From Osaka it’s a brief train ride to Kyoto.

Kyoto Station

Kyoto Station is humming with activity. It’s a real people place.


Kyoto, the former Imperial capital of Japan for more than a thousand years, is one of Japan’s most historic cities.

The route to our lodgings takes us past this massive temple, the Higashi-hongan-ji, twice a day.

Let Me Into Your Temple…’

This chart in a chopstick store shows how to measure for your correct size. Who knew chopsticks had a size?


We spend an afternoon at the Fushimi Inari temple.

Main gate
People do their ablutions

Like many temples, there are a lot of votive wishes being posted.

Notice these votive wishes in the shape of a fox head.

Foxes play a big part in the mythology of this particular temple. There are stone foxes everywhere.

Fushimi Inari
Fushimi Inari – fountain

Fushimi Inari is famous for its hundreds thousands of torii, or gates.


These remind us of Christo‘s 2005 installation, The Gates, in New York City. Not really surprising, because as it turns out, Christo’s work was inspired by this very temple.

In the evening, we return through town. Everywhere in urban Japan you see pachinko parlours.

Pachinko fever

People sit here at all hours of the day. The noise is deafening. Apparently, the average sound level reaches 92 decibels, about the same as standing under a passing commuter train. 

In contrast to this infernal din, the norm in Japan is to keep quiet and avoid unnecessary noise.

Signs posted in our neighbourhood

This is our kind of place. It’s clean. And quiet.

Sight or Insight of the Day – Kyoto

In Kyoto, we stay in a ryokan, that is, a traditional Japanese-style inn.

Tatami mats

There’s a small garden outside our door.

Shōji doors

And of course we have a hot bath.

Old-school hot tubbing

Excursion to Hasedera

We go to Hasedera for a day trip.

It’s a 40-KM train journey away. We pass through less densely-packed parts of town.

Outskirts of Osaka

Hasedera village is tranquil and rural. You only hear the stream that runs through town.

Hasedera village

The narrow main street is full of interesting shops.

Not sure what this shop sells

It’s fun to browse. Maria buys a new wallet.

Nor this one

There are no non-Asian visitors here. It is off the (non-Asian) tourist map. Why are we here? In January 2016, we see Robert Lepage’s The Library at Night at the ‘national’ archives in Montreal.

Ascending to the main temple

Among its aspects is a VR (virtual reality, for those of you over a century old) tour of ten world libraries, some imaginary, some past and gone, some still in existence.

Fountain for purifying ablutions

One was the rotating sutra library of the Hasedera monastery. Such a library is known a kyozo.

A shrine to the founder

I find this so fascinating. I vow that if we ever go to Japan, we’ll seek out this library. (Thinking it not very likely, at the time.)

Nice view

As it turns out, Hasedera happens to be located less than an hour from Osaka, where we first arrive. An uncanny coincidence.

The main temple

So of course we make an effort to visit, since we’re in the vicinity.

The main temple, close up

While here, we touch the feet of the Buddha for good luck. Sorry, no photos allowed where the magic happens.


We have lunch in the village at a local restaurant.

‘頂きます’, or ‘‘bon appétit

Then back to town again. Did we mention that our place in Osaka has a resident cat?

His name is Akubi. Akubi means ‘yawning’, which he does a lot of. Usually just before napping. He has strangely short legs, like a dachshund or a corgi.

Akubi draws a crowd on the sidewalk

When he’s not prowling the hotel, he sits on a leash outside and lets adoring passers-by fuss over him.

The Eye of the Tiger

You can see he’s just loving the attention we give him. </S>

Sight or Insight of the Day – Hasadera

In one of those exquisite ironies of travel, we arrive at the site of the Hasadera library in the temple grounds, years after first learning of it on a freezing Montreal January afternoon on the other side of the globe – and it’s closed. At least to the public.

I sit forlorn, locked out of the sutra library

Oh well. So it goes. This is what it looks like on the inside.

Thanks, Wikipedia, for the photo

Hong Kong to Osaka

First of all – Happy Easter!

On our penultimate day in HK, we take the Ngong Ping 360 cable car to the big Buddha on Lantau Island.

Up, up and away..

We pass the airport from where we’ll be leaving for Japan. Built to replace Kai Tak, it’s built on reclaimed land and is quite the engineering feat.

Chek Lap Kok Airport

A Chilean woman takes our photo.

Hong Kong to Osaka

After being blown around by strong winds pushing the cable car, we arrive.

Buddha’s mantra number one – ‘Bless Them All

A good place to have an escalator.

Buddha’s mantra number two- ‘I Think It’s Going to Work Out Fine

We arrive in Osaka at the tail end of cherry-blossom season.

‘So we grew together,
Like to a double cherry, seeming parted,
But yet a union in partition,
Two lovely berries molded on one stem.’ – A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Note the Sararīmen – the guys in suits – sitting on the benches, trying to stave off Karōshi.

The castle is surrounded by several moats, with curved walls built of enormous stones.

Tourist on the walls
Turret on the walls

Osaka Castle has a long and turbulent history.


City view from the top of the castle.


Matcha-flavoured ice cream. Matcha is powdered green tea.

Not surprisingly, tastes a bit like maté

In a temple on the castle grounds, people tie small notes with their wishes on them to a fence.

When You Wish Upon a Fence…

We visit the Udema Sky Building.

Sky Towers

A good place to watch the sun go down.

Yodo River

Riding the escalators in the top is fun.

Around our hotel are several small temples and cemeteries.

Almost in the back yard

We’re fortunate to come across a rare exhibition of works by Vermeer and other Dutch masters at the Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts.


There’s a lot of commerce going on in Japan. Like most of Asia.


Sight or Insight of the Day

We admire this stackable garage in town.

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These teeny-tiny vehicles are so cute

We can imagine this becoming a thing in North America. Of course, it would have to be scaled up in size to accommodate two or three F-150 pickup trucks.

香港 Hong Kong and 澳門 Macau

The sidewalks of Hong Kong are usually crowded with people.

You’ll Never Walk Alone…’

Very different from the vast empty spaces of, say, Australia.

Meat market

We wander around the Central district.

Getting our bearings

Today, a street stall provides lunch.

Tomato soup, with egg and Spam

Sometimes we eat in fancier places. This is a dim sum restaurant recommend to us by our niece Julia.

My favourites are the truffle dumplings

We take the Peak Tram to Victoria Peak. As this is a ‘must-do’ for every visitor in town, there are enormous lines for entry.

The waiting is the hardest part

The view is worth the long wait.

Victoria Harbour from the Peak Tram
Looking out at old Kai Tak airport – now a cruise ship terminal – across the harbour

A sundowner on the Avenue of Stars. It’s Happy Hour.

This evening we happen to be at the waterfront just as the Symphony of Lights is beginning.

Maria signs up for a few yoga sessions in the nearby Peninsula Office Tower, linked to the famous Peninsula Hotel. The participants get a great view across the harbour.

How do you say ‘Namasté’ in Cantonese?

These junk-like boats are a common sight.

Usually for tourist excursions. We use the iconic Star ferries to cross the harbour a few times as a change from taking the metro.

Early one morning, we go to Macau for a day trip on a fast catamaran. It takes about an hour.

Leaving HK for the day

There aren’t many Portuguese-speakers left, but the town still counts as part of the Mundo Lusófono.

Calçada Portuguesa in Macau

Popular with Hong Kongers as a gambling Mecca. (There are no casinos in HK.)

The hideous tower in the background is the Grand Lisboa casino

The ruins of St. Paul’s church. Started in 1602 by the Jesuits.


Close up, the facade has an interesting blend of Western and Chinese elements.

A quiet alley is good for a rest.

Dona Maria takes a load off

We have lunch at the Restaurante Escada.

Bolinhos de bacalhau

In the Macau Museum, we find this fascinating exhibit about cricket fighting. Below is a cricket fighting ‘arena’, some cricket cages and porcelain food bowls, and four ‘cricket ticklers’ with rat-whisker bristles.

Qui nos morituri te salutant…’

Sight or Insight of the Day – Hong Kong and Macau

Hong Kong has some hellishly steep places.

Luckily, for lazy people there is the Central-Mid-levels escalator.

Lazy? Moi?

You have to walk down, though.

We can think of a few cities that could use something like this.

香港 Hong Kong

We arrive in Hong Kong after an 11-hour overnight flight from Auckland.

This is all our luggage

There are more people in Hong Kong (7.4 million) than in New Zealand (4.8 million).

I’ve wanted to come here ever since reading the absorbing James Clavell novels Tai Pan and Noble House decades ago. Maria read them too, much more recently.

Victoria Harbour

We stay in a guesthouse in Chungking Mansions. We had no idea it was kind of famous/notorious. It’s certainly interesting – like a termite mound of humanity. Or a labyrinth. Or a rabbit warren. It reminds me of an ancient Roman insula.

There are light wells that open onto steampunk-esque vistas.

The pipes, the pipes are calling…

In fact, a lot of Hong Kong has a Blade Runner look and feel to it. The flashy skyscrapers and shopping malls are interspersed with densely-populated blocks of flats.


We purchase some local duds from a friendly woman at a Kowloon street stall.

‘But I have no make-up on’, she protests

We walk down busy Nathan Road in the evening, heading for the Temple Street night market.

Fancy traditional medicine shop on Nathan Road

We visit the Hong Kong Museum of History. Among the exhibits is a full-scale replica of a Cantonese Opera playhouse.

Note my new Chinese-style shirt

Including a view of the backstage. Much like we imagine an Elizabethan theatre.

Backstage pass

Sight or Insight of the Day – Hong Kong

A notable detail about being back in Asia: the habit that many people have of wearing surgical masks.

Apparently this began as a (not very effective) preventative measure during the various outbreaks of airborne disease in Asia few years ago.

But now, many people seem to wear them as a fashion statement. As if it’s normal.


We find this so bizarre. It’s like being trapped in an episode of Black Mirror. It also makes people difficult to understand: in addition to being soft-spoken in general, a strong accent and a covered mouth make service-persons even harder to understand when they ‘re wearing a mask.

‘Haere rā, New Zealand’

That is, ‘Farewell’, in good round English.

Time for a brief roundup of our journey back to Auckland. We spend a night in Mangawhai Heads.

Mangawhai Heads

We discover on this trip that a bowl of water set on the ground is a sure-fire duck attractant. They like to drink, or wash their beaks, or both.

One duck in particular spends all day with us. She sleeps at our feet, centimetres away. She has a pronounced limp when she waddles. We name her Jemma.

Jemma – after Jemima Puddle-duck

There’s no shortage of ducks in many NZ campgrounds.

Ducks Unlimited

We stop at Owera for a couple of days. Only 40 kilometres north of Auckland, it’s a relaxed beach town. Very popular for kitesurfing. Not surprising, given the gale-force winds that blow here.


A lot of activities in NZ involve jumping off of bridges, leaping out of airplanes, rafting down foaming rivers – you get the picture. Thankfully, we have transcended this age of adrenaline addiction.


In Auckland, we spend an afternoon at the zoo. We see some NZ animals, like keas.


I finally get to see a tuatara. Like most ground-dwelling creatures here, they are almost extinct.

We see kiwis in the kiwi house. (Q. where do New Zealanders go for information online? A. Kiwipedia)

Little blue penguins

We enjoy the Australian section for the wave of nostalgia we feel for that country’s awesome critters. For instance, they have a great Tasmanian devil enclosure.

Handsome devil

We hope he strikes a more fearsome pose for the camera. He doesn’t disappoint.

Say ‘Arrrgh!’

Which reminds me, we book an appointment with a dentist while in Auckland.

Continuing the Aussie animal theme, we come across a pair of brolga cranes. Brolgas are well known for their graceful courtship dancing. In this case, one of the pair is totally uninterested.

‘You don’t love me any more’

I commune with a brace of emus.

Pining for the Outback

We like the red panda. Looks like the love-child of a fox and a racoon.

Red panda

Sight or Insight of the Day – Haere rā

We come full circle. When we first arrived in Auckland, I took advantage of the irresistible photo opp offered by this Vincent Street window. A few months and 7,500 kilometres later, it’s Maria’s turn.

Angel from Porto Alegre

So long, New Zealand. Thanks for being here for the world.

North Island Rambles

Back in windy Wellington.

We spend the large part of a day at the Te Papa museum. It’s huge.

Te Papa installation

With Easter coming up, Whittaker’s, an NZ chocolatier, makes chocolate kiwis.

As they say here, ‘Yum yum, pig’s bum!’

The road to New Plymouth. The most prominent feature in this part of the country is Mount Taranaki, a dormant volcano.

Mount Taranaki and sheep

Near Hamilton, we visit Raglan Beach. Popular with surfers.

Raglan Beach

The black sand is common on this side of the North Island.

Surf city

Our next stop is Karekare Beach.

‘Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife‘ – Thomas Gray

This is where the stunning beach scenes from Jane Campion’s classic The Piano‘ were filmed.

Still photo from ‘The Piano

Less than an hour’s drive from Auckland, it feels like the end of the earth.


It must’ve been a challenge filming here. The only access is by steep, narrow, twisting roads – not the best for transporting cast, crew, and equipment.

Black sand of Karekare

Next to Russel (via Whangarei) and the beautiful Bay of Islands. We make an excursion to Otehei Bay, on Urupukapuka Island.

Our boat

We enjoy an outdoor lunch.


The island has lots of rewarding easy walks.

Probably the closest we get to sheep in NZ

There is supposed to be the remains of a Maori pa on this headland. We can’t find any trace.

Pa patrol

We drive north to Cape Reinga, the northernmost point of New Zealand. (At least, the northernmost point that is convenient to get to.)

Lighthouse at Cape Reinga

Because there is no alternative, we stay at the Department of Conservation campsite at Tapotupotu. No electricity or amenities besides basic toilets, but very pretty in its isolation.

Roughing it at Tatotupotu

Our time in Australasia draws to a close. I’m going to miss the long-distance drives. I enjoy the ever-changing scenery. And turning things over in my mind. Ruminatin’ and illuminatin’ on the state of the world. Who knows, maybe I think too much.

We can’t go any further north – we return south. We stop at the giant Te Puki sand dunes that reach up to 100 metres.


After a few relaxing nights at Whatuwhiwhi on the Karikari peninsula, we drive to the Waipoua Forest and its gigantic kauri trees.

Look up, look way up…

They really are majestic.

Mighty kauris from tiny kauri-cones grow

Our caravan park has a ‘kiwi rescue’ vehicle. We’re not sure how the onboard equipment is useful for rescuing kiwis.

We imagine a time when much of the North Island looked like this.


This inspires us to visit the Kauri Museum in Matakohe.

Kauri Museum

Sight or Insight of the Day – North Island Rambles

Kauri trees suffer from a disease called kauri dieback. The NZ government is doing all it can to protect surviving trees.

This includes obligatory decontamination of all footwear before entering kauri forests.

An ounce of prevention

Everyone has to follow the rules.


The people and the government of New Zealand have put a lot of thought, money, and resources into this effort.

Just do it

Somewhere in an earlier entry, we mention how the authorities and governments in Southeast Asia – the very people who should be protecting the natural patrimony of their countries – are in fact at the forefront of hacking down any remaining trees of value and replacing them with palm oil plantations for themselves and their cronies.

I’m not much of a tree-hugger, but I wonder with Bruce Cockburn – ‘if a tree falls in the forest, does anybody hear the forest fall?’