Category Archives: Japan

Day 18 – Arigatou

Our last day in Japan was one of contrasts.  We left the comfort of the Park Hotel behind us for our last day exploring this marvellous city.

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We visited the hustle and bustle of Shinjuku streets to the peace and bliss of the gardens.

There was a wonderful display of chrysanthemum flowers.  The garden scapes with skyscrapers in the background said it all.

Japan is a fantastic destination with so much to see and do… we will be back.

Sayonara … now what to buy at duty free???

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Day 17 – sNOw monkeys

A stay in Maruka Ryokan is a step back in time.  I am not sure how old the owners of the Ryokan are but their very helpful son appeared to us to be in his seventies!

The best days for this Ryokan have past.  Taps are quaint, tiles around the onsen crumbling and fixtures and fittings have seen better days.  However the linen was spotless and miso soup the best in Japan.  Breakfast was excellent and the hospitality from the elderly hosts has to be experienced to be believed.  A little window to the past.

We were lucky to be given a lift to the snow monkey park by the Ryoken owner’s son.  He had a message in English on his phone to tell us that it wasn’t likely that the monkeys would come out to play.  I just wish someone had said out right – don’t waste your time, but anyway live and learn!

If you go to Yamanouchi in autumn don’t expect to see snow monkeys.  They are too busy making more snow monkeys and don’t bother to come down to their onsen.  We waited and waited with the promise they might come down but finally had to go.  Looking on webcam, even from home it seems they didn’t come down from the hills for quite some time!

 

We left Yaramnouchi and travelled by JR train back to Tokyo.  The contrast of the quiet backwater to the hustle and bustle of the world class city was huge.

We rediscovered the Ginza line and Shimbashi station.  We retraced our steps to the Park Hotel and this time we had booked a room with a view- maybe we will see the shy one – Mount Fuji.

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Day 16 – Down from the clouds

Overnight the weather had changed and Murodo was covered in snow.  It was great to experience different climatic conditions and get the chance to view the alpine environment from a different perspective.

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After breakfast we set off on the journey down the alps and on to Yamanouchi.

We left Murodo on an electric trolley bus through a mountain tunnel, then caught the ropeway, cable car and then had to walk over the dam wall.  This was mildly unpleasant as the weather had turned to rain with wind whistling through the gorge.  I am sure that this would have been a stunning sector on the previous day.  For us it was a hurried walk, dragging our roller bags with our umbrellas nearly blowing away!  Hey, it happens!

The trolley bus the took us through the mountain to the bus station.

We then had to purchase tickets on the local bus to drive us to Nagano.  This bus trip took quite a long time – a few hours.  It was especially frustrating to experience the peak hour traffic as we approached Nagano.  We had been spoilt by the efficient Japanese train services.  At Nagano we quickly boarded the JR train to Yudanaka.

There were ominous signs up at the ticket office – “No snow monkeys today”

Yudanaka was a curious old onsen town with public foot spas dotted around the footpaths and the local public onsen housed in the same building as the train station.

We had organised to stay in an old Ryokan and the owner’s son would collect us from the station when we arrived.  Just like clock work, we were picked up and driven to our home for the night.

 

 

 

Day 15 – To infinity and beyond

Where to next?  It was a hard choice but the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route beckoned.

We purchased a special Alpine Route ticket which cost 1500 yen each.  This ticket covered travel using ten travel segments and covered the use of the Toyama Chiho railroad, Tateyama Cablecar and the Tateyama Highland bus and could be used over five days.  As we travelled in autumn the famous ice wall was not there but the experience was a highlight and was a different Japanese experience.

We left Kanazawa and travelled to Toyama using our JR pass.  We then had to change to the Toyama Chiho railway at Dentetsu station.  Again this whole journey seemed so complicated and despite the knowledge of how organised and reliable the transport system is in Japan, it did cause some consternation… totally unnecessarily so.

This was a fantastic two day experience.  Accommodation at Murodo seems expensive however it covers a gourmet dinner, guided walks if interested, star gazzinf and presentation, use of a private onsen and breakfast.

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We had a magical day for our ascent of the Tateyama Alps and plenty of time to walk around and view the trails, tarns and even volcanic steam outlets.

If you have plenty of time and good weather plan to stop along the way and use the five days for your visit.

 

 

Day 14 -Wandering through time

Despite the light rain our day in Kanazawa was a delight.  From our homestay we ventured through the local streets, visiting Ochaya Shima, a National Important Cultural Asset.  These preserved buildings were once a high-class eastern pleasure quarter, established in 1820.  This is where geishas performed and entertained.

Using the JR bus we returned to the tourist information office at Kanazawa station and they assist us to book a tour at the Myoryui Temple, nick named ninja temple because of the many hidden staircases and traps.  This tour required pre-booking and was totally in Japanese however they did have a folder with an English translation of features. A very unique building and worth seeing.  We visited this in the afternoon.

Next we visited the famous Kenroken Garden and Kanazawa Castle Park.  There were so many beautiful garden settings and vistas.  There was a tea ceremony underway in the gardens.

Kanazawa is a modern city with strong and proud ties to the past. The market stalls, shopping malls, Halloween fun and modern trains clearly provide this contrast.

 

 

 

Day 12 – Serenity now

On paper the plans for our full day of travel seemed possible however it was with much trepidation that we set off from our comfy base that had been Kyoto.

On the agenda was a trip to Himeji Castle and then uncertainty of travel to Mount Koya to stay with Buddhist monks in their retreat Kumagaiji.  Could we fit this long day in and still have time to enjoy the sights and savour the experiences along the way?  Would we be really frazzled by the time we got to the mountain top and the UNESCO World Hertiage area Koyasan?  Would we even get there?  …. All needless worry as it turned out.

We departed Kyoto at 8.23am on the Shinkansen Hikari 495 bags and all and arrived at Himeji at 9.18am.  At the station we stowed our cases in a locker and stepped outside for a taxi.  We were met with a fantastic blue sky, perfect for viewing the resplendent World Cultural Hertiage gem that is Himeji Castle.  Our driver quickly delivered us to the front entrance of the castle grounds.

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This beautifully restored castle was being used as a film set for a super fast action movie with a full cast of Japanese warriors.  This gave us a unique chance for some special photographs with cast members.

We were able to extensively tour the mighty castle, which included a climb of the timber stairways up to the sixth floor, opportunity to gaze out of various shooting holes or Sama in the castle walls and to view the city and surrounding countryside.  Magnificent.

The walk back to the train station was easy with the movie making action proving a distraction along the way.  This was definitely worth the three hour detour.  If only there had been enough time to also visit the beautiful gardens next to the castle grounds.

Just as well the stop was so enjoyable because the next segment of our day had me a bit nervous.  Armed with maps and information flyers we headed off to the Koya Peninsular.image

Our onward journey then took us from Himeji at 11.57am to Osaka by 12.58pm on the JR Special Rapid Service.  We then caught the Osaka Loop Line (inner loop) to Shin-Imaymiya.  This journey was a quick seventeen minute trip after which we had to locate the Nanki Electric Railway ticket office to purchase our Koyasan World Heritage Ticket.  This section of our travel was not covered by the JR Pass. The Nankai Electric Ticket covered return train fare on the Nainkai Koya line, the cable car to Koyasan and a two day bus pass.  This cost ¥3,400 each but covered the rest of our rather complicated journey.

At 1.30pm we were sitting comfortably on the Limited Express Koya 7 truely ready for the serenity awaiting at Kumagaiji.  The journey through the countryside and into the treetops and mountainside was very special.  The trees were resplendent in the fall foliage.

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We arrived at the Buddist Temple, Kumagaiji alighting from the bus at around 5.15pm.  After a warm greeting, we were shown to our two-roomed accomodation and our host monk who poured us green tea, gave us bean cookies and a snug welcome at our heated table.  He also explained that we were expected to attend prayers the next morning at 5.00 am!   We walked in the afternoon to Okunoin and wandered along the cedar lined pathway to the mausoleum of Kobo Dashi.  This was a very serene and peaceful place and it was with interest that we located a monument to Australian soldiers from World War II.

Our evening meal was provided by the temple and was a very tasty vegetarian selection, served to us in our private dining room.  After an  eerie night time stroll back through Okunoin which allowed us to further enjoy this unique and sacred Japanese setting, we had an onsen and then retired for the night, warm and comfy as our futons and magically appeared in our room.  The pillows were pretty sad… A bit like sandbags.

Well the day had been a true adventure!

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Day 11 – Iconic sights and sounds

Our day trip to Nara involved catching the JR Nara Line train.  Make sure, if you go, to catch an express train as the local train stops very frequently and takes much longer than needed.  The tourist information centre at the station gave us lots of good ideas for our visit and noted these down on the local map.  We then caught an inexpensive local taxi for a short ride to the temple.

On arriving at the temple area we were greeted by some eager deer and school children.  Locally the deer are considered as messengers of the gods.   While we were engaged in chatting with the children a deer promptly snatched and ate our map!  Not sure what exactly the gods  were telling us.

Despite loosing our map, we still managed to find our way around Nara to visit many of the iconic sights.  There was a lot of strolling around with a range of buildings, forests and local streets to view.

On return to Kyoto we alighted from the train at Fujinomori station and visited the Fushimi Shrine.  At this is a very beautiful and famous shrine and many local businesses have sponsored a Tori pathway that snakes up the surrounding hill side.  We did not make it all the way to the top but did enjoy quite an uphill climb to view the Kyoto skyline.P1060989

In the evening we enjoyed the second pre-booked tour through Sunrise Tours; a Makio Dinner.  The meal presented was an underwhelming range of Japanese cuisine however the entertainment provided by the Maiko and the opportunity to find out about her apprenticeship as a Geiko (Geisha) was fascinating.  This was a very worthwhile experience.

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Day 10 – Hiroshima and Miyajima

We visited Hiroshima and Miyajima  as a day trip from Kyoto thanks to the JR pass.  We left early on the 7.20am Shinkansen Hikari from Kyoto direct to Hiroshima, travelling 380 kilometres in comfort.

We arrived just after 9.00am and were delighted to discover that the Hiroshima sightseeing loop buses were also part of the JR pass system.  This bus delivered us straight to the Peace Park, centre to the memorial.  The Peace park was a solemn tribute to those who lost their lives in the tragic atomic bombing event.  The Peace Park contained some original buildings, the children’s memorial and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum which contains significant artefacts and personal accounts and testimonies.  Most significant was the opportunity to witness the school student led ceremony at the children’s memorial where the children sang songs and contributed origami cranes.  This was very touching.P1060878

Then we caught the JR Sanyo Line train to Miyajima- guchi station and boarded the JR ferry to Miyajima.  The harbour is quite beautiful with clear blue water and a very pretty mountainous surrounds.  The ferry ride was around half an hour and glides past the beautiful floating Tori.

The day we visited was quite hazy and a little rainy.  As there is a scenic cable car on the island and we had planned to take a ride however due to the weather we decided against this.

We enjoyed a stroll through the restaurant and shopping village, stopping for a tasty lunch and coffee.  We enjoyed the afternoon wandering amongst the tourists and deer.  The tori, temple and pagoda looked special against the surrounding harbour and autumn foliage.

Our return to Kyoto took longer as the direct shinkansen journey was not available.   Instead we caught the Shinkansen Sakura from Hiroshima to Shin-Osaka and then Shinkansen Hikari on to Kyoto.  When planning this day trip we were concerned about the distances, required transfers and number of transport options required for the day.  We thought that maybe this would be too much and an organised day trip may have been a better option.  On reflection this was absolutely the best way to visit Hiroshima and Miyajima, there was no need for an organised day trip nor an overnight stay.  It was great to return to our Kyoto base.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 9 – Blue skies, vermilion and green

Our pre-booked visit to Kyoto Imperial Palace was first on our agenda this morning.  We set off for our second day in Kyoto with the sun shining and sky blue.

The guided tour of the Imperial Palace was free of charge but required pre-online booking and visitors are expected to arrive on time.  The tour winds around the stunning architecture and beautiful gardens with a historical commentary.  The vermilion structures were resplendent against the magnificent Kyoto sky – what a perfect day!

The local bus service delivered us to Uzumasa Station where we caught the JR train to Arahiyama Torokko Sation.  We purchased a combination ticket for the Sagano “Romantic” train and the Hozu-gawa river boat ride.  The train ride was very scenic and provided special views of the river gorges and forests.  It was very popular and we were only able to purchase separate seats on the train.  Once we arrived at the train terminus we then moved to the river wharf and then onto river boats.  These were powered by a crew of three, one to steer, one spotter and one to push the boat around the rapids and river rocks.  This journey took around two hours to gently wind through the rapids of the river.  The water was very clear and aqua blue.  We were lucky to complete this journey in the afternoon as it would have been quite hot to spend two hours in the midday sun.  Towards the end of the boat ride some local merchants came along side in their BBQ boat and cooked fresh seafood snacks.  This was quite unexpected for us and really highlighted the variety of food  experiences available in Japan.

After the boat ride we were able to enjoy a walk through the famous bamboo forest and preserved town area.  A true Japanese gem.

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Day 8 – From geishas to philosophers

The promise of a glimpse into the old way of life and a chance meeting with a geisha draws people to Gion.

We set off on foot to the old quarter of Kyoto – Gion.  After a coffee and a pastry from a wonderful Japanese bakery we arrived at Chionin temple just in time to see a fantastic procession of archers at a ceremony to mark the end of hunting season.  Their costumes were very grand and colourful with huge wooden clogs for shoes and of course they carried a range of bows and arrows.

The adjoining gardens were very tranquil however cherry blossom time would see a transformation to a pink wonderland.

Our footsteps followed in a historical pathway through the rambling streets of Gion.  A maze of clean quiet streets, historical timber tea houses with secret gardens.  We ventured in to a quaint tea house and enjoyed a refreshing tea and a slice of cheesecake served by a geisha.  This was very expensive but provided a special experience.

We continued on foot to the hilltop Klyomizudera temple.  The streets on route were filled with Japanese gifts and the shops were interesting to browse through.  At the temple the views across Kyoto were stunning.

There were very beautiful temple buildings but the main temple was covered in scaffolding for renovation.  There were plenty of photo opportunities and lots of Japanese tourists dressed in Kimona enjoying the sights.

Utilizing the local bus allowed us more time to visit the wonderful sights of this fascinating city.  Next temple a garden visited was Ginkakuji , home of the Silver Pagoda ans stunning Japanese gardens.

The philosophers’ path allowed us a peaceful stroll along a stream, studded with cherry trees.  This was a tranquil place during autumn but it would be a magnificent sight during Cherry Blossom season.

As we wandered along the path we visited the beautiful wooden Eikando Zenrin-Ji Temple. This temple is worth a visit as the buildings are extensive and built into a forested hill side. The hillside pagoda required a decent climb but once there the view of Kyoto was our reward.

Once we found the local bus stop we travelled all the way to Kyoto station.  The shopping mall under the station provided a range of restaurants for us to dine at for dinner and some grocery stores for some food purchases.

it was a short distance back to the hotel but our day of walking meant that we trudged home.  An exciting but tiring day – Kyoto is very special.