Since moving to Japan pretty much all of our holidays have been spent enjoying the company of guests as all my previous blogs will attest too. However, this summer we found ourselves with a considerable amount of guest free time so we decide to use it wisely and catch up on some of our own travelling wish list.
As soon as the school term ended we jetted off on our long awaited getaway to the beautiful island of Guam. We wanted a beach holiday, a chance to relax and chill out and what a choice! I originally had my eye on Guam after watching one of my children’s presentations about their summer holiday. It looked tropical and after some research, I soon found out, it is considered the Japanese Hawaii. Even though it is an American territory, it once belonged to Japan and with only a short three hour flight from Tokyo, it is a popular destination with the Japanese tourists. Walking around, there is a noticeable amount of restaurants and shops catered to the Japanese consumer, possibly more than the popular American chains, hence the title… Japanese Hawaii!
So carrying on… When we arrived at the airport it was chucking it down- not quite what we were expecting but by the time we arrived at our hotel, the sun was shining and it was warm. We checked into our room and took some time to have a look around. Our hotel was on the very edge of Tumon Bay with its own private sea access and oh the sea…
During the day, it was a beautiful shade of clear turquoise and a dream to swim in, warm and refreshing. On the last day we even tried snorkelling which was incredible!! I couldn’t believe how different the coral looked like under the surface. It was a whole other world down there, full of a wide range of fish, I had no idea I had been swimming with all week. Amazing and great fun!
So what is there in Guam apart from the beaches and a clear blue sea? Unfortunately, we didn’t think to take our driver’s licenses with us so renting a car was out of the window. We booked our holiday with the sole purpose of relaxing so it was just something we never considered. Unfortunately, after a very nice chat with the driver on the transfer back to the airport, it turns out there was a lot we missed out on. It is something to consider if we are ever lucky enough to return and a tip for anyone one considering a future trip to the island.
However, for the non-driving traveller there is still plenty to see including Tumon town centre, Guam’s Premium Outlets and Micronesia Mall which are all accessible via a very charming trolly bus. Across the three places you can visit an aquarium, watch a show, go to the cinema and peruse a surprising range of high end shops. Guam is definitely a place designed with the sole purpose of relaxing and shopping.
On our last night we decided to watch a show at our hotel giving a small insight into some native Chamorro traditions partnered with an all you can eat and drink meal. It was fantastic for many reasons, the unlimited steak, the constant top ups of beer but the highlight by far was Rob on stage, showing off some moves. He was selected by a dancer giving him the perfect opportunity to show off the legendary (but yet to be seen) skills that got him his dance certificate ten years ago.
And he had some moves!! Anyone who knows my husband well will appreciate how hard it was to get a clear photograph of this momentous occasion (and understand why I use the word momentous). It turns out uncontrollable laughter and top quality photography are not easily achieved at the same time.
So Guam was the perfect tropical getaway that we wanted and if we can, we would like to go back again sometime. It’s close, reasonably priced and quiet if you get the right time of year.
The week following was spent catching up on some much needed cleaning, washing and sorting, but we found just enough time to book a small second break to Shimoda. Again it was a place recommended by one of my children from their own family holiday and I found a great deal at the Tokyu Shimoda Hotel which we just couldn’t pass up.
Shimoda is at the very bottom of the Izu peninsula and is an easy 2hrs 30minute train ride from Tokyo station on the Odrikyu Limited express train. The Tokyo Wide pass, costing only 10,000yen for three days unlimited travel, covered all our transportation and saved us lots of money.
We travelled down on the Wednesday which unfortunately turned out to be a day of rain. We arrived around mid afternoon and took the hotel shuttle bus straight to the hotel. It was beautiful and had the most amazing view. We were supposed to have an inward facing room but they must have liked us because they ended up giving us a room facing the sea. And what a view…
The rest of Wednesday was spent exploring the hotel, enjoying an all you can eat dinner and trying out the outdoor onsen.
We woke up the next day to more rain- I could have cried. I had checked the weather forecast before booking but it turns out Japanese weather is as predictable as British weather. My husband dragged me solemnly to breakfast which was a nice mix of food. Miso soup, grilled fish and rice appears to be common staples at a Japanese breakfast which even after two years, I cannot face eating in the morning, so it was nice to have alternatives.
After breakfast the rain had stopped so we rushed outdoors on a walk around the coast as recommended by one of the hotel staff. Even though the rain clouds were still lingering, it was warm. We came across so many unusual water creatures along the pathway that we kept stopping to look. Unfortunately they moved too quickly to get a photograph but our good friend the crab hung around for his close up. You could also get a nice view of our hotel from there.
As you walked further around the bay, we came across the floating aquarium. I was aware of it before we came but our experiences of captive animals in Japan up to now, have not always been positive. However we were surprised to see the large space given to the dolphins just outside the building in an open air enclosure… basically a sectioned off part of the sea. We watched them swim for a while and then followed the path around the rest of the bay into the actual town itself.
The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the streets of this charming port town. We quickly found out that Shimoda is quite famous for being the arrival site of the American ‘Black ships’ in the 1800s. The whole town is full of historic sites related to this event and the man in charge, Commodore Matthew C. Perry. One of the sites that was particularly picturesque was Perry Street, a quaint little row of coffee shops and restaurants running a long a stream.
There are many other sites worth exploring, including a museum and a number of shrines. One place that particularly interested me, we found by accident. It was a small unassuming building but it had a tragic and slightly shocking story. When the American’s landed in Shimoda, the first consulate demanded a female companion. A young girl called Okichi was sent to him at the age of 17 by the Shogun government at the time. She had to give up her love and was publicly shunned by the community for being the ‘mistress’ of a foreigner. After finishing her time with him, she quickly fell into alcoholism to deal with her sadness. She opened the building that we came across as a restaurant after Harris died but she never recovered from the disgrace of her past and was eventually found drowned in a river. It was a brutally honest story that fascinated me for many reasons. Not just because what happened to her but why it became famous. It is a message told to show the dark side of Japan’s encounter with the western world but nothing was mentioned about the fact that it was her own people that decided her fate and then punished her for it.
By the time we had finished exploring the town, the sun was out in full force (with painful consequences, I later discovered) and we were feeling pretty hot and sticky so we decided to head back and take a dip in the sea. The sea there was a brilliant emerald green colour that was almost calling our names. Grabbing our newly purchased plastic sheet and dressed in our best beaching gear we headed down. Unfortunately the water was freezing so Rob didn’t last very long and opted for a sleep instead!
On the way back, we stopped by the hotel pool where the water was mildly warmer. I was finally able to entice the husband into the water and start having some fun!
In true Japanese fashion the pool closed at 5pm and so we headed back up to get ready for tea. On that particular evening the hotel was organising an outdoor BBQ. You order the food raw then cook it yourself, Yakiniku style, on the grill placed in the middle of your table. It was pretty special, sitting around a table with good food and drink, watching the sun set over the bay. It was great fun and well worth the immense mosquito bite that I got on my inner thigh through my jeans! Yes through my jeans, mosquitos are evolving!!
I wanted to spend my last night soaking in the onsen but as I was getting ready I noticed that in addition to the rather large mosquito bite still growing on my inner leg, I had heat rash spreading across my lower calves (thanks mother!) and a rather unfortunate shaped sun burn across my back that was shining brighter than a red traffic light. It is no shock that I gave the naked bathing a miss.
On our last day we had breakfast, checked out and headed back into town to go up the cable car before catching the train home. The sun was shining and it was hot, hot, hot! There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and so the view from the top was just stunning and you could see the whole bay.
Apart from the view, there was plenty to see including a very small and beautiful temple. At most temples in Japan there is a range of things you can do to bring yourself luck. At this particular temple you could buy Nagomidama which comically means ‘calm balls’. You pay 200yen (around £1) for four clay tokens that you have to try to throw through a ring and hit the stone behind it. If you can do it, then your wish is supposed to come true and bring the thrower ‘peace and calmness’ hence the calm in ‘calm-balls’.
We both managed to hit the stone (some more perfectly than others) and left for the train feeling pretty smug with ourselves. All in all a pretty successful last day. It was then with sadness (and extreme relief to get out of the burning lunch time sun) that we headed back home to Chiba.
We feel so lucky to have had the time and the means to visit these two beautiful places this summer. We have experienced so much and we are only half way through our holidays with plenty of day trips planned and the arrival of our next guests before returning to work. So for now, I will call this post: July 16 – our second summer… Part one.