Check out my Amazon page for gear that I personally use and products similar to those I pack on my travels (many of which are listed below).
As a photographer, my priorities for travelling always have been photography first. This time around, unlike my Peru – Machu Picchu trek, my walzflex 120mm film camera made an appearance once again.
For 14 days of travel through Japan, I decided against a rolling hard case luggage. I have since replaced my Kata Camera bag with a new bag from PRVKE as my personal camera bag and my trusty Yellow North Face Basecamp Duffel as my main luggage, My philosophy when travelling is purchase only as much as you can carry back.
Japan Packing List
Wearing onto Plane
1 pair of tights (Underarmour are my choice of preference)
Woke up early to goto Arashio-beya Sumo Stable 荒汐部屋(Japan, 〒103-0007 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Nihonbashihamachō, 2 Chome−４７−２) to watch sumo wrestling practice as the big sumo wrestling tournament takes place next month. This particular beya has windows that you can watch from and you aren’t allowed to enter the building. There are other beya’s where you can enter and sit down to watch them practice however for those ones you cannot leave until the practice is over or it is considered disrespectful. You also cannot sit with the bottom of your feet facing the ring as that is also disrespectful. You also should bring a gift of some sort (snacks or something) to offer to the sumo wrestlers as a sign of appreciation for their hard work. We walked back to the hotel and just relaxed a bit and repacked.
We were running out of yen but luckily good timing as it was our last day. We were trying to figure out what was our best option to not spend the remainder of our money until needed but also get through the next few hours with out luggage. We decided to just head to Tokyo station and figure it out then. We arrived at Tokyo Station using our JR pass from JR Akihabara. The line to reserve tickets for the trains was long and I needed to charge up my pasmo card however didn’t have enough time to and I didn’t have access to one inside the station. We walked around, found food and sat in the food emporium and ate before our NEX express train to Narita Airport. The express train takes an hour. I then picked up the final requests I had from my cousin to pick up certain items and last meal of Japan trip – 15 McNuggets. Our flight offered 2 free checked in bags and I gave in and checked in my bag (hoping the kit kats survive). Good thing I did check it in as I needed my hands to grab the last purchases in Japan. 11-11.5hr to ORD. Smooth ride and fixed my jet leg I think. Unfortunately, our flight home from ORD got delayed 3.5 hours due to bad weather in Toronto.
All in all, a wonderful trip and I was very ambitious with my itinerary and wasn’t able to accomplish some of the items on there but its a lesson learned and all about going with the flow. I was able to reunite with 2 friends in Tokyo & Osaka and also meet up with my volleyball friend as she was travelling visiting family and spent 2 days with my crew and I. Only 1 bag of kit kats got squashed – still tastes just as good.
Overall, all the places I’ve visited, Osaka is still my favourite. The vibe is just perfect – not too busy like Tokyo but also has its little boroughes with stylish people and of course the copious amounts of delicious food anywhere you look. The weather is perfect as well with city and nature somewhat meeting. Japan is somewhere I could visit again and again and never feel like I have fully explored what the country has to offer. I do love the culture and especially the architecture however I can go without the slow walkers, the slow escalators, the not covering their mouth while coughing or sneezing and the not moving out of the way when walking and bashing into the next person.
Who knows, maybe the next time round will be Taiwan & Okinawa.
We woke up early and packed. We had about an hour and half before we needed to check out so we walked around America-mura and grabbed morning takoyaki at Kogaryu – 大阪アメリカ村 甲賀流 本店 (Japan, 〒542-0086 Ōsaka-fu, Ōsaka-shi, Chūō-ku, Nishishinsaibashi, 2 Chome−2−18−4) which is on the Michelin Star list and for good reason – the octopus was just so much more flavourful than many I have eaten in the past. Mike dropped one – that was a sad moment. Before we checked out of the Airbnb, we wanted to be hip and sit on the wooden patio outside of AKTR/Sporty Coffee shop スボティコーヒー. I purchased Sporty blend coffee beans – sourced from Wakayama for my pops (1380y). We grabbed all our stuff and took the train to Shin-Osaka where we dropped off our luggage – the main JR station was already packed with bags but I cut and saved a large locker for Mike & Manwai. 300y for a small locker. We took the train to Umeda station and went to find Kayo at her work. For some reason, I didn’t check where she worked and I assumed it was Umeda station because she mentioned it earlier however her workplace is located at the Whity Umeda so it would’ve been Higashi Umeda station we should’ve gotten off at.
We surprised Kayo at work but she actually surprised us because she had gotten the photos she took on her camera the previous day printed and gave them to us with personalize notes inside. She went on lunch break and we went to Okonomi Yukari which was also in this underground mall. Back to the mall for a second, this mall has over 200 shops and averages 600,000 visitors a day – so confusing to walk through – think Toronto’s underground Path but 5x bigger. Now back to food. Okonomi Yukari serves for majority of its menu – okonomiyaki – a savoury japanese pancake made with flour, eggs, shredded cabbage with meat and topped with a variety of condiments like bonito flakes, mayonnaise, sweet brown sauce etc.
I found the sailor moon makeup my friends were looking for at Its Demo. We made our way back to Shin-Osaka station and off we went. 3 hours to get back to Tokyo – We forgot to ask for mountain side view seats as we pass Mt Fuji heading to Tokyo. Luckily, I woke up hearing a phone taking burst photos and I got up and got a shot of Mt Fuji for the 1-2 minutes it appeared as the shinkansen speeds past at 300KM/HR.
Our original plan was to leave Osaka early in the morning to Nagoya and purchase tickets to watch a baseball game at 6PM (Dragons vs Tigers) and leave Nagoya by 8PM latest to make it back to Tokyo but it was a little too ambitious I suppose. Cassie also followed us back to Tokyo but went to Shinagawa first. We continued onwards to check in to our Capsule hotel – Grids Akihabara(Japan, 〒101-0031 Tōkyō-to, Chiyoda-ku, Higashikanda, 2 Chome−８−１６) – we booked a private quad capsule room with shared showered but sink and toilet in our room. Tokyo was really windy that day.
Once we settled in, we made our way to Shinjuku to Comme Ca to pick up Mike’s jacket. We met up with Cassie at Tokyu Hands (Kit Kat Chocolatory was on the lower level but closed about 15-20 minutes before we got there). We had passed this cool looking pop-up shop looking food truck and restaurant so we decided to check it out instead of joining Chi & Karen in Harajuku for gyozas because it was cold and this was also closer. The restaurant is called Sanagi Shinjuku サナギ 新宿 (Japan, 〒160-0022 Tokyo, 新宿区Shinjuku, 3 Chome−３５−６). It is a asian tapas restaurant that serves thai, chinese, japanese and other asian cuisine. The place is very eclectic. There are multiple rooms all designed differently. One area looked very cafe like, another had benches with paper lanterns adorning the ceiling, we sat in the area where you sit on the floor and had neon lights. The washrooms also featured different aesthetic – the unisex washroom had pennants covering the ceiling, the women had stuffed dolls and the mens something else.
We ordered a whole bunch of things and drinks. I got their local Dove and Peach sake and then a shochu wine drink – all in all, a very fun way to end out time in Japan for sure. I have been very dehydrated this trip (little known fact – I am a very dehydrate person in general) so drinking this much (I went for the hard stuff I know) made me even more dehydrated and I guess low blood sugar. As we were getting off the train, my vision went a little white and fuzzy but all was good with a little sports drink in me and I was fine.
We took a cab to Kyoto station to meet Cassie at Kyoto Station. Such a large station with multiple JR offices to book tickets but we eventually found Cassie. We got there in time to reserve seats for the shinkansen bullet train to Osaka. It literally took 14 minutes for us to get to Osaka from Kyoto. Local JR would take about 30-60 minutes – so insane. It was so fast that the ekiben that I purchased I had to inhale and almost didn’t finish in time to get off the train. We arrived in Osaka rather early to meet our Airbnb host at 1130AM so we put our bags in the lockers and went shopping at Tokyu Hands. Turns out our 20 minute limit turned into an hour. I purchased about 114,000y but what sucks is that at the tax free counter, i only got 633y back because my purchased items didn’t qualify for a tax exemption. By this point of seeing Osaka, everyone had talked ourselves out from leaving for Nagoya the following day to leave a little bit more time in Osaka.
We left Tokyu Hands and walked through Shinsaibashi street to America-mura where we would meet our Airbnb host Yuta and be staying. Cute apartment in a nice building with a coffee shop at the bottom. Yuta let us check in early and leave our stuff but the apartment still needed cleaning. He recommended a place to eat in Shinsaibashi called Daruma(1-6-4 Dotonbori, Chuo-ku, Osaka). Daruma is a kakushikatsu which basically means everything is fried. There was also a train the food would come on after ordering on the ipad/computer and a person would come around and place it on the heated plate for us. There is a sauce we can use to dip our skewers in but only dip once.
If you haven’t joined and booked with Airbnb yet, follow the link and get credits for your first booking. www.airbnb.ca/c/ruu
I had to meet my friend Kayo at a Namba station but my maps brought me to the JR Namba line instead of the local trains so Kayo met me on a corner while my friends were in Loft. Loft is a design store and a dangerous store in terms of wanting to purchase everything there. After Loft, we went to the Daiso store which is also filled with things we don’t need but fun to look at.
When we came out of the Daiso store, Kayo pulled out these little brown bags from her bag – she got us gifts! We opened it up to reveal that she gave us personalized (she personalized it herself) key chains with our names on it from her workplace – Business Leather Factory. So sweet of her! We told her we wanted to see her store so she took us to the Namba station branch of the store as she works at Umeda Station location. Cassie bought a wallet and Mike & Manwai purchased passport cases and Kayo was so sweet to give us 5% friends & family discount + tax free savings. I would’ve bought a new wallet but I am very particular about the things I want from a wallet. On our way to the store, we were eyeing Mister Donut and she stepped out and bought a box for us – she is way too sweet!
We walked from there through Shinsaibashi street to the Glico man sign and we went a little further down the river to find so benches to enjoy the donuts. Along the way, we also stopped and grabbed ourselves Croissant Taiyaki – croiyaki? 1000y for 5. There was azuki red bean, custard and sweet potato filling – the sweet potato was delicious! We hung out on under the bridge and on ate then walked back to our area of America-mura – it is very hip and so many colourful characters especially in clothing style. Very much American influence on clothing style but more so the 90’s wears and hip hop influence. Since they were cleaning the apartment when we dropped off our bags, we went back to the apartment to hang for a bit and saw the sunset from the balcony. There was a giant bowling pin just outside our building and we decided to go bowling at Shinsaibashi Sun Bowl 心斎橋サンボウル. It was 950y/pp for shoe rental and 1 game. Kayo put our names in kanji and off we went. My first bowl was a strike! Kayo was pretty precise in her bowling. In the end, Manwai, Kayo and myself were part of the strike club while Cassie and Mike were in the spare club. We even bowled with the bowling pin costumes at one point. I won!
After bowling, we returned to Shinsaibashi to see the Glico Man sign at night then went to Aburiya Dotonborimidosuji あぶりや 道頓堀御堂筋店 for Yakiniku – all you can eat 4380y with option for all you can drink for 980y. We ate so well in the 2 hour time limit plus we all get 1 dessert included. We of course treated Kayo. It was such a good night. We did stop and get takoyaki beside the large Don Quijote near the Glico man sign while we waited for our reservation for Aburiya.
Woke up early to meet the gang at a train station to head to Arashiyama for the day. Cassie had been recommended this coffee place called %Arabica Kyoto % アラビカ京都 嵐山(Japan, 〒616-8385 Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Ukyō-ku, Sagatenryūji Susukinobabachō, 右京区嵯峨天龍寺芒ノ馬場町3ｰ47) (Opens at 8AM). It was started by Kenneth Shoji and he bought a coffee farm in Hawaii and started a green bean trading company and became the sole-exporter of a Japanese roasting machine and became the distributor of one of the best espresso machines in the world. He then partnered up with a latte art champion, Junichi Yamaguchi and talented architect Masaki Kato to open % Arabica. I don’t drink coffee but aesthetically, I approved. My friends did line up and get coffee and they said it was really good. The actual Arashiyama location is really tiny and doesn’t really have seating inside (there is a booth you can rent per 30 minutes) but there are benches outside and you can sit by the river.
Once everyone had their morning coffee, we walked over to the Bamboo Forest. Along the way we kept seeing these vintage cars taking over the streets and whizzing by us as we darted to the bamboo forest. Apparently it was the annual Rally Nippon where classic cars are showcased on a 700-mile route or something similar to it as they took over the streets of Arashiyama and there was media coverage. They drove through the bamboo forest while we were there and to be honest, it ruined it for me. I have never been to this bamboo forest and yes it is more dense the further you go in but its also only 100m long. With such a small area but these vintage cars coming though, the exhaust from these cars smother you and at one point I started to cough and almost gag. The photos I’ve seen of the bamboo forest make it appear much larger than it is and we found it very difficult even though we went somewhat early to have a clear shot.
At this point, Karen & Chi decided they wanted to go into the villa garden while the rest of us (Cassie, Mike, Manwai & myself) opted to skip the garden and the temple to head to the Iwatayama Monkey Park. On our way to the park, we passed the small train station that had the kimono forest and took some photos. It is literally poles with real kimono fabrics in them that create a tunnel like the bamboo one but I think it would’ve been nicer to see at night as they do get illuminated. Back on our ways to Iwatayama Park – the park is 550y and it is a uphill climb to even get there. Be prepared. It is about 20 minutes uphill and yes there are benches along the way to rest. Once you arrive to the top, there are just monkeys everywhere. Take your photos but don’t get too close and I guess don’t look them in the eye as the signs keep telling us. There is a room you can enter and pay 100y for a bag of fruits you can then feed the monkeys . Yes you are in the cage while they are hanging from the wired windows of the human cage feeding them. There are park rangers around that the monkeys seem to respond to so everything is safe. We even saw a mother monkey who just gave birth 2 days earlier with her baby holding so tight to its mother. We spent a good while here and another perk – the view of the city was beautiful.
We hiked back down (another route back down but it does reconnect to the trail we started at the beginning) and walked back into town to meet Karen & Chi for lunch. Karen had chose a place called Otsuka STEAK おおつか(Japan, 〒616-8376 Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Ukyō-ku, Sagatenryūji Setogawachō, ２０−１０). We arrived into this dead end of a suburban street to find a covered car park just filled with people and stools and a stand with a waiting list. We immediately put our name down and took a seat. A minute later, it started to pour. We commenced our sitting and waiting for a good hour and half playing would you rather and looking at the menu deciding what we wanted. This place is very popular and closes at 2PM or whenever they sell out.
When we finally got in, There are 3 large tables that are lowered where your feet hang in a lower area and of course seating at the bar. Each table can hold about 6 people. I ordered the 4A Waygu Beef (4200y) and it was delicious but didn’t compare to the hida steak we had a few days before. Still butter though.
Since it was raining, we went to see the owls (680y) and we got to pet them. Unlike the other location in Tokyo, we were unable to carry them. They were cute but I felt bad because they sleep during the day and one owl in particular in my photos looked incredibly sad. You pet them using only the bad of your hand and only on their head and backs. There was one that got nippy but hey, i would too if I have random people touching me.
We took the JR to Kyoto station and that is where our night ended. Kyoto station is so large in size and the main area reminded us of Eatons Centre in Toronto but on a different scale. We were looking at the dessert floor in CUBE for so long with its free samples and we all got enticed to purchase snacks and gifts. So good but so deadly. We ended up in Aeon mall and shopped some more. It got late and by 9PM we were looking for somewhere to have dinner. We ended up eating at the station – Sushi no Musasahi(Japan, 〒600-8214 Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Shimogyō-ku, Higashishiokoji Takakuracho, 8−3 京都駅八条口構内アスティロード) – (JR Kyoto 8-jo south entrance) conveyor belt sushi – 146y a plate – I ate 11 plates – 1550y – the conveyor belt sushi in Shimokitazawa was still better and you could also order off a iPad. No Musashi would just make certain things and when we asked about unary they said eventually it will make it onto the belt (but they never made more of the unagi). We tried the melon shake at McDonalds – worst thing I consumed this whole trip – don’t do it. We got turned around in the station and ended up walking in the rain the same route we took when we arrived in Kyoto hoping to catch the bus home but we couldn’t figure out where the bus stop was so we hopped in a cab to take us the rest of the way.
We started off our morning rather early getting ourselves to Fushimi Inari for 745AM. Fushimi Inari is free admission and is open 24/7 technically (restaurants on top of the mountain have set times). Just a reminder that Fushimi Inari is built on a mountain so wear proper shoes to climb those stairs especially if you are planning on going the entire route. The sun was out and strong already at this point but Fusihimi Inari was still rather empty. We met with Chi, Cassie & Karen here before ascending. Yes Fushimi Inari is where Memoirs of a Geisha were filmed but the main tori gates in which that magical scene was filmed is actually only a small portion of this massive temple and it only lasts about 100m and there are 2 of them (for entrance and one for exit). I guess since I’ve been there before, these tunnels didn’t phase me but everyone and I mean everyone took their time here waiting for the tunnel of tori gates to be empty and just orange in hopes there would be a gleam of light cutting through. I waited patiently as my crew took their photos before continuing our ascend.
At one point, there is a fork in the road where if you turn left, you are exiting and it is a path that leads you back to the main area or if you go right, you will be rewarded with your first view overlooking the city below us. If you continue going up, you will move onto your second view (this is slightly nicer as there is 1 tori gate and also there are benches to rest while looking at the view. Depending on time of day, there will be open restaurants and refreshments available). At this point, by the time I reached this lookout point, I was waiting diligently for Mike & ManWai who I thought were right behind me but about 30 minutes later, Karen, Chi & Cassie made it up the stairs. Luckily I waited so long because I would’ve continued my hike of the entire trail (another 40 minutes or so) and when they finally made it to that lookout point, they said they were going to see the last lookout point before heading turning back and heading back down.
They needed a moment so I decided to head up to the last lookout point #7 (the stairs to the left). It is a cluster of shrines covered in mini wooden tori gates and fox statues but once you make it to the back of this cluster, there is an open trail that takes you to where I guess a giant sign use to be and you have a the clearest of views of Kyoto’s skyline. The walk back down was quite refreshing as you still see shrines along the way but you are on the outer fringe of the temple and see a bit of the neighbourhood surrounding the temple. We met back up at the giant Tori gate then made our way through the food stalls – the pork skewers (500y) were the best. As we continued to walk back to the train station, the group stopped off and got tofu ice cream with unique flavours like ramune or yuzu (lemon).
We took the train to Gion-Shijo Station where I grabbed a Cremia ice cream cone (500y). Glenn had talked about this ice cream and how good it was. It was very creamy and delicious and the cone was great as well. We then made our way back to the surface and walked over to Nishiki Market which unlike the other fish markets, was a narrow covered street that continued a few blocks but more of a mix of places with ready to eat food as oppose to a fresh fish market with all the product sitting out and then cut up right in front of you to eat fresh. We all ended up in a store called Sugi that served no added sugar – liquid honey and fruit drink. They had samples and thats what pulled us in the first place but all of them tasted so delicious we all left with something. I grabbed myself a small packet of yuzu drink (540y). 5 cups water to 1 tube. We walked around the market for a bit before splitting off and walking the Gion district before our late lunch in the area with Mike’s Uncle and Aunt.
We met up with Mike’s uncle Cyrius and aunt Chizuka for lunch at a restaurant that was hidden in a small alley which led us to Gion Hanasaki 祇園 京料理 花咲(Japan, 〒605-0074 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Higashiyama Ward, 祇園町南側５７０−１７) which is located in an old traditional Kyoto home. It was absolutely an amazing meal to have experienced. Our hostesses brought us up to a private room where they served us a few courses that were elegantly displayed and before each meal, they would stop and tell us what the meal was made of. They used the freshest of ingredients and each piece was perfectly in place and just some many wonderful flavours non which overpowered the other so you can enjoy every bit of it. We even ate sushi that looked like it was actual fish but it was all actually vegetables that were placed perfectly to look like fish. We tried but auntie Chizuka paid the bill for lunch.
After lunch, we walked a bit of the Gion district before making our way down to the riverside where we strolled along the river. We even saw a capybara in the water and saw a man throwing bread in the air where falcons were swooping in to eat. After waling by the river for a bit, we saw a restaurant/cafe where the giant windows just opened wo the river and we decided to investigate what establishment this was. It is called Efish エフィッシュ(Japan, 〒600-8029 Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Shimogyō-ku, Nishihashizumechō, 京都府京都市下京区木屋町通五条下ル西橋詰町798-1) and we decides to have a seat by the open window overlooking the river for coffee and snacks. I got the blood orange smoothie. They also have a small section where you can purchase housewife and also their they had seating areas with large comfy couches.
After the snacks, we called it a night with Mike’s uncle and aunt and went back to our Airbnb to relax a bit before venturing out for some fast food dinner. We walked around looking at what options were still open and nearby and settled on this one fast food place called Nakau なか卯 河原町五条店(Japan, 〒600-8020 Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Shimogyō-ku, Mikagedōmaechō, 河原町通五条上ル御影堂前町843清水ビル1F) where you use a machine to order. I ordered the Beef bowl combo (690y) and you get a ticket that you present to the person who gets your order ready. There was also a bunch of vending machines outside that were 100y and a few surprise for 80y. I picked a orange juice for 100y and let Manwai pick a 80y and it turned out to the be the same drink but in can form.
Off to Kyoto via JR Rail today but first breakfast (included in our fee). We went to our breakfast – Japanese style breakfast which was served buffet style. Very tasty and of course local ingredients for the most part. It was also day 2 of the festival however we were heading out to Kyoto that morning – luckily for us, it looked like it was a little cloudy and might rain the second day. Karen & Chi had left earlier than us (since we couldn’t get seats in the earlier train) so Glenn, John, Manwai, Mike and myself took a train leaving an hour and half later. It stopped in Nagoya before transferring to Kyoto where John and Glenn went towards Yokohama and eventually back up to Tokyo while we went to Kyoto.
We stayed at an Airbnb near Kiyomizu Station and since it was an absolutely gorgeous day of 20C+, we decided to walk 30 minutes from Kyoto station to our place. The Airbnb host had given me photo step by step instructions on how to get into the building however in his original photo, the circles 1 mailbox but we didn’t find the key in there but luckily I noticed that the mailbox beside it was also his and the keys were in there. This airbnb looked bigger in the Airbnb photos but realistically, it was a studio apartment and was a tight fit but we managed.
We put down our things and walked over to through the Higashiyama Ward to realized we hadn’t eaten yet (it was 2PM) so we stopped off for some cold soba noodles at Kisanjina 胡麻豆腐と和カフェ きさんじな before making our way to Hokan-ji Pagoda. I had read that Hokan-ji Pagoda was a rarity in that we could actually climb it but that it closed at a certain time so we rushed through the Higashiyama Ward area really quickly to get there but alas, my information was wrong and there was no indication we could actually access it as everything was blocked off from entering.
We continued walking alongside Kōdai-ji temple and stopped for some matcha ice cream from Gion Tsujiri. I got the matcha green tea drink with matcha ice cream (520y) to top off. We continued north and ventured through one smaller temple before making it to Maruyama Park which then connects to Yasaka Shrine. The view of the city looking out from the mains gates of the Yasaka Shrine is one of my favourites from my last trip and unfortunately it was too crowded and cloudy to serve it justice to my 2012 shots that captured that old Kyoto feel.
According to the KitKat Chocolatory website, the Kyoto Daimaru location exists so we made it there in good time and almost got lost in this food heaven of the Daimaru to find out it doesn’t exist (we asked a lady and she crossed her arms signalling an X). We then walked back to the main area by Yasaka Shrine to have dinner with Karen & Chi as Cassie was getting in later that evening. Along the way back, from the Gion – old Kyoto district street, a pile of people with lanterns paraded through the streets as they were I guess doing a procession to Yasaka Shrine.
Karen had chosen this on restaurant called Izuju(Japan, 〒605-0073 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Higashiyama Ward, 祇園町北側２９２) which was known for their traditional Kyoto style sushi. This consisted of no soy sauce, no wasabi and all the ingredients were cooked – it felt similar to eating korean rolls. Fun fact – Karen doesn’t eat raw fish so this the only time she could fully enjoy sushi. We ordered as a group for sharing and it all came out on this massive plate. Deluxe hako sushi (omelette, shrimp, sea bream, tori gai & roasted fish), awafu roll, saba sushi & sasamaki. We tried to venture through Yasaka Shrine and Maruyama Park as Karen & Chi hadn’t checked it out yet but then the rain started to pour and we were not quite ready for the rain. We hid under a shelter watching people who were sitting in the park eating (little stalls had these well lit areas with small tables and seating areas to eat) try to finish their food quickly and find shelter with their beers in hand while the staff quickly covered and took the furniture to covered areas. There was a giant group of men who were drinking who had a giant tarp that they quickly turned into a shelter for themselves and continued their festivities. We on the other hand, took a cab back ho and called it a night with one more episode of terrace House (only 4 episodes were released in our timeframe in Japan but 4 more than what was released back home).
If you haven’t joined and booked with Airbnb yet, follow the link and get credits for your first booking. www.airbnb.ca/c/ruu
Our hotel stay also included a Kaiseki (traditional Japanese breakfast filled with seasonal ingredients). It was wonderfully presented with a great view overlooking the city as you enter the room. They have the main portion of breakfast presented to you at your seat with hida beef on a personal hamachi clay grill that is cooking on a leaf. There is also a buffet style area where you can pick and choose other items such as grilled mackerel/salmon, salad, pork and potato croquette, cereal, croissants, porridge etc. There are also unlimited fountain drinks as well as coffee and tea. You should try the milk if possible – very fresh and different from Canadian milk.
After breakfast we used the relaxation room and worked the chairs – massaging chairs. Went back to the room and packed before taking the free shuttle to Takayama Station as we were heading to our next hotel but also trying to meet up with Karen & Chi who were arriving around 930AM. As we got to the station and alighted off the bus, perfect timing as we spotted them on the other side of the street. We walked over to Hida International Hotel(2-60 Hanaoka-cho, Takayama, Gifu Prefecture 506-0009, Japan) together however it was a 3PM check-in so we left our things for storage and wandered about.
Our main reason for visiting Takayama was because of the Takayama festival. It is the largest festival to celebrate the change of season to spring also known as the Sanno Matsuri. Its a 2 day festival hosted by the Hie Jinja Shrine. People from all over Japan and tourists alike congregate to celebrate this special festival. They have giant shelters that are spread across the city where they floats are held when they aren’t being used but once they are out, they are beautifully showcased with the sun glistening on them. There are beautiful carvings, dolls and elaborate textiles that cover each float. These floats also are suppose to showcase the craftsmanship of the carpenters of the Hida area. Inside each float, you will find children manning each float as a few of them also feature little dolls that move or the children play musical instruments. There are actually 25 festival floats scattered around Takayama however they are designated to different seasons. For spring, there are 12 floats, 11 for autumn and 2 for others.
Old town got turned into a pedestrian only zone with people walking everywhere and on maps, the bridges are colour coded so you can figure out where you are easier. The main area where the first performance with the floats was being held got incredibly crowded as we were trying to get through the crowd following others, we got stuck as both directions stopped moving. It got incredibly hot. After the morning ceremony, we decided it was time for food. Karen had a lunch place picked out in her little book however with such a large group (we had 7) it was near impossible to seat all of us. We went to Jakson(5-5 Tenmanmachi Takayama Gifu 岐阜県 高山市 天満町 5-5) for curry but we did a take away order. I ordered the Curry katsu (fried pork) – 1200y. We ended up walking in search of Takayama’s version of takoyaki (octopus balls) but instead of octopus filling, it was said to be hida beef as we waited our 20 minutes for our lunch to cook – we did not find these hidayaki…? and slowly made our return to Jakson for our takeaway order. We ate in a nearby area with stairs and a small cafe table. The curry was quite nice but flavourful. Once again, Karen had many bucket list foods in her book and once we finished our curries, she was on a mission to find the Hida beef steam buns from the specific stall that got grave reviews and she eventually did find it. Apparently it was really worth it but I was way too full to even try it.
We eventually crossed one of the bridges and found ourselves on the street where all the floats were equally spaced out and slowly being prepped where people could take photos of each individual float before all the mayhem ensued at night. Again, we walked through old town and just continued walking about. We got separated and in the end made it back to the hotel for 5PM to officially check in. Our hotel stay included a hida steak dinner however the timeframe for dinner got pushed to a smaller timeframe so we made sure dinner was priority before heading back out as the price of our hotel stay for 1 night (a little more expensive than we liked) also factored in this steak dinner. What we didn’t know is that it became this 4-5 course meal that was elegantly presented. The hida steak was absolutely a delicious addition to this leg of the trip. The steak could be cut so easily with just a fork. We finished out meal satisfied and ventured back out to see the night parade of the floats which at this point had already started their procession (multiple locations on the map where we could watch the floats go by) with the lanterns all lit up and children playing instruments in all of them. The adults controlled the floats from the outside. The most difficult part was turn the floats. Think of Howl’s Moving castle and how tall but narrow it was (before it full transformed) that’s what the floats looked like.
Since we are in the mountainside, when the sun is up, the sun is strong and we all got a little tanned and red that day but once that sun goes down or into the shade, it gets cold. The main old town strip got turned into a night market festival with stalls selling food galore. We watched for a bit standing on a bench but in the end, didn’t stay to the last float.
We went back to our hotel and went to the onsen. This one has 2 tier onsen on the 9th floor. Rooftop jacuzzi with 2 individual tubs to soak (this is the spot of the onsen personally) with a view of the city. The main floor has an outdoor pool with 1 inside and tons of shower stalls. It also featured a misting sauna. There apparently was one downstairs in the basement plus a swimming pool but we never made it down.
Woke up and took the train back to Kanazawa station to reserve our bullet train tickets for the next 2 days.
Morning reservations for the express trains were completely full so we had to take the local train which was an hour longer ride with 1 more transfer point than the express. We ended up roaming the mall beside the station for a bit before our train was departing. The ride was pretty smooth but broken up into 1 hour, 1 hour 1.5 hours. We purchased ekibens – I got this square one with 9 little samplers for 1000y but decided not to eat it right off the spot but regretted it because only our first train was a bullet train and had a tray to eat on but the other 2 local trains were just seats like a normal train but we were rebels and ate on it. The train went through the mountain side.
The Takayama station is absolutely stunning. Takayama is known for their furniture (high quality of timber), hida beef and sake as well as their well known mascot Sarubobo – Monkey Baby. The mothers and grandmothers would make these dolls for their child out of scrap materials and made them faceless. They are amulets bringing protection and happiness and in the future luck in marriage, fertility and childbirth.
The weather was significantly warmer than our pervious day in Kanazawa so we decided a 30 minute walk to our Hotel would be no problem. We didn’t realize our hotel – Takayama Kankou aka Hagi (Japan, 〒506-0852 Gifu Prefecture, Takayama, 八幡町２８０) is actually on the side of a mountain/hillside. The windy angular roads led to the perfect lookout point over the city. We took the route google maps had provided which was actually the longer way up that hugged the corner of the mountain. We got checked in and we had booked a 5 person room. Our entrance has a sliding wooden gate then you open the door and find yourself stepping on these tiles with pebbles between then leading you into the room. Its a tatami covered floor room with a little seating area and sliding doors everywhere to configure the room to what is necessary for the time.
The best part of this room – the view. Mind you, there are trees in the way for a clean view, the city behind it with its sun setting is absolutely stunning. The hotel provides a turn down service around 6PM where they come in and transform one of the rooms into a sleeping area with the futons and also provide you with yukatas to wear indoors, to the onsen, to dinner or wherever else you would like to go. BUT remember, the slippers and your shoes are not to touch the tatami mats.
We were waiting for Glenn & John to arrived but in the meantime we had to figure out dinner plans. There is an option for room service however they were sold out by the time we called and because we had reserved the room so long ago and thought nothing of it that we didn’t know we needed to make reservations for the dining hall and had to fend for ourselves. The man at front desk recommended this one cafe just down the street from us but it was closed so we had to venture down the hill to the main part of town to find food. Apparently stores and restaurants for the main part close incredibly early leaving those hungry needing to look for the flashing lights outside the stores to beckon them in their direction. It got extremely cold as temperatures dropped once the sun went down. Cold enough to see our breathes.
We made it back to Takayama station as there were a few stores open there. We have also been told that we need to try pasta at least once while we are here so that settled things. We arrived at Salute (サルーテ) for Italian and it was a nice change of pace from ramen. We ordered a hida cow pizza, a margarita and tomato crab pasta. Manwai kept eyeing the giant half wheel of cheese that was sitting under its own heat lamp ready to be scraped off onto the next order or broccoli, fries or pasta.
Back up the hillside we went to await Glenn and John. We tried to wait it out but they missed one of their connecting trains and we had to wait longer. We went to front desk to see if we could leave our key with them but the 2 men there didn’t speak english but with the help of our phones and translator, we were able to communicate. The onsen was nice but after visiting Oedo Onsen in Tokyo, this was just ok. The rooftop onsen is only available for the women in the afternoon to night while the morning is reserved for the males. We went to the rooftop one but it is just 1 giant tub. I think if we had gone earlier when we could’ve seen the scenery outside, it would’ve made it more worthwhile. We ended up transferring down to the main onsen but because it was so late at night, Manwai and myself had it all to ourselves. One giant tub inside with a nice rocky open air one outside.
One thing we haven’t really been doing on this trip is staying in later in the morning even though many things aren’t opened early. I tend to rise with the sun and the sun comes out at 530-6AM. We walked from out Airbnb to our first location for the day – Kenroku-en Garden that opens at 8AM. It was a chillier of mornings however the park was quiet and peaceful even though some of the trees still remain bare. Upon entering this park (from the Kenroku-en entrance), we only did a small portion but made it to the lookout point which got even colder with the wind. It was about 10-1030AM at this point and we decided to goto the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art – There are free exhibits but the paid exhibit only costs 1000y. Purses are allowed but backpacks and anything larger must be put into the lockers. No photography allowed in the exhibit but you can carry it and are allowed to take photos of the swimming pool. The sculptures outside are very fun to play with and photograph especially the multi colours circle (Olafur Eliasson Color Activity House 2010).
We finally went in and the exhibit for this time was for Ikeda Manabu – an artist that works mainly in pen medium using fine lines to create masterpieces that usually integrate waves and nature in his work. In his interview, Ikeda talks about how long it takes for him to create an art piece. the smaller 10x10CM art pieces take about a day but the massive ones take about 3 years and when life experience happen such as a death or birth, he incorporates those moments into his work as well. He also does a fine job hiding his signature in each piece. If you continue downstairs, you can enter a blue room which part of a permanent installation called “The Swimming Pool” by Leandro Erlich. In this blue room, if it is a sunny day, you will see the glistening water dancing on the walls with the bottom of what looks like a ladder making you feel like you are in the bottom of a swimming pool as you look upwards to the sky seeing a layer of water that separates you from what looks like people who are looking down at you from above the water. Overall, a cool museum – whether it be the architecture or the installations or the exhibit. If you happen to be in Tokyo, Japan between November 18th 2017 – April 1st 2018, his work “Leandro Erlich: Seeing and Believing” will be showcased at the Mori Art Museum.
By the time we finished the museum, we were already peckish so we opted to goto the Omi-Cho Fish Market. We ate at Omicho Inoya (33-1 Shimoumicho, Kanazawa-shi, Ishikawa (石川県金沢市上近江町33-1) had Kaisendon which consists of a bed of rice with what looks like chirashi topping but made into 2 patties on top of the rice that you use a spoon to smooth down the mountain. Once its been flattened, you pour the sesame soy wasabi sauce over top and eat about half way. Once the half portion is finished, you call out oi dashi and the server brings over hot soup which you then add to the bowl and boom, it becomes a whole new meal in itself. The raw fish then cooks as the hot soup engulfs the bowl and enriches the flavour. I ordered a large Maruti-Don (crab, tuna toro, tuna tatami, shrimp, octopus & scallop) 1480y. Highly recommend this place! Once we finished out Kaisendon, we walked back around the market and grabbed a small basket of white strawberries (400y?). The first one I ate wasn’t anything special but the second one i had was perfectly ripened and it was so delicious.
After lunch, we walked to Kanazawa Castle and entered through the giant open space before entering into the Castle grounds. It was such the perfect day with cherry blossoms everywhere. We walked around the grounds before exiting through what I guess was the main entrance and made our way north to the Higashi Chaya district where we stopped by Hakuichi ( 株)箔一 東山店)(Japan, 〒920-0831 Ishikawa-ken, Kanazawa-shi, Higashiyama, 1 Chome−１５ 東山 1-15-4) – Gold leaf speciality store. This store sold products made in Kanazawa with gold whether it was gold flecked sake to gold plated chopsticks to gold leafed ice cream (the big pull in for me). The gold leafed ice cream (980y) sounds exactly as its named. They delicately wrap a sheet of gold leaf onto the side of your ice cream cone and you sit down and enjoy it. The gold leaf breaks off so easily and as it touches your tongue, a faint taste of sweet metal passes over top your tastebuds. If it touches your lips, that sweet taste lingers.
Karen & Chi were heading into Kanazawa that evening so we continued to wandered and check out the Namagachi Chaya district which is the samurai district but by the time we arrived, it was roughly 5PM and many of the places like the samurai houses were closing or closed. It was a nice walk though as the sun was slowly setting and the weather was still quite nice. I was able to grabbed so locally made azuki bean ankoro dessert from a dessert shop before it closed to bring home. We walked along this one street where we saw a team setting up either for a movie video or a movie/television shot where they have umbrellas laying on the ground with lights behind them. One thing that pulled us in was also the fact that all the grips were all females – styling females (yay woman power). We tried to wait around for a bit but I think they were waiting for the sun to set or nightfall so we continued on.
We met up with Karen & Chi for dinner at this ramen place and then called it a night because it turned really cold. We went back to the Airbnb and watched 3 episodes of Terrace House – Aloha State on Japan Netflix (not released in North America) then went to bed.