Sunset from Hill House, Mount Helen. February 2024

Friday, March 31, 2023


Another quiet start to the day. Kaori went to work. Austin went to the gym. Tatsuki, Lindsey and I watched TV, messed about on the internet, pottered around.

Then we hopped in the car and went out to the tower at Ichinomiya. I have been there once before, in 2016, when Jim and I were here during January. It was decked out in New Year lights and fun, winter activities for the children. This time it was bathed in warm, spring sunshine. We sat outside for our lunch and then went up the tower, 100m,  to admire the view. We didn't go up in 2016.


And 2023:

Lindsey has bought Austin and Kaori an air fryer as a thank you for having us present. It arrived yesterday afternoon and they used it to prepare the chips for dinner. We had the chips with salmon and vegetables. Oh, and a bottle of locally made wine which they gave us as a thank you for coming to stay present. It was very tasty. There's another one for tonight :-)

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Back to Gifu

We had a nice, lazy start to the day. Breakfast on the top floor, at a table looking out over the lake. A leisurely packing time. Sitting on our couch on the 33rd floor, watching the lake and the paddle steamer starting its daily trips


And then we came home. Unlike our trip to Lake Biwa, when we went the scenic route along the lakeshore, we came back on the expressways, stopping at an outlet mall for a wander round and a spot of lunch, which we bought at a convenience store and ate at a picnic table.

We hit the supermarket when we got back and bought steak for tea, which we had with rice and vegetables. It is very nice eating out, but it is lovely to get home and have a home cooked meal.

I emphatically did not buy these for my lunch:

These are more or less Spam onigiri.

I do not understand the Japanese fascination with Spam. But someone must be buying it or it wouldn't be on the shelves. I haven't noticed it on previous trips but I assume it is not a new thing. 

I had a tuna mayo onigiri and an egg and ham sandwich. Much more palatable.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Ōtsu, Biwako (Lake Biwa)

We have been staying at the Prince Hotel, overlooking Lake Biwa. You cannot possibly complain about the view from our room, nor the size of our room, nor the comfort of the beds. We can't complain about the practically perfect weather, nor of the helpfulness of most of the staff.

There are somethings we might want to mutter about, though. The paperwork says that our room rate includes half board, which to us means that it includes breakfast and dinner. Apparently, though, it only includes breakfast. Dinner is ¥10,000 per person for a buffet selection. For the five of us, assuming they charge the full rate for a 9 year old, that's well in excess of $A1,000. We might have stumped up for that, for one night, but when we tried to book a table yesterday, we were told that the restaurants were all full. I know they have lots of tour groups in, but had they mentioned it when we checked in, we would have looked into it then.

Anyway. Not to worry. We went out for a morning on the lake, aboard a paddle steamer. It was a glorious day for paddle steaming around a large lake. Peaceful and tranquil. Until I suddenly slipped through a space-time continuum into a Butlins Holiday Camp in the 1960s, as two people started yelling and bouncing and and bellowing through a loud speaker, exhorting us to have a great time and to take full advantage of the facilities aboard the boat. In Japanese. It was all a bit disconcerting. And surprising. Fortunately, they stopped after a bit and serenity returned to the ship. People who wanted to party could do so on the lower deck.

Our hotel from the boat

We had lunch in another shopping mall and had a bit of a potter around.

We had dinner in a little German restaurant, a five or six minute walk from the hotel, which we only knew about because Austin and Kaori had been there before on the recommendation of one of their friends. From the street it isn't obvious that it is a German restaurant and many of the online reviews of the hotel  comment on how expensive the food is in the hotel and how there aren't any eateries close by. Which is a pity, because the German restaurant had lovely food and happy, attentive staff. And instead of costing  well over $A1000 for the five of us, cost probably around $A250. Tatsuki's child's plate had a bit of sausage, a bit of burger, some salad and chips, a bread roll, a bit of cake and some fruit plus a drink. I would have been very happy with a selection like that. Although I was also very happy with my grilled chicken, potatoes and vegetables.

You have to wonder why the hotel has its Christmas decorations not only still up but lit up at night. Very pretty, but slightly unseasonal.

Oh - and no complaints about the breakfast buffet, either. There is a huge selection to choose from and it was all very delicious. I was particularly delighted to find mackerel on the buffet. I love mackerel and haven't eaten it since leaving the UK. I am told that you can get a species of mackerel in Australia but I haven't seen it. (Not that I have gone hunting, it must be said)

 I saw a review on one of the online review pages, complaining that they were very disappointed not to find European style cold cuts, cheeses, toast and other things you find in European breakfast buffets. In fact, all these things were available, if you went exploring the buffet. But really, if you want European style breakfast foods, might you not be better off in Europe?


Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Shaun the Sheep

We set off for our "weekend" in Lake Biwa late yesterday morning. 

First, lunch in a Convenience Store off the highway. I do like the Japanese convenience stores. You can buy everything you might want for a picnic or for lunch or even dinner and they are EVERYWHERE. I had a remarkably healthy fish sandwich with some salad on the side and some dried mango after.

Then we went to Shaun the Sheep's Farm, set in an "English" garden pretty much out in the middle of nowhere. A little bit of Wensleydale, set in the Japanese countryside!

A hobbit house, if ever I saw one

Wensleydale has changed a bit since I was last there :-D

Then we took the slow road, along the shoreline of Lake Biwa to Ōtsu, where we are spending a couple of nights with Austin, Kaori and Tatsuki in a tall, tall hotel with stunning views over the lake and over the city.

Lindsey and I have a lakeside view:

Dawn this morning, seen
from our room

The buffet breakfast is included in our room rate but the buffet evening meal is not. So we went into Ōtsu to a cheap family restaurant for  dinner. The price might well be cheap, but the food was delicious. My chicken main course was absolutely perfectly cooked

Monday, March 27, 2023


The cherry blossom/sakura season is in full bloom in our bit of Japan at the moment. 

It was raining yesterday, but Lindsey, Austin and I went out anyway, to a sakura street along the river to admire the flowering cherry trees. If it had merely been drizzling, we would have walked along the street. 

It was not drizzling. We stayed in the car and admired them from the warmth and dryness.

If yesterday had been a better day, there would have been people everywhere, having picnics and parties and the stalls would have been bustling. Although we were perhaps a bit early for the stalls. They were only just starting to open. 

Perhaps  it was a blessing that it was raining. There were very few other people around.

Then we went to the supermarket :-D

In the afternoon we went into Nagoya on the train. 

We were heading out to Noritake Gardens, so we could go to the china shop. In the four or five years since I was last at Noritake, they have built a shopping mall next door. They have also built an underground walkway most of the way. It looks like this:

(The cat gets everywhere!)

We didn't go to Noritake last time we were here. I didn't really need to go this time, but it was interesting to see what a difference the shopping mall has made. The footfall seems to be considerably bigger. And they've expanded their "character" range to include Doraemon and Moomins, in addition to the Totoro merchandise.

The Totoro shop at the station is still there. So is the big electrical store

The Cat Bus in the Totoro shop
2019 and 2023

We met Kaori's father and brother for dinner

In the lift, admiring the view

And so home:

I walked almost 18,000 steps. No wonder my feet were complaining!