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.
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.
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.
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!).
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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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.
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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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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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.
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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Hi again, I stopped procrastinating and decided to post this otherwise it would be another two weeks at least before anything went up, so yes, we are visiting Japan again for our annual-ish holiday. This time, we are re-visiting a bunch of places from our first visit but at a slightly later time of year, hoping for that koyo (Autumn colours).
We’ll be stopping at Hiroshima (just for a very brief one night stopover), then Kyoto, Kawaguchi-ko, and finally Tokyo. I already sort of regret going to Hiroshima as it just doesn’t seem long enough to see Miyajima, Shukkeien Garden, and the peace memorial, among other things, but we booked the accommodation already so no going back. We’ll be doing some different things in Kyoto and Tokyo this time, less temples and more just taking in the culture, hopefully seeing Himeji which we missed last time due to renovations.
Emmy will be celebrating her birthday over there so hopefully it will be one that she can remember for a long, long time, if not, then I’ll probably be in hiding for a while. This time I will definitely be posting more content (not hard since I barely posted anything last time we did this trip) as I could barely find any references for this trip from my previous post. We’re also taking our parents, so this could very well be the greatest disaster ever known to man, wish us well!
You may wonder what the picture has to do with this trip, well, this is some kind of fern (in our garden, native I’m guessing), I think it has a very zen feel to it and is very Japanese in its simplicity and shape. But really, I took this picture a couple months ago and never bothered to upload it, so now that I have a chance, there it is ;).
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I know, I know, it’s been a long time, well, Oscar was sick for about a month from Anzac Day until his birthday, and we’ve spent the past month recovering from that really. Plus, it’s been really, really cold lately, so getting this post in the darkest, coldest period of Winter, you should consider yourselves very, very lucky. I decided to take a day off and head to this state park northeast of Melbourne, just past the Yarra Ranges National Park, I’d read about it on a bushwalking blog that I occasionally visit, and it looked good, but because this was a “spur of the moment” type deal, I didn’t really check what it was going to be like and just hoped that it was going to be clear and beautiful. Well, it wasn’t, it was misty at the top, and the view was a white-out, when I was up there anyway. It might have cleared up later, but I doubt it. The terrain reminds me a bit of the Grampians, but it’s a bit closer to where I live, but also, the good views here seem probably a bit more challenging to get to.
Driving there takes about two hours from my place, and then it’s ten kilometres (past a lot of curious kangaroos) up to Sugarloaf Saddle Carpark where you can do a number of pretty hairy trails. Considering my lack of experience and preparation, I went with the shortest, yet still quite challenging Canyon Track which is basically from the carpark to the peak of Sugarloaf Peak, 40 minutes one way, and involves some scrambling/climbing (or I just went the wrong way!). I was planning on climbing up to the peak and then walking along the Razorback track for a bit, but the view was completely obscured by cloud/mist so I decided just to head back down and look for a track that might give me some running water shots. Also, the rocks were a bit wet, and considering how dangerous climbing up and down that one little bit seemed, I thought better not risk any more in those conditions.
So I made my way back down to the car and then drove back down to Cooks Mill, where there is a Little River Track, which you would think, would meander along a river side. You can certainly hear the river, as you start the trail, but after only about 50m or so, it veers onto a track that just looks like unsealed road, there is a clearing to the left, and basically a muddy walk for about a kilometre or so before the road joins back to the track. This is a nice track with greenery everywhere and the sound of water running, as well as the occasional kookaburra sighting and constant kookaburra calls.
This track was also meant to be 40 minutes to it’s end point, Ned’s Gully, but after about 50 minutes I didn’t seem to be getting any closer, so I decided to head back, I didn’t have any food or water, it was probably only about five more minutes, as the walk back only took about 35-40 minutes with a brief stop for pictures by the river. I then stopped just past the bridge leading in and out of Cooks Mill to take a couple more pictures of the river before heading home. All in all, it was a worthwhile trip, if for nothing more than scouting, also got to drive through the Yarra Ranges National Park which is a treat in itself (no pictures though unfortunately), but I’m not sure I’ll be taking the little one there for a while, just seems a bit too challenging for him, but maybe I’m being over protective. So maybe I will head back out there in Spring time or something, at least the tracks seem easy to follow, even for me!
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Here’s a bit of a bonus post, which is especially convenient because Oscar’s been sick since Saturday and we haven’t been able to get out of the house pretty much the whole time. So while reviewing my pictures from Vietnam, a couple of panoramas popped up and I had the chance to process them, they’re okay but not the best. Both are panoramas from Da Nang where we probably had the best views the whole trip. First from the hotel, room (Brilliant Hotel) then from the Chessboard Point on Monkey Mountain (Son Tra). The lighting was not perfect in either one, if it was, I guess we’d be looking at a couple of pretty spectacular photos. Let’s hope that I can replicate all of the factors in my most popular flickr photo (Morning Light) soon, cos I haven’t been able to make anything really striking for a while.
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We went to the Dandenongs on the weekend – it’s a part of my new year’s resolution to go on more day trips, you might not have noticed yet, but it is slowly starting to happen – looking to visit an Autumn Garden show. But, apparently emmy got the dates wrong, even though I did mention to her that the Autumn show had a date set for 23rd/24th April and that it was not open on the weekend, she told me that she had some kind of pass, so I accepted that she would definitely not be out of her mind. Anyway, come Saturday and we drove up the mountain to Sassafras for this show, we stopped to have lunch beforehand at Ripe Cafe, which is in the same area as Cafe de Beaumarchais and Miss Marples Tea Room.
Looking at the ridiculous queue for Miss Marples, I definitely did not want to go there, and emmy didn’t want to visit Cafe de Beaumarchais again, so we went with Ripe Cafe. I ordered eggs benedict this time, while emmy went with chilli tomatoes on toast, I also had a hot chocolate. To be honest, the eggs benedict were a bit underwhelming, served with ham for starters (I much prefer salmon), and one of the poached eggs was overcooked (not runny at all!), the muffins underneath also seemed to be a little under toasted, lacking crunch. It’s quite a nice place, too bad that the kitchen didn’t hold up their end of the bargain.
After lunch, we had a quick look through a couple shops before heading on our way to the Autumn Garden show, which of course was closed, due to it being the 16th of April, and not the 23rd or 24th when the garden was meant to be open. So emmy, in all of her wisdom managed to persuade me to take us up to the Sky High Mount Dandenong Observatory to save a wasted day (it was just close enough that our low petrol tank would not drain away before we found a petrol station). Turned out that even despite cloud and mist blowing over the view, we did manage to have a good time up there (also the Secret Garden was closed as well) visiting the maze and the other small garden in the area.
The maze is quite nice for young families, as long as you’re not after a real challenge as it’s not very difficult and you can pretty much see over the top of the maze to find the stamp points that you’re looking for, and then there aren’t that many dead-ends to complete it. Some good fun had by all, and weather permitting, we’ll be back this weekend to visit the Autumn garden show, while it’s open.
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Just a quick restaurant review from our trip down to Sorrento a couple weekends ago, with a slight focus on the beach side town as well. We went down there (mainly for emmy to go shopping) but also to see what else was interesting, I knew it was down Mornington Peninsula way but didn’t realise exactly where it was, quite close to a couple of very nice places, Point Nepean to the west, and Cape Schanck to the southeast.
But as a day trip, we didn’t really have time to visit any other place since we left quite late in the morning, we had some lunch, emmy did some shopping, we wandered along the beach for a bit, and then went home. So, about lunch, we went to Buckley’s Chance which seems to be the go-to cafe in the area, as emmy went there a few weeks ago and didn’t remember that it was the same place until we got there.
Let’s start with the food, I ordered a pulled pork burger (has a pickled cabbage salad and chips on the side), emmy got fish and chips (so boring!), and we got some fried eggs on toast for Oscar. Well, it turns out that we didn’t need the eggs since Oscar just needed chips. My burger was great, the pickled cabbage was a perfect complement to the pork which was very nice and tender. I didn’t try the fish, but the chips were okay, not Grill’d but acceptable I also got an orange juice which was quite substantial, emmy went with a hot choc, nothing special about the beverages but they were reasonable.
One thing that we did notice was the lack of water, we weren’t offered water at any point and it seems like a bit of an oversight, not sure if that is normal for them, but some water would definitely have been good, especially at the end of the meal. Overall, good meal, a bit pricey but that’s pretty normal considering it’s a tourist town.
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