Thursday, May 27, 2010

Honeymoon in Japan

you have art

After putting in a few months at work after our wedding, we could finally take off for our honeymoon to Japan.

We arrived just before Golden Week (a national week-long holiday during which almost everybody in Japan takes the opportunity to visit friends and family. i.e. an extremely busy travel period. read: manic).

For this reason we flew into Tokyo and (just made it, seconds to spare) jumped on a shinkansen train down to Nagoya and transferred to Inuyama for a couple of days. Sleepy little town with the obligatory pre-Meiji castle. Thence down to Okuyama and Uno and then a ferry over to Naoshima island.

The island is home to the Benesse Oval House, Benesse Art Museum and Chichu Art Museum, all designed by Tadao Ando, as well as many outdoor sculptural installations. Benesse Art house was amazing, extremely highly recommended for any future visitors. The photograph accompanying this post was taken in the gallery that forms part of the connection between the hotel and the restaurant, displaying photographs from Hiroshi Sugimoto's "Time Exposed" series. We even had an original lithograph of the Becher's Wasserturm series (#6, if that means anything to anyone besides s2 and zb) on our bedroom wall.

Naoshima is also home to the Benesse Oval House (a more exclusive residence, but amazing), Benesse Art Museum and Chichu Art Museum, all designed by Tadao Ando, and many outdoor sculptural installations. There's also an Art House project in one of the port towns, turning old and disused / decaying traditional houses into mini-galleries and works of art themselves. All fantastic, although we didn't allocate long enough for the art house district. 2 days is not enough!

From Naoshima we trained back up to Osaka (great city, friendly, accessible, clean and cool (in both senses)), a side trip to Kobe (great walks up in the hills that ring the city, we spent 2 hours just rambling through the trees) and then to Kyoto (old, dated, fusty, touristy, frustrating to get around by PT).

Besides the "philosopher's walk" and a bamboo plantation out west, Kyoto didn't hold much appeal at all, although our ryokan was cute, and extremely expensive. As you can tell, Kyoto was not a favourite. Jumping on the Kyoto > Kanazawa "Thunderbird Express" (great train name!) and relaxing into the seats was a palpable relief. Oh, the Miho Museum about an hour out of Kyoto was... ok... but after Naoshima it suffered from the comparison. Great tunnel through the mountain to access the museum though.

We loved Kanazawa, as it was a much more amenable city for the car-less tourist, had some great history (castle / geisha houses) but a younger population and great bar / cafe scene. One restaurant we visited based their whole menu around sardines, Iron Chef style. We had the seven course 'degustation-ish' set, and man were we stuffed by the time dessert had been packed up to take home (too full!). So many delicious ways to consume sardines, who knew? My favourite was the Tibetan salt sprinkle, under a slow grill. Simply succulent sardines.

We left Kanazawa early for the day-long trip over the Northern Alps, which involved something like 3 train trips, 2 trolley-bus rides, 2 normal bus rides, a gondola ride, some walking and heaps of spectacular mountain scenery and snow! Kuroba Dam was the highlight of the day's adventures, massive hydro-electric scheme conceived in the 30s but completed during the 50s (i think) as Japan was re-structuring after the war to become an industrial powerhouse.

The day finished with us in collapsing into sleep in Matsumoto, a relaxed town with great castle sitting in the middle of a moat. 2 days was probably more than enough there, but a nice place to recuperate.

Matsumoto was only a short 2 hour hop from Tokyo, where we spent our last 3 days in Japan. The plan had been to see the Mori Museum in Roppongi that we missed last time, and apart from that just chill during the days and catch the Baseball one night and the Sumo on the last full day. Unfortunately I must have eaten a dodgy hotdog at the fantastic Giants vs Lions game - new fan and convert to (Japanese) baseball! - and spent that night and the whole next day ill in our hotel room, thus missing out on Sumo. It was being televised though, so I got to see the gaijin kicking some major (hawhaw) arse. I did manage during the day before to go see a bike shop recommended to me by Shaun (of Vanguard ilk), but the old guy was extremely uncommunicative and not very friendly. For fun, I did manage to extract the price of the Eddy Mercks track bike out front - $6750 sing. Yup. Up round the corner from Dreamworks was a converted Airstream silver caravan cum coffee shop. The guy who owned it has earned his bronze medal on the Goldcoast and his brother was playing for the Paramatta Eels rugby league team. I must dig his name out and look him up...

So, Japan rocked, but it's good (mostly) to be home in the S'pore again.

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