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FIVE THOUSAND MILES One Prew's adventures in Japan. April, 2014.

Day 16: Odawara & Tokyo

Breakfast wasn't served until 8am in the ryokan, odd as most place start at least at 7am. Luckily I wasn't in too much of a hurry to get away. I had very little to pack up, having done most of it the night before, so was ready to go up to the dining hall not long after getting up. Breakfast, as always in a traditional Japanese breakfast, was made up of many parts. And I ate almost everything. By this point of the trip I was really looking forward to going back to simply toast and/or cereal for breakfast though! Real coffee, not instant, was good though.

I checked out of the hotel not long after breakfast, and asked the man who took my key about the Hiroshige ukiyo-e featuring the ryokan. He took me through to the back of the ground floor area to show me a selection of ukiyo-e of the Hakone area, including the one featuring the ryokan. He said they weren't originals but that didn't matter. I thanked him for showing me and then he asked about my trip and where I had been. He was impressed I made it to Tsumago as he said most Japanese people don't even get there! He recommended on my next trip to Japan I go to Miyajima near Hiroshima to see the famous torii gate out in the sea. I'll remember that for next time. When I got my shoes on and was ready to go, he asked if I wanted my photo taken outside. I wasn't going to refuse!

I spent ten or fifteen minutes looked around the immediate area and photographing the ryokan from the other side of the bridge.

Then I waited at the same bus stop I had got off at the previous day. I took a bus to Odawara station which took maybe half an hour, probably less. When I got to the station, before 10am, I booked a seat on the shinkansen to Tokyo for later – 11.42am – before heading out of the station to find Odawara castle.

I hadn't actually known that there was a castle there before I saw it from the station the day before. Researching it briefly on the Internet the night before, I had decided it was worth a visit it before going back to Tokyo. It was indeed worth a visit. Again not as good as Matsumoto castle but better than Osaka castle I thought. And Nijo castle didn't really count as it wasn't a castle in the same sense.

I wandered around the grounds, spotting some symbols that looked remarkably like the triforce from Zelda – I see where Nintendo got it from!

And also finding some sad looking monkeys in a cage that probably wasn't big enough for the amount of them (there were a lot more than just these guys here). Smelt pretty bad too.

This little girl was clearly in awe of the tri-force.

I decided it was worth paying to go inside the castle and I had the time before my booked train anyway. Inside there were three floors of museum exhibits, but interesting things like models, samurai armour and swords rather than loads of text like in Osaka castle.

And at the top, there was of course a viewing platform. I could see the sea from the top as well as the surrounding mountains and the train station. Not a bad view at all.

Inside on the top floor there was a shop and I used one of those little toy dispenser-thingies for the first time to buy a samurai. It was kind of like a Kinder egg in that you don't know exactly which one you're going to get and you have to put it together. So that was fun!

Leaving the castle, I followed signs to a shrine but there seemed to be only smartly dressed people around – possibly another wedding – so I didn't intrude.

Instead I walked back to the station and bought yet another green tea themed snack, then found my platform.

Soon I was on my way to Tokyo. Well, Shinagawa at least which is where I took a JR line train into Central Tokyo.

I spotted a Starbucks and quickly stole their wifi to check how to get to the Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum. It was too early to go straight to my Shinjuku hotel so I went to an exhibit of Hiroshige instead, via Harajuku station. I had been planning on doing this, especially as it was fairly near my hotel (Shinjuku), so it worked out quite well.

The museum was small with only a limited number of prints on display – apparently they rotate from a larger collection regularly. But anyway, it was excellent and a well presented exhibit with just the right amount of information and artworks to look at. The ground floor even had a small landscaped rock garden with stone lantern in the centre, although it wasn't outside.

The special exhibition was Hiroshige Blue and in six or seven parts it explained the significance of the Berlin blue colour in his work. No photography was allowed inside but it was enough for me just to take it all in and enjoy it there and then. There was also a decent explanation of the ukiyo-e process: from the initial drawing to the carving and printing of different layers. It was simpler and easier to take in than the video I watched at the Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto – not mention it was in English as well!

Heading back to Harajuku station, I crossed the bridge and entered the park where Meiji Jinju shrine was located.

I walked through the large wooden torii gate and took a stroll down to the shrine. It was very busy – which I guess reminded me that I was back in Tokyo! I didn't hang around for very long really, but took some photos.

Yeah, these empty sake barrels were pretty cool. Each with a different design.

Biggest wooden torii gate in Japan, eh?

So I photographed it from all angles.

Another wedding or formal procession of some description? Must have been the time of the year/month/week for it.

A couple asked me to take their photograph in front of this tree, because it was a nice tree. So I did and showed them the picture on the camera screen. The man then asked for me to come closer/zoom into the image more so that the nice tree wasn't so visible! Haha. It was a nice tree though…

I was beginning to feel very tired – the whole two weeks catching up with me by this point. I went back to Harajuku station and got on a train to Shinjuku, only a 5 minute journey.

Shinjuku station is huge and was very busy but I knew I had to take the south exit in order to follow the directions I had to my hotel.

It wasn't a very far to my hotel from the station either so that was good. I was soon checked in and settled in my hotel room. It was only 3.30pm by this point but I decided to unpack/re-pack my things ready to leave Japan the next day and take a shower. After that I felt revived and ready for the evening. I was as dressed up as my limited traveller's wardrobe would allow and ready for my last night out in Tokyo and Japan.

At 5pm, I left the hotel in search of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building where I knew they had a free viewing floor at the top – the 45th floor with views of all of Tokyo.

There was a long subway, just the walking kind of subway, from one of the main Shinjuku roads all the way to the ‘observatory’ entrance. There was a queue for the lift, unsurprisingly, and I was worried I might be too late for the prime part of sunset.

But all was well an the sun was mid sunset as I got to the top. I took some photos and admired the views from various points around the room then bought a few gifts in the toy and souvenir shop they had on that floor.

I thought about having dinner in the restaurant up there, which would have been nice as my last night in Japan but they were all booked up. So instead I went in search of pizzas because I really fancied pizza.

I found somewhere and selected my chosen pizza. When it arrived it looked well presented on a little wooden board with a pizza cutter but it was limp and fairly tasteless. I should have known better really!

It was a quick meal though and I was soon on my way again, on the way back to my hotel I picked up a chocolate muffin in a Japanese bakery. I hoped that would make up for my poor quality dinner, and in a way it did – it was tasty at least.

By 8.30pm I was all prepared for leaving in the morning so all that was left to do was relax and get a good nights sleep.

BackDay 15: Hakone

Day 17: Tokyo & homeNext