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Wednesday, 20th March 2013
My trip to Japan starts a long time ago. Before the last minute panic with the iPad. Before all the research I did on the web. Before I booked the package tour in February. Years before.

My father is very much interested in Japanese culture. He has been a major figure in the British Origami Society, and did his best to get my sister and I folding in paper too. He let me stay up late one night to watch "Seven Samurai" by the famous Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa. That influence has rubbed off on me, film is one of my major addictions.

My father also had "Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance" to lead me down another path. He has written quite a few koans. I do tend towards the mystical, the trancendental. The mystic East they say, I suspect that mystic there means more hard to understand.

My mother gave me money towards going to Japan when I first mentioned I was thinking of going. I failed to make the trip while she was alive (one of my many failures). So this trip is a necessary step for completeness. This exact time was largely dictated by using up days of leave I had carried over from 2012. So I started surfing for package tours in Japan, feeling I couldn't organise the details myself.

I chose Magical Japan to go with. Unless I were to do holidays with a range of travel agencies it's hard to compare. They answered my silly questions, were nice enough to deal with. I got them to book the flights but I think I was wrong to do so now - it would have simpler for me to do so. They had to see what was there, then check with me before they booked.

I did a lot of research into the cities I was due to visit (Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka) trying to make I could navigate around in a strange land. Strangely I had problems in practice getting around London! I collected Japanese phrases, maps, notes on using trains and underground systems. I planned to make a lot of use of my iPad to hold the notes and documents on.

And all too soon the departure day came along. Virginia and I took a fish and chip takeaway round to Dad for lunch before I caught the National Express coach down to London on the following day. But I got freaked out when I tried to set up the mail accounts on the iPad so I could stay in touch as I traversed the globe. The iPad died . . . tried restoring a backup but the backup was corrupt. So in the end I had to reinstall everything from scratch.

But I was packed and readyish when Virginia dropped me at the Trumpington Park and Ride for the National Express coach to Stratford. The coach wound its way through what seemed squalid backstreets of London, and eventually stopped deep in the urban jungle with no sign of Stratford DLR station. The driver did point me in a certain direction, and by following vague clues I followed a dubious path through a shopping mall. And there was the station! Finding platform 17 involved several trips in the lifts, I got used to using the lifts as I was encumbered with a suitcase.

My Oyster card saw me to the Customs House DLR station but finding the right Ibis hotel was arduous. I went to the only Ibis hotel I could see but after walking right round the building to find the entrance I found I had the wrong one. The desk clerk erroneously directed over the river so I had a haul over Victoria Docks before a kind lady in a winebar put me on the right track. The right Ibis hotel was in stealth mode by a building site. I was grateful for the bare room with cracked toilet seat. Despite what it claimed on the website I booked on I discovered no airport shuttle! A good clerk Khan did help me use their free Wifi, one plus.

Had a wander out to see if there were any reasonably priced eateries at the Excel centre, there weren't. Did at least discover I had omitted to swipe my Oyster card at the end of my DLR journey when I saw someone using a strange device. I resorted to a chicken burger at the hotel in a very dark restaurant, adding dollops of tomato ketchup so it had some nutritional value. My stomach told me what it thought of the meal for some time afterwards!