A Travellerspoint blog

Day 99- Kyoto Arrival; Rain, Shopping & Caricature


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11 March
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Stew hadn’t slept well so I got up to make eggy bread for breakfast with the intention of waking him up when it was ready but apparently made such a ruckus I woke him up before I’d even opened the beans (although in fairness, I was opening beans without a can opener so it was a tough task from the outset). We made breakfast together, probably for the best as he’s a better cook than me. We checked out of the little apartment and jumped on the train to Kyoto, only a short 15 minute train away. We found our hotel, looking super fancy, and dropped our bags off since it was only 11am and we couldn’t check in till 3. We only had two and a half days to explore the city so had to make use of every spare second.

Walking up to Ninjo Castle, we considered whether it would be closed or not. Of course it was! Well part of it, they were offering half price admission but with it pouring down with rain and as it was only the gardens open we decided to skip it.

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Instead we cowered in a 7-Eleven before buying an umbrella (everyone in Japan seems to have the same 7-Eleven umbrella so it must be pretty decent). We continued on our way to Kyoto Imperial Palace, free admission and all open! Win! Since they didn’t have an English audio guide we used the guide book to learn about the place, it seemed every building was just used for ceremonies.

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There was a lovely designed gardens with a funny story of princes and royals sitting in the river and placing a glass of wine in the water with them and taking it in turns to make up a poem before the glass had floated past... or you miss a drink, I think this is the Royal version of smoosh. I found it amusing such a pompous drinking game.

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We headed to an area called Gion where authentic geishas spent a lot of time in. We were amazed at all the beautiful kimonos, although, not seeing an geishas, we just saw lots of teenage girls hanging out with their friends all dressed Up. They all look beautiful except they all have baggy oversized unfitted white socks and clogs. We had seen kimono's elsewhere but here everyone was wearing them.

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The shops were full of crafts and some lovely souvenirs. We bought a pair of cherry blossom earrings as an early birthday present to me amongst a few gifts. There was an art studio with anime styled caricature, having previously discussed this being a great souviner of our trip to Japan we went inside. There was loads of different styles and we asked to be drawn in kimono and as a samurai with a background we’d seen in another drawing although unaware of where it was. Sitting there was an anxious wait. Having a large nose I assumed this was going to be the main focus! We sat for half an hour before setting the final product... we love it!

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We quickly checked out one of the local shrines beforeb heading to the hotel to check in and find some dinner. Our room was super fancy, being used to travelodge’s, we get very excited at the luxury. A simple 7/11 bento box filled out tummies and an evening spent writing blog- were so far behind!

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Posted by Bears on Tour 19:38 Archived in Japan Tagged kyoto kimono gion bento caricature Comments (0)

Day 97-98: Himeji Castle & Oooosaka Wrap Up

Before off to Kyoto.


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9th March
Up early and breakfast eaten (it is so nice having our own little flat where we can store milk and cook, it feels like a treat) we were using our JR passes and on board a train to Himeji to see it's famous castle. We had planned to go the day before but with neither of us sleeping well we delayed it. When off the train and faced with a dull dark grey sky and rain we were regretting our choice. But in true British fashion we didn't let the rain, or the fact we were unable to go into any of the buildings due to the virus (again), put us off.

With the rain getting heavier we bought our tickets and competed a self guided tour of the castle grounds. It was definitely one of the more impressive castles/ shrines we had seen so far and we were pleased we could at least enter unlike Osaka castle. It was a shame we couldn't enter the main keep or the long corridor but the half price entry price was fair compensation. Also unlike they other buildings we had visited there were a more in-depth and exciting stories about the previous occupants. However like every old building in Japan, it seems, it was destroyed by fire a number of times and therefore has largely been rebuilt. Despite the weather it was time well spent and a good day trip.

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Before heading back we tried our hand at the strange, yet oddly addictive and fun, photo booths. These photo booths aren't the ones you get your passport picture done at in Sainsbury's. They were ones whereby you are encouraged to do cute and crazy poses and they make your eyes huge and apply make up in true Japanese style. Yes these are predominantly for groups of teenage girls, but hey I look good with a bit of blusher so we gave it a go. Money paid and poses competed we assumed that was it. Oh how wrong we were! After you have taken your pictures you take a seat at a computer screen outside and can edit the hell out of it; from changing your make up colour to adding stickers and of course random animal features. It actually was quite fun... However we got so carried away we didn't realise there was a time limit! This resulted in me somehow adding a random sticker over Izzy's face in one of the pictures (Doh!). Due to this and feeling we now had the hang of it we decided to try a different machine and have another go with much more success!

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With our new pictures in hand it was time for the train back. At the flat we spent the afternoon completing some admin; packing, blog, contacting airlines to try and cancel our South Korea flights and get refunds for China and booking our bittersweet flight home. One Corona perk amongst all the difficulties it is causing us is that we are getting to fly Emirates back to London from Singapore for around £500 for the both of us... Bargain!

10th March
Breakfast this morning was more exotic than our recent chocolate cornflakes. A Happy Pancake was coming up in lots of searches about good places to eat in oooosaka. Who’s turning down pancakes? Not us! The restaurant was so ‘Instagram worthy’ but that’s lost on two people who couldn’t care less about social media. It was a super cute decor though! We shared three ginormous pancakes (how are they so fluffy that big?!?) with whipped butter, ice cream and syrup- yum!

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Another Pokémon stop in Daimaru Umeda, although provided the same memorabilia as the Pokémon cafe a few days ago so we didn’t waste too much time here.

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After a few hours in a book shop we made our way to Umeda Sky Building. On the top is the Floating Garden Observatory, where Osaka's cityscape can be viewed from a height of 170 meters. Of course, this attraction followed suit with the rest of our trip- closed. We were really trying not to let all the closures get us down too much but when it’s every attraction, seems pointless saving three years to come to the other side of the world to do nothing.

We could still get the lift to the 38th floor and travel up the escalator in the middle of the donut hole shape at the top of the building. Turns out the only thing really closed was the very top floor outside, we didn’t miss out too much on this. The architect said he wanted the building to look like an alien spaceship had just lifted off... I kinda get that from the big circle. Time to head back to our little apartment and pack up for our trip to Kyoto in the morning! What excitement could kyoto hold for us, we had no idea!

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Posted by Bears on Tour 19:40 Archived in Japan Tagged osaka himeji himeji_castle umeda japan skyline corona umeda_sky_building pokemon a_happy_pancake Comments (0)

Day 96- The ups and downs of Osaka

Well this just describes the odd Ferris wheel ride!


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Sunday 8th March
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Weary legs from all the walking the day before we needed a little lie in. Our first stop for the day- Pokémon Cafe. In New Zealand we geeked out on Lord of the Rings stuff, Japan we’re geeking out on Pocket Monsters (as they’re called here, way cutier!). Once finding the entire floor of Pokémon, we spent about an hour looking round the shop, they had arcade games, tv showing the cartoon, even tables with set ups for the card game. I wouldn’t say I’m a Pokémon fan in anyway, I downloaded the Pokémon Go for about two weeks, but I basically just spot anything Evie related and comment on how cute it is. Stew still plays Pokémon Go, possibly the only person in the world still playing it. We didn’t realise you had to have reservations for the cafe and decided it wasn’t worth it anyway. The menu was fairly average with things shaped like Pokémon characters, we’d imagined banana milkshakes with cherry’s to look like Pichachu or a chocolate milkshake with chocolate on the top to look like Evie. There was so much potential lost!

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Bubble tea is a big thing here, a drink originally from Taiwan. Consisting of a flavor of tea with jelly like pearls added. We ordered a peach flavor cold tea and a warm chocolate flavor tea. It was an interesting concept. While we sat there loads of Japanese were ordering them so it’s definitely not just for tourists. While I wouldn’t rush back for another it was good to try. The bubbles just take over a bit and you end up eating jellies more than drinking.

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Wandering through the Dotonbori, we’d been promised in guide books this was a great place for souvenir shopping! There was a river running straight through the Main Street, we meandered in and out of side streets.

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All of the lampposts in this area looked like the below with a different pattern:
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There was a big Ferris wheel over a building, with no intention of going on we went in the shop to have a look around and were accosted by a man shouting at us in Japanese. We politely smiled and carried on, clearly awkward that we couldn’t understand. Repeating himself in English he was saying the Ferris Wheel was free at the moment because there weren’t many tourists around (we get some mini wins from the virus), we queued up without time to really consider what we were doing. Within minutes of the barrier going down I changed my mind. This was a one of a kind Ferris wheel, mainly since it wasn’t a wheel; it was an oval and the carriages aren't fixed like a usual Ferris wheel, instead the outer carriage is welded all the way around and an inner ball swivels inside to fix in a position looking outwards. After a quick search the ride is only 77meters however it felt much much taller, especially as you couldn't see how much further you had to rise before going over the top.While the view was nice over the whole city, one of us enjoyed it, one of us hated the entire experience.

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A bit more wandering around the area and we came across an arcade. We haven’t played on many grabby machines, we’ve watched locals play a lot and they always seem to win a lot so we thought we’d have a go. It was my first time ever on one of these machines so I didn’t expect to do very well. Attempting a stuffed Evie, I failed. Stew had a go and almost got it! On the third go she dropped in to the basket and she was coming home with us! She’s so darn cute!

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They love this creepy clown but we still have no idea who or what he is!

After a day of ups and down, quite literally, we arrived at the Namba Yasaka Shrine, a huge lion head shaped building. Apparently, the huge open mouth will swallow any evil spirits plaguing you, leaving you only good luck for succeeding in business or school-related ventures, during Japanese exam period this shrine is full of students hoping for good luck in their exams.

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Stew had found a sushi restaurant that all the dishes were only 100yen (70p), I was very excited about this. The restaurant was very futuristic with a check in machine and table assignment all electronic. The table had an interactive tv to order any items from their extensive menu. Since Stew doesn’t like fish this was an experience mainly for me, although he seemed to be excited by the whole process. After scoffing 7 plates of various types of sushi (including eel!) it was time to find something for Andy to have for dinner.

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Look how excited she is! Such a cool experience:

We found a curry place for him, another weird machine order system. One thing we’ve been surprised with is the lack of language barrier. Our Japanese extends to two words (good afternoon and thank you) but their ability to speak English (even in really rural non tourist areas) is amazing. After a HUGE bowl of rice, curry sauce, chicken... and cheese (vom!) arrived, Stew tucked in. I think I definitely got the better end of the deal for dinner this day!

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Posted by Bears on Tour 18:05 Archived in Japan Tagged japan ferris_wheel sushi curry katsu pokemon Comments (0)

Day 95- Squid Balls & Baby Octopus

Exploring Osaka and it's culinary treats!


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7 March
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We were determined to make our first day in Osaka better than yesterday and set out early to see the tallest skyscraper in Japan complete with sky garden (the Abeno Harukas). Once at ground level this huge building standing at 300 metres, only 10 metres smaller than the shard. However it feels more imposing than the Shard as the buildings surrounding it are much smaller than the London skyline. Our plan was to head up for the view and potentially to meander around the garden. However as is now a common undertone of our trip, and the world right now, this was ruined by the Corona virus and Japan's decision to lockdown major attractions. As we had made the journey we decided to browse around some of the shops on the other floors.

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A little disappointed we went to our next spot; Shinseki. This was another of Japan's colorful and slightly crazy areas with buildings covered in lights and a random selection of animals, food and other miscellaneous items protruding out! Everywhere seemed to also have a stool selling Takoyaki (squid balls) and other deep fried seafood. Both popular and famous in Osaka, not like you could forget it as these random little balls featured on everything from t shirts to socks... so that was everyone's Christmas presents sorted! Izzy was intrigued to try some but the smallest portion you could order was 8 and being unsure wether she would enjoy them she wasn't willing to take the risk.

We then ended up in Den Den town, an area similar to the Akihabara area in Tokyo with anime, manga and character shops galorie. Although we never had any intention of buying anything it was fun to browse around them looking at all the items from the random softcore porn style anime dolls to real life Space Invaders machines (which of course we had a play on). We also relived childhood memories as we spent time in a shop selling old consoles from the old editions of the Gameboy to the Sega Megadrive (only the best console to revert have existed!).

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Our walk took us into Kuromen market, a massive food market selling high quality fresh produce and seafood; a place many chefs are rumoured to get ingredients from. It was here we saw how far Osaka's squid and octopus obsession went as you could buy baby octopus on sticks. It looked disgusting and very intimidating. There were plenty of weird and wonderful seafood around but nothing topped that and it put Iz off trying anything so it was time to head back to cook our own meal; a more standard spaghetti bolognese. We were unsure of the route back as our trusty pocket WiFi had died. We asked a Japanese man with a young child and although he clearly didn't speak English often he was easy to communicate with and insisted on showing us onto the right train and then the right platform at the change point. This was despite his kid being asleep on him and it being clearly out his way. This has been our experience all over Japan. Everyone is so accommodating, friendly, helpful and respectful. It is probably the customer service we have experienced anywhere and yet on the whole they don't expect or accept tips. It really has been amazing and our love affair with Japan continues.

P.S. all restaurants here show their food offerings with realistic looking plastic food. We found a shop whereby you could buy such fake food and even have a go at making it... Look how realistic the below ice cream sundae is!

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Posted by Bears on Tour 05:31 Archived in Japan Tagged osaka takoyaki baby_octopus Comments (0)

Day 90-94: Time's up in Tokyo and Freezing Fuji!

Not the must exciting blog entry but read to the bottom for some beautiful pictures of mount Fuji.


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2 March
With the wonderful virus halting our plans to head to teamlab boarderless digital art museum to take pictures like the below, we had to turn to a plan B. We can't believe that we have been saving for this trip for three years and we head out to Asia at the same time of this pandemic. Up until now it hadn't really affected us too badly but it sounds like Japan and most of this side of the world are on lockdown; meaning every tourist attraction we want to head to facing the possibility of temporary closure. We are just thankful we managed to get to Disneyland when we did. Trying not to linger on how else our trip would be impacted by this disease we decided to go to a VR games room we had found; literally to escape this reality for a while.

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However first stop was to the post office to begrudgingly return our tickets to the Sumo championships in Osaka that now would be going ahead behind closed doors. This was another huge blow as this was an event we were so excited about and would have been a once in a lifetime experience but again there is literally nothing we can do about this but to keep pushing on and make the best of what we can do. With this in mind, after a short tutorial, we were both in VR headsets with guns in hand ready to shoot the sh*t out of some ghosts. Although the ghosts won this round we had so much fun and promised them, in an Arnie style voice, we would be back.

There were only 4 other groups of people divided between 6 games which meant at least two different games were empty at any one point. With a further racing game added later. Our ticket gave us 2 hours of gaming and unlimited drinks, both of which we took full advantage of. We tried out every game other than a weird photography one. We spent the whole time laughing and getting lost in these worlds. They included; another LOTR style shooting game which we nailed, a bungy jump simulation which was terrifying (as you can tell from Izzy's reaction!), A rope walk which neither of us managed to stay on longer than a few seconds, a backwards bungy where you were shot into space before falling back to earth (again another nerve wrecking experience despite knowing we were secured to a chair that barely moved!) and an Aladdin style carpet ride. It is funny how your mind can trick your body into reacting to things that clearly aren't there. It was the perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon.

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After a little sit down to gather our bearings we headed back to Akihabara to check out a few arcades, shops and more bubble machines (these had become an obsession for us after our decision to embark on a little project. However I can't go into any details about this!). We didn't particularly do much for the remainder of the day other than enjoy Japan and it's many quirks, thinking how lucky we were to be here despite the previously mentioned issues. You could tell that many of the schools were closed purely by how busy all the arcades were! These venues definitely seem to be the winners of this situation.

Being indecisive over what we wanted to eat meant we basically bought everything, resulting in a very interesting yet oddly tasty dinner. We had noodles with meatballs and a side of burger. You know like an all you can eat buffet!

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3rd March
What a wasted dreary day this was. Due to the virus, we spent the entire day doing admin. Contacting airlines for our China and South Korea leg of the journey. Seeing which we can and can’t cancel. Cancelling hostels we had booked and contacting our insurance to see what we would and wouldn’t be covered for. It was a stressful day. We then tried to plan out the rest of our time in Japan and the best way to do so.

We eventually got out at 4pm to go and reserve the train tickets we’d need for the following day. Since we were out we thought we may as well go in hunt of more ball machines. The cold was bitter and decided to search for a chocolat chaud (or hottochokorēto/ hot chocolate if you like), while sitting at a window seat of the cafe we sipped on the tasty treat- now, I’m no connoisseur, however this was the best hot chocolate I have ever consumed! It was smooth not too sweet, not too bitter, creamy, didn’t leave your mouth cleggy like some hot chocolates. Only improvement could’ve been a marshy or two.

We headed back to the hostel a couple of hours later and picked up some dinner on the way home, time to try bento. It was.. ok. Fairly average. Both our meals were pretty bland. We’ll have to continue the hunt for the perfect box.

4th March
The following day was time to check out of our little capsule and leave Tokyo with slightly heavy hearts as we have absolutely loved this city. This was our first Japanese train experience, annoyingly our JR pass only covers half the journey but it was still a quick and fairly easy journey overall. The final train was decorated in full Thomas the tank engine attire bringing a smile to my face and happy childhood memories.

We found our accommodation and checked in. First things first, whack the heating right up!! The small town at the bottom of Mount Fuji was freeeeeeezzzzing! It was late afternoon when we arrived so decided to walk around and see what the town had to offer... turns out, not a lot. I would say village more than town. It had two souvenir shops that were both closed by 4.30pm and the smallest police station we had seen, so we walked back with a plan to hunker down and watch a film. We stopped at 7/11 stocking up on snacks, hot chocolate and milk and some easy microwave meals for the next two days (cutting corners of cost so we can to spend more on treats!). Our first glimpse of Mount Fuji were hidden behind heavy fog and cloud and we hoped for a clearer day tomorrow.

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5th March
Having had a super cosy night in the ultra thick duvet we slept in a bit. Our hotel had bikes for hire so saddled up we peddled off in the direction of the lake. The temperature was only just above 0!! First stop, the souvenir shops we’d missed yesterday before pushing on.

We spent about an hour slowly cycling around Lake Kawaguchi, which supplied undisturbed views of Mount Fuji. We kept stopping to find the perfect spot for photo opportunities. With numb fingers we found a cafe to head to to warm up. Obviously, like everything else in Japan at the moment, it was closed! Just like the gift shop over the road. Luckily, the vending machines here have warm drinks (as mentioned before), one hot apple tea purchased. We cowered in the cafe entrance to hide from the bitterly cold wind.

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There was a small village of craft and jewellery shops surrounding the cafe. These, thankfully, were open so we spent ten minutes in a shop full of just earrings (interestingly, Japanese LOVE earrings, they have shops just full of them and they’re always full of Japanese people buying several pairs), with no intention of buying any but just trying to warm up. Five shops later, a couple of souvys acquired and with full feeling back in fingers and toes we went in search of a spot to watch the sunset.

Look at poor frozen Iz:
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Eagle eyed I spotted a craft and workshop village, we thought maybe we could find some Japanese crafts! No, it was all just workshops, which we’re all closed. Even more eagle eyed, I spotted a sign on the other path which clearly said ‘Christmas’, I couldn’t read the remainder of the sign but persuaded Stew to let us go check it out. Trying to manage expectations he said not to get too excited as it was most likely an old sign or seasonal opening hours. We pulled up outside and I couldn’t contain my excitement when I saw wreaths outside.. it was a Christmas shop.. and it was open!!

We walked in and the cashier laughed at my visible happiness. Browsing all the baubles we found an origami crane which was our perfect Japanese Christmas decoration! The shop keeper clearly wanting to practice his English was asking all about our trip and about our life back home. The Japanese are so friendly! Two decorations acquired and the shop keeper gave us a free bookmark to ‘remember his shop’. He then stood at the window and waved as we cycled away, such a sweet guy.

Only twenty minutes till sunset we raced to the spot we had decided we’d watch it. The second in position I couldn’t focus on anything but the pain in my fingers and toes. The wind was so harsh and there was no shelter. A long long half an hour later we were cycling back in the pitch black and under 0 degrees.

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Back at base, eventually, heating up to 30 degrees, half an hour to warm up before jumping in the shower and getting toasty for the evening. Two hours later, in bed watching a film, I still couldn’t feel my toes.

6 March- Osaka arrival
Our plan the following day was to get up at 5am and cycle to watch the sun rise over Mount Fuji. However paranoid about having to get up so early I struggled to get to sleep till gone 2, when my alarm started going off, it was -4 degrees outside! Not wanting to move from under our duvet to face the cold we decided we’d see a sunrise somewhere a little warmer; maybe in Thailand we’ll go to a full moon party and watch it in the morning having not been to sleep (later I found out Stew had planned to ask me an important question that morning but this had been scuppered).

Frustratingly the lack of sleep affected us both to make for a pretty grumpy day. We had to get 4 trains to get to Osaka. Taking just 2 and a bit hours to go over 500km!! What?!? Nothing much to note of this day; we checked in to our little Osaka apartment, that was actually very nice for the next four days. Did a food shop in a not very convenient convenience store which cost about as much as it would’ve done to eat out. Then called it a day! When traveling for 8 months, it can’t be a great day every day, we reminded ourselves of this as we went to bed and hoped for a better day tomorrow.

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Posted by Bears on Tour 02:10 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo lake bicycle fuji mount_fuji vr five_lakes Comments (0)

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