This itinerary is for April 2020, however, October 2020 will be very similar
We will meet at the gate lounge in Sydney International Airport about half an hour before boarding. Then we have our overnight flight to Haneda.
We land at Haneda International Airport, Tokyo at around 0500. After we collect our luggage and get through customs, we need to wait until the Japan Rail Office opens at 0645 to exchange our JR passes (I will have all these). The wait will be diminished by baggage collection and customs but there is a coffee shop nearby where everyone can have a sip and chat. I will get in line for the passes as soon as I can because the line grows very quickly once the office is open.
Once we have the passes, we have a little train hop. We take the Monorail to Hamamatsucho (about 15 minutes) and then a suburban train to Tokyo Station (about 10 minutes). We will be first in line for the Shinkansen (bullet train) here. We take the Hikari Shinkansen to Shin Osaka and change to a Sakura Shinkasen to take us to Hiroshima. Once there, we will walk to our hotel and arrange a meeting time for anyone who wants to catch Happy Hour at Molly Malone’s Irish Pub between 5 and 7pm. The night is free and there are plenty of places to eat.
No great hurry this morning. We will meet after breakfast and wander up to Shukkein Garden, walking past my mother’s old school and cathedral where Mum and Dad were married, on the way. After the garden, we’ll visit Hiroshima Castle. It’s only small compared to others around Japan, but inside the design is very similar to other castles. Then we’ll visit the world famous Peace Park. People will most likely split here as some will visit the museum and others will just wander through the grounds. It’s easy to find the hotel from here.
Tonight I’ll have a gig with my good friend Hiroki Maeta at a little okonomiyaki Restaurant. Hiroshima okonomiyaki is delicious - don’t know what it is? Ask Mr Google - everyone so far on my trips has loved it.
This venue only has a Japanese style toilet, by the way - it hasn’t been a problem before, but it’s handy to know!
We’ll meet after breakfast in the lobby and take the half hour train ride to Miyajimaguchi and then catch the JR Ferry to Miyajima Island. This ten minute ride is one of my favourite parts of my trips. Try to get an outside rail on the right hand side of the ferry for the best view as we go.
Once at the island, we will go to a hotel owned called Kinsuikan where we will put in orders for lunch. Separate bills will be provided here. When our orders are in, everyone can split up and go shopping, exploring, etc. It’s a wonderful place. Kinsuikan has onsen (hot spring bath) under the hotel. There are mens’ and womens’ sections; this is a very traditional Japanese way to relax after a lot of walking. Although it is in the birthday suit, everything is done very discreetly and modestly.
After lunch, we can organise a time to meet at the ferry to head back into town. Because it’s a free night, there is no hurry and if anyone chooses to stay late and even eat there that evening, that is fine. It’s easy to get back to Hiroshima.
Whoever chooses to get back with the main group may find a little Happy Hour calling…….! Then it’ll be out to find a meal - again!
Today we will get to the station a bit before our train ride to Kumamoto and buy some lunch to have on the train. It’s about a two hour ride and there are plenty of food options.
The afternoon is yours. It will be a good idea to have something to eat in the late afternoon as there won’t be food at the venue tonight. However there is food everywhere here - no worries getting a late night meal or snack at all!
Charlie Nagatani is 84 years old and has been playing in his bar Good Time Charlie every night (except for outside shows, including the Grand Ole Opry 28 times) for 40 years.
Today we travel to Kyoto. It’s the best part of a four hour trip - we change at Shin Osaka for the short hop to Kyoto and our hotel is near the station. The top of Kyoto Station is well worth a look. It’s a great view of the town.
The afternoon is yours - the hotel sports public baths on the second floor which are relaxing - like the onsen at Miyajima but I’m pretty sure it’s not spring water - just regular.
Tonight is not an official music night, but there is an Irish session at a pub that starts at 9pm. This is purely optional, but I’ll be in the lobby at an arranged time for anyone who wants to go. We’ll take a short subway ride (210 yen each way), we’ll eat somewhere up there, or before we leave and check out some Japanese/Irish tunes!
No need to get going really early today. We'll meet in the lobby and take the subway/bus to Kinkakuji, one of the most photographed temples in Kyoto. It's only a short hop from there to Imamiya Shrine where there is a mochi (Japanese rice cake) business that has been trading for about 1,000 years. It is well worth a stop here for a short but very Japanese experience - a taste of this traditional snack and a cup of local tea made with the well water from this ancient store.
My good friend Minoru Tanaka has a little shop of Japanese religious supplies nearby that includes some very nice incense. We will visit his shop before taking the subway back to Kyoto station.
Tonight is still in the planning stages. I am hoping we can get to a traditional Japanese Pub (Izakaya) and have a bluegrass jam session there. It's a very Japanese experience - sitting on the floor, however there are little stools for those who find the floor a bit difficult. I'll keep you posted on this!
We will meet fairly early this morning to beat the crowds to Arashiyama and the beautiful walk though the bamboo grove. There’s a great little shop that sells bamboo products (all ok to bring home) and after a coffee and a spell, we’ll visit a music box shop that’s well worth a look and a good place for gifts.
We have a free night tonight. For anyone interested, I’ll be in the lobby if anyone wants to do “Happy Hour” and then there’s a whole floor of restaurants in a big department store near the pub which is good for dinner - or if you have other plans, go for it!
Today we travel to Hamamatsu. This is a real music town. My mother did her training for working at Yamaha Hiroshima in this city. Near our hotel, there’s a musical instrument museum which is well worth a visit.
Tonight we’ll take a bus to a place called “Biscuit Time” for an evening of bluegrass with my good friend Tomoyuki Murata and co. There is snacky food here, but might be an idea to have a bite before we go - even if it’s late afternoon. It’s a good fun night here.
We don’t need to leave terribly early today as it’s only a short trip to Tokyo. Try to get a seat on the left side of the train because that’s the side to be on if Mt Fuji is in view. So often the huge mountain is covered in clouds, but you never know your luck!
We're staying in a suburb called Kamata - plenty of shopping and food here - including my favourite ramen shop.
Tonight we’ll see some country music in a venue TBC.
I’ll be in the lobby around 1030 to meet up with anyone who wants to see the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world at Shibuya Station. Shibuya is also home to the bronze statue of Hachi - a dog who waited for his master every evening for nine years after his master died. We’ll also take a stroll up the main street of Ginza and visit a great little paper and calligraphy shop - a good place for gifts. The main street of Ginza is closed to traffic on a Sunday so it makes for a really nice walk.
Tonight, we will return to Ginza for our final night of music at the iconic bluegrass venue, Rocky Top for a great pickin’ party with Keep On The Grass.
Last chance today for gift shopping! There’s a nice park to visit at Ueno, so once we check out, we can leave our bags at the hotel and head there. It’s a nice space and there are a couple of coffee places there, too.
We’ll make a time to meet back at the hotel before taking the train back to Hamamatsuchou and the monorail to Haneda for our journey home that night.
Meet the musicians as we travel around beautiful Japan.
IRELAND & SCOTLAND
More details to come on the John Howie/Travelrite Tour 2021