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Kyoto, Osaka, and Mount Fuji: Kimonos, cherry blossoms, a castle, a shrine, and a ferris wheel

My limited knowledge of the Shogun era of Japanese history was gained, almost exclusively, by reading James Clavell. And I have no idea whether he portrayed an accurate picture.

But I could easily imagine his characters playing out their intrigues within the 400-year-old Nijo Castle in Kyoto which I visited on Sunday, the first day our ship docked in Osaka.

The castle is a massive , single-storey structure of dark wood beams and cream walls painted with frescoes of pines and tigers. The wooden hallway floors squeak Iike nightingales as they are traversed by stocking-footed visitors ... both domestic and foreign.

We were not permitted to take pictures in the castle's interior. Though this is roofline.

As for the inside, we saw massive room after massive room in which the Shogun would hold court, his visitors sitting supplicant on floor mats while he occupied a raised platform in a position of superiority.

Outside is a stone garden in which man-made islands have been set inside man-made lakes.

After the castle, we went to the riverside in Kyoto where it seemed that every resident of the city had migrated to spend a sunny spring Sunday strolling the walkways- seeing and being seen.

There were so many young people in kimonos.

Our guide explained that it costs about $40 CDN to rent one, and to have one's hair done. And the girls (but also a few guys ) do this because they know they look beautiful - which they do!!! And also because, if they eat in a restaurant, it is a sign of respect to the owners of the establishment and they are given special treatment.

After walking along the river and then climbing a nearby hill, we found ourselves in a bamboo forest. It was unbelievably beautiful.

Then we walked back to the town where my friend, Doris from Winnipeg, and I bought tea and other fun things like green-tea-flavoured ice cream (would not recommend) before heading back to the ship.

That night I escaped the Poesia to take a seat in the massive Ferris wheel located at the port complex. It takes 15 minutes to do a full circuit and the views of Osaka are amazing.

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On day two (Monday) in Osaka, Josie was still suffering from the miserable flu we both contracted in Manila the week before. So Virginia and I left her in peace and caught the metro to the city's downtown.

It was nothing like I had ever seen - block after block of alleyways lined with restaurants and shops, many of them like this one that were dedicated to games of chance (I lost the equivalent of $4 and won no chocolate).

There is this reverence in Japan for childlike things. Many of the women dress like little girls in knee socks and frilly dresses - though most are garbed in long skirts, boots and loose fittIng tops . But it is more that that. There are cartoon characters everywhere. And gambling to win toys is a way to spend a day, apparently.

I was on a mission to buy Japanese whiskey, which I did ... at a hole-in -the wall place where this bottle (which sells for $250 USD online cost me the equivalent of $60 USD.)

Then we navigated our way back to the port where we had sushi at a restaurant where you order by computer screen and the food comes on a conveyor belt.

It took us a few minutes to figure it out but the shrimp tempura and the salmon rolls were delicious. And Virginia spoke glowingly of the sea urchin which I passed upon.

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On Tuesday we woke in Shimizu in the shadow of Mount Fugi ... we'll sort of ... it was a cloudy day and we could not see the summit ... so there was not much of a shadow but I am speaking metaphorically.

We drove to the Fujian Hongu Sengentaisha, a shrine in the town of Fujinomaya, at the foot of the mountain. The shrine was moved to this location in 806 AD but it dates to at least 27 BC and was built to appease the gods of the volcano.

The cherry blossoms at the shrine, and across Japan, are in bloom and they are spectacularly beautiful.

We strolled the park around the shrine and were invited to offer a prayer to the goddess of Mount Fuji - but that seemed like improper behaviour for an atheist. So I instead just tried to breath in the spirit of the place.

Then we walked to the Mount Fuji World Heritage Centre which is built in the shape of the mountain.

Climbing its five floors to reach the observation deck at the top is intended to mimic climbing the mountain - which it does quite nicely. The mountain is behind me here:

The dark of the interior is broken intermittently with displays about the mountain's spiritual, and the ways it is portrayed in art, and its volcanic capacity.

At the end of the day, we stopped at a roadside food court which offers all sorts of wrapped boxes Japanese treats but I did not purchase any because I really had no way of knowing what lay inside.

We now are off to Tokyo where we will spend tomorrow and the following day ... and I am pretty stoked.


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