Posts Tagged: koyo

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: 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: 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: 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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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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