GOODNIGHT TOKYO! Japan day 20

Friday, April 26. 2013
Kyoto to Tokyo

It was another nice day and we headed to the platform temple in the morning, Kiyomizu. It is the Friday before Golden Week and there are school kids everywhere!

Kiyomizu


It's early and we're tired


Can you tell?




Main Hall of Kiyomizu-dera temple






We head down some steps and while I'm snapping photos, Chris, Brendan and Rob are approached by some school girls to sign their books. As they finish up, some more school girls come by, and some more... They ask their teacher to take a group picture so I take one too. Aftwards, some school boys come up and ask for more signing! Hilarious.






In the background, you can see the Otowa Waterfall which this temple ("Pure Water Temple") is actually named after, but are the kids interested in it? No, they want English speakers to sign their books!




We do some more exploring and the guys jump every time we see some school girls. "Oh no! Doe they have books?!"


Feeling tall


Skip in a candy shoppe!


We head back to the hotel to checkout and take the train back to Tokyo.


Speedy shinkansen back to Tokyo


Train snacks


After checking into our hotels, we meet up with DaveC and Charlotte at Shibuya station in the evening.


At the station, we checked out these next generation vending machines which are supposed to detect your gender, outside temperature and your mood and then make suggestions on what items you need from the vending machine!


Shibuya scramble!

We wander around Shibuya a bit and then head to a restaurant called "Alcatraz + ER" for dinner. It is pretty much what it sounds like! It is a theme restaurant and the theme is horror hospital/jail. So we are escorted to our "cells" where we will have dinner. We're in a big cell with lots of tables because we're a big group, but they have lots of small cells for small groups that look cramped and cool.


Alcatraz + ER Entrance


Our lovely table

As we're looking around and checking out the gross menus, all the lights go off and a strobe light comes on and a scary voice starts speaking. Unfortunately, the scary voice was speaking in Japanese, so it wasn't very scary for those of us who didn't know what it was saying!!! At the end, a masked man in black snuck into the back of our "cell" and would jump at you and try to scare you. At one point he almost dragged DaveC across the cell and out into the hall! Eeeeep! Finally the lights came back on and we proceeded to order food and drinks, also themed Alcaltraz + ER!


Themed food and drinks

After dinner we wandered around Shibuya again. It was so busy because it was Friday night (and also now Golden Week) we could not find a reasonable place to go. Lots of places were packed and there were even neat little nooks outside restaurants where business men were eating and drinking off of palettes stacked on top of each other. It was a very interesting and neat area!


People eating outside restaurants on stacked palettes, Tokyo

Dace would try to negotiate with the various well dressed men with host haircuts to see what kind of deal we could get. One karaoke place was going to give us a deal, but only from 11pm - 5am!


Last night in Tokyo! In Shibuya with the gang.

Finally, we found a suitable place with good prices and room, so we followed the host-man to an elevator a few blocks away. We took the elevator up a few floors and exited into what looked like a subway station. Not the kind of place where you'd expect a restaurant!


This is where the host man takes us!


We wait outside while they get our table ready

We went in and it was a cramped little space with all these nooks and crannies and in each nook and cranny was a small table and a group eating and drinking! What an efficient use of space! Our "room" was only just big enough to fit the table and for us to sit around it and lean against the back walls! It was VERY cozy. The service ended up being alright and we had some lovely ice cream and fruity drinks. We had a great time hanging out in our little nook! Dace and Charlotte had to leave to catch the last train home so we headed out.


Our nook


It's a bit cramped

It was our last night in Japan, so the remaining 5 of us went to an Irish pub that was previously too busy. They remembered us from earlier and they had a table now so we sat down and had some snacks and drinks.


Irish pub in Shibuya

We wandered around to check out some other places. We went to one place and they were playing Toy Story on the tv!! Afterwards we went to an expensive dance club called Womb where we got our boogie on! The DJ's were decent!


decent DJ


Womb

We tried to get our money's worth, but by the time we got back to the hotel, the sun was coming up! A fun last night in Japan.


Goodnight Tokyo.

Torii gates! Japan day 19

Thursday, April 25. 2013
Kyoto

Had breakfast at the hotel again. I made myself a delicious breakfast croissantwich at the buffet. Had received a msg from Dave early in the morning informing that himself and Rob were up late and would likely not be joining us that day. Too bad because it was a beautiful hot sunny day. Brendan, Chris and I took the train south to the Fushimi Inari shrine area. It was bustling with tourists and school kids.

Made it!

We wandered around the various old buildings until we reached the start of the torii gates. SO cool. They go on forever. We followed the 2km path all the way to the top. It was a really neat place.


Fushimi Inari


There are a few torii gates here...


Mail delivery!


Turtles!

At the top, Chris got his favourite Calpis drink from a vending machine (I think he just really likes saying it). I waited till we descended to one of the main lower levels where Brendan and I had delicious ice cream. Mmmm!


Made it to the top!




Vending machine at the top, woot!


Takin' a breather at the top


Heading back down


Getting a rock for Jenn's mum


Got the rock!




Goodbye, Fushimi Inari!

We headed back towards the north side of town to the temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kinkakuji. This was a much less intensive excursion, but the golden temple was very splendid.




Kinkakuji




We checked out some souvenir shops and then headed back to the hotel to meet up with Rob and Dave.

We asked the concierge for recommendations on a good Kobe beef restaurant and they made reservations for us at Itoh.

After some wandering, we found the Itoh restaurant and were brought to a spacious private dining room (with proper chairs!). We all ordered the Kobe Beef set menu which came with lots of small appetizer dishes. They were all really yummy and well presented. And then came the beef, which was really delicious!

Rained out! Japan day 18

Wednesday, April 24. 2013
Kyoto

We were glad we went out into town the night before because it was raining steadily the next day. :-(

Rob tries natto! (Rob also insists on eating
everything with chopsticks. Even omelettes.)

After breakfast at the hotel, we got 2 day transit passes and headed to Nijo Castle. It was a beautiful place with so many grand rooms, each one with paintings on the walls and doors. It was pretty rainy and wet though so we decided not to continue on our temple tour and head into town for some food.


Nijo Castle


Cool trees!


No scribbling!


Hiding from the rain

We ended up around Gion in an old looking district and found a Japanese place. Lots of the guys had beef. DaveB got tofu which came in a cute wooden hot pot tofu box with a little spot for steam and a holder for the sauce. Kawaii! I ordered a bento with various Kyoto style dishes. It was also elaborate and tasty. What a treat!

It was still raining after lunch so we wandered around town. We tried to go to Pooh's Cafe again, but it was closed! So we grabbed coffee at another shop. Rob had seen a poster for a Henri Cartier-Bresson photography exhibit at the contemporary art museum down the road so we went to check that out, glad to be indoors. It was really good!


We don't envy this guy

We were pretty tired and it was still raining so we went back to the hotel for a nap.

We headed into town for dinner and went to a place in Gion again. This one was upstairs and we had to sit on the floor. They had some contemporary Japanese dishes and we tried loads of stuff. Very yummy! Pretty much all the food we have had in Japan has been super tasty!


Lots of neat restaurants in Pontocho area, Kyoto

We tried to grab some drinks after, but couldn't find anywhere to go. We ended up at a Zaza pub which seemed to be full of tourists. Rob made some friends with some aussies, but they had just arrived as well and didn't have suggestions of places to check out. After some late night pizza, Brendan, Chris and I headed to back to the hotel for sleeps.

Super Potato! Japan day 17

Tuesday, April 23. 2013
Osaka to Kyoto

Got up in the morning and took the bus to Osaka Castle. On the way, we passed some really neat looking buildings.

Once we rounded the corner and the guys saw the castle, you could see the wonder in their eyes at the massive wall and they ran up to the edge of the moat and started snapping photos.

Castle Wonder


Moat

The castle grounds turned out to be huge and there was an inner wall and moat as well. The castle was quite big and redone to look like a museum inside. It was pretty updated with hologramy videos and elevators. I think the Matsumoto castle felt a bit more authentic, but Osaka castle was big and very cool. It did a good job of telling the story of the major lord who took over the castle. There was depiction of one of the battles where you could actually make out the faces of a dozen of the major ranking officers. The view from the top of the castle was spectacular.


Inside the castle walls there were snack stations like this VW

On the way out, Chris sees all these old guys with expensive cameras and has to follow them. We follow them to the very edge of a park and it turns out they are birdwatchers!


Oh wells, Chris took a picture of them anyway.


Then we took a picture of him taking a picture of them


The park had some cute trees!

We grabbed some lunch at a yummy ramen place near the subway.

Chris had really been wanting to go to Den Den town in Osaka to a retro gaming shop called Super Potato, so we decided to all go. The shop was amazing! It was 2 floors and the upper floor had every game console as well as walls of games for old consoles. Chris was beside himself with excitement.


Wall of retro consoles


Walls and walls of old games

There was another shop across the street which was smaller and cheaper and Chris bought a Famicom system with the disk drive add-on and some games! He was quite excite. Brendan got a sweet Mario chess set.


Chris looking pleased with his loot!

Then we headed to Kyoto and took the subway to our hotel. By the time we arrived, it was pretty late. After freshening up, we met in the hotel bar Moonlight where there was some ok live jazz. We were pretty tired, but Rob had just got to Japan and it was nice out so we headed into town to the Gion district to find some eats (without DaveB). It was pretty late for a Tuesday night so it wasn't easy to find restaurants with people in them, which is our restaurant rule while traveling. We passed many a questionable alley.

We finally found a tiny restaurant with a couple people in it that served a Japanese hot pot soupy type dish. The guy who served us was quite a character and his English was pretty good. We ordered their main/only meal which was a bunch of miscellaneous meats and vegetables in soup which cooked in a hot pot on our table. We also got some pork bits appetizers and meat on sticks. When the soup was done, it was delish! I don't know what was in it though and I don't think I want to! Rob even ordered a side of pig stomach to be even more adventurous. The guy at the restaurant told us it was "Japanese soul food" and kept asking Rob, "Can you eat?"' hahaha! Then he even brought us some surprise dessert! I love surprise dessert.


"Japanese soul food"

Love Level MAX! Japan day 16

Monday, April 22. 2013
Tokyo to Osaka

We had an early morning checkout and then Brendan, DaveB, Chris and I took a 3h train to Osaka. We tried to turn the seats around to face each other, but we were too big!

We checked into the hotel in Osaka and grabbed some lunch in the hotel lobby restaurant. Instead of lunch, I had a dessert plate. Maybe two. So yummy!

We headed to Osaka station. It was the future! Checked out sky garden observatory. Very cool and offered great views of Osaka.


The future, Osaka


Sky garden observatory building


It's tall!


Taking the escalators up


Escalators!


Feel the love!


At the top!


Cool reflection shot on the other side of the building

Time for a group timer sequence!





We were close to sunset so we stayed and grabbed a coffee.


Sunset




At night they turn on black lights and the path sparkles!


Love meter


Love Level 1


WUT! Love Level MAX!




Purdy!

After night viewing, we went to basement floor where it resembles old Edo period town. There were lots of restaurants.


We headed to the minami area near Namba and stumbled across Dotonbori. So many lights!








Famous Glico running man in Dotonbori

Grabbed okonomiaki at a local place. Met up with Rob. Wandered to Amerikakura, but most stuff was closed.

Haircuts! Japan day 15

Sunday, April 21. 2013
Tokyo

In the morning we met bren and Gordo at shunjuku station, our usual spot! Went for some breakfast and Starbucks, where we met up with DaveC. Then, we flipped some tables! DaveC, Chris and I had a competition on who could flip a table and send items flying the farthest. Chris won! We also played some Mario Kart and the game where you try to pick up prizes with the claws, but you never get anything, even when you try over and over and over again.....

DaveC getting ready to flip some tables!


Guys playing Mario Kart


They all played toad, but Chris won!

After table flipping, we trained to Harajuku. We walked around a park there. We saw a atemple and 2 weddings!


In the park in Harajuku


Bride #1's hat


Bride#2's hat

We waked down the harajuku streets and people/store watched! So many things! We saw some delicious crepes and ate them! And then delicious hamburgers :-)


Streets of Harajuku


Harajuku


Can I has this outfit??


Crepes!


Chris, Gordo and I got haircuts in Harajuku.


Chris and I with the ladies who did our hair!


Chris, Gordo and skip with new haircuts


We went to meet up with Bren and Dace in Shibuya. Also a very cool area with tons of people! We met them at Book Off and bought some video games. Then we met DaveB and went for dinner at yet another delicious Japanese restaurant. This place had lots of tapas so we ordered some of everything and tried this and that.

We headed back for an earlyish Sunday night.

We <3 AKB48! Japan day 14

Saturday, April 20. 2013
Tokyo

We woke up and then headed to Shinkjuku to change hotels. We met up with the guys at the new hotel and grabbed a train to Akihabara. We went to tendon for some delicious tempura.

We walked around Akihabara and take in all the big electronic stores. We also went through a big Don Quijote building to see the home of pop sensation AKB48 and a "maid bar".


Akihabara


Yodobashi

We spent an hour in the biggest electronic store there, Yodobashi, and bought some toys!

Then we headed to Yurakucho for dinner. Wow, what a neat place. Lots of little restaurant nooks underneath the train tracks. We went to one that was a bit bigger because of the size of our group and offered us drinks for 2 hrs for 1000¥ each. We got lots of small tapas and had a grand time once again.




Yurakucho


Yummy Dinner in Yurakucho

ROBOTS! Japan day 13

Friday, April 19. 2013
Tokyo

We got up and headed back to Shinjuku to meet up with Gordo and have breakfast at a nearby place. 389¥ (~$4) for sausage, egg, rice, soup, salad and side! Yata! I accidentally got shaved radish as my side though and it looked like snot soup :-(

Over breakfast we had made a checklist for the day, so afterwards, we set off to check off our list:

1) Take in view from observation deck of Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.
2) Find Don Quijote store (miscellaneous store that sells everything) and buy a surprise present for Daveb (gordo)
3) Find table flipping game.

We had a late start so we were pretty impressed with ourselves for checking off the whole list! We even had time to play some arcade games and have lunch.




1) Outside Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building



2) Present for DaveB



3) Table Flipping!



BONUS #1: Arcade

BONUS #2: We also went to Nakano Broadway, an anime mall with lots of very specific things. I got a couple games at a toy store. We went to a tiny bakery there and ate delicious fresh baked goods. Yessssssss.


Some weird stuff we saw at Nakano Broadway

BONUS#3: We even went back to our hotels for a nap before meeting up with the rest of the gang for the robot restaurant dinner DaveC and Charlotte made reservations for. DaveB and Brendan were flying into Tokyo that day and meeting us for dinner.

We somehow managed to all meet up (7 of us!) outside Shinjuku station, which was pretty busy on a Friday night!! Then we headed down a few blocks to the Robot Restaurant.




Outside robot restaurant, wut!


Buying dinner tickets from vending machines

Wow, even the waiting room is shiny and blinky and amazing and rediculous in its shiny-ness. We had tickets for the 2nd show of the night so we hung out for a bit in the waiting room until our show which is downstairs.


Fancy, very very shiny waiting room

As we head down many flights of stairs to the main room, every flight of stairs is another spectacle.


Our group in the back


Screens in front, behind and on the ceiling!

In the main room, we all get seats together in the back row. The show starts off with themed dancing. The walls and ceilings contain giant screens which show videos that match the theme of the act. Nothing too exciting. But then. each act of the show gets progressively crazier, and eventually the are pterodactyls, pandas on giant cows and loads of robots. Evil robots, dancing robots, human-looking female robots, DJ robots and then out of nowhere a tank and a plane!!! We are speechless as it ends. You can go up and take pictures with the robots at the end as well.




What a show. Like nothing we've ever seen.

The show was great, but the dinner that came with it wasn't very good. So we head out down the street to the nearby golden gai area and find a small karaoke bar. We figure we'll stop in for a drink or two. We end spending most of the evening in here singing and dancing and meeting lots of new people who are intrigued by this large group of foreigners. People are so nice and friendly! One very nice man insisted on buying some of the group rounds of beer and then he even went out to buy us bags and bags of fried chicken! It was crazy. Tokyo is neato.

We ended the night at McDonalds with shaka shaka fries!

Na na na na Tokyo! Japan day 12

Thursday, April 18. 2013
Tokyo

We had a lazy morning in our huge hotel room and I skyped a bunch with my family.

We bought too many "mumbo jumbos". I meant to bring one box to Tokyo for our friends and one to Victoria. This is the moment where I realized they will expire before we go home and Chris can't eat them, so now I will have to eat them all myself...

Then we took the metro to the Shinjuku area not too far away. I think Shinjuku Station is the busiest train station in Tokyo, which is saying something! The area is bustling, to say the least. We grabbed some breakfast and then walked to a big park - shinjuku goyen. Before we went in, we heard from Gordo who had just arrived in Tokyo!

We walked back and met him outside the train station. We went for lunch and Gordo had really spicy ramen and I had an enormous melon soda float! We bought the items from a vending machine at the front of the store which prints out a ticket. You give the tickets to the waitress and then later she brings out your food! So convenient. The vending machine has mini pictures of the food too so you can see what you're ordering even if you can't read the Japanese.

Then we took the train to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. Firstly, the building and grounds themselves are a museum of their own with lots of nooks and mini doors and hidden cuteness, all dedicated to things made by Studio Ghibli. We got to watch a short film in the theatre and wander around and look at the various exhibits. The children's play area had a huge plush nekobus (catbus!) which the kids were crowded into and on top of. Very cute. We weren't allowed to take pictures inside, but we took some outside.








Ghibli Museum!

We took the train to nakameguro to meet Dace and Charlotte for dinner. They took us to a most delicious sushi restaurant. It was incredible. And the eel, my favourite, was so yummy!! Unagi!! There were probably only a handful of tables at this small restaurant. You wrote your order down in Japanese on a piece of paper and then handed it to the waitress. Then she would bring out a delicious plate of sushi. It was our first time sitting at tables where you sit on a straw mat on the floor. It was pretty uncomfortable and my feet kept falling asleep! I think we got better at this as we had more practice over the course of our trip.


Delicious delicious sushi

We headed back for an early night as Dace had to work in the morning. One of the best sushi we've ever had!

Edelweiss ? Japan day 11

Wednesday, April 17. 2013
Lake Kawaguchi to Tokyo

Woke up bright and early and went down for breakfast for 7:30. We opted for the Japanese style breakfast and it was lovely. Lots of little dishes once again with our own small pot of rice. We had s lovely table at the end of the row overlooking Mt. Fuji. Very peaceful.

After breakfast, we headed out to see a mini theme park called Music Forest near the hotel. We arrived and what a magical place! The first hall we entered had a huge music machine in a large dance hall with little figurines that moved along to the music.


Magical Music Forest mini theme park


All the paths were lined with music boxes you could play. We found a little music box workshop where we painted our own box and chose a song. Chris immediately saw Edelweiss and said, "I love this song! Let's pick this one." So we started painting. As I painted "Japan 2013" on the box though, Chris thought maybe we should pick out a Japanese song, haha. So we frantically went through the Japanese songs and they were all lovely, but by the time we picked one out, the lady had already glued in Edelweiss! Oh wells! We quickly dashed out and caught the bus just in time!


Chris hard at work on our music box

We checked out of the hotel and took the train to see the Chureito Pagoda. We walked by some side streets and saw a bunch of older couples having lunch together outside in their backyard. They all looked up as we walked by and waved at us - ohayo gozaimasu! So friendly and we were jealous of their lovely lunch party. We made it to the base of the hill and made climb to the pagoda ~ 400 steps!

Lots of stairs....




At the top, the view of the pagoda with mt fuji in the back was very nice. There weren't many people up there at all, but we ran into two guys who offered to take our picture, Peter and Ty, who turned out to be from Toronto!


Made it! Chureito Pagoda


Not a bad view




Then we took the train to tokyo!!

We checked into a really nice hotel we booked on Travelzoo (thanks Heidi!) which had a bathroom bigger than our hotel room in Nara!

It was getting late so we took the metro to Ikebukuro - the nearest big station. Ikebukuro has tons of large shopping complexes, and it is a really busy station. After getting a bit confused and turned around, we went to Sunshine City and had dinner. We were feeling like Japan pro's after our 10 days travelling here, but now that we are in Tokyo, things are completely different! It is SO busy and crazy.

In the bottom of Sunshine City, we found a restaurant with people still eating and it turned out to be a make your own okonomiaki place! We hadn't had okonomiaki yet so we went for it. Okonomiaki is like a big pancake, but filled and topped with delicious meat and veggie things! Our server could probably tell we were new at this, so she helped us make our first okonomiaki and at the end, she brought out some surprise free desserts for us!

We wandered around the mall for a bit, but Namco Namja Town (a cool indoor theme park we wanted to go to) was closed for renos until July. Boo! We will just have to come back!

Takin' a breather. Japan day 10

Tuesday, April 16. 2013
Matsumoto to Fuji five lakes

We are staying in our cheapest hotel stay of of the trip in Matsumoto. It's pretty nice though and very close to the station. We think it might be one of those businessman hotels Gordo told us about. It has automated teller payment and a laundry room, woot! So this morning we decide we should probably do some laundry! We are at about the halfway point in our trip!

After our two loads of laundry, we caught the train to Lake Kawaguchi where we are spending a night in a fancy ryokan. It will be nice to relax for a bit after all our sightseeing! I, for one, and looking forward to the food!

...

We arrived at Lake Kawaguchi in the afternoon and cabbed to the ryokan. It is right on the north shore of the lake. It is much fancier than the ryokan at Yoshino, but less traditional I think. The building is well insulated and you can wear shoes inside! You also have the choice of two types of garb, the traditional yukata robe or monk working attire (pants plus tunic which is more more comfortable). We were greeted in the lobby waiting area with tea and treats and given an overview of the ryokan. After tea, we were shown to our room.

Wow, i think the "room" is bigger than one of the floors of our apartment. There are 4 areas plus a hallway: entry - where you take off your shoes, sitting - for getting dressed and ready, main room - bigger table for having tea, tv and turns into bedroom at night, and the outer room with big glass windows overlooking the lake with views of Mt, Fuji. This is fancypants.

Our ryokan room




We went to explore the lounge area where they have beverages and comfy chairs to sit and enjoy the view through the glass wall overlooking the lake. We had a nice sit and some coffee. Later we went to sit in the public baths. They have 2 floors for ladies and 2 for men. So nice to just have a day of relaxing and pampering. Feeling quite spoilt here!!

In the evening, we headed down to the restaurant for a kaiseki feast. We didn't take down our cameras so no pics, but each dish was sooooo pretty. There was also so much food! How do Japanese people eat so much?! We ordered some plum wine with dinner and I ate mostly everything until the very last dish where I couldn't finish all the rice. SO FULL. I even ate both mini raw squids which looked like something I dissected in 8th grade Science class.


Dinner Feast!


We went back to our rooms to relax for a bit and digest our crazy feast. Our beds had been laid out in the main room while we were having dinner.

We headed down to the lounge for tea time (8:00 - 10:00pm) before going to the spa for a massage and I got my nails did.

<3 Japan!

A castle! Japan day 9

Monday, April 15. 2013
Takayama to Matsumoto

The second day of the festival was very similar to the first so we checked out some more of old town Takayama. We did part of the Higashiyama walking course and visited the markets again. We randomly saw a middle aged man in full lederhosen garb including amazing feather hat. Chris was so jelly. That was pretty random though.

The floats have homes where they lives the rest of the year. They only come out twice a year, during the spring and autumn festivals.

The floats were still in the streets and we stopped to take pictures with the cute kiddies.




Kawaii!!!


On the way back, I picked up a jar of sakuna kabocha pudding. It comes in these adorable glass jars and you pour a sweet syrup on top before eating. Since i was taking mine to go, they gave me a tiny plastic spoon and tiny bottle of the syrup. They think of everything here!


My delicious pudding


Cute Shiba


Lots of Engrish around

We had some time before our bus ride so we looked for a place that was open for lunch. It was just after 11 and most places open at 11:30 or 12:00. Just before we were about to give up and just head to the bus terminal, we saw a man duck into a door, so we followed him. It turned out to be a cute mom and pop shop that let us in early before they opened. Chris and I split a delicious sukiyaki beef meal. It was sooooo good! While we were eating, the parade procession came by right outside the restaurant. When it got to the dragon (or lion?) part, they actually opened the door of the restaurant and did a dance for us. Amazing!

We took an express bus through the mountains to Matsumoto. We met a guy on the bus from the Netherlands and chatted a bunch. This was his 7th trip to Japan! He said that every time he visits, he explores a different part.

We arrived on Matsumoto in the afternoon and after checking in, headed straight for the castle of course.

The cherry blossoms in Matsumoto were at nearly full bloom and the castle looked magnificent. Chris squealed like an excited schoolgirl, as per usual. We toured inside the really sweet original 400 year old Japanese castle.


Matsumoto Castle




View from inside the castle


Waving from my castle window. nbd.


Cute bookstore wedged between two tall buildings

Then we caught a bus to a Koboyama Park, just 15 mins out of the city center. When we arrived, it was nearly dusk so we scrambled up the steep slopes to the top of Koboyama. The slopes were filled with 2,000 cherry blossom trees. It was surreal and amazing and so windy. It seemed like it was snowing cherry blossoms! Because it is spring, they also hang lanterns along the pathway through the park and it was really really gorgeous. As it was becoming dark, we took the path down from the park that was lit up with lanterns. Sugoi!


Koboyama Park


Koboyama Park


Matsumoto Castle at night

After catching the last bus back into town (phewf!), we went to a gaijin pub called Old Rock and had some hearty fish and chips, sausage and potatoes and Guinness. Behind the pub and upstairs was an amazing old bar called Coat.

Takayama Matsuri! Japan day 8

Sunday, April 14. 2013
Takayama Matsuri

We had book 2 nights in Takayama to experience the spring festival here, which is one of the major festivals in Japan. The mountain town gets packed with people, locals and tourists alike. It is one of the only times of the year the 12 shrines leaves their little houses and get paraded around the old town part of Takayama.

We made it to Takayama!

There were tons of people everywhere! Old town Takayama was very beautiful. The festival floats were carried down the streets from their homes in the morning.






Floats with cute kiddies

We also checked out some morning markets in the town, where I had the most delicious custard filled pancake pocket for 100¥. Yesssss. Love markets. There were also lots of carnival games type stands, cotton candy and craft fair type stands.


FOOD STANDS!


mm..fried fish


100¥ pancake goodness

We then headed to the main festival square for the Karakuri marionette show. Four of the main shrines were "parked" in the main square and 3 of them had little marionette dolls on the top that were controlled by 5-6 people inside the shrine, hidden by wood curtains. The show was fantastic and there was always a surprise at the end, like when the drunk old man puppet the little boy puppet stuffed into a jar actually turned out to be a demon and transformed into a dragon. Totes didn't see that coming.


Karakuri


puppet man who just opened his fan and put on a mask!


Old man trapped in a jar who just turned into a dragon


Chris spots the other white guy in the crowd


It was fun to be in Takayama amongst all the festival bustle and the town itself is very pretty and quaint. We also watched the parade, twice.












Got a good spot for the parade!


My fave guy in the parade

And in the evening, they attach lanterns to the shrines and carry the, throughout the town again. There are lots of little tykes who sit on the top level of the shrines playing flutes and banging drums and really little ones who wave at you. Kawaii!


Boy playing the drum on top of the float


Floats lit up with lanterns


Girls playing flute and boy playing drum
Nice shot Chris!




Takayama is so pretty!

Chris also saw a ridiculous amount of shibas and he had to go and pat each one :-). Kawaii!!


Oh and we ended up going to a French restaurant for a delicious dinner. The region, Hida, is known for its beef, so we had to try it. It was amazing.

Chris: the most tender steak I have had ever in my life. The flazors! The flazors!


Hida beef dinner

EAT THE MUMBOJUMBO! Japan day 7

Saturday, April 13. 2013
Hiroshima to Takayama

Miyajima

We got up early and spent the morning at Miyajima, a small island near Hiroshima. What a beautiful place! If we had time, I wish we could have spent a night on the island. Lovely little shops and food stands and lots of temples and home to the famous floating tori gate. It was a beautiful day. So far the weather has been amazing for us in Japan. We have been very fortunate, especially since we've only been spending one day in each place.


"floating" torii gate at Itsukushima Shinto Shrine


Lots of deer on Miyajima also

If we had more time we also would have gone to the top of Mt, Misen there which has hiking trails, spectacular views and monkeys! We wandered around the incredibly cute streets of Miyajima. We stumbled across a sweet shop making Momiji manju cakes. I had read that Miyajima is the best place to get these treats. They are little cakes shaped like maple leaves with bean filling inside. Miyajima is also known for its beautiful Japanese maples so you see a lots of maple symbols around the town. They are made in a cool momiji manju making machine! This might even top the mini donut machine!!!


We grabbed a couple to munch. They were freshly made and still super hot!


Chris hanging out with one of the many many statues on Miyajima


Funny sign we saw


Miyajima Maples!

We headed back to Hiroshima and spent the last couple hours at the Peace Memorial Museum and park.


A-Bomb Dome

The museum area and park take up a huge area in the middle of town. Lots of people strolling along and having picnics in the park and so so many tourists. The museum was packed. What a sad and horrifying event. The before/after models of the city are so shocking. The initial blast totaled all buildings within a 2km radius almost instantly.


Picture inside the museum of the area after the blast


Peace Park with A-Bomb Dome in the background


Lots of people having picnics in the park

Then it was time to head back to the train station. We walked through the city center to take in all the stores and blinky lights and videos and loudspeaker announcements. I only wish we had time to stop and try Hiroshima style okonomiaki! Oh well, we will have to have some traditional style okonomiaki in Osaka.

We headed to Takayama, which is pretty far away. Probably our longest train journey yet. On our last leg, there was an older man behind us who was coughing or choking a lot, so Chris gave him a halls. Later on, he insisted we turn our seats around to face each other and drink whiskey with him! It was very funny and awkward, we Chris and I were trying to use Heidi's phrasebook and google translate to converse with him. It took us almost half an hour to figure out he wanted to know where we were staying in Takayama and that we could share a taxi, haha. I really wish we could speak Japanese!

We finally arrived in Takayama after 10pm and walked 3 mins to our hotel. The hotel staff informed us that the hotel was overbooked, and would we mind moving to a different hotel the next night because of the Takayama Matsuri (spring festival) in town. We normally would have, but this was our first 2 night stay since Kyoto and we were really looking forward to not having to pack up after one day. We had also paid a fortune just to get a hotel room in the city during the festival, so we didn't move. Eeep!

Here be giants! Japan day 6

Friday, April 12. 2013
Koyasan to Hiroshima

Another early morning start watching the monks pray at 6:30. Then a vegetarian breakfast served in our room.


We headed out to explore. Koyasan is a world heritage site full of temple lodgings and old stuff. It was a really neat place. You could be wandering around and then stumble on a massive temple. Many a time I remarked to Chris, Here be Giants!






Our favourite part was our walk to Okunoin. At this site is Kobo Daishi's mausoleum. Along the ~2km path leading to it you cross 3 bridges and there are over 200,000 monuments and memorials as everyone wanted to be part of the pilgrimage route to okunoin. It was also really quiet when Chris and I went there at 7:30 in the morning! While we were there it even started to snow a little!








Torodo, hall of lights

The cherry blossoms at Koyasan were just beginning to bloom. It would be even more spectacular if we had gone a week later.


Too early for cherry blossoms!


lots of pretty temples


Outside the temple we stayed at, Jimyoin

We could have spent a lot more time on Koyasan, but had to make it to Hiroshima in the evening so we headed off to catch the cablecar back down the mountain. We got caught up in all the sights, we missed the bus to the cable car by minutes. Thankfully a taxi had just dropped some people off at the temple across the road and we took it to the cablecar, bought tickets for the train, caught the cablecar and then the train all with only a few seconds to spare! Phewf.


That was a close one! Glad we caught the train.

We made it to Hiroshima for the evening, walked outside the train station and there was our hotel. After sleeping on the floor for two nights in the mountains in ryokans with no insulation, we arrived to a massive room at the Sheraton with a massive soft bed for a fraction of the price of the ryokans, hah!