Tokyo Ghost Hunting – who ya gonna call?!

One of our Tokyo based tour leaders, Axel Derbouraix has recently been discovering a slightly scarier side of Tokyo. Here is what he had to say,

Like many boys of my generation, after watching ‘Ghostbusters’, I imagined myself chasing demons and goblins of all sorts. Eventually, fifteen years later, I contacted ‘Haunted Tokyo Tours’ and fulfilled my dream… in Tokyo. The monstrously huge metropolis is an ideal setting for ghost stories and urban legends of all sorts. Ask Lilly about it!

My host was not a nerdy university professor moonlighting as ghost hunting expert but a knowledgeable American lady resident of Tokyo for many years. Lilly has been running ghost tours in Tokyo for the past 99 years.

Tours run once a week, last 2-3 hours and could take you on a Goblin hunt or you may like to follow the trail of cursed samurais or meet the demons of the red light district. The tours are very informative and lively, yet it can get spooky at times. Don’t be afraid because Lilly is equipped with the latest Ghost tracking device (EMF).

These Gaulish tours of Tokyo are a great way of seeing an alternative side to the city and can be arranged by InsideJapan…..if you dare!

Family festival fun and remembering the tsunami

This is the final instalment from Uday and the Kanitkar family who travelled to the Tohoku region for the ‘Big Three’ festivals in August this year. By the way, we haven’t mentioned that before the family had headed north for the large dose of festival action, they had already been in the cultural capital of  Kyoto for the massive Gion festival. These guys wanted festivals and they got festivals and much more.

For anyone wanting to experience Japanese culture at its best, amazing Japanese hospitality and something you won’t find anywhere else in the world, then this is the way to do it. Having partied at the Kanto festival in Akita, enjoyed the fun and hospitality of the Neputa festival in Hirosaki, they headed to Aomori for the huge Nebuta festival and then on to Sendai for Tanabata. Along with the festivals, they also discovered some of the harsh realities of the Tohoku tsunami which hit the region in March 2011.

The Nebuta festival in Aomori was massive! Words will not do it justice, so it is better described in pictures.

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Having had another fantastic time in Aomori, we headed to Sendai for the most famous Tanabata festival in Japan. There were lanterns everywhere beginning at the Railway Station and just a ten minutes walk away was a covered arcade where at least a thousand colourful lanterns were hanging off the ceiling creating a very festive atmosphere.

People were out shopping and partying dressed in all kinds of colourful clothing. Food stalls were everywhere and we wondered around not finding any trace of the disaster that I had seen on the news four months ago.We had lunch at the Date-no-gutan restaurant at the mall above the train station in Sendai which offers the local delicacy, Beef Tongue, in different recipes. After we took our first bite all the reluctance and hesitation was gone -We were quite happy to have tried something new and tasty.


We checked in at the Tenryu-Kaku Ryokan for yet another delightful experience in Japanese style living and amazing variety of food. The room was well appointed, spacious and offered some beautiful views of the river below and amazing views of the sunset.

 

 

On our second day we decided to do a day trip to the Matsushima Bay Area and I am glad we did. As soon as we got out of the train station on our way to the ferry terminal at Shiogama evidence of Tsunami damage was all around. Heaps of cars and debris was noticeable, boats washed inland lay where the tsunami had carried them.

Matsushima bay offered some very picturesque views from the ferry as we lazed through all the little island outcrops with scenic vegetation while snacks, sake and beer kept flowing. By the time we got to Matsushima I stood on the jetty feeling nice and tipsy for a few minutes trying to figure out the controls on my camera.

 

We walked down Matsushima Kaigan Street enjoying all the delicious sea food at the stalls along the road.  GodaidoTemple and ZuiganjiTemple are very beautiful places to visit with a relaxing atmosphere and beautiful landscape.

 

After taking in enough of pretty Matsushima, we walked up to the Tourist Information office to see what else we could do. We asked the very friendly and helpful lady there if we could visit the Tsunami hit areas. For 6000 yen, she arranged a taxi to take us there, show us around and bring us back in abut 90 minutes. We had not really witnessed any of the huge tsunami damage that had filled our TV screens in the west until now.

We got into the taxi and half an hour later we were in Okumatsushima smack in the middle of the disaster zone. The taxi driver took us to what was his little township of 90 houses along the beach and listened in horror as he narrated how he managed to grab his two children, wife and run up the hill behind their house, seconds before the Tsunami washed away all 90 houses, some as far as half a kilometre away inland from where they stood.

Clearing crews were busy trucking away debris. Only the foundations of houses remained in place with Asian style toilets open to the sky. Large trees lay snapped like twigs, Steel poles lay bent like match sticks, the clock at the train station had stopped at 3.48pm when the Tsunami struck, ghostly houses damaged and empty with owners dead stood along the roads. Schools, Hospitals, factories lay wrecked and deserted.

We stood there contemplating a twenty foot tall wave of water many miles long and many miles deep approaching us at 300 km/hr. I still shiver with the thought of its savage force and my heart goes out to the thousands of victims who are still struggling in Tsunami Shelters trying to bring some sense back into their lives having lost everything and loved ones in a blink of an eye. With a stoical approach they go about their business rebuilding whole towns.

Despite the huge devastation and size of this disaster, the people that we have met up and down the Tohoku region have shown little sign of misery and despair. In fact these wonderful people have been more generous and kinder than we could have ever imagined and shown us an amazing region in a very special country. Arigato!

Having spoken with Uday since his trip, it certainly sounds as though this trip was one which will live in their memories for ever and for all the right reasons. Uday’s blog pieces have focused on the family’s time in Tohoku, but they visited many other stunning places in Japan. It is obvious though that it was their experiences in this rural region, the positivity from the festivals and the warmth of the people that they met that will have a lasting impression on their lives.

Baby loves Tokyo

I lived in Japan for four years and have travelled there many many times over the last 7 years since living back in the UK, but this was the first time to travel as a family – Me (James), Vanessa and little Max. We decided to travel to New Zealand to see family and thought we would break up the journey by stopping in my ‘second home’ of Tokyo for 5 days.

We were slightly worried about the prospect of a one year old on longhaul flights, but the 11 hour flight to Tokyo went extremely well which was a relief. Max slept well for the flight and there was the added bonus of seeing the spectacular northern lights somewhere over north east Europe!

We arrived into Narita Airport and made the easy transfer into Tokyo and painless trip to our hotel in Shiodome. The November sun was shining, it was about 23C and little Max was loving the train. He also loved the glass-sided elevator up to the 25th floor reception (Vanessa wasn’t so keen) and the room which was on the 33rd floor. The stunning view over Tokyo soon warmed Vanessa to life on the 33rd floor.

Once we had finished gawping at the view, we ventured out for some food in one of the areas many eateries. After spending about 1000yen on lunch for us all (not as cheap as it use to be, but still approx £10) we were refuelled for a day in the Metropolis.

It was slightly different travelling around with a kid as it took longer to go anywhere…mainly because everywhere we went, we were stopped by people saying ‘kawaiiiii’ (cute) with the odd one or two people taking photos. Luckily Max is pretty sociable and loves the attention.


The beautiful Hamarikyu gardens were next to our hotel which seemed to be the perfect place to relax. Where as most people tend to appreciate the gardens for their tranquillity, Max found ducks to quack at, pigeons to chase, trees to swing around,  rocks to jump off and other children to play with – When they barely speak any language at all, there is no communication barrier. One of the great things about Japan for little kids is that it is such a clean place. There are no concerns about picking up something that they shouldn’t or treading in something messy as there is none of that which makes life a lot easier.

As the city began to light up, one of the most stunning images of the holiday was provided in the hotel. The city lights glowed as far as the eye could see and the Tokyo Tower shone in the foreground reminding us where we were every time that we looked out the window.It was also a great image to wake up to in the morning especially in the sunny month of November.


There is so much to see in Tokyo and literally everything is new, different and exciting, especially if you are a toddler. However, we did take a day trip out of the city to head to the seaside and the temple town of Kamakura (one hour from Tokyo). Another beautifully warm sunny day allowed us to get away from the hustle of the capital and enjoy the more relaxed atmosphere of this historic town.

We strolled around shops, ate our convenience store bentos (filling, delicious and cheap) by the lake at Hachimangu shrine before enjoying a green tea ice cream in the gaze of the giant Buddha. Although Max was not of age or smart enough, there were plenty of kids to talk to as there were many 3, 5 and 7 year olds dressed in kimono for the Shicho-go-san festival blessings – very cute indeed.

After a play on the beach, we jumped back on the train back to Tokyo for a well earned rest and another look at the Tokyo Tower – “ooooh. Bright” quote Max Mundy.

I was hoping to fit everything into one blog piece, but Tokyo is always full of surprises and worthy of another blog piece. More to come soon!

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