Our Japan adventures are finally up. Here is the summary post with links to each day in case you want to start here! Each line below will take you straight to that blog entry.
Hope you enjoy!
Our Japan adventures are finally up. Here is the summary post with links to each day in case you want to start here! Each line below will take you straight to that blog entry.
Hope you enjoy!
Monday December 12th
Nothing to report for this day really… a midday flight meant we had to braves peak hour on the trains with all our bags and make our way to Narita. Thankfully the congestion was not too bad and a fairly uneventful ride out to the airport went with ease. We checked in, using the small Terminal 3 and with just a very slight delay we were in the air.
As we left Tokyo we could see Mt Fuji quite clearly, and that was my parting image of Japan. Fitting really.
So how was our trip? Amazing. Yes, it was my 3rd visit and I visit many of the same places, but it was my first with Kate and then we had the craziness of Tokyo with Mads and also Craig and Erin. So it made it a very different experience, and I say the more people you are with in Tokyo maybe the better. We have an animated gif of myself, Kate, Mads and Erin dancing in front of the Robot Restaurant and that sums up a big part of the trip. Whirlwind craziness, encapsulating everything I love about Japan and its people. The best.
Sunday December 11th
Our last main day in Tokyo was to knock off another Disney park for Mads, this time DisneySea. We had been fortunate to even be going, as it seemed with Christmas approaching the parks were jam packed and selling out on weekends. But we had tickets so a VERY early morning got us to the park by about 7:20, in line for more craziness.
And craziness it was indeed. There was already a massive queue of people waiting to get in and Kate’s research had suggested there was no way we would be able to do all rides in the park. So we had to be even more strategic. So as the park opened I ditched the gals and ran for fast passes for the most popular ride, Toy Story Mania. It is the most recent ride built (a clone of the California Adventures one) and routinely has wait times of 3-4 hours which is just nuts. So everyone tries to get a fast pass which means a queue just to get those first thing. But about 45 minutes of waiting meant we would get to ride it so we were all sorted.
After that it was a matter of juggling the rides to maximise how many and minimise wait times. It seemed the combination of weekend, Christmas and smaller park meant we were going to be fighting crowds all day. Oh well. Over the course of the day we managed to knock off everything we wanted, with only one long wait, which was for the best ride, Indiana Jones. We managed to get on lots of the others as well, including the story themed ones like Sinbad, the most excellent Journey To The Centre Of The Earth and 20000 Leagues Under The Sea and even see a show or two. Toy Story Mania was just as fun as I remembered too, especially scoring a pretty high score too thanks to my sharp shooting. Sadly I missed out on the Tower of Terror, but I wasn’t prepared to (nor have the time) wait 2.5 hours. So we just ran around the park having fun, being befuddled for the insane lines for popcorn and turkey legs, being confused by Duffy the Disney Bear, and just soaking it up.
Rather than have a typical parade, here at DisneySea it was all based on the lagoon in the middle of the park. The show here was Fantasmic, one I had seen in California many years ago, but one Kate had not seen. So on dark, we settled in in a good spot and kicked back.
It was finally time for us to get on to Toy Story Mania, after the epic chase for fast passes at the start of the day. Kate and I had been on this in California Adventures and is definitely one of my favourite rides. Like Astro Blasters you get to compete and try and score points as you move through, this one decked out like a carnival with different games of skill. The 3D actually makes it pretty great. Worth the 4 hour waits many people are doing? Probably not. But it is still rad.
Like Friday, next thing we knew it was approaching 10pm and park closing time, so we got a least couple of gifts and trained it back again. Another night getting home after 11pm having been up since 6. I don’t think I had managed more than about 6 hours sleep a night, combined with all the walking so I was exhausted. We all were, but it was just as we wanted it.
Saturday December 10th
We were resigned to the fact that there would be no sleep ins and we would be perpetually exhausted but that is how it goes when you only have one full day in Tokyo, which was mostly up to the girls what they wanted to see, especially Mads given it was her first time. In the agenda was some sight seeing, but also quite bit of shipping (of course).
We started though with the Imperial Palace gardens which were fairly close by. So we jumped out of the train station and wandered in. Sadly, it probably best representation of Japanese gardens for Mads, as there was very little autumn foliage still left and so they were a bit barren. It also didn’t really afford views of “Japanesey” buildings like other areas, so we did a bit of a wander and then kept moving.
We were heading toward Ginza when my good fortune prevailed again. I had completely forgotten about it, but we were near the small statue of Godzilla that resides in Tokyo! Score! I was so excited to see it… I had even watched the latest Godzilla movie on the plane on the way over. He was quite small, but you could get some good angles to have him residing menacingly in the neighbourhood.
The visit to Ginza was to mostly to visit the main flagship store of Uniqlo. Yep. Decided to visit 12 floors of Uniqlo. We all bought a few things, with Mads especially loving the options here in Japan. Time flew by as we explored, with me picking up just a few cool tees that I was unlikely to see back home.
Next we headed in the direction of Roppongi, as Kate was keen to visit a more traditional arts and crafts type store. We had read about one that focused on designing and crafting just in Japan so it was good to get a sense of the traditional craft goods. We had seen quite a bit in Kyoto, and so explored this a bit but didn’t feel compelled to take anything away.
We seemed to be doing a loop of Tokyo, as we then headed to Shibuya. Mads could not visit Tokyo and not visit the famous Shibuya crossing. So emerging out of the station at the Hatchiko exit (poor little puppy) we made our way across the crossing and up into the Starbucks that overlooks, just as many do. It was nice to sit and have a drink and watch the craziness.
While in Shibuya I ditched the girls for a quick bit. I could not be in Shibuya and not visit my favourite record store, the Disk Union outlet that specialised in punk and metal and well, everything really. 4 small floors of LPs that always make me drool. I didn’t have hours so just spent half an hour picking through the LPs. Nothing jumped out at me so for the first time I left empty handed believe it or not. I met back up with the girls and we kept moving, this time to Harajuku.
It was dark, so we weren’t really able to explore the park, so just wandered down the shopping area to see what we could find. We knew two places we wanted to pop in to. Mads was keen to visit the Adidas flagship to see what unique things they had, while I wanted to pop into Kiddyland… 6 floors of toys. We didn’t spend too long in there as I wasn’t intending to buy, but it is always good to see the strange Japanese exclusive things. A small Snorlax for my desk was all I left with.
It was getting later so we headed back across town towards Asakusa. We decided to pop into Akihabara for another quick bit so we could visit the stores we had missed on our first night. It was cool to wander through all the little shops and see what unique things they had. I managed to find some more Kit Kat so it was well worth the visit 🙂
On our travels, I picked up one of the christmas coke bottles that they had here. I had seen a video showing the magic label that was on these bottles and had to try it (you can youtube it obviously). Bt the gist is you peel off one side of the label and pull a tab… and keep pulling… and keep pulling. And slowly the label folds up into this sweet bow, without you doing anything else! Why don’t we have this at home?
Anyway, a detour back to Uniqlo to pick up some things that were being embroidered for the gals and then it was back to the hostel. Boy had we walked some miles and we were were all pretty tired. We needed our rest for our last big day in Tokyo.
Friday December 9th
I think this entry will be a little shorter than the last entry that seemed to pack in a lot. Not that we were not about to be busy, but that it was going to be focused on just one thing… Disneyland!
This was one significant reason for our trip and the primary reason for Mads to visit, so we left the hostel nice and early to make it out the in time for opening. Only having one day meant we needed to plan, and Kate had done a big job of scouting out popularity of rides to work out our plan of what to visit, when, what fast passes to get and the like. So as the gates opened, we sprung into action. I ran for fast passes for the newish Monsters Inc ride and secured those quite quickly. Then it was off to the second most popular ride in the park to do it nice and early
Pooh’s Hunny Hunt was a bogie ride for Kate, not having been able to get on it when she had been here in the past. But with our planning paying off, we were on it in no time. And I still think it is one of the best rides at Disneyland, just the way the carts move around in the space, with us sitting in a hunny pot that moves on hidden magnetic tracks independently of the other cars in our group. The girls were very happy by the end of it.
The rest of the day was about trying to visit as much as possible. We all had the benefit of having visited numerous Disneyland’s before so we knew the rides and park layout well. So we just kept scouting around for the shortest queues and what fast passes to get. Over the day we rode all the usual rides… Astro Blasters, Space Mountain, Haunted Mansion (twice) and all the story rides. The girls were rocking their Disney head gear and loving it all.
Crowds were pretty manageable so we got to do everything we wanted, even getting a great spot for the electric parade in the early evening. Throwing in some shopping we managed to get to closing time at 10pm. A long day having gone in at park opening at 8:30am, but awesome to run around the park with Kate and Mads, both of whom were truly in their element all day.
Thursday December 8th
Today was the day I was most excited for, for a number of reasons. We had a bunch of things planned and ticketed already, some revisits and some brand new. So let me get to it…
First thing was something I had been on the ball with before coming over, and that was tickets for one of (if not) my favourite places in Japan… the Ghibli Museum! It had recently reopened after a minor restoration (mostly new coats of paint) so tickets were in high demand. I managed to snag some and so Kate was going to get to experience it for the first time, and me my 3rd. Yep, I think I will try and go every visit I make to Tokyo. So early in the morning, we jumped on a train out to Mitaka to visit.
I have written about the museum quite a bit in the past, so no need to bang on. Needless to say the walk to the museum along the water and through the park was glorious in the sunshine and at about 9:30am we arrived. A handful of people were already lining up, so we jumped in the queue and waited for 10am to arrive. The doors opened and in we went!
It was so good visiting with Kate, who had not been before. She got to experience the delight of Miyazaki’s work room, the Cat Bus room, the dioramas and maquettes, and all the other magic. We even got to sit on a Cat Bus, which was the same one I had sat on 5 years earlier. It was the best.
Their no photos policy means you can do nothing but just enjoy yourself which we did. On the rooftop though we could bust the camera out and Kate was stoked to get photos with the robot from her favourite Ghibli movie, Laputa. The beautiful sunshine meant it was turning out to be a perfect day. A trip to the gift shop was our sat stop before heading back to Tokyo. I made a purchase I had been wanting to make for years but not seen the right one. Well this time, they had a hand painted cel of Kiki from possibly my favourite Ghibli film, Kiki’s Delivery Service. It was a bit pricey (not too pricey) but this was to be my one big souvenir from this trip and something I would always stare at fondly back at home.
With that were were done, and we were on the clock to make to back to Tokyo Station by 1pm as we had an important person to meet. Kate’s sister Madeline was joining us for 4 days! Tokyo Disneyland was under last Disney park to visit, so she decided to join us. Shenanigans!
It was great to see Mads waiting for us at our planned meeting spot in Tokyo station. She had also been delayed but not nearly as bad as us, so all was good. She needed a coffee to keep going for the day so I took the opportunity to introduce her to the joys of canned coffee… and she was hooked 🙂
We made our way back to the hostel so she could drop off her bag. We didn’t rally waste much time there as we had to make the most of our few days, so we decided to head to Tokyo Skytree to get views of Tokyo and beyond. The light was fading so we had to leg it for any chance to see Mt Fuji.
A quick diversion…. So as much as I didn’t want to spend too much time staring at an iPad, I was determined not to leave Japan without their region specific Pokémon. Farfetch’d was waiting to be caught but I had yet to find the little critter. Well, just near Skytree, there he was! Escaping one pokeball made me nervous, but with the second ultra ball he was mine. YES! Mission accomplished. I could leave Japan extra happy now.
It was about 3:30pm when we were heading up Tokyo’s biggest structure. It was relatively quiet so we could head straight up and soak it all in. And there waiting for us was Mt Fuji, in the yellow fading light. I forgot to mention we had actually seen Fuji fleetingly on our train out to Mitaka so we were certainly having a charmed run. Here it was a little hazy, but we could see it there staring back at us.
We spent some time as twilight settled in, but decided it was time to move in as there was another scheduled activity to make. On our way to the train station my good fortune kept rolling… Pokémon Centre! The girls rolled their eyes as I bustled in very quickly. I asked an attendant if there were any Porygon items about, but sadly there wasn’t. Oh well, he’s hard to catch in the game and seemingly hard in real life too.
Next thing we had arrived in Shinjuku where at 6pm we were meeting more people! Yay! This time in a crazy coincidence of timing, we had a chance to meet up with my pals Craig and Erin for a night of fun. Meeting friends in foreign places for good times is just the best thing ever. And boy did we have some fun planned.
But that was not to start for another hour so we headed into the nearby Golden Gai bar area to grab some eats and a drink. Sadly many bars had not opened yet, but we found one cozy one (big for the area, holding about 12 people) and had some drinks and skewers for eats. But it was 7, and time for the main event! Both my previous trips to Tokyo I had thought about visiting our destination, but just had not done it. But this time there were five of us so it was time… to visit the infamous Robot Restaurant! I picked up tix for us all before coming over so we were super excited. I had read and seen lots about this, and the reviews were either “it’s ridiculous and overpriced” or “it’s ridiculous and it’s awesome!”. So we were in.
It is hardly a restaurant, as the best you can do are some snacks and maybe a bento box, so we just opted for our included drinks. We knew as soon as we’re in the waiting area that we had chosen wisely. There alongside the girl playing piano was two robots playing lounge music with their bass and guitar. Imagine Daft Punk but slightly more gaudy and low rent. We were all beaming. Next it was into the main arena for the fun to commence.
The main arena was fairly small, only being about 4 rows of maybe 40 people along each side. In the middle was an open area where the action was to take place. Showtime! What followed is not indescribable, however words and pics will not do the sheer awesomeness and joy of it all. We were tested to a series of short acts that either involved robots or small float-type vehicles being suitably robot themed, as well as people dressed up in sci-fi garb and generally acting it up and dancing. The first act was a “traditional” drum type performance, but with suitably garish sci-fi costumes. We then got a bizarre mini story involving some forest based creatures being invaded by evil robots and we had totally outlandish robots and fighting go in. Looking over at everyone we were just having the best time. It was even funnier to think this was Madeline’s introduction to Japan!
The final act was a Christmas themed performance that was just more over the top robot action (compete with audience glow sticks) and a barrage of neon and lasers and robots and music and just everything that makes Japan my favourite place in the world. And then at a bit after 9pm we were done. We made our way out of the bright cavern and into the Shinjuku streets. I looked at the others. We all had looks of utter bewilderment and joy on our faces. We all LOVED every second of it. We couldn’t believe what we had experienced, and to do it all as the 5 of us will be one of the great travel memories ever, it was just so over the top and unique.
I was still relatively early, so we found another nearby bar for more drinks and eats. This one was slightly smaller again, holding about 8 people and the proprietors were very welcoming and we ate and drank and laughed some more. They even had Back To The Future 2 playing on a tiny TV in there which just added to the insanity of the evening.
Sadly, with the laughs still flowing it was time to say farewell to Craig and Erin, so we could catch one of the last trains back across the city to our hostel. So with that, Kate, Mads and I left our buds and went hunting for our train station. As can be the case in Tokyo, it is not always easy to find your station. For example, there are two Shinjuku stations, and the exit we used arriving was now closed. Oh dear. But that is to Google Maps we sorted out our new best way home and legged it back, arriving back to Asakusa around midnight. We were exhausted but it was one of the best days ever.
Wednesday December 7th
Wednesday was to be our last day in Kyoto before training it back to Tokyo. It definitely felt like it had gone quick, which it had given we lost almost a day of exploring, so we had to fill the last gaps before jumping back on the Shinkansen.
The main goal was to visit Fushimi-Inari shrine, my favourite in Kyoto, and one Kate had not visited in the past. This is very well known, with the thousands of torii gates snaking their way up the mountain, and the many visitors wandering through them as they ascend the mountain. There are always plenty of people visiting, and today was no exception. We had arrived nice and early, so we weren’t too inundated so started making our way up.
It is impossible not to be in awe as you wander through the gates. The brilliant orange combined with the morning sun meant every gate corridor and curve gave you a new gorgeous view. Given the cold weather was arriving, the many statues of foxes on the mountain were starting to be dressed up in the bonnets and shawls which adds even more to the character.
Given we didn’t have too much time to spare we didn’t make our way to the top of the hill, rather explored for an hour or two, soaking up the atmosphere. Back at the entry way lots of stall holders had set themselves up and started selling the wares. I wasn’t necessarily looking for a souvenir, but couldn’t help myself when I saw a “traditional” Japanese style printed fabric, but with Japanese themed Star Wars. Of course I had to get one.
Just as exciting we’re all the food stalls we came across. We had garnered an appetite, so tucked in to some of the goodies. Best of the bunch was a bacon wrapped rice block with some kind of sauce over it. Mmmmmmm! I also smashed down some takoyaki, nice and fresh off the grill. So good on a cold day.
With that we made our way back in to central Kyoto. We had a couple of little shopping gaps to fill, but the main one was my having located a Kit Kat pop up in the Daimaru department stall. Winner! It was similar to the one now in Melbourne with an array of their own flavours. Nothing too outlandish, but of course I bought some of all of them 🙂
A little more wandering led us back to the hostel to pick up our bags and make our way to the station. Next thing we were speeding our way back to Tokyo, arriving at Tokyo station a bit after 6pm. Now to find our new home for the next few days!
I decided to try a place I hadn’t stayed at before, another K’s House hostel, this one in Asakusa. Location seemed good and we were able to get a room big enough for the two of us as well as our visitor who was arriving the next day.
Surviving the peak hour commute in the metro, we found the hostel with fair ease. A great spot and only 15 min from Tokyo station made it easy. We were warmly welcomed and when we got into the room we had made the right decision as it was (relatively) roomy and would be perfect for our next 5 days. I love the vibe of a good hostel… the welcomes are always much nicer.
It was almost 7:30pm, and rather than relax we decided to quickly pop down to Akihabara for a quick bit, given it was only 10 minutes away. So back on the train we went! We jumped out and were met with the main big building housing a couple dozen toy stores, Radio Kaikan. The building had been completely renovated since I had last visited so from the outside it looked very different. But inside was the similar collection of smaller stores selling any and all kinds of figures and otaku goods. Heaven! Alas, the building closed at 8pm so we only had 20 minutes to have a quick look. Oh well, we could come back.
We spent some more time wandering the Main Street of Akihabara, me filling Kate in on many of the things. I pointed out AKB48 cafes and maid cafes, and she was intrigued! Alas we just wouldn’t have time to visit. We also popped into a number of other toy stores with me having to buy a Ronin Boba Fett figure for the shelf. Seems Japan x Star Wars mashups are a big thing.
The hours were ticking by and we knew we were up for a busy next 4 days, so it was back to the hostel for some rest before an action packed Thursday.
Tuesday December 6th
Another day, another Shinkansen. Today was filling in a major gap in Kate’s Japan adventures, with a trip to Hiroshima. Given our tight schedule it was only to be a day trip, but with these awesome trains, it was certainly doable. So an early morning (7:20am) bullet train it was to jet us down there.
We arrived regular as clockwork, at about 9am. There were. Two things on the radar… Miyajima Island, and the Peace Park and surrounds (well, two other things that I will get to too). Given we were at the train station, we decided to continue on to Miyajima to start our day proper.
After arriving at the dock, we promptly jumped on a ferry and took the quick trip over. We were greeted with the famous torii gate just starting to get its feet wet as the tide started to rise, so sadly we were not gong to have a chance to wander to its base, but you have to be somewhat fortunate to be able to do that and get the classic view, so that was cool.
On arriving on shore, we proceeded to wander along the shore and the. Amongst the small stores dotting the island. Already there was a quite a few people wandering around, especially school kids. I took no time in getting some oyster action to get acquainted with the island, a couple of oysters “gratin” style, which ultimately was an oyster mac and cheese. Mmmmmm. Not bad for 10am. Kate started eyeballing the Hiroshima specialty cakey treats… so this was definitely going to be a day of food.
From a vantage point, with deer keeping us company we could see the torii gate in its glory, with the water slowly creeping up. Selfies were difficult but we gave it a good crack.
Mt Misen loomed over us so we thought we’ll give you a crack and started our way up. When I say crack, we had no intention of walking the whole way up (time being the main issue) so rode the rope way up most the way. Kate loves a good funicular so was loving the gentle sway as we made our way up. There was a not insignificant 30 min walk left at the top, and with that we made our way to over 500m and looked out over Miyajima and Hiroshima, as well as the bay. We had another glorious day… winter was treating us well. We soaked up the views and then legged it back to the rope way station.
Time was zipping away, so with a stop for cakey treats, we bid farewell to Miyajima. So much fun in the sunshine. With Mt Misen conquered and our bellies filled, we jumped back on a ferry and then a tram back into the city.
Our stop was the A-Bomb dome at the edge of the Peace Park. This building is pretty amazing, seeing what remained and what was destroyed when the bomb went off all those decades ago. Even though I had seen it before, it doesn’t fail to send chills down the spine.
We then spent the next while wandering the park, seeing the monuments, thousands of paper cranes, as well as the Hypocentre. With just a little time remaining, we decided to pop into the museum.
Much of it is closed for renovations sadly. The part that was closed was the first half, detailing the period of time up to the bomb falling. This was a shame as this part is super interesting, and it also meant we went straight into the horror of the bomb and its aftermath.
It’s pretty heavy going in there. You see lots of artefacts that were charred and scarred when the bomb fell as well as a lot of gruesome stories and images of the human toll, especially children. Hard to stomach, but important stories that deserve to be told.
The museum was closing as we left and wandered back through the city toward the train station. As we were just leaving the museum, I remarked to Kate that I was surprised we had not really had any conversations with random strangers or children looking to practice their english. Only 30 seconds later we were approached by a sweet group of school children wanting to do just that. One girl was clearly either the most confident, or the elected spokesperson, and got out her list of questions and asked us about all kinds of things… what did we like most about Japan, what did we like to eat, what words did we know. They loved that I talked about Ghibli, Pokemon, and Okonomiyaki. They also loved my Kangaroo impersonation. They were so sweet they wanted a photo with us, and I just had to get one as well. Thing #9234 I love about Japan.
We still had two more things to do. The first? Okonomiyaki! Hiroshima okonomiyaki is not like its regular veggie pancake bro, this one is layers of thin pancake base, lots of cabbage and bean shoots and in mine soba noodles, bacon, and seafood. For me to get my fill we went to the main okonomiyaki area called Okonomi-mura, a building of 4 floors of small okonomiyaki vendors. Choose one, sit at the grill, and let someone cook you up a storm. Heaven.
Kate and I chose early and sat down to be greeted with an eager woman ready to cook us up some dinner and pull me beer. I went with her special that had lots of seafood in there as well as the soba noodles, while Kate opted for the simple version with udon. We watched as she prepared and then I dove right in at the earliest chance. Oh man, I have dreamed of these okonomiyaki for the last 6 years since I was last here. This is the best way to eat it.
Our bellies full we wandered back to the station ready for a trip back to Kyoto. Oh you ask? Wasn’t there one more thing I was chasing? Indeed. First Kit Kat purchase of the trip! The Hiroshima special Momiji Manju Ali, which was the Kit Kat version of our tasty cake treats. I knew there would be a Hiroshima special and so made sure to track it down. Your first Kit Kat of the trip is always a special one 🙂
Monday December 5th
Given we had lost close to a day of holiday due to being jerked around, we had to become a bit more strategic about time spent. One thing on our list was to visit Himeji castle, as Kate had not visited, and it was under partial restoration when I had visited 6 years ago. So at the earlyish time of 8am we were back on Shinkansen, this time heading further south.
At about 9am we arrived in the city of Himeji. Himeji is most famous for the castle and nearby gardens, and as the castle had just reopened after 6 years of restoration, much under complete coverup, crowds were streaming into visit the castle. This early on a Monday though and it was very reasonable.
Himeji castle was one of my highlight as from my first trips to Japan, and I was super keen to revisit. The “white heron” is gorgeous, beaming atop its perch looking over the city. We grabbed our tickets and in we went.
One important thing I knew was that English speaking guides were available for visitors, and that my guide last visit was a trip highlight, so I asked if any were available. In no time at all, our guide Yoko emerged ready to help us out. Free volunteer guides at one of the coolest places in the world… Japan I love you.
Yoko was probably in her 60’s and was eager to start telling us about Japanese history and leading us around. Knowing we had at least a couple of hours made her happy that we could explore the castle complex more and learn more about the history, so off we went.
After a great history recap, it was into the women’s quarters, inside one of the wings attached to the castle. Yoko continued her history lesson for us, and told us of life in Himeji and the castle as we made our way around. She would point out many of the castle safe guards that were set up (but never actually used in the end) and tell us how the castle occupants would go about their day.
We emerged from that wing and then began to make our way up into the main castle building, around the curved paths. All along Yoko would point out the designs of the castle, what was set up to confuse potential invaders, stones embedded in the walls that contained centuries of history, and all kinds of fascinating minutiae of detail. The it was into the main building, and weaving our way up the many flights of stairs into the top floor. On my previous visit I wasn’t able to do this, so it was so cool to get all the way up in the castle and explore all its hidden treasures.
We came all the way back down and back into the castle grounds, our 2.5 hours disappearing way too quickly. Yoko was amazingly kind and generous, even giving us some small cranes as thank you gifts. Reason #7834 that I love this place so much.
Before heading back to Kyoto we decided to visit the nearby Kokoen gardens. This was a lovely space with small paths wandering around some extensive grounds. Small rooms, pools, waterfalls, fish and again lovely foliage greeted us as we made our way around. Aahhh.
We decided it was time to wander back to Kyoto, so back to the station, on a Shinkansen, and back to our hometown. One reason to get back was that Kate had booked in a experience she was keen to do while here, and that was to get made up like a geisha and have some fun looking the part. We had a 4pm booking, so it was a wander back to Gion for Kate to have some fun. I had to leave her for a bit to get made up, so wandered about, chasing some Pokemon (where are you Farfetch’d?!) before heading back to see my wife unrecognisable for a split second as she emerged in full costume and face paint. So cool! Kate was loving it too.
We got to have fun taking a bunch of pics with Kate in costume looking the part.
Sadly, it was time to return back to 2016 and become normal Kate again and so we wandered back out into Kyoto to explore some more. We headed back into the old town part we had wandered the previous night, and visited one of my favourite shops… the Ghibli dedicated store with all sorts of awesome Ghibli treats. Kate was losing her mind at all the cool stuff (just a taste of what is to come in Tokyo) and couldn’t decide. She settled on some figurines as knowing we had more Ghibli in our futures, and so as the shop closed we wandered back out.
We spent the next couple of hours wandering the Gion area, with a little shopping and some Mos Burger for Kate for the first time (I’m still not that sold on Mos Burger to be honest) until we hit our limits and headed back to K’s House. Another action packed day had come to end with castles and geishas and Ghibli. Too cool.
Sunday December 4th
Bright and early we checked out and headed back to Tokyo station. Our 7:30am Shinkansen arrived with Japanese precision and in no time at all we were travelling at several hundred kilometres an hour southwards.
As we travelled Kate pointed out the opposite window. “Is that Mt Fuji?” Pointing at a gloriously clear view of a snow peaked mountain. “Um, it can’t be can it? It just doesn’t look that big, and its super clear… I have never been able to see it from the train”. Turns out, yep, it was my friend Mt Fuji alright.
At around 10am we arrived in beautiful Kyoto. I used my spider-senses to wander to our home for the next few days, K’s House hostel, which I had stayed at a couple times in the past. A good spot and they had always been lovely meant it was a good place to visit again. They were happy to see us after our big delay and looked after us straight away. But it was no time for mucking around… drop the bag off and go go go!
In many respects a bit of the trip is about filling gaps for Kate. I have had the good fortune to visit a couple of times in the past but Kate had done one shorter visit in the past, so it was about finding the things that she had missed when she had visited previously. First destination, Arashiyama.
Arashiyama is a short 15min train ride from the station. Being a Sunday, a relatively fine day, and a gorgeous locale, things were quite busy. We jumped off the train and strolled into the centre of the action. The Arashiyama area is nestled into the side of the woods, and so you get the blend from city into a more rural feeling place. While a little touristy, it is not hugely so as you wander the main street with its shops and food stalls. Mmmmm food stalls. More on that later.
We started by wandering the bamboo groves as most do. They are just stunning as you wander through the swaying greenery with the sun peeking through. It is quintessentially Japanese as you stroll the bamboo, coming across shrines and temples.
We did this for a bit and then decided it was time to grab some food. Damn you food stalls! How were we to decide? Bah, just buy bits of everything. We started with yakatori style nibbles before going for sweets. First we bought a mochi like treat with strawberry on top. How could you not when they looked this good?
Kate was intrigued by the tofu ice cream so we got one of those, with a scoop of soda flavoured gelato as well. Yum! The tofu ice cream was pretty good, but the soda gelato was delicious, a cross between lemonade icy pole and ramu soda. I opted to buy a sweet filled fish, Kate suggesting the sweet potato filling. Delicious! Kate especially was loving it. We chose well.
With food in our bellies,we wandered back into the bamboo, popping into shrines as we strolled about. At the end of the path we came across a private garden called Okochi Sanso, originally the residence of actor Okochi Denjiro. We decided to head in a stroll which was lovely, as it looked out over the Arashiyama area toward Kyoto.
It is about now I should mention that we had arrived at the tail end of autumn, meaning that while many trees had lost their leaves, many were stunning shades of red, had gorgeous views wherever we looked. Gardens, temples… you name it there was blazing red all around.
This garden was no exception and it was great to sit and relax and soak it up with some matcha green tea and cake. Mmm.
The sun was starting to go down so we jumped on a train back to central Kyoto. At the hostel we saw things up on the wall highlighting that a number of temples were being illuminated at night… with many having their last night tonight. No rest for the wicked then I guess! A little rest and it was back out into the now slightly raining evening.
The main temples that were lit up were those on the main temple walk, starting at Kiyomizu-dera temple. This is one that is quintessentially Kyoto… huge and stuck in the side of a mountain. The rain was obviously keeping some people away, but not many, as we joined the throngs making their way into the temple complex. The red leaves and the lighting made it amazingly beautiful, something photos would never do justice. In the temple complex we made our way around the buildings and through the trees. We weren’t really able to wander the whole temple complex due to the huge crowds inside, but it was OK. We soaked up the colour and stunning views as we made our way around and back out.
We were probably rushing it a little more than normal, as we only had an hour or so to visit another lit up temple or two before all was done for the evening. We wandered through the nearby narrow shop lined streets, seeing lights in the temples and flaming foliage. We eventually arrived at Chion-in, a large temple complex closer to Gion. This was much quieter, as it was more out of the way and also partly closed, but we ventured in. It wasn’t nearly as impressive as Kiyomizu-dera but the main draw was being about to venture up into the top of the main huge wooded gate, to look out over Kyoto. Aahhh.
Things were beginning to close up for the evening, and we had had a big day so decided to head back to the hostel, relax and call it a day. What a day… starting a little frustrated in Tokyo from our huge delays, and ending up calm in temples in Kyoto. Life is OK.