Wandering around Japan Part 2… Kyoto and Nara

 

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Njo Castle

I arrived in Kyoto by flying to Osaka on the evening of 8th October. This was a really good thing and I would recommend checking what time your flight arrives as this meant we could go straight to bed on arrival at the hotel and be ready to start properly the next day. From the Sunday it was non stop for the next two weeks and I loved it! The tour i was on started with a city tour and our guide, Tats, took us to several of the top sights in Kyoto.

Firstly we went to Njo Castle was the place where the miliatry and shoguns of Japan and it dominates a large part of the north west of the city. It is palace built in 1603 with glorious gardens (photos were not allowed inside) and our first glimpse of some autumn colour. It was still 23/24 degrees celcuis when we arrived and so most of the trees were still fully green. The gardens were very peaceful and the palace within the space gave an insight into the traditional arhitecture using paper sliding doors and tatami mats.

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Njo Castle

Before our next place to visit we went to a family restaurant with a sushi train! This was so much fun and the touch screen made it easy to find something my mum would eat. Anything you ordered would come a long on the top conveyor and stop directly by your table. The bottom conveyor was the normal things going round and round for a period of time for everyone to choose from. It was a great introduction for a lot of the group who had not been to a sushi restaurant before.

Sushi Train

The next place our tour was the Kinkaku-ji or the Golden Pavilion. It is one of Japan’s best known places due to the top of the building being completely covered in gold leaf. It was originally built in 1397 as a retirement villa for the shogun and then was later converted into a temple. It was burnt down in 1950 and reconstructed with the gold leaf extended further than before. There is a designated path that takes you to all the viewing points, but be warned it was busy when we went and it can be even busier in the full tourist season.

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Kinkakuji Temple

Next we went to the Ryoan-ji, which is another well known sight form Kyoto due to the rock garden. The photo below does not do it justice as you cannot see all the racked lines in the gravel. I imagine it would be a very peaceful place if there wasn’t anyone else around, but where I was stood taking this photo was a viewing platform full of people. I would love to have a small version of this in my future garden. It has 15 rocks located within the gravel, but you can only every see 14 at one time (we tested this and it seems to be true).

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Ryoanji-Temple

We used public transport to get everywhere on this tour and it was a great experience to use the subway, trains, trams and buses as one of the locals.  We headed to the east of the city to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove next. It was super busy and I was not able to get any photos like what you see online, but I gave it go. The bamboo is harvested and sold as a resource. If you look past the line of bamboo that marks the path you can see the cut stalks behind. It is an amazing place and I wish I could have gone once it had gone dark as I imagine it would be magical when all lit up.

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Arahiyarma Bamboo Grove

Our first proper night in Kyoto the group went to the Gion area and Shabbu Shabbu for dinner. This is when you have a pot of water that you can control the temperature from the table and then to this you add vegetables and meat and then once cooked place in your bowls with sauce from the jugs. We got a bit confused and added the noodles too soon as you are supposed to have them at the end of the meal. The instructions were not great, but it was all you can eat and was very tasty.

Shabbu Shabbu

We then wandered through the Gion area which is famous for entertainment and the geishas. It was a very beautiful area and is well worth wandering through later in the evening when it a bit quieter. A lot of people head there to spot geishas around 6pm, so heading there around 9pm gives it chance to settle down.

Gion Gesha District
Gion

We also wandered through the park called Maruyama-koen, which is home to some beautiful shrines and Kyoto’s most famous cherry tree.

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Gion

The first day was full of beautiful sights and that continued on the second day of the tour with a trip to Nara. Nara was Japan’s first permanent capital city and contains 8 World Heritage Sites. There are wild deer wandering around the whole city and can buy biscuits to feed to them. They were quite friendly, but would try to steal any food you had to hand, which made having lunch in the park fun!

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Nara

The main sight to see in Nara can be found within the Todai-ji – the Daibutsu or Great Buddha is amazing! It is a bronze Buddha and is contained in one of the largest wooden buildings in the world, orginally built between 710 and 784.

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Todai-ji

Several parts of the Buddha have been recast due to fires that have burnt the wooden build down and melted the metal.  It is almost 15 metres tall and weighs 500 tonnes. It was an awesome presense and it felt very peaceful wandering around inside. I feel quite connect to Buddhism and it is something I keep thinking I need to spend some time really understanding what is it about.

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Great Buddha

As I said the deer were quite inquizitive and kept trying to make friends with my mum throughout this holiday!

My Mum making friends with a Nara Deer

Next in Nara we wandered behind the home of the Great Buddha and up a very beautiful stone paved street where we has lovely views above the rooftops. We climbed the hill to the Nigatsu-do and Sangatsu-do, which are sub temples of the Todai-ji.

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Nigatsu-do & Sangatsu-do

I took quite a few photos of deer as I loved that they were just wandering around without a care in the world. These three young deer were right next to the path and I loved the pose they struck as I came up to take a closer photo.

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Nara

We then headed to Kasua Taisha which is a sprawling shrine in the woods. The paths around it are lined with hundreds, maybe thousands of lanterns. It was founded in the 8th century and there are twice yearly lantern festivals, which I think would be amazing to experience. Maybe when I go back one day!

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Kasuga Taisha

That night we were back in Kyoto and I made my mum walk quite a bit to find recommended ramen restaurant. It was amazing, but my mum was not so keen (because of the fat on the meat, even though it melted in the hot water as was so thinly cut!). It was so tasty and I must learn how to make these types of stocks as soup bases as I think I could live off ramen this good!

Miso Ramen

The third day of the tour was another full day exploring Kyoto. The first place we went to was Fushimi-Irani Taisha which is a mountain full of torii gate paths. It is a sprawling shrine and is probably the place in any photos of the shrines of Kyoto. You can walk all the way up tot top of mountain, but we only went about a third of the way due to time contraints. if i went again I would like to walk the whole thing as the further you went the less people you encoutnered.

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Fushimi Inari Taisha

I was lucky and managed to get some lovely photos without any people in the way. It was very atmospheric and I really enjoyed wandering and I could very much understand why people come to worship here.

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Fushimi-Inari Taisha

It was just non-stop in a good way. Up and down the mountain with each torii gate deicated to someone or a family.

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Fushimi-Inari Taisha

I did let my mum be in some of the photos!

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Fushimi-Inari Taisha

After a morning in the ancient aspects of the city we headed back to the modern and explored Kyoto Station. It’s an impressive building made of steel and glass and includes a glass corridor across the top of the station. Also it has light up stairs that were fun to watch!

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Kyoto Station

We then headed to Kyoto Tower as I like being able to get up high and get a sense of the city and it’s scale. It is nothing special inside, but the views are amazing , although it could do with having a few more seats up the top, but it does have a shrine!

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Kyoto Tower

We then walked to the Higashi Hongan-ji, or the Eastern Temple of the True Vow. It is said to the secnd largest wooden structure in Japan. This was the first place where we had to take off our shoes and put them in a plastic bag to carry around and it made total sense. I really loved the whole taking off your shoes thing as it kept places clean and the wooden floors were so smooth (which only turned into a problem when it came to steep steps and there will be more on that in a later post!).

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Higashi Hongan-ji

We then walked to the Nishiki Market, which is arcade full of market type shops. It is full or weird and wonderful foods and is right in the centre of the city. We didn’t end up buying anything in the market, but we did have fun guessing what some of the things were as most signs were only in Japanese, but many of the shop keepers are happy to tell you about what they were selling.

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Nishiki Market

The third day was super busy as we also then went to a shortened tea ceremony. It was less than an hour long and they show you the movements required and let you make a bowl of tea. I really enjoyed it and would like to learn more about the whole tradition and maybe one day go to a full ceremony, which I believe can be up to 4 hours long. We went to En in Gion which was recommended by our tour guide as they conduct it in English.

Tea ceremony

I found it very interesting and the traditions behind it we glimpsed sound fascinating.

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Tea ceremony

We then wandered through the Gion area on our way to fidn some food and spotted a real geisha on her way to an appointment. My photo came out blurry as she was moving quickly and I didn’t have my camera ready or on the right settings. However I love this photo as you are warned not to try and stop them and rather take photos as they pass and this photo captures for me the sense of urgency and importance they have about them.

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Gion

We did get distracted again on our way to find food as we found a tiny bar where they offered a sake taster. The bartender was super nice and instead of just 3 tasters each he gave us 6 different ones to try between us. I liked the sweeter sakes better and did not like the cloudy one at all as it had a gritty texture. We has a lovely evening and ended up getting another full glass of a different sake the bartender recommended. We also got talking to couple who came into the bar later and were doing the opposite from us as they had started  their trip in Tokyo.

Sake Tasting

Finally we got to the food and randomly found a tempura restaurant. The process was to fill out a form stating all the different tempura pieces you wanted. As we didn’t know how much we would get we chose to get one of each of almost all the veggies and then come fishcake and a couple of hug prawns. It was amazing and we even had a whole medium boiled egg, which I have never had as tempura before! The batter is definitely lighter than what we get at home and it was amazingly crisp and tasty!

Tempura (including a whole egg!)

My tips for Kyoto and Nara:

  • If you have the time walk everywhere to explore more than the tourist spots
  • Go early to the main tourist sites to avoid the crowds
  • Have cash (general tip for visiting Japan)

Overall an amazing first 3 days of my trip. This pos turned out a lot longer than I thought so I am adding an extra post to my to cover everything I want to cover.

Wandering around Japan Part 1

If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter you will have seen a lot of photos from my recent trip to Japan. I want to make sure I document my travels as I intended when I first started this blog back in 2011. Unfortunately jet lag and germs have been a bitch this last week and held me up on getting my posts organised. I have 3 posts planned, but have decided to add this on is as a fourth to get the process started and because it doesn’t require me to have been through all my notes and photos from when I was away!

As an introduction I have wanted to visit Japan for a really long time. Probably over 10 years, but the cost of going has always been a barrier. Then when I got a promotion last year I decided to use the extra cash to pay for my dream trip and booked it back in October 2015. I decided to go with Exodus as I really rate the company after being on a number of trips with them (Tibet, Peru, Amalfi, Cross Country Skiing) and knew it would be really well organised. It also made it really simple as it was going pretty much everywhere I wanted to go and meant I could just sit back once it was booked and focus on my new job with the trip to look forward to.

Upcoming posts will break the trip down in these sections:

  1. Kyoto, Nara and Hiroshima
  2. Takayama, Matsumato and Yundanaka
  3. Tokyo and Hakone

For this post though I thought I would focus on what I bought home – THE SOUVENIRS!!!

Kit Kats are huge in Japan, but not an everyday sweet purchase like you find here, but instead for all the different flavours available. I found a few as I went round,but I know there are even more depending on where you visit as they do flavours by regions. I then found a counter in a big department store (think Selfridges) and found some small boxes of posh versions. The at the airport I found a couple of big boxes to bring home enough to take into work. I haven’t tried them all yet, but I can say the sake, melon, apple, and green tea ones taste exactly like the flavours, which is amazing!

I actually didn’t buy too many things while I was away. Sure there were things I saw and would have bought, but then thought about having to carry them around. But I knew I wanted to find some new Starbucks mugs! I found special versions of Kyoto and Tokyo and also a mug celebrating 20 years in Japan. We did end up in Starbucks quite a few times as it was the only place where we could easily get English Breakfast tea as close to home as possible (my mum is not a fan of green tea). So I also made sure I tried the Matcha Latte and their seasonal Nectarine and Peach tea, both of which were nice and different to what we get here at home.

I also knew I wanted to get a Maneki-neko known as Japanese lucky cat. However I got a bit overwhelmed when looking as there were so many different ones. In the end I found a small one that looked cute and had purple on it. I am going to look up all the different meanings again and work out what it all means.

Something I hadn’t thought about buying, but when we were there it made total sense was some chopsticks. I love using chop sticks and as I definitely want to cook more Japanese style food at home they will come in very useful. I chose the winter Mt Fuji set and was able to get my name in English and Japanese engraved onto them. Our guide carried his chopsticks around the whole trip so that he didn’t have to keep using the disposal ones at restaurants so I also bought a cloth case to carry them in.

This little Mt Fuji plush toy was an impulse buy as I just thought he was super cute and was less than £5 so  I couldn’t resist. He will go somewhere where I can see him when I work as he always makes me smile.

I also bought back another Starbucks find as I was intrigued to se what they would be like at home. I haven’t tried them yet, but I’m sure you’ll see them on my Instagram when I do!

Another impulse buy from the Japanese equavilent of the pound shop  – a Hello Kitty headphone case! I’ve broken two sets of headphones this year form keeping them unprotected in my bag, so when I saw this I again could not resist!

Lastly I have a couple of sake cups that we had to buy to do some sake tasting. I kept an eye out for a nice sake bottle and cup set, but did not find any I really liked.

I had such an amazing trip and the time flew by, but it also felt like a long time between starting in Kyoto and finishing in Tokyo. As I said I am going to go into much more detail of my trip and all the places I visited in the next few posts. I am looking forward to going through all my camera photos that I haven’t shared with anyone yet. I’m also looking forward to reliving everything I did even just for a few minutes as I right. That is what I love about writing this blog as it makes me spend a little time reflecting and appreciating what I’ve been doing and that makes me very grateful.

Trip Planning: Japan and the Cats

So what happens with Merry and Pippin while I go off on holiday?

They get spoilt rotten I bet!

The terrors as I affectionately call them to their faces are very lucky that at the moment they get to stay at home in their own space while I go off adventuring. I have a friend who comes to stay to enjoy some solitude and fun away from normal life for a bit. While they stay they feed, play with, and look after the cats. I’m sure this is much better for them than moving them about, but also financially for me this works out really well. I’ll be coming back in a couple of days and I’m sure they will have learnt some new trips and have a slightly different routine that they will try and train me to keep up (they wish!) and will ignore me for a few days before they work out they’re stuck with me again. I’m sure they love me, but at the same time I’m sure they enjoy be spoilt everyday too!

I think I’ll be okay to keep this arrangement for the next year or so, but them will likely have to look for a cattery to house them in for the longer trips or if I go away over Christmas. I like them to have contact with people more than just someone popping into feed them, but I don’t know anyone else who would move in for a couple of weeks and who I trust, which is greatly important.

I always miss them when I’m away, but I am not looking forward to recovering from jet-lag this weekend with two demanding terrors running around the house!

Trip Packing: Japan Edition

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I’m off to Japan tomorrow and I am so excited! This trip has been planned for over a year, which also means I’ve been in my current job a year, so I can’t keep calling it my new job! This past weekend I started packing and only now have my everyday things to pack tomorrow morning. My cat sitter is all set up and they will be spoilt while I’m away I’m sure.

I decided to go for the autumn ancient and modern Japan trip with Exodus because I thought it would be cooler, but I juts looked at the weather and it’s hot!

What is this???

I’ve had to rethink everything I was planning to take as jeans and t-shirts and jackets are not going to work. I’ve had to find some last minute summer clothes in the sale, which was super lucky as everywhere now has winter stuff only!

So what I am taking for a 16 day trip to Japan?

Clothes:

  • Linen trousers
  • Jeans
  • T-shirts
  • Lightweight cardigans
  • Smart top
  • Long sleeve tops
  • Hoodie (wearing)
  • Underwears (bras/socks/knickers)
  • Pyjamas
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Swimsuit
  • Walking Trainers (wearing)
  • Lounge pants (wearing)
  • Lightwight trainers
  • Slip on trainers
  • Ankle supports

Toiletries:

  • Deodarant
  • Shampoo/Condition
  • Dry Shampoo
  • Makeup (minimal)
  • Hairspray
  • Facewash
  • Moisturiser
  • Suncream
  • Face cloth
  • First aid kit essentials
  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrush
  • Hairbrush
  • Makeup sponges & cleaner
  • Pain tablets & gel

Other Stuff:

  • Passport
  • Insurance
  • Wallet – cash/cards
  • iPhone, headphones & charger
  • Kindle & cable
  • Camera, lens & charger
  • Notebook & pens
  • Guidebook
  • Lightweight handbag
  • Backpack
  • Suitcase
  • Golf ball (for heel pain)
  • Waterproof inner bag

I’ve pretty much packed everything and I am surprised at how light my suitcase is. I’ve put some clothes in my hand luggage in case my suitcase goes missing. I still have plenty of room for souvenirs and I already have a few ideas of what I want to look out for.

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