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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Dinner banquet at the ryokan

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The newly renovated gate at Toshogu shrine

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

Advertisements

A new year to remember..

Happy New Year everyone!! Hope you all had a wonderful holiday, and hope this year is a great year for us all!

What did everyone get up to over the holidays? My original plan for Christmas Day was to stay at home and make a huge meal for myself since the majority of my friends had gone home for the holidays. On Christmas Eve, I was suddenly asked to go to an onsen hotel right up in the mountains of Nasu. Of course I couldn’t say no to an onsen, plus it included a huge buffet! The onsen was beautiful, with outdoor sulphur baths. I ended up smelling like a boiled egg for a couple of days due to the strong smell of sulphur. But I felt so relaxed afterwards, and my skin felt amazing! It was just pretty bizarre lying in a steamy outdoor onsen up in the mountains of Japan on Christmas Day, definitely a huge change to my usual Christmases. I remember lying in the onsen thinking to myself, how life has changed!

After Christmas, I was counting down the days for my girlfriend to arrive in Japan. I couldn’t believe she was visiting again, and I had planned a trip around Kansai area. That meant visiting Kyoto again, which I was excited about because it’s probably one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been to. I crammed quite a lot in our travel plan, because I wanted to make sure that my girlfriend could visit as many places possible as she was only going to be in Japan for a week. We planned on visiting Kawaguchiko, Kyoto, Osaka and Nara. My only worry was that we were travelling during the most busiest period of the year. New Year is pretty chaotic in terms of travel, as many Japanese people travel back to their hometowns to visit friends and family. Japanese people also visit temples and shrines to pray and make wishes for the New Year. That meant that the trains and shinkansen would be bombarded with people, so I was dreading the travelling.

15992281_10209503880328963_1627985726_o

Travelling is really fun though, I always get super excited when I’m about to embark on a mini adventure. I’m getting better at travelling light too, and above are my must need items when travelling.

11/29 Tochigi>Tokyo>Kawaguchiko
I woke up really early to take the 7am train to Ueno to meet my girlfriend. The train journey was around two and a half hours, so I was really hoping I would be able to get a seat. I spent the first 45 minutes standing until we reached Utsunomiya where I was lucky enough to find a seat. The train eventually got more and more crammed, to the point where people were wedging themselves through the door. I have never been so thankful for a train seat before! Haha!

After arriving in Ueno, I took the train to Nippori to meet my girlfriend. We checked into our hotel and then made our way to Tokyo station to take a bus to Lake Kawaguchiko. After living in Japan for more than 10 months, I still hadn’t seen Mount Fuji, so I was really excited to visit Kawaguchiko to get an amazing view. Kawaguchiko is one of the five famous lakes known for viewing Mount Fuji. It’s also well known for the famous painting of Mount Fuji by Hokusai. It was a 2 hour bus journey from Tokyo station. I fell asleep for most of the bus journey, but towards the end I could see Mount Fuji in the distance and it was awe strikingly beautiful.

When we arrived at Kawaguchiko station, even the view from the station was incredible as Mount Fuji was in perfect view in the background. We made our way down to Lake Kawaguchiko, but from there we couldn’t get a view of Mount Fuji. After doing a little bit of walking, we found a trail and decided to follow it uphill. It was really tiring, but we managed to make it to the observatory deck, and the view was stunning!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Trail to the observatory deck

Unfortunately, we had arrived at Kawaguchiko quite late in the afternoon, so we didn’t really have much time before sunset. Thankfully I managed to get some nice shots from the observatory deck, and it was one of those scenes which I needed a moment to take in. After taking photos, we made our way back to the station. I was slightly disappointed that we weren’t able to explore Kawaguchiko more, and we weren’t able to see Mount Fuji from the lake view. But the view from the observatory deck still made it worthwhile. For those who are planning on visiting Kawaguchiko over the winter, I suggest taking the morning bus to allow yourself time to see everything before the sunsets.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Kawaguchiko station

We soon took the bus back to Tokyo, and headed to Shibuya to have dinner. We were ready to call it a night. A pretty exhausting first day, but I could finally say that I had seen Mount Fuji! Another thing to tick off my bucket list.

12/30 Tokyo>Kyoto
The second day we were ready to head to Kyoto! I was ready for the shinkansen chaos. We checked out of our hotel very early and headed straight to Tokyo station. The station was packed with people, with long queues at the ticket offices. As we were boarding the shinkansen, the queues were insanely long. I was pretty sure that we would have to stand for the duration of the journey as we had booked non-reserved seats. I told my girlfriend to go in front of me and to go straight to a seat if she found one. Luckily, we managed to find two seats together. It was seriously a dream come true! We managed to sleep most of the two and a half hour journey to Kyoto. It felt really nice to be back in Kyoto!

The first thing we did was check into our Air bnb which was located in Arashiyama. I didn’t have enough time to visit Arashiyama on my last visit, so I was really looking forward to it. The walk to central Arashiyama was really nice, and we had a luscious view of the river as we crossed Togetsukyo bridge. We were lucky enough to spot a few geishas walking along the river. I was so excited as I wasn’t lucky enough to see any on my last visit to Kyoto. I’ve heard that spotting geishas in Kyoto is very rare, and Kyoto is the only place in Japan where geishas still remain. Their kimonos were so beautiful!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The view from Togetsukyo Bridge

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Central Arashiyama was filled with tiny stores, cafes and restaurants bustling with people. Arashiyama is most famous for its bamboo grove and Tenryuji Temple, but because it was already getting quite late, we decided to come again on a different day. Walking through the streets of Arashiyama was enough to keep us occupied. The souvenir shops were really worth going into, and there were plenty matcha cafes and food stalls to try out!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

12/31 Kyoto
New Year’s Eve, I made sure that we were not doing any travelling on the train or shinkansen. I could only imagine it to be absolute mayhem! Instead, we started the day off by visiting Kinkakuji, probably the most famous and well known historical site in Kyoto. I visited this place on my last visit to Kyoto in October, and it was interesting to visit again during winter as the autumn leaves had all disappeared. The amount of tourists who visit Kinkakuji is insane, which can get quite frustrating when you are wanting to take a photo. You literally have to fight for a spot to squeeze into, and even when you manage to find one, some people will push you out of the way.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After we visited Kinkakuji, we made our way to Kiyomizu dera. I love this place. The cobbled streets surrounding Kiyomizu dera have a very traditional Japanese feel to it. It’s this charm which makes me love Kyoto. We made sure to try out the matcha ice cream there, and also the famously known dango!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We spent most of the afternoon walking through the streets of Higashiyama. We then visited Kiyomizu dera as the sun was setting, and I managed to get some really nice shots of the skyline.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Kiyomizu dera

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

With it being New Year’s Eve, we decided to visit Yasaka shrine which is just a few minutes walk from Kiyomizu dera. The place was filled with people, and there were many festival stalls! I love festival food, and my girlfriend has been wanting to try it for a long time, so the timing was perfect! We spent so much money on festival food alone. Yakitori, grilled squid, karaage, daifuku, taiyaki etc. But it was worth it!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Festival stalls at Yasaka shrine
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Karaage
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Taiyaki
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Grilled squid

I also noticed a lot of people buying some rope and setting the ends on fire.

We didn’t really have much planned for the countdown, as I read that the Japanese usually queue up at shrines and temples to pray rather than holding firework displays. At around 9pm, massive queues were already forming outside of temples. I had never seen anything like it!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Queue to the shrine

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was still around 9pm, and I couldn’t really imagine waiting around at Yasaka shrine until midnight. So we decided to head back to our air bnb near Arashiyama. When we got off at our station, Matsuotaisha, there was a huge crowd outside the shrine by the station. We decided to follow the crowd into the shrine, and again there were many festival stalls! The atmosphere was great, with crowds queueing up to enter the temple for midnight, and also food stalls as far as the eye could see. With it being quite a local shrine, there were hardly any foreigners around, so we really got the local experience. We tried chicken skin gyoza which was delicious, and also castella cake balls. We also bought roasted satsuma-imo (Japanese sweet potato), which was even more enjoyable on such a cold night. We managed to stay at the shrine for the countdown. As we were queueing up for food, we could just about make out people shouting the countdown in the distance followed by a few cheers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Matsuotaisha shrine

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
People waiting to queue up for the shrine

1/1 Kyoto
First day of 2017, we made a visit back to Arashiyama to visit the bamboo grove and Tenryuji temple. I wasn’t expecting the entrance to the bamboo grove to literally be through a side street. We followed the signs and made our way up. It was a really nice walk, and the tall bamboo put me in total zen mode.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Bamboo grove

After strolling around Arashiyama, we took the bus to Ginkakuji. It was still pretty early in the day, but the bus journey from Arashiyama to Ginkakuji seemed to take forever. When we arrived at the stop, the roads soon became familiar to me and we made our way up to Ginkakuji. The path leading up to Ginkakuji is filled with tiny food stalls selling matcha desserts, steamed buns, dango etc. I had visited Ginkakuji on my previous trip to Kyoto, and it’s also a very famous must see attraction if you plan on visiting Kyoto. You can read about it in my previous post on Kyoto.

After visiting Ginkakuji we spent our evening in Sanjo. Sanjo is the shopping district of Kyoto, and I stayed at this place on my last trip. For those who are planning a trip to Kyoto, I recommend staying in Sanjo as the location is convenient. It has a huge selection of shops and restaurants, and it is literally in the centre of Kyoto. Arashiyama was a nice location to stay in, as it was close to the bamboo grove and also the small quirky stores around the station. However it was quite a distance from a lot of the attractions.

The thing with Kyoto is that most of the attractions are very spaced out, so quite a bit of time is needed to travel from location to location. I was really surprised that bus services and train services were running until quite late over the New Year, I think some buses and trains were operating until 3am. With the number of people heading to shrines and temples, it made sense! I was worried prior to my trip that a lot of places would be closed over the New Year and transportation would be really inconvenient, but it was completely wrong. I was really impressed at how efficient the services were everywhere. You would never have thought that it was the holidays. There were many local stores and restaurants which had closed over the New Year, but finding a place to eat did not seem like too much of a problem.

1/2 Kyoto>Osaka
We were due to head to Osaka in the morning but we decided to make another visit to Hirashiyama to rent yukatas! I didn’t originally plan on doing this, but my girlfriend really wanted to try so I thought why not!

Admittedly, the service we received at the rental store was pretty bad. I was quite appalled at how rude the staff were to me. They just assumed that I spoke Chinese, so spoke to me using Mandarin Chinese. When I told them that I didn’t understand, they were very blunt and rude to me in English. Also upon entering the store, we wanted to check the yukatas before renting them. But the staff took us in to get changed first before choosing our yukatas, which gave us no option but to rent them from their store. It was like a trap! And there was a lot of sitting and waiting around, and altogether it took 2 hours for us to choose and get changed into our yukatas when we were told it would take 30 minutes.

With all the negatives aside, I was quite happy overall with how the yukatas looked. It was an experience getting dressed, and it took a lot longer than I thought. I was surprised at the number of layers needed, and also the number of pins. The lady who was dressing me warned me that it would be very tight around the stomach, and boy was she right! She pulled the fabric so tight that I had to take a deep breath! My girlfriend’s yukata had even more layers, and we both left the store hobbling and struggling to breathe, haha!

Higashiyama seemed like the perfect spot to rent our yukatas from as the streets have a very picturesque, traditional Japanese style to it. It was probably my favourite part of the entire trip, walking along the narrow cobbled streets wearing a yukata. We got stares from a lot of people, and tourists were taking photos of us. The yukatas were so tight that I joked to my girlfriend saying it was probably best for us to skip lunch! We ended up going to a tiny soba restaurant, and it was a restaurant which had Japanese style seating. It was a challenge having to take off our clogs (getas) and step on to the platform where the seating was. Then we had to bend down and kneel for the duration of the meal. I’m still not use to the whole kneeling position, but I’ve found that I can endure a lot longer than when I first came to Japan!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We were also super lucky to spot more geishas!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Geishas in Higashiyama

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After spending the whole day with our yukatas on and taking as many photos as we could, we returned them to the rental store and made our way back to Arashiyama to collect our things from the air bnb. We were setting off to Osaka later than planned, but the good thing about staying in Arashiyama was that we could take the train straight from our station. It was an hour train journey with one change in between, so we ended up arriving in Osaka at around 8pm. I was pretty excited, as I’ve never been to Osaka before and I was excited to try the takoyaki there!

Once we arrived at Osaka, we made our way to our air bnb apartment. We had trouble with accessing the apartment as there was some miscommunication regarding the key. This meant that by the time we entered the apartment, it was already too late to head out to the city centre to get dinner. We decided to eat local and have an early night, ready for a busy day!

1/3 Osaka>Nara
 We were contemplating whether to head to Nara for a day trip, since we wouldn’t have much time to see Osaka. In the end we decided to go, as we thought it would be best to see as many places as we could and Nara is so close to Osaka (an hour train journey). We woke up early and took the train to Nara. Nara is famous for its wild deer, and they’re not shy when approaching humans. I was told by a lot of my colleagues at work to be careful when approaching them as there is a chance they could attack you. I was told stories of people being bitten, and one of my teachers at school recalled being charged at by one.

Arriving at Nara, we took the bus to Todaiji Temple. This is the most famous temple in Nara, and it holds the world’s biggest bronze Buddha statue known as Daibutsu. It served as one of the seven great temples of Japan. It’s a must see if you visit Nara! The area surrounding the temple was incredibly busy, and we had to cross Ueno Park in order to reach Todaiji. There were so many deer roaming the grounds freely. I made sure to keep a distance from them! Many people were still queuing up to visit the temples in the area to pray. There were plenty festival stalls for us to try as well.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Festival stalls

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As we approached the entrance gate to Todaiji Temple, I was really impressed by the two structures on each side of the gate resembling the Nio Guardian Kings. They were huge, and the detail on each statue was unbelievable. The gate itself was a beautiful, faded wooden structure, a complete contrast to some of the brightly painted shrines and pagodas in Kyoto.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Entrance to Todaiji
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Nio Guardian
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Nio Guardian

Nara really gives a feeling of nature, which makes it a place worth visiting. I was pleasantly surprised by Todaiji Temple. I honestly did not know what to expect, as I have visited many shrines and temples during my time in Japan. In all honesty, shrines and temples all seem very similar to me, so admittedly there are times when I’m not entirely sure how to appreciate them. But Todaiji Temple was enchanting, and I did not expect it to be so big! The air was filled the smell of burning incense sticks, and I was stood there gaping at how beautiful the temple was. We made our way inside, and saw the huge bronze Buddha statue inside.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Todaiji temple
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Daibutsu

We spent a total of around 3 hours in Nara, then decided to head back to Osaka. There really isn’t much to do in Nara besides visiting the park and its famous temples, so if anyone is planning a trip to Nara I recommend making it an afternoon trip.

Arriving back in Osaka, we took the train to the famous Dontonbori. This street is famous for its food! It reminded me a lot of Tokyo, but a lot busier. There were many restaurants along this street, and also many takoyaki restaurants! Some with insane queues. We decided to have lunch at a sushi restaurant, the sushi was so good!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Dotonbori, Osaka
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Dontonbori

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Takoyaki stalls

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We spent the rest of the day wondering around Nanba and doing some shopping. I managed to find the famous Glico man! It’s seen as the icon of Osaka, and the display was installed in 1935 and advertises Glico candy, a Japanese confectionary company.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Famous Glico advertisement

We ate a lot of ramen during our trip, but the best ramen were the ones we ate at local ramen bars. There was one particular ramen bar on the main street of Dontonbori which we queued up for a while to try. The tonkotsu ramen was delicious! I’m really going to miss this when I go back home!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

1/4 Osaka>Tokyo>Tochigi
This was the day I was dreading the most. Our task was to travel back to Tochigi from Osaka. I was not looking forward to carrying our heavy suitcase from station to station, and also fighting for a shinkansen seat! We visited Osaka Castle before starting our journey back home. There was no way we could leave Osaka without seeing the castle!

Since we had very little time, we didn’t spend much time at the castle. We literally went there, took a few photos then went straight back to the station to take the shinkansen to Tokyo. We didn’t have time to go inside the castle, but seeing it from outside was already impressive.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Osaka Castle

We then made our way to Osaka station to take the shinkansen to Tokyo. We were lucky enough to get a seat again, and we bought bento to eat! Again, I felt like we were very lucky being able to sit for the duration of the journey as the shinkansen started to fill up quick. A lot of people were standing with their suitcases. After arriving at Tokyo station, we took the next shinkansen back to Tochigi. Altogether, it took us around 4 hours to head back home.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Bento on the shinkansen

As soon as we arrived back in my town, we went to a yakiniku restaurant with my Japanese friend. The food was great, yakiniku has to be one of my favourite Japanese foods ever! I mentioned to my friend that I like to eat melon pan, so she ordered melon pan ice cream. I had no idea that they served it at the restaurant, and it was so cool placing the melon pan on the yakiniku grill to heat it up. Not only that, but it tasted amazing!

16144880_10209545279603919_2023327168_o
Melon pan ice cream

16107684_10209545279843925_1512550657_o

1/5 Tochigi One thing I wasn’t able to do with my girlfriend the last time she visited Japan was to take her to an onsen. I love onsens, and after such a busy trip I felt that it would be perfect to spend the last day relaxing in an onsen pool. We ended up going to an onsen hotel up in Nasu. We took the morning shuttle bus up to the hotel, and it was snowing on the way there. It was the same onsen I went to on Christmas Day. It was nice to have a change in scene and spend time in the countryside. Japan has a lot more to offer than just the big cities like Tokyo, Osaka etc. The countryside is beautiful, and for those travelling to Tochigi, I really recommend visiting Nikko or Nasu.

We really couldn’t have planned our trip any better, as we were feeling fresh and fully recharged after the onsen. My whole body was aching from all the travelling and carrying our luggage, but the onsen really does wonders in relaxing your muscles and helping your skin. We took it easy for the rest of the day, and then I took my girlfriend to the train station for her to head to Haneda airport. The trip went by so fast, but I had a lot of fun. It was fun cramming as much stuff as we could into one week, and travelling and seeing so many different places. I have to say that we were incredibly lucky with travelling. I mentioned that I was dreading travelling during winter break, but all in all it wasn’t bad at all.

I honestly never thought that I would be able to spend 2017 travelling Japan with my girlfriend. It is such a big difference to my usual New Year celebrations at home. Every year I would spend my New Year working at my parent’s takeaway, and then hurrying home to catch the countdown on TV before heading to bed. All I can say is that I feel so blessed to have this opportunity to live and work in Japan. It took a lot of courage to make the decision to come here, but taking that first step can really change your life completely. I really hope that 2017 is a great year for you all. Don’t be afraid of taking chances and going for opportunities which may never arise again. Life is too short, so we need to make the most of it! All the best guys!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Solo trip to Kyoto..

With a few days off for Autumn break, I made a pretty spur of the moment decision to travel to Kyoto on my own. I was slightly unsure at first, as I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy travelling alone. Another thing was the expensive shinkansen tickets! But I keep saying to myself to go for every opportunity there is, as I don’t want to go back to the UK with any regrets.

With all my hostels booked, it was such bad timing that the day prior to leaving I caught a fever. I had no appetite to eat, and I was constantly shivering and sweating. On the Sunday morning when I was due to leave, I wasn’t feeling any better. Curled up into a ball on my bed, wrapped up in a blanket with the air con turned on. I was very close to cancelling my trip. But the chance of travelling to Kyoto was just too much for me to cancel. I took some ibuprofen, packed my bags and made my way to the train station.

My plan was to stay in Tokyo for one night before taking the shinkansen to Kyoto the next morning. The train journey was brutal. A 2 and a half hour journey with a fever. But I managed to brave through it, and after arriving at Ueno station I ate a big bowl of ramen and made my way to the hostel. As I walked through a side street to get to my hostel, I could see Tokyo Skytree in the distance!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

With me being ill, I decided to have an early night ready to wake up bright and early to start my Kyoto adventure.

10/10/16

I got up bright and early the next morning, and made my way to Tokyo station to take the shinkansen to Kyoto! It took just over 2 hours on the shinkansen, so I spent the journey reading up on all the places I was planning to visit.

I finally arrived at Kyoto station and decided to walk to Toji Temple, a 15 minute walk from the station. I stopped by a small cafe to have lunch. Kyoto is supposedly famous for it’s matcha, which is one of my favourites!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My first stop was Toji Temple, one of the oldest structures in Kyoto. I believe it is around 1,200 years old and enshrines the Buddha of Healing and his attendants.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As I approached the temple, the pagoda was clearly visible in the distance and this instantly made me feel the Kyoto vibes! The historical side of Japan which I had only previously seen in magazines and on TV. The contrast between Kyoto and Tokyo is insanely large. Tokyo is all about the city life, the LED lights, crowded and bustling streets. But it lacks the cultural side of Japan which Kyoto takes a lot of pride in offering.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Toji Temple

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

With it being early October, I was slightly early for the pretty autumn leaves. But the leaves were beginning to change colour a bit which was quite nice! Kyoto is said to be one of the most beautiful places in Autumn, with its red and orange leaves. For those wanting to travel to Kyoto, I think late November/early December is the best time to visit!

After visiting Toji temple, I took the subway to my hostel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Piece Hostel, Sanjo

I was pleasantly surprised at how great this hostel was! With great reviews online, I decided to book 2 nights at this hostel. The interior was very modern and new, and the staff were incredibly helpful and friendly. At such a cheap price too, it came with free breakfast! I definitely recommend this hostel to anyone planning on visiting Kyoto.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For dinner, I decided to queue up outside a restaurant to try some Kyoto style beef!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I ordered the set, which came with miso soup and many different dips like wasabi, grated yam, curry and pepper. The rice was refillable. The beef was quite nice! But I wasn’t a huge fan of eating it with a katsu crust, as it kind of took away the flavour of the beef. But overall, it was pretty good!

With it officially being Autumn now, the days don’t last as long here now. At around 5pm, the sky already turned black. One of the things I noticed in Kyoto is that a lot of the temples/shrines close at around 5pm. So during the night, there really isn’t much to do. I read online that Yasata shrine, not far from my hostel, is a pretty place to visit at night as the shrine lights up. I decided to take an evening stroll to the shrine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Yasata shrine

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Yasata shrine was unbelievably beautiful at night, a lot of small shrines inside were brightly lit up. There were quite a few people there praying and making wishes. I’m not entirely sure what the kanji written on the lanterns are supposed to resemble. But seeing them lit up at night was pretty breathtaking.

Later that night, I decided to wonder around Sanjo, the area near my hostel. I was still feeling quite hungry so decided to look for somewhere to have a light snack and a beer. It took quite a lot of courage to go into a restaurant on my own to eat. Especially since people assume that I’m Japanese when they first see me. But travelling alone made me brave, either that or I would have starved to death! Haha!

One of the things I love about exploring Japan, is going through the side streets to try out the tiny local restaurants. I went into a small yakitori bar, and ordered a few sticks of yakitori and a beer. I asked the waiter for a bottle of Asahi beer, and later on saw him about to open a huge bottle. I had to quickly stop him, and asked him if he had anything smaller. In the end, I ended up getting draught beer. It was a close one! No way would I have been able to finish that huge bottle, and I probably would have been staggering my way back to hostel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

11/10/16

The next day I woke up extra early as I had a lot I wanted to see! My first stop was Kiyomizu dera, a must see in Kyoto. I took the bus there and followed some people walking uphill through a side street.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
On the way to Kiyomizu Temple

The further I walked, the more people I could see. Before I knew it, I was walking through a street packed with visitors and shops. There were schoolchildren running around taking group photos, countless shops selling souvenirs, snacks and desserts! The atmosphere was really pleasant!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I could see the pagoda in the distance and knew that I was near to the temple. I stopped by a few shops to buy a few souvenirs. I also tried a steamed tofu bun with pork inside which was really delicious.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Steamed tofu pork bun

As I made my way to the top of the street, I could see the entrance to Kiyomizu dera. This is a Buddhist temple founded in 778 and serves as one of the most prominent historical structures in Kyoto.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Entrance to Kiyomizu temple

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The entrance was stunning, with its vibrant red coloured gate and pagoda. The place was crowded with tourists, Japanese school children on school trips. It was pretty tough having a fever and making my way uphill and beating the crowds to reach this place, but it was totally worth it!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
View from the deck

I followed the steps leading to the temple itself, and the view from the deck was quite breathtaking. Not only could you see Kyoto city in the distance, but you could also see pagodas poking out from the trees. Overlooking the city from such a beautiful temple really illustrated the rich history of Kyoto. I can only imagine this view to be even more incredible in the peak of Autumn with its red and orange leaves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The deck of Kiyomizu temple

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The wooden structure

One thing I was really impressed by was the structure itself. Kiyomizu-dera is famous for being built entirely from wood with not one single nail used. Walking down the steps and seeing how the structure was put together was fascinating. The pieces of wood all seemed to lock into one another.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Kiyomizu dera from the ground

In the photo above you can see Kiyomizu dera taken from the ground. If you look closely, you can see the tiny elementary students wearing their yellow hats!

After Kiyomizu dera, I decided to take a walk along the side streets surrounding the area which is known as Higashiyama. This was probably the highlight of my entire trip, as the narrow streets and tiny shops made me feel like I got a real taste of Kyoto.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The further I walked, the less tourists there were. It was quite steep walking down the narrow cobbly streets, and I remember reading that if you trip, it brings 3 years of bad luck! I was sure to be careful! As I continued further down the street there was a huge, black and murky pagoda visible in the distance which made the view incredibly beautiful and picturesque.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The pagoda was such a huge contrast to the one I had just seen at the entrance to Kiyomizu dera. I read that this pagoda was the only surviving structure from a fire, which burned the temple beside it. Its charcoal black colour made the pagoda seem like a huge shadow in the distance which I thought was eerily beautiful. I had to take a moment to really appreciate its beauty. It almost felt like I had transported myself thousands of years into the past.

As I walked through the narrow streets of Higashiyama, I made sure to visit the various food shops they had.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here I stopped by a small dango shop. Dango is a sweet which is more or less like skewered mochi.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Mitarashi dango

I tried mitarashi dango, which is covered in a soy sauce glaze and served with what seemed liked brown powdered sugar. It was really nice, and not too sweet! the sauce made the dango extra sticky, and it went really well with a nice cup of matcha tea!

After walking around Higashiyama, I took the bus to my next stop, Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion). Ginkakuji was the retirement place of a former shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa in 1482 and is a zen temple.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The grounds were stunning, and I could definitely feel the zen surrounding the area. It was incredibly peaceful and well kept. The buildings were very contemporary at that time, which greatly influenced the architecture of the whole of Japan.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Sand garden

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Matcha well
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Autumn leaves

The garden was beautiful, surrounded by sand gardens, luscious trees, ponds and bridges. The leaves were just starting to turn red, which was nice to see. But this garden is known to be breathtakingly beautiful during the autumn when the entire garden turns red. I walked around the entire garden which was quite a nice long walk. The view from the top of the garden was gorgeous. Overlooking the garden and also the city of Kyoto.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
View from the top of the garden
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Ginkakuji

With the name Ginkakuji, Silver Pavilion, I was expecting the structure to show some form of silver which it didn’t. I later found out that it was given the name Silver Pavilion because at night time when the moonlight reflected on the structure, it gave it its silver appearance. This building is also only one of two structures in the garden which has survived earthquakes and other incidents staying completely intact.

After walking around the gardens, I took a walk along Philosopher’s Walk, a stone footpath along a river nearby Ginkakuji. They say that one of Japan’s most famous philosophers Nishida Kitaro would take this route on his way to Kyoto University, and he also practised meditation here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Philosopher’s walk

There are many cherry trees along Philosopher’s Walk which would make hanami season the best time to visit this place! The walk was very relaxing, and it was nice to get away from the places swarmed with tourists. There were many different shrines and temples along the way, and I decided to check them out.

As I followed a sign to a temple along Philosopher’s Walk, I came across this sign.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I forgot the name of this shrine, it was incredibly small, hidden and disguised in a moss covered forest. There were only a couple of visitors at the shrine, but it was still quite nice and worth visiting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After a long but eventful day, I headed back to Sanjo and had dinner. I love going into the back streets and finding small local ramen bars. I never get sick of a nice bowl of tonkotsu ramen!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

12/10/16

This was my last day in Kyoto! I wasn’t ready to go back to Tochigi, as I felt like I hadn’t seen enough of this beautiful city. I woke up really early and checked out of my hostel, and headed to Kinkakuji. Kinkakuji (golden pavilion) is like the sister of Ginkakuji, it’s the retirement villa of Yoshimasa’s grandfather. It was pretty far away from all the other attractions, so the bus journey took quite a while.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was already impressed by the entrance to the villa. It was such a beautiful day and the buildings surrounding the entrance were really cool.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I bought my ticket to enter the villa, and shortly after entering I could see Kinkakuji temple just across a large pond. I didn’t expect the temple to be so beautiful! I had seen photos of this place online and in my travel books, but seeing it in person was completely different. The clear, crispy autumn day made the temple glimmer in the sunlight, and together with the yellowing leaves reflecting off the large pond made the entire scene stunning. The top two floors of the temple are made entirely of gold leaf.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Kinkakuji temple

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The browning autumn leaves

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It didn’t take long to walk the entire villa, but it was definitely worth travelling to the outskirts of Kyoto just to see this beautiful temple.

After visiting Kinkakuji, I took the bus to Nijo Castle. The castle was huge!! Just walking round to the entrance took a long time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Outside Nijo Castle
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The entrance to Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle was built during the Edo Period, and was used as an Imperial Palace. It took a quite a long time to walk around the entire thing. But it was very interesting to actually enter the castle and see the beautiful rooms where visitors would wait and meet the shogun. Each room was beautifully designed with their own unique paintings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

That was it! It was time to take the bus back to Kyoto station to take my shinkansen back to Tokyo. My trip to Kyoto was far better than I had imagined. Even though I was quite ill, I’m so glad that I never cancelled the trip. Travelling alone was definitely an experience. Having to be impulsive in decisions, and also having my own freedom to travel was quite a liberating feeling. It was nice going through the back streets and trying out food in local restaurants/bars. The historical sites in Kyoto were wonderful, and I felt like there was so much more to see!

I definitely need to make another trip to Kyoto, I managed to tick off most of the places on my to do list, but there were so many other places I didn’t get a chance to see. Until next time, Kyoto!

Anyways, that’s all for now. Have a great weekend!