22
Dec

Brilliant Orange

By: muttler

Wednesday December 7th

chillin'

chillin’

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.

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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. 

home of the meat wrapped rice

home of the meat wrapped rice

 

droooool

droooool

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. 

i'm home

i’m home

 

the haul

the haul

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's nice to be back

it’s nice to be back

 

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. 

japan + star wars = awesome!

japan + star wars = awesome!

 

more awesome

more awesome

 

woooo!

woooo!

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. 

christmas calpis!

christmas calpis!

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. 

22
Dec

Storming The Castle

By: muttler

Monday December 5th

majestic

majestic

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.

welcome to himeji!

welcome to himeji!

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. 

the white heron looms large in himeji

the white heron looms large in himeji

there it is!

there it is!

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. 

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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. 

everything is ornate

everything is ornate

every spot a postcard

every spot a postcard

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. 

gorgeous gardens

gorgeous gardens

that's a big goldfish

that’s a big goldfish

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.  

before...

before…

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.

... and after!

… and after!

We got to have fun taking a bunch of pics with Kate in costume looking the part. 

me hanging out at random pokestops

hanging out at random pokestops

ji-ji!

ji-ji!

totoro!

totoro!

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. 

i still don't quite appreciate the mos burger

i still don’t quite appreciate the mos burger

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. 

22
Dec

Reds and Greens

By: muttler

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. 

we're on our way!

we’re on our way!

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. 

catching up with the locals

catching up with the locals

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're in japan alright

we’re in japan alright

bamboo groves

bamboo groves

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?

tofu ice cream!

tofu ice cream!

i didn't throw this one back

i didn’t throw this one back

my beloved coffee in a can. yum!

my beloved coffee in a can. yum!

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.

happy chappies

happy chappies

just your typical movie star gardens

just your typical movie star gardens

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.

so amazingly gorgeous

so amazingly gorgeous

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. 

time for a tea break

time for a tea break

seemed like this was the place to hang out

seemed like this was the place to hang out

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. 

all lit up

lit

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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.