When I reached the covered shopping street I was surprised to see that most of the shops were open and it was a bustling place to be. I got myself a Hallowe’en themed morning snack and pushed on to the bridge that crosses the broad river. Here it was relatively quiet compared to the hustle and bustle from my first night in the city but the wet pavements created some pretty reflections from the large and colourful adverts that adorned the buildings. The rain was constant but not so heavy to drive me straight back inside so I took the time to watch the people with their umbrellas bobbing past.


After working my way through the rest of the covered shopping mall I decided to see if the nearby food market was open. I find that fresh food markets are a great way to explore local life, and are always a stimulation for the senses. Being covered, it was open and I gratefully took shelter from the rain and did a good bit of people watching whilst also browsing the fresh produce, some of which I didn’t always recognise. I passed by two food stalls that intrigued me for different reasons. The first was selling minke whale meat, the second fugu. Hunting of any sort will always be a controversial topic, one that will fire up many people’s passions on both sides of the table. I don’t personally think the debate is black and white either as there is a big difference between subsistence hunting and trophy hunting, and a difference between hunting an endangered animal versus a non-endangered animal. I strongly oppose trophy hunting and killing endangered animals, but I’m not against hunting as a whole. Even although minke whales are not endangered, I don’t like whaling and I refuse to eat whale meat when I’m travelling. But I’ve visited both Iceland and Japan where whaling occurs and I’ve seen whale meat on the menu in both countries.

I was however briefly tempted by the fugu which had a long line of locals queuing up to purchase. Fugu is not just a delicacy, it’s also fatally poisonous if it’s not prepared correctly. I had always assumed it was only served in high-end restaurants prepared by highly trained chefs so it was curious to see it for sale here in a fresh food market. The popularity of the stall suggested it should be safe to consume but a quick Google search revealed there had been cases of poisoning stemming from consumption of the fish at markets like this one so I decided in the end not to try. Instead I found myself buying a creme brulee style sweet potato dish that was highly disappointing and really difficult to swallow without lots of fluids to help it down.

I made my way to Americamura as the rain started to get heavier. With the benefit of daylight I was able to spy the Statue of Liberty which I’d failed to spot the night I arrived. It stood atop one of the buildings visible from Mitsu Park, a downsized replica of America’s one. With the rain making me feel a little chilled, I wandered through the streets of the region, taking a long route back to my hotel. As I walked, my attention was drawn to a bright yellow manhole cover. I’d noticed many painted manhole covers on my travels round Japan but most of them were either very faded or the colours were quite muted. Osaka’s were bright yellow and this one particularly was still holding its colours well. By now lunchtime I was cold and didn’t want to wander any further so I retreated to my hotel to chill out in my capsule.


It was still raining when my stomach dragged me back outside in the late afternoon. I found an eatery with the classic vending machine style ordering system out the door where you simply ordered off a picture menu then handed the ticket to the server inside. This was to be my last proper meal in Japan but I opted to get a range of bites, ordering a plate of karaage chicken and a mixture of fried and steamed dumplings. I wandered back through the now packed covered shopping street and back to Dotonbori which was once again alive with people and this time I had to dodge a sea of umbrellas as people congregated on the bridge across the river. The sky already had a slightly menacing look about it, but as I wandered the streets of Dotonbori, the sky began to turn a shade of purple like it had the night before. It never quite reached the spectacular shades of purple as it had ahead of the typhoon, but it added another aspect to the menacing look of the heavy clouds as the rain refused to let up. The crowds were not deterred though and by now it seemed that Osaka had definitely just gotten the edge of the typhoon. I lingered with them, experiencing my last moments in the sensory chaos of a Japanese city at night.


All appeared to be well with my flight out of Osaka, and I left the city with plenty of time, reaching the airport so early that the signs said my flight wasn’t open for check-in yet. I waited and waited and waited by the board for the check-in gate to appear until eventually I decided to just wander around the concourse and see if there was any sign of a desk opening. What I found was a single check-in zone for all flights by this airline which had a single queue that wound round and round a set of barriers and half-way down the concourse. A quick discussion led to the realisation that I had to join this huge queue which encompassed both bag-drop for online check-ins as well as normal check-ins. There was no get-around and as the queue struggled to move forward I grew increasingly anxious. Having been at the airport so far ahead of time, I saw my flight creep closer and closer as I waited and waited. The panic began to creep in and I tried to flag someone down to see if I could be prioritised but there was nobody on hand. It turned out that the cancelled flights from the day before had led to a huge surge of people flying that day and that was just how it was.

When I finally got to the front of the queue and the desk it was 20mins till boarding time. I hot-footed it to security to join yet another queue where I impatiently waited for my turn to go through screening. It was already boarding time when I reached the flight-side of security and then it was a race to get to my gate and onto the plane. I couldn’t foresee my bag joining me on the plane with such little time, and I settled into my window seat as we took off under the cloud and left Osaka behind. The Rugby World Cup had driven up the flight prices so much that I’d had to take a route home via Hong Kong, a rather inconvenient detour that took me in the wrong direction and dragged out my travel time. It did however lead to a pretty nice view of western Japan as we broke out of the clouds from the dispersing typhoon and sat within sunshine as we cruised west.

I’ve never had any great desire to go to Hong Kong, but my particular concerns at the time was the ongoing riots that had been plaguing the city for months and had already led to the airport being closed once. There had been another surge in rioting whilst I’d been in Japan so I’d been nervous that my flight was going to get cancelled for that reason, never mind the typhoon. In the end the approach into Hong Kong airport was interesting approaching over the water and in the distance I could see the tall skyscrapers that the city is famous for. I had several hours of a layover and the terminal was undergoing renovations which meant it was one of the worst airports to be stuck at with little to do and few places to sit. I was just tired and eager to get home by this point, but when the gate for my Air New Zealand flight to Auckland was announced I got there to discover there was a pretty awesome backdrop to the classic black plane that was parked there waiting. Then it was just the matter of the flight to Auckland and another connection to Christchurch, and just like that, my Japanese adventure was over.



Osaka seems to be quite a polarising city. There are many tourists who don’t think much of it at all, and then there are the seemingly few that do. I for one, enjoyed my time there, and given that Mother Nature got in the way of my plans whilst I was there, I even feel a little robbed and would like to go back to experience what I missed out on. With just two whole days based in the city, I wasn’t going to waste the nights, and even though I’d been on my feet all day (as with every day I spent in Japan), I had a hunger to satiate and the city streets to explore.

My capsule hotel was in the Shinsaibashi area and from here, there were plenty of brightly lit streets to wander through on route to Americamura and Dotonbori. A large painted mural on the side of a building welcomed me to Americamura which felt like it was geared towards those 1-2 decades younger than me with trendy clothes shops lining the streets. With Hallowe’en 2019 just a few weeks away, there were pumpkins big and small decorating the path and the entrance to the large mall that greeted me. As my eyes adjusted to all the bright lights that bombarded me, I noticed that the street lights were actually made to look like a sort of robotic person. I’d read that there was supposed to be a Statue of Liberty around here somewhere but couldn’t find it, so I decided if I had time I’d come back in the daytime and see if it was easier to spot.


What I adored about Osaka was the immense indoor shopping street that ran block after block, occasionally broken by a road or a river. Full of shops for locals and tourists alike, the place was mobbed. Even though I was hungry, I just drifted with the general flow of people, passing clothes shops, Pokemon stores and eventually getting giddy like a child when I found a large Sanrio store. Funnily enough, I’m no particular Hello Kitty fan at the best of times, but when in Japan, it was hard not to get excited whenever I came across a Hello Kitty store. Over three floors of feeling like a kid in a candy shop, I left with a bag of goodies and continued my search for food. This came in the shape of Luke’s Lobster who had a long line of locals outside it which of course always speaks volumes. I dutifully queued up for my lobster sandwich which I messily ate rather conspicuously outside an empty shop window.

Passing dessert shops and more, I suddenly burst out at the river at Dotonbori, the streets and bridge alive with people. Large neon lights flashed all around me and as I jostled my way to the bridge edge I saw large boats carry people up and down the length of the river. I found myself constantly dodging other people’s photographs, weaving from one side of the broad bridge to the other before pushing on. On the far side of the river I took the main street which was crammed with lights and noise advertising eateries of all sorts. Large crabs and even dragons looked down upon me as I walked. Eventually circling back to the covered street I followed it till its eventual end, past arcade halls and animal-themed cafes before retracing my steps back through the madness to my hotel.


Japan’s ever reliable public transport system whisked me out of Osaka to the west, vaguely following the coast before moving a little inland and depositing me at Himeji. Japan is full of castles, and Osaka itself has one, but before arriving in the country, I had decided that Himeji Castle was going to be the one that I’d properly visit. When I arrived at the station it was a glorious sunny day, and I stepped out to a large avenue that led me up towards the dominant hulk of the castle. Whilst not as busy as Osaka, there were plenty of people with the same purpose and as I neared the castle the crowds congregated and moved on mass into the entrance way. A large lawn greeted us and ferried us towards the ticket booth. As most people made a beeline for the castle, I decided to separate myself from the crowd a little and explore the walled gardens first. I might as well have had them to myself, there was hardly anyone else there, but they offered a huge variety of views of the castle with other buildings and trees framing it.


I discovered that there was a long hallway within the wall of the gardens and this afforded a view out across the city to my left. After walking its length I joined the throngs to head into the castle, first negotiating the route up the hill to the entrance. Sensibly there was a one-way system in place that circled round the various levels, gradually heading up large staircases to reach higher and higher into the rafters of the building. From the very top there was a glorious view across the rooftops, the grounds and the city beyond. I spent most of my time on this floor before finally following the route back down the levels and back outside into the grounds again. I headed next door to the Koko-en gardens, taking my time to walk around before returning to the train station.


A little over half-way back to Osaka, I alighted at Sannomiya station from where I’d planned on catching a bus along the road to the start of a hiking trail I was going to follow. I’d just missed the bus so ended up walking a good chunk of it instead, eventually finding myself at a torii gate that marked the start of my route. Following some quiet back streets, the path eventually cut into Nunobiki Park where it led me to Nunobiki Falls. There are various tiers to this waterfall, the most impressive being the upper one which also has the best viewing spot. It was a small viewing area but thankfully it wasn’t too busy so each of us that arrived was generally able to enjoy the sound of the falls in peace. From there it was a gentle walk through the forest following the lower reaches of the river until I found myself at Shin-Kobe station and a route back to Osaka.


I had long left the sun behind in Himeji, a bank of clouds welcoming me back to Osaka. Before heading out of the station, I took a quick explore inside, noticing that there was a large floral arrangement on display on the upper floor. It was gorgeous, a sea of colour spanning almost the whole width of the upper mezzanine. Behind here was a large department store which I self-consciously walked around, aware I was a little dishevelled from my earlier walk through the forest. I didn’t hang around for long, aware that I was running out of daylight hours. It was overcast but high cloud when I stepped out of Osaka station, cutting through a business district to reach the Umeda Sky Building. I always love visiting observation decks in large cities as I find it is the best way to get a bit of orientation and perspective when ground level swallows you up in a soup of skyscrapers. This particular one is quite a distinctive building too as there are two buildings joined with what looks like a floating escalator system high above the ground.


By now late afternoon broaching onto the evening, I headed up the elevator within the one tower to be greeted by the first of these floating escalators that led me to the far tower. With glass windows, there was no denying how high up I was and I loved looking out at the city as I appeared to float effortlessly higher. Inside there was a good view out over the city and I could see denser and lower clouds move in from the south. This was the start of Typhoon Hagibis which had been all over the news, having tracked in from the south, and having already started to have its effects to the east. This was the second typhoon to hit Japan in the two weeks I was there, the first having hit land some distance away and not having affected me. The country had already made announcements about cancelled flights and closed tourist sites so I knew that the following day, my last day in Japan, was to be an interesting, if not restricted, one. The winds weren’t bad yet, so I was able to get out onto the outside observation deck and enjoy the views outside too as the sky changed colour.


I decided I would stay for the sunset and watch the city lights come on. There was no visible sun to watch set but I figured there would still be a bit of a colour change to make it worthwhile. I parked up with a beer at one of the tall windows inside and mulled over what I would do the next day. I watched planes come and go from a nearby regional airport, and then I got moving again as I saw the light dull in the sky. I’d expected to get a bit of colour through the clouds as the sun set but I was blown away with what transpired. The increasingly inclement sky that moved in as the leading front of the typhoon caused the sky to glow purple. I’ve seen a purple sky occasionally before but this was the most incredible sky I’ve ever seen. To the west some reds and yellows appeared through the small breaks in the cloud where the sun was actually setting, and the city lights began to twinkle on and contrast against the deepening purple of the darkening sky. The purple also reflected off the river turning it a divine shade too. No photo could ever do it justice, and unsurprisingly there was a lot of jostling among the gathered crowd for the best spots to take photos from.


Eventually the colour faded to black but the hint of the inclement weather was still there due to the immense city lights reflecting upwards into the sky. Although I’m not normally a fan of huge cities, I couldn’t deny the beauty of all the twinkling lights that lit up the Japanese sky. I stayed well beyond sunset and became aware of the wind increasing around me. Slightly stupidly I decided to walk back to Shinsaibashi, a nearly hour long walk through a mostly business district until eventually I hit the covered shopping street again. Despite the potential drama of the impending typhoon, the citizens of Osaka seemed unperturbed and I too nonchalantly headed back to my hotel, 7Eleven dinner in hand, unsure what I was going to wake up to the next day.



It was nearly time to bid farewell to Kyoto, but not before visiting one of its most famous sites. Leaving my Ryokan behind, I joined the locals commuting to school and work at the nearby Umekoji-Kyotonishi station to head to Arashiyama, home of one of the country’s most famous bamboo forests. Like Fushimi-Inari Taisha a couple of days prior, it was a popular destination and whilst the crowds here didn’t quite rival that of the temple, there was still enough people wandering through the streets and forest to make it a tour in dodging people’s camera shots. I’m not completely sure what I was expecting here, but whilst it was a nice place to wander through, it was a little underwhelming for my expectations, and not half as big as I’d expected either. Still, I did make a point of wandering back and forward, crowd dodging and trying to make the most of the awkward lighting that trickled through the bamboo canopy.


At the far end of the walk, a junction split towards a Japanese garden and tea house to the right and a bamboo-lined path to Kameyama park to the left. As I walked along the track to the park, I could get right up to the bamboo, looking through the tightly packed forest. It was a little sad to see people had carved their names into the canes, a form of graffiti in nature. As I got closer to the park, a few other trees appeared on the edge of the bamboo grove, and suddenly I found myself at a hilltop and a viewing area overlooking the Katsura river. I’d always planned on taking a wander beyond the bamboo grove, but I ended up loving the rest of my time in Arashiyama a lot more than I did the time in forest itself. It was another stifling hot day but the blue sky and scorching sun belied the weather system that was moving in from the south. Here, there was just lush green hills flanking the broad river below in the valley, and across the far side, I could see a temple breaking through the foliage.


Cutting through the park, a series of paths took me down the hillside to the riverbank. The place was buzzing with people walking the promenade by the river while a series of boats chugged up and down the waterway. Surrounded by greenery with the city life feeling far away, I joined the throngs that crossed the river where views upstream were interrupted by a dam creating a small cascade. A lot of people on the far side were there to take river boat rides or visit the monkey park, but I passed them all by, walking along the river bank, leaving the crowds behind and feeling lost amongst the natural world that filled my view. Thick trees grew up the slope to my left, and the river by my right was a stunning green colour. I passed terrapins drying themselves on the river bank, and as a couple of locals punted slowly up the river beside me, I spotted a large egret fishing in the shallows. I sat for a while soaking it all in before starting the slog up the hill to the hidden temple.


I took my time in the heat, already sweating, but my attention was soon to be grabbed by a beautiful brown and blue butterfly that landed briefly on the ground. At the top, I was personally welcomed into the temple and pointed towards a lovely hut full of comfy seats and a plethora of historical information and photographs about the history of the place. From the balcony out the front I could just make out the city of Kyoto across the tall trees on the far side of the river. After a brief look around, I headed back down the hill and enjoyed my wander back along the river past more terrapins swimming and sunning themselves, this time with a power boat chugging past me as I walked. The scene that greeted me as I came around the bend in the river was one of a multitude of people enjoying themselves in row boats, the hills behind Kyoto framing the view.


I hadn’t originally planned on visiting the monkey park as there was a fee to enter, but having not seen any macaques whilst up in the temple, I decided to visit the Arashiyama monkey park after all. The track started steeply through the forest, with many people struggling in the heat and with the incline. At one point whilst deep in the forest I was shocked to come across a crab walking across the path. Despite around two weeks in the country by this stage, and an awful lot of walking, I hadn’t at all acclimatised to the heat and I too was tired getting up to the upper area. But it was worth it to spot some Japanese macaques hanging out around the trees. This was no zoo. The macaques were free to come and go as they pleased, and despite the crowds of people around this upper level, most of them didn’t seem to care, simply going about their business, be it sleeping, grooming or fighting with each other. There was a variety of ages too, with youngsters chasing each other in play and adults asserting their dominance to the others. At the top of the final flight of stairs to the viewing area, a female breastfed her baby, neither giving a damn about the chain of people waltzing past and taking photos of them as they went.


The view at the top was incredible. Never mind the monkeys walking about, I could see most of Kyoto from here, neatly nestled among a horseshoe of green-covered mountains. After standing there for a moment soaking it all in, I turned round and realised that a young baby was sitting relatively close by, munching on some food in solitude in a patch of shade. I might not think much of human babies, but baby animals are adorable, no matter what the species. Baby monkeys are no exception. At the back of the area was a water hole and a building that people could go into to buy monkey food to feed the macaques in a sort of reverse zoo where the monkeys were free roaming and the humans were behind bars. It was a popular activity but one that I didn’t agree with as I feel the animals should remain wild and not be allowed to habituate to people or associate them with an easy meal. Behind here, a path led up to a higher area with another perspective of the park and Kyoto beyond.


As I stood at the top a monkey family appeared nearby, the youngster pausing to pull some leaves, a mutual stare exchanging between us. Below me, a couple of macaques ran across the roof of the building while others drank from the water hole. I meandered among them, slowly walking down through the upper trails with youngsters running above me and to my side. A steady stream of people arrived as I begrudgingly left the place behind, winding my way back down the hillside and back to the river, boats continuing to plough their way across the water as I returned. A sign for happy hour tempura and beer caught my attention, and my rumbling stomach lured me inside for some much needed sustenance. By the time I re-emerged from the cafe, a bank of clouds had moved in from the south, the leading edge of a typhoon that was due to hit shore in a couple of days.


The streets of Arashiyama were as much a delight as the nature had been. Very much geared towards tourists, I didn’t really care as I wandered among boutique shops and a plethora of stores selling anything from Hello Kitty and Studio Ghibli souvenirs to kimonos and artisan wares. A large Miffy statue grabbed my attention to a Miffy-themed bakery where I partook in a pastry and cake washed down with a hot drink served in a Miffy cup. I wandered past animal cafes, a side of Japan I wasn’t a fan of, jostling the thick crowds on the pavement until the end of the shops denoted the place to catch the bus to my last Kyoto destination. The huge queue at the bus stop left me wondering if I’d actually have any luck getting on a bus, and this was one of the few times the bus was exceptionally late in turning up. When it did, it was already quite full, but I was able to squeeze on, eventually reaching a small bus interchange in the middle of nowhere where we all had to bundle off and join another huge queue, impatiently waiting before yet another squeeze onto another tightly packed bus.

The crowds at Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto’s famous golden temple were suffocating. A brief walk upon entering the grounds led to the south edge of Kyoko-chi pond across which stood the temple. As brilliant as the golden facade was, it was a jostling match here as people pushed and shoved to get the photograph that makes the place famous, with the reflection of the temple in the pond’s water. It was sad to see tourism ruin a place like this and I ended up hating the place simply because of the horrendous crowd here. When I was in Samoa earlier in 2019, I had been astonished to be asked to move at a swimming hole where I was relaxing because I was ruining the aesthetic of someone else’s posed Instagram photo. Here, several months later in Japan, I couldn’t believe it when people obnoxiously asked others to move despite the lack of free space, just so they could pose for a photo without other people in it. This is definitely the side of mass tourism that I hate. I snapped a few quick photos as the mass of people swept me along, literally being unable to stop at times due to the group movement along the trail.


Having had enough, I headed back to my ryokan to collect my luggage before walking the familiar route to Kyoto station. Just half an hour away is the city of Osaka, one which seems to leave such mixed opinions amongst tourists. Stepping out of the underground station at Shinsaibashi I could have been forgiven for thinking I was in America. The large gridded streets were lined by designer stores, and it felt a little disorientating as I cut through the streets to my hotel. I’d stayed in a variety of accommodation, but my last 3 nights in the country were to be spent in a capsule hotel. The lobby area was deceptive, but when I stepped out on my floor, I was met by a row of capsules, with no natural light whatsoever. Nonetheless I was excited to experience my little pod, which was a gorgeous little spot with a mattress bed. I laughed to myself when I opened the door to the bathroom to be greeted by a motion sensor toilet lid that opened up to greet me. Japan was still surprising and entertaining me and the delights of Osaka awaited.

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