The Great Buddha, Nara, 2016

We walked along the path to the one of the oldest gates in Japan. It was tall and made of faded wood. On the steps of the gate a deer stood defiantly as if it dare us to enter.

Inside the walls of the gate were huge wooden guardians on either side of the entryway, casting a watchful eye over all who passed through.

We headed down the steps and were confronted by a wall. Peeking through the slats of the gates, we could see a beautiful ordered green garden leading to an enormous white temple with dark wooden embellishments and golden horns on the roof.

On the other side of the gate was the largest incense holder I had ever seen where people were burning and praying.

We walked around the walls to the side entry gate, paid our fee and entered the garden.

Walking into the temple through the front entrance, I was immediately struck still in awe. Maybe because I wasn’t expecting it, or perhaps because it appeared to be trapped in a building that could barely contain its greatness, I was stumped by the largest Buddha I had ever seen in in my life. It was so overwhelming that not even photos could show just how big and amazing it was.

The main sitting Great Buddha was flanked by two bodhisattva statues in gold and two more guardians, one on each side; this time in stone.

We moved around the statues in an anti clockwise direction, continually being drawn back to the Great Buddha and it’s awesome size.

There was a model of the temple complex towards the back and a hole in one of the temple pylons that was the same size as one of the Great Buddha’s nostrils. Children were lining up to crawl through the hole which is said to guarantee enlightenment if you can fit.

On the way back out of the temple complex, my daughter wanted to burn some incense. I like to think it was to pay her respects to the greatness that we had just seen, but it was more likely because everyone else was doing it.

We left the temple complex, walked back through the park with the now snoozing deer, their bellies full of biscuits; through the small town and caught the train back to Osaka where we dined on traditional Okonomiyaki pancakes and Asahi; hoping that it wouldn’t be so long before we saw our friends again.

No more sight seeing and temples for us, nothing would have been able to top the Great Buddha at that point anyway, so it was off to Disneyland for a different kind of wonder.

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Nara, 2016

One of our most epic days in Japan was our trip to Nara to visit one of my husband’s American friends, Perry, who had lived in a more remote area of Japan with his Japanese wife for a number of years. He was bringing his son who was the same age as my daughter, so we decided on the destination of Nara for our catch up.

Nara is known for its relatively tame deer that used to be looked after by monks and now were open to being hand fed by tourists. We met Perry and his son at Nara train station and went to a nearby restaurant for lunch. Over a few beers, the friends caught up and their kids got acquainted.

After lunch we walked through the little town of Nara, which was made up mostly of eateries, one where I had a strangely flavoured persimmon smoothie, and shops selling deer souvenir’s of any shape or size. There was even an official deer mascot shop, which the kids liked.

On the way to the deer parked we passed a lake and then stopped at the impressive Five Storey Pagoda. Here, I discovered that Nara is also known for its many world heritage sites, this being one of them. The pretty red Hokuen- do Hall and large Nanen-do Hall formed a square with the pagoda.

We knew we were getting close to the deer park when they started appearing all over the road. There were cute little fawns with their mums, pregnant deer sitting and mewing and one fawn getting fed at a crossing.

In the park, the deer were everywhere, walking among the humans and not seeming to mind their presence at all. There were groups of deer wading in lakes and hiding in the reeds near streams. There were signs up in the park depicting pictures of what the deer could do and to take care.

Some deer biscuits were purchased and many deer immediately surrounded us, wanting to get in on the action. Some of them were definitely not shy, butting me for more food. We found some smaller deer for the kids to feed and my daughter seemed to enjoy it.

Now that the kids had been amused, it was time for the adults to do a little sight seeing. As we walked on to Todai-ji temple, with deer weaving out of the temple complex completely as ease, I had no idea of the greatness that was about to be unveiled.

 

Related posts: Castle and shopping in Osaka, 2016Osaka, 2016Onsen in Nantan, 2016Markets and Manga in Kyoto, 2016Gion, Kyoto, 2016Food and Fervour in Kyoto, 2016Kyoto, 2016Takeyama, 2016Samurai and Shidax in Kanazawa, 2016Seeking Geisha and Gardens in Kanazawa, 2016Kanazawa, 2016Tokyo, 2016: MiraikanTokyo, 2016: Shinjuku, Tsukiji Market and YanakaTokyo, 2016: Imperial Palace and ShibuyaTokyo, 2016: Ueno and HarajukuJapan, 2016

Castle and shopping in Osaka, 2016

The main thing I wanted to see in Osaka was the castle. My husband, daughter and I passed a museum on the walk from the train station where people were lining up and there was some sort of travelling circus with large lizards and eagles.

As we neared the castle, I could spot a green roof looming above trees and I knew we must be close. We crossed the moat that was lined with willow trees and autumn leaves with a few boats floating by.

Stone walls surrounded the castle grounds from which there was a good view of the city. We walked around Osaka Castle, which turned out to have more white washed storeys than I first saw from afar, and lots of impressive gold embellishment.

There were large topiary trees, a huge rock out front and vending machines around the castle. My daughter asked- where are the king and queen of the castle? And I really didn’t know, so I bought her a Lady Borden ice cream on a stick instead.

We returned to Shinsaibashi-suji by day to shop, as this was our last city stop before going home. My daughter stocked up on Hello Kitty paraphernalia and chose Rapunzel as her first princess dress.

My husband bought souvenirs for his family and a sake set for us in Tokyo Hands; and souvenirs for friends at the Kit Kat shop. I found a gorgeous red jacket in Stradivarius, a funky shop that I had never heard of, and had to have it. And of course we hit Uniqlo and H&M.

After half a day focussed on shopping, I got a bit disconcerted by the chorus of thankyou’s, so we stopped for a nice lunch in a traditional style restaurant below street level. Every little dish had a plate of its own making the presentation very appealing.

We returned to our modern apartment with the many confusing light switches and buttons for a rest, before heading back out to a local restaurant that specialised in tempura for dinner.

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Osaka, 2016

My husband, daughter and I caught the Shinkasen very fast train from Kyoto to our next destination- Osaka. We spent a little time hanging around the train station in Osaka before we could check in.

There were many artful manga posters, a lot of samurai, art deco lights and some great earing shops. My daughter also got her fast food fix at Lotteria.

Upon arrival, we found our modern apartment and then headed out to the Minami area in the late afternoon. The atmosphere was electric and caused me to think that Osaka was the most liveable city in Japan that we had been to yet.

We strolled the Dotombori river walk, over bridges and beside the river. A tall duty free Ferris wheel rose above a lantern-lined promenade. I spotted a fancy establishment that just had a giraffe on it, framed by projected lines of light that changed colour periodically.

A stage was set up on the water where Japanese pop stars were singing, which my daughter loved; and there were stalls selling beer in plastic cups that you could drink on the river bank, which my husband loved; so everyone was happy.

As the light began to fade, the high-rise buildings lit up with neon and boats passed along the river hosting tourists and locals partying. The famous running man at the mouth of the Shinbashi-suji shopping district was flashing and crowded with people.

On Dotombori Street, the crowds grew thicker, jostling for a place in one of the many restaurants with various gimmicky signs. There were plastic puffer fish, crab, octopus and gyoza next to a market of local food stalls.

We ended up heading to a quieter back street for dinner on the way back to our apartment. Amongst cool funky bars and skewer stalls, we found an oyster bar that served wasabi oysters. It had been nice to head out at night and mix with the locals.

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Onsen in Nantan, 2016

One of the main things my husband wanted to do in Japan was visit an onsen. Most of the best spas are in the snow, single sex and naked. Seeing as we had our daughter with us we had to find a family onsen near Kyoto that allowed swimwear.

Our journey to Rurikei Onsen in Nantan began with a local train through plunging rivers and mountain tunnels. It seemed like the spa was in the middle of nowhere already, but the best was yet to come.

When we arrived at the closest train station, we found out that we had missed one of only a couple of buses that go to the spa in the morning, so we had to catch a taxi. As the cab climbed further into the mountains and the meter ticked over, I feared that we were lost.

Eventually, we pulled up to the Rurikei Eco Resort Village and there was not a tourist to be seen. The functional spa had pools, hot spas, cold spas, reading rooms, relaxing rooms and a foot tub where fish ate the skin off your feet.

The prettiest was the traditional looking outdoor spa with bamboo decorations and I liked the indoor waterfalls. The weirdest room was the mysterious room that had coloured rocks on the roof that could be seen glinting in the dark room.

The resort also had a hotel and healthy eating restaurant attached to it where we had a tasty light lunch. It also had the only beer vending machine we saw the whole time we were in Japan. I was beginning to think they were a myth.

With time to kill before the free afternoon bus back to the train station, we wandered around the surrounding gardens. The backdrop of mountains was beautiful and they were building a little tent area for future campers. Lots of autumn leaves up here, a cute little friendship pavilion, a water wheel and real waterfalls.

They were setting up the gardens for Christmas with lots of colourful lights, a few Christmas trees, reindeer, angels and even Santa’s sleigh that you could sit in. There was also a strange kids playground that consisted only of stone animals, like Narnia. There were kangaroos, tigers, giraffes and duck statues mixed in with real cranes in the river.

While we were waiting for the bus back at the spa entry with the old folks, I felt the ground roll underneath me. One of the older ladies started freaking out and we realised it must have been an earthquake. Small, but still shaky, it was a very odd feeling.

We caught the train back to Kyoto, happy in the fact that we had been somewhere only locals go and had our last dinner in a neighbourhood restaurant serving Kyoto specialities like mackerel, fried chicken and sake.

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10 things I have learnt from travelling

  1. I used to have lists and must do everything. I have learnt that going off the list brings nice alternative surprises.

2. I used to think the place was the most important thing. I have learnt that it’s sometimes the people that make the place.

3. I used to think that what you ate when you travelled was unimportant. I have learnt that food is a big part of travelling and often what triggers your memories more than anything else.

4. I used to think that souvenirs were the most important things to gather. I have learnt that photos and memories are much more precious.

5. I used to think travelling solo was the best way to go. I have learnt that travel is nicer when you have someone to share the memories with after the trip.

6. I used to trust what other people said about a place. I have learnt that you can’t trust what people say about a place- you have to go and see for yourself.

7. I used to think that places constantly changed. I have learnt that the more a place changes, the more it stays the same.

8. I used to think once you have been to a place there was no need to go back. I have learnt that there’s always somewhere new to go, even in places where you have been before.

9. I used to think you could go back to a place and it would be just as good as the first time you went. I have learnt that you can go back to a place, but never back in time.

10. I used to think that all places in the world were different. I have learnt that inevitably some places remind you of other places.

Most of all, I have learnt that the world is a beautiful, magical and amazing place and to enjoy its best to stay positive.

Or perhaps I knew this all along.

#travellessons travel blog competition

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Markets and Manga in Kyoto, 2016

After breakfast at our regular café, we headed to Nishiki Market. The market roof was stained glass of many colours and beautifully illustrated banners showed which section of the market we were in.

We saw tofu being made in barrels, washi paper, Kyoto gift boxes and all the usual vegetables and seafood. There was a great arts and crafts shop that was selling kimono dolls, hair clips and fans- one of which cost 21,600 yen!

There was also a pretty little temple hidden behind white lanterns at the end of the market. It had chains made of paper cranes and some dragon statues, including one in a box that moved.

The rest of the day was our daughter’s choice so we went to the International Manga Museum. A friend of ours who spent three days there had recommended it to us. We soon found out why, as the museum was also a library of four floors of manga books.

Unfortunately, the main display was in the process of being changed, but there was an interesting display in the regular area showing a timeline of manga and the differences between it and normal animation.

Our daughter loved the big bright yellow mascot of the museum and the life-size placards that she could pose for photos with. She was also happy, as there was a television in the library showing moving manga films.

My favourite part was seeing the manga comics from the year I was born and buying Sailor Moon comic book number one for our daughter.

We saw an entertaining picture show called Kami-shibai. This is what they used to have before television and consists of a box with comic placards that are moved by the storyteller as the story unfolds. They used to be very popular and I could see why as the narrator was very interactive with the audience.

Our daughter’s choice for lunch was sushi train, so we went to one of the better-known ones in the area and we all ate our fill. Then we went back to the play park in the Imperial Palace Gardens.

After she had tired herself out, we went to a local restaurant for dinner and planned the next day- a journey into the unknown to find a family onsen in the mountains outside of Kyoto.

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Gion, Kyoto, 2016

Again on the search for Geisha, we spent the day in Gion.

First we went to the outskirts of Maruyama-koen Gardens. There were long pathways leading up to mountains flanked by tall pine trees. There were lakes with bridges, stepping-stones and weeping willow trees. There were locals taking pictures next to the big gingko tree.

We saw a crane on a rock, but no Geisha.

Next we went down the main street of Gion. There were buses, streetlights and a big red temple. There were alleyways, houses that hid private gardens and a colourful flower shop with blue orchids. There was a Hello Kitty shop dressed with autumn leaves and one with Japanese style hair ties, fans and kimonos for both little girls and boys.

We saw places with fans hanging over doorways, but no Geisha.

For lunch we went to a traditional Japanese restaurant that served delicate tempura served fifteen different ways. There was a family gathering enjoying a banquet. There was green tea ice cream for desert.

We saw pictures of geisha on the walls, but no Geisha.

Instead, we decided to look for Ishibei-koji- the most beautiful street in Kyoto. The street was long, narrow and wooden with a hook at the end. It was indeed beautiful. Around the corner there was a rabbit curtain over a doorway.

And so it was, when we were searching for something else, that we found Geisha.

There were two ladies, painted in white, with high wooden shoes, even higher hair and strange structured bags, who emerged from the doorway of a garden. There they stood, just like that, framed by the wooden gateway with the hills in the background posing with tourists for photos.

Lovely ladies that they were, they didn’t seem to mind that they got stopped every step they took. They waved to our daughter as they shuffled along slowly and I feared that it might take them all day to get where they were going.

I later learned that they were probably geisha in training, but this did not take away from the thrill.

We had found our Geisha girls at last and they had definitely made my day amazing.

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Food and Fervour in Kyoto, 2016

After our busy first day in Kyoto, my husband found a local restaurant that had fire ramen. Curious to see what this was, we walked the short distance to the establishment and waited in the queue.

When we made it inside, it became apparent that it was not just the food that was the attraction here, but also the showmanship. After donning bibs, making sure our daughter was seated behind us and covering our arms, the chef briefed us on safety instructions and we waited with anticipation.

Fire ramen was poured into our waiting bowls and a large flame erupted from each one. Now I understood the caution. The ramen actually tasted pretty good too and the chef indulged us all by taking cameos of us enjoying our meals.

The next morning we found a local coffee house for breakfast that was owned by a friendly lady. The menu included both eggs and Japanese curry which pleased the whole family at that time in the morning. We liked it so much that it became our regular morning spot.

On the agenda for the day was a historical walk including some of the main temples in Kyoto. First we went to Shoren-in temple, which had a great Japanese raked garden. Here we met a group of school girls who thought our daughter was cute and had to take a photo with her.

Next was the Chion-in temple with the largest entry gate in Japan. This time we followed a group of school children dressed in kimonos and distracted them as they took their group picture in front of the gate. More photos with our daughter ensued.

The gate to Chion-in temple was indeed big, wooden and old. There were many steps leading up to the temple complex that was nestled into the hills, just showing some autumn colours.

Our daughter was very interested in the Buddhist ceremonies. She enjoyed watching the monks as they performed a rite and wanted to join in with the praying.

The last temple was the Nanzen-ji temple with a two-storied gate. The walk to the temple had pretty residential streets with old houses. The usual rock, lantern and moss garden flanked the temple, along with an aqueduct, which was a bit different.

I had also read that there was a waterfall temple behind the main one, so we headed up the hill to look for it. As the path became less trodden and the foliage became thicker, I began to think that something was awry. After we had been climbing for over half an hour and couldn’t even hear a waterfall, we decided it was time to turn back.

Turns out, we had been walking up the wrong hill in the opposite direction. We eventually found the right path, but by then we were done for the day and we left without seeing the waterfall. Our religious fervour had officially faded and it was time to call it a day.

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Kyoto, 2016

On the train from Kanazawa to Kyoto I snacked on an immaculate take away bento box while we passed a huge lake.

The warehouse apartment that we were staying at in Kyoto was near Goo temple opposite the Imperial Palace Park.

Also known as the pig temple, the Goo temple was a shrine to 300 boars that saved a lord from death. It was an interesting little place.

The Imperial Palace Park was walled with entry gates, long gravel walkways and huge trees that looked pretty in the afternoon sunlight. We saw some cranes and the Tsukushima Shrine surrounded by water.

To get inside the palace itself you need to book ahead and children under 20 aren’t allowed into this, as well as other palaces in Kyoto.

We found a local supermarket that was so bountiful with fresh prepared food that we didn’t need to go out for dinner.

On our first day in Kyoto we went to the two main things I wanted to see here- the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and Fushi Inari Taisha Shrine.

The Tenryu-ji temple marked the entrance to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. The grove itself was very green, cool and peaceful. The trees were truly very high and bent into each other. A couple were getting pictures at the end of the walkway, her red dress a stunning contrast to the bright branches.

Our next stop was the Fushi Inari Taisha Shrine. Thousands of red gates in rows of varying closeness dotted with statues of foxes. We entered through the impressive decorated two-storied gate at the entry, past the main shrine and the place where good luck charms of little red gates are hung.

Where the gates were most close together was the Senbon Torii- 1,000 shrine gates, which led up the mountain to the inner shrine. We stopped just past this point as the road got steeper and the gates more spread apart. The place was one of my favorites in Japan and more than lived up to expectations.

On the way back down we stopped for a tasty kebab, orange juice served inside an orange and a tiny toy fox to take home.

In the afternoon we went back to the Imperial Palace Park. My daughter had spotted a large children’s play park there the day before and wanted to go back. I think she had started to miss playing with other kids, or maybe just being a kid and having a swing.

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