Posts By dtra

Cafe de Beaumarchais

Cafe de Beaumarchais

Cafe de Beaumarchais

Wow, it’s only been two months since my last post, I thought it’d been longer :(. Oh well, last week (Good Friday it was, actually) we went up to Sassafras in the Dandenongs as it is one of the few places in Melbourne where anything is open on such holy day. Apart from wandering around the local artisan shops – we found a nice, reasonably priced painting (by local artist Belinda Volkmer) at Miloko for our room!) –

Sea Garden painting

Sea garden painting by Belinda Volkmer

we had brunch at Café de Beaumarchais, we’d been here before but with a big bunch of people (who were quite annoying) so maybe we didn’t enjoy it as much last time, thought we’d better give it another chance without any distractions (even the little boy was not with us!).

So only needing to worry about ourselves deciding what to eat was so much easier, drinks first and that’s usually not even a question (as we don’t drink coffee).

Cafe de Beaumarchais: Parisian Hot Chocolate

Parisian Hot Chocolate

Beverages

A couple of Parisian Hot Chocolates thanks, now I’m not sure what the difference between this one and the regular hot chocolate is (perhaps it is darker and less sweet? That’s pure speculation though) but it was good, not that overly sweet stuff.

Food

Cafe de Beaumarchais: Special Croissant

Cafe de Beaumarchais

On to the food which is what everyone is really interested in, we went with the special croissant (pesto, tomato, cheese, can’t remember the cold cut but possibly ham, and some kind of nut (probably), and the three cheese board. Emmy ate most of the croissant so I can’t really comment on that one but the one bite I had was pretty good. The highlight though was really the cheese board.

There was a soft cheese, a less soft cheese, and a harder cheese (like cheddar) to go with a couple of baguettes, pickles, quince paste, and some lavosh (like pappadams but smaller?), and I know, it doesn’t look like a lot, but when you eat at a reasonable pace and with a hot choc as well, it does fill you up quite well.

Cafe de Beaumarchais: Three cheese board

Three cheese board

I love pickles so that was a nice side and the sourness worked really well with the sweet quince paste. Each of the cheeses were great, I’d probably give my nod to the middle softness one, it was just right :D. The bread was good too and had that nice crusty crust even though it wasn’t toasted. It leaves you wondering, where do they source there cheese from and how do I get some for myself! Definitely a more enjoyable experience than last time and definitely a thumbs up and recommend from me.

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Netgear EX7300 WiFi Extender

We’ve lived in our current house for a bit over a year now but we’ve recently changed rooms, so from one end of the house to the other. We used to be on the same side of the house as the router so wifi was never an issue, but in our new room it was spotty at best, enter the Netgear EX7300 WiFi Extender (full name, Nighthawk X4 WiFi Range Extender). I’ve had a Netgear router for the past several years (the WNDR3700 dual band router) which has served me well and continues to do so, and therefore I was pre-disposed to the brand already, when looking for the wifi extender.

Netgear EX7300

Netgear EX7300

After tossing up between the bulkier EX7000 and this one, I decided to go with this one due to its smaller design. Setup was pretty easy, just follow the steps on the quick start guide and you should be fine, although the setup prompt didn’t work on my mac mini (setup button didn’t launch anything), it worked as expected using my ipad.

Installation

I just went with the default setup to begin with, so extending both 2.4gHz and 5gHz bands on my router (which appends _ext to create two new network SSIDs) and tried that for a couple of days. It seemed to work initially, but after some use (maybe thirty minutes) the internet would either drop out (connection was fine) or the connection would die and it would be impossible to reconnect. There also seemed to be a problem with the old SSIDs on the router as the internet became unstable when connected to those as well (near the router of course), even the one device connected by LAN seemed to have issues.

Troubleshooting

I tried assigning static IPs to everything in the house which didn’t really change anything, so the final step was to try the FastLane function. This combines both frequencies from the extender to strengthen the signal meaning you use only one SSID. So I went with combining the 2.4gHz into the 5gHz band and voilà, so far so good. We haven’t had any issues with dropping out or connection in the past few days and the speed has been very solid.

Range

Currently it’s only sitting about 7m (through a wall or two) from the router (in a floor outlet) and running at 100% power, I had a quick check of the range out the back of the house and it extends out to the backyard but while the WiFi is connected at two bars all the way out the back (probably 15-20m through a few walls) the internet didn’t seem to work. Just outside the back door, through the same walls but with possibly less environmental interference, the connection still worked reasonably well, so I don’t think I need to worry about leechers stealing my internet from the reserve.

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Happy New Year! Our artisan pottery arrived!

Does the new year start in February? Well, close enough, I obviously was accounting for Lunar New Year as well. It seems that I’ve had some pretty lazy holiday period as I have not even set foot near this site since my last post about Japan.

Finished pottery

Finished pottery

Well, not much to say here, we’ve just been doing the regular old domestic thing, going to the beach on nice, sunny days, and painting a room over the xmas break, and having my birthday. And it just so happened that our semi-artisan finished pottery arrived just in time. So it turned into a birthday present for Emmy as well as myself.

I said in the post about the actual pottery class, that he may only have sent 3-4 items, but he managed to fit the whole set into the box, which was great. Unfortunately, once of the bowls (Emmy’s middle bowl) had a crack at the top and I had to super glue it back on (imperfectly) but that just added to the wabi sabi nature of the bowls.

We’ve put them in our room and it’s pretty unlikely that we’ll be using them for anything other than display, but you never know. The finish on Emmy’s big bowl (the rough one) is definitely my favourite, and of the remaining ones, my little tea/sake cup has a similar finish which is good, and Emmy’s third bowl (the glossy green bowl) are my other favourites.

The bowls themselves are pretty ordinary but they’re really nice to have and bring back good memories just looking at them. I mean apart from the shape being all wonky (mine are anyway), we can safely call these artisan pieces, since Shigeru Sensei finished the bottom as well as the coating (or maybe he outsourced it to a student?) and he’s definitely no novice. Here’s the complete set from a few different angles.

  • Finished pottery
    Finished pottery
  • Finished pottery
    Finished pottery
  • Finished pottery
    Finished pottery
  • Finished pottery
    Finished pottery

That’s all for now, hmm, this might be shaping up to be a slow year on the dtraCorp front, let’s try and get things moving a bit, although my neck/back is pretty crook at the moment so not sure anything’s going to be happening in the short term.

 

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Japan 2016: Food Highlights :d

Is this what you’ve all been waiting for? The foodie post? Well, I’ve gone over the Hiroshima okonomiyaki, yummy tacoyaki among other things at Nishiki Market, and the kaiseki in Kyoto at Gion Nanba, so I’m going to post some pictures here and talk about some of the other nice meals we had. We also had omurice, tempura, ramen, and pizza/pasta but I don’t have pictures or specific memories of those so won’t bore you with nothingness.

Kyoto

Coco Curry

Coco Curry

Coco Curry

So back to Kyoto, between instant noodle and/or toast breakfasts, bento boxes from department store food courts, we managed to squeeze in a visit to the famous Coco Curry. We didn’t quite understand how to order but managed to get ourselves a curry each (including one for Oscar), everyone got a mild curry so it was basically gravy, but it was still yummy, this was probably Oscar’s favourite meal of the whole trip as he ate all of his serve and then some.

I ordered a set meal but this didn’t specify the spice level, while everyone else ordered from the combination menu which allows you to choose a base curry, and select the spice level, and then extras and add-ons to spice up the meal (pun totally intended). And yet they still just went with mild curry, but anyway, it was definitely an easy meal.

Kineya

Kyoto: Udon at Kineya

Udon at Kineya

The only other picture of a meal I have is from our old favourite udon restaurant in the Porta Shopping mall, just outside Kyoto Station. We had quite a good recollection of eating udon here the last time we were in Kyoto, the memory was so good that we just had to come back. In reality though, we remembered that there was a pretty good udon place in the Porta shopping mall and didn’t want to run any risks as we were kind of in a rush and needed something that Oscar would likely eat.

That’s not to say that the udon here isn’t good, it’s plenty good and very possible that in a similar situation next time we are in Kyoto we may visit again. I had the cold noodles this time with a chicken katsu set, the noodles are so thick and chewy here, I like it.

Kawaguchi-ko

Even in a relatively small town (or perhaps especially because) like Kawaguchi-ko there are specialties to try. The specialty of the area (Yamanashi) is hoto, which is a type of noodle similar to udon, but the noodles are flatter and wider, the broth is usually filled with seasonal vegies and root vegies (especially pumpkin) and pork based.

Hoto Fudo

  • Kawaguchi-ko
    Hoto Fudo Kitchen
  • Kawaguchi-ko: Hoto Fudo
    Hoto Fudo

So we were strolling around on that cloudy day in Kawaguchi-ko looking for something to eat when we stumbled upon this hoto restaurant just near the train station. We definitely remembered how yummy hoto was, so we stepped right on in and tried this one out (it’s only open from 11am-7pm). Compared to Hoto Kosaku, the actual bowls are a bit bigger (with the amount of food being about the same), there are not as many broth or add-on options here, but it still hits the spot if you’re after pork or vegie based noodle soup. The price for two bowls was about 25$ AUD (or a bit over 2,000¥), I would expect that we would drop by again next time we’re in Kawaguchi-ko :D.

Hoto Kosaku

Hoto Kosaku: Pork Hoto

Pork Hoto

This is the hoto restaurant that the hostel always recommends, and with good reason, the hoto here is bloody good and there are many options for broth (whatever you can think of really) as well as extras. We’re always a little price conscious so we didn’t splurge on the higher priced dishes (can’t remember off the top of my head but maybe something like crab or goose, something kind of exotic), I just got the stock standard pork hoto, and Emmy splurged on the seafood hoto.

This place is super busy but the queue moves quite quickly, you basically walk in and have to put your name down to reserve your spot. Once you’ve got your table though, you should quickly work out what you want and flag a waiter/waitress down to make your order as they’re super busy and not looking for customers with empty tables.

Hoto Kosaku: Seafood Hoto

Seafood Hoto

Some tables on the sides have pits where you can dangle your feet but both times we’ve been there we have not had the fortune of such a luxury and had to sit cross legged on the floor. The noodles here are super luxurious, they’re probably wider and flatter than the ones at Hoto Fudo, the broth very sweet and tasty, this is a can’t miss in Kawaguchi-ko. These two bowls cost us about 40$ AUD (or 3,500¥) so a fair bit more pricey than Hoto Fudo for a similar quantity, it’s your own choice whether the extra options are worth your hard earned.

Tokyo

We mostly ate in the shopping mall food courts in Tokyo, but there are plenty of tasty options to be had there as well, although a bit pricier than some of the places you can find elsewhere.

ABC Canteen

One such place that was actually memorable was this place on the eighth floor (if I remember correctly) of the Lumine Est shopping mall (how many times have we been here?). We were kind of stuck for a place to eat and decided to just pick a place on this floor, there were a couple of good options but in the end we were won over by the plastic food of this place.

  • ABC Canteen: Roast beef salad
    Roast beef salad
  • ABC Canteen: Funnel Cake
    Funnel Cake

I had the roast beef on rice (with a poached egg) and side of sald, while Emmy had some kind of deep fried chicken. The beef was pretty tender, but the slices were pretty big and a bit chewy so it wasn’t the easiest thing to eat (no knife either), but it was quite tasty. Meanwhile, we ordered some dessert for the age-old reason YOLO! I’m never going to argue against waffles, and especially not when they are covered with other delicious walnuts, cream, caramel?, and iced cream. This was only the half dessert option, there’s no way we could have done the whole cake, although I’m sure Oscar would have tried his best.

Tsukiji Tamasushi

The highlight of the Tokyo eating time was definitely this place, one which comes with the advantage of knowing a local, as this was a recommendation from Emmy’s friend’s husband. We went looking on a Tuesday night for some izakaya, but his preferred haunts were all full up so we had to settle for a sushi restaurant. Judging by the name this place is in Tsukiji (we were in the Ginza/Tsukiji area), it was definitely worth the money we forked out.

  • Tsukiji Tamasushi: Omakase sushi
    Omakase sushi
  • Tsukiji Tamasushi: Omakase sushi
    Omakase sushi
  • Tsukiji Tamasushi: More Sushi
    More Sushi
  • Tsukiji Tamasushi
    Tsukiji Tamasushi
  • Tsukiji Tamasushi: More Sushi
    More Sushi

As you can probably tell from the menu pictures, the food pretty much matches the picture (maybe with a variation or two possibly due to seasonality), but the big thing to note is the price. Mine is a ten course omakase for 3,100¥ (approximately 40$ AUD), for the same thing here (albeit perhaps served with a bit more pomp) you’d expect to pay upwards of 90$. So what if it was all served at once on one dish for me, it’s fresh and well made and only 40$. That eel (the big one) on Emmy’s dish had a really tasty sauce on it too.

Unknown Okonomiyaki

Monjayaki

Monjayaki

Finally, we have an unknown okonomiyaki restaurant in Yoyogi, this place was near our accommodation which made it easy enough. Emmy wanted to try out this dish, monjayaki, which is sort of similar to okonomiyaki but has different ingredients, but still fried on a flat grill. As you can see from the picture it pretty much looks like vomit, but I can assure you it tastes a hell of a lot better.

I’m not really sure what’s in there, cabbage, probably egg to bind, I think this was a mountain type or something so it had ingredients that you find on the mountains. We also had a couple of okonomiyakis after this because they weren’t too filling. This was a very Japanese restaurant as there were only locals eating there and the staff (all women interestingly) didn’t speak any English. They did work out that we needed an English menu and that we probably needed them to cook for us though (unlike the locals who grilled for themselves), I think we can probably do it for ourselves next time if we do visit another such establishment. There isn’t that much to it really, just stir it a bit to mix it up real good then pour it on to the pan and flatten it out, let it cook until ready. I actually got to do the flip on one of the okonomiyakis, and it was spectacular!

That’s it, it’s only taken three weeks to complete my holiday rundown, that must be a record. I may add some more picture posts as I go through my photos more thoroughly, but for the most part, I’m done, until next time, and there will be a next time.

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Japan 2016: Drinking Tea, Rainbow Bridge, and a Stroll Through Shinjuku Gyoen

Shinjuku Gyoen: NTT Docomo Building trying to hide

NTT Docomo Building trying to hide

As I said before, we didn’t do too much in terms of touristic things in Tokyo, shopping and eating is sort of touristy but you can do that anywhere. We attended a tea ceremony lesson (thanks to Emmy’s friend), decided to have a quick look at the Rainbow Bridge from Odaiba Marine Park one night, and I took Oscar to Shinjuku Gyoen our last afternoon in Japan to try and chill out before going home. And even that isn’t really that touristy since a stroll through the park is a normal thing anywhere.

Shinjuku Gyoen: Chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemums

The tea ceremony is an interesting thing, and the tea ceremony lesson is possibly even more interesting. We were invited (I think) to attend the lesson as guests so we didn’t have to do anything except drink tea and eat sweets, although we did have to stir our own tea one time. I was sitting there observing it all, and while it didn’t look like much, I am pretty sure pretty much everything the teacher was doing was following a very specific routine, e.g. which hand to use to place a hanky down, and which hand to lift a bowl, and when to move this or that.

It had to be very precise, I’m sure of it, I’m not making it more than it was, the Japanese are very OCD like that, it would seem to be very easy to mess up while learning, but after enough practice it would become a habit to follow all the steps precisely I would think. We got to eat some yummy sweets and learn how to stir the green tea (not in a round motion, but back and forth) before heading out for dinner (more on that in a later post).

One evening we were at home, I think it was the Tuesday, the weather was clear and we were just going to go shopping, but I thought it might be a good idea to visit Odaiba Marine Park and get a view of the Rainbow Bridge from across the bay. The train ride was an interesting one as it is on a newer train line that runs on different tracks (or something), and even goes over the Rainbow Bridge. Turns out that we were far too late as the nightly light show had already finished and it was pretty dark with nothing much to see. We walked along the path and headed toward one of the boardwalk piers, the bridge was still illuminated so there was at least that to look at. It did look nice, though it probably would have been worth spending a half day in Odaiba and finishing with the night view of the bridge.

Shinjuku Gyoen: NTT Docomo Building Koyo

NTT Docomo Building Koyo

Our final full day in Tokyo (and Japan) we did some shopping in the morning (yay for me! I got some stuff), and then after lunch Emmy carried on with that while I took Oscar to Shinjuku Gyoen for a good wander. It closes quite early 4.00pm (gates close 4.30pm) and having only arrived at around 3pm I didn’t have as much time as I ended needing, as I had to rush about before I even got to enjoy the Japanese Garden portion properly.

I think next time I’ll definitely try to arrive at around 1.30pm or so, then I can take my time and enjoy it more peacefully. Even so, we were able to follow the route and see several areas of the park, including a few ponds, bridges, and maple trees, and with the NTT Docomo Building poking its head in. There was a chrysanthemum flower festival or something as there were many displays with all different kinds of chrysanthemums, some growing at very peculiar angles, they were quite nice, although I’m sure Emmy would not approve. I was really impressed by the park and will definitely make it a higher priority next time I’m in Tokyo.

That’s pretty much it, the tour is finished, but, I will regale you with more details on some of the food we ate as well as the places we stayed in the next couple of posts. Kaiseki in Kyoto wasn’t the only delight we lavished on ourselves, in Japan, there is always something delectable around the corner, and the same can be said of dtraCorp :D.

  • Rainbow Bridge, Odaiba Marine Park
    Rainbow Bridge, Odaiba Marine Park
  • Odaiba Marine Park
    Odaiba Marine Park
  • Shinjuku Gyoen
    Shinjuku Gyoen
  • Shinjuku Gyoen
    Shinjuku Gyoen
  • Last train ride to Narita
    Last train ride to Narita

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Japan 2016: Ghibli Museum

Fantastical Ghibli Building

Fantastical Ghibli Building

Let’s be clear, we didn’t do a lot in Tokyo, mostly shopping and eating, we had a quick ride to Odaiba marine park (at night) and attended a tea ceremony class, but otherwise the only tourist thing we did of any value was visit the Ghibli Museum. We originally planned to visit Kamakura for a day trip but after all of the travelling we’d done up to this point we thought better of it. This was almost an absolute disaster, we didn’t buy the tickets online from Australia (they were already sold out for the time we were going) so we managed to ask one of Emmy’s friends who lives in Tokyo to help us buy a couple tickets. But it turns out that the museum is quite strict on people buying tickets and requiring identification to match the purchaser of the tickets (to reduce scalping).

Ghibli Museum: Soot Sprites

Soot Sprites

After asking us a few times and realising that it was going to be nigh impossible to gather the necessary identification the security staff was kind enough to let us through anyway (we really had no idea), it was probably fortunate that Oscar was there, he probably took pity on us because of that.

You can’t take any pictures inside the museum, which is quite small (three levels), so all you can do really, is enjoy the museum. It’s full of pictures and little models, and elaborate re-creations of Miyazaki’s desk (I’m guessing), among other things. Two exhibits in the first room (full of models and some movie projector type things) were quite the standouts.

There was a wall with a bunch of windows into tiny rooms, each room has little models of desks and people at work (I presume of Ghibli employees), they were very intricate and detailed which made them very nice to look at. The other great thing in that first room was the animated model, I don’t even know how to describe it, basically it’s a wheel with many models of the cat bus from My Neighbour Totoro, that spins around at high speed and then combined with lighting effects you can see how the animation works. It’s sort of like stop motion, very cool.

Ghibli Museum: Totoro at the ticket counter

Totoro at the ticket counter

Another highlight was the short movie that was screened in the Saturn theatre (entry comes with a ticket to the movie) which is a ten minute film that has three screenings per hour (I think). Apparently it is an original Ghibli animation that is not screened anywhere else. I’m not sure of the title of the short we watched but it had a dog in it called Toro (or Koro) and it was about how he got lost but managed to find his way back home. It was Oscar’s first time in a movie theatre and I’m not sure if he actually understood what was happening, but he pretty much lost it when the dog was hit by a bicycle, he started wailing but managed to regain his composure and continue watching pretty quickly. He cried a couple more times during the film but only very briefly so I don’t think it distracted anyone, but we can only assume that he understood what was going on and felt great empathy with the puppy.

Ghibli Museum: Robot

Robot

The other highlight for me was the big cat bus (kids 12 and under only) that kids can climb and jump on to their heart’s content, for about five minutes. Oscar was by far the smallest one in his group (all the others were probably between 4-10 years old) and he was quite nervous (but also excited). He would wait until the bigger kids were all jumping on the other side of the bus and then give the cat a big cuddle, he managed to climb into the bus very briefly and also kissed one of the rats up on the cat’s head, this was for some reason an extremely emotional thing for myself and Emmy and definitely one of the highlights of our trip.

There’s a stall that sells milk flavoured iced cream (not vanilla, so I guess it’s the same as vanilla but without the vanilla flavouring) and some drinks, while the cafe is quite busy and has its own undercover waiting area, we weren’t going to wait for that.

Ghibli Museum: Pumping Water

Pumping Water

There’s the robot from Laputa on top of the museum and actually a nice park just next to the museum as well, we waited there as we were about thirty minutes earlier than our entry time. The museum is small but we managed to spend about two and a half hours there wandering around, it’s interesting and certainly worth a look if you’re a Miyazaki or Ghibli fan, or even just a fan of animation or film.

Keep your eyes peeled though because there are many displays that are very small and intricate that you could easily miss.

It’s about a twenty minute train ride from Shinjuku and then a 5-10 minute bus ride from Mitaka station, there is a shuttle bus that takes you right to the entrance. For lack of anything else interesting, my next post will include the three other touristy things we did, visit Odaiba marine Park (very quickly for twenty minutes or so), attend a tea ceremony class, and a visit to Shinjuku Gyoen (a large park). And then I’ll do some foodie posts and accommodation stuff to conclude this trip, and start dreaming of the next.

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Japan 2016: Mount Kachi Kachi

Trail to Mount Tenjo shrine

Trail to Mount Tenjo shrine

One more morning in Kawaguchi-ko, and the weather was amazingly clear so we decided to head back up the Mount Kachi Kachi ropeway to get some good views of Mount Fuji before catching a bus to Tokyo. Too bad the bright daylight haze settled in by the time we got up to the lookout, it was super busy and the queue was over 20 minutes long when we joined (which wasn’t as early as I would have liked). Oh well, you have to make do with what you have, and I think we had a pretty successful morning nonetheless.

We hurried to pack all of our stuff so that we could check out and go up the ropeway as soon as possible, and even then we didn’t manage to leave until about 10.30am. Once we got to the Mount Kachi Kachi ropeway entrance we saw a line, not a good sign as at the end the wait was twenty minutes so we jumped in to reserve our spot. The line moved at a reasonable pace and eventually we got to ride up and it’s only a three minute trip.

We had a quick wander around before we went looking for our spot, which is a small clearing on the way to the Mount Tenjo shrine. There is a bench there and a good view of Mount Fuji, we aimed to recreate a romatntic pose that we did on our first trip to Japan but this time with an additional participant. After a few tries, and then a few more (thanks to the endless stream of other tourists walking past),  we finally managed to get the shot we were after.

Afterward we continued along the trail toward the Mount Tenjo summit and shrine, it’s a great little stroll as the trees lining the trail are all coloured in brilliant Autumn colours (yellow at the time). The hike to Mount Mitsutoge is a further three hours (so six hours return), this will be my target the next time we are in the area as I’m not sure that I’ll ever summit Mount Fuji. I am pretty sure that there would be some excellent views of Mount Fuji along the trail as well as other nice things to look at, it was extremely busy being a Sunday with fine weather, so maybe next time we will try to visit the area on a weekday.

  • Mount Fuji from Mount Tenjo Shrine
    Mount Fuji from Mount Tenjo Shrine
  • Kawaguchi-ko from Mount Kachi Kachi
    Kawaguchi-ko from Mount Kachi Kachi
  • Mount Fuji
    Mount Fuji

Finally it was time to go and head back to the station and get a bus to Tokyo, unfortunately, having not booked tickets beforehand, and this being a Sunday with very nice weather, there were a lot of people trying to get on to a set number of buses. We managed to get ourselves on to a bus headed for Tokyo station (as opposed to Shinjuku) that was supposed to take two hours. Well, it tooks four and half and little Oscar was getting pretty restless by the time we were nearing Tokyo, fortunately the super moon was coming (he loves the moon), so that was an interesting distraction for him for part of the ride.

Mount Fuji panorama

Mount Fuji panorama

So to conclude, never catch a bus on a Sunday (maybe Saturdays too) afternoon during peak season in Kawaguchi-ko headed for Tokyo, especially not when the weather is basically perfect (except for the lack of fluffy clouds). You’ll be stuck in traffic for hours. Next, we’re on the home stretch, Tokyo, which was mostly shopping and eating :D.

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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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