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Japan

Day 13: Exploring Kyoto, Nijo Castle and more

Today we explored Kyoto. What we had planned for the day was to go to Nijo Castle in the morning and attend a tea ceremony in the afternoon. We were undecided on whether to take a taxi, bus or the subway to get to our destinations. However, since it was a beautiful day and we wanted to explore the city, we decided to walk to Nijo Castle. It was a great idea, but as we walked through the back streets of Kyoto it caused us to get side tracked from our original plan and we ended up doing so much more than we had planned.

You can read Linaka’s account of the day here: “Day 13, Kimono’s, Tea and the Nightingale Floor“.

A morning trying on kimonos

Linaka trying on Kimonos

As we started our journey to the castle, we walked down back streets and found many shops. Linaka was on a mission to find more accessories for the kimonos she purchased in Tokyo which, incidentally, were originated in Kyoto. One shop in particular displayed kimonos outside and it drew Linaka in like a magnet. It seemed like a very formal place. There were kimonos that ranged from cheap to very expensive. You could even get a custom made kimono there. The lady that attended us spoke very good English and she did most of the translating for us as well.

Linaka wanted to buy accessories; however, the kimono expert suggested that she bring in the kimonos she had purchased in Tokyo. We were quite lucky since there were no appointments that morning and there was no guarantee they would be available in the afternoon. So we returned to our accommodations, picked up Linaka’s kimonos and were back in the shop in no time. The main kimono expert was a teacher who taught visitors and locals how to wear and move in a kimono. She was kind enough to examine and put the kimonos on Linaka that morning. It was fun and amusing watching them look at the kimonos. They talked about them and I watched Linaka try them on. To make a long story short, it was a fun morning trying on kimonos. We both learned a lot.

A short visit to Nijo Castle in Kyoto

Nijo Castle in Kyoto

By the time we had finished at the kimono shop it was already noon. So we went back to our accommodations, dropped off the kimonos and decided to take the Kyoto subway system to get to the Nijo Castle. Surprisingly, it was quite easy to use the subway and quick to get to the castle. I would say it took about 15 minutes. Since we needed to be at a tea ceremony at 3 p.m. We did not have much time to explore Nijo Castle. We purchased our entrance tickets and commenced our tour. I did not realise how big the castle was. There was an outer moat and an inner moat. Essentially, an outer wall with a security section and an inner sanctuary for the  Shogun to stay in whenever he was visiting. I could easily imagine what life was like back then.

Nijo Castle is also famous for it’s Nightingale floor. I wasn’t sure why it was called that until I went in. Linaka told me about a book she was reading which talked about this particular floor. It’s difficult to really explain it and it is something you have to experience. When you walk into the building you have to remove your shoes. As you walk on the old wooden floor, it starts to squeak, making noises to alert people that you are in the building, but the noises it makes sound more like a birds call. There was so many tourist walking about making so much squeaking noises it was hard to distinguish when I made the floor squeak and when it was the person behind me. It was quite an experience and a very large castle to explore. Although, I hear that Himeji Castle is the largest castle in Japan, Nijo castle did seem quite big in area.

Attending a tea ceremony

Tea Ceremony

Time was ticking and after a couple of hours at Nijo Castle, it was time to move on to the tea ceremony. We took the subway to get to Gion, a sub-division of Kyoto and the area where the tea ceremony was scheduled for. Since we were a little early, we did a little exploring of the area. Kyoto lives up to it’s name and reputation. You could walk a short distance and find modern buildings next to ancient traditional ones. Walk a little further and you’ll find temples and shrines.

As we continued to explore around Kyoto, we also found cafes. We hadn’t had lunch and we wanted to get something to eat before attending the tea ceremony but we did not have enough time to wait for any food to get cooked. So, we spent a little time out before getting to the ceremony.

The actual tea ceremony was interesting. A lady in a kimono came out and explained to us how the process would work. She gave us an overall summary of the tea ceremony, followed by the actual performer. The entire experience lasted about 30 to 40 minutes in which a young lady dressed in a kimono went through a traditional ritual of making tea, pouring water and moving bowls and utensils around. It was a nice ceremony to watch. I was; however, falling asleep through part of it. LOL. But luckily it was a summary performance. The tea lady told us that a normal ceremony could last between 3 to 4 hours. How lucky of us that it was a short demonstration.

waffles and icecream

Part of the ceremony required that we make our own tea. After making it we were suppose to drink it. I only drank a little bit because it had a very strong flavour. Linaka seemed to enjoy hers because she drank all of it. Anyway, it was a nice ceremony and afterwards we were free to go out and continue exploring around Kyoto. We returned to one of the cafes we had passed earlier and had some waffles and ice-cream.

The rest of the day in Kyoto

Shopping in Kyoto

For the rest of the day, we continued to explore the Kyoto. We went to a craft store where Linaka purchased some souvenirs and then we did some more exploring where we found a budo centre. It was a large building where you could hear people practising their martial arts. We weren’t sure if we could go in, so we decided to come closers. We could see people practising inside the building and as we got closers we heard the instructor yell out “leave!” LOL. I am sure he did not say that, but we interpreted it as the English word and decided it was best for us to move on. We ended the day with some nice dinner at a traditional Japanese restaurant and headed back to our place. Tomorrow we attend a session to dress up in traditional kimono and then we are supposed to attend a traditional dance where geisha dressed in kimono will be performing for us.

Conclusion

Cherry blossoms river

Overall, Kyoto is a beautiful place to explore. We only touched on a few areas today, but to in order to see more you would have to spend months exploring all over the city of Kyoto. The back streets are a treasure trove of hidden discoveries waiting to be found. Kyoto has many traditional places to visit, temple and shrines and beautiful ancient architecture. If you like tradition, Kyoto is the place to visit.

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Japan

Days 11-12: Our Rainy Day in Kyoto

Bamboo forest of Arashiyama near Kyoto

On this day we spent our morning making sweets in Kyoto and the afternoon we explored Arashiyama. The forecast was morning rain, but this did not hamper our sight seeing. Luckily for us, it did not rain much.

Yesterday we left Miyajima Island and travelled to Kyoto. We spent most of the day commuting via train. By the time we got to Kyoto we were so exhausted that we checked into our accommodations and relaxed for the rest of the day.

You can read Linaka’s account of the day here: “Day 12 Exploring Arashiyama, Kyoto“.

First impressions of Kyoto

What can I say? Kyoto was not what I was expecting. For some reason I had forgotten that Kyoto is a modern city with modern architecture, cars and modern people. I had imagined Kyoto to be more ancient and traditional, with ancient architecture, a much smaller city and people dressed in yukata and kimono. I expected to see old cobble stone roads and maybe rickshaws pulling people around. Perhaps this was a fantasy I dreamed up or just some unrealistic ideal.

But the reality is that Kyoto is a modern city interwoven with ancient culture and architecture. We arrived at a time when the cherry blossoms were just blooming and the local people were being encouraged to wear traditional yukata. Apparently, if you dressed in the traditional yukata or kimono you can get discounts at stores, restaurants and taxis.

Our morning making sweets

sweet making in Kyoto

In the morning we had a guide (Sumie) and translator provided by Inside Japan Tours. She guided us throughout the day and arranged a morning session of making sweets. Both Linaka and I worked hard on making traditional Japanese sweets and I thought there would be some level of cooking involved, but luckily for us, it was as simple as kneading some dough, adding ingredients and putting it together. The sweets were nice and we had an opportunity to see what the finished product should look like. Needless to say, our sweets needed a lot of work.

Interestingly, sweet making seems to be quite popular. Several groups of people arrived as we were completing our session. Some were making more ornate sweets while others were making simple sweets like we made. Overall, it was a great morning experience. We even got to try some kelp tea. Unfortunately, I did not like it at all. Tasted like salted water or sea water, but our guide seemed to enjoy it and commented that it tasted like soup.

Arashiyama a place of beautiful gardens

Togetsu bridge in Arashiyama

After our morning session making sweets, we journeyed by train to visit a more traditional part of Kyoto. Our guide took us to an area called Arashiyama. We got a very good view of the local river and Arashiyama mountain. The visit to the area allowed us to see many cherry blossoms that were in early bloom, but we also got to see Togetsu bridge and some of the local town and houses.

Togetsu Bridge

However, the main reason for visiting Arashiyama was to visit the local gardens. We went to Sogenchi Garden and Ryoanji Temple. There were many temples and shrines all over the place and of course the cherry blossoms were present everywhere. We got to see some traditional architecture, many visitors dressed in traditional yukata and I believe I saw some geisha touring around in a rickshaw. Unfortunately, I am not an expert to be able to distinguish between geisha, maiko or geiko. But they looked very nice.

rockless garden in Arashiyama

Besides visiting some traditional rock gardens, I would have to say the pinnacle of the day’s tour was visiting and walking through the Arashiyama bamboo forest. Walking through the bamboo forest reminded me of those old kung-fu films where you see people floating on the tops of bamboo branches, but most specifically, some parts of the bamboo forest reminded me of scenes from ninja films. Overall, it was a great experience. Our guide told us that it is normally very busy, but because it had rained, not many people were out visiting the sites. So in essence we were lucky today.

Rock Garden

Conclusion

It started off as a rainy day with my expectations being a bit low, but as the day progressed and the weather improved, it was a great guided tour today. I have to say that without our guide we would have had a hard time getting to some of the places we visited today. We even found a local artist while we explored the streets of a neighbourhood. Our guide was kind enough to translate for us. We have a few more days to explore in Kyoto and tomorrow I believe we will be attending a tea ceremony. In the morning we may go visit a castle or maybe a temple. We shall see. Stay tuned for the next article. If you would like to contribute to this article, feel free to add in the comments below.

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Japan

Day 10: Miyajima Island, the land of many shrines

Miyajima ferry

Miyajima Island is an amazing place to visit. When I was a boy, I used to watch a TV show called “Fantasy Island”. It was an island where all your dreams could come true. If there ever is a place on Earth that could be called Fantasy Island, then Miyajima is that place. It is also known as Shrine Island and for good reason. There are many shrines and temples all over the place. All you have to do is walk a short distance before you come upon a shrine or temple. But there is so much more to this island than just the famous shrines and temples.

You can read Linaka’s article of the day here: Day 10, Exploring Miyajima and Cherry Blossoms

 The attractions of Miyajima Island

sika deer on Miyajima Island

To get to Miyajima Island you have to take a ten minute ferry ride from the mainland. Linaka and I were lucky enough to arrive on a bright sunny day. Upon arrival you might notice the many deer that wander about the island. There are signs everywhere which say, do not feed or touch the deer. The deer are considered sacred and some people believe they are messengers of the gods.

A deer entering a shop in Miyajima Island

There are signs that say the deer are wild. From my point of view, the deer appear to be more domestic than anything else. They don’t run away from any one and most of them are willing to come up to strangers and start nibbling on their clothes, bags and anything they can get their teeth on.

While I was taking pictures of the area, a deer came up to me and started nibbling on my shirt. I had to pull my shirt out of it’s mouth. This seems to be a common issue. Just moments after that incident, another group of tourists (a group of teenage boys) got their backpacks nibbled on by a deer. One of them tried to play it cool and just pet the deer. And later that day while Linaka and I were walking back to our accommodation a young girl’s bag was also nibbled on, but this girl was not amused by the deer’s affections.

Local tours, shopping and shrines

The local information desk or any of the hotels will have maps of the island. It is so small you can probably visit most of the sites in a day. Local maps provide suggestions on 3 hour tours, 4 hour tours and 6 hour tours. You can spend your day by the coast on the beach and enjoy the nice weather. I am not sure if people swim in the water, but if it is warm enough I’m sure they do.

Miyajima shopping street

Perhaps one of the main attractions and great sources of income to Miyajima Island is the local market. There is an entire street dedicated to selling many different items from clothes, swords, souvenirs and especially food. The main market street is full of locals, visitors from the mainland and lots of foreigners. I knew there were many foreigners visiting Japan, but in Miyajima’s street market you can see a high concentration of foreign visitors.

Most of the food is sea food with many dishes that involve oysters. Additionally, you will find ice cream (with strange names like “deer poop ice cream”) and delicious warm buns with eel or beef. One of the local specialties are the maple shaped breads with various fillings, but the main dishes of the island revolve around sea food.

Miyajima beach

If nature hikes are what you like, then there are several nature paths you can take. There is even a 2 hour hike that will take you up Mt Misen. Along the path you will find many old and new bridges and various temples and shrines. Best of all, you will see many cherry blossoms if you visit during the spring when the cherry blossoms bloom.

If the 2 hour nature hike is not for you, then you can take a cable car to the top of the mountain. You need to get to the park entrance and then walk through one of the nature paths in order to get to the cable cars. It’s normally a 10 to 20 minute walk, depending on your pace. However, if walking the distance isn’t what you are looking for, there is a free bus service that will take you up to the cable cars. From there you can take a cable car (ropeway) up to Mt Misen. When you get to Shishiiwa station you can either take pictures at the observation area or you can continue up the mountain to highest point and visit the main observation area.

Mt Misen Ropeway on Miyajima Island

On top of Mt Misen there are many different temples to visit, including the only temple in Japan that worships ogres. Unfortunately for me and Linaka, it was late in the day and we had spent most of it exploring the lower areas of the island. If we had a little more time, we would have trekked up the mountain to the highest point and seen these unique temples.

The many temples of the island

If you like visiting temples, then you came to the right place. Miyajima Island has many temples you can visit. The very first temple that we saw was Itsukushima Shrine. The best time to visit the shrine is in the early morning when the tide is high or in the evening. During the day, the tide is low and most of the land is exposed. There is also a large torii gate which is normally in the water, but when the tide is out, you can actually walk to the gate.

Tahoto Pagoda on Miyajima

There is also a large 5 story pagoda next to Toyokuni Shrine. It’s just a few minutes walk from Itsukushima and you have to climb up some stairs to get to it. There may be another path to get to the shrine, but I only saw stairs.

One of the nicest pagodas to visit is Tahoto pagoda. It is located to the east of the island and can be a little tricky to find. You have to find the Treasure Hall first and close to it is a set of steps that take you up the hill to Tahoto pagoda. It’s a small pagoda at 15 meters, but it is unique and beautiful. The pagoda itself is surrounded by cherry blossoms and the architecture of the pagoda is built in Japanese style with Chinese and Indian influences. I am not sure if they hold celebrations there, but it looks like some lanterns are lit up at night around the pagoda.

Daishoin Temple lights on Miyajima

Lastly, Daishoin Temple is beautiful to visit. You can tell by looking at the ancient temples that the buildings are Buddhist in nature. While I was there I saw a monk walk by. The temples blend in with the nature that surrounds them and at one of the buildings you could hear the chanting of monks. I am not sure if there were actual monks there or if there was a recording playing for everyone to hear. This temple has many statues. I am sure each statue represents someone or something but I am not sure. I walked around the temple and almost forgot that I was there as a visitor. It is a beautiful place to visit and an excellent point to relax and feel at peace.

Conclusion

Miyajima Island was an unexpected treasure. Sometimes I felt like the entire island could be an amusement park, but it is a peaceful and beautiful place to visit. There are many shrines, local markets, nature trails and many domestic deer that are eager to eat your clothing. If there is a peaceful place on Earth that you would like to visit, this is perhaps one of the best candidates to consider. Tomorrow we leave for Kyoto where we will spend about a week. If you’d like to share you experience of Miyajima feel free to do so in the comments section below.

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Japan

Day 9: Visiting Hiroshima, a day to remember

The Atomic Dome in Hiroshima

I never thought I would ever visit Hiroshima. It was one of those places which never crossed my mind before, but today Linaka and I were visiting the city and the iconic Atomic Bomb Dome. Before coming here, Linaka and I had discussed whether to make this one of our destinations. I was a little reluctant to visit but after discussing it for a while, we decided it should be one of our stops on our Japan trip.

Your can read Linaka’s article for the day here: “Day 9: The road to Miyajima; Hiroshima

The Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome

Hiroshima is well known around the world for being one of 2 cities to have been bombed by an atom bomb during World War II. Much of the city was destroy but one structure partly survived which has become an icon to remember, the Atom Bomb Dome. Some how the Atom Bomb Dome survive the destruction of the city and today I stood before it. I love history and to see such a powerful symbol was awe-inspiring. I was a bit speechless there. There were inscriptions in granite as well as small monuments around the structure, but the structure itself is the main reason people visit.

Hiroshima Atomic Dome

I wish I had more time to spend in Hiroshima, I did not think there would be other sites to visit within the city. There is a sight seeing bus from Hiroshima train station and you can take a tram straight to the Atom Bomb Dome. Besides that, other monuments have been rebuilt such as Hiroshima castle and Shukkeien Garden. Additionally, there are many other places to visit as well as exploring the city itself.

Hiroshima Atomic Dome

Conclusion

It was a great day to visit the city. We left Osaka on a cloudy morning and arrived on a sunny afternoon in Hiroshima. We did not have much time to explore the city so we made our way to the Atom Bomb Dome. It was a great experience seeing such an iconic structure which was a reminder of a devastating time. We ended our morning with a 2 hour tram ride to the main port where we took a ferry to Miyajima Island. Tomorrow we will spend a day in Miyajima Island and hope for another beautiful sunny day.

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Japan

Day 8: Exploring Osaka Japan

Today we explored Osaka. The forecast for the day was rain, but we didn’t let that stop us from going places. I had never read or heard about what to expect from Osaka. When Linaka and I first arrived we headed towards our hotel. We never realised how busy and crowded the streets could get. We stayed in an area called Dotombori and we soon found out why the area got so crowded during the day and especially at night.

You can also read Linaka’s post for this day: Osaka Castle, Namba and Nightlife.

Exploring Dotombori in Osaka

Dotombori in Osaka

Dotombori is a very popular area filled with many restaurants and shopping stores. There was even some kind of theatre there, maybe a kabuki theatre. We also saw a cinema in the area. We explored the restaurants and the stores looking at the electronics. Amazingly, electronics is so much cheaper than that found in the UK. For example an iPad mini in the UK costs about £249, but in Osaka after converting the yen to pound sterling the price for an iPad mini is about £170. Way cheaper than we had expected. Many of the products were very tempting to buy.

Neko  Cafe cat cafe in Osaka

As we explored we even found a neko-cafe (cat cafe). I assume you go in, have tea and pet cats. I even saw a girl dressed in a sorta cat-maid outfit handing out flyers. We didn’t go in but it was fun exploring the area.

If we didn’t have a guide today we probably would have stayed in Dotombori exploring, eating and shopping, but Linaka had a Japanese correspondence friend which showed up and was kind enough to show us around. He even helped us get to Osaka castle.

Finding Osaka castle

Osaka Castle

I have to admit that if our guide/friend was not here today, we would have gotten lost in the subway system or we would have simply given up finding Osaka castle. To get to Osaka castle from Dotombori we had to take a couple of subway trains followed by a long 20 minute walk. Well it seemed like it took about 20 minutes to walk there. But once you get to the area, you still have to find the castle. Osaka Castle is located in a park area behind a wall that hides it from a distance. You have to cross over a couple of bridges just to get to it. It seems like a well protected castle; however, according to it’s history it was burnt down a couple of times.

Osaka castle front

Osaka castle was more magnificent than Odawara castle. Both are beautiful, but there is something about Osaka castle that makes it awe-inspiring. Inside is a museum which sadly limits the photography you can take, but it was nice to see the exhibits. Most of what you see are samurai armour and ancient scrolls which give accounts of battles, weapons usage and other documents such as letters sent back and forth between people. It is an 8 story building and we climbed 8 flights of stairs to get to the top and take some pictures from the top of the castle. The elevator was inaccessible from the top of the castle so we had to take the stairs back down to the bottom. It was a tiring effort but we made it. By the time we made it back to our hotel that day we were both very exhausted.

Conclusion

Exploring Osaka is a nice place. The areas we visited were very vibrant and busy. The food is very popular and some of the products are very cheap there, especially electronic goods. There are many places to visit and if you like castles, Osaka castle is magnificent. Although it was a rainy day, we still had fun exploring. Tomorrow we head out to Hiroshima and our next destination.

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Japan

Day 7: From Odawara Castle to Takarazuka Manga Museum

Odawara Castle

After a wonderful stay in Hakone at the Ichinoyu Honkan ryokan we said good-bye to the friendly staff and the wonderful atmosphere. Today we headed out to Osaka. However, we decided to go straight to Takarazuka city before heading to our hotel in Osaka. We did not realise the trip to Takarazuka from Hakone would require a lot of travel and a lot of train hopping. But before we started our journey we spent a little time exploring around Odawara Castle. Afterwards, the overall journey was fun, exhausting and worth it.

You can also read Linaka’s account of the day “Hakone to Osaka” here.

Odawara Castle by Odawara Station

As we left Hakone, we took a bus to Odawara station. It was about a 40 minute bus ride which was so crowded you could hardly breath. Linaka managed to find an empty seat in the back of the bus where she fell asleep. I stood near the middle watching the signs and listening to the Japanese announcements for Odawara. Luckily for us, Odawara station was the last stop on the bus.

Odawara

Once we were in Odawara, we reserved our seats on the Shinkansen bullet train and had about an hour to explore the area. Odawara castle could be seen from the station off in the distance. It looked close, but the journey there was about a 15 minute walk. It was a little tough since I was dragging around our luggage, but it was worth walking through Odawara and getting to Odawara Castle.

The castle was beautiful, just like in those magazine pictures. You could see archeologist excavating parts of the land where the castle was. There were some tourist in the area and a few food vendors as well. There was also a large cage displaying monkeys. We didn’t have much time to stay and explore the area. It would have been nice to have climbed to the top of the castle and taken a few pictures from there. But Linaka assured me we would see many more castles along the way.

Journey to Takarazuka City

Shinkansen bullet train

As we boarded the Shinkansen Hikari to Osaka, we journeyed on a 2 hour train ride in a relaxing and comfortable car. We had plenty of leg room and comfortable reclining seats. The window view was nice and as we sped along the way, we saw one last view of Mt Fuji. In essence this view was just as magnificent as the views we got the day before. However, it felt like we got closer to Mt Fuji than we had previously before.

Women's only car

When we got to Osaka we changed trains and made our way to Takarazuka city. It was a bit of a challenge to read the signs and figure out where we were. Luckily our combined minds, helped us find our way to the right trains and to the city. Interestingly, as we were train hopping, we noticed that some trains had women’s only cars. We also noticed this in Tokyo. During parts of the day, certain cars become women’s only cars. I’m sure there is a reason for this, but it’s something I’ll have to research later.

In Takarazuka city we went to the Tezuka Osamu Manga museum. It was a 15 to 20 minute walk from the train station. We walked through a European quarter. I thought it was odd that the buildings were so different there. Interestingly the people dressed different there as well. Linaka commented that she liked the area. I mentioned that she probably liked the area because it looked and felt familiar. LOL.

Tezuka Osamu Manga Museum

The museum itself was nice. There were many exhibits showing off the art of the manga artist, but overall it was mainly that. I suppose I was expecting a lot more from a museum, but it did have a cool elevator which looked like a 1960’s sci-fi movie set and lots of cool gadgets. The majority of the museum was artwork and comics on displayed. The staff in the museum were very friendly and kindly reminded us that they shut at 5pm. We had arrived there roughly around 4pm. Overall, it was a nice experience and after such a long day we made our way back to Osaka and finally checked into our hotel.

Conclusion

Most of our day was spent traveling and changing trains. We got to see some cools sites along the way, we explored Odawara and Takarazuka city before heading to Osaka. We also got more familiar with train stations. Lastly, going up and down escalators can be very confusing at times. In Tokyo we had to stand on the left side of the escalator so that people that were in a hurry could go through the right side. In Takarazuka it was backwards. We got confused on where to stand and sometimes it appeared that I was blocking people’s path. Anyway, it was a great day, we got to our hotel in Osaka, checked in and saw sumo wrestlers checking into the hotel as well. That was pretty cool. Tomorrow we will be spending our day in Osaka and who knows what we’ll be doing. Stay tuned, same bat time, same bat channel.

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Day 6: Mt Fuji and Hakone National Park

Taking a picture of Mt Fuji from a cable car

Up bright and early, our mission today was to take pictures of Mt Fuji. We enjoyed a great night in our ryokan and before we left we were treated to a traditional Japanese breakfast. For a moment I felt like a samurai eating breakfast in ancient Japan. As pleasant as the morning was in the ryokan, we set out to travel to Gora station in order to take a train and cable car up the mountain to get a view of Mt Fuji. Our plan was to see Mt Fuji and to take a cruise on Lake Ashi; however, we happened to do more than that.

Read Linaka’s account of the day here.

Finding Mt Fuji

Black egg

As we travelled from Tonosawa station to Gora station we could not help but notice how packed the train was in the morning. When we arrived the day before, there was hardly anyone on the train, but today it was full. Essentially, we had to stand up all the way up to Gora station. It was an interesting ride going through a bumpy meandering rail track up the side of the mountain. Once we got to Gora station we switched over to another train which took us up to the cable cars. Linaka wasn’t sure if she could handle a cable car ride, but after taking off, she soon forgot about where she was and found herself taking pictures of the mountain side and especially the epic Mt Fuji.

Black egg neko chan

I managed to convince Linaka to explore the area in Owakudani station, she wanted to continue down to Lake Ashi, but I noticed the hot vents on the side of the mountain and the grand view of Mt Fuji so we took our time to walk around, explore and take more pictures. The landscape was amazing and along the way we got to eat some black eggs that a nice French lady gave us. Apparently when you buy some black eggs you have to buy them in sets of 5 and being that she was only 1 person, she wasn’t sure what to do with the extra eggs she had.

Legend has it that if you eat a single black egg you will gain 7 years of life. The black eggs are boiled in the hot spring waters of the mountain, rich in sulphur. When you look at the black eggs you can see spots of yellow where the sulphur has built up. I ate 2 eggs and Linaka had a little of one of my eggs. I guess I gained 14 more years to my life span. LOL

A picture of Mt Fuji

Lake Ashi and Mt Fuji

We explored the local shops as well and take several more pictures before we decided to head down to Lake Ashi. The ride down was gentle. The great thing about the cable cars is that they were not crowded at all. The people that load them up only allow a few people at a time in them. It did not take long to descend the mountain area, I believe it was Mt Kanmurigatake that we were on. We arrived at the base where the lake started in Togendai station. In order to get a good view of Mt Fuji from the lake we needed to take a pleasure cruise across the lake.

Pirate Ship

Lucky for us, the free pass tickets we had allowed us to travel on local buses, trains, the cable cars and the cruise on Lake Ashi. I am so happy with these tickets. We had to wait 30 minutes before getting on the pirate ship, but it was worth the wait. The ship was a classic looking pirate ship with cannons on the side, all fake ones, but nice to look at.

Sailing topside was cold, the wind of the Lake was blowing constantly and my hands were freezing, but I wanted to take pictures of other ships passing by, local torii gates and of course Mt Fuji. I was surprised to see some torri gates in the lake and some shrines close by. Since they were close to the port we were arriving at I decided, since we were in the area, we might as well visit the local temples and shrines.

Hakone Shrine

Hakone Mega Torii Gates

Our cruise arrived at Motohakone where we explored the area a bit. I convinced Linaka to stop by the local 7-11 store and buy some corn dogs. I know it’s not Japanese, but we don’t get to eat these in the UK and we do like the way they taste. Linaka and I sat by the lake eating our corn dogs when we received a visit by a local cat, neko-chan. He reminded us of our cat back in London, Hunter. It was funny watching the cat approach and then crouch into hunting mode whenever we took a bite of our food. We were kind enough to chuck a few piece at him which he gobbled up quickly. When we were done, she turned his attention to the boys sitting close by and started to hunt for their food. Funnily enough, the boys fed the cat as well.

Neko Chan

Anyway, after exploring the local town and buying some souvenirs we made our way to Hokane shrine. It was a nice walk along the lake and into the woods. There was an old path that led us to the main stairs which went up to the Hakone shrine.

I knew there were shrines and temples that had hundreds of steps to get to and this was one of them. We walked up the steps, stopped to take pictures and continued walking. The shrine at the top was magnificent and colourful. It seems that every shrine or temple we visit uses bright red colours. Tourist were arriving in droves and it seemed local people were also visiting and praying there. I had to travel down the steps to see the large lake side torii gates. Seeing these in person is amazing. A photograph can show you what it looks like, but being there is just something else.

Conclusion

It was a long day with lots of activities and it felt like being at Lake Ashi would have taken a few more days to fully explore and appreciate the area. We enjoyed taking pictures of Mt Fuji, trying out the black eggs, feeding the local cat and simply relaxing. We did take a bus ride down the mountain, which was super packed, but we did not mind. It was a great day out exploring and taking pictures. We returned to our ryokan, had a nice dinner and relaxed for the rest of the night. Tomorrow we head out to Osaka and to whatever adventure awaits us there.

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Japan

Day 5: An Afternoon Traveling to Hakone

Hakone 31 train Romance Car

After spending our morning at Hanazono antique market and exploring Shinjuku we boarded our train to Hakone. The Hakone 31 was a very spacious train and after experiencing several crowded subways and trains, it was a nice break to have reserved seats on a train which was not very crowded at all. The estimated time from Shinjuku station to Hakone Yumoto station was a little under 2 hours. It was a beautiful day and a relaxing and pleasant ride.

Also, you can read Linaka’s account of our trip to Hakone here.

Hakone 31 train ride to Tonosawa station

Although the train ride was a little under 2 hours, it seemed a lot shorter. Perhaps I was feeling sleepy or tired, but the time seemed to pass quickly. Linaka was very happy when she saw the mountains in the distance. Her camera snapped pictures left and right. It was Mount Fuji which peaked her interest the most and it was Mount Fuji which was one of the reasons we came to Hakone. Once we arrived at Hakone Yumoto, I noticed the train heading to Gora was the one we should have jumped on. It left within a minute or so as we were alighting from the Hakone 31 train. I mentioned to Linaka that that was the next train we should get on, but Linaka was being cautious. She didn’t want us to get on the wrong train and end up somewhere else today. As the train left, we asked one of the friendly people working the station if that train was heading towards Tonosawa station.

After confirming that it was the correct train, we took the train to Tonosawa station. It was a pretty short ride, about 5 maybe 10 minutes to the next station. As we got off, the conductor of the train jumped out and ran toward us. He was saying something in Japanese, but after a minute I figured he wanted to see our tickets. We showed him our free passes and he smiled and got back on the train. The train station seemed abandoned, with the exception of a shrine on the other side of the tracks and an old man walking towards it. Linaka and I took a few pictures and then proceeded down the hill.

The lovely and peaceful ryokan

We walked down a meandering path. There were a few buildings along the way and a few more shrines. We could see a stream flowing below us and the main street that we needed to get to. Linaka was so happy as we walked down the path. She saw a house with a lovely door and she could not help but stop and take a picture of it. Once we got to the bottom we found the ryokan we were spending the next couple of nights at.

Ryokan room

I wasn’t sure what to expect, other than it was a traditional place to spend the night at. From the outside, the ryokan (Honkan) looked like it could be a large hotel. But as we approached, a young lady opened the door for us. She instructed us to take our shoes off, place them in some lockers and put on some sandals. Checking in was typical, but the staff was very courteous. They even spoke very well in English. We received our key and made our way to our room.

Ryokan by the stream

When I opened the door all I saw was a small closet sized room with a refrigerator to one side. I thought, this must be traditional but so small. It looked like you could barely fit 2 people in it. Linaka opened a side door and revealed the real room. I was astonished by how beautiful the place looked. The room looked like a scene straight out of a samurai movie. If it wasn’t for the LCD tv and the heater in the room, I would have thought we were transported back in time to ancient Japan.

Open air hot bath onsen

The room overlooked the stream we walked by earlier and to our surprised, there was an on-suite open air hot bath. Linaka said this was the type of place she wanted to live in. I have to admit, this traditional ryokan has made such an impression on me that I feel that I can live in one too. We too several pictures before we relaxed and rested. The Honkan ryokan provided dinner for us. We ate a traditional meal before calling it a day and getting some sleep.

Conclusion

The trip from Shinjuku station to Hakone Yumoto station was a pleasant ride. The scenery was nice to look at and getting to our ryokan from Tonosawa station was easy to find. The ryokan was a pleasant surprise and I highly recommend anyone traveling to Japan to stay at a ryokan at least once. It is one of those unforgettable experiences. Tomorrow we will be exploring and traveling up into the mountains. Our mission is to take pictures of Mount Fuji and maybe more. If you have would like to share your experiences about traditional ryokan feel free to do so in the comments section below.