Japan 2016: Mount Fuji Day tour

Lantern at Fuji Sengen Shrine

Lantern at Fuji Sengen Shrine

On our final full day in Kawaguchi-ko, we joined the hostel day tour around the Mount Fuji area, which would take us to Fuji Sengen Shrine in Fujiyoshida, the fifth station at Mount Fuji, Aokigahara lava forest, Shiraito Falls, and Lake Motosu. So a busy day indeed and the tour starts at 9am. The first stop was the station to pick up some more tourists, but then on to Fujiyoshida and the Fuji Sengen Shrine (the actual name is even longer but I won’t go into that).

Fuji Sengen Shrine: Old, old, cedar tree

Old, old, cedar tree

This shrine is where the cult of Mount Fuji was based and where a lot of trekkers might begin their trip to summit Fuji-san, that is the long way, that’s for sure as it is starting right from the bottom.

The trail begins at the back of the shrine and goes all the way up to the fifth station, where you continue to the peak of the mountain. We got a good explanation of the shrine, the very old trees, a few of them are older than 900 years old, the biggest ones, they’re pretty obvious. There are plenty of maple trees and other colourful trees as well so it’s also quite a photogenic shrine.

You can’t actually see Fuji-san from the shrine because there’s basically a forest surrounding it, but you can see a lovely place and also make a wish. The shrine was probably the highlight of the tour even though Fuji-san wasn’t even visible from there. It is a beautiful and peaceful place and we didn’t have as much time at the waterfall or Lake Motosu as I would have liked (fading light played a part, but also guided tours are like that), so that’s the qualifier.

  • Fuji Sengen Shrine: Water breathing dragon
    Water breathing dragon
  • Fuji Sengen Shrine: Lover trees
    Lover trees
  • Fuji Sengen Shrine: Koyo
    Koyo
  • Fuji Sengen Shrine: Stone Lantern
    Stone Lantern
  • Mount Fuji, just below the fifth station
    Mount Fuji, just below the fifth station
  • Mount Fuji: The Southern Alps
    The Southern Alps

The next stop was the fifth station, well one of the fifth stations, the Fuji-Yoshida fifth station which is the highest point that buses travel to, so this is where a lot of people start their treks from. There were a lot of people cycling up the roads which looked like a lot of fun too, but obviously I didn’t have my bike. It’s already at about 2300m altitude so it reduces the summit climb to a day trip or overnighter if you so wish. We actually stopped at a point just before the fifth station, this was a great idea by our tour guide, Masa san, as it was below the cloud line and we could get views of the southern Japanese alps as well as up Mount Fuji itself. The fifth station itself was pretty boring, not much to see, it was above the cloud line so just mist everywhere, I had a look at the trail (which was closed) but there wasn’t much to see there either. There are a lot of shops at the fifth station as there are on the summit (but only during Summer) but nothing special or different there that I’m aware of.

We returned to the hostel for lunch (which I grabbed from 7 Eleven) before heading to the next stop, the Aokigahara lava forest. This forest is interesting for a few reasons, first the roots of the trees can’t dig very far into the ground because of the lava below the top soil, and so the tree roots are above ground a lot, and because of this they don’t have very strong holds and don’t live too long (tens of years) before falling. Second, there are many caves in the area, created by the lava flow hundreds and thousands of years before, we visited one but didn’t go in as we didn’t have caving gear obviously. Finally, and most macabre of all, this forest is known as the suicide forest, because in parts of the forest are very remote and many people decide that they would wander in without the thought of returning. Not the section we visited though, I didn’t see any skeletons that’s for sure!

  • Mount Fuji: Aokigahara forest
    Aokigahara forest
  • Mount Fuji: Shiraito Falls
    Shiraito Falls
  • Fuji-san, Lake Motosu
    Fuji-san, Lake Motosu

Just before sunset we arrived at Shiraito Falls, one of Japan’s 100 most beautiful, and one of the places I definitely wanted to visit while in Kawaguchi-ko. It was one of the main reasons we went on the tour as we wanted to see the falls but the difficulty (i.e. price and timing) in visiting the falls meant that it wouldn’t be particularly good value (time wise and on the pocket), they’re very pretty and with full Autumn colour would have been particularly spectacular. Unfortunately the tour didn’t also include Otodome Falls which is only a couple hundred metres away as I wanted to see that also but I was already the last one back from Shiraito, I didn’t want to cause my delays or trouble.

We were driving to our final destination, Lake Motosu (one of the five lakes in the area, and the one featured on the 1000¥ bill) and looking out the window you could see Mount Fuji but with a thick layer of cloud moving around it. There were many photographers parked on the sides of roads with their cameras and tripods out at the ready, and myself unfortunately stuck on a moving bus. We finally arrived at the lookout point for Lake Motosu and I grabbed my tripod and camera bag and quickly set up in a good spot (there were only about 10 people there when we arrived).

Fuji-san and the moon

Fuji-san and the moon

It was two nights before the super moon so we were able to witness a reasonable sized moon posing with Fuji-san, and by the time we left, the lookout point was packed with probably 20-30 people and their tripods standing shoulder to shoulder trying to snap pictures of the mountain in the dark. By that time though the cloud had pretty much completely enveloped Fuji-san and all that was left was the lake and the moon. I’m not sure if it was particularly windy or not but I wasn’t able to capture any reflection in the lake at all which was a minor disappointment. Amazingly, that first afternoon that we arrived was to be the best view (in terms of clarity, due to the time) we had of Mount Fuji for the whole time we were in Kawaguchi-ko, we got clear views of it our last two days but it was either too bright and hazy, or dark and cloudy.

Afterwards we went and had Hoto again at Hoto Kosaku this time (the same place we went to the first time we visited Kawaguchi-ko), but I’ll have more on that later, it was great though. Next stop, final half day in Kawaguchi-ko, what I want to do next time, and arriving in Tokyo.

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Japan 2016: Arrival in Kawaguchi-ko, oh glorious Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji says Hello

Mount Fuji says Hello

A train and bus ride from Kyoto (via Mishima) with a bit of a rush at Mishima station to get the Fujikyu bus to Kawaguchi-ko, and even before stopping at Fuji-Q Highlands (second last stop) or Yamanaka-ko (last stop before Kawaguchi-ko), it appeared. Mount Fuji emerged from behind the clouds and presented itself in the most brilliant of bus ride views. We probably ended up with 36 views of Mount Fuji as we drove around the lakes toward Kawaguchi-ko.

Definitely some pretty clear views that afternoon and with some dramatic clouds as well, I only managed one shot at the bus stop before we headed to our accommodation, 15 minutes downhill walk, by the time we got there though Fuji-san was hiding again. Never mind, we’ll see you again later, and if not, we at least got some good views on the bus.

After settling in, and checking the forecast for the next few days, it was almost certainly going to be an overcast day with no views of Fuji-san the next day, but clear for the two days after.

Kawaguchi-ko

With overcast skies and no real chance of the sun clearing the clouds out of the way we decided to wander over to Kawaguchi-ko and have a look around. Beautiful red leaves were abound by the lake, and Mount Kachi Kachi was starting to show some Autumn colour as well, although still mostly green. We didn’t get too far before it was time for lunch (hoto fudo, more on that later), and then after that the oldies went and took some pictures in a nice leafy Autumn spot (with coloured leaves fallen to the ground) while we went back to the hostel and a nap.

  • Kawaguchi-ko and Mount Kachi Kachi in the mist
    Kawaguchi-ko and Mount Kachi Kachi in the mist
  • Kawaguchi-ko
    Kawaguchi-ko
  • Ohashi Bridge in Kawaguchi-ko
    Ohashi Bridge in Kawaguchi-ko

I managed to get back out to Ohashi bridge just before sunset to hopefully capture something of Mount Fuji, I caught a glimpse of the cone but by the time I snapped the shot it was clouded over again. So instead I shifted my attention to the road, traffic, and the colours of the hills behind. Got a pretty nice shot, would’ve been nicer if it was a bit darker but then I suppose I wouldn’t have captured any of the colours in the background.

Hills around Kawaguchi-ko

Hills around Kawaguchi-ko

We signed ourselves up for the hostel day tour around the five lakes area the next day, so that will be coming up in the next post. The picture to the right gives a glimpse of the weather to come, that was the next morning, so definitely cleared up for our day trip but that’s for the next post. Kawaguchi-ko is a great destination and I definitely love going there and I have no doubt that I’ll be there again, but you’ll see for yourself in the next couple of posts.

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Japan 2016: Kyoto – Ginkaku-ji and Eikando-ji

Ginkaku-ji: Koyo and zen garden

Koyo and zen garden

And we arrive on our last full day in Kyoto, it went by so fast, we didn’t get to see everything that we planned but I won’t complain about the pacing as I feel it was not too bad, we didn’t rush ourselves too much. Originally I wanted to visit Sanzen-In and Enko-ji to the north, near Ohara, as well as Eikando-ji and Nanzen-ji (on separate days of course) but time did not permit and we ended up only visiting Eikando-ji as we spent a lot longer at Ginkaku-ji than I expected. I’d seen pictures of Ginkaku-ji and didn’t think much of it, compared to Kinkaku-ji’s brilliant pavilion, Ginkaku-ji didn’t seem to stand out. But then we arrived, and we started wandering around, and we saw it for its true beauty.

Ginkaku-ji: Zen garden

Zen garden

Ginkaku-ji

The surrounding garden is definitely one of the best that we’ve seen, and overall, I would definitely rate it higher than Kinkaku-ji. The colours of the trees, the rocks, the water features, and the layout is all just perfect, the walking route takes you around the garden giving you all of the best viewing angles without having to do anything.

Emmy, who is so very proud of her all-seeing eye (for photos) would take a picture and then tell me only to realise that the picture I had already taken was more or less the same, you just can’t lose here, take a picture and it will almost certainly look a million bucks. It didn’t matter that it was raining when we arrived, it certainly didn’t matter that the sun came out halfway through our visit, we just got more variety to our pictures.

Ginkaku-ji: Zend pond

Zend pond

Perhaps it doesn’t have the large pond of Kinkaku-ji or Tenryu-ji, but everything else seemed to be a notch above (having said that, maybe Kinkaku-ji in Autumn is even better?), definitely a temple highlight and all the better because I didn’t expect it. I’m very glad that we decided to visit and very happy that we took our time, even if it came at the cost of visiting Nanzen-ji.

Ginkaku-ji: Moss rocks

Moss rocks

Eikando-ji

We then made our way along the Philosopher’s Path heading toward Eikando-ji and Nanzen-Ji, I’m wondering if the path is actually only nice in Spring cherry blossom season as it didn’t seem to be particularly photogenic to me, perhaps I didn’t have a wabi-sabi enough view of it. Anyway, when we finally arrived at Eikando-ji we had a decision to make (as it was almost lunch time), visit here or continue on to Nanzen-ji.

We decided to just visit Eikando-ji rather than risk more walking and then having to wander another large temple complex with a hungry toddler. So with that we paid the ticket price (1000¥ quite expensive) and headed in.

Eikando-ji: Koyo

Koyo

As with most temples and gardens, this one had a walking route which made things easy and meant that we didn’t have to think too much, but that we’d also probably end up with mostly the same pictures as everyone else. The Autumn colours were definitely out here and it was probably a good decision to visit here rather than heading for the larger Nanzen-ji. We managed to stroll through reasonably quickly (they had some pretty amazing goldfish? koi? swimming in the pond) but also captured all of the views (even the security girls warming their feet!).

It was a very nice garden/temple and the bridge pond and the water feature near the end of the route were quite eye catching indeed. So it turns out that both temples were winners and well worth the entry price this day, good for us! Afterwards we headed back to the city centre to look for lunch (Coco curry, more on that in a later post) and then do some shopping in Teramachi and Shinkyogoku shopping streets since our last day we wouldn’t have time to do much.

That’s it for Kyoto, second time around, we paced ourselves better than the first, weren’t too rushed and while we didn’t see all that we planned to, we did see quite a few things, and also enjoyed some fun activities as well. I think this is how we will look to plan future trips as well to try to avoid burning ourselves out too quickly and not enjoying the holiday as much as we should. Next stop, Kawaguchi-ko, will we see Mount Fuji?

  • Ginkaku-ji: Zen garden
    Zen garden
  • Ginkaku-ji koyo
    Ginkaku-ji koyo
  • Ginkaku-ji: Moss trees
    Moss trees
  • Eikando-ji
    Eikando-ji
  • Eikando-ji: Water feature
    Water feature
  • Eikando-ji: Pond bridge
    Pond bridge

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Japan 2016: Emmy’s birthday at Nishiki Market

Kyoto: Nishiki Market

Nishiki Market

Well, I’ve already talked about the pottery class we did in the morning and our kaiseki dinner in the evening on Emmy’s birthday, so what did we do in between? Well, the plan was to go from the pottery class directly to Nishiki Market and meet the oldies there for lunch, but they took so long getting there from Kyoto Station that we ended up with only an hour or so to speed through the market and get some snacks in before dinner. It was our second time at Nishiki Market and it’s always fun and tasty, there are just so many great stalls selling food (and all sorts of other stuff) you could really spend a day there, but you probably couldn’t move by the end of it!

Best ever strawberry cheesecake?

Strawberry cheesecake

While waiting for the oldies we weren’t sure whether to get something to eat or not, but decided that we should have some cake for Emmy’s birthday at least, and wandered into the Daimaru food level. These places are bloody amazing, you walk through all of the vendors and you just want to buy everything. The desserts look amazing, the packaged meals don’t look super, but you can bet they’re plenty tasty and better than anything you’ll ever get in Australia. Don’t ever think about walking into one of the bakeries if you don’t want to eat anything, because absolutely everything looks delectable and irresistible. Those croquettes at all of the fried food vendors are so tempting I don’t know how I resisted buying a bag every time we walked past one. We ended up grabbing a strawberry cheese cake which Emmy promptly proclaimed to be the best strawberry cheese cake ever! I won’t argue with here because it was certainly very good and I have very little experience in this field.

It’s so colourful and there are so many people there it makes for some really great photo opportunities as well, one of my personal favourites is the portrait with the people rushing by. It’s not easy handheld but carrying a tripod and planting it in the middle of the market lane is not an option so you do what you can.

Kyoto: Takoyaki at Nishiki Market

Takoyaki at Nishiki Market

It closes pretty early (5pm I think) so we only had about an hour and a half to rush through on this day, but we made sure to snap up anything delicious looking snacks, some grilled squid, all sorts of dried stuff, and of course our favourite from last time, takoyaki. For some reason even though we know the contents are extremely hot we always seem to burn our mouths eating it. We just cannot hold ourselves back and need to eat it fast. There seems to be only one shop in the market selling it ready to eat so it’s always pretty busy but they’re fast so you never need to wait too long.

Outside Gion Nanba

Pouring rain in Gion

It was a bit crazy afterwards as we had to go to Gion for dinner but we wanted to take the oldies (and Oscar) there to see it at night. We only managed to get to Pontocho before the rain really started pouring down, so rather than push our luck we quickly grabbed a taxi and packed them in, it was so close anyway.

Afterwards, well, you know the story so I won’t go into that anymore, we went home after dinner and realised just how close we were staying. Next up, our last full day in Kyoto.

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Japan 2016: Kaiseki at Gion Nanba

Gion Nanba: Frapuccions at Starbucks!

Frapuccions at Starbucks!

What would a birthday in Japan be without a special dining experience? Let’s get the bad out of the way first, I made reservations online for Gion Nanba (one Michelin star) about two weeks prior to the date which seemed to go smoothly, but when we arrived, they did not have our reservation listed at all. I had the confirmation on my phone though, and fortunately it was a Tuesday so they weren’t so busy that they couldn’t slot us in 45 minutes later, there was no one else eating at the counter that night that we saw. I think somehow it would be best to confirm a day or two prior either via email, phone or even in person if you book online, just to be sure. It’s opposite a Starbucks in Gion so we went across the road and chilled with some frapuccinos until our time had come.

So second time around we got our seats at the counter and by this time ready to gorge (as much as you can gorge eating such a meal), I was so eager I pretty much fell into the leg pit and banged my knee. I didn’t realise there was space to dangle your legs at the counter rather than just sitting cross legged.

  • Kaiseki: Persimmon, crab, gluten, and a flower
    Persimmon, crab, gluten, and a flower
  • Kaiseki: Sake bottle
    Sake bottle
  • Kaiseki: Sea eel, mountain potato, spinach, and yuzu
    Sea eel, mountain potato, spinach, and yuzu

Starters

We started off by ordering some sake letting the lady recommend us the type, we had it hot. You can probably see from the pictures how nice the dinner ware is, everything is so intricate and pretty, and especially wabi-sabi (my new favourite term!).

Sushi and Sashimi

  • Kaiseki: Nanba slicing the sashimi
    Nanba slicing the sashimi
  • Kaiseki: Sashimi
    Sashimi
  • Kaiseki: Sushi condiments
    Sushi condiments
  • Kaiseki: Sushi and other stuff
    Sushi and other stuff

Next up were the sushi and sashimi courses, the sashimi consisted of squid, bonito, sea bream, and tuna, while the sushi (and other stuff) had anko fish liver (top right behind the lead), salmon roe, mackerel sushi, and shirako (a river fish) spem sacs (yes, you read that right! Top left with the spring onion garnish). All the usual suspects here except for the fish liver and the fish sperm sacs, the liver didn’t taste like liver but I’ve never had fish liver before so maybe that’s what it normally tastes like, it didn’t seem to taste like mercury at all (:D). The sperm sacs, well this was actually one of the most memorable items on the menu that night, it tasted really good once you forget what it is you’re eating. The texture is like custard and it’s a bit salty, and a bit sweet, the hard part was getting over what I was eating, it wasn’t that hard, I just needed to eat it.

Turnips, Soba, and Rice

  • Kaiseki: Spanish Mackerel, pickled turnip
    Spanish Mackerel, pickled turnip
  • Kaiseki: Nanba Chefs at work
    Chefs at work
  • Kaiseki: Soba
    Soba
  • Kaiseki: Steamed turnip, snapper, and gingko nuts
    Steamed turnip, snapper, and gingko nuts
  • Kaiseki: Rice and Miso soup
    Rice and Miso soup

Down to the staples now with soba, rice, and miso soup, clearly turnip is in season as there were two dishes with turnip, and it was really cool that it was done two ways. That petal shaped bowl was very interesting as well.

Dessert and Matcha Tea

  • Kaiseki: Raspberry iced cream, grape, pear, and wine jelly
    Raspberry iced cream, grape, pear, and wine jelly
  • Kaiseki: Mochi
    Mochi
  • Kaiseki: Matcha tea
    Matcha tea

We finished with some very yummy desserts, especially the wine jelly, it all sounds very sweet but it really wasn’t, just really, really well made, in great harmony and balanced so well as you would expect. I’m not 100% sure if the mochi wasn’t extra (as an apology) or not, I don’t remember seeing the people before us getting that. And then washed down with a traditional tea ceremony style matcha green tea.

This was almost three weeks ago, and you may have noticed that I didn’t actually comment on the taste of the food that much, unfortunately I didn’t take detailed notes on the night (preferring to just be in the moment, I didn’t even take these pictures!) and obviously I can’t remember how most of the dishes tasted now, but I can say this, if there was anything subpar I definitely would remember it. We can safely assume that this meal was a highlight and that we enjoyed everything, except the whole “didn’t have our reservation” issue. It was a great meal, especially seeing the ingredients that were used, you wouldn’t normally think of a lot of this stuff. And watching the chefs at work up close and being able to see the utensils that they use, the pots and pans, and the oven, it was all very cool.

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Japan 2016: Pottery class with Shigeru Sensei

Kyoto pottery: My finished products

My finished products

The first part of Emmy’s birthday series involved a pottery class with Shigeru sensei (40 years of pottery making experience!), Emmy found this one herself as she wanted to try something really authentic for her birthday, and of course I wasn’t going to miss out. This was a very personal experience as it was a private class with just Shigeru sensei and the two of us. Located near Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, his studio is in some back street that may as well have been underground, there’s no way we would’ve found it based on the address alone, so it’s a good thing he came out to the entrance of the shrine to lead us to the studio. The shrine itself was quite nice and had quite a number of trees showing there Autumn colours, I didn’t get any pictures as we were on the clock a bit and I didn’t want to hold us up.

It was quite good because Shigeru sensei gave us a little bit of a guided tour through the shrine grounds and explained the correct way to pray/wish and what most people go to the shrine for (academic success FTW!) before leading us through a bit of a maze of small streets to his studio.

Pottery: Display room

Display room

He has a little presentation room at the front of the studio and lead us to the back where the magic happens. First we had some theory about the different techniques used in moulding and shaping the clay before we jumped in and started wedging. I wasn’t very good so spiral wedging ended up just squishing the same part over and over, but Emmy’s was better and she got some spiral pattern going on her clay. Once our clay had been wedged appropriately we took a morning tea break and enjoyed some yummy mochi and green tea, all served on some of Shigeru sensei’s custom creations I’m sure. Actually, the mochi was really, really nice, soft and sweet, but not too sweet (and its green colouring was actually from some kind of grass which apparently random old people pull out in random areas around the city). And the tea was a blended green tea with rice.

Pottery: Shigeru sensei getting started

Shigeru sensei getting started

After that sweet break it was back to the grind, and Shigeru sensei explained the differences between the Japanese pottery wheel and the western pottery wheel before showing us what we needed to do to turn our blobs of clay into works of art.

Pottery: Shigeru sensei working his magic

Shigeru sensei working his magic

He makes it looks so easy and explains it in words but also helps guide you as the clay spins around, ever the novice my clay didn’t “die” properly and tried to leap off the wheel before Shigeru sensei captured it and we had another go at killing it and moulding some dtraCorp special art.

Eventually, I (with a very large amount of help) had completed my three pieces, a tea bowl, a bowl for all seasons, and a sake cup, and it was Emmy’s turn to turn some dirt into a work of art. Either Emmy is a natural, or listens and follows instructions very well, or I’m just a complete tragic, because she seemed to have a lot more control of the clay than I did. She was going so well that Shigeru sensei decided to show her a technique of trimming some clay off the top, this didn’t go so well and we lost quite a bit of clay in the process :D. Never fear though, we moved on and completed three more pieces although a disappointed Emmy worked her last item a bit too much and it ended up being a bowl instead of a cup.

So we ended up with six items ready to be baked and glazed as Shigeru sensei sees fit, all going well in a couple months they’ll all arrive (we have to pay for shipping on top of the class fee) looking completely different from how we left them :D. If not all, we should get at least three or four of them and the others will be left to return to the Earth from where they came (or back into the clay pile for future students!).

  • Pottery: Shelves of student work
    Shelves of student work
  • Pottery: Lesson 1
    Lesson 1
  • Pottery: Shaping the clay
    Shaping the clay
  • Pottery: Cutting the bowl
    Cutting the bowl
  • Pottery: Finished and ready to bake
    Finished and ready to bake
  • Pottery: Killing the clay
    Killing the clay
  • Pottery: Unfinished products
    Unfinished products
  • Pottery: Moulding the clay
    Moulding the clay
  • Kyoto pottery: Sake bottle
    Sake bottle
  • Kyoto pottery: Tea bowl, sake cup, all seasons bowl
    Tea bowl, sake cup, all seasons bowl

Shigeru sensei was kind enough to walk us back to the bus stop and lend us an umbrella (as we’d neglected to take one out) so that we could head to Nishiki market for some afternoon snacking. This was a great experience and I would think that we’ll definitely do it again next time we are in Kyoto, it’s not only fun and informative, but you get something out of it (as in some artisan pottery) at the end as well. Two thumbs up, definite recommendation!

P.S. Off topic, but I should mention it, don’t let the gritty nature of Shigeru sensei’s studio workshop fool you, his rest room is in full working order and provides all of the Japanese comforts required for peaceful Zen time in the loo.

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Japan 2016: Himeji Castle

Moving right along, we didn’t really plan much for this day, it was the day before Emmy’s birthday and my original plan was to head north to Sanzen-in and Enkoji for the day as the weather was good. But we decided to take it somewhat easy and just head to Kyoto station in the morning before spending the afternoon at Himeji Castle. I planned Himeji Castle to be a whole day trip but under advice from Emmy we decided it was only a half day site. We didn’t visit Himeji on our first trip because it was still being renovated at the time.

Himeji Castle

We gave ourselves about three hours to spend at the castle (plus one hour each way on the shinkansen) which we hoped would be enough to also visit the garden, but it turned out that we only had time to visit the main keep and the west bailey. The garden was closed by the time we finished wandering the main keep so we just had a stroll through the west bailey instead. It’s a nice castle but having now seen three of the national treasure castles of Japan (Hikone and Matsumoto) I think I can safely say that I’m over visiting castles. I really think Matsumoto is a more pleasant experience and is more photogenic with it’s large moat. The inside of the castle is largely the same and only the views are different, perhaps the castle might have looked nicer from the garden, we’ll probably never know.

  • Moat outside Himerji Castle
    Moat outside Himerji Castle
  • Himeji Castle
    Himeji Castle
  • Himeji Castle
    Himeji Castle
  • Himeji Castle
    Himeji Castle
  • Himeji Castle
    Himeji Castle
  • Himeji Castle: View from the top
    View from the top
  • Himeji Castle
    Himeji Castle

We didn’t get a chance to see anything else in Himeji aside from the station and the wide boulevard from the station, it seems like a nice town and even has quite a few shops to keep the ladies interested. Don’t quote me but I’m pretty certain that this was the last castle that we’ll ever visit (as in buy the ticket and go up to the top of the main keep), but it was a nice one to go out on. You never know we might stop by in cherry blossom season or something but all the views would definitely be from the outside. It was also a bit unfortunate that the weather was so clear because some dramatic clouds would definitely have spruced up the pictures.

That’s it, it was a pretty easy day, next up, Emmy’s birthday which I’ll split into a couple posts because we did some cool things that need their own articles, really fun stuff.

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Japan 2016: Kyoto – Arashiyama and Kiyomizu Dera

Arashiyama

Arashiyama: Ghost in the bamboo forest

Ghost in the bamboo forest

After arriving at our Kyoto airbnb at about 6.30pm on a Saturday evening we were pretty tired and just wanted to settle in a bit, so we didn’t do anything but plan the next day. Having checked the weather forecast and our own plans for Kyoto we decided to head to Arashiyama for the morning/day trying to take it at a slower pace. One of the places that we didn’t visit our first time around in Kyoto, the bamboo forest of Arashiyama has been on my wishlist ever since.

Originally, the plan was to visit Arashiyama and Koko Dera which are both on the western side of Kyoto, but we visited Tenryuji in Arashiyama and that took up quite a bit of time, so we left it at that for the west. I’m not really sure if we saw all of the bamboo forest as it didn’t seem to be that big (just a few lanes) before we came across Tenryuji and decided to visit for some temple goodness.

Tenryuji

Arashiyama: Tenryuji, Cleansing water

Cleansing water

This was a very popular temple and it was easy to see why, it had a beautiful pond with viewing area, and a nice easy strolling garden. The koyo was starting to show around the pond giving some amazing photo opportunities, which everyone was lapping up.

Arashiyama: Tenryuji, giant bonsai

Tenryuji, giant bonsai

The garden was full of colourful flowers and some very well maintained trees, I like to call them giant bonsai for lack of a better term (I am not well versed enough to know what to google to find the actual tree type), and also some mossy areas. But certainly the highlight was the pond with zen garden and viewing platform.

We decided that that was enough sightseeing in this area and headed back to central Kyoto, grabbing some treats along the way (the hot red bean cakey things are always a winner) before deciding to head to Kiyomizu Dera and sannenzaka/ninenzaka for the afternoon rush.

Kiyomizu Dera

I don’t know if it was because it was Sunday or not, but Kiyomizu Dera was absolutely jam packed to the rafters, making the whole experience a little bit less than ideal. We’ve been to Kiyomizu Dera three times now and only once it wasn’t bursting with visitors (and that was due to it pouring rain and basically causing a new river to flow through Kyoto), so maybe it’s like that everyday when the weather is good.

To be honest, I’m not a big fan of Kiyomizu Dera, it has the beautiful view of Kyoto as well as the tree cover (still green when we visited, again…) but the temple and grounds themselves aren’t that impressive. I guess sometimes you just need that one thing that trumps all others, and at Kiyomizu Dera the view is quite spectacular despite the lack of Autumn colours. We also left before the sun set so we had a pretty high in the sky sun making it hard to take the best of pictures.

  • Arashiyama: Bamboo abstract?
    Bamboo abstract?
  • Arashiyama: Tenryuji, bright flower
    Tenryuji, bright flower
  • Arashiyama: Tenryuji, big fish in the pond
    Tenryuji, big fish in the pond
  • Arashiyama: Tenryuji, mirror pond
    Tenryuji, mirror pond
  • Kiyomizu Dera, still green
    Kiyomizu Dera, still green
  • The road to kiyomizu dera
    The road to kiyomizu dera
  • Kiyomizu Dera: Lantern on ninenzaka
    Lantern on ninenzaka

Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka

We headed back down the narrow road toward home (bustling as always, which can make for a nice people motion blur shot), but as always, took the detour down these antique streets which genuinely are quite charming. Full of shops selling souvenirs and other goods, as well as services like pottery classes and restaurants it’s definitely a must-visit for its looks as well as what is behinds its doors. We got to the end of the street and walked out on to the main road and realised that it was very near the supermarket that our airbnb host had showed us the previous day, making it very close to where we were staying. So we were staying super close (15 minutes or so walking) to Kiyomizu Dera, Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka, and Gion, I’ll have more on our accommodation later.

Next up, we visit Himeji Castle for a chill Monday.

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Japan 2016: Hiroshima and Miyajima

We only spent one night in Hiroshima, and one morning in Miyajima but we packed in quite a bit. We arrived at Narita Airport on a Friday morning and immediately proceeded to transport ourselves for six and a half hours across the country, and even this didn’t quite go as planned as there was some kind of delay on the train lines (even Japan is not immune). So arriving at Narita at 9am, we didn’t manage to leave until about 11.30am and didn’t get to Hiroshima until about 6pm, tired, sweaty, and smelly. So it was dinner time and we went out and looked for some grub heading back to plan out the day ahead.

Okonomiyaki, Hiroshima style

Okonomiyaki, Hiroshima style

At the station we decided to try Okonomiyaki, Hiroshima style, which is basically Okonomiyaki with noodles fried in. It was okay, not great, probably regular Okonomiyaki is more to my liking. The noodles just end up making the pancake fall apart everywhere. But anyway, that was our take on Hiroshima dining, we didn’t spend enough time to try anything else other than instant noodles.

What did we do?

So the plan we decided on with our very precious time, was to visit the nuclear dome and the peace park in the morning then get down to Miyajima for a wander before jumping on a shinkansen to Kyoto in the afternoon. When we woke up the next morning, some of our party had noticed that a lot of people had been streaming past the building where we were staying all morning. So as we were heading to the station with all of our luggage, we saw the streams and streams of people dressed in red walking the other way. They were supporters of the local baseball team, the Hiroshima Carps, it turns out that Hiroshima is a big baseball town, and they had just won the central league championship, this merited a parade and celebration, and we had arrived just in time to see it, but we decided not to.

Without much time, we put our luggage into a locker at the station and caught the first bus to the nuclear dome, we didn’t plan on visiting the museum as that was most likely going to be depressing and take quite some time. We meandered around the dome building and then made our way across the bridge to the Peace Park (which was quite pleasant). We were a little disappointed that the Autumn colours had not arrived yet, but turns out we got it wrong, and Autumn moves from north to south, so Hiroshima is probably colouring right about now! Little did we know that the baseball parade meant that the bus stops on the park side were not operating and we had to go back to the dome bus stop to get back to the train station to get the train to the ferry station to Miyajima, oops.

  • Floating Torii, Miyajima
    Floating Torii, Miyajima
  • Floating Torii, Miyajima
    Floating Torii, Miyajima
  • Hiroshima baseball champions parade
    Hiroshima baseball champions parade
  • Autumn is coming, Hiroshima War Memorial Peace Park
    Autumn is coming, Hiroshima War Memorial Peace Park
  • Nuclear Dome, Hiroshima
    Nuclear Dome, Hiroshima

The ferry to Miyajima is quite a short ride and once on the island we decided to split up with the rest of the group and meet back in a couple hours.

Deer looking for a feed

Deer looking for a feed

Oysters are a local specialty on Miyajima so we had to try those, even with pesky deer roaming the streets looking for a free feed. This one was nosing around sleeping Oscar and me even though we didn’t have any food, I had to shoo it away before it woke up the little master. On to Itsukushima shrine and the floating torii, it’s quite a nice place to visit and I do wish we had more time there, in my head I have it planned out for next time when we visit Kyushu only. We’ll go and stay in Miyajima for one night and maybe Hiroshima as well (or just visit the Japanese garden there) so that we can walk around the trails around Mount Misen and get all of the best views of the torii with peak light. There are a lot of tourists there during the day, one would imagine in the later afternoon and evening, even in the early morning there would be much less people and a calmer atmosphere.

This was truly a hectic day and half, and travelling to Kyoto as well meant that this second day was as rushed as the first (albeit with some sight-seeing mixed in). We did a fair bit in Kyoto too, so I’ll probably break that up into several posts (possibly one for each day), see ya next time!

Accommodation

We stayed at an airbnb which was so-so, clean (obviously) and with wifi, but nothing great, weird traditional bathroom. I won’t bother linking to it since it was nothing special and you can find anything that will be the same or better.

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Back from Japan 2016

Japan route

Japan route

Hello all, and we’re back, back from the wonderful land of Japan, which means that I’ve got a lot more content for the next couple months taking us into the new year, most likely, YAY! I got lots of pictures to sort through, not sure if I got anything that I’m really proud of but we’ll see, and we also spent some time doing some interesting not sight-seeing things which I’ll try to go through in more detail than my usual overview stuff.

So following the route, we arrived at Narita and jumped straight on the train headed for Hiroshima, in hindsight, this was a bad plan (as we only spent one night there) as we weren’t there long enough for the amount of travel to be worth it. I think next time we may visit Kyushu and go to Hiroshima/Miyajima from there spending a bit more time at Miyajima. From there we moved on to Kyoto for a big chunk (five nights) looking for Koyo (Autumn colours), we tried to vary our itinerary in Kyoto to avoid just visiting shrines and temples which I think we did pretty well.

Mount Fuji Koyo: Japan

Mount Fuji Koyo

On to Kawaguchi-Ko and Mount Fuji from there where some very clear weather treated us to some great views of the great volcano for our last two days (we stayed three). I don’t think we got 36 views of Mount Fuji, but we certainly covered quite a few angles from around Kawaguchi-Ko. After that it was on to Tokyo for some “relaxing” time, we usually just end up in Tokyo shopping and eating, that’s mostly what we did, I did actually manage to visit Shinjuku Gyoen for some chill out time (although even that was not too relaxing as I arrived late and had to rush around a bit). I don’t have many photos from Tokyo mostly because eating (mostly relatively boring stuff) and shopping aren’t the most photogenic of things. But we’ll get to all of that in the coming weeks with enough pictures to keep things interesting.

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