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Japan Christmas 2012. It’s now Easter 2014. Yes, it’s been a while. Yes, I have been lazy and unmotivated creatively. How does the saying go? Better late than never.
After a long year of all work and no play, Rebecca and I were very much looking forward to getting away. We decided to go back to Japan. This time we would spend Christmas in Kyoto and New Years with my cousin’s wife Risa and her family. We spent Christmas with them last time and missed the New Year Day celebrations, which is more important to the Japanese than Christmas.
Rebecca found cheap business class flights on Garuda Airlines. We stopped off in Indonesia for eight hours. It turned into nine. We found out why the tickets were so cheap. The lounge was small, and not well equip. Needless to say we went a little bat shit crazy sitting around for nine hours.
This time, upon arrival at Narita airport, we validated our Japan Rail pass right away. The Japan Rail office is located at the airport exit, right across from a Starbucks. Rebecca sat and had a coffee while I withdrew some cash when she spotted the office. Last visit to Japan we trundled through Tokyo’s main train station trying to find the validation office. No fun at all. So there is a big tip. Validate before you leave the airport.
The train to Kinshicho was boarded ‘with Becks crutches’ this time. We arrived to an empty apartment, had a shower and rested. We had dinner at a restaurant around the corner from the apartment. Being jetlagged and not in the mood to search for the perfect place to eat, that was English language friendly, we settled on the closest place.
We go in, sit down, and realise there is no English anywhere. Not even a menu to point at. Kindly a Japanese lady sitting next to us realised our plight and came to the rescue. We had a great authentic Japanese meal that night, not to forget the awesome sake. A great start to our second Japanese trip.
For the first time ever we did absolutely nothing on the first day. We visited Tommy’s to have his special pancake and coffee, I bought us groceries from Queen’s Isetan (or Queen Satan as I like to call it) and after a walk around with the camera I took alone, retreated to the apartment. After Tommy’s Beck did not leave the apartment until dinner that night. The Korean BBQ Ty took us to last time, did not disappoint this time either. Rebecca enjoyed it so much she gave her bib a meal of its own.
On the way home, we dropped into Yeast. It is a microbrew bar that opened just around the corner from Tyron and Risa’s apartment. It had the best English ale I have tasted outside of England.
The following day we took a short taxi trip up the road to the Edo Tokyo Museum. I enjoyed following the story of Tokyo. Rebecca especially loved all the old costumes. It is worth a visit.
Next day we bid sayonara to Tyron and Risa catching the Shinkansen to Kyoto. We stayed in the same hotel as last time, the Kyoto Royal Hotel and Spa. Rebecca found a great deal and it was around the corner from Jack’s bar, who we had promised to visit should we would return to Kyoto.
We checked in and went out for an early dinner. As we wandered past Jack’s bar (which was closed) we saw someone inside on a ladder hanging things from the ceiling. I kept walking. Rebecca stopped and stared. It was Jack. He spotted us and ran out with his trademark huge smile. I was amazed he recognised us. We made arrangements to return after dinner. They were booked out until late. It was Christmas day and the bar specialises in fried chicken wings. There is a thing with the Japanese and fried chicken on Christmas. Do not ask me why. Mainly because I do not know and have not been able to get an answer.
We wandered a fair way down the street finally deciding upon an Okonomiyaki restaurant. After a good feed, we returned to Jack’s bar to find a welcome note at our table, and a list of special beers for us to consume. Only a few drinks and pleasantries later we called it a night. We would be back. We did not want to spoil our first day in Kyoto with a hangover.
There was a flea market on the next morning at the Tenjin-san Shrine. They have many antiques and general bric-a-brac to choose from, as well as food stalls. We left with a nice little vase and soya sauce dispenser. We wandered around for quite a few hours. It was busy and there was plenty to see.
A taxi was taken to the Shimogamo Shrine after. The shrine is small and one you could pass on, but the grounds are large and lush, and open to the public. We stopped for red bean wagashi and tea. Not to mention to warm our hands up. It was getting dark and cold, and being out all day had numbed the fingers.
After hours of walking Rebecca had arrived at breaking point, and just as we asked, the universe delivered a taxi. We return to our room, freshened up and headed back to Jack’s to have dinner and drinks. This time we spent quite a few hours eating fish,Tebasaki (fried chicken wings), squid, and a variety of other Japanese dishes. I think we nearly had everything on the menu. Calm down the menu is not that large. This is not the US of A.
We were a little hung-over the next morning, but the visiting of shrines must go on. After having a breakfast of sandwiches and good coffee at a little cafe I had spotted the night before, we taxied to the Nanzen-ji Temple.
We spent most of the morning and a bit of the afternoon here. It is a large complex with gates, shrines and houses up and down the hillside. Great for a slow wander amongst the ancient trees and structures.
When you arrive and exit the taxi the Sanmon Gate greets you in all it’s enormity. You can climb up it for a price and take in the view of Kyoto. Be prepared to take off your shoes and crawl up the very steep stairs. Needless to say, Rebecca could not join me. Due to frostbitten toes my visit was short lived.
We wandered past the Hado Hall and made our way up to the Kuri building. Shoes off again, I wheeled Rebecca around to take in the splendour of the gardens and house. We wandered up the hill under the Sousi aquifer to see the one of the twelve quaint sub-temples on the complex. There was a trail you could follow up a hill to others, but after a quick run up the hill, I decided we would head back down and visit one of the other sub temples.
Next, I think it was the Nanzen-in (not 1005 on that). This has a lovely garden and pond that are reflective of a dragon (supposedly). Down the hill again and the Ten juan Temple has a nice little garden that is supposed to be spectacular at night with a light show (only in Autumn). There are little paths through the edge of the forest and stepping stones over the ponds to stroll though. It was so peaceful we decided to sit and relax.
You templed out yet? Not by a long shot. Beck and I were a little worn out, so we stopped by the gift shop and I purchased some coffee in a can, but only after Rebecca made her gift shop purchases. After some directions from the friendly staff, we made our last stop on the tour of Nanzen-ji to the Konchi-in temple. We again find a small but very beautiful and peaceful garden. All was very quiet when suddenly the peace was broken by an American family strolling into earshot. We were patient and they soon departed to let us enjoy the atmosphere.
Having finished the Nanzen-ji complex, we had enough time to have lunch and visit the Murin-an. The little restaurant had decor that had not changed since the seventies, and neither has the cook or your host I think. The old man and lady were happy to have us in even though they were just about to close, and cooked us lovely Ramen and Udon noodle soups, which really hit the spot after spending hours outside in the cold.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention I left my hat in the taxi, so I was getting frostbitten ears, at one stage wrapping my scarf around my head to keep them from freezing up and falling off.
Revived and warmed we stopped by the Murin-in. It was OK. Let me say after all the beautiful immaculately kept gardens I saw that day, it was a little disappointing.
We decided to have dinner down Pontocho lane that night. We found a place where there was no English menu displayed and took a chance. Nobody spoke any English, but they did have a make shift English menu to point at. We had some refreshing warm soups of some kind and splendid little entree’s, washing it down with a beer and sake.
Next morning we visited the Heian Shrine. You enter through a large gate into a very large courtyard, from which you can enter many gardens. The gardens were large, intricate and quite spectacular. We spent many hours wandering about snapping away.
Next temple complex on the tour was up on the hills. Kōdai-ji is made up of many small complexes. Rebecca found it a little difficult but we managed to see everything there was to see. It is a great area and very popular with the tourists, for good reason.
For lunch we took a chance and headed down a lane, and found what we were looking for, a restaurant in someone’s house. I requested to attend the little boy’s room, and passed the grandmother and mother in the kitchen cooking for us. It is always the best food, and they are ever so helpful and welcoming.
We headed back to the hotel, rested and later found that a lot of restaurants were closed. We lucked upon a restaurant where chicken was the specialty, once again hoping some English would be spoken. No such luck, but there was an English menu to point at once again. We were the only ones in the place, which felt a little odd, until another couple came in just before we left. The meal was delicious, and meticulously prepared. We sat at the bar in which our chef was behind, preparing our meal for us. There is nothing quite like watching your meal being formed in front of your eyes.
We had booked a table at Jack’s quite late. We had some spare time so headed upstairs to a bar for a cocktail, again being the sole couple in the place. That was odd also. Nice cocktail though.
We headed to Jack’s after and had a little more to eat and a lot more to drink. It was our last night in Kyoto and we were making the most of it. It was sad to say goodbye to Jack and his staff, but not before a goodbye photo.
We took the Shinkansen to Kanazawa the next day. By the time we arrived at our hotel room at the Kanazawa Excel Hotel Tokyu, Rebecca was very tired. I left her to rest and walked in the rain down to the Samurai area, dropping in to the Samurai House. Supposedly it has many nooks and crannies that you can crawl up into to escape, and there are strategically placed creaking floorboards you walk on. I only got to walk on the creaking boards.
We did not want to wander far for a meal that night, so settled on an izakaya across from the hotel. We had enough food to fill us up, and enough drink to satisfy. It was not the best meal on the trip, but good enough to recharge our batteries for the next day of wandering around the Kenrokuen Gardens.
Before the gardens we had breakfast in a little cafe. No English once again. Coffee is universal, but food is not. So while sitting there hungry drinking my coffee I had a revelation. Symbols! Symbols are universal. I brought out a pen and paper, and proceeded to draw a slice of bread, an egg, and a pig. Showing it to the owner, he proceeded to make us some of the best omelette sandwiches I have ever tasted. After a bit of creativity we were prepared for the day.
The gardens sit right up on top of the hill in Kanazawa, just across from the Kanazawa Castle. The Castle we visited after the gardens, and were a huge disappointment after the large elaborate gardens. We did spend most of that day wandering slowly through the gardens, and rushed though the castle, only stopping for a soup lunch. It is very touristy, but putting that aside, the gardens are well worth a visit.
We had a special dinner that night, in one of the many specialised restaurants in Kanazawa. I do not recall the name. We were sat at the bar, and unfortunately for Rebecca, she was sat next to a disgruntled woman, sitting alone, probably for good reason. She eventually left and Rebecca and I were left to enjoy the elaborate food and beautiful sake. The most interesting thing we had all night was a sea snail, compliments of the head chef. I think it was a test to see if we would like it. I loved it. The texture was unlike anything I had previously eaten. From that point on he loved us.
On our way back to the hotel, we ran into an American man, and his Japanese partner. We were invited for a drink at a jazz bar a few shops down, but Rebecca was tired and we headed back upstairs. I decided to go meet the man, thinking I would have some interesting conversation. I was wrong. He decided to judge me. After taking off my jacket revealing a chequered shirt, he commented upon how that was something a redneck wears, asking if I was the equivalent but of the Australian kind. I found myself trying to prove otherwise, proceeding to ask about life in Japan and his time there. Shortly after he avoided the questions and started playing some stupid game in order to help his partner learn English. They departed before I had even finished my beer. I was left at the bar feeling very angry after being judged, and hating myself for bothering to make an effort. Why ask a stranger to have a drink if you are just going to judge and be an arrogant asshole? Just because you live in a country other than your own, does not make a person a non judgmental prick. Lesson learnt.
The next day we left Kanazawa and headed back to Ty and Risa in Tokyo. If my memory serves, that night for dinner was in a little bar. After leaving, we believe was closed when we walked in. Being the stupid gaijin that we are, we just walked in and sat down. The door was open? The owner was happy enough to accommodate us. We had a few beers and he fixed us something to eat, which was very cheap and very nice. Rebecca and I had walked past this place several times but never gone in. It was always full of old Japanese men. But this time it was only us, with the old Japanese men peering in, wondering why the hell gaijin are eating and drinking in their bar, when they are outside in the cold. Rather amusing.
The next day was New Years Eve. We were to travel to the outskirts of Tokyo to spend NYE with Risa’s family. After squashing Tyron and I into the back on the smallest car I have ever had the displeasure of riding in, and after an hour of back breaking hard bench seat usually used to hold pachinko balls, we arrived.
We were shown our rooms and came down for beers, sake and plenty of food. Why do all grandmothers seem the same, no matter what nationality? Risa’s grandmother was so cute. We sat down to spend NYE in front of the television, watching a traditional Japanese NYE show. No, it’s not what you think, or maybe it is.
They have five comedians, place them in hilarious situations, and tell them they are not allowed to laugh. If they do, they have to bend over, after which a ninja will come out and bash them on the ass with a thick large rubber stick. By the reactions of the comedians, it looked like it hurt. And for extra punishment, a kick boxer would kick them in the bottom. Rather amusing, even if we could not understand a word or it.
The next day was for lounging around and eating. We had a wonderful meal and plenty of good conversation with the family. I went for a wander to take some photos at one point to get out of the house, and have a break from all the food and drink.
That night on the way home in the pachinko car, Ty insisted on stopping for McDonalds, informing us that McDonalds in Japan was better than anywhere else. He was wrong.
Next day we ventured to Akihabara Electric Town where we found all the people who are hip to be square. Beck purchased an old Nintendo Donkey Kong, and I was approached by a hostess as I stood and waited, snapping photos of the surrounding madness. We left the manic search for the future and swapped it for the peaceful surrounds of the Kiyosumi Gardens. We strolled around; Beck was pushed around, for a long time lapping up some nature in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. Risa took us to a special okonomiyaki style dinner that night. You sit in front of a hot grill, where your meal is cooked. None of us were very good at it, so the lovely waitress kindly assisted us.
Next day we drove to the outskirts of Tokyo in the pachinko car to Kawagoe. A lovely little town that contains a few very old roads preserved from way back when. It is very picturesque with lots of shopping to be done. There is a street dedicated to sweets and there was a microbrewery to visit. I also purchased what is now my favourite coffee cup. We also had a wonderful traditional Japanese lunch, with a little help from Risa.
The next day Rebecca wanted to rest her leg. We slept in and I purchased lunch from Queen Satan. We did want to do one thing that day, which was to visit a cat cafe. I looked up Google maps and found one not too far from us. Luckily we ran the website past Risa, as it was actually a place for single ladies to get together. Cats Cafe. Fair enough. Lucky we checked first. She did find one for us only a few streets away. Rebecca and I spent an hour that evening with some very interesting cats. It was a lot of fun, and very relaxing. Not to mention busy.
Bar Yeast was finally open after closing for the NYE break. We got very drunk that night, on some very delicious beer. Yum.
The following day was spent wheeling around the Tokyo National Museum. The building itself was something to behold, let alone the works inside. After we went into town for a spot of shopping, and then off to meet Risa’s family for her birthday dinner. We had another wonderful meal and plenty of drinks. But no birthday is complete without a spot of karaoke. A private room was booked and the four of us belted out the tunes. I was surprised to find Iron Maidens ‘Run to the Hills’. One of only a few songs I knew the words to. We had a lot of fun, although I do not think my MC’ing between songs was appreciated by those a little more serious about their karaoke.
Our last two days not much happened. Beck was very tired and her leg was sore. The cat cafe was visited once more, and a trip to the Sky Tree that did not eventuate to anything (buy your tickets before going is a good tip) but a little bit of shopping. More of Tommy’s pancakes were eaten and some shabu shabu one night for dinner.
Another long and wonderful trip to Japan ends. Rebecca managed to tough it out, and no crutches were lost this time. Second time around it was much better than the first. That being said it was Rebecca’s first trip after the accident last time around. We have been to Macau, Hong Kong and India in the mean time. We also knew some tricks from our previous trip and learnt a few more. Should bode well for us next time we go. It will happen. Beck would live there if she could.
Once again it has been too long between writing. Somehow here in Melbourne the motivation to write and take photographs escapes me. But here I sit nonetheless, and I will recall a wonderful trip to Japan as best I can.
My cousin Tyron has been looking forward to our company in Japan for many years. When living in the UK, Japan seemed so far away. Europe is at your door! So we never made the trip. Seeing as we were back in Australia, for our first trip overseas from Melbourne, Japan seemed the logical choice.
Sidenote. From the time of Rebecca’s accident, this was our first overseas trip. We were both nervous and apprehensive. We have travelled together quite extensively. This would be the first time with Rebecca’s disability.
That said we splashed out on business class on Malaysian airlines. We were worried about Rebecca’s stump swelling rendering her unable to walk. To have the room to move about freely to avoid swelling and the ability to elevate her stump was of importance. Malaysian business is one of the cheapest and not the best, but compared to economy class we have forever endured, it was heaven.
Arriving at Tokyo airport we were to catch a train to Tokyo city. After buying a ticket and contacting my cousin Ty, we had an hour wait. We finally did board the train. But just as the train doors closed and the train began to move, Rebecca looks at me and yelps ‘my CRUTCHES!!!’.
We had crutches for Rebecca to get around town with. When removing the luggage from the trolley to head downstairs to catch the train, we had left them on the trolley. (It’s not something I am used to grabbing. I usually grab the bags, and we are off). We did sit downstairs for a good ten minutes before the train arrived, neither of us having realised what was missing. First lesson on travelling with a disability – make sure you have all your gear!
Thankfully we were staying with Ty and Risa, who organised some crutches to hire, and in the mean time the physio across the road leant Rebecca a pair free of charge until the hire crutches arrived. We purchased them a few beers as thanks when returning the crutches. On return of the crutches many thanks and pleasantries were exchanged. There was a lot of bowing going on.
We are very lucky to have my cousin in Tokyo who accommodated us in his apartment with his lovely wife Risa. On arrival we had a refreshing shower in the wet room, and relaxed until the pair returned home from work.
Everything seems relatively familiar in Japan, until you enter the wet room. The room contains the bath and shower, sealed off from the rest of the apartment. The room is like a pod where you can wet everything and not have to worry about drying up afterwards. The next oddity, in which most visitors to Japan will mention, is the automated toilet. I was enjoying this so much I would greet the toilet as it opened its mouth for me to do my business. “Hello toilet” I would acknowledge on entry.
Our first day in Japan Tyron and Risa drove us around town. Rebecca’s father had made a request for a souvenir from the Okura hotel where he once stayed on business. So after our first, but not the last, vending machine coffee, we were off. Tyron was not impressed with the Okura Hotel, mainly because it has remained true to the original interior design of the sixties. My camera and Rebecca on the other hand were rather enjoying the surroundings. A bit like the Barbican in London, it has a shape and style that smiles at me, and somehow urges me to relax, all the while getting me completely lost at the same time.
Lunch in the shopping district of Harajuku was next on the list. Rebecca did some present shopping and we had Spanish for lunch, looking down on all the fashionista prancing up and down the shopping high street.
That night, it was Christmas night. Tyron cooked a wonderful meal and we sat with Risa and his friends Phillip and Gladys. We got merry, ate very well, and santa even decided to pay a visit. Risa was very fresh with santa, and Ty had suddenly disappeared!
On the day after Christmas everything is still open in Japan. Ty drove us around again. After the obligatory can of coffee from the vending machine of Georgia Max we were off.
First stop the Venusfort shopping complex. I think Tyron wanted to show us just how cheesy the Japanese could actually get. This is a large shopping complex built in the like of Venice, Italy. Fake sky included. To prove just how cheesy they could be there was an exhibition of clothes. Not just any clothes, clothes worn by some Japanese boy band. The young fashionista were lined up around the corner swooning over dressed up mannequins in their like. Lined up I tell you! We had lunch at a cheesy Italian restaurant to finish off the random cheese.
The next stop was Ginza shopping district. We wandered down the main street that is at times closed off to traffic enabling you to walk on the road and shop to your heart’s content. The architecture was of most interest to me, while Beck found a paper shop in the base of a building which Tyron tells me is the most expensive piece of real estate in Tokyo. If I was to shop in Tokyo, I would probably go back there. Of all the shopping streets it was the most casual and visually stimulating.
That night we had Korean BBQ. We enjoyed tongue and liver to go with the regular beef. And yes Ty, Risa does drink beer.
The following day we let our feet do the walking. The Tokyo underground was our mode of transport. A word of warning for those taking the Tokyo underground; there are two companies that require two separate ticket types. Ty neglected to mention this to us due to the fact that he did not know. How long have you been living in Tokyo Ty?
The Tokyo underground and overall train system is impressive. Not only is it efficient, but it’s clean, warm, and you do not get people with loud music or chatting loudly on their phones. Why? Because it’s rude! You are permitted to do these things, but discreetly. What bliss. Oh and those warm seats on a cold day. Heaven.
Our first of many temple visits was the Sensoji Temple. A small walk from the station, but Rebecca’s leg was playing up, so it was rather a long walk in the end, with a few rest breaks on the way. The temple was crowded as it’s holiday season, but remarkable all the same. The construction of the temple fascinated me most; the huge overhangs and intricate shapes of the timbers.
Another source of fascination was the ritual. You pay your money, and you grab a large container which contains several sticks. You shade the container and a stick will find its way out. You read the stick and go to the corresponding drawer where you will find a piece of paper where I gather your fortune is written. Fortune a plenty I suppose.
Lunch was in a little cafe down a side street. A lot of old time locals inside by all accounts. This was the first chance to get Japanese food as Ty does not eat Japanese! While we found it difficult to order, we managed and had a great authentic Japanese meal.
With Rebeccas leg sore, we returned to the apartment. Dinner was had at a little Japanese restaurant down the road. (Which we later were told was featured in a Japanese TV soap). The menu was simple and once again a little difficult to order. The meal was as good as the meal earlier in the day, it was cheap and satisfying. A very homely atmosphere a bit like your grandmother was waiting, and grandfather was in the kitchen, cooking away.
Rebecca and I always like a good garden, so the next day we visited the Rikugien Garden, or ‘the six poems’ garden. In a city of rush and bustle there we found natural beauty and peace. Being winter the colours were not so striking, but a great place for the colours of Autumn.
We had time that day to venture to the National Museum area just outside of Ueno station. The Museums were closed. I did though admire some architecture.
That night for dinner was shabu shabu with Risa and Tyron. Risa proceeded to stuff herself silly so much so she felt sick. This meal was delicious and fun. Beck, Risa and I had a variety of different parts of the cow again. Big fan of the tongue I am. Dipping and cooking n two broths in a big yin yang pot. Great fun.
Next day we took the train to the Imperial Palace with a view to wander the gardens. It also was closed due to the public holiday. Rebecca’s leg was once again grieving her so we headed home.
That night we met Risa’s family for dinner. Her mother, father (Ken, not Keng Beck!) and brother treated us in one of Ken’s restaurants, where we had some great conversation, and brilliant food. By the end of the night, Risa was all translated out. Such a great time was had, we were invited to dinner once more before we left Japan which we dually accepted.
Before heading off to Kyoto, our last day in Tokyo, Ty once again drove us around town. His big idea was to visit the fashion central of Tokyo, Shibuya 109. While I am no big fan of Chapel Street in Melbourne or Oxford Street in London, these places must be seen to be believed. And the Japanese, always take it one step further.
In Shibuya , and more of interest to me was the famous scramble intersections. I most remember it from the film Baraka, when time is accelerated. With Beck in tow, it was a little daunting crossing, but we managed. Ty told us the trick is not to look anyone in eye, just walk straight through.
Driving to Harajuku, we walked through forest like gardens to the Meiji Jingu Shrine. Along the path lines of Sake barrels were in waiting for the coming festival. A peaceful walk and magnificent shrine.
The next day was New Years Eve, and Beck and I took off for Hiroshima. Being a public holiday, every person and their cat was in a rush for their train. Surprisingly, for the amount of people that were in the station, we had very little grief. After finding our train and waiting back from the allocated entrance point, people began lining up next to us. We were first to arrive. So polite! This is a first. I am used to people pushing in, not give a rats ass about anyone else. It was not only surprising, but relaxing. How much stress do we apply by not being simply polite? Also, I have never understood people’s impatience to board any form of transport where your seat is allocated. What is your rush? You are going to sit down, and it is not going to leave without you. Calm the f*&k down!
Before boarding the train a brigade of little ladies in their pink uniforms boarded the train, cleaned it, and turned all the seats around into the direction the train was headed. Pure gold. We passed Mount Fuji on the way to Hiroshima, and several towns blanketed in snow, but fortunately for us Hiroshima’s snow had melted. The last thing Rebecca needed was to navigate slippery slushy streets.
Hiroshima had a slow still feeling like the respects were still being given to this once devastated city. It was the holidays but all the same felt rather subdued. I came down with the flu and spent New Years Eve in bed while Beck surfed around on the internet. New Years Day we made our way to Miyajima to see the gate, as many other Japanese would on their day off. It is also known as the Itsukushima Torri Gate.
I almost enjoyed the journey over to the island more than the gate itself. It is rather a grand and interesting structure, but rather pale in comparison to some other structures. That night not much was open but we did finally settle on a great restaurant, after convincing Rebecca she could get down the stairs, we had a great meal with good sake.
The following day was dedicated to the Hiroshima Memorial Museum. The place is a must go. You can not only feel the needless devastation, but wonder why we bother continuing to build these weapons. If you go to Japan, this museum is a must. Spend the time, soak it all in, and get with the program.
That night we ate at Hiroshima train station on our way to Kyoto. The station is bustling. It is equipt with shopping and restaurants. Before we left we had the two dishes that Hiroshima is famous for, Okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) at one restaurant and oysters at another. Although full from the okomiyaki, the oysters were a must.
The train to Kyoto was superb as usual. We made our way to the hotel, where we were greeted with a room that was not disability friendly. The Japanese are only just coming to terms with catering for the disabled. The next day we were moved into the disabled room, and the last night we got upgraded to a suite as the disabled room was booked. Rebecca had booked the room but the agent had stuffed the booking up. All’s well that ends well in the end. (Rebecca now has a leg she can use in the shower, so thankfully we do not need to book the disabled rooms.
Kyoto is a temple slash university town. Thinking back now I think I enjoyed this city more than the others. Tokyo was all together too big to take in, but Kyoto was just the opposite.
First temple, Kinkaku-ji.The golden temple. It was another day the Japanese had off, and we had to compete with the crowds. With the Japanese crowds are not a problem, there is no aggravation and everyone waits their turn. I managed to get some good shots, even with the crowds surrounding me. It was alluring. One had the urge to jump the fence and get closer and touch the walls, but I feared concrete walls were in my future if I had chosen this path. Green tea and cake was once again delved upon with a little break in the mini forest. Tranquil.
Ryoan-ji Temple was ventured to next. Once we made our way through the gardens and up to the temple, Rebecca had assumed that she could not proceed inside. Large steps and the wearing of shoes not permissible she had given up. But when I came out, and told her of my fondness for the place, she asked permission to wear the grip sock Ty had given Rebbecca earlier. Permission granted, we like many others sat and took in the serenity. In the end she was glad to have made the effort.
That night we headed up someplace in a taxi. Rebecca had a street in mind, a famous lane way with restaurants. We did find the street, but it was dark, cold, very little light and there was not a soul in sight. We found places that had menus displayed, but they all looked closed, as if we were a little too late. We finally went up an alley where Rebecca spotted a street sign, and a light. As hungry as I was and with Rebecca a little frustrated from walking nowhere and having no clue how to get a taxi back to the hotel, I proceeded through the unopened door. A bell chimed. Another door slid open and we were welcomed in.
After disposing of our shoes, and wandering past a table of people eating dinner, we were ushered into a room opposite. We were seated on the floor at the sunken bar. Over the most authentic Japanese meal we have ever had we discovered that grandma was behind the bar cooking for us, ably assisted by her daughter, in turn assisted by her daughter who would interpret some English and Japanese via the internet. Those persons we passed in the opposite room were her family sitting down to dinner. I cannot think of anywhere I have been on my travels where such an experience could be had, in such a modern city. With all the laws and paperwork that would have to be trawled through and money spent to arrange such a venture here in Australia, no one would bother. But there we were, in somebody’s house, being cooked for by their grandmother, as perfect strangers, hardly understanding a word each other spoke. The night that at one point looked bleak and isolated, to our surprise turned out to be warm, inviting and delicious.
The next day Beck wanted to go shopping. I tolerated this for a limited amount of time before reminding her of why we travel. Enough said.
That days temple was Kiyomizu-dera. This temple was more of a challenge for Rebecca. There was some frustration shown, but in the end we climbed the hills, travelled up and down the stairs and admired the view of Kyoto and the magnificent structure. A little shopping was done down a street Rebecca had initially refused to go down, where we purchased some unique sake cups and container, as opposed to the main street where all the touristy crap was.
That night we travelled down Pontocho to find a good traditional restaurant. Upon finding one we lowered our expectations, assuming the meal to not be as authentic as grandma’s version the night before. That said we had a surprisingly good meal. It was a Kaiseki or kaiseki-ryōri which is a traditional multi-course Japanese meal. Highly recommended. The alley is very aesthetic, which makes a slow stroll for a photographer’s keen eye a must.
On the walk back to the hotel I spotted some Belgium beer bottles in the window of an izakaya. So in we go. The beer menu had no such beer. As I had already viewed the bottles in the window I asked the girl about the Belgian beers in the window. She indicated for us to wait and disappeared. English was limited in this establishment. A guy appears with a badge sporting the name Jack. I mention the word Belgium and beer and his eyes light up. That night we spoke the universal language of beer. Love for Belgian beer in particular. Low and behold, the Belgian beers appeared. In addition to the Belgian beer we were treated to some of the back room sake straight from the barrel. Thanks Satoshi .
Our last day in Kyoto we visited the small monastery complex, Daitoku-ji. Getting there can be a little hard. We took a bus, got off at the right stop, but took a while to find the entry. It’s not obvious. The visit was well worth the time. You need half a day to look through all the temples. Because of the time of year some were closed, so we did not stay too long.
Along our travels through the complex we did find a little restaurant. It was very traditional and sitting on the floor was required. The staff found Rebecca a seat that was very low, and although she sat awkwardly, Rebecca was able to sit with me and enjoy the meal. Probably our second most traditional meal next to grandma’s cooking. If you can find it, I suggest you drop in for a meal. It was reasonably priced if I remember rightly.
Having some spare time we then took a taxi to Ginkaku-ji. It was getting on but we did not want to waste our last day. We just made it before closing time. Perched up on the side of a hill, there was still a lot of snow, and we were able to follow a little path reaching up in to the forest where a view of Kyoto was to be had.
That night we went back to Satoshi’s bar. A little drunk we did get. Very happy to see us he was. Very sad to leave him we were.
Back to Tokyo the next day and spent the last night in the company of Risa’s family at another fine restaurant. Although this time not much translation was going on as Risa was quite tired. It was great to see them again before we left. Big hugs and pleasantries all round. Next time we visit we look forward to spending New Years with the family.
So there you have it. Our first visit to Japan but by no means the last. We are booked to go again this Christmas and New Years Eve. Yes it has taken nearly two years me to write this. Next task will be to write about the trip to Hong Kong and Macau last October and India last January. I have promised myself that these will be done before we set off once more for Japan.