Helen and Randall on the road

A bit about our adventures 2011-2012

Posts Tagged ‘Kyoto

Friday 3rd – Sunday 5th May 2013: Sumiyoshi, Kobe, Osaka and Kyoto

leave a comment »

On Friday morning we left Kyoto and travelled by taxi, VERY crowded JR Special Rapid service to Osaka and then local train to Sumiyoshi, to stay with the lovely Martin and Tilly – old friends of Randall’s – and their two delightful 7-year-old boys.

It was a festival weekend – part of Golden Week – and in Kobe (their nearest town) there was a flower-petal festival a bit like the one in Sitges for Corpus Christi:

Fri3-1

Kobe flower petal festival. Tom with balloon samurai sword.

Fri3-2

Kobe flower petal festival

Fri3-3

Peculiar dinosaur/dragon type creature.

Fri3-4

Balloon lady who made balloon samurai swords for the boys.

Balloon woman and the twins.

Balloon woman and the twins.

We wandered up through  Kitano to the temple/shrine at the top of the hill via a small plaza where an audience of locals were enjoying watching a performing monkey – little outfit, glasses and all. Cultural differences…

Prayers at the shrine.

Prayers at the shrine.

Holy Cow!

Holy Cow!

Fri3-8

Kobe – Kitano shrine

At the shrine above Kitano, Kobe

At the shrine above Kitano, Kobe

View of Kobe from Kitano

View of Kobe from Kitano

I have found my spiritual home...

I have found my spiritual home…

Shrine, Kobe town

Shrine, Kobe town

The boys!

Randall and Martin

The boys had been learning how to make origami Samurai hats:

Many hats!

Many hats!

Fri3-walk6

My attempt

That evening we headed into the bright lights of Osaka, although apparently it was very quiet compared to usual as it was a holiday. Still, we met one of Martin’s work colleagues and had a great dinner and some beers in a Japanese/Hawaiian fusion place.

The Osaka Station Water Clock

The next morning Randall and I slept late, and were surprisingly not woken by a noisy parade banging and crashing its way past. However luckily there was another so we didn’t miss out:

The moving shrine

The moving shrine

The moving shrine

The moving shrine

The moving shrine parade

It was really quite spectacular, with all the local children ‘pulling’ the cart up the road on a long rope, and teenagers hanging off the roof at alarming angles waving their flags and chanting.

The moving shrine parade #2

Even better, the local fire service were supervising the proceedings and gave Tom and Jack a ride in the fire engine!

Fireman friendly.

Fireman friendly.

It was late-ish before we caught the train to Kyoto to go shrine visiting – a bus from the station took us close to Kiyomizu-dera, we walked the rest of the way up the hill lined with little cafes and curio shops.

Strange machine we spent ages puzzling over in a shop window.

Strange machine we spent ages puzzling over in a shop window.

It makes cookies!

It makes cookies!

It was early evening by the time we arrived, but as it turned out that meant that the light was just amazing.

Fri3-17

View down the hill from Kiyomizu-dera Shrine

Gate to Kiyomizu-dera Shrine

Kiyomizu-dera Shrine

Bell at Kiyomizu-dera Shrine

Kiyomizu-dera Shrine

Bell at Kiyomizu-dera Shrine

Kiyomizu-dera Shrine

Kiyomizu-dera Shrine

The red pagoda across from the main building.

The red pagoda across from the main building.

The red pagoda

The red pagoda

By the time we got back to Sumiyoshi it was late evening and there was a festival going on around the local shrine with stalls for winning goldfish etc and most importantly great street food, so I finally got the takoyaki I’d been fixated on since reading ‘Sushi and Beyond – what the Japanese know about cooking’ (thanks Symon and Zoe for the recommendation!).

Yummy takoyaki = happy Helen

Yummy takoyaki = happy Helen

Fri3-walk4

Martin pondering whether to get a ‘sausage-onna-stick’.

On Sunday Tilly was feeling under the weather so the rest of us headed off to Arashiyama on the outskirts of Kyoto to the famous Bamboo Forest. It was a beautiful day so we first went boating on the river:

Obelix - I mean Randall - rowing

Obelix – I mean Randall – rowing

Being in a rowing boat with Randall – particularly when you are responsible not only for navigation but also for the well-being of a sevenyear-old without a life jacket – is not the most relaxing as one travels everywhere at full ramming speed. A bit like when Obelix rows. Still, it was very picturesque and we only had a couple of collisions.

Preparing to repel boarders

Preparing to repel boarders

Scenery

Scenery

Our first attempt at taking on supplies failed – just as we were ordering from the nice lady someone leapt into their boat, shouted a command and they zipped off at high speed. The second attempt was more successful and we managed some drinks and popcorn before drifting away to make space for the next customers.

Floating caff

Floating caff

All that rowing (or in my case lounging in the back of the boat) had made us hungry – time for more takoyaki!

Fri3-35

Takoyaki stall at the riverside.

Takoyaki stall at the riverside.

From here we headed to the actual bamboo forest:

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

Fri3-28

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

In rather typical Japanese fashion it was all very regulated – no wandering through little meandering paths in the forest, just a wide tarmac path along with the other tourists, the rickshaws and the bicycles. It was pretty but not overwhelming, so Martin took Caroline and the boys back via the temple while Randall and I continued walking for a little while and then found a spot in the sun for a couple of beers:

Fri3-29

Beer garden.

Fri3-30

Art gallery that the beer garden belonged to.

We headed back to Sumiyoshi in time to drop off our luggage at a convenience store for the apparently famous Japanese luggage forwarding service as the next day we were heading to the mountains for the Alpen Route where big bags aren’t allowed. We hope to see our luggage again soon.

Our stay was rounded off by a night out in Kobe with live music by The Tardy Boys – drinking, dancing and much fun!

Kobe by night

Advertisements

Tuesday 30th April – Friday 3rd May 2013: Kyoto

leave a comment »

I’d been pretty excited about the bullet trains but they turned out to be almost exactly like the AVE between Barcelona and Madrid (which is, it has to be said, VERY cool!). In fact, in business and first class on the AVE they actually feed you whereas Green Class on the Shinkansen  had a trolley service. Still, it was clean, fast and efficient, getting us to Kyoto in 2.5 hours (distance of about 450km)

Our Kyoto hotel, the Hearton, turned out to be 3 stops on the subway from the main station (thanks to Randall for carrying my suitcase up and down I don’t know how many stairs – they don’t do ‘accessible’ in Japan) and right in the middle of town, so once checked in and sorted out (free wifi in the lobby only) we were able to walk through Nijo-dori, a street with numerous cafes and restaurants, to the river. The restaurants with riverside terraces all seemed to be traditional Japanese places doing expensive set menus, but we found a café and had a bottle of sparkling wine and some Japanese-Italian fusion antipasti with delightful service.

On the way home we called in at the  Hello Cafe Bibliotec for tea and cake in my case and coffee and milkshake for Randall.

Our hotel turned out to be a mid-range one catering to tour groups and business meetings, so reasonably international while still being small-ish. It turned out to do a well-priced breakfast buffet with a mix of western and Japanese items so the next morning we indulged ourselves with bacon, eggs and coffee. Just as well, as finding the kind of cheap-and-cheerful food we’d mainly been eating in Tokyo turned out to be a bit more tricky in Kyoto.

Time for some sight-seeing. With instructions and a map from the hotel reception we managed to successfully negotiate taking a local bus to the Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion) temple at the start of the Philosopher’s Walk .

Map of the Silver Temple

Map of the Silver Temple

Raked gravel zen garden of the Silver Pavilion

Raked gravel zen garden of the Silver Pavilion

Randall consulting the instructions.

Randall consulting the instructions.

Beautiful trees

Beautiful trees

One of the complex buildings

One of the pavilion complex buildings

View of the pavilion over one of the many small lakes.

View of the pavilion over one of the many small lakes.

View from the paths through the trees above the pavilion.

View from the paths through the trees above the pavilion.

Somewhat hungry already, we tried the green tea cream buns on offer (not recommended)…

Green tea everything

Green tea everything

Green tea cream buns

Green tea cream buns

Not really convinced.

Not really convinced.

…before starting down the canalside walk and finding the lovely Pomme café, where a charming gentleman served us drinks and slices of cake homemade by his wife:

Pomme cafe on the Philosopher's Walk

Pomme cafe on the Philosopher’s Walk

Yummy home-made cakes

Yummy home-made cakes

Tea and cake

Tea and cake

At the end of the Philosopher’s walk we headed towards town with the idea of following the streams as far as Gion, the famous geisha district. We couldn’t resist popping into the Lake Bawa Aqueduct Museum but gave the Zoo and the National Museum of Art a miss.

Randall outside the Museum of Art

Randall outside the Museum of Art

Following the canals was a pretty journey through residential areas…

Traditional wooden houses along the canals

Traditional wooden houses along the canals

Someone's pet goldfish 'hutch' in the canal.

Someone’s pet goldfish ‘hutch’ in the canal.

…but when we finally arrived in Gion it was something of a disappointment. On Shirakawa street, tipped as ‘one of the most beautiful streets in Asia’, only a few of the original tree-lined streets with wooden houses remain…

Shirakawa street, Gion

Shirakawa street, Gion

Shirakawa Street, Gion

Shirakawa Street, Gion

Shirakawa Street, Gion

Shirakawa Street, Gion

…and they are surrounded by concrete monstrosities full of what seem to be essentially brothels. As it was now after 3pm we couldn’t get food anywhere (everything seems to close between 3 and 5 or 6) despite walking all the way up Pontocho so we headed back to Café Bibliotec for a snack and a bit of a sit-down with our books.

Hungry again, we headed down to the Sanjo-dori covered shopping arcade in search of a recommended Kaiten-sushi place. This time we were actually successful! While it wasn’t the most stylish and sophisticated sushi, it was fun and cheap and we ate loads before staggering back to the hotel for an early night.

Kaiten sushi

Kaiten sushi

Yum!

Yum!

On Thursday, after intending to have an early start and pack in loads of things, we ended up not leaving the hotel until after midday – oops.

We headed to the station to check out the architecture and view the city from the top of the Kyoto Tower…

The Kyoto Tower

The Kyoto Tower

Kyoto Tower, reflected in the station building.

Kyoto Tower, reflected in the station building.

Kyoto station building.

Kyoto station building.

Kyoto Station Building

Kyoto Station Building

Kyoto station building.

Kyoto station building.

From the top of the tower.

From the top of the tower.

The station from the tower.

The station from the tower.

From the top of the tower.

From the top of the tower.

…before taking a bus back into Gion to see one of the other areas that is still apparently well-preserved, ‘Hanami-koji’ which turned out to be much more extensive than the area we’d visited the day before, with traditional wooden tea houses, and merchants houses now turned into very expensive restaurants. We saw a few geiko and maiko (Kyoto dialect for geisha and trainee geisha) tiptoeing purposefully around in their amazing outfits and wooden shoes, presumably on their way to appointments.

After wandering around looking for somewhere we could just have a drink instead of a full-on 15 course set meal for thousands of yen we gave up and headed back into the main bit of town across the river.

The view across the river from Gion.

The view across the river from Gion.

We decided not to go for the more formal dining atmosphere of Pontocho and instead wandered up Nishikiyamachi-dōri which is more studenty. We eventually settled on a slightly more upmarket spot that, to my delight, had a ‘summoning bell’ for the staff:

The summoning bell.

The summoning bell.