Tag Archives: Travel

Wandering around Japan Part 3… Hiroshima & Takayama

Bullet Train aka shinkansen

I’m still reliving my trip to Japan, even though it’s been 4 weeks since I came back. It was so much fun as well as cultural and exciting; I definitely want to go back! You can find my previous posts Part 1 and Part 2 through those links.

Our fourth day in Japan by catching the bullet train from Kyoto to Hiroshima to the south-west. We started by going to the island of Miyajima, which is a World Heritage Site and one of the most visited tourist spots. The Japan Rail Pass gets you on the ferry across to the island. Our rail pass was only for tourists and lasted for a week and made it very easy to get around the country to all the areas we were going to. There are also private train lines, but you need different tickets for those.

Torii of Itsukushima-jinja

The first thing you see as you arrive at the island is the torii (shrine gate) of Itsukuushima-jinja, also known as the floating gate. We unfortunately arrived at low tide and so you can see the bottom of the gate in the sand. It’s still very impressive and stands out against the tree lined background. The shrine sits behind the gate and from all the stilts I assume it also sits upon the water at high tide.

Cheeky deer of Miyajima

Our guide Tats introduced us to the island and the cheeky deer than are very friendly and ate the first maps Tats was showing us. My mum and I had our lunch interrupted by an overfriendly deer!

Torii or floating gate

This is a view of the gate from the other side. It was still impressive, but definitely weird seeing people right under it and new photographer side was disappointed I could get a photo without people or the scaffolding in the frame! We only had the morning on the island, which wasn’t really enough time to explore beyond the main street and shrines. There are many temples and hikes on the island and I think it would be fun to go back and explore further.

Bridge into Itsukushima-jinja

The Itsukushima-jinja is thought to have begun in the 6th century, but the present form fo the shrine is from 1168. It was built on the water because common people were not allowed to step foot on the sacred island. It was very beautiful to see from the outside and I would have paid to go in if the tide had been in and water underneath the walk ways. That would have been an atmospheric experience.

Main street of Miyajima

The main street through the town was full of fun shops and restuarants. It also had many stalls and food outlets with interesting delicasies to take away. We went for the fish cake on a stick, wrapped in bacon with cheese on one and aspargus on the other. It was very nice and I would definitely eat it again.

A fish cake lunch

We took a sit by the sea and it wasn’t long until the dear approached us and followed us like the couple below. He was not happy we wouldn’t share our food and reared up at me to try and grab mine. They weren’t nasty, just persistent!

The deer that was interrupting everyone’s lunch

It was fairly quiet on the island as it was outside normal tourist season. Many of the hotels and restaurants were not open as not many people live on the island and therefore shut down after the peak and live on the mainland.

My mum and another deer that liked her

When we were waiting for the ferry back a lot of school groups arrived and it felt much busier. It’s a beautiful place and well worth a visit.

My mum and another different deer (I sense a theme)

After the island we got back on the train and headed to central Hiroshima.  It’s an amazing place to visit and a stark contrast to anything else you’ll see. This is living history. The history we were taught in school about the second world war is nothing compared to the legacy that is still very real for the people of this beautiful and thriving city.

Atomic Bomb Dome

The first thing you see as you enter the Peace Memorial Park is the Atomic Bomb Dome. This is one of the few buildings that survived the bomb at the epicentre. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1966 and is a haunting reminder of what happened. This very much sets the tone for the visit. There is a erie quiet to the park, even with the amount of people walking around. Everyone is taking it in and like me probably had no words to describe what they were experiencing.

Paper cranes at the Children’s Peace Monument

The biggest reminder that this still impacts people living today is the Children’s Peace Monument. It was built for Sadako Sasaki who was only 2 years old at the time of the bombing. She develop lukemia at 11 years old and decided to fold 1000 paper cranes, but unfortunately died before completing her goal. The paper crane is a symbol of longevity in Japan and so her school friends completed the goal for her. Today a monument stands surrounded by these colours paper tributes. It was a beautiful sight and one I will not forget.

View through cenopath to the Flame of Peace and the Atomic Bomb Domb

We walked through the Peace Memorial Park and saw the Flame of Peace, which is set to stay alight until all the nuclear weapons in the world are destroyed. There were times I was speechless during this visit and at this point and heading into the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum were both times of internal reflection. The museum was full of facts, figures and items from the bombing. It was very factual, with very little, if any, analysis of why it happened. As I said it was a very different view of the war than I was taught in school and it was eye opening. There were many school groups visiting when we were there and I just could not process seeing this at that age. The legacy of it is what got to me the most. People who were young at the time are now the older generation and the map of Japan in the museum that shows where people moved to and the amount of radiation illnesses was staggering. It was a humbling experience to say the least.

Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima

After the main visit we headed towards the station for dinner and tried the distinct Hiroshima version of okonomiyaki, which is built up of layers of noodles, cabbage, pancakes and topped with a BBQ type sauce. It was delicious and something I want to learn to make at home!

Sake in a box!

This was also our first experience of sake in a box. We did not know the equiette at the time and later learned that you are supposed to say stop just as the sake tops the glass. However as we did not know this they kept pouring until the box was full! A really fun experience to watch it cooked in front of you and very tasty food, a definite must!

Ryokan Murayama Takayama

The next day we headed to Takayama on the train from Kyoto. This was our only experience of the trains not going to plan. We needed to get 4 trains and that turned into 5 as one train had to stop a station early due to an accident. That meant we had to get a private train to the next station. Our guide was so apoligetic as it rarely happens and compared to the UK it was super smooth to get the addition train and get where we needed to go.

This was also our first experience of a Japanese ryokan, which is a traditional inn where you sleep on futons on the floor. It was fantastic and so simple and clean. It was also very peaceful and relaxing once you had settled in and got to know the customs.

Tempura Udon

The food everywhere was so so good. I very much liked the soup based dishes as they are very simple, while being extremely tasty. I also want to learn to cook these as they would make a very good work night dinner (apart from the tempura as I don’t want to deep fry anything!).

Me and my mum

I’m not very good at taking photos of myself and even photos other people take I usually don’t like (something to get into another day!), but this one of me and my mum makes me happy as we are having a fantastic time. Plus this was the first restaurant where we had to sit on the floor!

Hida Folk Village

Takayama is offically known as Hida Takayama and is located in Central Honshu. On our arrival we spent the afternoon at the Hida Folk Village, which is an open air museum  and is home to lots of traditional houses that were taken down from the original sites and relocated to this village to keep them safe. It illustrates rural life over the centuries and how people lived in the Japanese Alps before the modern day conviences we have today.

Tradition Set Dinner

While staying at the Ryokan we got to experience tradition Japanese set meals. All of which were set on raised trays while we sat on the floor. It was an interesting experience and I enjoyed elements of all the meals, but not all. Rice in the morning just does not work for me!

Traditional Set Breakfast

Takayama is a beautiful place and is home to a festival of floats and as you walk around you see these very tall doors that hide them away and keep them safe in between the festivals. The main area is called Sanmachi-suji and is the orginal district of three streets the merchants would frequent. There are also many shrines and temples within the town and you can easily wander around and experience the peacefulness of the place and then the bussle of the tourist areas.

A pagoda

The architecture is amazing and you can find modern houses next to amazing pagodas and shrines. It is worth getting lost to see what you can find as you find your way back to the centre of town.

Wooden maneki-neko

This is the first place I saw lots of maneki-neko, or lucky cats. It was a fun place to explore the shops and even finding dedicated cat shops!

A sake brewery selction

There are many sake breweries and they are denoted by cedar fronds hung above the doors. My mum was very happy as we got to try quite a few different sakes and whiskys.

Bridge over a temple pond

In the afternoon we wandered to the area of temples along the Higashiyama walking course and wandered in peaceful silence for an hour or so. It was so quiet as many of the temples were shut to visitors, but their grounds were open to explore and appreicate.

Autumn colours in a temple garden
Stone bridge in a temple rock garden
Simple raked temple garden

At luch we visited a burger restuarant that our guide had to book 3 weeks in advance! It’s run by a young Japanese couple who liked what they could get in America, but knew nowhere they could get the same when they returned home to Japan and so opened their own place called Center4Burgers.

Garden Kitten

This was also the first place I saw a real life cat in the outside. I had not seen any pets since arriving and this little Merry and Pippin lookalike was watching us as we entered the restaurant.

Quattro Burger

This was the most amazing burger! I couldn’t decide what to have as toppings so went for the one with them all – egg, cheese, bacon and avocado! It’s a tiny place and our group of 16 was squeezed in and took up the whole place, including the seats at the bar.

Tradition matcha tea

Another first was being able to go to a little tea shop and try tradition matcha. It came with a little matcha cake/sweet and it was lovely. I would very much like to get a proper bowl and whisk to be able to make this at home. There was a peacefulness to being able to sit and enjoy this.

The cat teapot I almost bought

I saw this amazing teapot while in Takayama, but resisted as that price is about £150!

Cat Shop!!!!!

I loved that they had shops that were dedicated to specific themes like the cat shop, but also the chopstick shop and the rabbit shop we also saw. It was quirky and fun!

Second set dinner

We had two nights in Takayama and that was a lovely amount of time. We didn’t do everything, but we did a lot and I felt like I experieced a different side to Japan compared to Kyoto and Hiroshima.

Top tips for Hiroshima and Takayama:

  • Get a Japan Rail Pass for your visit!
  • Try lots of the food stalls in markets for traditional cuisine.
  • Try the Hiroshima-yaki (okonomiyaki)
  • Try the small cafes in Takayama
  • Book in advance for the Center4Hamburgers

Wandering around Japan Part 2… Kyoto and Nara


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.

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.

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).


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.

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

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


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!


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.


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.

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.

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.


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!

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.

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.

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.

Fushimi-Inari Taisha

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

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!

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!

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!).

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.

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.

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.


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!