Tag Archives: Travel

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.

Related posts: Onsen 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

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.

Related posts: Markets 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

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.

Related posts: Gion, 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 Harajuku, Japan, 2016

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.

Related posts: Food 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

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.

Related posts: Takeyama, 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

 

Takeyama, 2016

The train to Takeyama wound through rice fields and rocky rivers into the pine forested mountains. The beautiful autumn leaves began to emerge the higher the train went.

We walked around the pretty little town with its wooden houses and an alpine feel. The river water was so clear that you could see koi swimming against the current.

After a little searching we found the Karakuri Museum. This puppet museum showcases acrobatic puppets used on floats in a festival that the town is famous for.

There was a rolling puppet that served tea and one that wrote calligraphy, from which my daughter was lucky enough to be given writings from. The museum also had a huge collection of lion masks.

Takeyama is also known for sake breweries, so we went into a local shop with the cedar ball hanging above the door signifying that the spirit was served there. After a tasting, we purchased a bottle to take home.

We had some rice dumplings on a stick, followed by lunch in a local restaurant. It was a family owned establishment where we had baked curry and a special kids meal with an origami of a flying crane on beautiful patterned paper for my daughter.

The day trip to Takeyama was one of my husband’s favourite days and it definitely made for a lovely sojourn.

It was dinnertime by the time we arrived back in Kanazawa, so we retested the theory of the best food being near train stations with a nearby sashimi restaurant that definitely delivered.

We also purchased our Japanese souvenir- a striking red kimono doll with the unique style of lacquer and woodwork combined.

The next morning we were back at the train station, leaving Kanazawa for Kyoto. While we were waiting for our train, the local TV station interviewed us about why we had come to Kanazawa, what we had done and what we liked. It was quite a thrill to be filmed and even nicer to be asked again at the end of our stay.

Related posts: Samurai 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

 

Samurai and Shidax in Kanazawa, 2016

As my daughter’s choice of activity, we went to a Japanese phenomenon- Shidax karaoke. As we sang along to Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and my pick Iggy Azalea, I thought, these people really know how to have fun. Singing, dressing up and playing games for beer. Why not?

The next day we had planned to go to Takeyama, but all the trains were booked out. So we booked for the following day and headed to the Nagamachi Samurai quarter instead.

Narrow, quiet, cobblestoned streets and long walls hid amazing tall wooden slat houses, some of which were open to the public. We found one with stables and a pretty garden.

The best one was the family of Nomura Samurai House. Samurai armour greeted us at the doorway to the house, which had two levels. The bottom level had detailed walls and a prayer room all set up. There was a translated thank you letter written during war and wooden carvings near the celling.

A winding stone staircase led to a teahouse on the top level, which had a view over the beautiful garden with water features, lanterns and koi.

Outside, we couldn’t find the Murakami candy tree mentioned in the guidebook, though we did find a lolly shop with lollies made in the shape of mushrooms. There was also a local eating a gold leaf ice cream. They are expensive, but lucky.

For lunch we had honten and Japanese curry at Full of Beans– a very funky café. Then we wandered around the shops including The Loft which had strange appliances.

It occurred to me that the best things about Kanazawa had been the unplanned parts where we slowed down, like the teahouse in the gardens, just wandering around town finding local restaurants and people watching. How does everyone stay so thin here with so much yummy food to eat?

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Seeking Geisha and Gardens in Kanazawa, 2016

From the Omi-cho Market, we walked to the Higashi-chaya geisha district. On the way we passed many interesting buildings and more temples. Why are there so many shrines and temples in one place? Perhaps so there is always somewhere to pay respects.

As we crossed the river, we were mesmerised by the sight of lots of eagles hovering, swirling and occasionally diving into the clear water for fish.

The geisha district had lots of pretty alleyways with wooden slat houses and a view to the mountains behind. My favourite were the red coloured structures and one famous street in particular which had the perfect angle for a classic photo. The only question was, where were all the geisha girls?

Inside the Higashi Chaya Krukeikan Rest house, we saw vast living areas, a strange contraption for making tea that was hung from the ceiling and a cute little Japanese garden. My daughter had fun trying on a pair of geisha style wooden block shoes and getting a big stamp of the rest house from the staff there.

Next we picked up some lunch as a local bakery and went to the vast Kanazawa Castle Park for lunch. Many school children were there, also eating. Here we saw our first beautiful orange autumn leaves on trees.

Inside the castle gates, we went into one of the guardhouses that had views over the park and to other parts of the castle. It was a room of golden floorboards and we got our second stamp of the day.

In the grounds of the castle we found two very friendly ladies dressed in kimonos who were more than happy to have their photo taken with our daughter at the castle and wanted a picture for themselves as well. We learnt the word for cute in Japanese- Kawai. It was one we were to hear more as we journeyed around Japan with our daughter.

The highlight of the day was the most beautiful gardens that we went to in Japan- the Kenrouk-en Gardens. It was easy to see why they were heritage listed. The gardens were spectacular with bridges, ponds and views over the town.

We saw the well-known Rainbow Bridge that is depicted on manholes around the town with the Kotojitoro Lantern. The Horaijima Island was in the middle of a pond surrounded by pine trees hanging over the water and the Flying Wild Geese Bridge, made of stones in a point, was aptly named.

Our favourite part of the gardens was when we slowed down and took a seat in a traditional teahouse over the water of Hisagoike Pond. We had green tea that was actually green and muddy and a sculpted Japanese sweet.

As the sunlight bounced off the roof making pretty patterns on the ceiling and we could hear a waterfall trickling in the background, I got a glimpse of the peace that a Japanese garden can bring and didn’t want to leave.

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Kanazawa, 2016

The next day, we caught the fast train to the ‘small town’ of Kanazawa, which had less than 500,000 people. How is that considered a small town? Small by Japanese standards I guess.

We whizzed past canola fields, mountainous forests and the sea. We were greeted at Kanazawa train station by a huge gate and a waterfall. There was also a robot that gave directions from an iPad and looked up at you when you spoke.

In Kanazawa, we stayed in a great traditional Japanese house in Katamachi that was made of dark wooden slats and paper windows- thankfully also with glass on the outside. It had a communal sleeping room and cushions to sit on the floor in the living room. Why do people sleep and sit on the floor in Japan?

The town had its own busy Shibuya-like crossing, albeit smaller and with more pushbikes than cars. We found the pretty Saigawa River that ran through the town and that every block had a temple. There were some cute little houses and creative signage adorning bars and buildings.

For our daugther, we found a small kids play park nearby, stone statue children outside one of the large shopping centres to pose with and a character dressed up promoting a restaurant roaming the streets to meet and greet.

The mascot of the Kanazawa looks like a fat Russian nest doll, but it has a moustache and the town is known for its Samurai and Geisha districts. We were told that the Japanese came here to relax and buy kimonos.

For dinner we went to an authentic restaurant that served pork cutlets and Oden- meat and vegetables served in soup broth. Our daughter liked the complimentary cabbage leaves that you could dip in special sauce.

Our first day exploring Kanazawa started with the Omi-Cho market. It was filled with seafood and delicious croquettes. We found an apple for our daughter to eat that was half the size of her head.

We were stopped by a group of school children on assignment to practice their English who asked a series of questions and then gave us a paper crane as a thank you. One of the questions was- where would we prefer to live: Kanazawa or Tokyo? It was only the start of our first day here, but we already knew that with its slower pace and smaller size, Kanazawa would be our choice.

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