Japan · 20 Days · 141 Moments · October 2013

Sights, hikes & culture

17 November 2013

Airport Shops *The airport bookshop sells a selection of english books: We loved: 1.: Getting Genki in Japan: The Adventures and Misadventures of an American Family in Tokyo from Karen Pond (Author) and Akiko Saito (Illustrator) and: 2.: Yokai Attack!: The Japanese Monster Survival Guide from Hiroko Yoda (Author) and Matt Alt (Author) and Tatsuya Morino (illustrator) *We found delicious but expensive vacuum packed eel (unagi kabayaki) at the airport (see picture) and loved it: We could have stored for 6 months or more but as soon as we found some nice Japanese Nishiki rice we cooked it. It made us think back to Japan. Unfortunately eel got very expensive within the last five years as it is no longer as abundant. * We spent our last yen on sweets: They sell big boxes of Green tea (+/- Wasabi) KITKAT (and many more flavors; individually packed inside). This proved to be a good little gift for friends.
ITINERARY: You should count in about 2 hours to reach Narita Airport. Take the Kodama Shinkansen (Tokaido Line) to Tokyo Station (36min; train intervals range between 17 and 22 minutes). You do not need a reservation. Just take a seat in one of the non-reserved cars. From there, take the Narita Limited Express Train (Sobu Line Underground Platform 1-4) to Narita Airport Terminal 1 or 2 (58 minutes, train intervals range between 15 minutes and one hour - mostly trains leave every half hour). You can get your obligatory reservation right above the platform. The Narita Limited Express Train is fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass. Our Trip: We took the Kodama Shinkansen (Tokaido Line) to Tokyo Station at 7:02 to arrive at 7:38; Departure Narita Limited Express Train (Sobu Line Underground Platform 1-4) at 8:00; Arrival at Narita Airport at 9:01 (Terminal 1 South Wing for Austrian Airlines); Flight back to Vienna from Narita Airport at 11:15am; Arrival at Vienna Airport at 4pm.

16 November 2013

Lake Ashinoko (芦ノ湖, Ashinoko) You will be heading back via Lake Ashinoko, which was formed in the caldera of Mount Hakone after the volcano's last eruption 3000 years ago. Start: Togendai End: Moto-Hakone If you are lucky you will see Mount Fuji both from Owakudani and from the lake. Views on volcanoes tend to be best in the early morning though as they are less likely to be covered by clouds or mist.
Owakudani (大涌谷, Ōwakudani) The first major attraction is Owakudani, an area around a crater created during the last eruption of Mount Hakone. A short walking trail leads from the ropeway station to the active volcanic zone with its sulfurous fumes and hot rivers. Purchase eggs that have been cooked in naturally hot water whose shells are blackened by sulfur and add 7 more years to your life by eating them. We took the ropeway to Togendai since we only had the afternoon (we had to get my phone from Kyoto police station in the morning) but you may want to walk: A hiking trail leads from the ropeway station to the peak of Mount Kamiyama and continues on to Mount Komagatake. About 30 minutes past the peak of Mount Kamiyama a trail splits off down towards Lake Ashi ending at Kojiri not far from Togendai, from where the boat leaves.
ITINERARY: Hakone (箱根) and the the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park Buy the 2-day Hakone free pass for 3 900 Yen from Odawara train station (either the day before your trip or the same day) even if you only plan a day trip (there is no such thing as a one day pass). Multilingual students help from 8am to 5pm to buy the tickets. Regular tickets would total about 6300 Yen and you would be getting out your wallet all the time. With the pass you will also get discounted admission to selected tourist attractions. Do the classic round course by train to Hakone, by cablecar to Gora, by ropeway to Owakudani. Visit the volcanic zone (sulfur mines) and eat the famous blackened eggs. Continue via ropeway (or by foot) on to Todendai , take the tourist boat to Moto-Hakone or Hakonemachi and enjoy wonderful views of Mt Fuji if you are lucky. Take the bus back to Odawara from Moto-Hakone or Hakonemachi. We were there on a public holiday with masses of people but it went ok. Take enough cash along as it is not possible to pay with credit card in most shops.

15 November 2013

3. Lake Sai Park Forest of Wild Bird (西湖野鳥の森公園, saikoyachonomorikouen After visiting the village we decided to go for a walk through the bird forest. We saw a woodpecker and some little birds far away. The forest is pictureque with its rather short trees with big roots around lava flows, moss, etc. If you are going by car, take the first possible turn to the left. The retro bus has a stop at the bird forest but we suggest you walk from the village to the bird forest as it is just 500m away or so. If you are going by bus you could simply continue on the walkingtrack which takes you to the bat cave and then you could take the bus from there. Lake Motosu, Saiko and Shōji were originally a single lake, which was divided by an enormous lava flow from Mount Fuji, remnants of which are now under the Aokigahara Jukai Forest.
2. Iyashi no Sato (西湖いやしの里 根場) Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (April through November), 9:30 to 16:30 (December through March); Closed: Wednesdays from December through February Admission: 350 yen Iyashi no Sato stands on the site of an old farming village (destroyed by a typhoon in 1966 and then rebuilt) with a beautiful view on Mount Fuji. It is an open air museum and traditional craft village where people can take pictures and purchase different local handicrafts. We entered the telephone number into our GPS to get there and got lucky with beautiful views of Mt Fuji (no clouds/mist).
1. Lookout over Lake Saiko just before Iyashi no Sato There is a nice lookout point on Kohoku View Line at the end of the lake just before you reach the village Iyashi no Sato. We drove onto the gravel next to the river, took some nice pictures and then continued.
ITINERARY BY CAR: Odawara to Fujisan Station and to Lake Saiko and back We took the car (Nissan rental; 7035 Yen, 8am-8pm) from Odawara to Lake Saiko with English GPS, i.e. text in Japanese, voice in English. We entered the phone number of the Fujiyoshida Tourist Information Center which is located at the Fujiyoshida train station (Fujisan Station; 2-4-20 kamiyoshida , Fujiyoshida-shi, Yamanashi; Phone: 0555-22-7000) in order to be directed there. We got brochures and leaflets in English and the lady working there was very helpful. She gave us the next phone number to enter for Lake Saiko (0555-20-4677; Iyashi no Sato) and told us that we would not be able to do more than one lake but that we could visit caves there too. There were quite a few toll roads and not all of them were manned. There was one where you had to through coins into a box and when the right amount of money was reached the bar opened. We passed the test;) It took us 2 1/2 hours to get to Lake Saiko from Odawara in spite of the short distance of 80km (traffic jams, speed limitations, etc
ITINERARY BY TRAIN AND BY BUS Buy the Fuji Hakone 3 day Pass for 7,200 yen (cheaper than buying single tickets) instead of the 2 day Hakone Free Pass if you do not want to rent a car. Take the Odakyu Odawara Line Exp from Odawara to Matsuda (8 min) and the LTD. EXP ASAGIRI to Gotemba (= Gotenba) (26 min). From there you need to take the bus to Kawaguchiko Station (57 min;1470 yen one way). Buses are not frequent: Leave at 9:04 to arrive at 10:01. Board from 御殿場駅(発) to 河口湖駅. Visit the website below for timetables. The last bus back to Gotemba leaves at 18:00 and arrives at 18:59. Retro buses (1300 Yen day pass) on the Saiko-Aokigahara Line connect Kawaguchiko Station with Iyashi no Sato once per hour. The one way trip takes about 40 minutes. Visit the website below for timetables Instead you may choose to go by car like we did: All you need is an international drivers licence. For the Swiss and for Germans it is a bit more complicated (You need to organize a translation of your drivers licence via the embassy.

14 November 2013

The Kyoto Botanical Garden (京都府立植物園 Kyōto Furitsu Shokubutsuen 240,000 m²), also known as the Kyoto ITINERARY: Take the Tozai Line (東西線 Tōzai-sen) from Kyōto Shiyakusho-mae to Karasuma Oike and the Karasuma Line (烏丸線 Karasuma-sen) to Kitayama station. The botanical gardens are just opposite this underground station. Hours: 9:00am - 4:00pm; closed Year End / New Year Fee: 200 yen The botanical gardens opened in 1924 and is home to about 120,000 plants (12,000 species). Garden areas: Bamboo Garden; Bonsai Exhibit; Camellia Garden; Cherry Trees; European Style Garden; Flower Bed; Hydrangea Garden; Japanese Iris Garden; Japanese Native Plants; Lotus Pond; Nakaragi-no-mori Pond (trees native to the Yamashiro Basin); Peony Garden; Perennial and Useful Plants Garden; Sunken Garden; and the Uma Grove. We liked the vegetable garden and the water lilies best.
Hotel Tozan Comfort Odawara t-natsugari@tozan-total.co.jp Use the above e-mail address for reservation purposes. A comfortable place to stay. Only a minute's walk from Odawara Station (East exit). You turn left and then right. Ask a taxi driver to point you into the right direction if you are disoriented. Internet available. Staff does not speak english but it is possible to communicate. Very helpful. ( I had lost my phone in a Kyoto taxi and they managed to locate it. I had to go get it from Kyoto policestation.) Do not get there befor 4pm. Check in time is 4 pm It is very easy to visit Hakone from Odawara. This was our reservation for 3 nights - double room: 予約番号( Reservation Number):************* 支払料金(total cost) :33,000円 Pay at the hotel 11,000円 per night
ITINERARY: How to get there Not every Hikari stops in Odawara! We still wanted to do some sightseeing so we took a train at lunchtime. You may want to leave earlier but check in time is 4pm anyway. Ask to be seated on the Fuji-san side! And reserve the day before! Here are two possible trains: Train: Hikari 512: From Kyoto to Odawara: 2h 07m Leave Kyoto Station at 8:29, arrive at 10:36 in Odawara Train: Hikari 520: From Kyoto to Odawara: 2h 07m Leave Kyoto Station at 12:29, arrive at 14:36 in Odawara

13 November 2013

5. Hōryū-ji (法隆寺, lit. Temple of the Flourishing Law) Hours: 8:00 to 17:00 (until 16:30 from early November to late February), no closing dates Admission: 1000 yen After visiting Nara, visit Horyuji, which is located about 12 km outside of central Nara. From JR Nara Station, take the frequently departing Yamatoji Line to Horyuji Station (12 minutes). From there, it is a 20 minute walk or 5 minute bus ride (180 yen, departures every 20 minutes) to the temple. Hōryū-ji is a Buddhist temple and serves both as seminary and monastery. The temple's pagoda is widely acknowledged to be one of the oldest wooden buildings existing in the world, and it is packed with school kids learning about one of the most important temples in their country (UNESCO World Heritage Site) .
4. Kasuga Grand Shrine (春日大社 Kasuga-taisha) Kasuga Taisha Hours: 6:00 to 18:00 (April to September); 6:30 to 17:30 (October to March), no closing days Admission: Free (outer area), 500 yen (inner area) Treasure House Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (Admission until 16:30) Closed: Closed irregularly for exhibit changes Admission: 400 yen Botanical Garden Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (until 16:30 from December to February) Admission ends 30 minutes before closing Closed: Mondays from December to February (or the following Tue if Mon is a national holiday) Admission: 500 yen Kasuga Grand Shrine, a Shinto shrine of the Fujiwara family established in 768 AD is famous for its many bronze lanterns, as well as the many stone lanterns that lead up the shrine. The path also leads through the "Deer Park".
3. Tōdai-ji (東大寺 Tōdai-ji, Eastern Great Temple) - A MUST SEE!! The world's largest wooden building! Hours: 8:00 to 16:30 (17:00); no closing days Admission: 500 yen (Museum: 500 yen extra) The highlight in Nara is the huge awe inspiring Toda-ji Temple, the headquarters of the Kegon school of Buddhism: On your way to the temple Sika deer (messengers of the Shinto gods) run around freely. They are used to being fed and can get dangerously greedy and might nibble at you instead! Watch out! Tōdai-ji's Great Buddha Hall (大仏殿 Daibutsuden), houses the world's largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana (Daibutsu; 大仏). Find the hole in one of the pillars which is supposedly the size of the buddha's nostril and crawl through it. You will find enlightenment in your next life! The wooden statue with the red cape represents Binzuru (Pindola Bharadvaja), master of occult powers. When a person rubs a part of the image of Binzuru, and then rubs the corresponding part of his/her body, the ailment there will disappear. By covering him in red cloth he is supposed to watch over children.
2. Yoshikien (吉城園) Japanese garden Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (entry until 16:30), Closed: December 28 to mid March Admission: 250 yen (free for foreign tourists) Visiting this park is free for people with a foreign passport! It lies on your way to the major sights in Nara and thus a little visit is worth it. There are three unique gardens within Yoshikien: a pond garden, a moss garden and a tea ceremony garden. If you want more you could also visit Isuien Garden just across the small river. A visit to Isuien Garden is not for free though.
1. Kōfuku-ji (興福寺 Kōfuku-ji) Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (National Treasure Museum and Eastern Golden Hall) Closed: No closing days Admission: 600 yen (National Treasure Museum), 300 yen (Eastern Golden Hall), 800 yen (both) Kōfuku-ji, Buddhist temple and the national headquarters of the Hossō school was partly under construction when we arrived: The Central golden hall is being reconstructed (until 2018). The 50m tall five story pagoda is Japan's second tallest pagoda. We did not visit the National Treasure Museum or the Eastern Golden Hall with its large wooden Yakushi Buddha statue and just strolled through the grounds. If you like buddhist art you should visit the National Treasury Museum though. We especially liked the style of the Octagonal Halls. Unfortunately they only open up for tourist a few times a year to show off their artifacts.
ITINERARY Take the Kintetsu Ltd. Exp Train (not covered by Japan Rail Pass, 1110 Yen for the one way trip) from Kyoto Station at 8:35 to arrive at Kinetsunara at 9:06 (35minutes). From here it is a 14 minute walk to reach Nara. Alternatively you can travel with your Japan Rail Pass: Leave Kyoto at 8:33 with the JR Nara Line Local or at 9:03 with the JR Nara Line Rapid Service and arrive at Nara at 9:31 (58minutes) or at 9:48 (45minutes). From Nara station you can take a bus (clockwise running loop bus number 2 or any of the buses bound for Kasuga Taisha (7 minutes, 180 yen). Get off at Kencho-mae bus stop) or walk to the main attractions. Visit Kofukuji first. After Kofukuji, enjoy a free entry (for foreign tourists) to Yoshikien (吉城園), a pleasant garden named after the Yoshikigawa River. Then continue to Todaji, the highlight of your day. Via Nara Park, visit Kasuga Taisha and then head back by foot to the train station enjoying Naramachi, the former merchant district with old buildings.

12 November 2013

4. Namba (難波) Namba is known as an entertainment district. You will find bars, restaurants, nightclubs, arcades, and pachinko parlors. The area is also known for shopping (Takashimaya department store; underground Namba City shopping mall). Famous sights like the Glico Man and the Kani Doraku Crab are located around the Dōtonbori canal here. Stroll around the canal and Ebisubashi Bridge and have dinner here before heading back to Kyoto. We had lovely Thai food and some good and cheap and authentic dinner from a restaurant where you pay your dish via a vending machine outside first.
3. The Osaka Museum of History (大阪歴史博物館, Ōsaka Rekishi Hakubutsukan) Hours: 9:30 to 17:00 (until 20:00 on Fridays) Admission ends 30 minutes before closing Closed: Tuesday (or following day if Tuesday is a national holiday) December 28 to January 4 Admission: 600 yen The Museum opened in 2003 in a tall building just across the street from Osaka Castle. The building offers excellent views of the castle from its top floors. The museum exhibits are visually oriented with several large models. They chronicle the city's history, beginning in ancient times when Osaka served as Japan's first capital and site of the Naniwa Palace and ending with exhibits on the city's bustling shopping arcades of the early Showa Period.
2. Osaka Castle (大阪城, Ōsakajō) Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (entrance until 16:30), closed: 28.12-1.1 Admission: 600 yen Nishinomaru Garden: Closed: Mondays (or following day if Monday is a national holiday) Admission: 200 yen (350 yen during extended hours of the cherry blossom season) The castle was built in 1583 on the former site of the Ishiyama Honganji Temple, which had been destroyed by Oda Nobunaga thirteen years earlier. Toyotomi Hideyoshi intended for the castle to become the center of a new, unified Japan under his rule. It was the largest castle at the time. After Hideyoshi's death, Tokugawa troops attacked and destroyed the castle and terminated the Toyotomi lineage in 1615. Osaka Castle was rebuilt by Tokugawa Hidetada in the 1620s, but its main castle tower was struck by lightening in 1665. The present structure was rebuilt in 1931 and houses an informative museum about the castle's history and Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
1. Shitennō-ji (四天王寺): The first (and thus oldest) Buddhist temple in Japan Hours: 8:30 to 16:30 (16:00 from October to March) Inner precinct: No closing days; Gokuraku-jodo Garden: Frequent closures, particularly during the first ten days of many months; Treasure House: Long closures between exhibitions Admission: 300 yen, 300 yen and 500 yen respectively Shitennō-ji was comissioned by Prince Shotoku in 593 and the temple buildings have been rebuilt over the centuries. Shitennō stands for the four heavenly kings and thus houses four institutions: A Kyōden-in (Institution of Religion and Education), a Hiden-in (Welfare Institution), a Ryōbyō-in (Hospital), and a Seiyaku-in (Pharmacy) to provide essential care to the Japanese people. Gokuraku-jodo Garden: based on fable 'Nigabyaku-doh', 'Niga' refers to two rivers of fire and water. Water: Greed while fortunate, Fire: Anger when misfortunate. Byakudoh is a white path between the rivers, a way to paradise. Hundres of turtles inhabit the grounds. Their pond might have saved the adjacent building from fire.
Optional: Osaka Aquarium -Kaiyukan (海遊館) Hours: 10:00 to 20:00 (from 9:30 in May, October and mid July to August) Admission ends one hour before closing Closed: Small number of irregular closing days Admission: 2300 yen On a rainy day you may want to visit the aquarium and its whale shark, which is unique. We saw it feeding on plancton. You will definitely have fun taking pictures. Barcelona and Sydney may have more habitat friendly exhibits in comparison but some aquariums here are definitely unique. There is a nice food court close by. How to get there: Take Chuo Line to Osakako (Osaka Port) station. It takes about 12 min. from Hommachi (Midousuji line), 18 min. from Umeda (or Osaka in JR line), 35 min. from Shinosaka (Shinkansen JR line) and 75 min. from Kansai International Airport.to reach Osakako.
ITINERARY We suggest you beginn your day with a visit to Tennoji Temple. There is a direct train from Kyoto Station to Tennoji: Take the LTD. EXP HARUKA 11 at 8:17 to arrive at 9:02 (45 min.) or the LTD. EXP KUROSHIO 3 at 08:36 to arrive at 9:20 (44 min.) It is a ten minute walk from the station to the temple. You can then have lunch after visiting Tennoji and continue to Osaka castle. Take the Osaka Loop Line from Tennoji to OSAKAJOKOEN at 12:06 to arrive at 12:17 for example. Intervalls are very short so it is easy to take an earlier or a later train. Visit the castle grounds and the castle museum and exit at the south west corner through Otemon Gate. The history museum is optional. Take the subway from Tanimachi 4-chrome Station (Chuo Line) to HOMMACHI (3 min.) and then the Yotsubashi line to Namba (3 min.) for shopping and for your evening programme. DO NOT WALK!!! IT IS TOO FAR! Take the Midosuji Line to Shin-Osaka (14 min) and a Kodama or Hikari Shinkansen from there to Kyoto (14 min).

11 November 2013

2. Miyajima (宮島), Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社) - A MUST SEE! - UNESCO world heritage site Miyajima is a small island less than an hour outside the city of Hiroshima. It is most famous for its giant torii gate, which at high tide seems to float on the water. The sight is ranked as one of Japan's three best views. A MUST SEE!!! There are usually many day tourists, but in the evening the area becomes much quieter and more peaceful. Similar to Nara, there are wild deer on the island that have become accustomed to people.
1. Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park (平和記念公園, Heiwa Kinen Kōen) - UNESCO world heritage site Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum Hours: 8:30 to 18:00 (until 19:00 in Aug, until 17:00 from Dec-Feb) Admission ends 30 minutes before closing time. Closed: 29.12.-1.1. Admission: 50 yen First, visit the Peace Memorial Museum which shows the history of Hiroshima just before the dropping of the nuclear bomb and the human suffering due to the bombing. The personal details displayed are quite upsetting. Have a stroll through the park after visiting the museum. The A-Bomb Dome is what remains of the former Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. Trees that had been partly destroyed by the bombing have been planted in the park as a reminder of the damage caused. After visiting the park, go to the ferry heading for Miyajima.
ITINERARY-Option 2: Hiroshima Take the Hikari Shinkansen 493 at 8:02 from Kyoto to arrive at 10:01 in Hiroshima Station. From Hiroshima Station, take tram line 2 or 6 to Genbaku-Domu mae station. The ride takes 15 minutes and costs 150 yen. Alternatively, you could also take the JR operated tourist loop bus "Maple-oop" which is covered by the Japan Rail Pass. Visit the Peace Memorial Park and the museum. Take the ferry directly from Hiroshima Peace Park to Miyajima, which takes 23 min only and thus is worth the extra cost (hourly departure times, ¥1640). Visit Miyajima. Take the JR operated Miyajima Ferry back from Miyajima to Miyajimaguchi. The trip takes 10 min. Japan Rail Pass holders can use the JR ferry for free. The Ferries operate a return service to the mainland until midnight, so it is possible to stay until the evening. Take the JR train back from Miyajimaguchi to JR Hiroshima station. Have Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki near the train station before heading back to Kyoto via Hikari Shinkansen.
2. Tō-tō (東塔): The main compound Walk from Saito to Toto and visit the temples here. Have lunch and start your return trip. Temples: Amida-dō Hall (阿弥陀堂) and adjoining pagoda (1937, reconstructions) Kaidan-in (戒壇院 ; Ordination Hall), dating from 1678. Daikō-dō (大講堂 ; Great Lecture Hall), built in 1634. It serves as a gathering place for monks to discuss the Buddhist scriptures and doctrines. It contains life-size statues of the great names of Tendai Buddhism, including the five above-mentioned "deflectors" who founded rival sects. Konpon-Chū-dō (根本中堂 ; Central Foundation Hall), encircled by a roofed, colonnaded gallery. This is where Saichō built his original temple.
1. Sai-to (西塔) Hours: 8:30 to 16:30 (March - Nov.); 9:00 to 16:00 (Dec.); 9:00 to 16:30 (Jan. - Feb.), no closing days Saito opens 30 minutes later and closes 30 minutes earlier Admission: 550 yen (entrance to all three areas); 450 yen (treasure house) Sai-tō is located 1200 metres north of the Tō-tō (half an hour walk). Sights: 1) Ninai-do: (Jogyodo, Bridge between the Jogyodo and Hokkedo, Hokkedo - the Lotus Hall): Ninai-do is composed of two identically shaped halls connected by a corridor, and its name means "borne temple hall," and comes from a legend that the buildings are carried, using a pole, on the shoulders of the warrior monk Benkei, known for his marvelous strength. 2) Shakado - the Shaka Hall of Enryakuji Temple: It was originally erected in the thirteenth century on the shores of Biwa-ko, but was moved here in 1595 to replace the earlier hall destroyed by Nobunaga's armies. 3) Jodoin and tomb of Saicho at Enryakuji Temple. There is an English Info-PDF on the following website:
ITINERARY-Option 1: Enryakuji: Expensive and far away! Visit Enryakuji if you want a glimpse of lake Biwa and have already been to Hiroshima. The commute is similar in length. Enryakuji is more intended for people that are looking to discover more remote attractions in Kyoto and surroundings (after ticking off the Kyoto highlights of which there are many). The fastest way to reach Enryakuji is to take a direct bus from Kyōto Station (1 hour, ¥750). The slower and costlier, but more scenic route is to take a cable car. We went from Sanjo Station to Demachi Yanagi Station and from there we went to Yase Heizan Guchi Station to take the Eizan Cable car which climbs to the top in 20 minutes and then we took the rope way. Once on top, we took the bus to Sai-to and walked to To-to (the western main part) from there. Then, we took a bus back to the cable car from there. One can buy a combined ticket for the entrance to Enryakuji and the cable car and bus ride: Mount Hiei Summit Pass for ¥3000 at Demachi Yanagi Station (no credit card).

10 November 2013

7. Daikakuji (大覚寺) - A MUST SEE!! Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (admission ends at 16:30), no closing days Admission: 500 yen (800 yen including the Reihokan Museum) Daikakuji (大覚寺), built in the early 800s as the detached palace of Emperor Saga, was converted into a temple and has since been one of the highest ranked temples of Shingon Buddhism. Daikakuji has had a role in several significant historical events and is also featured in the Tale of Genji, the first novel in Japanese literature. Today, the temple is one of the best places to still feel the ancient court atmosphere described in the novel and is often used for filming historical dramas. It is surrounded by the oldest and last surviving example of a Shinden style garden and Osawa Pond. Several Buddhist statues, a small shrine and the Shingyo Pagoda, erected to commemorate the 1150th anniversary of Emperor Saga writing the Heart Sutra, populate the garden grounds.
6. Adashino Nenbutsu-ji Temple (化野念仏寺) Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (entry until 16:30) Closed: No closing days Admission: 500 yen Walk up Saga-Toriimoto Preserved Street to the Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple. Many of the buildings are traditional machiya ("town houses") that served as private residences in the Meiji Period (1868-1912) but have since been converted into shops and restaurants. The temple was founded in the early 9th century when the famous monk Kobo Daishi placed stone statues for the souls of the dead here (for people who had not received a proper burial). Today, the temple grounds are covered by hundreds of such stone statues. Another ten minute walk north of the similarly named Adashino Nenbutsuji, the Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple is famous for its 1200 stone statues of rakan, devoted followers of Buddhism, each with a different facial expression. Created relatively recently in the 1980s and early 1990s, the many statues stand across the temple grounds which cover part of a forested mountain slope.
5. Okochi Sanso Villa + Garden Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 Adults: 1000 yen Elementary School Students: 500 yen This villa belonged to popular actor Okochi Denjiro (1896-1962) and consists of several different gardens and buildings (only viewable from the outside), including living quarters, tea houses and gates. Admission includes a very bitter matcha green tea served with a sweet. Enjoy the gorgeous views from its garden grounds.
4. Sagano Bamboo Forest (嵯峨野竹林) - A MUST SEE!! A beautiful 15 min walk! Walk through this wonderful bamboo forest. The path is surrounded by huge bamboo trees that are overhanging the walkway. Apparently they make a nice sound when the wind blows through them - a sound that merits to be preserved according to the Japanese government. The bamboo has been used to manufacture baskets, cups, boxes and mats at local workshops for centuries. Even Edison supposedly nearly used bamboo from this forest as a filament. Visit the following website for stunning pictures and some more interesting details:
3. Tenryū-ji (天龍寺) - UNESCO world heritage site Hours: 8:30 to 17:30 (until 17:00 late October - late March), no closing days Admission: 500 yen for gardens, additional 100 yen to enter buildings Tenryū-ji, founded by shogun Ashikaga Takauji in 1339, primarily to venerate Gautama Buddha, is the head temple of the Tenryū branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism. It is ranked number one among Kyoto's so-called Five Mountains. The beautiful garden, created by Musō Soseki, features a circular promenade around Sōgen Pond (曹源池 sōgenchi). It survived the many fires as opposed to the buildings which had to be reconstructed many times. We only visited the gardens. Visit the following website for more information:
2. Iwatayama Monkey Park ( 嵐山モンキーパーク, Arashiyama Monkī Pāku) Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (until 16:00 from November to March 14) Closed: Days with heavy rain or snow Admission: 550 yen We suggest you visit the park shortly in the beginning as it closes at 5 pm or earlier. We were too late to visit it since we greatly underestimated distances and had not thought about renting a bike. The monkey park is across the bridge and on top of the hill seen in the picture below.
1. "Moon Crossing Bridge" (渡月橋,Togetsukyō) Arashiyama - A MUST SEE!! After arriving at the trainstation cross the bridge and enjoy the view. Continue towards the monkey park if interested. Otherwise start by visiting Tenryū-ji. The bridge is Arashiyama's most famous landmark and rightfully so. It is an amazing photo spot and apparently features in many a movie It was originally built during the Heian Period (794-1185) and was reconstructed in the 1930s. It is a apparently a famous cherry blossom viewing spot and it is equally beautiful when autumn colours are present. We found it to be beautiful as is. One can also witness cormorant fishing during the summer months. During December's Hanatoro festival, lanterns line the streets and bamboo groves.
Nijo Castle (二条城, Nijōjō) - UNESCO world heritage site - A MUST SEE!! Hours: 8:45 to 17:00 (entry until 16:00) Closed: Tuesdays in Jan, Jul, Aug and Dec (or following Wed if Tue is a national holiday), December 26 - January 4 Admission: 600 yen (English audio guides are available for 500 yen) Nijo was built in 1603 as the Kyoto residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo Period (1603-1867). His grandson Iemitsu completed the castle's palace buildings later. They both are buried in Nikko as you already know. They have the most impressive mausoleums. After the Tokugawa Shogunate fell in 1867 the castle was used as an imperial palace before opening up to the public. The buildings are impressive as they are the best surviving examples of castle palace architecture of Japan's feudal era. You can experience nightingale floors that warned the inhabitants from intruders!
ITINERARY Buy packed lunch before you leave. Take the Kyoto city subway Tozai Line at ±8:30 am from KYOTOSHIYAKUSHOMAE to Nijojo-Mae Station (6 minutes). Visit Nijo Castle (audio guide) as it lies directly on your way to Arashiyama. Take the Train (JR Sagano Line) from Nijo Station (10 min walk from Nijo Castle down Oike Street) at 10:03 (or 10:12), arrive at Sagaarashiyama at 10:13 (or 10:18). ANY OTHER TRANSPORTATION DEVICE WILL TAKE YOU AN HOUR! If you really don't want to miss anything in the area we suggest a bike rental (push it up hill and roll down). The distances can be underestimated easily. There is a rental shop in Arashiyama close to the Hankyu Arashiyama train station. Bikes are 800 yen per day. Visit the following website for a walking map of Arashiyama (Kyoto walks.pdf):

9 November 2013

4. Nishi Hongan-ji (西本願寺 Nishi Hongan-ji) and the Karamon (唐門) gate - A MUST SEE!! Hours: 5:30 to 17:30 (March, April, September, October), 5:30 to 18:00 (May to August), 6:00 to 17:00 (November to February), no closing days Admission: Free Time needed for visit: 15 minutes Nishi Hongan-ji or "Western Temple of the Original Vow" is home to the beautiful Karamon gate, a National Treasure of Japan. It is constructed as a four-legged gate with karahafu gables on the front and back and has a roof in the irimoya style covered by cypress wood shingles. The gate dates to 1573 and was constructed early in the Momoyama period. You may think back to the beautiful gates in Nikko. Some aspects are similar.
3. Higashi Honganji (東本願寺 Higashi Hongan-ji) Hours: 5:50 to 17:30 (March to October), 6:20 to 16:30 (November to February), no closing days Admission: Free Time needed for visit: 15 minutes Higashi Honganji or the Eastern Temple of the Original Vow, is one of two dominant sub-sects of Shin Buddhism in Japan and abroad, the other being Nishi Honganji (or, 'The Western Temple of the Original Vow'). It is also known affectionately in Kyoto as Onissan (お西さん, Dear Mr. West) and Ohigashisan (お東さん, Dear Mr. East). Higashi Honganji was established in 1602 by the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu when he split the Shin sect in two (Nishi Honganji being the other) in order to diminish its power. What we loved most about the place are the huge planks of wood. It is great to walk on these wooden floors.
2. Shosei-en Garden (渉成園) Hours: 9:00 to 16:00 (entry until 15:30), no closing days Admission: 500 yen Time needed for visit: 20 minutes Kyoto's Shosei-en Garden is a formal garden belonging to Higashi Honganji Temple. It is a beautiful. At the entrance it says: beware of the bee (as if a giant bee were guarding the door) and one can walk on some of the grass areas which is quite rare in other gardens. The bridges are lovely there. You will get a complimentary picture booklet as a souvenir.
1. Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) - A MUST SEE!! Hours: Always open; no closing days Admission: Free Time needed for visit: 3-4 hours Fushimi Inari Taisha is the head shrine of Inari and sits at the base of Inari mountain. Inari, the god of rice, is the patron of business and each of the torii at the shrine is donated by a Japanese business. The vast amount of orange/red torii are an impressive sight! You absolutely must visit this place! There are trails up the mountain to many smaller shrines: We highly suggest going up the hill, then back down a way on the other side and up again (loop). You will discover the most beautiful and cute little shrine with horses and foxes as seen in the pictures below. Have a beer as a reward and some soba soup on the way down in one of the restaurants and enjoy the view before going back to the train station. The loop took us about an hour or two if I remember correctly. It was quite humid and thus a bit strenuous (uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill). It still is an easy walk though.
ITINERARY Take the subway from Kyoto Shiyakusho-mae to Sanjo Station. From there, take the Keihan Railway directly to Fushimi Inari Station (10 minutes, leave at 8:29 and arrive at 8:39 or at 8:39 to arrive at 8:49). For the way back take the JR Nara line from Inari Station to Kyoto Station (leave at 14:29, arrive at 14:34, or leave at 14:49, arrive at 14:54). Walk from Kyoto Station to Shoseien Garden (13 min), then to Higashihonganji (15 min) and then to Nishihonganji (15 min). Either take a taxi* home or the subway from Gojo Station on Karasuma dori to Karasuma Oike Station and from there to another subway to Kyoto Shiyakusho-mae. Train times may differ. *Be careful not to take an expensive large elegant black taxi as they are more expensive!

8 November 2013

5. Nanzenji Temple (南禅寺) - A MUST SEE!! Hours: 8:40 to 17:00 (until 16:30 from December to February) Admission ends 20 minutes before closing time., closed: Dec. 28-31 Admission Fee: Free in the temple precincts Hojo Garden: 500 yen (regular fee) Sanmon Gate: 500 yen (regular fee) Nanzen-in: 300 yen (regular fee) Time needed for visit: 1-2 hours! Nanzenji is one of the most important Zen temples in all of Japan. It is the head temple of one of the schools within the Rinzai sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism and includes multiple subtemples, that make the already large complex of temple buildings even larger. Therefore it is important that you save about 2 hours for this temple! It is worth it! One can walk up the stairs of sanmon, the main gate of Nanzen-ji. This is hardly ever allowed in any temple.
4. Eikan-dō Zenrin-ji (永観堂禅林寺) Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (entry until 16:00), special evening hours during autumn illuminations, no closing days Admission: 600 yen (autumn daytime: 1000 yen, autumn nighttime: 600 yen) Time needed for visit: 30 minutes Eikan-dō is the head temple for the Seizan branch of Japan's Jōdo-shū (Pure Land) Buddhist sect. It was founded by Shinshō, and is famous for its fall foliage, for its prominence in the past as a center of learning, for its statue of the Amida Buddha, which looks over its shoulder, rather than straight ahead (Mikaeri Amida). What I especially liked about the place is the compound itself (nestled in the mountain side) with its impressive wooden walkways. It is definitely worth a visit.
3. The Philosopher's Walk (哲学の道 Tetsugaku-no-michi, lit. Path of Philosophy) This is a pedestrian path that follows a cherry-tree-lined canal in Kyoto, between Ginkaku-ji and Nanzen-ji. It is named after the influential 20th-century Japanese philosopher and Kyoto University professor Nishida Kitaro who is thought to have used it for daily meditation. You will discover a number of temples and shrines such as Hōnen-in, Ōtoyo Shrine, and Eikan-dō Zenrin-ji along the way. It takes about 30 minutes to complete the walk without stopping for visits. I have not visited Hōnen-in or Ōtoyo Shrine but Eikan-dō is definitely worth the visit. Be sure to arrive at Nanzen-ji in time though! Allow about two hours for Nanzen-ji!
2. Ginkakuji (銀閣寺, Silver Pavilion) - A MUST SEE!! Hours: 8:30 to 17:00 (9:00 to 16:30 from December to February), no closing days Admission: 500 yen Time needed for visit: 20 minutes You will love Ginkakuji! It is so tranquil (even with all the tourists around)! Initially a retirementent villa for Ashikaga Yoshimasa and planned to be covered with silver foil, Ginkaku-ji is a Zen temple (Shokoku-ji branch of Rinzai Zen) in the Sakyo ward of Kyoto. It was sought to emulate the golden Kinkaku-ji which had been commissioned by Ashikaga Yoshimasas grandfather Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. The garden was designed by Sōami and features forest with a variety of mosses. The sand garden of Ginkaku-ji is equally famous: a carefully formed pile of sand is said to symbolize Mount Fuji.
1. Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺, lit. "Temple of the Golden Pavilion") - A MUST SEE!! Hours: 9:00 to 17:00, no closing days Admission: 400 yen Time needed for visit: 20-30 minutes Kinkaku-ji is a Zen Buddhist temple. The garden complex is of the Muromachi period. It is one of the most popular buildings in Japan - World Heritage Site. It is a gorgeous place for taking pictures but is unfortunately always packed with tourists and schoolkids.
ITINERARY Take the Kyoto City Subway Tozai Line from Kyotoshiyakusomae to Karasumaoike (2min). From there, take the Karasume Line to Kitaoji (8min). Then simply take a taxi to Kinkaku-ji. Visit the temple and then take a taxi onwards to Gingkakuji. This will not cost you too much and it will make you save some time and energy. It is a nice taxi ride with not too much traffic. Then, walk down the Philosopher's path to Eikan-do. Visit the temple shortly and then continue on to Nanzen-ji. After visiting the huge complex with everything it has to offer you can easily return on foot back to your hotel. Visit the following website to download part of the proposed itinerary as a PDF under Kyoto Walks. Maybe bring a small packed lunch to have along the philosopher's path on the way.

7 November 2013

6. Kiyomizudera (清水寺, literally "Pure Water Temple") - A MUST SEE!! Hours: 6:00 to 18:00, Spring & Fall Illumination: 18:30 to 21:30 (March - April & November; no closing days Admission: 300 yen (400 yen in spring & fall) Kiyomizu, Heian period 798; present building constructed without nails in 1633 by order of Tokugawa Iemitsu. There was an Edo period tradition that held that, if one were to survive a 13m jump from the stage, one's wish would be granted. Beneath the main hall is the Otowa waterfall, where three channels of water fall into a pond. Visitors can catch and drink the water, which is believed to have wish-granting powers. Each stream's water is said to have a different benefit, namely to cause longevity, success at school and a fortunate love life. However, drinking from all three streams is considered greedy. The Jishu Shrine, dedicated to Ōkuninushi, a god of love and "good matches" possesses a pair of "love stones" placed 6 meters/20 feet apart, which lonely visitors can try to walk between with their eyes closed to find true love.
5. Gion and Kodaiji (高台寺, Kōdaiji) - A MUST SEE!! Gion: It is uncommon to see geisha except for the day of their final exam! We got very lucky:) Pictures were taken past Yasaka Pagoda and Kodaiji Temple and the shopping streets and stairs (sannenzaka stairs) leading up to Kiyomizu temple. Kodaiji: Hours: 9:00 to 17:30 (entry until 17:00), no closing days Admission: 600 yen (Kodaiji and Sho Museum) 900 yen (Kodaiji, Sho Museum and Entokuin) Kodaiji, established in 1606 in memory of Toyotomi Hideyoshi by Hideyoshi's wife Nene who is also enshrined at the temple belongs to the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. Its main buildings were constructed in the lavish style of the era of Japan's unification with the financial support of Hideyoshi's successor Tokugawa Ieyasu. They feature richly decorated interiors and are surrounded by beautiful Zen gardens + a stretch of bamboo! Unfortunately we walked right past the temple... Do not make the same mistake!
4. Maruyama Park (円山公園 Maruyama kōen) Walk through the park on your way to Kiyomizu-dera. As the main center for cherry blossom viewing in Kyoto with a weeping cherry tree (shidarezakura) it becomes busy in February/March but also at the New Year's Eve Festivals. The main entrance to the park is through Yasaka Shrine, which sits at the eastern end of Shijō Street in the Gion District. The park is a nationally-designated Place of Scenic Beauty. Have your packed lunch here. Visit the website below for a picture of the cherry tree:
3. Chion-in (知恩院 Chion-in) Hours: Temple buildings are open from 9:00 to 16:30 (entry until 16:00) Temple grounds are always open, no closing days Admission: Free Hojo and Yuzen Gardens: Special evening hours during autumn and spring evening illuminations Admission: 500 yen (combined ticket), 400 yen (Hojo Garden only), 300 yen (Yuzen Garden only) The temple is the headquarters of the Jōdo-shū (Pure Land Sect) founded by Hōnen (1133–1212), who proclaimed that anyone (not just priests or aristocrats) could be reborn in Amida Buddha's Western Paradise by reciting the nembutsu, Amida Buddha's name and thus showing faith. Count in enough time for the visit as the compound (Amidado hall, Miedo hall with its statue of Honen, giant Bell, gardens, etc.) is vast and the stairs leading up to the complex are quite steep. The most impressive aspect of the temple is its main entry gate (Sanmon Gate): the largest wooden gate in Japan. If you are short on time, only have a look at the gate and continue.
2. Shōren-in (青蓮院) Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (entry until 16:30); special evening hours during the spring and autumn evening illuminations; no closing days Admission: 500 yen (special fee for evening illuminations) Time needed for visit: 15 minutes Shoren-inis a Buddhist temple, also known as the Awata Palace, was built in the late 13th century. Shinran Shonin, the founder of the Jodo Shinshu pure land sect, was ordained a monk at Shōren-in at the age of nine. Shōren-in was formerly the temple of the imperial abbot of the Tendai headquarters on Mount Hiei; the abbot was required to be chosen from the imperial family or high court aristocracy. After the Great Kyoto Fire of 1788, it was used as a temporary imperial palace. The main hall was rebuilt in 1895. The temple complex contains a garden with massive eight-hundred year old camphor trees (kusonoki), and a pond filled with large stones and fed by a small waterfall. People pet the koi here and the paintings on doors are fabulous.
1. Heian Shrine (平安神宮 Heian-jingū) garden - A MUST SEE!! Hours: 6:00 to 17:30 (closing time varies seasonally by half an hour), no closing days Admission: Free Time needed for visit: 40 minutes Heian Shrine Garden Hours: 8:30 to 17:00 (closing time varies seasonally by half an hour), no closing days Admission: 600 yen The shrine is a Shinto shrine and is ranked as a Beppyou Jinja (the top rank for shrines) by the Association of Shinto Shrines. It is listed as an important cultural property of Japan. Enjoy an ice tea and some cake - much tastier than the sometimes all too bitter tea ceremony tea. The grounds are fabulous – especially if it is a sunny day.
ITINERARY Buy some packed lunch at a 7 Eleven Shop before leaving. Start your day with visiting Heian Jingu Shrine. It is not too far to walk there. Then head down to Shoren-in Temple and look at the beautiful screens and artwork on the wooden doors, then walk up the stairs of Chion-in Temple but do not spend too much time there. The compound is huge. Walk through Maruyama Park and past Yasaka shrine and Chorakuji Temple. We have never visited Kodaji Temple but it may be a nice temple to visit with nice screens and gardens. Entokuin temple is opposite Kodaji Temple and may also be visited. If you are lucky, you may see Geisha here. Via Ninnenzaka and Sannenzaka and their many fine shops you will finally reach Kiyomizu-dera. There is plenty of food to taste on the way. Either walk back home through Pontocho or take a bus or taxi back. Visit the following website for a walking map (kyoto walks):

6 November 2013

Ninnaji (仁和寺) Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (until 16:30 December - February) Admission ends 30 minutes before closing time, no closing days Admission: 500 yen (Goten palace buildings) Admission to the rest of the grounds is free except during the cherry blossom season (500 yen) Time needed for visit: 40 minutes If you still have enough energy for a visit after your long train trip you may want to explore Ninnaji Temple. Just take a taxi to get there. Ninnaji, the head temple of the Omuro School of the Shingon sect of Buddhism, founded in 888 by the reigning emperor, was also called Omuro Imperial Palace because it was mostly headed by a member of the imperial family. This explains the amazing compound, the beautifully painted sliding doors and gardens. This temple is definitely worth a visit - especially the Goten Palace buildings! Enjoy!
Breakfast at Cascade - Shiyakushomae metro station (underground) Breakfast in Kyoto is so much more fun! Before taking the metro to your sightseeing places have a hot coffee and and a bun of some kind. There are many other places now in Kyoto just like Cascade but it was the first place we discovered four years ago (upon 2 separate very short visits to Kyoto and is right next to your hotel) so we mostly kept true to it.
Za Watami This hip place is very close to your hotel. On the menu you can find everything from fries to Sashimi. We had Kyoza fried, yaki tori and octopus balls (takoyaki) and beer. The ordering process is fun (you press a bell on your table and 30 seconds later someone is there for you) and we loved the place. This is a place where you can get a little bit of everything at once. They boast by having the best kyoza. ​​​
Nishiki Market (錦市場, Nishiki Ichiba) Nishiki Market is a fabulous busy market with a great atmosphere housing more than 100 shops and restaurants specializing in fish (dried and fresh), vegetables, pickles, knives, etc. and is rightfully known as "Kyoto's Kitchen". There are plenty of possibilities to taste different foods. Most goods are locally produced.
Okonomiyaki and yaki soba at KINOYA (お好み焼) in Shin Kyogoku street I actually enjoyed yaki soba even more than okonomiyaki. This is the best way of eating (+cooking) it! Right in front of you! Nice staff, nice restaurant, good prices. We suggest you go there after shopping at Takashimaya or visiting the markets. Watch out! It closes early! 12:00 to 21:00 (Holiday - Tuesday)
Honkenishio Yatsuhashi (本家西尾八ッ橋) This is one of the most famous shops selling Yatsuhashi. Yatsuhashi, made from rice, sugar and cinnamon, comes from Yatsuhashi Kengyo, the pioneer of making Yatsuhashi. In the Edo era, he saved everything so he could make something from leftover rice and now it is a very famous food in Kyoto. The raw version has has a soft texture, is often eaten wrapped around red bean paste, and may come in a variety of different flavours. It must be eaten within one week. The baked version is hard and looks like curved tiles from a roof. It can keep. Honkenishio Yatsuhashi shop locations are scattered about the city. There are a few around the outside of Kiyomizu Temple on the streets leading to it. Another convenient one is located in the Shinkyogoku shopping area (the one parallel to Teramachi). The street leading to Ginkakuji Temple has a store and a couple near Kumano Shrine.
Sukiyaki Iroha Main Shop; Pontocho Kyoto (いろは) Best Sukiyaki in town! 6000 Yen per person Get your hotel to reserve for you and print out the sign of the restaurant to find it better. We got invited there everytime we were in Kyoto. http://travel.suejchiu.com/2011/05/kyoto-sukiyaki-on-pontocho-street/
Musashi Sushi, 440 河原町通3j条上ル恵比須町, hours: 11:00-22:00 Closed January 1st At the corner of Sanjo and Kawaramachi you will find Musashi Running Sushi. It is on the side of the road where Alpha Hotel Kyoto is too. If you were too scared until now to try raw horsemeat you can pick raw horse meat sushi here from the tray. All sushi is tagged in Japanese and English as it passes by on the trays. Do not go upstairs (more variety downstairs) and try to get there at 8pm which is the best time of day to go there (more variety). You will wait in line and then on a bench for a while until you are seated. You will be asked how many of you want to sit next to each other. Very tourist friendly. You can pay with Visa.
Hotel Alpha Kyoto (ホテルアルファ京都) Central location, clean, good value for money (for central Kyoto) 4 nights double room = ¥ 46 710 (1 night: ¥ 11 677) Best Western Hotel Kyoto is supposed to be a good alternative (tip from a japanese friend). Good ratings and central and good value for money. It is closer to Sanjo Trainstation. If the taxi driver does not know the hotel just tell him it is close to Kyoto Hotel Okura on Kawaramachidori, next to the 7 Eleven shop. Kyoto Hotel Okura is a highly famous hotel in Kyoto for weddings, etc. Everybody knows it. To find the hotel entrance, just go down the alley next to the 7 Eleven shop. It is right there.
Kyoto Station: EIRAKUYA: Tenugui cloth towels (34x90cm) and Furoshiki These pieces of cloth are our favourite souvenir (500-1200 yen) You will find many shops selling these and there will be different ones every time! This shop is at the train station (Shinkansen side, south). Tenugui: Tenugui have been around since the 6th or 7th century. Initially used to clean religious articles and decorations and made of silk and hemp, it was only after the 16th century that the use of cotton tenugui spread to the general public and used for wiping the body or hands, for wrapping things, as a kind of practical fashion accessory tied around the head, and as New Year's presents. There now is an immense choice in prints to suit every possible taste. Furoshiki: Furoshiki are square and are used for wrapping, as hand bags or table cloths.
Shingu to Kyoto by train Beautiful beaches and rock formations right outside the train window! Hashigui Rocks for example (橋杭岩). We also saw surfers enjoying the high waves due to the upcoming typhoon. Typhoon time is apparently the best time to go surfing in Japan. [Shingu-Shin-Osaka: 253 Min, Shin-Osaka-Kyoto:15 Min] Leave from SHINGU with LTD. EXP KUROSHIO 14 at 08:37 Arrive at SHIN-OSAKA at 12:50 from track No.11 Leave from SHIN-OSAKA with SHINKANSEN HIKARI 522 at 13:13 from track No.25 Arrive at KYOTO station track No.11 at 13:28 Take Taxi to Hotel from Central Exit = North as it is cheaper.

5 November 2013

ITINERARY II: Why not try kayaking instead? We saw people kayaking from our yet boat tour and thought why not try kayaking instead? You would see eagles from up close and would have more time enjoying nature than with a yet boat. You might not be able to do the hike anymore though so kayaking may only be an interesting option for people staying longer in the area. Minimum group size: 2 , Maximum group size: 5 Price: 11,000 yen/ per person (price includes guide + lunch) Meeting place: B&B Cafe Hongu (in front of Hongu Taisha) Meeting time: 10:00, (~11:00 Put in~~12:00 Lunch break~~15:00Take out/Shuttle driving) Visit the website below for more information:
3. Dorokyo Gorge Tour Shiko Jet Boat Center (Dorokyo Meguri-no-Sato, Kumamogawa 瀞峡めぐりの里 熊野川) Price: 3,340 yen per person Time: 1h 55min Schedule: 1 trip per hour until 15:10 (march to october) Dorokyo Gorge is famous for its steep cliffs, clear emerald waters, and unique rock formations.
2. From Hosshinmon-oji to Kumano Hongu Taisha (発心門王子-熊野本宮大社) - UNESCO world heritage site Kumano Hongu Taisha Hours: 8:00 to 17:00; no closing days Admission: Free The 7km hike takes about 2 hours. It is beautiful. We initially wanted to do a longer stretch (from Tsugizakura-oji to Kumano Kongu Taisha) but no bus would have taken us there. Hosshinmon-oji is one of the most important sites on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route marking the outermost entrance into the divine precincts of the grand shrine, Kumano Hongu Taisha. “Hosshin” means “spiritual awakening” or “aspiration to enlightenment” and “mon” means “gate”. Passage through this gate was a transformational rite marking initiatory death and rebirth in the Pure Land paradise. Try pickled red fruit along the way: umezuke (梅漬け), i.e.pickled ume fruits common in Japan. Ume are similar to apricots but not as sweet. Umeboshi (梅干) are dried pickled ume. Do not miss the lookout point (I think there was a sign with an owl to follow) not long before arriving at Kumano Hongu Taisha (view of river, Otorii and mountains).
1. Bus trip to Hossimon Oji (発心門王子) First you pass the beautiful river landscape, then you drive by Yunomine onsen and Kawayu onsen. Yunomine Onsen is one of the oldest hot springs in Japan. Onsen water is used for everything from public cooking in a pot next to the river to a sauna in the hotel. Kawayu onsen struck us - even early in the morning a japanese guy was lying in the water - in a self constructed rock pool in the river - apparently in hot water! You have to ware bathers here in the river as opposed to being nude which is otherwise the custom for onsen. Get off at Hongu Taisha-mae. A different bus takes you to Hosshinmon-oji. For more information:
ITINERARY: Take care! People speak very little English here! We left from Shingu Station by bus at 7:46 and arrived at Hongu Taisha-mae at 9:07. We took the bus from Hongu Taisha-mae at 9:20 and arrived at Hosshinmon-oji at 9:35. We then did the "two hour" walk to Hongu Taisha. It took us longer (photography, filling out a questionnaire, etc). You will arrive at Hongu Taisha at about 11:35 and visit the area (15 min). If you have time, you could visit Kawayu onsen (river onsen) at lunch time. We only left Kumano Hongu Taisha at 13:21, stopped at Dorokyo Gorge boat tours, did the tour (2 hours) and took the bus back to Shingu. They have a nice gift shop at the Gorge tours. Bring enough cash. No credit cards accepted. Check the following website for these bus timetables: 3. Shingu -> Kumano Hongu Taisha -> Totsukawa -> Gojo 4. Gojo -> Totsukawa -> Kumano Hongu Taisha -> Shingu 6. Kii-Tanabe <--> Hongu <--> Hosshinmon-oji (only to go to Kawayu onsen: 5. Hongu -> Koguchi -> Shingu | Shingu -> Koguchi -> Hongu)

4 November 2013

5. Kamikura Shrine and "Gotobiki-iwa" (神倉神社 ゴトビキ岩) Kamikura Shrine is said to be where the 12 deities of the Kumano Grand Shrines first descended from the heavens. The object of worship is a great sacred rock called, "Gotobiki-iwa". It was hard work walking up those stairs. It was humid. The rock is nice to look at and photograph but we were tired. The view was interesting - showing a typical japanese small city. From Kamikura shrine it is a fairly short walk back to the hotel (15 minutes). After a day like this you will feel you have achieved something....
4. Kumano Hayatama Taisha (熊野速玉大社), Shingu (新宮) - UNESCO world heritage site Hayatama Taisha Hours: 8:00 to 17:00; no closing days Admission: Free Hayatama Taisha Treasure House Hours: 9:00 to 16:00, no closing days Admission: 500 yen Ask the bus driver where to get off to visit Hayatama Taisha (Gongen-mae bus stop). We got there as it was closing but enjoyed a beautiful evening light. It is believed that the city started being referred to as "Shingū" (literally "new shrine"), when this shrine was first established. Remains of religious rituals dating back as far as 300 AD have been excavated but it is not clear when the shrine was founded. An ancient tree (estimated to be over 800 years old) is located inside the shrine compound and is also considered sacred.
3. Nachi Falls (那智滝, Nachi no Taki) - UNESCO world heritage site Hours: 6:00 to 16:30; no closing days Admission: 300 yen for viewing platform The Nachi Waterfall, worshiped at Hiryū Shrine near Kumano Nachi Taisha is believed to be inhabited by a kami called Hiryū Gongen. It is the tallest waterfall in Japan and one of the three most scenic ones. The Buddhist temple Seigantoji with its three-story pagoda provides an especially nice view on the waterfalls. A nice path lined with cedar trees leads down to the falls. We spent quite some time on the viewing platform drinking pure spring water after filling up our water bottles. We then took the bus to Kumano Hayatama Taisha (Gongen-mae bus stop) in Shingu.
2. Kumano Nachi Taisha (熊野那智大社) - UNESCO world heritage site Hours: 8:30 to 16:30 (from 9:00 from November to March) Closed: No closing days Admission: Free (300 yen for treasure house) For over a thousand years, pilgrims have traveled to the Kumano region to pray at The Three Sacred Kumano Shrines: Hongu, Hayatama, and Nachi. Kumano Nachi Taisha is part of a large complex of neighboring religious sites that exemplify the fusion of Buddhist and Shinto influences that is particular to the Kumano region.
1. Daimonzaka (熊野古道大門坂) - UNESCO world heritage site Daimon-zaka, part of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route, is an impressive cobblestone staircase slope which runs from the base of the valley to Kumano Nachi Taisha, Seiganto-ji and Nachi waterfall. It is lined with old Japanese cedars (cryptomeria), camphor tress and bamboo groves. At the beginning of the path are two giant 800 year old cedar trees called "husband and wife” (the roots are are intertwined). Daimon-zaka means "large gate slope" referring to a gate that once stood nearby. The actual staircase is about 600 meters long with 267 stairs.
Ul Hotel Shingu E-Mail address for reservation: yoyaku@ui-hotel.co.jp Staff does not speak english but should be able to understand reservation mail if written in simple english. We got help from a friend as we did not even find an email address. We loved the hotel. Lots of room :) This was our reservation (for a "double" room - i.e 2 large beds (140x200): 到着日(Arrival date): ***** (15:00) 出発日(Departure date): ***** (2泊) 1泊目 人数:2人 食事なし 室数:1 室 客室:【禁煙】ツインルーム 料金 12,495 円 x 1 (1 night) 大人 2 名 ----------------------------------------------------------- 合計 24,990 円 (サービス料込・消費税込) (2 nights)
Kansai Wakayama Pass (W-PASS) 2 Days: 3,500 yen; 3 Days: 5,500 yen The Kansai Wakayama Pass covers busses and trains (excluding JR train lines) in the lower Kansai area of Osaka and Wakayama Prefecture, and makes travelling off-the-beaten path destinations, such as Koyasan, Ryujin Onsen, the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes, Yunomine Onsen, Kawayu Onsen, Shirahama Onsen, Kushimoto, and Nachi falls easier. 1. Select either the 2 Day Pass or 3 Day Pass. 2. Provide the following for the online reservation request.: Name(s), nationality(s), passport number(s), exchange location (tourist office at Shingu Trainstation), exchange date, date of first use 3. Pay for your purchase via credit card after processing. 4.You will receive an EXCHANGE COUPON to print and take along Visit the following website for more information and to order:
ITINERARY: Take care! People speak very little English here! Leave from KINTETSU-Nagoya STATION (近鉄名古屋駅, Kintetsu-Nagoya eki) at 8:05 (about 3 h and 30 min travel time) with JR Kisei-Line Limited Express “Wide View Nanki” (JR Pass + basic fare 490 yen, + limited express surcharge 310 yen) Arrive at Shingu (新宮) at 11:30 Pick up the Kansai Wakayama Pass at the tourist information bureau at the train station. Pick up bus timetables from there also. Then take a taxi to the hotel and leave your luggage at the reception. Walk back to the train station and take the bus to Daimonzaka. Walk up the old path along with pilgrims to Nachi Taisha, then walk down to the waterfalls and take the bus back to Shingu from there. In Shingu, get off the bus two stops before the trainstation (at Gongen-mae) to visit Kumano Hayatama Taisha. If you still have enough energy walk up the many steps to Kamikura Shrine and walk back to the hotel from there. For bus timetables visit the link below: 8. Kii-Katsuura Station & Nachi Station <--> Nachisan (Nachi Waterfall)

3 November 2013

Mikimoto Pearl Island Hours: 8:30 to 17:00 (seasonal variations by +/- 30 minutes)Admission ends one hour before closing time. Closed: The second Tuesday in December and the two following days Admission: 1500 yen Mikimoto Pearl Island is named after Mikimoto Kokichi, the first person who managed to cultivate pearls. The island is located in the Bay of Toba, accessible via a bridge. The Pearl Museum provides detailed explanations about pearls and the cultivation of pearls in Japanese and English. In the adjacent Pearl Plaza you can view and purchase a wide variety of pearl jewelry. You will not find Mikimoto pearls elsewhere easily. It is the place to buy pearls – in all price categories. Watch the traditional pearl diving by Ama (lit. "sea women"), who have traditionally been planting and harvesting the oysters (and other seafood). We also went on a Toba Bay Cruise (50 minutes) but you will not have the time for this.
Meoto Iwa (Wedded Rocks, 夫婦岩) Meoto Iwa, the "Wedded Rocks" next to Okitama shrine, are two sacred rocks connected by a shimenawa rope representing husband and wife. In the morning one can see the sun rising between the two rocks and on a clear day one may see Mt.Fuji in the distance. They are beautiful to see even without the sunrise and Mt.Fuji. Lots of frog stone carvings can be seen all around which adds an extra touch. The rocks are a 15 minute walk from JR Futaminoura Station, which can be reached by JR trains in less than 10 minutes from Ise-shi Station (200 yen).
ITINERARY Leave from KINTETSUNAGOYA Station at 7:50 or 8:10 to arrive at 9:12 or 9:31 in Ise-shi. The JR Rail Pass covers most of this fare, except for the segment operated by Ise Railways between Tsu (津) and Kawarada (河原田), which costs ¥490 and can be paid to the conductor. Drop off your baggage in a hotel close to the train station. Visit the outer Shrine in central Ise, about a 5 min walk from Ise-shi Station. Then visit the Inner Shrine which can be reached by bus from the Outer Shrine (or Ise-shi Station) in about 15 min and 410 yen. Have lunch at Ohairamachi after visiting the inner shrine. Take the bus back to Ise-shi Station. From there take a train to JR Futaminoura Station and walk for about 15 minutes to reach Meoto Iwa Rocks. After visiting the rocks, take the train from Futaminoura to Toba (7-10 minutes). Visit Mikimoto Pearl island. It is only a short walk from Toba Station. Take the train back from Toba to Ise-shi Station and check into your hotel. For more information:
Oharaimachi Shops in Oharaimachi and Okage Yokocho have individual business hours, but are typically open daily from 9:30 to 18:00 (to 17:00 from October through March). Oharaimachi is the old approach to the Inner Shrine of Ise. Nearly one kilometer long, it is lined by many traditional style buildings, housing shops and restaurants. We had Tuna on rice for lunch. Located about halfway down Oharaimachi is Okage Yokocho, a small district which recreates a townscape of past centuries (Edo Period to early Meiji Period). Completed in 1993, Okage Yokocho features various shops and restaurants.
Ise Inner Shrine (Naiku), and Outer Shrine (Geku) - A MUST SEE !! ISE SHRINES: Outer and Inner Shrines Hours: 5:00 to 18:00 (March, April, September and October) 4:00 to 19:00 (May to August) 5:00 to 17:00 (November and December) 5:00 to 17:30 (January and February) Closed: No closing days Admission: Free Sengukan Museum Hours: 9:00 to 16:30 (entry until 16:00) Closed: Every 4th Tuesday of the month (or next day if that Tuesday is a national holiday) Admission: 300 yen The Ise Jingu consists of two shrines: the Outer Shrine (Geku), which is dedicated to Toyouke, the Shinto deity of clothing, food and housing, and the Inner Shrine (Naiku), which enshrines the most venerated deity Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess. They are Shinto's most sacred shrines. Unfortunately it is forbidden to take photographs in the most sacred areas.

2 November 2013

2. Tsumago-juku (妻籠宿 Tsumago-juku) to Nagiso (南木曽町 Nagiso-machi) It is not too much further to Nagiso. We continued on the trail past some nice scenery, gardens, a train and six especially nice Jizō Statues representing the six realms of karmic rebirth. One commonly sees these six statues in Japan as Jizō Bosatsu vowed to protect all beings in the six realms (Hell, ghosts, animals, beings in asura, i.e. the realm of anger, humans and deva, i.e heavenly beings.
Fujioto (日本, 長野県南木曽町妻籠) We had lunch at a ryokan called Fujioto. The establishment has neatly kept gardens in front and back. One can look out into the gardens while eating. It was a very relaxing break. We had delicious hot and cold soba noodle dishes. Staff was very friendly and spoke good English. My cold soba noodle dish had a raw quail egg (uzura) inside. I think I would have preferred it cooked or in a hot soup. Maybe enquire about the egg before ordering. Dessert was a sweet-savory gohei mochi snack, a Tsumago specialty, coated with a mix of soy sauce, and peanut & sesame powder, and aromatically grilled. Miam.
Tsumago-juku (妻籠宿 Tsumago-juku) During the Edo period, Tsumago was the forty-second of the sixty-nine post towns, which connected Edo (present-day Tokyo) with Kyoto. After falling into poverty due to the Chūō Main Line railway local residents began to restore historical sites and in 1976, the town was designated by the Japanese government as a Nationally-designated Architectural Preservation Site. Tsumago is still fully inhabited and tourism is the main business. We had lunch here and got offered a kurikinton each by a friendly Japanese tourist who also volunteered to take a picture of us.
Resting place on the way between Magome-juku (馬籠宿, Magome-juku) and Tsumago-juku (妻籠宿, Tsumago-juku) You will be invited for a cup of free tee and pickles between Magome and Tsumago. Do accept and have a rest. We got lucky and stayed long enough until a Japanese group arrived and asked the caretaker to show them how to make straw strings out of straw. They also started singing Japanese songs! We gave a donation. The place is just before you reach the weeping cherry tree.
1. 8km hike from Magome-juku (馬籠宿, Magome-juku) to Tsumago-juku (妻籠宿 Tsumago-juku) The trail between Magome and Tsumago is a well maintained section of the former Nakasendo, the route that ran along the Kiso Valley and connected Tokyo with Kyoto during the Edo Period. The trail is not difficult and is well marked in English and Japanese. It is about 8 km long and should take two to three hours to complete at a leisurely pace. One is supposed to ring a bell regularly in order to ward off bears. We did not have a bear encounter but many hikers had little bells attached to their bags. We were just having fun ringing the lager bells on the way. Be sure to visit the waterfalls close to Tsumago. We did not dare as we thought they might be too far away which they are not. The are called Man-Waterfall (男の滝) and Woman-Waterfall (女の滝).
Traintrip from Nagoya to Nakatsugawa (中津川市 Nakatsugawa-shi) The conductor talks and explains how to drive the train to passengers during the trip. One should walk up to the first carriage and watch as he explains what he is doing. All in Japanese of course. Ask upon arrival where the bus leaves for Magome. During Japan's Edo period, Nakatsugawa, the city where you will arrive, was also a post town along the Nakasendō, an old travel route from Edo (modern-day Tokyo) to Kyoto. Nakatsugawa is known for its chestnut delicacies known as kurikinton (栗きんとん). Kurikinton are produced by first boiling and then mashing the chestnuts, then mixing them with sugar and reforming them into a chestnut shape. They are widely available during the Autumn months. You can buy them in Tsumago.
ITINERARY: Leave from Nagoya with LTD EXP (wide view) SHINANO 3 at 8:00 (or SHINANO 5 at 9:00) Track 10 to arrive in Nakatsugawa at 8:50 (or 9:49) 1.Take the bus to Magome (540 Yen) at 9:10 (or 10:30) (operated by Kitaena Bus) 2. Arrive in Magome at 9:35 (or 10:55), visit Magome shortly and do the 8km (2-3hour) hike to Tsumago 4. Have Lunch in Tsumago and explore. 5. We continued our hike to Nagiso and simply waited for the next train to take us back to Nagoya. Alternatively you can take a bus from Tsumago to Nagiso (300 Yen) at 16:04 or 17:41 (operated by Ontake Kotsu ) to arrive in Nagiso at 16:13 or 17:50. In this case, leave from Nagiso with LTD EXP (wide view) SHINANO 18 at 16:55, (or Shinano 20 at 17:55) to arrive in Nagoya at 18:05 (or 19:05).

1 November 2013

Sanco Inn Nagoya-Shinkansenguchi Double room - 2 nights ¥ 19200 (1 night: ¥ 9600) We looked for a hotel close to the train station as we only wanted to use Nagoya as a travelling base. Not very spacious but clean.
Funasaka Sake Brewery Hours: Shop: 8:30 a.m. - 8:00 p.m. Cafe: 9:30 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. Restaurant: 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. If you want a classier dinner you could check out this sake brewery. Looking back it would have been a nice thing to do: To try some sake in one of the breweries (even instead of our long walk). There are so many different kinds and tastes of sake. Funasaka houses a sake brewery, a shop selling sake, food and local souvenirs, a cafe and a restaurant. You can try the sake before buying at the sampling counter. The picture below does not depict the brewery but a typical shop in one of the old streets in Takayama.
5. Higashiyama Walking Course (東山遊歩道, Higashiyama Yūhodō) The Higashiyama Walking Course (東山遊歩道, Higashiyama Yūhodō) is a 3.5 kilometer long easy walking route through Takayama's temple town (Teramachi), parts of the city and Shiroyama forest Park which is also home to the ruins of Takayama Castle. The walk offers a pleasant way to spend one or two hours and get to know Takayama's calmer side. We enjoyed the walk but it was quite tiring as it was very humid. There are no must see sights on the way. You may want to have some Sake instead and continue to Nagoya for some sightseeing if the weather is equally humid. See if you can spot the beautiful Japanese Tiger beetle, the fastest insect in the world! Visit the website below for a walking map:
4. Takayama Jinya (Historical Government House) formerly headed by officials dispatched from Edo Hours: 8:45 to 17:00 (until 16:30 from November to February, until 18:00 in August) Closed: December 29, 31 and January 1 Admission: 420 yen We started off here in the morning after visiting the morning market. There was an additional small market right in front of the building. It was quite an interesting visit. Because of its timber resources, the Hida Region around Takayama was put under direct control of the Tokugawa Shogunate. The museum includes tatami mat rooms that once served as offices, conference rooms, guest rooms and residential space. There is also an "interrogation" room. You can also visit the biggest traditional rice storehouse in Japan there: stocked with stories about feudal lords.
3. Chuuka Soba Kajibashi (中華そば 鍛冶橋) Sake and Hida Beef are two things to try in Takayama: The latter you can eat here. Kajibashi Soba has good food and decent prices for Takayama style ramen, Hida Beef on rice, etc. The atmosphere is nice and one gets a stimulating view on the bridge and river. Staff is very friendly. We loved the music there: a great mix of traditional Japanese instruments with a modern twist. The dragon on the wall is equally cool and impressive. Takayama is famous for its "Chuuka Soba" or "Chinese Style" ramen: a soy based broth with wheat noodles topped with spring onions and some meat. Hida beef or 'Hida-Gyu' in Japanese is highly 'marbled' meat similar to Wagyu or Kobe.
2. Evening walk through Takayama We went for a nice evening walk along the river and some older housing after checking into our hotel and found a lovely hip restaurant near one of the bridges in the city centre. We got quite close to the festival floats museum.
ITINERARY Take the YR Yamanote Line from Ikebukuro to Shinagawa (25min) at 7:05 to arrive at 7:21 or at 8:03 to arrive at 8:20. Then take the Hikari Shinkansen 503 at 7:40, or the Hikari Shinkansen 505 at 8:50 from Shinagawa to arrive at 9:19 (1h:39min) or at 10:19 (1h29 min) in Nagoya. From there, take the LTD Express (WIDE VIEW) HIDA 5 at 9:43 or the HIDA 7 at 10:48 from Nagoya Track 11to arrive at 12:13 (2h30min) or at 13:09 (2h21min) in Takayama. Leave baggage at the hotel in Takayama as you will arrive before check in times. Do all the paperwork, then go back to the trainstation (busterminal) and take a combined ticket (900 yen) for the Hida village and the bus there and back. It is too far to walk! You will be doing enough walking there. The Hida village closes at 5pm. Do not miss the last bus! Check into the hotel, then have a nice evening stroll through Takayama and dinner. The next day you can continue visiting Takayama before heading to your hotel in Nagoya.
1. Hida Minzoku Mura Folk Village (飛騨の里, Hida no Sato) Hida Folk Village (飛騨の里, Hida no Sato) is an open air museum exhibiting over 30 traditional houses from the Hida region, the mountainous district of Gifu Prefecture around Takayama. The houses were built during the Edo Period (1603 - 1867) and were relocated from their original locations to create the museum in 1971. The museum recreates a village-like atmosphere with gassho-zukuri farmhouses named after their steep thatched roofs which resemble a pair of hands joined in prayer ("gassho"). There also are ricefields, shitake plantations, etc. We liked the place so much that we nearly missed the last bus!
Hodakaso Yamano Iori Great accommodation! Very close to the train station, your names will be written on a board welcoming you. Unfortunately no credit cards are accepted. 9000 yen/night for a double room (tatami mats and very comfortable futon) with a private bath. Personnel is friendly, one can communicate in English (with patience). This will remain one of our favorite accommodations during the trip and after Tokyo we enjoy having our separate beds and more room - even to have a sip of tee by the window.

31 October 2013

7. Yuigahama Beach (由比ヶ浜海岸) Yuigahama Beach unfortunately is littered but it is interesting to witness Kamakura surf culture here. Beware of the birds of prey! They are not shy and will try to get at your food and their claws are sharp!
6. Hase-dera (長谷寺) Hours: 8:00 to 17:30 (until 17:00 in winter), no closing days Admission ends 30 minutes before closing Admission: 300 yen Hase-dera (originally Tendai sect of Buddhism, now Jōdo shū sect) is famous for its massive wooden statue of Kannon (under renovation in 2013). The temple is part of the Bandō Sanjūsankasho pilgrimage circuit dedicated to Benzaiten, the sea goddess and the only female of the Seven Lucky Gods in Japanese mythology. You will have a nice view over Kamakura’s bay and may enjoy hydrangeas in June and July. There is a cave filled with tiny statues and devotionals to Benzaiten. The grounds of the temple are also home to hundreds of small Jizō statues, placed by parents mourning offspring lost to miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion.
5. Kōtoku-in (高徳院) Hours: 8:00 to 17:30 (until 17:00 from October to March), no closing days Admission: 200 yen Statue Interior Hours: 8:00 to 16:30 Admission: 20 yen The temple is renowned for its "Great Buddha" (大仏 Daibutsu), a monumental outdoor bronze statue of Amida Buddha which is one of the most famous icons of Japan.
4. Dankazura, Wakamiya Ōji (若宮大路) The Dankazura is a pedestrian path in the center of Wakamiya Oji Street that is lined with several hundreds of cherry trees. The street begins right at the bottom of Hachiman-gu shrine. You cannot miss it. We bought lunch in a supermarket on the way and ate sitting on a bench before continuing to the train station.
3. Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū (鶴岡八幡宮) Hours: 5:00 to 21:00 (from 6:00 from October to March), Admission ends 30 minutes before closing, Open 24 hours from 1.1.-3.1., no closing days Admission: Free (shrine museum: 200 yen) This is the most important Shinto shrine in Kamakura. It is the venue of many of its most important festivals, and hosts two museums. Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū was for most of its history not only a Hachiman shrine, but also a Tendai Buddhist temple. At the left of its great stone stairway are the remnants of a 1000-year old ginkgo tree, which was uprooted by a storm in the early hours of March 10, 2010. The shrine is an Important Cultural Property. We discovered an enormous turtle in the pond before heading on to Dankazura.
2. Kenchō-ji (建長寺) Hours: 8:30 to 16:30, no closing days Admission: 300 yen Kenchō-ji (built in 1253, i.e. the Kenchō era) is a Rinzai Zen temple commissioned by Emperor Go-Fukakusa, ranks first among Kamakura's Zen Temples and is the oldest Zen training monastery in Japan. We loved the many lotus inspired decorations. Near the end of the temple's garden, over a hill stands the Hansōbō Shinto shrine. The enshrined spirit is the Hansōbō Daigongen. The statues on the stairs leading to the shrine represent Tengu. We ran up those stairs as we heard drums and chanting. It was impressive. Although we did not see Mt Fuji from the top of the hill we still enjoyed the lovely view and the chanting.
1. Zuirokuzan Engaku Kōshō Zenji (瑞鹿山円覚興聖禅寺), or Engaku-ji (円覚寺) Hours: 8:00 to 17:00 (until 16:00 November to March), no closing days Admission: 300 yen Engaku-ji is ranked second among Kamakura's Zen temples and was inaugurated in 1282 by Hojo Tokimune shortly after warding off the Mongols partly to remember the fallen soldiers. It is very close to the Kita-Kamakura railway station on the Tokyo to Yokosuka line, and you thus cannot miss it. We enjoyed the gardens and the architecture and spent an hour there.
ITINERARY Take the train from Ikebukuro to Kamakura: Departure Ikebukuro at 8:38, Track2 , JR Shonan-Shinjuku Line (Via Utsunomiya Line) Arrival at 8:43 at Shinjuku, (JR) Track1 Departure Shinjuku at 8:44, (JR) Track1 , JR Shonan-Shinjuku Line (Via Yokosuka Line) Arrival at about 9:38 at Kita-Kamakura First, visit Engaku-ji (right next to Kita-Kamakura station), then Kencho-ji, then Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine. Walk down Wakamiya-oji to Kamakura Station and take the train to Hase Station. From Hase station, visit Daibutsu, the giant budda and then Hase-dera Temple. Go for a short stroll to the beach and back again to Hase Station. Take the train back from Kamakura to Ikebukuro: Departure Kamakura at 18:08 (or 17:08, 17:36), JR JR Shonan-Shinjuku Line (Via Yokosuka Line) Arrival at 19:07 (or 18:04,18:36) at Shinjuku, (JR) Track4 Departure Shinjuku at 19:08 (or 18:05,18:38), (JR) Track4 , JR Shonan-Shinjuku Line (Via Utsunomiya Line) Arrival at 19:13 (or 18:10, 18:34) Ikebukuro Track 3

30 October 2013

Nikko National Park (Kegon Falls, Lake Chuzenji, Mt. Nantai) Only for a 2-day trip! If you want to see Kegon Falls, Lake Chuzenji and Mt. Nantai you need to count in an extra day and stay overnight somewhere in the area. It is not possible to pack in more then Nikko in one day. I enquired about the possibility to go see Kegon Falls the same day at the tourist information bureau at the train station but was told that this was not going to be possible. Indeed, our day was so full and awe inspiring that we would have not managed to fit in another thing. The picture above is taken from the website below.
5. Futarasan Shrine (二荒山神社, Futarasan Jinja) Hours: 8:00 to 17:00 (until 16:00 November - March); no closing days Admission: 200 yen (small paid area) Futarasan shrine, also founded in the 8th century by Shodo Shonin, is only 200m away from Toshogu. It is dedicated to Mount Nantai (Futarasan is actually an alternative name for Nantai), Mount Nyoho and Mount Taro. A small paid area comprises a small forested garden with a couple more halls, a spring, old sacred trees and closer views onto the main hall (honden) that stands behind the offering hall.
4. Taiyuinbyo (大猷院廟, Taiyūinbyō) - A MUST SEE! Hours: 8:00 to 17:00 (until 16:00 from November through March) Admission ends 30 minutes before closing time, no closing days Admission: 550 yen Taiyuinbyo is the mausoleum of the third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu, the grandson of Ieyasu. Iemitsu's lavish mausoleum complex resembles nearby Toshogu Shrine in its layout and architecture, but it was intentionally built somewhat more modest than the Toshogu, due to Iemitsu's deep respect for his grandfather. Taiyuin is the posthumous name of Iemitsu.
3. Nikkō Tōshō-gū (jap. 日光東照宮) - A MUST SEE! Hours: 8:00 to 17:00 (until 16:00 from November through March) Admission closes 30 minutes before closing time. Closed: No closing days Admission: 1300 yen (admission to all parts of the shrine) Toshogu Shrine is the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled Japan for over 250 years until 1868. He is enshrined as the deity Tosho Daigongen, "Great Deity of the East Shining Light". Toshogu was enlarged into the awe inspiring complex seen today by Ieyasu's grandson Iemitsu during the first half of the 1600s. The mausoleum is beautifully surrounded by old cedars and you will see the most beautifully carved gate in Japan among other beautiful carvings such as the 3 monkeys.
2. Shōyō-en Garden (逍遥園, Shōyō-en) and Rinnoji temple (輪王寺, Rinnōji) Hours: 8:00 to 17:00 (until 16:00 from November through March) Admission closes 30 minutes before closing time; no closing days Admission: 400 yen (Sanbutsudo only) 300 yen (Treasure House and Shoyoen Garden) Unfortunately Rinnoji temple, founded by Shodo Shonin, the Buddhist monk who introduced Buddhism to Nikko in the 8th century, is currently undergoing major renovation works and is covered by a huge scaffolding structure (until March 2021). You could still visit the temple but we only visited the garden and the Treasure house and quite enjoyed it in the rain. Shōyō-en Garden, located next to the Sanbutsudō Hall of Rinnō-ji Temple in Nikkō was constructed in early Edo period, but reformed in the beginning of 19th century. It was designed to look like Lake Biwa and the surrounding scenery in Shiga Prefecture.
1. Shinkyo Bridge (神橋, Shinkyō, "sacred bridge") Hours: 8:00 to 17:00 (April to mid November) 9:00 to 16:00 (mid November to March) Closed: No closing days Admission: 300 yen The bridge is at the entrance to Nikko's shrines and temples, and technically belongs to Futarasan Shrine. The bridge is rightfully ranked as one of Japan's three finest bridges. It is beautiful. Visitors are allowed to walk across the bridge and back for an entrance fee. We just took pictures. Walk up the hill by some buildings (probably) belonging to Futarasan shrine and up towards Rinnoji temple.
SUGI: Fruit Flavoured Honey Right in front of the train station (not the JR Nikkō Station (日光駅 Nikkō-eki), but the Tōbu-Nikkō Station (東武日光駅 Tobu-Nikko-eki) located further uphill, there is a nice little honey sirup shop. The staff is very friendly and will let you taste a range of fruit flavoured honey (Japanese grape, acerola, etc.). Just add a little honey from squeeze bottles to drinks or ice cream and enjoy! We used it to flavour our water bottles for the day.
ITINERARY TAKE AN UMBRELLA + a jumper. As a holder of the Japan Rail Pass you want to avoid paying A LOT EXTRA!!! for the Tobu Line stretch: Leave from Ikebukuro at 7:56am, arrive in Omiya at 8:19, leave Omiya at 8:34 and arrive in Utsunomiya at 9:01. From there you take the JR Nikko Line in at 9:12 and arrive in (JR) Nikko Station at 9:54: trains leave from Utsunomiya every hour or so (it takes 43minutes) This will not take longer than going via the Tobu Line and it is actually a more comfortable trip (no freezing airconditioning). You can either walk or take a bus (500 YEN day pass - buy at the train station). We suggest you take the bus pass but if waiting times are too long just start walking. Distances are not too long. It took us 20 minutes to walk to Shinkyo bridge from the train station. Go past Shinkyo bridge and visit Shoyoen, a small Japanese style garden, located behind the treasure house of Rinnoji Temple. Then visit Toshogu shrine and Taiyuinbyo, the highlights of your visit.

29 October 2013

8. Lunch at 音音 OTO-OTO 上野バンブーガーデン店の概要 in UENO Ueno Koen 1-52, Bamboo Garden 2F Open 11am-11:30pm daily: Monday - Friday & Day before holiday Lunch: 11:00 - 15:00 (L.O.14:25), Saturday & Sunday Lunch: 11:00 - 16:30 (L.O.16:20) (lunch: approx. 1,500 YEN) English menu available Have lunch and relax at 音音 OTO-OTO 上野バンブーガーデン店の概要 in UENO. You can also then visit the zoo or the museum in the UENO Park. I put in this restaurant for you as we had troubles finding a restaurant in Asakusa (we were starving by that time) and were even refused there: We were told "Japanese only" by a waiter (clearly not referring to the menu) which put us in a bad mood for the next couple of hours. This remained our only xenophobe experience though. Oto-Oto is a meeting point for tourist groups so it should be kind to foreigners. They have an English menu.
7. Find Asakusa Station (浅草駅 Asakusa-eki) We visited Kawagoe after Asakusa but think a visit to Ueno Park would have been the better choice due to its vicinity to Asakusa. The Panda's in the Zoo seem to be a major attraction and the museum houses different national treasures of temples you will visit during your trip. Since we had troubles finding the nearest metro station I decided to add Asakusa Station to the itinerary: Walk back towards the river and you will find Asakusa Station. There are many entries to the metro (underground). As an orientation point you may use the flamme d'or from the Asahi Brewery or Tokyo Skytree. Take Tokyo Metro Ginza Line from Asakusa Station to Ueno. This takes about 5 minutes.
6. Sensoji (浅草寺, Sensōji, also known as Asakusa Kannon Temple) Hours: Main hall: 6:00 to 17:00 (from 6:30 from October to March) Temple grounds: Always open Closed: No closing days Admission: Free Sensoji, Tokyo's oldest Buddhist temple from 645 was built for the goddess of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. The legend says that two brothers fished a statue of the deity out of the Sumida River and even though they put the statue back into the river, it always returned to them. Consequently, Sensoji was built. Visit the temple and the shopping street (South towards Asakusa Station).
5. Amuse Museum Hours: Galleries: 10am~6pm (Last Admission 5:30pm), closed Mondays Bar: 6pm~2am Entry fee: 1000 YEN Visit Amuse Museum before entering the temple area. It is on your way. You will find a souvenir shop for artistic Tenugui towels and elegant Japanese handicrafts on the first floor. We did not realise this was a museum and just went into the shop to buy our first set of tenugui towels. I only now realised what we missed: Galleries are on the second and third floor. Shamisen lessons are given on the fourth floor and there is a bar on the 5th floor with a panoramic view of Asakusa, including the Sensoji temple and the 5 story-pagoda. They have a roof Top Garden with a spectacular view from the precincts of Sensoji Temple to the Tokyo Sky Tree. They have a permanent "Boro" exhibition (patchwork kimono like clothes). Via google maps you can also visit their website: amusemuseum.com‎
4B: Water Bus (水上バス, Suijō Basu) Sumida River Line: Asakusa Terminal The Asahi Beer Tower and Asahi Super Dry Hall with its characteristic Flamme d'Or (built in 1989) designed by French designer Philippe Starck and Tokyo Skytree, the second tallest building in the world, can be seen on the right upon arrival. Tokyo Skytree opened to the public in May 2012 and is a major tourist attraction. Waiting lines for are supposedly long to reach the viewing platforms. The building is 634.0 metres (2,080 ft) high. Visit the website below for more information about the Water Bus:
4A. Water Bus (水上バス, Suijō Basu) Sumida River Line: Hama Rikyu garden Take the ferry from the gardens to Asakusa (45 minutes, 720 yen, about 12 boats per day). The dock at Hama Rikyu is located within the garden's paid grounds, so disembarking means that travelers also have to pay the garden's entry fee (300 yen). You could also get an audio guide for 300 yen. The only buildings we were able to discern without the guide were the Asahi Beer Tower and the Asahi Super Dry Hall with its characteristic Flamme d'Or and Tokyo Skytree which can be seen on the right upon arrival at Asakusa.
3. Hamarikyu Gardens (浜離宮恩賜庭園 Hama-rikyū Onshi Teien) Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (entry until 16:30) Closed: December 29 to January 1 Admission: 300 YEN Hama Rikyu are nice gardens to stroll through. Located at the mouth of the Sumida River, it was opened April 1, 1946. The park itself surrounded by a seawater moat filled by Tokyo Bay. It was remodeled as a public garden park on the site of a villa of the Shogun Tokugawa family in the 17th century.You may see egrets, ravens and other birds as well as turtles and koi of course. The park is in stark contrast to the high rise buildings surrounding it. Check out the ferry times and then go on the ferry trip to Asakusa. You will see the side of the Fish Market where the boats bring in the fish.
2. Tsukiji Market (築地市場, Tsukiji Shijō) Hours Outer Market: varies by shop, typically 5:00 to 14:00 Wholesale Area: open to visitors after 9:00am Tuna Auction: open to visitors from 5:25am to 6:15am (restricted to 120 visitors/day) CAUTION!! WE DO NOT SUGGEST TRYING TO GET IN AS YOU PROBABLY WILL NOT BE ALLOWED IN ANYWAY!!! There are many stories of people arriving early and being refused! Closed: Sundays, national holidays and some Wednesdays The tuna auction is typically closed to tourists for a few weeks over New Year (usually from early December to mid January) Admission: Free Tsukiji Market is a large wholesale market for fish, fruits and vegetables in central Tokyo and is one of the world's largest fish markets, handling over 2,000 tons of marine products per day. It is expected to move to a new site in Toyosu by spring 2016. DO NOT GET RUN OVER! Visit the following website for more information!
1. Sushi Dai (寿司大) or Daiwa-zushi (大和寿司) Sushi Dai (building #6) is Tokyo's best sushi place as it serves the best quality tuna. It only seats 12 people at a time and is only open for breakfast from 5 am to noon. Dozens of people wait in line even before opening time. We initially thought people were waiting in line for a bus or as a tourist group for their guide to arrive. Visit the link below for their Facebook page. The alternative to Sushi Dai is Daiwazushi (also building #6) with much shorter waiting lines (about 30 minutes)
General Information If getting up early is easy for you due to jetlag, this is the perfect thing to do: Have breakfast in one of the restaurants at the fishmarket (6 to 8:30 am including line-up), then go for a stroll through the busy fishmarket (it only opens to the public at 8:30). Then walk through Hama Rikyu gardens which open at 9am and take the ferry to Asakusa from there. Auctions (starting at 5am) are not really open to tourists, so unless you wear rubber boots and look like a potential Japanese buyer there is no point in getting to the fish market any earlier than 6am unless you want to be the first person eating in the number one sushi places. Please learn from our mistakes und stick to the plan above: We tried to get to the auctions at 6am (and were not allowed in), we saw lineups for restaurants without knowing what they were (and once we knew, it was too late). We ended up buying breakfast at a 7 eleven shop at 8 am sitting on a bench waiting for an hour for opening times of market and park.
3. Candy Alley (菓子屋横丁, Kashiya Yokochō) Candy Alley is a little shopping street adjacent to the Warehouse District. It is lined by stores selling traditional Japanese sweets and cakes, which gave the alley its name. There used to be more than 80 shops at its prime times. Kawagoe is famous for its sweet potatoes. You can try sweet potato chips, sweet potato ice cream or coffee, and even sweet potato beer!
2. Kurazukuri Street (蔵造りの町並み Kurazukuri no machinam), bell tower (時の鐘 Toki no kane) Kawagoe is known for its old buildings and traditional warehouses of the Edo period (17th to 19th centuries) on the Kurazukuri Street. Merchants were wealthy enough to build sturdy and beautiful stone structures. We enjoyed walking down this street. There was plenty of traffic though. The bell tower is a short distance from the main street and is the landmark of Kawagoe.
1. Seiya-san Muryōshuji Kita-in (星野山無量寿寺喜多院) Hours: 8:50 to 16:30 (until 16:00 from November 24 to end February) Closed 20 minutes later on Sundays and national holidays Closed: December 25 to January 8, February 2-3, April 2-5, August 16 During other special events Admission: 400 yen Take the bus to Kita-in, the head temple of the Tendai Sect in the Kanto Region. It houses the only remaining palace buildings of the former Edo Castle. To help rebuilding the temple after a fire, Tokugawa Iemitsu had ordered several palace buildings to be moved from Edo Castle to Kawagoe. The buildings remaining in Tokyo were all destroyed. You will also find 540 Rakan statues of the disciples of Buddha, each with its own facial expression. I was told to touch their heads and make a wish. It is a 15 minute walk to the rest of the attractions.
ITINERARY for Kawagoe (川越市i) You could visit Kawagoe in the afternoon. We did not visit anything on our first day because we were too tired and jetlagged. We visited Kawagoe the next day because of its old stone Kurazukuri warehouse buildings from the Edo period. If you are too tired to visit Kawagoe the first day, just skip it. If you feel wide awake, take the private Tobu Tojo Line Express or Rapid from Ikebukuro to Kawagoe (30 minutes, ¥450 - not covered by Japan Rail Pass, intervalls: 15-30 min) or the JR Saikyo Line Express or Rapid covered by the Japan Rail Pass (50 min, intervals: 20-30 min). Take the bus to the temple Kita-in. From there, walk to the main street, the bell tower and Candy street and take the bus back to the train station. Take the train back to Ikebukuro.
Tenkazushi - Running sushi Great place!!! We ate there twice. Good prices and everytime we got good advice from Japanese people sitting next to us wanting to help and converse. They even made us try things, gave us extra plates and taught us how to order properly;) It is custom to order rather than to take the fish that has been on the belt for too long. The moment it is not shiny anymore it is not eaten readily. Of course you will just need to sit next to the right people;) But from reading other people's posts on sunny pages (see next post) it seems to be one of the most foreigner friendly sushi place in tokyo.
Food: Plenty of choices in IKEBUKURO There are helpful people on the streets that are paid to point you to the restaurants they work for but if you tell them what you feel like having they will also point you to other restaurants. If you don't feel like going out just buy something at one of the 7 Eleven shops. Visit sunny pages for restaurant reviews:
Sakura Hotel Ikebukuro, Tokyo We arrived in Tokyo (Narita Airport) early at 8am and went straight to our hotel (Sakura Hotel, Tokyo; 11000 YEN for a double room/night) in Ikebukuro that we picked because it was very close to one of the big train stations. Normally the Japanese are very strict with check in times (usually between 2pm and 4pm) even if the room is clean and ready but we were allowed into our room at 11am. This is of course a big advantage after a long and tiring flight. If you choose a different hotel make sure you are close to one of the main JR train stations (Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ueno, Tokyo, etc.).
Japanese Etiquette Correct manners are very important among the Japanese: 1) Give or receive with both hands 2) Take off your shoes in places which require you to do so and put on slippers instead. 3) Put on special bathroom slippers when going to the toilet. etc. For more information visit the webpage below or read “Getting genki in Japan” (a funny and helpful book we found at the airport before leaving.
General Information: Train Times (Hyperdia) Hyperdia is an extremely useful site for planning your trip with traintimes: You can also check for underground (metro) timetables. If you uncheck the box "Private Railway" when making a search only JR trains (covered by the Japan Rail Pass) will come up. A Hyperdia app is also available.
Temporary Suspension of Maestro ATM Acceptance in Japan Since April 2013 it is no longer possible to use Maestro to pick up money from ATM machines: All Maestro-branded EMV cards issued outside of the Asia/Pacific region are temporarily unable to withdraw currency at domestic ATMs, while the regional ATM network is upgraded. However, Maestro-branded EMV cards issued in the following countries are able to withdraw currency at domestic ATMs: Netherlands, Canada We suggest taking enough Japanese cash along for your trip unless Maestro is allowed again. Pay as much with your credit card as possible.
Inform yourself about public holidays in Japan before planning your trip! We were in Hakone on a Saturday in a period around 2 separate public holidays (long weekend) with masses of people. Although travelling on these days is fine you should try to make reservations well ahead of time or leave earlier in the morning as you may loose time. In Japan you are not allowed to take off more than 9 days in a row. This strict regulation creates vast amounts of Japanese tourist flows with overfilled trains, etc. during certain periods of the year (long weekends, etc.). Make reservations well ahead of time or be content sitting or standing in one of the non-reserved cars. The Japanese Public Holiday Law establishes that when a national holiday falls on a Sunday, the next working day shall become a public holiday. Additionally, any day that falls between two other national holidays shall also become a holiday.
General Information - Japan Rail Pass The Japan Rail Pass (available for one, two or three weeks and costing (28300, 45100, 57700 YEN/person respectively) is essential for most tourists visiting Japan. You have to buy it in advance!!! A return trip Kyoto - Tokyo is already more expensive than a Japan Rail Pass for the week (Train tickets are very expensive in Japan). Take care: Some trains (Nozomi Shinkansen, etc.) and some passages (private) are not covered by the Japan Rail pass! For a 17 day trip you could combine a 2 week Japan Rail Pass and a 3 day pass for Tokyo and surroundings (JR Kanto Area Pass for 8000 YEN / person) which you can buy upon arrival at the airport trainstation (no need for prior pass reservation). Buy the Japan Rail Pass in advance online via the link provided below.