A Travellerspoint blog

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Retail therapy. Food markets. Cooking lesson.

overcast 15 °C

Clearly I'm not very good at writing short blogs, as demonstrated by yesterday's entry.

This morning we brought our own strawberries to the breakfast room. Sick of the lack of fresh fruit.

We had a slightly later start today, and headed off via subway to Kyoto station which is an architectural masterpiece. Your eye cannot rest on one spot, you just have to keep looking around. I'd never seen anything like it. It's inside but also outside.... It's big but you don't feel lost in it. Big like. We navigated from there to a less expensive shopping complex called Aeon which was recommended for normal shopping, not having high end brands or expensive like Daimaru. I spent most time in only one shop. I had a shopping list and pretty much stuck to it. It was not easy because things are very reasonably priced, plenty of variety and good quality. If only we had these shops at home! Japan is NOT expensive. Australia is hideously expensive.

We had to get a taxi back to the hotel to dump our purchases and eat a quick sandwich before dashing out again to meet the shopping guide. She first gave us a little lesson about traditional Japanese food, ingredients and shopping. Then we entered the stunning world that is Daimaru's food halls. OMG. We were able to sample odd and traditional foods and have them explained to us by the guide: how to eat, when, what, how made etc. We tried so many things! Meanwhile the guide was buying ingredients for the cooking lesson later on. But really, the most amazing food market I have ever been in was the famous and old Nishiki food Markets. I think I read somewhere that there is a kilometre of alleys. There is an original butchers and cutlery shop, both over 100+ years old and handed down through about 18 generations at least in the case of the latter. Nishiki market is an absolute haven for foodies..... There is too much to see. Things being prepared, cooked, sampled and bought. Bags, sacks, packets, fresh, dried, piled up, bottled, wrapped, anything. Fish, tofu, pickles, sauces, sweets, meats, crackers, ice cream, seafood, seaweed, beans, rice, spices, you name it! I want to take it all home. Except the meat, that can stay here.

The guide explained the difference between a shrine and a temple and showed us the correct way to make a prayer in a shrine. We were also taken into a very old sake brewery which was the home of a rich sake merchant over a hundred years ago. We visited the private rooms upstairs and also learned how sake is made and to appreciate the different qualities. I don't like wine very much and rarely drink alcohol, but sake was quite nice.

We were taken to the headquarters of the tour guide company where we were handed over to another lady who took us through the cooking lesson. We made a Japanese spinach salad, miso soup and maki sushi (rolls). We had green tea icecream for dessert. It was fun and delicious! The tour guides are a group of ladies who formed a company to offer this type of tour, plus origami, ikebana and such other cultural experiences. It's called Wak Japan and very worthwhile if you ever choose to visit Kyoto one day.

On the way home, it started to drizzle and become colder, but we looked in the big bright department shops again - no purchases - then got the subway to the hotel.

This has been a very lovely happy day. Bargains, markets, cooking, learning and eating. What more is there to do? Perhaps only cheese and Chocolate.....?

Posted by fay_bee 05:55 Archived in Japan Comments (5)


Philosopher's walk. Random shrines. Tea ceremony. Night walk in Gion.

all seasons in one day 14 °C

Today we walked a total of 16 kilometres which beats the previous record of 13km. The day started at 9 and ended 12 hours later.

We took a bus to the other side of Kyoto, it was a 50 min ride so we got to see lots of things and wach people get on and off the bus. In Japan, you get on the bus in the centre door and pay as you leave at the front door where the driver is. Good system!
There is a large number of very old women in Japan. It's visible that the population is old, but I did not realise how many are so bent over and shrunken from osteoporosis. One old lady on the bus must have been at least 90.

We avoided the tourist attraction at the destination, which is the silver pavilion. The queues are a sign that they are going to be hard to enjoy. Anyway, our aim was to take the pilosopher's walk. This was simple and beautiful. A walk along a narrow canal with all the cherry blossoms around, small shops and cafes. There are also many shrines dotted about, including some quite significantly large ones. There are very nice gardens too, they are so perfect but look natural at the same time. I believe that the species of plants are just a perfect anyway, so it's naturally designed rather than manicured!

After the walk, it was about time for a break, so we had a nice stop in a cafe serving interesting snacks. We had matcha tea each, served in a big pottery bowl. I had another agar jelly thing. For my microbiologist friends who are following this blog, when I say that the jelly was the colour of autoclaved waste, you might get an idea of the colour...... It tasted nice to compensate! It was served coated and on a bed of soybean powder. Paul's snack was glutinous rice balls served on sticks with a savoury sauce. Yummy!

We took the subway back to the hotel because a brief respite was required before tackling the afternoon.

In the afternoon, we walked part of the way, then took the taxi for the rest because we thought we were running late. We had a booking to attend a tea ceremony in Gion. It was quite fascinating and oddly meditative to watch. It was all explained then we were given the chance to whisk up our own matcha tea. I want to buy some to take home..... Make green tea desserts with it.

Gion is the nightlife district and it is best viewed at night. It is also where to go geisha spotting. We had a walk along the Kamo river to admire the view, then found a place to eat. Nice to eat western food actually, first time in a few weeks! Cheese vegetable penne! We joined a large group of tourists for the night walk of Gion tour..... Large group means not always easy to see or hear, but nonetheless, we learnt a lot and saw things that we otherwise wouldn't have known or noticed. As the sun set the lanterns turned on and the alleyways were transformed into interesting secret passages. It is like being on a movie set. Here they do not call them geisha, instead they are geiko. The trainees are called maiko. It was so weird. First we were briefed on how to recognise them and tell them apart. We were told that they are rare and walk by quickly, so get your cameras primed. Well I just felt strange, like we were on safari looking for rare species... There were two maiko seen in a estaurant so the group got out their cameras and started clicking and flashing while the patrons were in the restaurant. I couldn't bring myself to do the same. As we walked along an alleyway, a maiko walked straight past me and she looked straight at me. It was like looking into the eyes of a rare bird. Next we saw a geiko scurrying past to her appointment. They are very beautiful, elegant, mysterious and special. Captivating is also a good word.

We saw the tea houses and the boarding houses and the symbols like piles of salt at the door to purify the site, and the mini torii gates on the ground at corners (to stop drunk men urinating there!). There was a lot to take in and the rain tried to make it unpleasant but it never got worse than a slight drizzle, lucky for us all.

Madly, we walked the whole way back to the hotel. It's the last night here and with an early start we had to pack ready to depart ASAP. When we reserved the seats for the Shinkansen yesterday, we were told the train times had changed. Waiting for the bad news, we were told the train will depart 3 minutes later than the previously scheduled. And this is a fact. Trains and transport here depart on time almost timed against an atomic clock.

Next blog will be from Hiroshima.

Posted by fay_bee 06:44 Archived in Japan Comments (1)


A different place a different feeling.

sunny 16 °C

The breakfast at the hotel was worth avoiding. We got to Kyoto station nice and early and had a much nicer breakfast in a cafe there. Our train ride was quite long this time, 2 hours from Kyoto to Hiroshima. Our carriage was full of French people.

For a change, the sun was shining! We have had cloud and drizzle almost constantly. The hotel is situated conveniently close to everything again. It's got a view this time! We look directly over the river and see the Peace Dome. Because we arrived at lunch time we needed to find a good place to eat. The tour company recommended a place very obscurely located which is a favourite of the Carp Baseball team. It is a tiny place above an ordinary shop, there is barely room to move with the kitchen being part of the room too. It is crammed with baseball player signatures and jerseys, lanterns and paraphernalia. The reason for eating here was also to experience the regional speciality called okonomiyaki. It is a Japanese style pancake. It is absolutely the antithesis of the Japanese famed perfect food presentation. Here we have a thin pancake, topped with shredded cabbage, more pancake, then noodles, fried egg and a teriyaki/BBQ sauce. Optional seafood and pork. It is an ugly sight but delicious. Eaten with chopsticks of course!

I was craving an ice cream and found an ice confection on a stick, it was milky with a red bean centre. Wish I could get that at home....

To mundane matters that become challenging when no English is available. I needed to buy deodorant. First recognising it, then making sure it is actually what you want is not like at home! Hopefully I won't smell bad tomorrow, but Minnie Mouse on the container was smiling so I should be all right.

We wandered through another arcade that was remarkably similar to the non food part of Nishiki markets in Kyoto. I've observed that in Hiroshima, people are not as well dressed, at least in the shopping arcade. And there is a different pace here, sort of slower and laid back. The roads are much wider and there is more open space from what we've seen in the short time we've been here today. Hiroshima is actually a much larger city than I'd expected.

After deodorant procurement, we had a walk around the Peace Park and looked at the famous Atomic Dome. It's as though time stood still right there. It's a strong message.
The museum here is free, so we took a look at the special exhibits which were downstairs, thus avoiding the hordes who went straight into the permanent exhibition on the ground floor. We saw pictures, drawings and paintings by blast survivors. They were so young but survived and drew these decades later. The depictions were rather disturbing because these were eye witness accounts from people who were then children or young adults and have carried these images with them ever since. I read the book called Hiroshima and it was vivid, but this was even more so. Another exhibit was of a portion of artefacts that were recovered or donated. They were personal belongings and other items like clothes, papers, tools, lunch boxes, photos, etc of people who had died. They had mostly been kept by families and now donated to the museum. There were more eye witness statements and I have to say this was really moving. It affected me differently from the Hungarian ghettoes, Croatia's Vukovar barn of massacre and Ground Zero in NYC. Each of these places have a different feeling but always tinged with sadness and a question of WHY.

A few hours of sombre emotions makes you feel a bit introspective so we returned to the hotel for a bit of R&R..... And blogging :)

Apparently there was an earthquake this morning. Paul thought he'd dreamed it and I slept through it. Kind of wish I'd been awake.

There are so many sirens going on outside this Saturday night.

Posted by fay_bee 06:15 Archived in Japan Comments (1)


Art gallery. Promenading and picnics.

semi-overcast 18 °C

Well the breakfast here is very nice. At last there is a nice hotel breakfast buffet. I was slightly perturbed when a half American half Japanese girl turned around and started to talk to me. She thought I was her Japanese mother! I suppose we had the same hair, glasses, same height and wearing glasses..... But surely I look younger?

Today we did lots of walking again, it's really a good way to see things and feel the vibe. We headed for one of the many art galleries here. I cannot go on holiday without viewing something arty. We visited the Hiroshima prefectural art museum. In here we got a taste of some modern sculptural artists, some Japanese artists from the 1920-1930s and some special exhibitions. There is a Japanese author called Natsume Soseki (I had actually already heard of him!) who alluded to art in his work, so the special exhibit was about him. It showed art for his book covers, art inspired by his stories and art he referred to in his stories. At the end, it showed showed some of his own art. He had he said he wished he could paint and draw, but I think he did a pretty good job! There were some famous paintings and artists here, like Dali, Magritte, some of the pr-Raphaelites, Turner and some Hogarth prints. I am very much into art, and anyone who read my USA blog will know that I could get carried away, but since it doesn't interest all, I shall try to keep myself under control here :). So in summary, I learnt about Japanese art and saw some famous western artwork too. As usually I had my notebook to jot down thoughts and notes to look up later at home.

We had a light lunch of miso soup, nigiri balls, each with a different centre filling and green tea. Grand total of $11 for us both! Thanks art gallery tea room!

After a quick visit to the museum shop, we had a walk in the beautiful garden outside. It is called the Shukkeien gardens. Here it has been designed to look bigger than it actually is by clever use of plants and perspective. It is laid out in convoluted circular shape around the perimeter of a lake. There is a bamboo grove, tea garden, red bridges, stone bridges and mini pagodas, herb garden and so many flowering shrubs! Just so pretty! Very pictureque every time you turn the corner and get a different view. The lake has big carp, small cute turtles and some cranes. I saw a long thin snake which gave me a fright. I've lived in Australia for over 30 years and never seen a snake in the wild. The first wild snake I see in my entire life is in Hiroshima in a beautifully manicured garden! Go figure.

After enjoying the garden, we walked past the school where Sedako Saseki went to school (she was the girl of the 1000 cranes fame, who died of leukaemia). There was a small monument to her at the school, the bigger one is in the Peace Park with many colourful paper cranes there.

Afterwards,we just strolled along the river side. It's Sunday. Some strange goings-on were taking place along the banks...... People reserve a spot nice and early in the morning. We saw this as we headed out. On the way back, we saw what and why...... It's a big family party! This is Serious picnicking. They have tables, chairs, tatami mats, or tarpaulins, bottles and KEGS of beer all set out like a full on bar, barbecues with hunks of meat, huge Eskies of food. This is major picnicking. Happy intoxicated but not ugly drunk people having a good time.

As we walked back, it started to rain, so we found food for our own picnic in the hotel room..... Never in a million years would I buy food at a seven eleven, but in Japan it's OK because it's fresh and healthy. We were treated to a small but atmospheric lightning and thunderstorm. We bought some mystery drinks in a can. At this point may I just say, that the shredded green cabbage is an over-represented vegetable in Japanese salad and cooking. I managed to find a salad without cabbage today!

Tonight we have to pack up, forward the suitcases to Osaka and pack day packs for the one night stay on Miyajima Island tomorrow. It will be another big day and I have a surprise entry for tomorrow...... !!!! I am looking forward to it a lot.

Stay tuned.

Posted by fay_bee 03:46 Archived in Japan Comments (2)

Hiroshima and Miyajima Island

Mysterious train track announcements. Zoom-zoom-zoom. Swanky ryokan.

semi-overcast 17 °C

This morning seems like eons ago.

We left Hiroshima, eventually. Just a diversion to see the Mazda factory..... To get there we got a taxi to the JR Station, put our bags in the locker and waited at the platform for the train with all the Monday morning people. The dude making announcements on our platforms was pretty much like a spruiker, quite unable to stop announcing..... There were a couple of musical interludes in which he must have taken a toilet break or made a cuppa. The music is ding dong chime stuff, which is worse?! So we are in the queue with the crowd, when all of a sudden, they start walking off, peeling away like evaporation and ascending the stairs to..... Somewhere else. Do we follow?? What did announcement man actually say? The arrival board didn't help much being in Japanese too, occasionally flashing in English. We think that there was an express train on another platform and so they all left to go there. Anyway, we got our train 20 mins later for a mere 2 stop ride. Got out at a very much non tourist area, but a short walk to the Mazda car factory where we had a guided tour.

The tour was only 90 mins and the tour leader was turbo driven so we barely had time to absorb things. I scribbled down some facts: they own the longest privately owned bridge which is 500m long. They generate their own electricity. They own a dock because the site is situated on a shipping port. Employees can live on site and there are 3 dormitories for singles. They have their own fire station, gym, and a hospital. There is a technical college where students study for 2 years then can work For Mazda. Eleven thousand new cars are stored in a special highrise car park until ready for dispatch. It takes 15 hours to completely make a car. They make 0.5million per year at Hiroshima. The plant is divided into discrete areas and totals 7km long. The brake testing area is 1.8km long! There are 33 bus stops on the site and there is a bus every 15 mins to allow workers to get around. It operates 24 hours a day. Better than Perth transport. There are 3 water treatment plants to purify and decontaminate the water.

It took us 10 mins by bus to get from reception to the museum to see some old Mazda models. Not many there but all were pristine and memorable. They looked like they'd never left the factory. Some models to note were cosmos, autozamAZ-1, R360 and Carol600.

We saw the rotary engines, and learnt how the concept of a new car is brought into fruition and how the cars are formed and painted. Of course the best part is to see the assembly line. No photos allowed! They assemble more than one model at a time. The robots weld and the humans install. The molten black rubber adhesive for windows is applied by a robot which would make a very capable cupcake decorator. Perfect. We saw installation of roofs, windshields, dashboards, carpet, axles, transmissions and engines. The keys are in the ignition when they install.
Surprisingly, it isn't noisy. There's metallic clanking, clunking, clinking and alarms but nothing deafening. All rather methodical and calm actually.
Mazda has manufacturing sites all over the world and acquires parts from all around the world. Australians, be proud! You make mirrors for Mazda.

Some concept cars were on display. One runs partly on hydrogen, it was an RX8. They don't make them for Australia anymore, so I was surprised to see them new and in design mode again. The future cars a a bit out there, with huge bulbous windows and virtually no back seats. Looks like a piece of plastic put into the oven and left to bubble up.

OK enough about cars, it got more blog time than my art passion. But I like cars.

After Mazda we returned to Hiroshima station, ate lunch, collected day packs, then boarded another train. Headed for Miyajima island. This trip took a while and was not pretty. Going through back of suburbia. At the terminus we caught the ferry for a short 500m trip to the island. Here is a place that has a distinctive holiday feeling. Instant stroll mode. The island is large and has cars and tour groups, many souvenir shops, icecreams and cafes and deer. Yes, placid and numerous docile deer with a strong nose for food. We walked up a hill to get the cable cars to Mt Misen where there are various shrines, temples and photo opportunities. The cable cars were really steep and long, passing over very lush and amazing vegetation. From the first viewpoint, a fab panorama of the Seto inland sea. So many islands and mountains that you can't see anything else. We walked up to the next level, unfortunately not enough time to get to the summit.

The tour company booked us into a very exclusive and swanky ryokan called Iwaso. It is very posh. Unlike the ryokan in Takayama, this one is more like an upmarket hotel than an inn. For starters there are no "mothers" scurrying about with trays of food. Instead we are personally ushered to our room by a member of staff. We have an onsen bathroom and a sitting area overlooking a stream and the forest. Dinner is served in our room by our own attendant. I had prepared myself by trying not to eat much today. These meals are not as painfully large as a degustation, but they come close in the gut busting scale. Getting up after the meal is like you are 20 years older and have a heavy load to move, which I guess is half true. The fare was typical Japanese to which we are now very accustomed. However, I draw the line at oysters. This area is famous for oysters, why can't it be scallops instead? Luckily for me, only one steamed oyster each and Paul ate both. I had to leave a bit of most dishes behind in fear of gluttony pain. In the end it was ok. We had a walk after dinner to look at the famous floating torii in the water and the twinkling lights of Hiroshima, surroundings and beyond. People here totter about in their hotel dressing gowns and slippers in the outside areas at night! Bit odd. This island is much nicer at night when all the hordes have left for the day. We got a bit lost finding the ryokan and a nice Japanese local helped us find it. Her English and our Japanese was just enough!

Now it's late, I am catching up on the blog etc. Our futons have been prepared. Time to sleep. Hopefully digest enough ready for breakfast.

Posted by fay_bee 06:06 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

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