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.

Microblog Monday- planning

We are (sort of) in planning mode.

We are going to Europe in April, for a family reunion day. Yes, we will spend more time in the air getting there and back than we will at the reunion day. It is a family day that is held every year, but this year it is at a flying museum and my 96 year old grandfather will be there. We will be spending some time in Paris, some time with extended family and some time in London.

The tickets were bought before Christmas, but I have been hesitant to book other things. G is much more enthused about planning, so we have been booking hotels etc.  I think my optimum planning and booking timeframe is between 6 weeks out and 2 weeks out. I like to plan. But I like to change things as well.

 The Paris hotel is booked, my rellies have been contacted, the train is booked. 

Any tips or hints about Paris or London appreciated- the last time I was there was last century! (Barely)


Things I like about traveling

  • On an airplane, once it has taken off, looking down at the land.
  • On an airplane, just sitting in my chair and chilling out, it’s a chance to just relax
  • Traveling by train
  • The chance to walk around a neighbourhood, looking at the supermarket and the daily living things. Seeing how universal some things are, and how much meeting other universal needs can differ.  Last year in the USA we had the opportunity to do this in New York and Chicago (a point for air BnB) and also in Northampton. This year we did the same in Tokyo, and to some degree in Kyoto and Osaka. Supermarkets in other countries are always different in surprising ways.
  • Spending time in a cafe, reading a book
  • Sharing something new with my husband
  • Being able to show whomever I am traveling with (usually my husband) something I liked/thought was good
  • Trying new food
  • Going to art museums
  • Going to history museums/social history museums
  • Going to outdoor building museums
  • Walking outside, especially in environments that don’t exist in Australia!
  • Shopping for crafty stuff
  • Food/drink I can’t get at home
  • Onsens
  • Riding on trains, looking at the city
  • Participating in local events
  • Watching baseball
  • Disney!
  • Overseas home stores/electronics shops. Furniture and white goods vary by country.
  • Planning the trip
  • Unplanned moments of serendipity
  • Getting to the airport early enough to have a coffee and relax, starting the trip in a mellow frame of mind
  • Leaving home
  • Coming home
Things I don’t like about traveling

  • Going through security and passport control at the airport
  • Checking in for the flight
  • Waiting for luggage to arrive
  • Wearing the same clothes I wore on the plane
  • Take off and landing
  • Airplane bathrooms
  • Tourist/backpacker bars
  • Trying to catch specific train links
  • Traveling by bus.
  • Traveling a long time on overcrowded trains (20 minutes max)
  • Bad food where there is no other option
  • Going over the weight limit 
  • More than a limited period of time in Akihabara/electronic stores.  I don’t have a specific known time limit, but I know it isn’t as long as my husband’s. 
  • Places with no public seating (looking at you japan)
  • Not eating lunch/breakfast on time.  This means cranky.
  • Booking hotels on the phone. 
  • Almost missing a flight through no fault of your own but because traffic/trains/buses broke down
  • Running through an airport
  • Lost luggage
  • Long and slow check in queues
I would like to add pictures for these…
Cafe, new food (ice cream in those macaroons), time with my husband
Fireworks in Japan
River festival in rocky
New food in a cafe in ueno
asakusa temple forecourt
The street crowds watching fireworks in Tokyo. 
At the handmade festival
Art museum in Hakone
More art

microblog monday- back home

After a long trip (well, not as long as the trip back from the USA), we are back home.

And the unpacking has begun.  We need to do laundry, but it has been raining on and off all day, so only one load was done- we have somewhat protected lines, but the rain came with wind, and it was driving across the deck, so only a little load of laundry.

And the unpacking is being done carefully, so that all of the things we bought find a home.

I bought a few lucky bags in Japan and a couple of them came with multiple phone charms.  Way more than I can ever use.  So G has suggested I give some away via this blog.  Thoughts?  I still need to sort through all of the stuff to ensure I find all of them!

happy new year!

So, it’s a new year! We celebrated in Japanese style.

No late night partying.  Up not too early, not too late.  Checked out at the hotel and hung around in the lobby for the mochi ceremony. I think many of the people staying there were overseas visitors, there very few people in the lobby for this- unlike the hotel we were in last time.

Mochi are made by pounding cooked glutinous rice until it is a paste.  It is traditionally done in a stone bowl.

We have done this before, with a community group at the old house museum we visited last time.  

The mallet used is made of stone as well, and is pretty heavy!

So the cooked rice is placed in the bowl, and mushed around a bit, then you start whacking it with the mallet.  It’s hard work.

They looked for volunteers and picked some likely candidates.  It became clear that most of the people in the lobby had never done it before.  They did not whack the rice hard enough.  Then G had a go.  Like I said, we have prior experience!

I have a video, but my blogging app is not being helpful.  I will try to add….

The rice paste tends to stick to the mallet, so water has to be added periodically, that’s what the guy in the corner is doing.

 Then this is what we got – two types of mochi and some tea.  One has red bean paste- it’s kind of sweet and works really well with the mochi.  The other is some kind of nut/soy powder. Tastes peanutty.

Then we dragged our bags to the train station (all of them, haven’t had to do that yet) and took a train one stop to Osaka station.  There we took the shuttle bus to our next hotel and left our bags there for the day.  Yay for higher end hotels with shuttle buses!

And then it was off to Sumiyoshi Taisha for hatsumode, first shrine visit for the year. Sumiyoshi Taisha is apparently a very old shrine, bits of it are in a very old style of architecture, predating Chinese influence on japan.  

We took a train, and then boarded a tram, along with many others.

Looking at the tram in front

At the shrine it is a festival atmosphere, so lots of food stalls and a few carnival games. And so many people.

We went over a very old wooden bridge

And then into the shrine grounds

This orange and white building is one of the old style buildings

I say style, because one of the things about Japanese shrines is the rebuilding of them, exactly as before, on a periodic schedule. So the building looks like the one that was built over 1000 years ago, but is probably not that old (I don’t actually know)

The grounds were full, people praying, buying fortunes or various lucky objects.  We bought a New Years arrow (only sold at this time of year).  

Then we stopped in a food tent and had some yakisoba and beer and a roasted prawn.

On the train ride back we stopped in Nanba, a significant shopping area.  Most of the shops were closed, but a few had started sales early.  We went past the Apple Store, there was a line of people camping out for the lucky bags.  Stretched down one block and then started back on the other side of the street!

Back to the hotel and our warm hotel room! And then it snowed!

Happy new year!  





Kyoto day 2

Boxing Day and something completely new! We took a tour of the old Imperial palace in Kyoto.  

You have to book ahead, and this used to be done in writing, by mail!  But now it can be done online.  Japanese citizens are simply notified of the day and must accommodate it, visitors from overseas can nominate a day/time when a tour is offered.  I had never done this (the whole by mail thing) and we booked it for this visit.  It is free http://sankan.kunaicho.go.jp/english/guide/Kyoto.html

We booked the first tour of the day (10 am) and trekked off at about 9, in order to ensure we were there 20 minutes before, as instructed. Much of the grounds have been turned into a large park.

We arrived in time, dutifully formed a line, as instructed, and showed our tickets to at least two different people.  We then got to wait inside. It was cold.

The palace is no longer lived in.  It was used for some ceremonies in the 20th century, but almost none now.  The tour does not go inside, it’s all looking at the outside.  There are a couple of places where you can see inside, but these are few.  For a few days each year it is opened up mores, and thousands come in to view the interior paintings (while standing outside).

It was interesting, if a little dry and the weather was cold.

The garden was nice

Once the tour was done we headed back to the station, and ended up having some coffee and cake

Next up? Misuyabari, the needle place we had tied the day before.  I had never heard of them before but two different blogs mentioned them.  It’s a 400 year old needle maker and shop! This blog post does a much better job of explaining and directions.

We went down a hall…

And into a garden

The needle shop is in the back of the photo

It’s tiny.  I bought some needles and a tiny travel sewing box and some pincushions.

After the needles we went back to a bakery we had passed for lunch.  To do so we wandered the backstreets around the shopping area.  There are lots of quirky shops, and it is key to remember that some of them are not on the ground floor.  We found a yarn shop (Avril) I had noted for visiting (from blogs) by accident, going in to a building for a TinTin store.

Their website http://www.avril-Kyoto.com/ytop.php

The side streets and alleys can be fascinating.  We eventually wound up wandering through Pontocho, which is one of the old entertainment districts.  It used to have geisha (not sure about now) and was the district Liza Dalby lived in when she was writing her book about geisha.  Now it’s mostly bars and restaurants

The alley runs,parallel to the river, and there are spaces  where you can see it.

At the end of the alley we turned onto the river path, and came back along that.  At this point in the river it is very man mad- the river bed is bricks and cobblestones!  Entirely lined and directed.

My phone was having trouble with the light- this is at the same time as the other photos, just in the other direction.

There are many restaurants and bars that look out over the river- premium dining, especially in the summer!

We ended,the walk at Shijo bridge, the main way into Gion, across the river.

It did get darker during the walk.

A bit of shopping (looking at hats and gloves) and back to the hotel to rest.





Japan- getting here and the first day

So, we’ve made it to Japan and are experiencing nice chilly weather.

The flight over was both more stressful than expected and easier.  We had to catch a domestic flight up to cairns and then the flight to Japan. This seems to be the new strategy for the airline- both of our airport options worked this way, so we got to fly out of Brisbane instead of the Gold Coast.  We had to catch a very early flight, and the check in and bag drop was not awesome.  International flights require passports to be sighted, even though (this was one of the annoying things) we had to pick up our bags in cairns and re check in.  Our flight schedule gave us an hour and half from landing in cairns to get bags, check in, clear immigration and then security.  Our plane landed early and it was still a scramble.  Those of us who were doing ths connection didn’t get our bags tagged as priority, so we had to wait.  Then the dash on foot to the international terminal (not far away) and the realisation that flights from Brisbane and the Gold Coast (possibly other places too) were funnelling a pile of people in.  There were two check in lines and the one for Tokyo ( much later flight) obscured the osaka one.  Good thing we asked questions, otherwise we would have had issues.  The queue was long, the organisation was poor.  The only good thing ( and this was true in the overwhelmed security screening too) was that we were solidly in the middle.  If they had closed the flight off, there going to be a,lot of very angry people! The plane itself was half empty, and we ended up with an empty aisle seat in our row. So quite good.  The checkin and wait in lines bit was bad, the flight was good.  Then we landed in osaka, and the immigration queue was another long and painful one, but far less stressful. 

The flight path was different and I got to see Papau New Guinea from the air.

A train trip in, and a quick walk to the hotel.  We ventured back out for dinner, at a restaurant we have been to several times.


Very filling, hot and not expensive. Also super yummy.

Today was very rainy.  We went to the tourist bureau to see if we could get tickets to the Suntory distillery tours, but completely booked out for the days we are here. Sad

Then we went to a special exhibition about swords at the Osaka museum of history.  Lots of swords and knives, including several for women- I think, but am not sure because it was all in Japanese.  There were also some manga character posters and some representations of their swords.

And some beautiful embroidery. Most of the photos are on my big camera, and haven’t been taken off yet.  Will try to have a bigger picture post later.

After the museum we opted not Togo to osaka castle because of the rain.  We went to a shopping area instead and bought lots of things.  And then we went looking for denden town, the area where electronics are.  We have tried to find this once before and not had great success. We did not have much success this time, and we walked in a big u shape in the rain.  I did lots of steps and we ended up with some old prints, but I was not a happy camper. We think we have found it, and it is now flagged in our maps, but too tired and wet ( and grumpy) to continue.

We headed back to the hotel and then went out for the German Christmas market.  This is a regular Osaka event in December- a German Christmas market at the foot of the Umeda Sky building. 

There’s a carousel

And lots of stall selling ornaments and Christmassy things and German,food.

There also a Santa and a giant nativity and a big (fake) tree


There are stalls selling gluhwein(and hot chocolate) and this time they had special commemorative cups

I keep forgetting that G doesn’t always understand the kanji and kana signs.  I don’t either all the time, but I can understand some stuff and extrapolate.  G didn’t realise we could get hot chocolate as well as gluhwein, and I didn’t realise they both came with the cup.  So gluhwein it was.

It’s Saturday, so lots of people out and about, lots of crowds everywhere.  That can be stressful too.  The day was a mix of fun and relaxing and frustration.


Still happy to be here, rather than at home