Bel and Phil's Adventures

Our adventures through Europe, America and Asia

Posts from the ‘Japan 2019’ category

Takayama -18th April

We were up, had breakfast and checked out of the hotel by 6:45 am. No mean feat if you know me at all. Our limited edition express train to Nagoya (stopping at Takayama on the way) left Kanazawa at 7:23 am. We were there with plenty of time. We have found the Japanese trains to be exceptionally efficient, comfortable and fast! We did pay the extra money to travel green class and are grateful that we did. There is a heap of leg room and we have our seats booked, so we know we will have our seats reserved.

 

This train was not a shinkansen, which meant that we could enjoy the scenery flashing past our window. We had to change trains at Toyama. Luckily we were able to ask a person from the train station who directed us to the next train as it wasn’t easy to find independently. We made it in time though and settled in for the next section of the journey. It was a very picturesque ride. We arrived into Takayama at 9:23 am, so a pretty short journey.

We headed to our hotel, which was only a 5 minute walk from the station. We were too early to check in, however they had a luggage storage facility. We got organised and headed out into the town. This town is so pretty! We stayed right next to a shrine, so that was my first stop to get my stamp and check it out. The cherry blossoms are only just starting to open here and they are so beautiful. We found out about the Sarubobo – which translated means baby monkey. It was a tradition that mothers would pass to their daughters / children to wish them happiness and success in life. These handcrafted creatures are everywhere.

 

I wanted to go to the historic section of town, so headed towards the river. They have a morning market every morning and we were lucky enough to be there on the day when the market was right next to the river. There were lots of people with lots of local stalls. It was such a beautiful place and a true sense of a Japanese country town. It actually reminded me a little bit of the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. We wandered through the markets and bought some different things. The first thing that we tried was a hiyoko-mochi. It was so nice and looked cute too. As we walked on I noticed the Sarubobo attached to branches. I really loved it, but knew I could not bring branches back to Australia. I asked the lady if she had them separately and she did. I was so pleased as I can attach them to a stick back in Australia. Further along a lady was making Taiyaki. They looked delicious so we decided to try a couple each. They were yummy. There was some people selling apples (it looked like it was from their farm). We bought some that had been peeled and cut into pieces and stood by the river munching on taiyaki and apples. Bliss!

I then found a shop that had the coolest souvenirs. I bought some carp streamers and a Sarubobo for each of the boys. Just a small one wishing them success, money and victory. Our last stop in the markets was a stall with some Japanese treats. There were some made out of peanuts, white sesame and black sesame. We tried them all, but we didn’t like the black sesame ones. We bought a packet of white sesame and peanut ones. The gentleman selling them spoke very good English and told us that he had made them himself.

We left the market area and headed down the river to a Tori gate that I could see. We walked along the street that had beautiful old homes on both sides. It also had canals with water racing down it, heading to the river. The cherry blossoms were truly beautiful. We walked up the street towards the shrine and had a look at this peaceful and serene setting, There was a walk around on the hill and we tried to find the starting point, but couldn’t see it, so we wandered around this area instead.

It was really pretty. We headed back into the old section of town and wanted to find somewhere nice to have lunch. We went to the tourist information located in town and they directed us to 3 different restaurants. We ended up going to Le Midi. It wasn’t cheap, but it was beautiful food. I had some sparkling wine and Phil had some beers. We were heading back to our accommodation as we were exhausted.

We met a lovely couple from England who started talking to us – Nicola and James. They thought that we were some people that they had met the night before, so we just started chatting. They were so lovely. We headed back to the accommodation, checked in and had a snooze for an hour.

 

We went back out to take some photos in the late afternoon light. Unfortunately, it was cloudy, so the photos weren’t great. We couldn’t believe what a difference a couple of hours could make. There was hardly anyone around and hardly anything open at 5:30 pm.

We couldn’t find a small café open for dinner, so headed to 7-11 to pick up some sandwiches. They were out of sandwiches! I got a salad and Phil got some other things to eat and we headed back to our hotel. As we had been leaving the hotel we had wanted to know from the receptionist what time they finished. This lovely lady had been able to translate for us. We discovered that the receptionist finished at midnight. All good. We’ll get the extra pillows when we come back. When we returned, we were trying to explain what we wanted. Luckily for us, right at that moment, the lovely lady, who spoke Japanese, arrived into the lobby as well. We were able to explain what we wanted and she could translate it into Japanese. We got the pillows and the extra blanket (as Phil likes it so cold). We then started chatting to the lovely lady, whose name is Marieka. She is from Belgium and is a registered tour guide in Australia. We ended up sitting down and she had a cup of tea, and we had some soft drinks that we had bought. We chatted for a couple of hours before bidding farewell. We are hoping to catch up with her when she comes to Sydney in October.

Back up to the room and get organised, ready to leave Takayama in the morning. We updated a blog post and got ready to go, We both slept surprisingly well.

Kanazawa – 17th April

We were woken early by Dallas texting that he had landed at Sydney airport, at 5:00 am our time (6:00 am in Sydney). We went back to sleep and then had a phone call from Border Security in Sydney. Dallas had left his backpack there when he went through customs! The bag tag had Phil’s contact details on it. Phil gave them Dallas’ phone number and sent Dallas a text to tell him. Luckily Dallas was still at Sydney Airport and was able to go back and get his backpack. Lucky for him!

By this time, we were both wide awake and went down to breakfast. Phil had found out about the Kanazawa Loop bus. It was 500 JPY (about $6 AUD) for the day each. This gave us unlimited access to the Loop bus and the Kenrokuen Shuttle. We felt that this was a great deal as we wanted to cover a lot of ground today. Our first stop was going to be the Samurai area, but we decided to get off a stop earlier to go to the Oyama Jinja Shrine. We were so glad that we did this.

This shrine was so beautiful, serene and peaceful. It also had a small garden that you could wander through based around a pond and a creek. In the morning light, it was just amazing.

We reluctantly left here and headed down to the Naga-machi Buke Yashiki District. This area had some preserved samurai houses and many houses whose facades where similar to the samurai era. Many of these houses had some of the ground floor converted into shops selling ceramics, which the area is well-known for. Walking through this area was amazing. The plants that we could see over the walls looked so beautiful. There were 2 canals running through this area that flowed so quickly. There was a lot of water and it was racing along the canal.

We found the Nomura Samurai House and went in. The beauty in this home was amazing, although I’m not sure where the work of the house was done as in the kitchen and the laundry. The information that we received was that only part of the house had been restored. The simplicity of the rooms was adorned with the amazing gardens and courtyards, letting in natural light, and providing amazing views from each room. The screens were painted with natural scenery. The main garden area was breathtaking. From one room there was a view of the pond, with carp and the plants, whilst from another room the view was of the water flowing into the pond with different highlighted plants. It truly was a stunning place. The tea ceremony room was upstairs and also had a different ‘birds eye view’ of the garden.

We wandered a little more around the streets and headed back up to the main road to get the next bus. Phil thought that we could walk to the castle, but I wanted to see the sites from the bus. (Also the castle was over a kilometre away!). We got on the bus and went over this bridge. You could see the mountains in the background with the river rushing to the sea. We decided to come back here later today and take some photos.

Our next stop was the Kanazawa Castle. We walked through this beautiful park full of cherry blossoms, with a slight breeze so that petals were softly falling down onto us. It was mainly white flowers. It was so pretty, so of course, I had to stop and take some photos.

We went up to the Castle and couldn’t believe the size of the area. We found out that there was a free English speaking tour starting in ten minutes. Winners! We went on the tour with Murata. He was quite funny and told us he was retired. He learnt how to speak English from watching television shows. His favourite show was Desperate Housewives. He explained different features of the castle, including how one corner was not square so the two different corners were different angles. This allowed the guards in the watch tower to have more of a view around the castle and surrounding areas.

Murata pointed out the doors that were made out of wood and iron and the craftsmanship of the wood in the construction of the outer areas of the castle. We didn’t go into the actual castle itself as he indicated that there wasn’t a great deal to see in there. Walking around the grounds, as we did with Murata was free. At the conclusion of the tour, he asked for a ‘donation’ for his tour. It was only 500 JPY per couple, but we just felt that it should have been stated at the beginning. Not that we objected to paying it, but it just felt a little wrong.

After here, we headed back down to the bus stop. There was a lady and gentleman who were wearing traditional costumes having a photo shoot done. Perfect. We took some photos and then jumped on the next bus.

Our next stop was the Higashi Chaya District. This was an old geisha district (or so I thought). We were walking around these beautiful old houses and went into a shop – that had lots of gold leaf items. One of the ladies asked us if we wanted to see a demonstration and ushered us into this room where the artists were working. A gentleman explained to us the process of using gold leaf and how it is still used throughout Japan. It was fascinating. Afterwards, whilst looking in the shop, Phil really liked a piece of art of a dragon. He was born in the Year of the Dragon and is drawn to any dragon related art / pieces. Sadly the artwork was 90 000 JPY which makes it about $1200 AUD. So that was a no unfortunately.

We continued meandering through this section of the city. We found a shop that sold coffee and Phil desperately needed one. They had cheesecake and chocolate cake too, so we decided to share and got one of each. I had some sparking lemon. This stop was perfect – just what we needed. The sparkling lemon was so refreshing, the coffee was perfect and the cakes superb. We wandered on exploring different areas. This area is known for their gold leaf and old tea houses. We found out about a geisha show that was performed here in the evening, but opted not to go as we had already seen a geisha show in Kyoto. However if you are travelling to Kanazawa, this could be a good option for other people.

We saw another shrine, so went in to investigate. It is called Utasu Shrine. It was so beautiful. I was looking around and got a surprise as there was a ninja hiding underneath. It was only when I looked that I realised that it wasn’t a real person. For a split second, I thought that there was someone there. It was really cool. I looked around and found another ninja in the garden.

We decided to head back to the bus to go up to the river. We completed the loop back at the station and headed out again to the river. We had also decided to have an early American dinner tonight (McDonalds) as we generally like to have it once in each country that we visit. McDonalds was near the river, so we went for a walk along the river first. It was so beautiful. There were cherry blossoms lining the river, with these majestic snow-capped mountains in the distance. The river was mostly bubbling along on its way to the sea, although in some places it appeared to be rushing to the sea. We walked along, trying to get a great photo of both the river and the mountains.

We then headed back to McDonalds for dinner. We got on the loop bus, going back the other way to the Station, after getting some drinks and snacks from 7-11. We got back to the hotel by about 6:30. Phil was able to get CNN on the tv and I was able to get several blog posts and photos uploaded. A successful day. Early start tomorrow.

Osaka to Kanazawa – 16th April

Dallas met us at our hotel this morning as we have all of his bags with us. He just takes what he needs overnight to the hostel each day. We said our farewells and we left for the train station. I hadn’t checked the ticket properly and went to Shin Osaka, when we were supposed to get on at Osaka (I didn’t know there was a difference.) Luckily it was ok as the train we were catching also stopped at Shin-Osaka. That could have had a whole other ending though.

The train wasn’t a Shinkansen, but a limited edition stops. It wasn’t as fast as a Shinkansen as it only clocked speeds of about 130 km/hour. It meant that we could look out the window though and see the beautiful countryside we were passing. It was our longest train trip in one stretch in terms of time, yet I’m not sure if it was the longest distance.

We arrived into Kanazawa and the train station is very modern and easy to navigate. Phil was in charge of Google maps to get us to the hotel (which was only a 5 minute walk from the station). Phil got us there (or I should say Google Maps eventually got us there). We were able to store the bags at the hotel (it was around 1:30 pm), but check in wasn’t until 3:00pm. The weather today was beautiful, sunny and warm. We decided to head straight to Kenroku-en Garden. We caught a cab up there as we just wanted to get there to have more time in the garden. We since discovered that there is a shuttle bus that you can use for 200 JPY each person for each trip.

As we drove through Kanazawa, it became apparent that it was a bigger town than we had first thought. As we were driving up to the gardens, the street leading up there was lined with souvenir shops in an old fashioned style, cherry blossom trees and beautiful lanterns. It looked so beautiful.

We paid our entrance into the gardens and didn’t know where to go first. We settled on a direction and we were off. The Kenroku-en Garden is considered one of the top 3 gardens in Japan. It was absolutely stunning. It’s hard to describe in words the feeling that this garden evoked. There was a sense of peace and calm, which is hard to achieve with hundreds of people, tour groups and school children weaving around. There were pockets that were almost secluded and amazingly peaceful.

The scenery, you just sat there with your eyes wide open, drinking it all in. My eye would be caught by something and I would think, ‘Wow! That’s so beautiful!’ and then turn my head slightly, ‘Wow! That is so beautiful!’. Take a few steps and ‘Wow! That is so beautiful!’ This continued everywhere we went. My bag was so heavy as it was set up for travelling, not touring, so we would find a spot for Phil to sit and I would be off with the camera, trying to capture it all. It was so beautiful that I’ve decided I would like to have this kind of garden at home. Phil said he would get it sorted when we get back. Yeah! Right!??

I love water and taking photos with water and this garden had many ponds, creeks and even a waterfall. We walked all around the garden once, and then headed back to my favourite spot to get the late afternoon light. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the stone lantern properly as we needed to be there in the morning light to capture it properly, but I’m happy with how those photos turned out, given the light we had.

We had decided to walk back to the hotel. Google Maps was telling us it was a 30 minute walk and it’s the way we get to know a city. Unfortunately, my knees were so sore from all of the walking that we had already done, so it took a little longer. We didn’t walk through any area that had shopping or restaurants, so that was disappointing.

We ended up back at Kanazawa Station to find some food to eat for dinner. We found a German Bakery (that was the shop’s name) and ended up getting some sandwiches from there. Their orange and poppy seed muffin was one of the best I’ve ever had. It was amazing.

We headed back to the hotel and got there about 6:30 pm. Dallas was at Tokyo, Narita ready for his flight back to Sydney.  I was absolutely shattered. My knees were really quite painful, so I took some Voltaren, and some Panadol as well – it was that bad. I crashed really early and slept so well.

Osaka, Nara – 15th April

The day was sunny and clear when we woke up. We were so glad that we had made the decision to go to Nara today. We met Dallas and headed to Nippombashi Station. We found what we thought was the right station, but then discovered that we weren’t on the right station and there was another system on the next level down. We went down those stairs and found the right train. It was a 40 minute train ride to Nara. We had decided to walk from the station up to Nara Park and the Temple.

As we were walking (along with heaps of other people) we caught our first sight of the deer among the cherry blossoms. Although the cherry blossoms weren’t at their best, it was still stunning.

We were all really hungry, but hardly any restaurants open until 11:00 am and it was only 10:00 am. We finally found a place that was open. The coffee was great and they had some western food, so Phil and Dallas took advantage of that. It wasn’t cheap – but it was good.

We headed back up the road a little more and found our way to the Todaiji Temple. This park is so beautiful. We had a look at some gardens and then rounded the corner to see the gate ahead of us. We couldn’t believe it. It was so majestic and created out of wood. We enter through the gate and were astonished to see that there were more gates and buildings even bigger than the one we just went through.

There was a museum off to the right hand side as we entered through the gates. There were signs indicating that you would have a better understanding of the Great Buddha and its history, prior to seeing it. We decided to pay the extra 400 JPY (about $5 AUD) to view the Museum and got both the Museum and the entrance to Todaiji Temple for 1000 JPY each (about $12 AUD). (The entrance to only the Todaiji Temple is 600 JPY).

The Museum was really informative with subtitles in English for the initial video presentation and then information within the museum with English explanations. We were really pleased that we made the decision to go into this museum.

We headed back up the road towards the Temple. We went through the gates and were, once again, surprised at its size and grandeur. It was just huge. We lit some incense and headed inside. The Great Buddha is way bigger than we had imagined. It is just amazing to consider that this Buddha statue is so old, having been created in 752 AD. It is such a gigantic work of art. It was truly amazing.

We lit a candle and walked around the hall, taking everything in. I got my temple stamp (which I’ve been doing for every temple that I attend. You can get a book and have the stamp put into your book, however I plan to scrapbook my photos, so have been having them onto paper. Each stamp is 300 JPY and makes a great souvenir).

We headed back outside and took some more photos. We then had a look at the lucky charms and purchased some items. We found a beautiful spot outside and sat in the sun for a while soaking up the ambience (as Phil would say). There were some cherry blossom trees nearby, so we walked up there to have a look. WOW! This area was so pretty. The blossoms are over their peak, so anytime some wind blew, the petals would rain down on anyone nearby. It truly was so beautiful.

Deers roam freely all over the park as they are believed to be messengers from God. These messengers roam freely and don’t really interact with people unless you have deer crackers! These are small biscuits that you buy (about 10 discs for 150 JPY) to feed the deer. They are supposed to bow to you before you give them some, and some of them do this, but not all. Some of them are quite eager to get some more and will try to take them out of your bag. It was all part of the fun though. It appears as though part of the problem is that you get so many all at once and they can clearly see and smell them. We gave one of ours to another person nearby and they didn’t try to rush him as he only had a small amount.

We sat here under the cherry blossom trees for a while soaking in the beautiful weather, gorgeous location and crazy deers. We headed back to Osaka for our last night in this exciting city.

We got back to our hotel and went out for a last walk along Dotonbori Canal and street. We enjoyed some street food for dinner (well Bel had steamed pork buns actually) and just really soaked in the whole atmosphere here in Dotonbori. We got back to our room and got ready to leave. Tomorrow Bel and Phil are off to Kanazawa whilst Dallas flies back home to Sydney.

We will be sad to leave this city as we have really enjoyed our time here.

 

Osaka – 14th April

The weather today was cloudy and rainy. We had initially thought about going to Nara today, but the weather tomorrow is supposed to be much better, so we thought we’d just have an easy day today. Hang around the hotel and go out into Osaka to get a few things. We had a sleep in and breakfast at the hotel. We did some work on the blog and then decided to head out. We have decided to buy another bag for Dallas to take home (as he can take back 2 x 23kg bags and he only has one bag). This way we can send home the things that we really shouldn’t have brought in the first place and some of the souvenirs that we have already bought. Dallas had decided to go out with some of the men from the hostel where he was staying after our food tour last night and he was decidedly seedy. We did some shopping (and got a bag for Dallas to take home) and then headed to get some steamed pork buns for a very late lunch. We met up with Dallas and decided to take it easy for a while.

Dallas had been eager for us to try some ramen whilst he was there, so we went to Ichiran Ramen. The queue to get into the restaurant was massive.  We waited for about 45 minutes from the time we lined up outside the restaurant until we were seated and served our food. We had to order and pay for our meals from vending machines downstairs, then when we got upstairs and seated, they took our specific requests to make up our meals.

 

It was nice, but I personally wouldn’t rave about it. Phil enjoyed his meal, whereas Dallas hardly ate any as his stomach was still off. After here, we walked down to American Mura as I wanted to check it out for souvenirs for my son, Chris. There were lots of beautiful clothes, but they were very much American prices. My favourite clothes were 20 000 JPY (about ??AUD) and they weren’t anything to do with Japan, so we decided not to get them. As Chris pointed out, we could order them from the United States directly for that money.

We headed back to Dotonbori in the pouring rain, luckily our hotel had lent us some umbrellas on this wet, cold night. Phil and Dallas had decided to play ten pin bowling, so I went back to the hotel and worked on the blog. Today was just what we had needed so that we could rest a little.

Osaka – 13th April

We were a little relaxed getting up and getting moving today. We have several days here so that we have some time to see the sights of Osaka and surrounding areas. We had decided to head out to Osaka Castle today, but first Phil wanted to check out Don Quijote, which is a mega department store that sells everything you could ever want from alcohol to Canon lenses, souvenirs to whitegoods and everything in between.

We have decided to buy another bag to send home with Dallas. We can send home some things that we have already bought and things that we brought over with us that we shouldn’t have. It will also give him some room to pack some extra things too. Given that we will need to take home for him the things that he left in Tokyo, it sounded like a fair trade to us.

We went for a walk, priced bags and had a look around. We headed back to meet Dallas to head to the castle. We ended up catching a cab out to Osaka Castle. It was quite a distance away from where we are staying. It was so imposing and yet so beautiful with all of the cherry blossoms. Although their peak was quite some time ago, they are still beautiful. We wandered around the grounds for a while, enjoying the beautiful sunny weather and the stunning grounds.

We headed up into the castle area. They were selling some French champagne by the glass in honour of the cherry blossoms. Why yes, I think that would be lovely! It was quite special drinking this beautiful champagne, surrounded by cherry blossom trees all to the backdrop of the beautiful castle.

We lined up for tickets and entered Osaka Castle. We caught a lift to the 5th floor, and then climbed the stairs up to the 8th floor. The views were stunning. The wind was quite fierce up here though. I spotted a small pond from the top of the tower, that I wanted to check out.

We had a look at some of the exhibits on the way down the stairs inside the castle. There were some beautiful artefacts. I headed straight over to the pond, however the weather had become cloudy, unfortunately.

We headed back into Osaka as we had another tour booked tonight. This was another one through Intrepid Travel, Urban Adventures – Kansai Soul. This tour goes to different places from the tour we did last night, except for the Dotonbori Canal. Dallas decided to join us on this tour, late this afternoon. Luckily there was space available for him.

We met Fumiko and Marcello (a lovely man who was training to become a tour guide). They were very welcoming. We headed off with our first stop at the Kumoron Markets. It was busy but more with local people picking up some food on the way home. There was a stall selling these weird looking sea creatures. We had never seen them before and asked what they were. Fumiko didn’t know the English translation so we google translated it and discovered they were called Mill Shellfish. They look like an animated monster.

We continued in the market and Fumiko showed us some different Japanese vegetables including some radish. It doesn’t look like our radishes at all. It is longer than a cucumber, as wide as a potato and white. Dallas walked past a seafood shop with some of the huge oysters he had in Miyajima Island. He asked Fumiko if he could buy one and eat it. She organised for them to cut it up and eat it sashimi style. Whilst he was doing that, I went into another shop. I still need to get something for Mum. Lots of things caught my eye, but there wasn’t anything that I loved for the price that it was. There was a market stall selling dried fruits. I tried some (a lot of food places have the option for you to try their foods before buying, however there is no expectation that you will buy their wares even if you do try them). They were so nice. We ended up getting 2 packets of ginger with sugar and one of apple. It was 3 for 1000 JPY (about $12 AUD).  Dallas tried some other vegetable chips and he loved them too, so he brought a packet of them.

The next stall that Fumiko took us to was selling Oden which is a traditional Japanese home cooking dishes. It was at Ishibashi Syokuhin within the Kumoron Markets. Fumiko bought a selection of vegetables, which we all tried. It was different.

She then showed us these weirdly shaped octopus. It had a hard boiled quail’s egg inside it. We did not try them. The next food we tried was beef cooked on a bar b que. It was delicious.

After our food experience within the Kumoron Markets, we headed out into a different section of Osaka. This was a section with a lot of anime and manga shops. We also saw some girls dressed up in different costumes. Dallas loved this area. He absolutely loved Dragonball Z when he was younger and so this was taking him back to his childhood. There were lots of quirky items everywhere.

Our next stop was Kitchenware Street (Doguya Street – I think). This was in another market and had absolutely everything that you would need for your kitchen at home or to set up a restaurant. Some of the plates and bowls we saw were exquisite, however I would have to carry them for the rest of the trip. What a shame. We also saw a shop in this area that sold the plastic food that restaurants buy to display what their meals look like. It was NOT cheap. They even had food items as ear rings. Completely quirky. I don’t know why anyone would want to buy fake fish as earrings.

After here we continued into an ‘entertainment quarter’. Fumiko was explaining that Osaka has a strong comedy culture and a lot of the Japanese comedians started in Osaka as Osakans have the best sense of humour in Japan. There were also lots of Pachinko areas. Pachinko are like our poker machines (or slot machines in the USA), except that the Japanese don’t play for money, they play for prizes. However, Marcello pointed out that right near the Pachinko areas there would be a little discreet window where you can ‘sell’ your prizes to get money.

It was in this area that Fumiko took us to a place that sells Takoyaki (a wheat flour batter filled with minced or diced octopus, tempura scraps, pickled ginger and green onion). Phil and Dallas both felt that these ones were better than the ones they had last night. They were so hot that the flakes on the top were moving because of the steam coming out of the balls. Unfortunately, Dallas didn’t see this before putting one in his mouth. It was the quietest 3 minutes with Dallas. He was very lucky that he didn’t burn his mouth. He was much smarter with the next one, letting it cool down first.  I took their word that it was delicious. We went past a Bic Camera place and I asked if they would be able to fix my watch. The battery had gone flat when we arrived in Japan, and we hadn’t been able to get it fixed. With Fumiko’s help, we got it sorted and they told us it would be 15 minutes. I went to check back in 5 minutes and it was done. It was about the same price that I would pay in Sydney to get it repaired.

Our next stop was into Dotonburi. This was crazy. Fumiko took us to the amazing peaceful Houzenji Temple that we had seen with Barun the night before. Given that it was Saturday night, it was packed. We saw running man again, and some girls were singing and dancing, so we watched that for a little while.

Fumiko then took us to her favourite place for steamed pork dumplings. I had never had them before, but was prepared to try them. They! Were! Amazing! It was 551 Horai. I memorised the place and worked out how to get back here.

After this stop, we headed to the subway to go to Shinsekai. This was another area that we hadn’t known about either. Barun had been telling us that this area was popular but had a bit of a bad reputation due to some protests at the local police station. Fukimo took us to a skewer place and Marcello taught us how to use the sauce. You can’t double dip as the sauce stays on the table and everyone uses it.  We had some fried skewers, Phil had another chuhai, Dallas had a plum liqeur while I had a ginger ale. This was our last eating place and it was perfect. The food was delicious. I’m glad that we hadn’t eaten anything before our tour!

After our food we headed out to the street. We had decided to get a cab back to our hotel, but wanted to drop Dallas off at his hostel on the way (or close to his hostel anyway). Luckily we had Fumiko with us who helped to explain to the cab driver where we wanted to go. We farewelled our amazing tour guides and went back to our hotel. What an amazing day.

Miyajima Island to Osaka -12th April

So we had thought about getting up for sunrise, and then realised that it was going to be cloudy. We got up at 6:45am instead to get those early morning photos. Phil and I went straight down to the Tori Gate and Shrine. It was so beautiful, although unfortunately, cloudy. The morning light was still beautiful and of course, only people who stayed on the island were there.

We went through the shrine again to get some different photos. Just stunning. We walked around and then headed back for breakfast. Dallas opted to keep sleeping rather than come to breakfast. Phil went back up to the room and I went out for more photos as the sun had come out. It truly was so beautiful.

I went back up to the room and relaxed for a while. We then checked out and organised the mini bus to take us back to the ferry pier. We were able to get the 11:30 ferry back to Hiroshima Peace Park. This allowed us to have some time back in Hiroshima before getting the Shinkansen. We had morning tea at this gorgeous cafe, just next to the river. It was perfect. I went back up to the Children’s Peace Monument to get a photo of it in the sunshine. After we had eaten, Dallas and Phil went to check out the point where the atomic bomb detonated. Phil stopped off at 7-11 to get some fresh sandwiches and Coke – No sugar for the train (they don’t have Diet Coke here!).

We caught a cab up to the station and boarded the Shinkansen. Dallas’ last bullet train ride. This is crazy fast. Phil has an app that can tell you how fast you are going. It clocked us at 300 km/hour. Crazy.

We arrived in Osaka and found the cab area. We got a cab down to our hotel. There seems to be a lot of well-known brands here with a little more English on signs. There are lots of tall buildings everywhere we looked. We made it to our hotel and Dallas went off to his hostel to check in. We had a tour booked at 7:30 which was an Air BnB experience with Barun. We met Dallas to have dinner beforehand at 6:30. We walked across the Dotonburi Canal to meet Dallas. WOW! This is crazy! Crazy busy and crazily lit up! It was like nothing else we’ve seen in Japan.

We decided to try a local place with lots of Japanese people inside. We didn’t understand how this place worked. We just ordered food that we liked. It had a price on it, but we didn’t understand that it was supposed to be shared and that price was per person. Whoops! So Dallas had sashimi (and had enough for 3 people), Phil had roast chicken and garlic and I had 2 prawns covered in bread. Dallas then had some udon noodles. We were very surprised by the bill as it was triple the cost that we thought it was going to be. Oh well. The food was lovely.

 

We met Barun our tour guide for our Hotspots and Hidden Gems tour. We can’t recommend this tour enough. It was perfect for our first night in Osaka. Barun took us into the less tourist side of Dotonbori and showed us different landmarks including a Balinese style resort right here in the heart of Osaka. Barun then took us into America Mura which translates to American Village. It was this area that the youth started meeting and made it their own area. There were young people skateboarding and just hanging out. The streetlights are all unique and shaped in the form of people. It really is a more youthful vibe here. There were lots of clothing shops selling American clothes. I will need to come back here and check it out for something for Chris.

After here, we headed onto one of the shopping streets that had been a shopping street for 400 years! Obviously it looks very different now to then. We then came across the running man billboard. We spent some time around here taking photos. Luckily we were the only ones on the tour tonight. We then spent some time walking down the main Dotonbori street. It was packed. Barun introduced us to this clown figure. There was a mannequin of it playing a drum. He is the unofficial mascot of Osaka. He originally was a mascot for a local restaurant and was made to resemble the restaurant owner. Now he is the mascot for Osaka.

We then went down this little alleyway, which looked like it went to a restaurant, but no it went to a Buddhist temple. This was the Houzenji Temple. It was a small hidden oasis of peace and calm in amongst this crazily busy city.  The deity that resides here was covered in moss as so many people splash it. There was some incense burning and a Japanese family there praying. It really was a special place.

After the peace and calmness of here, we headed back into the craziness. We walked past a guy selling Turkish ice cream – Andy. He was hilarious. He was doing magic tricks for a little boy who had bought an ice-cream cone. It was super funny. He is from Istanbul and has been in Japan for 18 years.

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Dragon in Dotonbori, Osaka, Japan

After here, we headed past a restaurant where you can go to eat and go fishing. The tables are set up in boats and you can fish, as there are fish swimming around the boats. Eat, drink and fishing all in the one place. Perfection for some. Our last stop was at a place where they sell the local speciality, Takoyaki (octopus in balls which also include other ingredients). The guy here is called Hiro and he is amazing.

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Hiro, the amazing cook of the the best Takoyaki in Osaka, according to Barun.

We farewelled Barun here and headed back to our hotel. We were exhausted, but so pleased that we had met Barun and gone on his tour. If you are interested you can find out more about his tour here.

What a fabulous day!

 

 

Miyajima Island – 11th April 2019

We checked out of our lovely hotel and headed to the Peace Park to catch the fast ferry service over to Miyajima Island.

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This service went on the Hiroshima World Heritage Sea Route and was fabulous. We walked to the ferry pier and bought our tickets. As we were coming back the next day we were able to get a round ticket as you have two days to use them. This gave us a small saving. The return ticket was 3600 JPY. We got on the ferry and relaxed for the 45 minute journey to Miyajima Island.

Upon our arrival at the island, I approached one of the ladies on the pier about how to get to our hotel. We stayed at the Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto as our splurge accommodation on the trip. She contacted the hotel and they sent a minibus from the hotel to collect us. We were very impressed.

The minibus took us to the hotel. Wow! It was so beautiful. We were too early to check in, however we were able to leave our luggage with the front desk and go out to explore. The front desk staff were able to direct us how to get to the shrine and the Tori Gate. It was a little cloudy unfortunately, but at least it wasn’t raining. There were lots of tourists there, but most people were patient and considerate. It was so surreal seeing it for the first time. It was high tide and the gate was surrounded by water.

We went into the shrine and took some more photos. After going through the shrine we walked around and explored on the other side of the shrine.

We came across some beautiful places. They truly were stunning. The photos don’t do it justice.

After exploring some of the back streets we were getting hungry so headed to the shopping and restaurant area. This was really busy. We were trying to find somewhere nice to sit down and have a meal. We finally agreed on a place and it was amazing!

We did some shopping and then headed back to our room to relax and enjoy the facilities. Our room is so gorgeous. We are so glad that we decided to stay here for the night. I only wish we were here for two nights. Maybe next time.

We relaxed for a while in the hotel and then went out to take some more photos around dusk. Unfortunately it was still cloudy, so I couldn’t get my sunset photos.

We had dinner at the hotel (included in the price). It was traditional Japanese food. Dallas enjoyed it more than I did. Phil, Dallas and I went out to see the Tori Gate after dinner where there were only people around who were staying on the island. The last ferry back to the mainland leaves about 8:00 pm. It was so beautiful.

We headed back to our room to relax and enjoy the sea air. This has been a perfect stop on our trip to rejuvenate.

Hiroshima – 10th April 2019

Sadly, we departed Kyoto this morning to continue our journey south. We are off to Hiroshima today. We needed to change shinkansens at Shin-Kobe with only a 6 minute window between shinkansens, which we were a little worried about. However, no problem at all as the next Shinkansen came on the platform that we were already on. It was all smooth and easy. We arrived in Hiroshima and caught a cab to our hotel, which was perfectly located near the Peace Park.

This afternoon we headed out to explore the Peace Park. The weather was grey and cold, and the mood around here was sombre. The trees and plants were symbolic of the new hope, but the monuments and the A-bomb dome were testament to human’s destruction of each other. Just devastating- as is Pearl Harbour in Hawaii.

We visited the Children’s Memorial in the Peace Park and left the origami cranes that my class from Sydney, Australia had made to be placed there. This was so beautiful. Anyone can leave paper cranes as they have areas behind the Children’s Memorial to place these wishes for peace inside. If you are bringing a lot of them, they prefer you to string them together so they can hang, which I didn’t know about. I left ours in the bottom where others were that weren’t strung together. Some people had hung them and put a label on where they were from. Wishes for peace from around the world! It was quite special.

I had read about a fast ferry boat to Miyajima Island that left from the Peace Park. We found out more information about the Aquanet service and discovered that this was correct. We decided to use this service to go to Miyajima Island the next day.

We walked down to the A-bomb Dome (atomic bomb dome). The bomb was detonated 600m higher than this building and instantly obliterated everyone in this area. The Japanese people left this building as it was. It symbolises the pledge to convey the horror of the atomic bombing and the call for the abolition of nuclear weapons and eternal world peace.

 

We wandered along the Honkawa River alongside the cherry blossoms which, whilst not at their peak, were still beautiful. We headed to the Castle Tower but decided not to go in as it was getting late. We caught a cab to Dallas’ hotel, so that he could check in and then walked back to our hotel from there. It was quite close.

We had an early dinner in the hotel at a buffet that had a combination of Western style dishes and Japanese dishes to choose from. Phil and Dallas then went for a walk in the evening, whilst I relaxed and caught up some of the blog.

I am glad we came to this city. Although the mood that we felt was one of sadness, it could also have been the weather contributing to this feeling.

We are off to Miyajima Island tomorrow.

Kyoto Day 3 – 9th April 2019

Today we had three objectives – find a Japanese doll in a traditional kimono for me, a sword for Ryan and go to the tour that we had booked through Intrepid Travel Urban Adventures. We asked at reception where to go, and they suggested Bic Camera and another shop in Gion. We went to Bic Camera first and they didn’t have anything at all, even after we looked in every possible department. We caught a cab to Gion and went to the shop that was suggested by the hotel. Whilst we saw some geishas when we were driving through Gion, the shop really didn’t have anything. There was a shop that had been suggested in the book, but it was a fair distance away. We decided to give it a shot anyway. We jumped in another cab and went to the shop. We couldn’t believe how many tourists there were here. It was packed! We then realised that the shop was in a tourist area in a pedestrian street leading down from the Kiyomizu-dera Temple.

It really was a very pretty area and I would have liked more time here, but unfortunately we were tight on time. There were a few shops that had replica samurai swords and Japanese dolls. It then became a difficult decision to find the ‘right’ one. There was a massive price difference – they started at around 2000 JPY to about 5000 JPY and then started at 20 000 JPY. The swords were also mind boggling with all of their different designs. We found one that we liked for Ryan and Phil decided that he wanted one too. We made our purchases and walked down to the bottom of the hill to hail a cab to get us back to our hotel. Phil raced across to the station’s 7/11 to get us some sandwiches before we met our tour group at 2pm near the station. We ate them, met Dallas and then headed over to the group.

It was so cold standing in the shadows waiting for everyone to arrive. Luckily we had warm jackets on. We headed off to get the train to our first stop. This was a JR train, so we used our JR Passes. Our first stop was a Zen Buddhist Temple called Tofukuji. It was so peaceful. Sean showed us around the different areas of the temple and gardens. He explained the meaning behind the different sections of the garden and how the garden designer was bringing in different elements to create meaning. On our way to this temple we saw some Ojizosan statues on the way there. This is the deity who will help children have a safe passage after they have passed away. It can also be to ask the deity to look after the children here on earth as well.

From Tofukuji Temple, we walked through some local neighbourhoods to arrive at the Fushimi Inari Shrine.

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Neighbourhood near the Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto

It was packed. Sean, our amazing tour guide, explained to us the difference between the two temples. He also taught us how to pray at this shrine. It’s very different and loud as you need to ring the bell. It was so noisy, nothing like the peaceful prayer time that we had witnessed first thing in the morning, We joined the crowds thronging up the mountain side to the Tori Gates. Dallas couldn’t believe how beautiful it looked. I think that he kind of regrets not coming with us early in the morning, especially when he found out you could go all the way to the top. He can do that on his next trip to Kyoto. Dallas has also fallen under this city’s spell. Sean decided to take us the wrong way, so we went up the down path and back through the gates, as we had a better chance of getting some great photos without thousands of people in them, which everyone was so grateful for. After we had finished at the shrine he gave us about 15 minutes in case anyone wanted to get something to eat or use the restrooms. Dallas and Phil were starving so we headed to this area where there were street stalls selling all different kinds of food. Dallas and Phil got some meat sticks and Dallas also bought some fried chicken. We headed for a different train station than the one that we had caught back to Kyoto, that would take us to Gion.

Sean had bought some traditional Japanese sweets for us to try – Yatsuhashi. It was like uncooked pastry with some jam in the middle. I love uncooked pastry, so this was beautiful to me. Dallas liked it as much as I did and Phil thought it was ok. Sean had bought a pack with some different flavours, which he willingly shared around with the group.

When we got out of the train we were walking down the main street leading into Gion (which we had gone down before). Sean pointed out to us the shop where you can buy the sweets from. I made a mental note as I definitely want to get some. We walked through Gion, along some canals with stunning cherry blossoms. It really was so stunning. Sean pointed out some recommendations for restaurants for people who were staying longer.

We crossed into the another geisha district in Gion as Sean started explaining more information about the girls who are trained in traditional dance and musical instruments. He explained the difference between geishas and maikos. As we were walking around we saw some go hurrying past. They hurry as they are trying to get to their next appointment as they don’t want to be late. This part of the tour ended here and we had a break before the next half of the tour began. We walked around Gion and managed to see some more geisha and maiko before going to buy some sweets.

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Different flavours of snack that we tried called Yatsuhashi. Clockwise from the top are chocolate, chocolate banana, mint choc chip, strawberry and lemon.

We met for the next section of the tour. This time we were staying around Gion. Our first stop was Gion Kobu, one of the five Geisha districts in Kyoto. Our next stop was the shrine of Emperor Sutoku (Yasui Konpiragu), which is where you go to cut bonds.

After here we headed to the Higashi Yama district. We saw the Yasaka Pagoda from two vantage points. It was so beautiful. We had a stop near the Yasaka Pagoda to have a drink and some ice cream. Sean filled us in on more information about Kyoto and this area. We headed away from the pagoda and Sean told us to turn around. This scene was breathtaking! It was so beautiful and even more amazingly, there was hardly anyone around.

The stairs continued around to the Kiomizu Temple.

We headed down these beautiful old streets that were so stunning and peaceful. The lane was called Ninenzaka. It was here that I realised that Phil did NOT have my shopping, that he had volunteered to carry – my sweets, glass case and coin purse that I had bought. He must have put it down when we stopped to buy the drinks and the ice cream. Dallas and Phil had decided to have a quick bite to eat as they were so hungry at the Food Mart. Clearly, Phil had put it down and forgotten about it, Luckily, Sean came to the rescue and volunteered to run back down to the shop to see if it was still there. We waited in the beautiful street. The other family’s grandmother ended up buying an umbrella while we were waiting.

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Stunning streets between the Yasaka Pagoda called Ninenzaka (I think) and the Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto

Sean returned victorious. Luckily it is here in Japan that he lost it. Everyone is so honest here and things get handed in. The shopkeepers had it. Just an excellent example of how amazing our tour guide was. We came to the Kodaji Temple built for Hideyoshi by his wife. The cherry blossoms at this temple were divine.