BWG! Japan day 4


Waiting for train to Yoshino

Chris and I woke up in Nara and took a 9am train for Yoshino. At the base of Yoshino, we waited in line for the "ropeway" (gondola) up to the lower level of the mountain. You can walk up, but it was gravelly and we had all our luggage so we waited in the loooong line. In front of us was a lovely Japanese older couple from Kyoto. While they didn't speak English and we didn't speak Japanese, the husband had worked in Paris and so we conversed a bit in French.

We finally got on the ropeway and went up to the lower level. Yoshinoyama is divided into four levels. There is a steep winding path that goes up the mountain lined all sorts of food stalls, souvenir shops, restaurants, tea houses and ryokan hotels. Luckily the ryokan we booked was only an 8 minute walk from the gondola. And the people, so many people! What a bustling mountain road!

Yoshinoyama's bustling mountain road

We checked into the ryokan which turned out to be super fancy and our first time staying in a traditional Japanese hotel so we were really nervous. No shoes allowed ever! You immediately take off your shoes and put on indoor slippers. They have separate slippers for the washrooms. You take off indoor slippers before stepping on straw mats. We were too early for checkin so we just dropped off our bags and headed to the nearby Zaodo Hall where we had read there was a ceremony today:

Zaoudou Hanaku Senbontsuki
A traditional event since Heian era.
Mochi rice, donated from all over Japan, are pounded with many pestles. Hense it is called Thousand Pestle Pouding. The product, rice cakes are distributed to visitors afters after being placed in front of Zaou Gongen at Zaoudou.
A unique lighting ceremony by femal dicipliants also available.

We made it just in time.

Me, with the MC

Up on stage, the monks began singing and people would go up and take big sticks and grind rice in big buckets.

We could only see Japanese people around, but Chris decided to go and see if they would let him participate too. A head taller than everyone and wearing a bright yellow shirt, he went up on stage to partake in the rice pounding.

In the end it turned into a fine powder and ladies at the side of the stage used it to make these delicious mochi rice cake things.

Ladies making the delicious mochi rice cakes

We read that the monks used to throw them out to the crowd, but now they just hand it out on plates. We lined up and man were they nice and warm and delish! We almost lined up for seconds. Ok, we actually lined up for seconds but they ran out before we got some.

Chris is enjoying the fruits of his labour, after pounding rice on stage!

Afterwards there was another ceremony put on by the women which involved a bow and arrow and lighting a big pile of ferns on fire and then pouring water on the pile so it smoked and smoked and smoked! They played on these conch shell things. Music to Chris's ears!


Women's smoke ceremony

We headed farther up the mountain and picked up some cherry blossom rice snacks and sushi to go. The sushi was individually wrapped in little leaves and came in a small wooden box. So nicely presented!

We headed back to check into the ryokan. Our room was really spacious (compared to the other tiny hotel rooms we previously had). It overlooked the side of the mountain. We were welcomed with hot tea and a treat at our little table in the middle of the room.

Chris in front of our Yoshino ryokan

We wanted to head to the top part of the mountain where the best cherry blossoms would be. The season started early so the lower levels were already past their peak. But it's quite a hike, taking about 1.5 hours so we decided to just see how far we could get before dinner.

We took in some nice views as the sun was setting before heading back down to the ryokan for dinner

When we arrived, the first dishes were already set up on the table in our room. Lots of beautiful little dishes with a bite of food on it. We were unsure of what anything was or how to start. There was also a japanese hot pot bucket which the hostess lit as we sat down. Then she just kept bringing out more and more dishes. It was crazy and each dish was so pretty! The kaiseki feast finally ended with some rice and miso and an amazing desert of mochi with ice cream inside and strawberries. One of the nicest meals I have ever had. Wow!

The start of our Kaiseki Feast. By the end, the table was overflowing with all of the different dishes!

Delicious bubbling pot with chicken and veggies cooking inside!

Bunch of clear unknown raw things on ice + more!

A whole fish...yay?

Mmm.. the dessert was so good!

After dinner they cleared our dinner plates and set up the futonlike beds on the floor where the table was. This answered my question to Chris from earlier when we first arrived in the room: " where do we sleep?"

We went down to the bath area for a nice soak after googling what the procedure was!

I think we had the best sleep yet on the floor of the ryokan room, after a big day of lots of walking and hiking and the futon pads were much softer than typical hotel beds.


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