Sunday, 16 April 2017

Wakayama & Kumano Kodo

This leg of the trip was both my biggest fear and my biggest highlight. It's off the Tokyo/Kyoto tourist funnel, slightly in the middle of butfucknowhere, and absolutely gorgeous. Kumano Kodo is a network of trails spanning across the Kii Peninsula in the Wakayama Prefecture. For over a thousand years, pilgrims used to hike these routes to get to the three major shrines. The walk itself was an integral part of the pilgrimage process as they undertook rigorous religious rites of worship and purification (cite).  The whole trail takes about 5 days to complete, with lots of Ryokans along the way. You can do as much or as little of the hike as you want, as all the major stops are connected by public bus.

Had it been just Danny and I, I would've maybe possibly been able to convince him to do the whole 5 days. But luckily for him, I wasn't going to put Babes through that, so we opted to just stay at a couple of the pit stops, and do short day hikes from there.

Our first night in Wakayama we headed to Kirinosato Takahara Inn (HIGHLY RECOMMEND even if you're not doing any of the hikes). It's a small 8-room hotel located on top of one of the mountain ranges. All 8 rooms face the mountain range, and traditional style breakfast and dinner are included, as is the onsen.







There were two onsens; one for ladies and one for gentlemen. There were also instructions on how to use said onsens, showing exactly how to bath yourself prior to entering, as nothing is allowed to touch the hot spring water except your super duper clean and naked self. Both Danny and I didn't end up getting the full onsen experience, as we each got our respective onsens to ourselves.


lunch was served outside with a beautiful view of Takahara.











The view and sunset were unbeatable. The trip here was quite tough; we had to take a 3hr train, then transfer to a 1hr bus, and then have someone from the hotel pick us up at the bus stop and drive us up a mountain through one-way-looking winding roads. I'm not proud of that last part, given that the only way to do that section of the trip was by car and we didn't have a carseat. So I'm gonna shove that memory under the rug and never do it again.

For next morning's breakfast, we embraced the whole Ryokan experience and dressed in the yukatas that were provided in our room.


And headed off to Hongu to see the largest Torii Gate in the world. 

We did a short 1hr roundtrip hike to the outlook through the beautiful rainforest.




Inari & Kiyomizudera

Kiyomizudera was a bit of a letdown given that it went under construction two days before we arrived


But we still really enjoyed walking around the temple area and seeing the beautiful cobble-stone streets and fancy tiny houses. I think the construction scared away most of the tourists, because all photos I've seen of this place usually involved people packed like sardines down all the streets.


Babes was being really great again, and even flashing some smiles. This smile also made it to at least 4 other tourists' cameras as they not-so-sneakily switched from photographing the temple to photographing her.


Inari however, was not under construction, and so we found our tourist sardines here. 

"With great views come great tourists" - Dalya, June 2014

But we did manage to get some touristless shots after waiting in line for a while and getting a quick 1/2 second chance at a shot. Babes was also not having any of it, so my anxiety levels were quickly rising and I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. It's almost as though she had a temple sensor - the moment we approached anything sacred she would just start wailing and ignoring all the "please be quiet" signs.




Babes passed out the moment we got home so dinner had to be takeout, and I'm not even sorry.


Next up: Kumano Kodo

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Arashiyama


This was another highlight for me, and a nice break from the Kyoto station madness. As usual, we were the first tourists on the first train to Arashiyama. We headed straight to the bamboo forest, where we spent a good 40 mins trying to get the perfect shot with Babes, and probably photobombing both of the wedding shoots that were going on.


Pretty sure the only thing that forced us to eventually leave was Babes getting hungry and needing a feed. It was a nice change from the bitter Canadian winter to be able to just feed outside without needing to find a warm coffee shop.


We visited the monkey forest which was at the top of one of the hills, requiring 20min of uphill climbing to reach. The degree of incline was inversely proportional to the amount of tourist, which worked out in our favour.


This was the “boss” monkey, with his two girlfriends on the left


There was also a really nice view of Kyoto from the top of the monkey forest



Before heading back, we stopped at a tofu restaurant (yes, on purpose, by choice) where they served all different kinds of tofu; white, green, boiled, cold, tofu skin, etc. We dined like (vegetarian) kings.







Hiroshima

This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip, for both Danny and I. Seeing the peace memorial, and walking through the museum was a moving experience. With Babes’ cooperation, we were able to spend a good two hours reading about everything that happened, and the after effects the radiation had on the people of Hiroshima and Japan as a whole.


We stood at ground 0, and walked around the dome that was only 160 meters away from where the bomb hit. The only building that remained standing after the explosion.


Learned about the history of the paper crane - a symbol of peace in honor of a little girl who was suffering from leukemia after the radiation. She believed that if you make 1000 paper cranes, your wishes will come true. So she set out on a journey to make them, wishing that she will be able to overcome her illness. Unfortunately she did not make it, but the people of Hiroshima spread her story around the world and built a statue of a child with a paper crane in the Memorial Peace Park in her honour.

Next up: Arashiyama

Miyajima

Since our days started at 5am, we had lots of morning time for exploring. We decided to check out the busiest intersection in the world - Shibuya Crossing


At apparently the least busy time ever.

One Starbucks latte later, we were on our way to our next destination, Hiroshima.


We ended up boarding the local train at peak rush hour - 0/10, would not recommend - and got on the first Shinkansen (bullet train) to Hiroshima we found - the Nazomi - also 0/10 would not recommend since it was the wrong train. I read and re-read all the rules of the JR pass and memorized the two lines we are not allowed to take. So naturally, the first bullet train we took was one of those lines. We ended up getting kicked out (gently) by the ticket officer who told us to just get off at the next station and transfer to the permitted line, and got away without any extra charges.

We made it to our place in Hiroshima, Babes had a quick nap, and then we hopped on a train to catch the sunset at Miyajima.

As our CFO (Chief Food Officer), Danny insisted on making a quick pit stop to grab an unagi don for the road, as freshwater eel is a specialty of this region



After a 10min scenic ferry to the island (yes, we decided to introduce our baby to every possible method of transportation in one trip), we got to see this beautiful view:



Accompanied by some deer



Next up: Hiroshima

Shinjuku Goyen

Babes was finally back to her normal self, so with the first ray of light at 5am we started our day.


We went back to the Imperial Palace area, in hopes of actually seeing the Imperial Palace. Turned out it only opens at 9, so we took some more photos of the Sakura instead


We then made our way to Shinjuku Goyen, the supposed number 1 place for Hanami in Tokyo, though I'm pretty sure every local was more in awe of Babes than the Sakura. We kept getting “KAWAII!!! KAWAII!!” thrown our way from every direction, which in Japanes means “cute”.


After waiting IN LINE for a spot to take a shot next to a Sakura tree, we entertained the crowds by lifting Babes up and getting a huge wide-mouthed smile out of her with every lift. Pretty sure we weren't the only people taking photos of her. One lady even had the nerve to ask to HOLD MY BABY for a photo with her. That was a big fat NO on my end.

We got back to our Airbnb around 2pm, at which point Babes passed out.. for the night. I didn't have the heart to wake her up, and so we settled for a 9hr nap as well.

Once again, we got the opportunity to explore night time Tokyo once Babes was up for the day at 11pm.


Next up: Miyajima

It is strong in time, and it is gently to time tough at time.

This day was mostly a write off, since Babes was still recovering from the flight. The fever subsided pretty quickly the night before, but she was still pretty exhausted and we decided to take it easy.
After sleeping all night and all day, Babes was finally ready to start her day at 10pm Tokyo time. We decided to use this opportunity to explore night time Tokyo and have the BEST (and most expensive) UNAGI DON ever.


Babes impressed us again with how good she was at the restaurant, smiling at all the locals and peacefully munching on her Sophie.
The eel was indeed out of this world. It was a little restaurant that specializes in eel, and served everything eel; eel soup, eel bones, eel kabobs, and eel on rice. It was quite impossible to read the menu, even with Google Translator, so I was glad Danny took a photo ahead of time to show the waiter what we wanted.


All translations everywhere were actually quite poor. We found this gem later in our journey, which still had me laughing for days after:


After dinner we explored a bit of night time Tokyo. It was quite an experience to witness falling-over-hammered-Japanese people by night, after seeing how quiet and proper they are during the day. I only saw this behaviour in Tokyo, though we didn't go out past 7pm anywhere other than Tokyo.

Next up: Shinjuku (which is still Tokyo)