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Kyoto – Moss Temple

On my last trip to Kyoto, we only stayed one night and wished we had more time. This time I’m so glad I was there for 3 days, but I still feel like there is so much more to see and do. Today was our last day in Kyoto and we were really excited about our visit to Saihoji temple (also known as Kokedera or the Moss Temple).

Kokedera is a UNESCO world heritage site and is one of many locations that make up the History Monuments of Ancient Kyoto. The temple is surrounded by beautiful gardens covered in an estimated 120 varieties of moss. To visit the temple we had to apply in writing (with a self-addressed and stamped postcard for the reply, or in the case of international visitors, enclosed with an International Reply Coupon) and wait for a written reply advising us when our appointment at the temple is.

Room for writing the zen exercise and chanting

I had read that prior to being able to walk through the gardens we would have to participate in a session of chanting and a zen exercise of writing/tracing a mantra in Japanese. However when we went didn’t have to trace a mantra, but just write our name, address and a wish on a small balsa wood plaque to then present in front of a shrine. I think maybe they’ve made the exercise a little easier for those who cannot write Japanese? Although that’s only a guess. Also don’t worry, you don’t need to chant along with the monks, however we were given a copy of the chant in case you want to try to follow it.

Fish in the pond

The gardens were amazing. A lush green wonderland and you feel like you’ve been transported to a secret garden. We were there in winter and everything was still green, but I suspect that in the spring the gardens would be even more spectacular.

Can you count all the moss?

Boat on the pond

Pathway through the moss

Today was the last day Serena would be with us on our #DirtyNotThirty trip. After a beautiful afternoon at the moss temple we headed back to Osaka, stopping on the way for a quick lunch and some food window shopping. We saw jugs of parfait and parfaits with whole slices of cake on top!

Dessert jug anyone?

Or maybe you'd like a side of cake with your dessert?

Kyoto Inari Shrine & Gion Kinana Ice-Cream

Did I already tell you that Hokkaikan Ohanabo serves a wonderful breakfast? I especially loved the little hot pot of steaming beancurd that comes with it. The perfect meal to energise us for a long walk through the many torii gates of the Fushimi Inari Shrine.

Fushimi Inari Shrine is famous for the hundreds and thousands of orange-red torii gates that lead into the woods. We didn’t walk the whole trail but spent a couple of hours there. We were trying to reach Yotsutsuji intersection which has views of Kyoto but when we started to tire we saw a sign warning us about the monkeys. Apparently you shouldn’t feed, photograph, make eye contact with or approach the monkeys too closely. It also warns that if they get to close you should pretend to throw rocks at them to scare them off. We didn’t feel like we had the energy to fight off monkeys so we turned back. Besides, we were hungry.

The back of the gates showing who donated the gate.

Foxes are the messengers of Inari

For lunch we headed to Nishiki Market (Fish Market) trying to find some Kyoto style sushi. This style of sushi is different to nigiri sushi. You will see that a piece of fish is packed on top of rice. Sometimes there are layers of more than one type of fish. It’s designed to last longer than nigiri (maybe a couple of days). The reason for this is that Kyoto is a landlocked area and they had to come up with a way to make the fish last the journey to Kyoto (unlike today when a Shinkansen will get you there in next to no time).

Sadly, we couldn’t find anywhere to sit and eat some. There were a few stalls selling sushi and we found one sushi restaurant but it wasn’t open yet. Instead we found a little stall at the end of the market grilling oysters and other shellfish so we decided to try that out.

The oysters were good. I tried a whelk…. I have decided I don’t like whelks and I probably won’t eat one every again if I can help it.

Grilled oysters and scallops

After these appetizers we stopped in at an udon restaurant/bar also in the market.  Admittedly part of the reason we chose this place was because it had a toilet. Haha. But the food was nice too. I especially liked the fried bean curd. It was flat and I think possibly dipped in egg before frying.

Fried bean curd

You are probably sensing a pattern here, with the number of food photos. But I can reassure you that this was to built up energy for all the walking and shopping we were doing. After lunch we walked through the Gion district looking at the beautiful old Edo period architecture. I loved walking through little laneways, never knowing what I was about to find. Also loved looking into doorways to see if there was a secret garden (often there was). We spotted a number of people in traditional outfits and also some Geisha (or tourists dressed as Geisha).

We then went on a hunt for Gion Kinana for ice-cream. I’d read about it on Kyoto Foodie (Great blog for Kyoto food tips! http://kyotofoodie.com/gion-kinana-ice-cream/). It took us a while to find because I forgot to bring a map. But when we reached the area, everyone we asked seemed to know Kinana!

When we found it we were not disappointed. Their flavours are all traditional Japanese flavours, including soy bean, black sesame and maccha. Kyoto Foodie recommended trying the Dekitate flavour which is the freshly made flavour of the day. The dekitate ice-cream when we visited was the “plain” flavour and it was so smooth and creamy. It’s still so soft because it hasn’t been frozen yet. I definitely agree that this is a must try if you are in the area. They also have free wifi 😉 so we stayed for quite a while.

Sundaes - one with berries and the other with chestnuts.

Chart showing the day's sundaes and flavours. Including the dekitate flavour.

And then what do we do after ice-cream…. have dinner! We went looking for Anzukko (noted as best Gyoza by eat drink kyoto – http://eatdrink-kyoto.com/bestOfKyoto.php) but found they were closed on Mondays. But nearby we stumbled upon a tasty ramen shop. Serena wanted lots of spring onion, and we inadvertently ordered lots of onion for everyone. Great egg at this place too! Also we discovered “ramen pepper” here too which we again put on everything.

Breakfast on Koyasan & Wagyu in Kyoto

We woke up nice and early for morning prayer. We dressed only a little bit warm and as soon as we entered the main temple we wished we had put on more layers. It was freezing and there were only two little tiny heaters.

The morning prayer and fire ritual were amazing to witness. I took a video of the fire ritual which I’ll try to post after I return to Australia. I highly recommend staying at Eko-in if you ever decide to visit Koyasan.

After the two ceremonies breakfast was served in our rooms. At first we were expecting a bigger spread after the feast that was dinner. But while this meal looked smaller than our last, it was certainly satisfying and filling. Again, amazing flavours.

We spent the morning before check out exploring the temple and huddling up next to the heater in the computer room to check our emails and so the girls could post some photos to instagram. There’s a lot more to see on Koyasan but because Serena didn’t bring her boots (we left most of our luggage in a locker in Osaka) we didn’t want her feet to freeze off. Also to really see everything I think you need more time on Koyasan and we had to get to Kyoto.

After checking into our accommodation, Hokkaikan Ohanabo (http://www.yado-web.com/kinki/kyoto/egb03/egb03.html) (Which I highly recommend for anyone staying in Kyoto, it’s very clean, spacious, the owners and staff are extremely friendly, the breakfast is delicious and it’s really close to Kyoto station), we went to Pontoccho, a long paved lane way along the canal filled with bars and restaurants. It has a beautiful atmosphere at night and is of course, filled with delicious food.

We went to Kotoshi (http://r.gnavi.co.jp/c473800/lang/en/map), which I had been to before, for some irori dining (cooking over a hearth). We selected some seafood and wagyu to cook over the white charcoal. It’s a beautiful restaurant and we sat upstairs with a window facing the water. There are so many restaurants along this lane way though and I’m sure it would be difficult to pick anything wrongly.

Not far from the restaurant was a little gift shop with products that had bunnies on them. So cute! This was the little bunny dinner scene outside the shop.

Osaka to Mt Koya – Snow!

We stopped off for a quick brunch before heading to Koyasan. Takoyaki and chicken!

Takoyaki

Mount Koya (Koyasan) is the center of Shingon Buddhism, an important Buddhist sect which was introduced to Japan in 805 by Kobo Daishi (also known as Kukai), one of Japan’s most significant religious figures. A small, secluded temple town has developed around the sect’s headquarters that Kobo Daishi built on Koyasan’s wooded mountaintop. It is also the site of Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum and the start and end point of the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage.

Source: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e4900.html

We stayed for one night on Koyasan in the Eko-in temple. You could visit Koyasan for just the day, but it’s much more relaxing to stay overnight and experience a temple stay. There are a lot of temples you can stay at over the mountain that accommodate various budgets.

There were a few reasons I chose Eko-in. It’s close to the entrance to Okunoin cemetery that leads to Okunoin temple and had good reviews online as one of the larger and older temples. Also they conduct two morning ceremonies. Most temples have a morning prayer ceremony that guests are required to attend. Eko-in has an additional fire ceremony where they burn logs representing the 108 mortal sins thus absolving everyone of their sins.

To get to Koyasan took us a few hours by train and then the last part of the journey by “cable car”. The cable car is not a suspended cable car but a tram that runs along the ground, a little like the tram that goes up to the Peak in Hong Kong. Buses run from the cable car station to various locations on Koyasan. We purchased a Koyasan Heritage Pass which is valid for two days and includes return train fare from Osaka to Mt Koya and the cable car and bus pass. It also includes some discount vouchers for various sights on Mt Koya.

Cable car to Mt Koya

When we reached Mt Koya we were greeted by a thick layer of snow on everything! Also freezing cold and poor Serena only wore her sneakers. We spent the afternoon before dinner walking through Okunoin cemetery. It was just beautiful and so peaceful. We only walked about 20 minutes in and turned back because we had to get back to Eko-in for dinner. But if you walk right to the end you will reach the temple.

Ichinohashi Bridge - the entrance to Okunoin Cemetery

Okunoin Cemetery under snow

Eko-in provides vegetarian dinner and breakfast with our stay. We were really excited about the food and were certainly not disappointed. The complexity of flavours in the food, particularly the soups was amazing. And the care and delicacy in presentation was gorgeous. I would love to know how to make some of this food.

Tower of food trays brought to our room.

Udon and vegetable soup on a burner.

Tempura Vegetables

Yummy beancurd items.

Dinner was served at 5.30 then we went for a dip in the hot baths downstairs before getting an early sleep. First prayer ceremony was going to start at 7am. A little later than usual because of the colder season. Zzz.

 

Food day in Osaka

First stop, the Instant Ramen Museum!

Peace will come to the world when the people have enough to eat.

~Momofuku Ando, creator of instant ramen.

Chikin ramen was the first instant noodle, created by Momofuku Ando in 1958 and in 1971 began sales of the first Cup Noodles. The museum is a really interesting place to visit, particularly if you are a fan of instant noodles. You can learn about the origins of instant noodles, see a wall of every flavour ever sold and even decorate your own styrofoam cup which you can fill with instant noodles and your own choice of flavouring and toppings. It gets sealed and packaged ready for you to take home to eat.

Design your own noodle cup

Upstairs is also a kitchen where you can cook the noodles from scratch but we didn’t have time to do this.

After the ramen museum we were of course, very hungry. So I took the girls to Kuromon Market, a food market in Osaka, to eat some katsu curry. We went to a tiny little shop I found on my last trip, run by a husband and wife. Serena had the curry udon and I had a Pork Katsu curry. Tasty and nice and hot, perfect for the cold Osaka weather.

Pork Katsu Curry

We continued from there to Doguyasuji, a little kitchen supply street mainly for restaurants and catering. You can find everything here from plastic food to piggy shaped chocolate moulds to giant rice cookers and bread makers.

And somehow after this, even though we’d pigged out on curry, we decided we could stop for some sushi.

Raw prawn sushi

And then after that… some fried chicken.

Fried chicken with mayo.

Oh and I forgot about a couple of snacks we had before lunch. Some cheesecake slice we found at a gorgeous little bakery on the same street as the ramen museum.

And a hot pork and onion bun.

After lunch we spent the whole afternoon/evening shopping and making my feet sore and tired. After exhausting ourselves with the task of buying enough things to overfill our suitcases we headed back to Dotonbori to eat some crab.

We picked a big crab restaurant that still looked busy even though it was almost 9pm. It turned out to be a wise choice. Dinner was delicious, the highlights being the fried crab pieces, the boiled king crab and also the king crab sashimi.

Fried crab pieces

Then after dinner we stopped for takoyaki and yakisoba along Dotonbori. I didn’t realise how much food we ate until putting it all together here like this….

And then when we arrived back at our room we surprised Serena with a Totoro cake and bottle of Moet to celebrate her birthday. Here are the before and after photos. I also took a time-lapse video which I’ll have to edit and upload when I’m back in Australia. HAPPY BIRTHDAY DIRTY ALMOST THIRTY SERENA!

Totoro cake and Moet

No more Totoro...

Then time to sleep, tomorrow is a trip to Mt Koya!

Miyajima to Osaka – First night of #dirtynotthirty

For those who do not already know, the reason behind this trip to Japan is to celebrate not being thirty with a couple of my friends (before we turn thirty), which is really soon for one of us. I decided to head to Japan earlier via Singapore (for Chinese New Year) and tonight I would be meeting up with the others. But first I have to get myself and all my luggage from Miyajima to Osaka.

After breakfast and check out I left my bags at a locker in the ferry station before exploring more of the island. I found more deer (much easier to photograph in the daylight).

Some deer were grooming each other

Some deer were "shopping" for food.

Spotted some deer walking in the shallow water behind the shrine.

Followed them to find they had a secret feeding spot.

A mummy deer cleaning her baby.

I saw the Itsukushima and Otorii gate just after high tide. A very different scene to the night before when I could walk out and touch the gate.

Itsukushima Shrine just after high tide

Otorii gate just after high tide

And there were more deer hanging out around one of the viewing points.

On the way back through Hiroshima to Osaka I found a bakery near the train station selling cute Totoro cakes. So picked one up to surprise Serena with for an early birthday celebration. Here’s a picture before we decimated it.

Totoro cake from Hiroshima to surprise Serena with.

After bringing the girls to the hotel room I took them to my favourite ramen shop. Sadly half the eggs were a little over-cooked so they weren’t as gooey, but it was still delicious. We also discovered the wonders of Ramen Pepper which is a seasoned pepper. It’s delicious and we put it on the eggs and noodles and pretty much everything. We’re going to try to find some in the shops and bring it home.

Hanging lanterns at the Hozenji Shrine

After eating we went for a little walk through the side alleys of Dotonbori. I brought them to the Hozenji shrine which is a little moss covered shrine in a paved alleyway.

Hozenji Shrine

Made a quick stop at a 24hour emporium that sold everything from beauty products to adult toys to second hand branded goods. Then we went to get a good sleep before our packed itinerary really begins.

And so begins our #DirtyNotThirty trip. See you tomorrow. Zzz.

Comfort pillow...

Miyajima

After the morning in Hiroshima I took a ferry to the island Miyajima. I decided to split today’s post in two because it didn’t seem right to combine it with the Hiroshima post. Miyajima is now officially one of my favourite places in Japan. Miyajima is absolutely gorgeous. First thing off the ferry and I find deer EVERYWHERE! There are warnings not to feed them, and to hang onto any souvenirs and tickets you want to keep as they will even eat paper and take it from you.

Deer crossing the street

Oysters growing

Oysters are a speciality here and there are a lot of shops selling grilled oysters in the shell.

Oyster I found in the sand... edible?

 

Apart from oysters, Miyajima is also known for bamboo rice paddles and Momiji Manju, a sweet waffle shaped like a maple leaf.

Oh and also for the o-torii gate and Itsukushima Shrine.

The Itsukushima Shrine is a wooden building sitting on stilts over water in an inlet. At the entrance of the inlet sits a large O-torii gate. During high tide everything looks like it’s floating on the water, but at low tide you can actually walk right out to the O-torii gate. Which I did and was pretty much frozen from the cold, so you should probably appreciate these pictures more knowing what I had to go through. 😉

 

 

Coins people leave at the gate.

Inside the Itsukushima Shrine

 

The O-torii gate from the Itsukushima Shrine

Lights go on at sundown and the o-torii gate is illuminated

I decided that even though I was freezing to wait until sundown to see the shrine illuminated. Totally worth it even though I couldn’t feel my fingers. Then made a slow walk back to my accommodation, even spotting more deer along the way lying down in the garden beds. Sadly it was much too dark to take a photo. But they were so cute.

Because it’s the low season and all the shops close early I booked dinner with my Ryokan. It was an amazing meal, more than I was expecting for a Ryokan dinner. So now here is the food porn.

Cooked fish, prawn and fish cakes with what I think is a kind of milky tofu.

A sashimi platter, what I’m pretty sure is Garfish (Thanks Gemma) and octopus. Amazing and fresh with a beautiful texture and flavour.

The island speciality, oysters. Cooked in butter with a garlic crumb. Soooo good and I don’t normally like cooked oyster, but these were so fresh.

Grilled beef topped with pink peppercorns and mushrooms. Amazing beef. I don’t think it was wagyu but it was very high quality beef and I loved the sweet peppery flavour the pink peppercorns added.

This had the texture of mashed potato, but I think this was a Renkon (lotus root) dumpling in a thick broth. It was actually really tasty and the texture was unexpected.

A fried rock fish with lemon, salt and fried peppers. I love fried fish so tried to pick this fish as clean as possible. Delicious!

Probably my least favourite item. It was a toasted rice ball with umeboshi in the middle in a soup. I am not a big fan of umeboshi and I was getting full at this point as well. I ate half of it to leave room for dessert.

Fruits with vanilla and green tea ice-cream. Perfect wait to finish off the meal along with a cup of tea. The meal cost 3650 yen at the Kikugawa Ryokan in Miyajima. kikugawa.ne.jp/

Gochisosama deshita!

Hiroshima

I woke up today to more snow! Still nothing heavy enough to actually cover the ground, but just walking around in it was wonderful.

Can you see the snow? See it!?

This morning my first stop was a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. It’s one thing to read about the bombing of Hiroshima, but to see images and actual artefacts gave me a new understanding of the level of destruction in the city. The museum in itself is such a strong argument for peace and abolishing nuclear weapons and testing. I wonder if everyone in the world could experience this place, how it might change the world.

There’s a collection of letters from the Mayors of Hiroshima who have all written letters over the years in protest of every nuclear test around the world. The sign says there are 597 as of July 20, 2011 but there are two more on stands written since then to President Obama.

Protest Letter to President Obama

Melted and fused roof tiles

Tiny cranes folded using a needle by Sadako

After visiting the museum I walked over to the National Peace Memorial Hall of the Atomic Bomb Victims which was recommended to me as a must see that people often miss. I thought that the museum was heart wrenching but that was nothing compared to how moved I was at the Memorial Hall.

Monument depicting the time of the bombing '8.15' surrounded by rubble

You first enter at the top of a stone slope that circles the outside of the remembrance hall. A high wall encases the hall itself and as you walk down you can hear moving water and your steps echo through the empty space. There are a few signs as you go down, explaining the history and effects of the bombing. You walk counter-clockwise which represents regressing through time to the day of the bombing.

When you reach the bottom you enter the memorial hall to see a fountain in the middle which is designed to represent a clock showing 8.15, the time the bomb was detonated over Hiroshima. This fountain and another one above ground are dedicated to the victims who died crying out for water.

All around you is beautiful stonework showing a panoramic view of the A-bombed city from the hypocenter. The panoramic image is made up for 140,000 tiles which is the number of people estimated to have died by the end of 1945. And underneath this are the names of each neighbourhood that exists in Hiroshima at the time and the lower the names appear the closer they were to the hypocenter.

The next room has a wall filled with screens that display the photos and names of the victims. There are also computers where you can search for the names of victims.

Then upstairs is a temporary exhibition area where there are memoirs of victims and survivors that you can read. There were several reading stations with 3 or 4 stories at each. I only went to two of the reading stations, because the stories were so moving and sad it was difficult to keep going. I could hear other people crying as they were reading as well. If you ever visit Hiroshima please don’t miss the memorial hall in your visit. We should all be praying for world peace.

Japan Day 02 – Osaka, Hiroshima

After checking out of my hotel this morning I left my bags with reception to find some food. I walked down Dotonbori to my favourite ramen shop. I really have no idea what it’s called, only where it is and what the shop front looks like. If you want to know I can give you directions and a photograph.

It was the first ramen and first meal I ate on my first trip to Japan last year. It ticked all three ramen boxes for me; the noodles, the broth and the egg. Oh the egg! Cooked perfectly to my liking and it has this really nice flavour from the stock they cook it in (I’m just guessing here).

You buy a ticket outside from a vending machine before going inside. So even if you don’t speak Japanese, it’s absolutely no problem at all. Just walk in, pass the ticket to one of the staff, find a seat and wait for a bowl of deliciousness to be placed in front of you.

After my breakfast ramen I made my way to Shin-Osaka station to get a shinkansen to Hiroshima. This took me much longer than it should have because I walked to use the JR lines (trying to change my JR pass, which I found out I could only change at Osaka station) and then didn’t get off a train at the right stop to switch to the Osaka Loop. Oops.

I eventually made it onto the right train and arrived in Hiroshima. Oh I forgot to mention that on the way I found so many Kit Kats. Kobe pudding, some kind of cake, tea, Sakura Maccha Latte and citrus.

Japanese Kit Kats

I took a tram from Hiroshima Station to my hotel which is near the Hiroshima Peace Park. On the way it started snowing, REALLY LIGHTLY, but hey, it’s still snow right? It melted before it hit the ground, but it was the first snow for this trip.

I went for a walk through the peace park at sunset and took some photos. But I’m going for another visit in the morning. It’s a really beautiful place.

At the Children’s memorial are lots of paper cranes and paper crane artworks that people have donated. One of the display cases was bulging with cranes.

After walking through the Peace Park, I stumbled across a long shopping mall. I found a Uniqlo store and stocked up on heat tech. Tomorrow I will be sporting some very comfortable and nice looking heat tech socks and shirts. I wandered around for a while trying to decide what to eat and where I was willing to go into by myself. Eventually I could smell Japanese curry, and followed my nose to a curry shop. Chicken Katsu curry o kudasai! Then I strolled back to the hotel and passed out at 8.30pm after a Skype date with Andrew. Zzz.

Japan Day 01 – Osaka

Singapore Sling & Peanuts

I flew to Osaka today, going from the heat and humidity of Singapore to the freezing cold of Japan in winter. I took a Singapore airlines flight, so it was Singapore Slings all the way! And I was also excited that one of my food options was a Japanese meal. Soba noodles with dipping sauce, braised pork and some yummy rice crackers.

Japanese plane meal

Once I landed in Osaka, I took the train to my hotel. I think I’m going to have awesome arm muscles after this (carrying a 15kg bag up and down lots of stairs). Note to self: always remember to exchange your Japan Rail Pass voucher at the airport train station, this would have saved you a lot of hassle tomorrow.

After checking in, I had intended to go out for some food. But it was almost midnight and I didn’t realise how exhausted I was until I lay down on a thin futon and rice pillow and thought it was the most comfortable place I could be. Zzz.