Tokyo guzzler June 2017 – A few days in Nikko…

Nikko National Park, around 2 hours north of Tokyo, was our half term destination of choice last weekend. We’d heard rave reviews from virtually everyone who had been, so we decided to check it out for ourselves…

After taking the rapid express from Skytree direct to Nikko (click here for details), we arrived in the early afternoon heat. What a difference to Tokyo – not a person in sight. We walked through rice paddies for around 20 minutes to our campsite.

Camping season clearly hasn’t started yet, as we were the only people using the free-camping field for the entire 3 days! Facilities at the campsite were great however . There was a soothing chorus of frogs croaking throughout the night in the nearby paddies.

The shrines and temples of Nikko are a UNESCO World Heritage site, so this was our first port of call. The crowds were thick and there were plenty of school children, happily saying “Hello” and giggling as they did so. The sites were fantastic. Luckily, we managed to enjoy much of them before the crowds arrived.

We managed to catch a glimpse of the three wise monkeys. They embody the proverbial principle “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” and are a famous attraction in Nikko.

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You can easily spend a day wandering around and seeing the religious sites that Nikko has to offer.

The National Park, however, is the part of Nikko that stands out the most. The scenery is breathtaking; stunning waterfalls, volcanic mountains, marauding monkeys, lakes, rice paddies…..Nikko is a site to behold regardless of the season.

At almost 100m tall, Kegon Waterfall is the most famous of Nikko’s many waterfalls. It is even ranked as one of Japan’s three most beautiful falls. In the winter it freezes….I need to go back to see that.

Just a 5 minutes walk from Kegon Falls is Lake Chuzenji, formed 20,000 years ago when the adjacent Mount Nantai erupted and blocked the river. The lake is nearly 1,300m above sea level, and the drive up through the mountains to reach it doesn’t disappoint. We took a little 1 hour boat trip around the lake, taking in the scenery, the volcanoes, and plenty of local fishermen whom you can wave at!

About a 20 minute drive up the road from Chuzenji is Lake Yuno. This was a really quiet place with virtually no tourists. There were lots of local walkers whom we greeted with a hearty “Konichiwa”! We decided to walk around the lake and stumbled across a troop of monkeys passing through. It was incredible to be among them.

At the far end of Lake Yumo is Yudaki Falls. This was an unexpected surprise for us. We’d already seen Kegon Falls earlier in the day, a really picturesque scene with a gentle flow of water. Yudaki, on the other hand, was much wider and louder, and around 70m high. Again, there were virtually no tourists there.

Our time in Nikko was nearly up. It was a short trip, but it’s without doubt one of the best places we’ve visited in Japan. It’s one of those places that you want to go back and see in a different season. The sights are spectacular, especially the natural wonders. Camping added a different dimension (a less comfortable one!), and we saw some interesting wildlife there too: frogs, a big yellow and black snake, a troop of monkeys, geckos….

In short, I could go on and rave about Nikko at length. What a place – I can’t wait to go back!

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Tokyo guzzler May 2017 – Guzzler boat tours in Tokyo Bay

It’s been a long while – 134 days to be precise – since I last posted a blog update. Guzzler viewing numbers have plummeted. So, after a little boating excursion on Tokyo Bay over the weekend, what better way to relaunch the Guzzler?!

We noticed a few weeks back that it was possible to sail from Yokohama to Tokyo on a weekend evening. So, down to Yokohama we went…

Sunday afternoon yoga in Elephant Nose Park, Yokohama. I want to be that DJ!


Around 100 people turned out for the free yoga session. What a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Even little ‘uns were in on the act.


Nothing to see here….other than a cat on a skateboard!


Anyway onto the main event. The liner approached Osanbashi Pier a few minutes before the departure time. ¥1,410 for a single ticket from Yokohama to Tokyo (around $12 or £10).


And we were on our way.


An awesome sunset behind the Yokohama skyline.


Underneath the first bridge of the trip….the Yokohama Bay Bridge.


By now the sky was a-glowing. And who said pollution was a bad thing, eh?


A sole man stood aboard his vessel. “Is that the Tokyo Guzzler?” he probably thought.


This photo would make a good jigsaw puzzle.


On deck, it was now getting chilly and most people had retreated indoors. Not us hardy fools, oh no. We WILL stay to the end, even if we freeze.


The 90 minute ride was now nearing the end as we passed Odaiba and went underneath the Rainbow Bridge.


We arrived into dock bang on time. If you enjoy boat trips, then I’d recommend this one on a sunny day. You get a great twilight view of Yokohama and a beautiful view of the Rainbow Bridge at night. You also pass right by Haneda Airport, so you get the planes coming into land right overhead. This trip comes with a high Guzzler International Tours (GIT) rating.

Tokyo guzzler January 2017, part 1 – Guzzler tours in Seoul and the DMZ!

Internationally-acclaimed ‘Guzzler International Travels’ (GIT) rolled into South Korea last week. A country still technically at war with its northern neighbour, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, I was keen to explore and find out more. First stop on day 1, the DMZ:

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The Demilitarized Zone is the region on the Korean peninsula that separates North Korea from South Korea. It incorporates territory on both sides of the cease-fire line and is roughly 4km wide. Access into the zone is heavily regulated. The first stop we made was at the Freedom Bridge:

Next we headed to the Third Tunnel where we descended deep underground with dozens of newly recruited South Korean soldiers starting their 21 month compulsory national service:

The view into North Korea from the Dora Observatory. Music blared from a “fake” settlement just over the border:

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By now the new recruits were seemingly following us around, enjoying their own DMZ tour and posing for photos and selfies!

The final scheduled stop was Dorasan Station, a beautifully modern station inside the DMZ, that basically is the end of the line. The hope is that, one day, it’ll be the gateway through a reunited Korea and an artery into China and beyond. That day currently seems a long way off:

We did however made a final stop on the tour on the route back into Seoul. We visited a Ginseng vendor selling all sorts of remedial products in various forms: powders, pastes that looked like Marmite, as well as the plants and roots themselves. I think I’m too used to commercial-crazy Japan and was disappointed to find they didn’t sell Ginseng-flavoured KitKats!

The DMZ is supposedly one of the most dangerous places on Earth. Two sides ready for war, with army checkpoints galore and heavily restricted access. It was a surreal experience and it’s mad to think this is actually a tourist hot spot. It was eerily quiet there, apart from the music being blared over the border. It almost had a film set quality to it, where you had the impression that there was (or had been) a significant cast ready to appear at the drop of a hat; a feeling that a frenzy of activity was not a million miles away despite the calmness. A unique experience and one I’d highly recommend.

Like Asian neighbours Tokyo and Shanghai, night represents a neon frenzy as Seoul’s uber-vibrant lights fill every vacant space around you:

The streets can be spectacular to walk down, and the lights almost put close rival Tokyo to shame! The smells from the markets were incredible and everything looked so fresh. The Korean BBQ we had…mmmmmm nom nom nom!

A quirky little place we found is a place called Common Ground. (There you go….I’m a poet yet I didn’t know it!). Common Ground consists of many shipping containers stacked and renovated into a cool indie boutique, brimming with shops, bars restaurants and the like:

There are several Hanok villages inside central Seoul. These consist of the old style traditional Korean housing and make for a great place to wander during the day:

Hanyangdoseong (try deciphering that one with a “Speak Out” mouthpiece in!) is the city wall that surrounds inner Seoul. You can walk about 12km of it nowadays. Sounds easy right, but it goes up and over Seoul’s four inner city mountains. The 4km stretch we covered required a concerted effort and we had to stringently ration our meer 500ml of water! We mainly covered the Baegak Trail – the highest mountain part of the route.  A North Korean Special Forces unit infiltrated Seoul here in 1968, so public access to this area is watched heavily. There are manned check points every 100m or so and they’re pretty strict on photos being taken in a certain direction overlooking governmental buildings and palaces (I was told off once and I didn’t try again!). As the photos show, this is definitely not a tourist hotspot, so it’s a great place to go if you like to avoid the crowds and like a good old yomp:

The pine tree above with the red and white markers painted on it bears the traces of about fifteen bullets made during the 1968 gun battle between the South Korean military and the North Korean Special Forces unit.

Markets in Asia are always an amazing place to visit and give an up-close insight into the local cuisines. They also contain lorry loads of tat! You can eat here for next to nothing, yet the food is freshly made from the incredibly wide array of ingredients on offer that day:

Avid Guzzler viewers (both of them) will know by now that I like a bloody big building or two. So, I was pretty disappointed (understatement) to discover on our final day about the newly built Lotte World Tower, a 555m tall super-scraper and the 5th tallest on the planet. Thus, we made do with N Seoul Tower right in the heart of central Seoul. The views from the observation decks were stunning despite the haze (and you can see below the view you have from the heated toilet thrown!):

Which Asian city worth its salt would be complete without a plethora of palaces, temples and cathedrals? Thankfully, Seoul has them in abundance! And despite being slightly templed and palaced out in the last year or so, we couldn’t resist a little wander around Seoul’s offerings:

And that was it: our time in Seoul was up. 4 days and nights isn’t nearly enough to fit everything in. However, it gave us a massive flavour of life in Seoul and left us craving more. I think we’ll be back in Seoul again soon…

Tokyo guzzler December 2016, part 2 – Hakone and Odawara

Our third trip down to Hakone, this time stopping briefly at Odawara along the way before a two night stopover:

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Odawara Castle. As with all other castles in Japan, it has been rebuilt about a dozen times and now houses a modern museum inside. Authentic to the end.


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Onwards to Lake Ashi, a crater lake near the foot of Fuji.


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All aboard the pirate ship!


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Sulphur fumes bellowing out of the volcano beneath us.


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Quite a smell…or at least it would be, had I not had a cold!


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Turn around and you have the most breath taking view of Fuji on a sunny clear day.


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Onshihakone Park viewpoint, well off the tourist trail and totally deserted from the hoards of day trippers.


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Hakone Shrine, on the shores of Lake Ashi. Surely one of the most stunning places in Japan? 


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And again, this time snapped from our pedalo adventure!

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For more detailed info on Hakone, see my previous Guzzler post on the area. It’s well worth the trip from the overly-crowded Tokyo mayhem.

Tokyo guzzler December 2016, part 1 – Odaiba Festive Fireworks!

Odaiba, the man-made island of fun in Tokyo Bay. Home to festive fireworks displays on six consecutive Saturdays in the lead up to New Year:

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A small army of photographers congregated from mid-afternoon, determined to nab a good spot hours in advance of the main event.

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Dusk in Toyko Bay.

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One of the few times in the year where the Rainbow Bridge is actually lit in rainbow colours.

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And we’re off! Fireworks lit up the bay and there were “oohs” and “aahs” a plenty!

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The grand finale – stunning.

Tokyo guzzler October 2016, part 3 – Wan Wan Carnival 2016

Wan Wan Carnival 2016. Think Crufts meets Milan Fashion Week meets the Olympics with an added splash of Japanese ‘humour‘. Yes, it was that time of year again: a special eclectic gathering of hundreds of the cutest, most pruned, well trained, agile, and damned right kawaii mutts you’ll see! WWC’16 did not disappoint:

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First up, the doggie run time trail! A 30m dash, with the owners waiting for their pooch at the far end. The bigger dogs galloped like wildebeest; the smaller ones got confused, lost, distracted, or a combination.

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Next stop – professional doggie photography. This beast just wouldn’t stay still on the podium. Dad tried to cast a spell, but with little success.

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In the main arena, the “theatre of dog dreams”, it’s the assault course time trail. Over the hurdles, through the tunnel, over the bench – all meticulously timed to the millisecond.

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The highlight of the 2 day event – the headline act, if you will – is the dog sitting championship. Once again, Gina G classic “Ooh Aah….Just a Little Bit” blazed out over the PA system. Dozens of dogs started sitting, but who could sit the longest? Well, around about 10 minutes later we had our winning pooch. All sorts of distraction attempts are made, mainly by people wearing silly hats, and only the most well trained survive (not literally, although there is a kebab stand on site).

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This year’s costumes weren’t as whacky as previously. We did however find one dog getting into the spirit of Halloween a little earlier than normal.

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Team photo! What you can’t see is the dozens of owners, onlookers and confused passers by, snapping away gleefully, or moving away quickly!

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There were even Meerkats on site to keep the dogs in check. Fancy dress only, of course.

What a unique event Wan Wan Carnival 2016 was. It left behind a trail of joy (but not for the festival staff who had to go around all weekend cleaning up after hundreds of dogs). Next year’s event is already in the diary!

Tokyo guzzler October 2016, part 2 – Osaka weekender

A weekend of firsts in Japan: my first time in Osaka, a debut karaoke outing, and a first cheeky Japanese McDonalds to round off a drunken night out. Delightful. After what was probably the slowest shinkansen trip in the history of shinkansen travel, we arrived in the Osaka, the “nation’s kitchen” and former capital city:

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The Umeda Sky Building in central Osaka. Our first port of call, after Mr Donut.

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You get the lift to the top, and then this escalator through the sky to the 39th floor sky deck.

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You get a full 360 degree view from the top. Check the Gate Tower Building with the highway running through it! But what came first: the tower or the road?

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Osaka metropolitan area has a mere 19 million inhabitants. Meh – nothing compared to Tokyo! Grey sprawl in every direction.

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The gateway to Osaka castle, immaculately kept in stunning grounds.

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I’m not the best at identifying birds, but I believe this to be a falcon.

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Angry birds, angry at each other. They probably should show more anger to their owners who keep them locked up. Onlookers giggled away.

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Osaka Castle, just after sundown. A perfect place to sit and watch the world go by whilst having a beer in the early autumn sunshine.

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Doutonbori Street. A tourist hotspot and must-see area for food, shopping and nightlife.

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And enormous crabs!!!

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You can commandeer a little boat and do a trip on the waterways. We sat down by the water and ate yakitori, waving to the passing boaters. The waving intensified as more beer was downed.

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There appeared to be so much to see and do in this area. We need to go back and have a proper explore soon.

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Last snap of the night before a marathon karaoke session that I had to be dragged away from. Tentative at first, addicted by the end. The crowd went nuts for Debaser; not so nuts after my fourth or fifth consecutive Smiths / Morrissey number. A 3am McDonalds followed, washed down with a craftily snuck in can of Sapporo. Salad days!

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Nursing a little hangover, the following morning we headed to the outskirts of Osaka to Minoh Falls. Not a karaoke bar in sight!

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After a short 2-3km walk, you reach the 33m high waterfall.

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A perfect place for a picnic, right in front of the main event.

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My head might’ve been pounding and last night’s McDonalds was churning ferociously, but that didn’t detract from the stunning scenery!

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Our time in Osaka was very short lived, sadly. On first glimpse however it looked like an awesome city with a good nightlife, a cracking castle and a beautiful waterfall. We may have irreparably damaged the local’s hearing for good with our rendition of Debaser. But I think we’ll be back for ‘Osaka: Round 2’ very soon.