Family visit!

So the last few months after Christmas have been very quiet around here. Japanese festivals have taken a break and don’t start up again until around April. I really miss them! The first festival of the year is actually the Yatai Matsuri in Otawara, the drum festival I posted about last year. I cannot believe it’s almost been a year! I will never forget that festival as it was my first ever festival experience. Exhilarating and spectacular. I’m already planning on making a visit to Japan next year just to attend that festival again.

Besides work, I’ve really just been taking it easy and trying to enjoy every moment here. People have asked me what I will miss the most about living in Japan. I honestly cannot give one exact thing. It’s an accumulation of many things. The smell, the atmosphere, the connection between you and the people around you. I’m going to miss LIVING in Japan.

This week I was lucky enough to have my parents and brother come over to visit me. It finally happened! After almost a year of arranging. I met up with them in Ueno, and at first it was a bit surreal. I couldn’t believe they were finally in Japan, and I had so much I wanted to share with them!

I took them to places I had already visited. Which meant that I took on the role of the tour guide. Stressful, but it was very satisfying taking them to places I had been longing to take them. We visited Kyoto, which they loved! It was my third time visiting Kyoto, but I can’t get enough of the place! It’s a very enchanting city, and I was grateful to experience it for the third time with my family.

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Seeing Mount Fuji from the shinkansen

After arriving at Kyoto we took a local train around 20 minutes out of the city to Ogoto-onsen. It’s a tiny little town by Lake Biwa, the biggest lake in Japan. I had booked to stay at a ryokan for one night, I was super excited! Ryokans are super expensive, but I thought it would be great for my family to experience living in a traditional Japanese inn.

The ryokan did not disappoint. The room was beautiful, with tatami flooring. There was green tea and fresh manju upon arrival in the room. We spent the evening relaxing at the onsen, and then we had dinner prepared for us straight after. We were given a private room, and the food was so beautifully presented. Definitely the highlight of the trip! The food was so fresh, and intricately prepared. The portions were small, and very light on the stomach, but it just right to make you feel comfortably full.

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Dinner banquet at the ryokan

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We woke up early in the morning to take another trip to the onsen before heading down for breakfast.

After checking out of the ryokan, we made our way back to Kyoto. The weather was freezing cold! It felt even colder than up in Tochigi, but I was told it’s because Kyoto is actually located in between a valley which makes it even colder during the winter.

I’ve posted about Kyoto a couple of times now. Here are some of the photos I managed to snap during my most recent trip there.

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I finally got the chance to visit Yogenin temple, the temple with the blood stained ceiling. A friend recommended this place to me, but the last couple of times I visited Kyoto I didn’t have enough time to make a trip there. The temple is around a 20 minute walk from Kyoto station. It was hidden near a residential area, and I was told that the temple is not really open to foreigners since they do not speak English. I still wanted to check it out though.

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We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the temple itself. The temple was very eery, and we were given a short tour inside which was done all in Japanese. The lady had an old cassette player, and played a cassette of a man giving an explanation of the paintings, and other significant things inside the temple. I didn’t understand any of what was being said. The temple was really cold, and hearing the old cassette player being played sent chills down my spine. I was in awe of all the blood stains on the ceiling. I read that these blood stains were from samurais who fought to protect Fushimi Castle in 1600. They used this blood stained floor from Fushimi Castle as the ceiling in Yogenin Temple to help bring peace to those who died in the battle.

After visiting the temple we took the shinkansen back to Tochigi. The following day my parents visited my school. It was an unforgettable moment. I couldn’t believe that my parents were finally at the school I had been teaching at for the past year. It was nice to see them interact with my students, playing games and a lot of rocks, scissors paper! The staff at the school were also very happy to see my parents, and both teachers and students were so warm and welcoming.

With my parents being in Tochigi, it was perfect timing as Toshogu Shrine in Nikko had just finished its renovations. We took the Nikko line to check it out!

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The newly renovated gate at Toshogu shrine

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There was a lot of walking involved, but I think my parents and brother thoroughly enjoyed their time in Japan!

That’s all for now!

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Autumn in Nikko..

It’s November now and the weather in Japan has taken a huge dive! It’s hard to believe that just a month ago, the weather was still pretty humid. Now I’m wrapped up in so many layers of clothes, and the heating is constantly turned on in my apartment! Not that I’m complaining, I much prefer colder weather to humid sticky weather.

A couple of weeks ago we had a day holiday for Culture Day, a national holiday in Japan. Autumn has finally arrived so the trees around my area are starting to turn a beautiful red colour. I decided to head to Nikko, about an hours drive from my town to see the beautiful autumn leaves which were said to be in their peak. I was told by a few of my colleagues at work to be wary of the traffic heading to Nikko, especially with Thursday being a national holiday. I was told that many people from across Japan head to Nikko to see the autumn leaves.

Me and my friends decided to set off early at 8am, which really helped as there was zero traffic on the way there.

I visited Nikko previously in June, and I remember it being ridiculously hot. Visiting the same place again in Autumn was really nice, as it gave the place a completely different feel. Upon entering the car park, I was already taken back by the beauty of the red autumn leaves surrounding the area.

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The entrance to Nikko temple
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Rinnoji pagoda, Nikko

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The red maple trees were stunning, we have similar trees in the UK during Autumn but never this red!

We decided to head to Shoyo-en Garden, a small garden nearby. The entrance to the garden was tiny.

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Ticket to Shoyo-en Garden
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Entrance to Shoyo-en Garden

Within the first few seconds of entering the garden, me and my friends were already gasping at how beautiful it was. The colour of the leaves were incredible, and the garden was so serene.

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After visiting the gardens we decided to drive to Lake Chuzenji, a 20 minute drive away. It was such a nice car journey riding up into the mountains with an incredible view of the autumn leaves. The colours along with the clear, crispy autumn weather made it feel like I was in a movie. It kind of reminded me of home, as the mountains are very similar to those at the Lake District.

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As Lake Chuzenji became visible in the distance, me and my friends let out a big ‘WOW!’ as we drove closer and closer to the lake. The view was absolutely stunning, and very picturesque. The water was so blue, and the weather was perfect!

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We stopped by a small restaurant by the lake to have lunch. Nikko is famous for its Yuba soba, which is soba noodles topped with thinly rolled up tofu. It was delicious, and eating such a light and clear dish on quite a nippy day made it taste even better.

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Yuba soba

After having lunch, we drove further up into the mountains to get a nice view of the lake. The rustic colours of the trees made the view breathtaking. Mother nature sure is beautiful! One thing I love about Japan is that all four seasons are beautiful in their own way. Back in Spring, I was able to enjoy the beautiful cherry blossoms, in Summer I was able to experience the gorgeous beaches down by the peninsula. It won’t be long till winter arrives and the place will be covered in a blanket of snow, which will add yet another side of beauty to Japan.

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After taking a little drive, we decided to visit Kegon Falls, a waterfall nearby.

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Kegon Falls

The park we stopped at had a lot of different food stalls. I bought a bowl of suiton dumpling soup. It was soooo nice drinking it in the freezing cold weather, and the soup was so delicious and full of flavour. It was more or less like nabe, which is a soup boiled with many different kinds of vegetables.

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The whole place had such an autumn feel to it. People huddled up drinking soup, and people queueing up to buy roasted chestnuts. The chestnuts were roasted using a cool steam machine (in the picture below). Every so often, the guy would tell everyone to cover their ears whilst the machine made a deafening sound to let out the steam.

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Roasted chestnuts
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Roasted chestnuts

Not much to write for this post, I’ll let the photos do all the talking. All I can say is that autumn in Japan is so wonderfully beautiful. I feel quite fortunate to live so near to mountainous areas like Nikko, Nasu and Shiobara. I don’t want autumn to end!

Anyways, thats all for now! Have a great week!