Hi everyone! thanks for checking out the blog on Japan!
I’m going to apologise in advance that this is a LONG blog. HA but it’s mostly pictures.
Our travel to Japan was a bit of a long haul. Ha. First an 8 hour flight then a more than 10 hour flight with less than 2 hours between. Yikes. However I have to say international long haul flights are so much better than the domestic flights I’m used to. For one there is more space; and then there is great in-flight entertainment. Literally hundreds of movies to choose from. Not that I watched much. I slept SO much. Laney enjoyed them though.
Arriving in Tokyo at 11 pm – knowing we have to do a final hop the next morning – we stayed at a simple airport hotel and had our first Japanese experience. Ha. For starters,I thought it was just the airport hotel but every single hotel we stayed in (in Japan) provided toothbrushes and toothpaste. Then of course the slippers. You’re not supposed to wear your shoes in the room. Then there’s the 100 buttons on the toilet. Ha. And warm toilet seats. I swear almost everywhere we went except the most basic of public bathrooms had a heated seat and usually a bidet function. Oh and the Japan sizing of the rooms. Ha. Yes, quite small in most cases.
The next day we take a quick hop flight to Osaka where our tour begins. We are a full day ahead so we head out for some Kobe beef. Which was so good – but not nearly what we experienced in Tokyo at the end of our trip – but more on that later. On the way home I had to try these octopus dumpling looking things they were selling everywhere. Takoyaki. They were OK, but I didn’t love them HA. We also stopped at a convenience store and Laney – my favorite child- spotted my favorite sake – the same one that I buy at home!! Whoo hoo score!
The next day we walked around Osaka a bit and rested some. We met our tour group at 6 pm for the kickoff meeting, and it was quite a varied crew. I was afraid of it being a bunch of older people but it was more young by far. We chose not to do an Osaka walking tour with the tour CEO (chief experience officer as they are called at G Adventures) so we headed to a Japanese restaurant. I had sushi. I think Laney had noodles. The sushi was SO Amazing. Ha. So was the sake! We also picked up these crazy good cookies. YUM!!
The next morning we met in the lobby at 8am to start the tour. When I booked the tour I thought ‘Express’ meant short tour. It actually means you do A LOT in a short time. Ha. Here we go! Not like we’re tired from that Africa thing. NO Not at all! Ha!
We headed to a to a subway then train station to get to Koyasan – Mount Koya – we were going to stay at a Buddhist Temple. Our CEO Natsu said it was going to be cold because of the elevation . She wasn’t kidding – it was freaking COLD and our walls were made of rice paper!! Fortunately, there was a space heater in our room so we CRANKED that and hoped for the best as we dressed in our kimonos and headed to dinner. We had a traditional Buddhist vegetarian dinner called shojin ryori. It was good although Laney and I didn’t much care for the jello-ish texture of some of the tofu.
The temple was beautiful inside and out. Particularly with the leaves changing during the fall. Our rooms were traditional Japanese, so no beds. HA. They come in during the evening to lay out futon mattress and the bedding. It was quite comfortable!
This is the entrance to the temple where we stayed
This is the doorway to our room, from an outside wooden walkway
This is the same spot but ‘turn around’ so with my back to the paper door to our bedroom, this is our view. A garden with beautiful fall foliage.
This is also in the entrance to the temple where we stayed. The man building is to the right.
These are the futons they put in our rooms for us at bedtime. they were quite comfortable.
This is multiple place settings for the dinner.
Here is the food for the evening. I really enjoyed most of it. I would hate to be the one doing the dishes though. ALL THOSE DISHES!!
Laney and I worked on making our paper cranes, which we were given by our CEO (paper and instructions) We had quite a few laughs about our mistakes. But it was fun. Paper cranes are the symbolic gift that you are to bring to the Children’s Park at the Hiroshima Peace Museum. There are thousands gathered every year. The story behind them is here.
After dinner some people went for a tour of the Okunoin cemetery, which is the largest in Japan. We had seen it during the day, though, and with it being SO COLD we opted not to go and we spent the time warming up in our room instead.
The next morning we were invited to attend a fire ceremony, which was very cool.
We learned that all everyone in Japan is either Buddhist, Shinto or both. Many times both. People practice both religions, believe it or not. Shinto is the original religion of Japan, and Buddhism was introduced in the 6th century. They now coexist peacefully and in some cases have blended a bit in Japanese culture, as with shrines and temples.
We visited both shrines and temples in Koyasan. We utilised a purification trough to cleans our hands and mouth before entering. And we saw the shimwnawa, which is a rope with paper tied to it, representing the entrance to a sacred place. We saw pagodas as well.
Loved these sand/rock gardens. It was so peaceful
We left after the fire ceremony and headed via bus, then train again to Hirshima to the Peace Park and Peace Memorial Museum. I didn’t take any pictures inside the Museum because it seemed disrespectful. I did learn about why the bombing was deemed appropriate by the allies, but the effect on the people and the devastation was heartbreaking. This probably affected me more than the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camps – probably because in that case I felt we were on the ‘good’ side. In this case, while still the ‘good’ side, we caused something terrible. I learned, though, that the bombing was chosen as the solution because it was estimated that war would cause significantly more casualties on both sides. Still, it’s hard to see.
This building still stands from before the bombing. It’s interesting how it was left to show the damage and remains there today.
Near the center of the park is a concrete, saddle-shaped monument that covers a cenotaph holding the names of all of the people killed by the bomb. The monument is aligned to frame the Peace Flame and the A-Bomb Dome. The Memorial Cenotaph was one of the first memorial monuments built on open field on August 6, 1952. The arch shape represents a shelter for the souls of the victims
The Peace Flame is another monument to the victims of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, but it has an additional symbolic purpose. The flame has burned continuously since it was lit in 1964, and will remain lit until all nuclear bombs on the planet are destroyed and the planet is free from the threat of nuclear annihilation
After visiting the museum and the parks, we had a group dinner. It was one of my favorite dinners of the whole tour. We met and Natsu took us to a building that contained MANY Okonomiyaki restaurants, but ours was supposedly the best. Okonomiyaki are basically a type of pancake filled usually with cabbage and noodles and other ingredients. They are usually cooked in front of you, as they were in this case. The food was amazing and the restaurant owners were great too. Of course, I had sake with mine. HA. The picture with all the ‘banners’ – each of those banners is a different Okonomiyaki restaurant – and that was just on one floor. Each restaurant is literally an L-shaped grill with seats on the opposing side. As others did, I left half my Okonomiyaki on the grill while I ate the other half. This kept it hot and fresh.
This was towards the beginning of the cooking process
This is the finished product, only some of it on my plate with some ‘special sauce’. OMG so delicious. I can’t wait to have these again. My friend Karen says she knows a place in NYC that makes them. YAY!
This is the line of restaurants, each one its own banner.
As we were leaving, they cooked some scallops on the grill. I had to take some pictures because the scallop contains a muscle/piece that I’m not used to seeing.
Later that night, the group rented a Karaoke room and we enjoyed some bad singing for a while. HA. It’s a Japanese thing. It was fun!
Our next stop was Kyoto, which I expected to be a smaller city, but actually was quite big and bustling!
In Kyoto we saw The Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, which contains over 5,000 Torii gates. This intriguing shrine was dedicated to the god of rice and sake by the Hata clan in the 8th century. YES! A shrine to SAKE!! My kind of place. HA!
We also saw Daisen-in’s Zen Garden, which was really amazing and peaceful, but sadly we couldn’t take any pictures.
We saw the Bamboo Forrest, which was a little bit damaged from the recent storm that hit the week before we were there. But it was still pretty incredible to see!
We saw with Kinaku-ji Golden Pavillion. The entire garden and ground were amazingly beautiful
These are not ‘real’ geishas. It’s common in this area particularly to rent the ‘costume’ and get hair and makeup done to match.
After the Bamboo Garden, we got some ice cream and tried one of our favorite things we had in Japan. Taiyaki. It’s a dessert. A soft cake/cookie shaped like a fish with filling and another cookie. The filling could be chocolate, or custard (our favorite), or even ice cream. All other flavours too.
Finally we saw the Nijo Castle and Gardens.
WHEW. BUSY BUSY
After that, some of our tour mates went to do some ‘experiences’ like a traditional tea ceremony, learning samurai skills, and dressing up like a Geisha. Unfortunately, we were just too tired and Laney was feeling a little punky so we just chilled in the room until dinner.
The next morning we visited the Buddhist temple Kinkaku-ji also in Kyoto, Japan. This is translated as “Temple of the Golden Pavilion” or “Golden Pavilion Temple” in English. The views all around were completely spectacular.
We also visited some additional temples that day, and had an amazing dinner at a Japanese ‘tavern’ so to speak. Like a pub. HA. It’s called an Izakaya – a type of restaurant. Ironically, probably my #1 favorite restaurant in the US is Izakaya’s (asian infused restaurant) in the Borgata in Atlantic City. HA!
Tuna over avocado. SO GOOD!
The visual menu outside the restaurant. This is pretty common in Japan.
Name of the restaurant (I forget what it means. HA) Something like Happy Heart or something.
The next day we took a trip to Hakone, where we stayed in a Japanese hotel with a traditional Japanese bath, fed by a natural hot spring.
And we donned our kimonos again for a multi-course Kaiseki meal (not vegetarian this time). I think this is where Laney discovered her love of salmon sashimi. And of course the miso soup was amazing as was the beef! YUM!
Last but not least we landed ourselves in Tokyo. We enjoyed exploring the city with our tour mates and we spent quite a bit of time in the Shibuya area, and got some good film of the famous crossing.
The meal below was quite interesting. I had heard of these but this was the only time we ‘did it’. Some casual restaurants in Japan, at or near the door, you place your order in a machine, like a vending machine, and pay through the machine as well. It prints you a receipt which you give to the hostess and she seats you and brings your food (and drink) to you when it’s ready. This was a noodle type place and it was SO GOOD!
Most exciting for me (Laney opted not to go) was the Tsukiji Fish Market. We saw both the retail and the wholesale area (where, technically, we aren’t supposed to go or it’s discouraged). What an amazing array of food here. And do you know there is $13 MILLION of fish and shellfish sold here EVERY DAY?? That’s a LOT OF FREAKING SEAFOOD! WOW.
This, above, is a sunfish. I didn’t think people these. It’s a HUGE fish.
Those white things are frozen tuna. Frozen to something like negative 60 Celsius and then the guy is cutting them with a band saw (I think it’s a band saw, it’s been a long time since my shop classes at OCIS). CRAZY!
A famous green tea shop was also in the Tsukiji market area, and this is the different types of green tea. They made us hot tea of two different kinds, including Macha, which is the best, to compare.
Dried octopus. Saw this everywhere. No I didn’t try it. It just didn’t look appetising to me.
OK, so this may be where my food fascination started (If you saw my recent post on facebook asking people to identify a food in it’s natural state). Above, this is rice. It was being sold for decorative purposes. But its interesting to know that it needs to be taken out of the shell before it can be eaten (cooked, etc.). I had no idea how rice was grown.
The guy above is cooking scallops in their shell with a butane torch. I wasn’t hungry at the time, but when Laney and I came back a few days later I had these. They were AMAZING!!
Giant tuna head.
SO, along the food lines, this is wasabi in it’s natural form. Who knew?
More amazing food on offer at the Tsukiji fish market.
With our tour mates, and then again a couple days later on our own, we had the BEST BEEF OF OUR LIVES here. If you’re in Tokyo you HAVE TO GO to this restaurant. It’s not EASY to find, but you can google this name (starts with the Han….) and then look closely for this sign. The restaurant is in the basement.
Also in Tokyo with our group, we visited an English pub, called Hobgoblin. Rather ironic since a few people were from England. HA. Laney and I visited a few days later on our own as well. We really enjoyed playing darts!
Pretty good shots for me considering I’d had quite a lot to drink. HA
Cool Guinness labels.
LOVED this IPA!!!
I took Laney back to the Tsukiji market a few days later to see the sights, try some foods, and pick up these HUGE crabs I saw. The pictures don’t really do them justice. They were ENORMOUS.
Sweet potato ice cream, I believe
Healthy street food at the fish market.
Got my scallops!
This is a traditional Japanese dish, made slightly differently by region. It’s mostly egg, and it’s VERY FLUFFY. This on (Tokyo region) is slightly sweet.
Check out these crabs – didn’t by these. they look like ugly spider crabs!
The claws were spotted and slightly less bulky than crabs in NJ/MD.
Laney and I mostly vegetated the last few days in our Airbnb once the tour ended. We were PRETTY TIRED! HA!
Above – tiny crabs. Cooked, I assume and dried I guess. Sold unrefrigerated and when I asked, yes, you eat them like potato chips. Just pop them in your mouth. I wish I had tried them but I didn’t want to buy the whole bag. .
Vending machine – the item with red below them are sold HOT and items with blue are cold. Took me almost a week to realise this. HA. At least once Laney was surprised that her tea was hot.
A funny visual about keeping your hands clear of the door of the subway train.
Vending machines are everywhere in Japan. You don’t need any kind of license to put one on your property. The vending machine company will bring it and install it and supply it regularly for free. And you get something like 20% of the profit for having it on your property. Free money. No wonder they’re everywhere.
A cool railing. It matches the steps. Makes sense. HA
Laney next to the Honey Toast statue. not actual size. Though, doesn’t seem far off when they put it in front of you. HA.
Above – actual Honey Toast. This was a random lunch with a couple tour mates (Patrick and Izzy). We had no idea it was going to be bigger than our head! And SO INSANELY GOOD. Like slightly sweet bread, fluffy, but not as sweet as cake. Drizzled with a honey-like liquid but a thinner liquid. topped with all kind of good stuff! It was to die for !
Mochi. But filled with all different things (in my experience the US they are filled with ice cream). The white strawberry is a specialty, not an unripe one. A special white strawberry supposed to be very good. Tasted like a red strawberry to me. HA.
This darker panda is a sweet one – filled with chocolate I think.
The white one, which Laney had, was a pork dumpling, similar to the ones we had at 551, a famous place for dumplings in Japan.
just a cute sign in a train station
OK so I have always thought this. We should use sink and shower ‘dirty’ water to flush toilets. This isn’t quite there but pretty cool. There was another sink in the bathroom but this one ran after you flushed, to fill the tank and to wash your hands as well. PRETTY FREAKING COOL.
Bento Boxes. Great food on the go in very neat and tidy packaging. Very Japanese. Loved these. They are sold (and consumed) at room temperature. And perfectly fine!
Amusing toilet instructions.
Interesting translation of instructions.
Every day, pretty much, Natsu would give us a written detailed agenda like this. Including weather forecast and exact train times. She was INSANELY meticulous and detailed and energetic and wonderful.
At a bus station. I think it’s just a calendar. I think it was Nov 1.
Famous dumplings from 551 (Go Go Itchy. Go is 5 in Japanese. Itchy is One).
Itchy. Knee. Sun. She. Go. That’s 1, 2,3,4,5.
More of Natsu’s instructions. Wish I had take a pic of them all. I would have had everything I needed for this blog HA. Don’t compare, I probably got some things/days mixed up.
Reality of travelling. Laundry drying on the patio. I don’t think I’ve had/seen/used a dryer but one time since I’ve left home. Crazy right? but it’s worked really well. I actually prefer it now.
Laney bought this candy (along with ‘Russian roulette iced tea’ – several bottles of unknown tea type) when we first got to Japan. And proceeded to buy a few more packs of this crazy purple taffy-like candy.