Japan trip 7 days in Kyoto part 2

So, more kyoto…

Actually, on the 29th we went out of Kyoto and somewhere i have never been.  We took a train up the eastern side of Lake Biwa to Hikone.

Hikone has a castle, and i was hoping there would be some snow- there was snow on the peaks in the distance and on some inaccessible hills, but none on the ground.  By this time a lot of businesses were shut for the new years holiday and the town was pretty quiet.  We walked the 800 metres from the station the the castle grounds. 

Hikone castle stands in a rather large park. It has its own mascot!  Unfortunately the connected museum was closed, although the castle was open.

We had to walk up the hill to get to the castle proper (a lot of the outer walls and guardhouses are still standing) and under the bridge that took you to the inner court.

The park has two UNESCO soundscapes- one is summer insects, the other is the sound of this bell

Only some parts of the buildings were open to visit, and they tended to be very empty. It was the grounds and landscape that were interesting.  There were a lot of families there. There were also some boats offering rides in the moat, swans (including a black one!) and what looked like sakura blooms (usually not open in December)

Then we headed back to the station, cold and rather hungry.  On the way there we spotted a small french restaurant that was open.  We were the only customers, and had their daily set menu. It was delicious!

Back in Kyoto, we looked at some shops close to the station.  This was in the mall that had Sofmap, which was a store we had a lot of trouble finding some years ago.  They have done some remodelling since the last time we were there. I went to a craft shop in the same mall.

In the evening G and i went out and wandered through the alleys of Pontocho, one of the traditional entertainment districts.  We went to a place called Steak and wine. We had some very nice (and very small) beef, some very nice beef prosciutto and some wine. Coming home, i saw this sweet potato roasting van. It brought back memories of hearing the sound when i lived in japan.

The next day we were back in Kyoto, visiting the “silver temple”. Ginkakuji isn’t actually  covered in silver like the golden temple is covered in gold. At one point there may have been plans to do so, and the name provides a sort of matching temple.  It is another old villa turned into a temple and has beautiful grounds

I have realised i didn’t take a picture of the big and mounds that are there- i have been enough times, i don’t take pictures of everything anymore.

After we finished at the temple we walked along the philosophers path.  This is a walk alongside a canal that runs from the temple and though neighbourhoods, passing other temples.  It is very pretty and popular with tourists.  There are a number of shops and galleries along the way

We stopped for a drink and snack at the Yojiya cafe. Yojiya is a well known kyoto cosmetic brand that has reached out into cafes as well.  This was in an old teahouse and very japanese.

I had a traditional japanese sweet and a matcha latte

This face is the logo for yojiya.

This was the garden outside the cafe.  We were up on the second floor, so had a good view.

There was a cat community along the path.  People feed them, so there is a large colony.

We finished the walk at a coffee shop G loves. Its just a tiny shop in a neighbourhood, but it has coffees from all over the world.

After that we headed back into town and did a bit of shopping.  G and i ended up buying a new suitcase at this point…

We bought a few souvenir things, tried some fried foods at a street stall and generally looked around.  I went down Nishiki market ( a street lined with food shops) to get some amazing tofu donuts.  It was really crowded with people buying food for new years and tourists.

In the evening we went back to Pontocho and tried another restaurant. This one specialised in lamb chops.

On the last day in Kyoto we split up.  M really wanted to see snow so he and G went to the ski-fields about 40 minutes away.  I headed into the mountains to Kurama, a tiny village, to go to an onsen.  G and i went hiking there on our last trip and i have been to the fire festival in October there.  I had never visited the onsen though.  They have a minibus at the station, so its easy to get to.  There is an outside bath and there are inside baths.  It is possible to just buy entry to the outside bath, or you can get inside and outside, which comes with towels and a yukata (cotton kimono) to wear when walking between inside and outside and also in the relaxation room.  I have no pictures of the onsen (everyone is naked) but it was very relaxing and warm. When i was done i had a lovely tempura lunch in their restaurant and walked back along the street (there is only one) to the train.

Me in yukata

The only street

A little roadside shrine

This tengu is a symbol seen a lot in the area.

I took the train back to kyoto proper, then caught a train to osaka.  G and M saw snow and caught a different train to osaka.  We met up at our hotel, which was completely new one to us.

Kyoto can a bit frustrating.  There are a lot of tourists and the people of kyoto are not the politest/friendliest in japan. There are some beautiful places to visit though.

Japan trip- 7 days in Kyoto-part 1

On christmas morning we woke up early, checked out of the hotel and headed for Kyoto. Its about a 40 minute – 1 hour trip by train (depends on the train, line and destination). I was still coughing a lot, so i wore one of the face masks.

Once at kyoto we stuck our backpacks etc in a locker at the train station (suitcases were sent ahead from the hotel) and headed for the market.  The 25th of the month is a flea market day at a particular buddhist sects temples across japan.  The one in December tends to be big as people clear their houses in advance of New Year.

The market was pretty good. Last time round i found it a bit too touristy, this time it still had a lot to appeal to tourists but there was also a lot of interesting stuff.  There were also a few stallholders i recognised from osaka!

We found a different drip coffee stall and had some freshly roasted coffee.

After wandering the market for a couple of hours we went to Kinkakuji- the golden temple.  This is in the same area as the temple where the flea market was.  Kinkakuji was originally a residence for a noble, then was turned into a temple. At some point the villa was covered in gold leaf.

I was still feeling not so great at this point, so we headed back to Kyoto Station to pick up the bags, have lunch and then to the hotel.  It turned out the hotel was essentially next to a bus stop, so it was pretty easy.  I crashed for the rest of the day while G and M went out exploring.

As i was so sick, we looked at the planned activities and rejigged. On the 26th G and M went to Kobe without me.  Kobe had been a maybe day for the last few days in Kyoto, primarily to go to a Brazilian BBQ restaurant that we like.  Thats pretty much what they did while i stayed at the hotel and slept.

On the 27th we went somewhere new!  In all the times we have been to kyoto we have never gone to the the Fushimi Inari shrine. Thats the the one with all of the orange torii gates up the mountain.  It was snowing when we got there, and very crowded with tourists. No serene pictures of torii gates!

M decided to walk along the path. I opted not to (still sick), so G and i looked at the stalls and shops in the area, and i ended up in a coffee shop.

Following the shrine we headed a couple of stops further and went to the Gekkeikan sake factory.  The factory was interesting and offered some tastings as well.

Sake barrels at the local train station

Then we took a train back to Gion, had lunch and looked around the shops.

I then went to Misayubari- a tiny needle shop

Its down this passage

Sitting in a tiny garden is this tiny shop

As well as needles and scissors they also sold these handmade pins.  They are tiny.

The next day we had a wander from Kiyomizudera down to Gion.

Kiyomizudera is another temple complex, this one was famous for holy water (its not officially holy anymore).its main temple is a wooden structure with a huge deck that is popular for photos as there is the wooded hillside below and the city of kyoto in the distance.

The temple was constructed without nails and is currently being rebuilt/repaired.  The rebuilding of temples is very common in  japan and is actually part of the process with some shinto shrines.

The covered over area is usually an open deck.  There was only one section open this time.

Access to the temple is on foot- the bus stops at the bottom of the hill and we walked up the streets (cars still come up the streets, so i suppose we could have grabbed a taxi…)

The temple grounds are extensive and we wandered around on the paths

After we had our fill we walked down a different street, this one was lined with shops selling stuff to tourists (both japanese and overseas).

This we took a sharp right, down a flight of steps

A lot of shops along here too

There are a lot of shops and cafes along the way- we stopped at Inoda coffee which has a lovely garden outside.  We also visited a couple of my favourite temples.  These were noble residences that were then turned into temples.

One of these is kodai-ji which is my favourite temple, in part due to the garden, but i was feeling cold and not so well by this point, so i sat in the tea room and had matcha and a japanese sweet.

At this point we were pretty tired, so we headed back to the main shopping area for lunch and back to the hotel.

We did a lot of walking on these days, drank a lot of coffee.  Some of our dinners were just convenience store food, heated up at the shop and taken to our room(s).

Stay tuned for part two!






Japan trip – 5 days in Osaka

We are in Japan for our end of year holiday.  We flew in with a friend of G’s (let’s call him M) but not J.  He chose to stay home (there is a story there)

We arrived the evening of 19 December, in Osaka.

First day was Universal Studios Japan (USJ).  IN all the years i lived here, and all the times we have visited, USJ has never been on the menu.  But it was this time- because of Harry Potter.  USJ has a Harry Potter area.  The Harry Potter area at USJ is set up as Hogsmeade (i think the one in Florida is Diagon Alley?) with Hogwarts at the end.  One of the factors for the day we went- selected and booked in advance, was that it was a low crowd day (in advance of the high crowd days over new years). Usually access to Hogsmeade is dictated by timed ticket, but not the day we went- we were able to head straight there and return later in the day.

We looked around the village, decorated for Christmas and containing snow filled rooftops(not real).  I was able to buy butter beer from the stall in the centre of the village with no line, and time for a conversation with the seller.  And because it was December, I opted for hot butterbeer. It was delicious, much better than the cold one i had at the studio experience in the London.

We wandered up to the castle and got in the short (40 minute) line for the 4D ride.  The route of the line through the castle is an attraction in itself- we didn’t get much time to admire it (and the voices are all in Japanese).  The ride was pretty good- very immersive.  Following the ride we picked up a few souvenirs (chocolate frogs etc) and went to the rest of the park.  

Everywhere was decorated for Christmas, including the shark!


The Jaws ride was closed, and M and I both refused the Flying Dinosaur roller coaster, although we did go on the Jurassic Park log ride- not the wisest decision in December!  The drama of our ride was broken by the fact we were stopped just before the big drop because the people in the front row took out their camera.

For most of the rest of the ride USJ seems to rely on projected 3d and cart rides- think a more contained Haunted Mansion where the effects are mostly projections.  I don’t mind some of these, but too many make me feel ill.

In the late afternoon we headed back to Hogsmeade and bought a wand and then i got to try the other element of the village- Wand magic! At certain key points in the village, if you stood on a particular mark, made the right movement and said the right word, something happens!  There are helpers to go through the spell and direct you, but it is based on wand movement.  I have no photos, as i was doing it. We then had dinner and watched the light show on the castle.

The next day we got up early and headed to the Shi-Tennoji temple markets.  These are held monthly on the 21st and are fascinating flea markets


The markets start before you enter the grounds, with local shopkeepers setting out stuff as well.  We breakfasted on fresh, made in front of us, drip coffee and okanomiyaki.  The okanomiyaki stall even had tables to use.

There is a lot to be seen.  We were there early (8:30 or so) so the crowds weren’t out in force yet.

I got a couple of kimono, G and M poked around at stuff, it was generally interesting.  After a couple of hours we headed out.  We took as wander through neighbourhoods to get to DenDen town- Osaka’s answer to Akihabara.  It was about 20-30 minute walk, but due to the quirks of transportation, trains would have taken as long.  We looked briefly at a couple of stores, then had lunch.  After lunch i stayed in the cafe, then wandered through the kitchen supply area while G and M looked around the shops.  Then we went to the Osaka museum of Daily Living- which was a train ride away.  An old neighbourhood from the 19ths century has been recreated inside and you can wander the street and look inside homes and businesses.  They simulate weather sounds and light (but not precipitation)  They also offer the chance to dress up in kimono, but that was fully booked.  Once you move on from that street there are a number of models showing different neighbourhoods and changes in Osaka.  It was interesting.

In the evening we had a seal carving class- Japanese people use carved seals (hanko) instead of signatures and this was a chance to make one.  It was pretty interesting. Due to the size of the seal and length of the class, we could only carve one kanji.  It’s not easy! I don’t have pictures, because although the tour lady took some, they aren’t on my phone!

The next day G and M headed for Hiroshima, i stayed in osaka.  I went to an art museum, wandered around Osaka and some fabric shops and then went to Spa World- a big onsen complex. M has tattoos, so our onsen options are not awesome, so i went when he wants around.

Spa world was good, but i was looking at the body scrub option (there is a salon/extra services area) and the lady came out and brought me in and convinced me a 40 minute scrub was a good thing (it was). Then about 5 minutes before the end of the scrub, she upsold me on a massage. I was very relaxed!

The next day we all met in Himeji.  I accidentally took a shinkansen that didn’t stop at Himeji and had to hurriedly change at Okayama-onto the same train as G and M.  Himeji has a famous castle that has recently been restored.

We climbed to the top- steep stairs and no shoes- just slippers.

After the castle and lunch we went back to Osaka.  In the evening did laundry and then we went to the German Christas market- which was packed!

On Sunday- our last day in Osaka, we sent our bags to Kyoto and then went to our lunch at a Michelin restaurant.  We had booked at this one because it was possible to book ahead, online.  For the day we booked there was a set christmas menu- which was delicious! The restaurant was on floor 20 at the Intercontinental- very swish! 




Unfortunately I spent most of the later afternoon and evening in the hotel room- I cam down with a cold and it was not good!


Tokyo trip- Japan hobby show

I have been a little slow about writing about some of the things from the holiday. After Kawagoe, Friday was the day we allocated for the Tokyo hobby show. This was one of the things that caused to go at the time we did.  It runs for three days and tickets were 1000 yen- about $12.  We ordered on the Internet, took the print out to a 7-11 in Tokyo, and they printed the tickets.  The doors opened at 10 am, but only for people who had tickets (us). I knew there would be crowds so we aimed to be there early.  We were there about 9, and were directed to a large queue. People kept going past, with passes around their neck, while queue grew.  Then, at some point we started walking. The queue was taken the length of the floor, then down the stairs and about 3/4 of the way back on the ground floor.  Looking behind us, I was very glad we arrived early.  Once we got to the entry we exchanged our tickets for the passes. Essentially the tickets are for all three days. Bargain compared to the costs in Australia! Unfortunately, we had plans for the other days.

It was so huge! And crowded.  I don’t have many pictures, because some booths don’t like photos, and I was too busy looking.  So many brands I had not seen before, so much stuff!  I bought thread, and a couple of kits and copies of a Japanese craft magazine.  We also grabbed bits and pieces for cosplay outfits. 

Early stage queue- more orderly than it looks

Fake food decor! Very popular

A workshop area, with a bead store behind

One of the many displays- an origami army

A project using recycled materials

This lady was making felted chocolates. There was a whole display and she was demonstrating how to.

Some of her work

I really wanted these fairy gardens, but bio security Australia is unlikely to be happy about bringing them in…

A small selection at the ribbon store!

This was a genius idea.  My feet always ache at these shows and this was a stand with foot massagers.  I didn’t try one, because it was clearly a sales ploy, and I really didn’t want to have a high pressure Japanese sales pitch. But very clever

All ages represented here. There were a lot of kids, not too many men shopping though. 

It was huge.  And we didn’t even wander into the cooking area (not much point)  there was also a whole hall of people selling things they had made.  

Some of the stuff we got 

Fabric pens that disappear in certain circumstances.  I am always looking for new ways to get designs onto fabric.

A lanyard kit, using ribbon

Bits and pieces

A bag kit.

And a bunch more!

I would recommend going to the Tokyo hobby show, it was really impressive.  Wear comfy shoes and take cash.


Rainy day

The fourth day of th trip was to be to Kawagoe- a town that is now on the outskirts of Tokyo, but that was a prosperous merchant town in earlier times.  It has well preserved areas that reflect an earlier era, so is a bit of a tourist place, particularly for internal tourism.  We were going on this particular day because it has a monthly flea market at one of the temples, on the 28 th of every month.  So of course, that was the day it rained.  Often these markets are cancelled if it rains, but this one was apparently still on. It was, but as a half market- probably about half the traders showed, and few customers. Not a good space.  Lots of antiques, and a lot of kimonos. But times have changed from when used kimonos were incredibly cheap- secondhand kimonos and items made from them are popular in Japan and abroad, so the days of really good quality cheap kimonos and fabric are gone.  


Once we were finished with the market we trudged along the streets towards the old town- where there are a lot of preserved old warehouses and merchant houses and shops selling traditional things. 

We found a lovely small coffee shop for lunch.  Really good coffee.  Here is G smiling at the front

The lunch

As chlidrens day was coming up, lots of carp flags koinoburi

The houses were interesting, the shops cute, but part of the charm is missing when there is a constant drizzle and the umbrella,is constantly folded and unfolded and the feet are getting wet.


So we packed it in early and went back to Tokyo.  We had a productive evening locating a coin laundry within walking distance of the hotel and washing some clothes.  We also found a nice yakitori place near there to eat while the clothes were washing.

Kawagoe seems to be quite a nice place, and I suspect is a lot more fun when there is no rain.  The tourist information people were very friendly and helpful and spoke English.  If you are looking for a day trip from Tokyo, this is an easy one.

Tokyo trip – shopping

Day two of our Tokyo trip was always going to involve shopping.

We headed out to kappabashi, also known as kitchen town. We have been there several times, so this visit was going to be about buying specific things.  When we got out of the train station G realised there was a Book-Off nearby.  Book-Off is a second hand book chain. They also sell second hand games and consoles and CDs and DVDs. So we headed there. I got a couple of craft books and some games for my Japanese 3ds, G got some Playstation games (PS 4 I think).

Then we headed to kitchen town.  G wanted a knife, I wanted a new coffee filter thing and we had a couple of things to buy for others. Once these were bought we headed to the train station to go to Asakusa. Usually we would just walk through the backstreets, because it is quite close, but one of the things we had to pick up was an iron teapot. The preferred one (after text message and photos) was at the beginning of the street. So we caught the train one stop.  I wanted to go to a museum in Asakusa called Amuse Museum, which turned out to be not far from where we would have been if we walked there, but was a good 10 minute walk from the station.

 It’s an interesting museum, with the ticket desk at the back of a shop, and the museum in the floors above.  Some of it is studios of artists. The main exhibit was an exhibit of old clothes from northern Japan, collected over many years and very patched.  The style of patching is called Boro, or sometimes it is called sashiko (sashiko refers the technique). Rural Japan, particularly in the north, did not have fabric to spare.  Clothes were made warmer by quilting layers, holes were patched with more layers. It’s hard to find these clothes anymore- they tended to be worn into scraps, which were then patched onto other clothes.  Once fabric and clothes became easier to obtain, they were often thrown away.  The man who collected these has preserved something very valuable from the everyday person. 

This is detail of one of the pieces.

This is single stitch embroidery on a more formal piece. It’s amazing decoration achieved with very simple materials.

What I found interesting about this- I first read about this type of reusing in Liza Dalby’s book on kimono. She commented that it was hard to find examples, for the reasons I noted above. Sashiko as a more decorative, ornamental craft has become popular in Japan and in the west- one of the things I do buy here are sashiko patterns that are less traditional as the ons in Australia are all more traditional It has become separated from its original purpose, a merely decorative craft, like a lot of other crafts, the original need no longer exists. Boro- the patchwork held together with running stitch, has been gaining popularity in Australia (and I suspect elsewhere as well), driven partially by some Japanese artists.  I know that at the last few craft fairs I have been to there were Boro classes and exhibitions.  By contrast, I have seen no modern Boro kits in Japan so far. This trip has also been the first time I have seen Boro pieces at flea markets.  There were examples at both of the markets we have been to.  I don’t know if this is because the markets were in Tokyo and surrounds, whereas mostly we have been to ones in Kyoto and Osaka, areas where fabric was more available. Anyway, the exhibition was interesting.

The museum also has a collection of ukiyoe prints, and a roof terrace bar (not open when we visited). We were able to go on the roof and take pictures.

View of Sensoji temple from the roof of Amuse Museum.

Once done with the museum we had a late lunch and headed for Kichijoji.  This is a pleasant suburb of Tokyo – less bustling than the centre of the city.  I had been there before but wanted to show G.  We did quite a bit of shopping.  

The original plan had been to go to a baseball game, but we were too tired, so we just took some nice French cheese from the kichijoji shops and went back to the hotel.

On Wednesday morning we headed to Akihabara to buy a new battery charger for our camera.  I had come down with a cold, so we headed back to the hotel, and I spent most of the day sleeping. G was tasked with finding medicine and going to the grocery store!

Late in the afternoon we went to Tokyo station and went to Character street there- it’s a shopping street full of shops selling various character goods including Ghibli characters and the Moomins. Shopping happened.

We had pre booked evening tickets at Disneysea, and it was an easy trip from Tokyo.

A little bit contradictory- a meditation on the great lengths people had to go to for simple resources, and then a lot of very consumerist shopping.


Tokyo trip- Disney

It’s been a different Tokyo trip.  We usually do Disney at the end of a Tokyo trip, as that is when it is easiest/most convenient. This time, for reasons (golden week) we went on the first full day here. We booked the tickets ahead on the Internet (also a change) and booked evening tickets for Disneysea later in the week as well.

Tokyo Disneyland, unlike the other disneylands, is not actually the Disney company.  It is operated under licence from Disney, has all of the rides etc, but not all of the current Disney park flourishes (magic wristbands?). 

So, we showed up near opening time and cruised through into. The park (no line!). The current theme is Easter. Yes, Easter is over, but not in Tokyo Disneyland.  This means eggs everywhere, specially themed food souvenirs and bunnies and pastel souvenirs.  Weirdly, no popcorn buckets that fit the theme. And there were Easter egg hunts!  You pay extra to get a cardboard egg hunt with stickers.  The beginner one was the cheapest, and the easiest, with ten possible eggs to be found but only five needed to claim the prize. I chose to do that one.  There is also an expert level and a master level.  G chose to do expert, and we are both very glad he did not chose master.  Expert and master had sketchy pictures of things near the eggs, and the expert had vague little clues.  The eggs were smaller (in one case tiny) and at least three were in shop windows. There was much frustration.  But as a way to see the park, and as an alternative to rides, it is good. G is vey proud of his medal prize.

We did do some rides, focusing on ones with short lines.  But we did do splash mountain and big thunder mountain (that was on fast pass). We also went on the canoes (where work is required), the new Star Wars star tours and the monsters inc hide and go seek ride.

Eggs and the castle

Beginner egg hunt

More eggs

We had mickey head waffles

Souvenir cup dessert

The photos are a mixed bag- I am using an older phone (my usual phone is work issued, so was left at home), one of our cameras was out of commission,and I am on my iPad for typing, so I don’t have access to the camera photos or G’s photos.  I may add ore later

This was one of the expert eggs.  See the egg shaped acorn?  That’s it. Hard.

We left before the park closed- during the big light show on the castle (which looks amazing btw), as we were exhausted. It was really nice to catch the train without hordes of other park goers.

We returned on Wednesday with evening only tickets for Disneysea.  This is the other Disney park in Tokyo and it is unique.  Organised around water bodies, rather than lands, it has better food, better shows and an older target age (adults).  It is also the 15th year of operation for the park, so that was the theme.  It was a sea faring, steampunky, sparkly theme. You can buy these light up wands, and there are stations around the park that activate if you place the wand in them.  When you have activated all of them, the wand gets a special sound. Once we saw one station activated, G really wanted one!


One of the activation stations.

We managed to activate the wand, it does require visiting all areas of the park.  We also managed quite a few rides, mainly those with short waits (less than 10 minutes).  This included the Indiana jones ride and 20,000 leagues under the sea, usually lengthy queues there.  We also got an anniversary popcorn bucket and some Duffy stuff.  

The park was remarkable quiet, not too busy.  For the next week or so it is scheduled to be very busy, as Golden week crowds show up.

The ship for the 15th celebrations.  

The Italian harbour area!

We stand until the park closed, so had to catch trains home with the hordes.