Kyoto, Japan 2017 – Day 10

041617

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.

Takayama – Kyoto, Japan 2017 – Day 9

041517

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

Tokyo, Japan 2017 – Day 2

040817

That jet lag never seems to amaze me. Woke up at 5AM and couldn’t fall back asleep. Eventually everyone woke up and stated they were hungry after discussing pancakes that were too far away at a restaurant that wouldn’t be opened for another 2-3 hours. We opted for the best alternative – 7-Eleven. We grabbed some hot food as well as onigiri (my old friend who saved me the last time around in Osaka).

We hopped on the train to meet my friend Yuko at Asakusa Station – Tsubasa Station however somehow we opted to walk part of the way there that made me a little late to meeting her. I met Yuko back in 2011 when I went on a Contiki tour of Europe – 7 countries in 10 days where we sat on a coach bus together whether we liked it or not but luckily our group was the better of groups as opposed to the examples we saw interacting with other groups. She was in school when I met her and she was studying music I believe. She is now a marketing researcher.

I had chatted with Yuko for a bit prior to the trip about a festival called the Asakusa Kannon-ura Ichiyo Sakura Matsuri – 4 Chrome, Taito – She had never been to it and we wanted to attend. This courtesan parade is held on the second Saturday of April each year. It consisted of a closed off street north of the Senso-ji Temple where there would be cute Japanese children in procession as well as Geisha/ Oiran Dochu procession to follow and ending off with a drumming performance.

The Oiran Dochu Procession (おいらん道中) in the Edo period was the procession of the Oiran courtesan accompanied by young females to a client’s residence after formal invitation. The Tayu (the top ranking woman) would wear tall footwear in which they would take strides dragging their feet in figure 8 patterns while holding the shoulder of a man (their body guard) to steady her. The steps would be slow but highly exaggerated to gain attention. The Tayu were witty, self-confident and skilled in calligraphy as well as ikebana (flower arranging). The young females that accompanied the Tayu were meant to become prostitutes. The Oiran courtesans were at the highest of standards of being companions  and being entertained by them was expensive that it could put a castle into debt. Although they would be paid handsomely, the Tayu could decline an invitation.

This procession is put on by volunteers to commemorate the history of the Oirans of North Asakusa, which was the red light district of the past.

We got there rather early for opening remarks and then the first round of children came at 1045AM waving fake cherry blossom branches and also a little brass band. The next rounds of kids were suppose to come but we decided we were hungry and went on our way to venture for food. The area of Taito is actually quite charming and I really liked the feel of the streets. We walked over to Senso-ji Temple where tons of cherry blossoms and their huge row of markets lined the front of the temple that both started and end with giant red lanterns. We of course did our fortune (100y) – if you get a bad fortune you must tie it up so that they can burn the bad fortune you received away. I absolutely hate being in crowds – what is worst is touristy crowds. We had such a large group that we ended up losing partial group halfway through the walk through the market but we gathered back together. We left Yuko in charge of finding us a good place to eat for lunch. We found ourselves on the second floor at a restaurant called Owariya (1-7-1 Asakusa) that specializes in shrimp tempura and soba noodles. I ordered the Kashiwa A-Seiro with stirred chicken sauce (1,100y)

Back to the festival for the actual Geisha procession – It was actually quite slow and not as eventful as I’d hope but none the less an experience. I ended up getting pulled to the front by an older Japanese lady because she saw me with cameras and so I sat down so everyone could see over me. The procession was very intricate because a few of the geishas were wearing shoes that were 10 inch platforms and slowly they kept dragging their feet in a figure 8 pattern. There were people dressed up with fox masks on who were dancing with ornate colours and fans – that was my favourite part.

We decided to leave and skipped the drumming to grab ice cream. Not regular old ice cream but 7 levels of matcha green tea ice cream at Suzuki-en. Cassie’s high school friend who she hadn’t seen since high school – Atene joined us. Atene now lives in Yokohama and works for the government but studied architecture. We went to line up at Suzuki-en to be told we need to head to another building – their waiting room which literally was a waiting room for the extended line about a block away from the main store. Once our number was called, we were handed tickets and back we went to the main building where awaited the employees to serve you your level of choice for matcha or 4-5 other varieties of ice cream. Since we had such a large group, we all opted to get a double scoop and get each level of matcha possible. I grabbed a level 6 cone for Kanako and myself a level 3 & a level 7. My volleyball friend Kanako was in Hiroshima/Shizuoka visiting her grandparents but had a few days off to roam around so she took the train and joined us for half the day. You can definitely taste the difference in each level of matcha and in the end, I truly preferred the level 7 although it did taste a little powdery.

As a group, we decided to continue on together to Omotesando area. Slowly but surely made our way through Senso-ji temple to get to the trains and off we went. Omotesando is the high end shopping area with a lovely and large street that reminds me of Queen St West meets Yorkville in Toronto or Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées. We ended up walking through Omotesando Hills, a shopping mall and residential space designed by 1995 Pritzker recipient Tadao Ando. The design has this staircase in the middle that spans 3 floors. The staircase is used for runway shows from time to time. We visited a few galleries and artist’s stores and ended up at Tokyu Plaza (designed by Hiroshi Nakamura). The entrance has a giant mirrored escalator entrance and a beautiful rooftop (which we never made it to). We took some photos before Kanako said her goodbyes and went on to meet with her other friends.

We walked over to Yoyogi park where it was jam-packed with people (it was a weekend to begin) with white cherry blossoms adorning the park especially concentrated into one area. The hanami (cherry blossom) viewing  brought people out in droves picnicking with tarps under all the trees and tons of locals and tourists basking in the white glow of the cherry blossoms. At this point, the cherry blossoms were in full bloom in Tokyo.

Atene’s original plan was to get us to Roppongi but with the sheer amount of people in our group and how much walking we accomplished that day (29KM), we finished off our night in the Shibuya area. We walked through Shibuya Crossing and had dinner at Tsukada No Osusume that specializes in the Miyazaki region – mangoes, chicken and miso. They had this miso jam/dip that was so flavourful and you are able to purchase as well. For the amount of drinks and food we ate, the bill came out to about 16,000y.

Of course when in Japan, you just need to try out the purikura(プリクラ) – japanese photo booths. Let me tell you, we looked all kinds of wrong and different but funny. After all the excitement of purikura, we walked over to the subway station that has a bridge up where there is a famous mural by a Japanese artist as well as clear views (as clear as a window with the crisscross wire in them can be) where you can watch the whole Shibuya Crossing play out. We called it a night after we watched people cross a few times as Yuko and Atene still had a bit to go to get home and we were all in food coma mode.

Glenn’s journey to Japan has been a trek to say the least. He arrived at 1AM after 38 hours at Chicago airport. Turns out that someone made a fake bomb and brought it on the plane (not working) but nonetheless that that person was able to make it pass security and onto the plane.

 

 

Itinerary – Japan – 2017

0406-2017 Japan

This was my second time travelling to Japan. My previous visit was short but sweet staying in Osaka with a day trip to Nara & Kyoto for less than a week. Japan is definitely one of those countries that can and need to be explore multiple times. I travelled to Japan with Mike, Manwai, Cassie, Glenn, John, Karen & Chi with guest appearances along the way. The flight deals were too good to miss out on especially during Hanami (cherry blossom festival). We found our deal on www.nextdeparture.ca for $730CAD roundtrip to Tokyo (1 stopover in Chicago each way). Originally, it was just myself plus Mike & Manwai that booked together. As the next few weeks past and a few meals Mike & Manwai had with friends, our group became 8. During the trip, I mainly travelled with Mike & Manwai. Total of 14 days.

We booked many of our accommodations with Airbnb. 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

Included in this Itinerary, I have included some helpful information to know in advance before you go.

www.hyperdia.com – This is awesome for figuring out your bus and JR routes but you need to know what stations you are leaving from and arriving to.

-Google Maps works well too. If Google Maps does not load/poor connection, enter the directions into the internet browser.

 

$$$

-100y = $1USD roughly.

-The Japanese use cash over credit for majority of their day to day living and it isn’t unusual to break a 10,000y bill on something small.

-The 2000y bill is actually quite rare in Japan as its been phased out and was started in Okinawa for unknown reasons. When exchanging money outside of Japan, you may receive 2000y bills which a few Japanese collect HOWEVER, not all the machines take 2000y bills.

-For many Japanese, they may or may not accept it at their work establishments but some will keep as a keepsake similar to Canada’s old $2 bill that is now replaced with the toonie.

-You can pay for some meals in coins alone as the largest valued coin is 500y which is roughly $5USD.

-For 14 days, I took out just over $100CAD a day. $1502.45CAD – 123000Yen

 

Book in Advanced

Studio Ghibli Museum tickets can only be purchased 1 month in advanced and sells out quickly. The 10th at 10AM Japan time of every month. Much cheaper to purchase from site than through a tour group (service charges are killer). The actual ticket is only 1000y

-JR Pass must be purchased outside out Japan. Maximum 90 days before your trip. JTB Canada is where I purchased mine. For 14 days of travel, my JR Pass was $539CAD

Sumo Wrestling Tournaments are held 6 times a year. If you have the chance to go see it, tickets will go on sale a month in advanced so be aware they are highly sought after and sell out fast. Another option if you are going during non tournament months is to go visit a Sumo Wrestling Beya (practice) at multiple locations and watch their early morning practice.

Robot Restaurant – a month in advanced.

MariCar – Must have International Drivers License (goto CAA – $25CAD (bring your own photo or take one there) + Countries driver’s license to participate in this activity.

 

WIFI Router & Sim Card

-WIFI Routers are great if you have a large group – You can rent at the airport or various locations. Highly recommend renting or bringing a portable battery pack to keep router and phone charged.

-Sim cards – unlocked phones – You can pick up a visit sim card at Yodobashi or BIC Camera/BICQLO(might be cheaper than Yodobashi). If you can find the B-mobile Visitor Sim – 5GB for 21 days (Y2,970-3,480).

-I highly recommend bringing a portable battery pack to keep your phone charge especially if you are using your phone for directions.

 

Transportation

-JR Pass holders need to go through the manned gate to get through at each station.

-You need to make reservations on certain trains but if you don’t, there are a few carts where it is first come first serve or you can sit but if the person with the reserved seats shows up, you give them the seats. The reserved seats also swivel to have 2 facing one another if preferred.

-With the JR Pass, if you miss you train, you can easily get the next one without any penalty fees.

-If you plan on reserving seats for trains for peak times, go earlier to reserve them.

-If taking the bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka/Kyoto etc – request mountainside view to see Mt Fuji!

-Make sure to purchase ekibens before your ride (bullet train specific meals that differ per region and have have seasonal regional speciality foods – all cold)

-Eating is not permitted on trains besides Shinkansen

-JR Pass does not cover all train lines – only JR lines (minus Nozomi/Mizuho/Hayabusa (Shinkansen)) and a Suica or a Pasmo card (similar to Octopus card of Hong Kong or Toronto’s Presto) are indeed very useful and refillable

Pasmo & Suica cards can also be used to pay for other things such as drink machines and whatnot.

-Pasmo can be used in Tokyo, Osaka & Kyoto (from my experience)

-There are women’s only carts depending on time of day

-Trains end around midnight-1AM. There are taxi queues.

-The Japanese are large in numbers but when walking, they don’t necessarily have a sense of urgency and the pace to my standard is slow

-The Japanese do stay in shape by the amount of stairs they need to climb each day while commuting. The train stations are floors upon floors with limited elevators and some floors have escalators while many are just stairs upon stairs.

-You stand on the left side and pass on the right on the escalators. (Although in Osaka, they did opposite)

-Walking is the same – Walk on the left side

 

Weather (From what I experience this April trip)

-It is normal for Japanese people to stay covered up even it is hot outside as they care about their skin getting dark (similar to Hong Kong) They are more conservative in terms of covering cleavage but will wear short shorts. I wore a tank top because it was hot but got looks.

-April – light jacket/trench coats (Japanese fashion trend) and umbrellas are key.

-Tokyo is humid. April – average temp – high of 20, low of 6 – chances of showers high but muggy.

-Kanazawa – chilly and windy but otherwise warm during the day, can see breathe in the evening

-Takayama – Hot during the day – really hot as in we got slightly burnt but once the sun goes down, cold and chilly.

-Kyoto – Hot! (average 21-26C during the day) but cools down at night.

-Osaka – Just right! Not too hot, not too cold; bearable to walk around in a t-shirt majority of the day.

 

Misc.

-Carry your passport around for many places you go shopping you can get tax free!

-Outlets are the Western 2 prong style instead of the american 3 prong

-There are a lot of people but they tend to move slower than the average if compared to Toronto foot traffic.

-You don’t tip in Japan – the only time you tip are in fancy high end restaurants or when you see fit.

-There are designated areas for people to smoke but the smoke still billows the streets and still litters the streets

-Smoking is not allowed while you are walking

-Smoking is allowed in certain food establishments

-There are rarely any garbage cans on the streets of Japan – 1 reason – you mainly goto establishments to eat or eat at home. 2 – in the past, terrorist attacks with packages left in garbage bins now detour garbage bins

-non combustibles and combustible garbage separation

-some wear masks but others don’t and when they sneeze or cough, they just let it out so be aware of that. Coming for Canada, where its customary to sneer into your elbow or cover your mouth, this might put you off a bit like it did me.

-Sailor moon make up by Beaute Creer – You can pick this up at Its Demo stores.

-In some cities like Takayama at night, they have flashing red lights outside of an establishment to signal that they are still open as other stores or restaurants close early.

 

Now onto my actual Itinerary. My itinerary got very extensive and ambitious with things and places I wanted to see and goto. Everyone else built their own itineraries but we made sure at certain aspects, we would all meet up in a different city for certain events such as the Takayama festival in Takayama and Temple running in Kyoto. In the span of 2 weeks, my goal was to make it through all these cities (Tokyo, Yokohama, Enoshima, Kawasaki, Kanazawa, Takayama, Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya) but of course not all goes to according to plans and we cut out some areas to explore other areas more. This was the itinerary that actually happened. There will always be another time to visit Japan once again to get more accomplished and more land covered.

 

Some places and things I originally had on my itinerary for the surrounding area but wasn’t able to accomplish were the following:

-Baseball – much different than Western Baseball – Hanshin Tigers VS anybody – the atmosphere is completely something to take in

 

Enoshima/Fujisawa/Yokohama/Kawasaki

-Enoshima – fujisawa – cute city – view of Mt Fuji in painting

-Ramen museum (yokohama)
-Cup Noodle Museum (yokohama)

-Chinatown (yokohama)

-Kawasaki Warehouse – arcade games

 

Tokyo

-Tokyu Plaza – escalator & rooftop

-Akihabara Gachapon Kaikan – Tōkyō, Chiyoda, Sotokanda 3-15-5 Gee Store Akiba – 11AM-7PM

 

Nagoya

-Nagoya Dome – Purchase tickets – ticket booth near gate 1 – 10AM-5th inning

-Osu – The Harajuku of Nagoya

-enmusu – Onigiri style w/shrimp tempura – Senju – Nagoya-Famous

-Temmusu (めいぶつ天むす 千寿) – 4-10-82 Osu, Naka-ku, Nagoya-city – 830AM-6PM

-Miso Tonkatsu – Misokatsu Yabaton – Yabacho Restaurant (みそかつ 矢場とん 矢場町本店) – 3-6-18 Osu, Naka-ku, Nagoya-city – 11AM-9PM

-Hitsumabushi (Grilled Eel on Rice) – Atsuta Horaiken – Main Restaurant (あつた蓬莱軒 本店) – 1130AM-2PM; 430-830PM

 

-Ashikaga Flower Park – Wisteria

Kyoto, Japan 2012 – Day 12

10/05/12

We met with Kayo at 10AM at Kyobashi station for a day trip to Kyoto.

From Kyobashi station, we took the Keihan train line (about 30 minutes) to Inari station where our main destination started – Fushimi Inari shrine. This was also Kayo’s first time to Fushimi Inari too so we didn’t really know what to expect. Kayo was a trooper for walking in wedges. We didn’t know before coming that Fushimi Inari is actually a temple built on a mountain. This temple made a huge appearance in the movie Memoirs of a Geisha with the orange tori gates. The main tori gates that appear in the film aren’t too long and are actually 2 paths that end before opening up into another set of gates that take you up the mountain. I decided to wear pants that day and although it was hot, it was a good decision – my eyebrow, chest and feet got attacked by bugs.  When you finally make it to the top of the mountain, the sight is gorgeous as you can see the skyline of Kyoto from above before heading back down. Kyoto is also known for it’s mochi unfortunately we didn’t buy any however we did sample the triangle mochi dessert. Kayo also treated us to taiyaki (waffles made in fish shapes filled with red bean or other fillings) as well as takoyaki (squid balls).

After that long journey through Fushimi Inari, we journeyed on by train to Gion-Shinjo station to venture Yasaka Jinja Shrine, another temple with multiple temples inside. But first, we had ramen for lunch at a small local ramen shop. We all order the standard and added gyoza dumplings. The broth was a little different from what I’ve had – more soy sauce-y/ salty but nonetheless it tasted really good. The noodles were perfect but I feel like the best I’ve ever had still is hands down Daikokuya in Little Tokyo in LA. Our walk to the ramen place was really nice because the area had old buildings mixed with new but still so quaint.

We walked over to Yasaka-Jinja Shrine towards Maruyama Park. It was a cute park with a large settlement of ravens. Made our way to Sorin-ji temple and wanted to go see the big head temple but it was closed. We walked over to Chion-In temple but by the time we reached it, the temple was closed. NOTE: temples close early in Kyoto (5PM or slightly earlier).

Since temples were closing, we walked back to the station walked through an old street with old houses which had been turned into restaurants. We took the train back to Kyobashi and decided to have dinner in the area. The restaurant we went to for dinner we ordered from a machine that was all in Japanese. This restaurant required us to goto the second floor and order through the machine with no pictures which would in return give you a ticket stub after you paid. Luckily we had Kayo with us to read and translate for us. We treated Kayo to pizza, Shela and Georgie opted for curry rice and I got the omurice (rice in an omelet) with ketchup.

We got back to the hostel and Kyohei handed each of us 1 free drink ticket – it was Friday already. It was international party drinking night. Georgie grabbed herself a Peachtree and orange, Shela grabbed the plum wine and I grabbed the cassis and orange. Sebastian who was making drinks for us, volunteers at the hostel lives about a 5 minute bike ride away. He is originally from Portland, OR but has since been living in Japan for 8 years – He even has a Japanese drivers license. He was telling us his apartment costs roughly $900CAD. As we introduced ourselves to Sebastian, we met another guy named Daniel who is from Alberta who is part aboriginal. He’s been in Japan for about a week and a half so far and leaves tomorrow for Tokyo. His birthday was at the end of September so he celebrated in Roppungi in Tokyo as he turned 28. We also met a few Germans, Brits and also a group of people from Thailand – 2 girls named Patch and Pam and a group of 6 guys who were all medical students who only get 10 days off from school.

Did you know that you are never suppose to pour your own drink in Japan. If someone sees that your cup is empty, you are to pour for them and vice versa. Also, if you give someone your business card, you are to put it into your dress shirt pocket and not into your wallet (which you sit on) because you are sitting on their business.

Osaka, Japan 2012 – Day 10

10/03/12

The moment I met Mr Yano, I knew it was a good choice to stay at this hostel. He is about 60 years old and runs J-Hoppers – Osaka. He is quite the character and his laugh is mesmerizing.

He has a few english phrases he likes to say:

-It’s ok.

-Very cheap, get drunk.

-Oh my gawd!

-Oh it’s a happy time

J-Hopper offers local city walks or adventures with Mr Yano and other staff each day of the week. The event in particular for that day was a citywalk and dressing in a traditional kimono led by Mr Yano. There was a group of 13 and we took the train to Temma station (120¥) where Tenjinbashisuji – the longest street of stores is hold. It takes about an hour to just walk through but beware of people riding their bikes along pedestrians. We had people from Washington, Australia, Holland, Korea and people teaching in Korea with us on this walkabout. Mr Yano stopped by a few places that have cheap drinks as well as the brick wall that still is standing after 100 years. The little shops are family owned and showed us a store with a mother and her daughter selling sweets and other confections in which they live above the store.

Mr Yano took us to Osaka Museum of Housing and Living (600¥) where they have a replica of the 1830’s samurai house / village that we are able to walk through and also try on kimonos. There are staff members who get you dressed in traditional kimonos and give you accessories like a purse and you trade in your footwear for wooden sandals. You get tucked in real tight then they take a rope-like cloth and strap it around you like a corset before taking another long red cloth and end it off with a bow. After you are fully dressed, you are allowed to wander the perimeters the replica village (for about 30 minutes) to get a feel for what life was like back then. To add to the realism, you are also walking in wooden sandals so your steps are small and slower. It was a great experience and the kimonos were beautiful.

When we returned into our regular clothing, Mr Yano took us for conveyor belt sushi 130¥ a plate (very cheap). It was so good! Each plate that comes around are categorized by a colour which let you know how much each plate costs. When you sit down, you can grab a tea cup and then to your left, there are 2 little bottles with matcha green tea powder and another tea powder. You need to open the bottle of tea powder and shake twice into your cup and add water from the tap in front of you. We separated from the group after lunch and walked the rest of Tenjinbashisuji before coming upon a temple called Osaka Tenmangu. It is the most famous of all the many tenjin shrines located throughout Japan.  There is a fountain at the front of every temple that we watched the locals use. It is proper etiquette to use the water fountain to purify oneself before entering. First you start by filling the cup/ladle with water, pour some on your left hand then your right before pouring a little bit in your left hand taking a sip and spit it out.

After the temple we returned to Umeda & Osaka station to shop at Daimaru Umeda where on the 10th to 12th floor held Tokyu Hands which sells pretty much everything. Jack of all trades type of store with some products only the Japanese can think of.  Also on the 13th floor was Uniqlo and a visit wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Pokemon Center. We continued onto Hankyu Street to find my favourite store – Don Quixote which sells cheap and comical things as well as an assortment of Japanese candies and snacks. To say the least, I left with a bag full of candies to last me a lifetime. Every Wednesday at J-Hoppers, Mr Yano runs a walking day tour and offers to take whomeever for a Izakaya dinner at night. Every Friday is international drinking night. We just made it back in time to join the group for dinner. It was a group of 6 guys and Mr Yano. Max was originally from Rochester, New York but works for a bank in China for the past 5 years.  Chris is from Scotland who will continue onward to Cairns, Australia after Japan. Felix and Philip are from Quebec – one is a Sound Technician and the other is a Social Worker and finally Dominic and David from the UK who are lawyers but working for a bank. It was a great night with good company and good food. We had sukiyaki, pork cutlet, dumplings and of course beer and sake! Sake can be served multiples ways – served cold or served hot. Ended the night off stargazing on our hostels rooftop.