October 16, 2015

After spending a night in Kyoto and packing up a small overnight bag we set off for Nara to stay in a hotel which we had been told is like being transported back 50-100 years, a feature the hotel prides itself on. 

The aim of this time warp is to feel as though nothing has been touched. It works perfectly and you wander around this famous establishment ooogling at the old style interiors, pictures on the walls and  impeccable customer service you dont see anywhere else.

After a late night wander around the town we came back to the hotel for a drink at the bar - even if you can't stay at the Nara Hotel, a drink in the bar is highly recommended. The gardens are lit and you sit in the bar with floor to ceiling glass opening onto the beautiful golden maples. The service, is of course impeccable and you are served Moscow Mules, Singapore Slings and the finest Japanese whiskey.

After a restful sleep we woke to sunlight streaming through our window and a view of few deer in the garden. We had a traditional breakfast and headed out into the national parks housing the cities famous Shrines.

Deer wander down from the forest covered hills surrounding the old city and get fed wafers by excited tourists. These deer  clearly have the best of life as there is no shortage of wafers or tourists wanting to feed them....we were no exception!

Once the deer had been sufficently fed we walked up to Todai-Ji Shrine, the largest surviving wooden structure in Japan, watched incense being lit, and stood in the shadow of a magnificent Budda.

 We navigated our way around the deer, and back out of the park and headed north  to Kasuga Taisha Nara's most celebrated shrine.  Here there are thousands of stone lanterns that have been donated by worshippers over the years. 

This magnificent collection of lanterns are only lit twice a year during festivals 

After an amazing day we meandered slowly back to gather our bags from the hotel and made our way back to Kyoto for the next few days of exploring Golden temples, Bamboo Forests and the tastiest sashimi. 

October 14, 2015

Having arrived, by bullet train to Kyoto we checked into our hostel - which, I may add is the most beautiful hostel ever, you must stay here when you come to Kyoto. 

 Everyone has their own room, you are provided with breakfast and there is a roof terrace, a fully equipped kitchen and the staff are wonderfully helpful. If you end up in Kyoto, you will almost definitely want to spend a day in Nara, this hostel is perfect as it is situated right  behind Kyoto's huge station. 

We arrived to a very soggy Kyoto and after getting soaked whilst trying to find a shrine, we gave up as even our waterproofs could not cope and went to explore the huge railway station that was apparently a foodie hub, a great place to people watch and all in all a great place to kill a couple of hours when the rain is torrential outside. 

The following day we woke early and with the weather lovely we navigated our way up to Philosophers walk in the north of the city by bus - supposedly the easiest way to get up to the temples and cheap as chips compared to a taxi.

The Philosophers walk is a long walk along a canal surrounded by shrines, Ginkaku-ji and Nanzen-Ji to name a couple. and lined with cherry blossom in spring and beautiful burnt orange and red maple leaves in autumn. The walk is named after an influential Japanese philoshper, Professor Nishida Kitaro who is thought to have used the path for daily meditation.

We managed to catch the first leaves starting to turn without the crowds that descend on the city when autumn is in full swing. 

We ventured from shrine to shrine and were surpirsed that we pretty much had the path to ourselves. The beauty of these shrines and zen gardens is hard to explain but one thing I can tell you is that they have a calming silence and you do feel extremely at peace visiting these sacred sites. 

Once we had explored each temple, walked bare foot along tatami mats and marvelled at the hundreds of coy carpe in the surroundings ponds we took a long, and rather sticky bus ride back to the centre of Kyoto for some lunch time tempura.

 We then headed down to Nara for the night...but more of that tomorrow! 

October 11, 2015

Japan has always been on my bucket list. Its a place that, in my mind has delicious food, a fascinating culture, a country that is still steeped in tradition but has the unusal and fantastic juxtaposition of high tech technology making everyday life that bit easier.

This is not entirely obvious at first, in fact not really until you arrive home do you remember the clean streets, no litter in sight, no bins either making every street sparkling and totally dirt free. Toilets with more functions than you can imagine, trains that run at super speed and tubes that are never delayed it is a society that seems to run seamlessly.

We arrived late on Sunday night to a glistening view of downtown Tokyo, crashed out and woke early the next day to growling bellies (less than a little impressed by a body clock tilt and hungry for tempura).

We decided to venture to two districts in the north west of the giant metropolis of Tokyo, Shibuya (home to the biggest pedestrian crossing in the world) and Shinjuku, the birthplace of Tokyo street fashion, streets lined with neon advertising and home to Tokyo's quirkier assets (cat cafes, maid cafes and restaurants run by robots).

In-between these two areas we wanted to stop by Meiji - Jingu Shrine, less of a tourist trap than some other sites of Tokyo and truly beautiful.

As we arrived through the giant gates of the shrine we were able to witness a traditional wedding ceremony. we crowded amongst the other toruists to capture the procession of the bride and groom through the temple precincts.

The dress of each member of the ceremony was beautiful and with not a hair out of place, flowing silks and black velvet hats you felt like you had stepped back in time.

Once they had entered a private part of the shrine we ventured on around the rest of the magnificent complex.

Wandering through the wooden buildings we wound our way through to the pristine gardens in the surrounding woods. A calming zen garden takes you on a journey past tea houses with rice paper screens and serene round windows over ponds brimming with orange coy carpe finally to a wishing well.

After the shrine we walked up to the Shinjuku district. This area is full of neon strip lights and hectic with music, tooting horns and mind boggling style. Around the back of the main station is a small collection of alleyways making up the famous area known as 'piss alley'. Red lanterns strewn across doorways and sliding doors just open enough to peer in you can see food being prepared for the evening rush and people stopping in for a late lunch of Ramen. 

The style of these street restaurants is simple. You sit along a bar facing the kitchen and watch the chefs at work. With all menus being mostly in Japanese with basic english we decided that we would not risk this on our first day and instead headed off for Katsu in the station food court.

The stations in Japan are not only hubs of activity but also have amazing food. Restaurants line the food courts like traditional streets. 

Every restaurnt in Japan wants to give its customers an accurate description of what to expect from its food and this is done with extremely detailed acrylic imitations of every dish. Some of these were better than others, the more deatiled the imitation the more appealing the restaurant!

Can you believe these are plastic?!   ^

After we had our fill of the real thing... we wandered around the rest of 'piss alley' one more time before heading back for a long sleep.

Day two and we headed up to the North East of the city to an area called Akasusa. Here there is a beautiful shrine, a perfect cafe (with amazing green tea ice cream!) and the famous kitchenware street of Tokyo - Kappabashi. A street lined with shops stocking everything you would need to kit out a restaurant. From stools and benches to the plastic food of Japan, chopsticks, cookware and table linen this place could be described as a  cookware addict homeware lover's heaven.

The Akasusa, Sanja-Sama shrine is entered through  large gates which have huge lanterns hanging in the centre. Off to each side of these gates are small streets clad in wooden shutters and rice paper screens. If you can tear your self away from the tempation of wandering off up side alleys you walk up the market street to the main shrine. Each stall is bursting with street food, red bean paste, pancakes, rice tapioca on sticks, mochi and amazing soft serve icecream.

We wandered the Sanja-Sama shrine for a good hour, snapping away, lighting incense and really becoming immersed in the culture of this incredbile country. With grumbling bellies we went in search of a late breakfast...

We found a tiny cafe and gorged on freshely baked bread, shaved ice (a summertime Japanese treat) chewy milk balls and matcha soft serve. All washed down with matcha tea.

Once we had our fill of ice cream for brunch we went searching for Kappabashi Street....

Once I had had my fill of cookware we ventured back to our hotel to pack up for leg two of our adventure, Kyoto by bullet train....

More adventures next week!

My must sees for Tokyo...

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