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Old 04-26-2012, 05:45 PM   #31
Aussie Wendy
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Day 4 Sat 31 March

Not as successful a day. When I woke up and it was raining that should have been a sign to turn over and spend the morning sleeping in. But I had plans-I had always wanted to see a Japanese castle. Himeji was under wraps for a major renovation but an hour away was Hikone-another “national treasure” castle in a lakeside town and one of only 12 castles in Japan that still have their original keep. In defence it was barely drizzling when we left. Big mistake 1. At the station found the ticket machines-tick, checked the price to our destination-tick, got the ticket and our change-tick, checked the platform guide-tick? Dinng that should have been a cross. I sail onto the platform and we wait-but the train I had in my notes-a JR Tokaido special rapid-did not appear. Other trains on the “Tokaido” line did however. Our train to Kanazawa for Tuesday also did. That should have been a clue. I was concerned no trains matched my notes or times. I ran up and down the platform but there were no clues or train maps in English and after 40 mins when a train to Nagoya appeared and I knew that was at least the right direction on we hopped. Big mistake no 2. Not long after getting on I had the sinking feeling-we’ve made a mistake and was at least partly relieved when after interminable Japanese scrolling, in English the word Maibara come up. Along comes the gloved conductor-very polite bowing to the carriage. We offered our tickets – “we got on the wrong train” I say pitifully. He looks confused, he frowns, he shakes his head, he pulls out his calculator and does lots of calculating and produces a ticket, Graham hands over several of our precious ¥1000 notes, and he bows and leaves. But the train didn’t look anything like a shinkasen!! Luckily I knew we had to get off at Maibara. This is a tiny draughty station, the rain is bucketing down and it is freezing-guess who didn’t bring her warm coat today-Big Mistake 3. Paranoid now-how do we know which train to catch to double back to Hikone? Trains pull in going back the other way but what if they are express and skip it-or worse a “forbidden” expensive train again? Up the stairs to the men at the exit. We hand over our combined tickets “Hikone?” They point out around the corner. There are signs to what appears to be a local train line but the entrance is undergoing major rebuilding work in the pouring rain. It doesn’t look right. Back inside and we find ticket machines to local destinations so we buy our tickets to Hikone and back through the turnstyles-the friendly guards point downstairs to the platform we arrived on. At last when what appears to be an older-style train pulls up I ask the conductor who conveniently hops off-Hikone? He smiles and waves us on board. 5 mins later and we have arrived-finally!

Outside it is bucketing down, in the heated TIC which is packed with tourists escaping the weather a little lady rushes up handing us a map to the town. Not to be defeated on go raincoats, up go the brollys and off we set, taking heart from the fact in front of us several obvious Japanese tourists are getting drenched but have the same intent-to the castle!

First this unusual turtle sculpture is outside-not sure what it all means.



The approach is really enchanting with a double moat and the white turreted walls and watchtowers. However I quickly realise the difficulties in juggling a bag, a brolly and a camera with numb fingers whilst endeavouring not to get anything soaked. Hubby trudges on ahead oblivious to my wanting to stop and look and take a pic. Dinng. Low battery coupled with the cold-well I won’t be taking any pics today-should have brought the spare batteries. Big Mistake 4. I managed to squeeze one out with lots of removing and putting back in the batteries.



The castle is very good. We only bought the entrance to the castle rather than a combo ticket to the garden as well. In different weather I would have included this as it sounded good but not today. There were English info signs and brochures explaining various things we saw which were helpful. We went inside what I think was the Tenbin-Yagura –a long corridor over the entrance bridge which crosses the dry moat. If under attack the bridge could be quickly demolished. This is a pic of the sexy green slippers we had to wear inside here.



The demolishable bridge


Next we made our way up to the main 3 story keep. We loved the old timbers and curved beams inside (curved as stronger against the weight of snow). Very steep stairs linked the floors. There are hidden rooms accessed through the panelling inside the gables-no idea what for (you can’t go in just see the entrance) and covered openings for weapons that can’t be seen from outside as they are plastered over but from inside are only a light cover to break away and fire at the enemy.







Like the way the gables all cross each other



You can just see the double moats here and in the background, the grey is huge Lake Biwa.





There were lots of other structures in the complex too but it really was too wet to be enjoyable and the rain by now had soaked the bottom of our jeans and was creeping steadily upwards. We left accompanied to the great bell ringing out the hour to the townspeople below



and exited a different way via the plum garden where some flowers were out.



There was even a ‘yakata-bune’ Japanese boat on the moat though who would pay for a ride in weather such as this I am not sure!



Trudging back to the train station skipping the restored historical street area as it was the wrong direction for the train station, we got wetter and wetter. A pair of drowned rats boarded the correct train to Kyoto and bus for home. Ironically the rain had stopped and it was drying out-if I had left our expedition til after lunch it would have been a very different day! As it was a long hot soak in the Japanese bath, hot tea and toasted sammies and we were new people.

It fined up so much (though stayed very cold) that on dusk we walked up to Kiymoizu-dera and paid to visit the temple for hanami light-up. Only parts of the complex were open at night but it was very pretty and perhaps not as crowded as by day. Hard to take pics without a tripod though-Princess in Oz would have been in her element especially with the reflecting pond.


















Afterwards we browsed the shopping streets nearby sampling free green tea and rice flour and bean paste sweets that are popular in Kyoto-every other shop sells beautifully wrapped boxes-not overly fussed though, very sweet. Amazed today and every day by the number of Japanese eating icecream by the way-no matter how cold it is-and there are a plethora of icecream shops everywhere.





Then home to bed-it is great to be in a mob of tourists and able to suddenly turn off, down our little lane, into a dramatically contrast quiet.
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Old 04-27-2012, 03:46 AM   #32
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WOW! I can see I'm going to have to plan a trip for my tripod to go to Japan sooner rather than later.

A whole week at TDL??? Hmmm......
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Old 04-27-2012, 09:21 PM   #33
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Double hmmm-I think you should start scheming!! Some places had no tripod signs-like I think Kinkakuji (the golden temple) but by day you don't need it and I think Shoren-in light-up (piccies still to come). Evening light-ups are only around cherry blossom and autumn foliage times and vary between temples.
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Old 04-28-2012, 02:11 AM   #34
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Day 5 Sun 1 April
Fine start to the day-so different to yesterday. Had a slow start and at Kyoto Station had a look around. It’s very modern and open. Could see most of Kyoto city from the sky garden up top.













Purchased a JR Kansai West Pass for the day’s expeditions and caught the train to Nara and then the bus that was waiting outside to Nara-koen-the park where all the temples are. The deer are everywhere once you get close-lots and lots of them getting in the way of people and traffic.







So cute but note this sign:



We hopped off at the stop for the most famous temple Todai-ji and after sampling some grilled dango (rice balls) topped with sweet soy sauce



we entered past the Nandaimon gate with the huge fierce guardians (carved in C13th)









and then to the Daibatsu-den Hall which houses Japan’s largest bronze Buddha (contains 130kg of gold).

It is believed that its construction was ordered by the emperor as a talisman to protect the town against smallpox. The building is also the world’s oldest wooden building though this building dating from 1692 is only 2/3 size of the original temple.














We skipped the pillar which has a hole in it which is said to be the same size as the Daibutsu’s nostril. If you can squeeze through supposedly you will be granted enlightenment in your next reincarnation-popular with little kids and a HUGE queue.



This ugly dude is actually meant to be good and takes away your ailments if you rub the corresponding part of the body-everyone must have knee issues as the knees and feet were rubbed shiny! (also of course all you could reach!)

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Old 04-28-2012, 02:39 AM   #35
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continued

Back amongst the deer was hilarious. The deer have learnt to bow for food and as I stopped to take a picture I feel a tug-and there is a deer with his nose buried in my bag seeing if there is anything tasty in it. I didn’t end up getting that perfect shot! They do sell special food you can buy to feed the deer with. We walked up a path through the woods to the Nigatsudo Hall with views of Nara from its balcony. Found a convenient park bench nearby to eat the sandwiches I had packed and finally tried a tin of hot coffee from a vending machine opposite-not very hot and a bit too sweet but not bad, and warming as the sun had gone in and it was getting chilly.















We congratulated ourselves on avoiding the deer as a lone deer crept up on a couple sitting not too far away and after snuffling in the women’s hair several times as she kept making shoeing motions and trying to steal their lunch they escaped sandwiches in hand. The deer didn’t notice us and we got to eat in peace.

We moved on around to Kasaga Taisha shrine and the rain bucketed down-out came our trusty brollies and we sheltered under some big trees so stayed quite dry. This shrine is dedicated to the diety responsible for protection of the city and is in the woods with the approach lined with 100’s of stone lanterns-very atmospheric in the gloom.

Doing the obligatory washing of hands (skipped the washing of mouth) as part of the ritual before you pray at a shrine. Instead of the usual dragon this had a deer.














At a nearby shrine a family circles it three times ringing the bell each time to call the gods-the kids were killing themselves laughing.







Continued making our way and I took a path that I figured led in the general direction to cut across the park to the Ukimi-do-a gazebo built over the Sagi (Heron) pond which looked scenic on websites. The path deteriorated into a muddy track and we popped out on a hillside bereft of people (and deer) which I thought was pretty neat in busy Nara.

Where is everybody?


Just across the road however was my pond. There was a marriage ceremony happening so we didn’t walk out but did take some shots of the bride and groom on the gazebo and by the pond. The sun was now out again and it was lovely and warm.







We strolled back towards town past the Kofuguji Pagoda, the tallest in Japan



and through a little shopping arcade.



Consensus-we really liked Nara. It was a nice size and a nice “feel” to it. We had a mission however-to reach Kansai airport and meet our daughter’s plane.

We caught the train into Osaka and I decided we had time to detour into Dotonbori and have a quick look at the canal and shops and grab an early dinner. Wrong. We discovered later we walked out the wrong side of the station-it was a maze of covered arcade shopping-with lanes leading right and left-noisy, chaotic and confusing. Help! Escaping we headed back towards the station and found a tiny Japanese ramen café where we bought a steaming bowl each and some tempura vegetables that came cold and you dipped in the hot broth to eat (I presume-problem was then the tempura coating dropped off. Maybe someone wiser in Japanese food traditions can explain to me). Anyway it was mighty good. Back on the train and we arrived at the Kansai airport 10 mins after our daughter-she was just thinking “where are they”? She should be used to us-always late! But she had cleared customs in 20 mins unlike our huge wait. With our new knowledge it was the easiest thing in the world to go and get her a Kansai pass at the JR counter (open til 11pm at the airport), catch the train and then the bus and a short walk to “home”. She instantly fell in love with our little house-why am I only here for a day she wailed. Soon had her futon made-up and we all hit the sack.
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Old 04-28-2012, 04:07 AM   #36
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*sigh* Yes. Sooner rather than later, I think. I just don't know when.

Your shots are lovely. Makes me wish I were there.
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Old 04-28-2012, 07:08 AM   #37
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Mon 2 April A very long packed day

Had to hit the sightseeing trail early today with lots to pack in for our daughter’s one full day in Kyoto. Luckily it was one of those beautiful sunny days-and my sunburnt nose from Thurs/Fri was feeling very scared-hence I walked around with a scarf wrapped over it looking ridiculous half the day. (We hadn’t got around to trying to find suntan lotion at a chemist after the weather turned bad but even yesterday in between rain I had managed to get it more burnt. DH would say its because its so long and pointy however…).

First stop for the day was Fushimi Inari, a couple of train stops south. We walked to the Keihan railway station by the river.



Fushimi Inari is an important Shinto shrine established in the 700’s but its famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates which lead up into the hill behind the main buildings. It is the head shrine of 30,000 shrines across Japan dedicated to Inari, the Shinto God of rice. Foxes are said to be Inari’s messengers hence all the fox statues (the fox is a sacred, somewhat mysterious figure capable of possessing humans-favoured point of entry under the fingernails so beware). Often the fox has a key in its mouth which is the key for the rice granary. It was very impressive especially going early when there were less visitors (also apparently going at dusk is very atmospheric).

Looking back down towards the station



Looking back to the main entrance to the shrine



A Buddhist priest hurrying along (we saw him later holding a service)









First we had to visit a sub shrine Azuma maro, the shrine for success in studies and my daughter fulfilled the ritual (purify, ring bell to get their attention, deep bow twice, clap twice, bow again, ask your request, bow again and back away reverently) asking the god for success in honours this year.







Then we headed up to the point where there are two dense parallel gates called Senbon Torii. All the tori along the way are donated by individuals and companies with the donors name and date-start at 400,000 yen ($5000) for a small one. We saw one being repainted.





















We didn’t hike all the way up-lots more to do in the day but were amused by this notice-



unfortunately even though I ate a banana to encourage them we saw no monkeys! There are also lots of cats about. For those into video games it was while hiking at Fushimi-Inari supposedly that the idea of foxes in red bibs flying through gates inspired Miyamoto to create Starfox.

Nearby



A non fox fountain




Even the train station has its fox
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Old 04-28-2012, 04:22 PM   #38
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Beautiful pictures at the shrine. I wondered if they shot some scenes from Memoirs of a Geisha at the Senbon Torii. It's probably my imagination but it sure reminds me of that movie.

Thanks for sharing. Looks like you all had a great time there. Eagerly waiting for the next installment.
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Old 04-29-2012, 02:50 AM   #39
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Princess in Oz I gather Memoirs was filmed in quite a few spots we went to
including Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Fushimi Inari Shrine, the bamboo forest in Arashiyama and the geisha district of Gion so probably yes. Glad you are enjoying the posts-its a dilemma - do I post pics on my FB, trip report here-or read your trip report on HK!
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Old 04-29-2012, 02:56 AM   #40
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Aussie Wendy View Post
Princess in Oz I gather Memoirs was filmed in quite a few spots we went to
including Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Fushimi Inari Shrine, the bamboo forest in Arashiyama and the geisha district of Gion so probably yes. Glad you are enjoying the posts-its a dilemma - do I post pics on my FB, trip report here-or read your trip report on HK!
No contest. Post pictures in your trip report...HERE!
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Old 04-29-2012, 03:29 AM   #41
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continuing Monday
Fair-welling the shrine complex with the purchase of some little bits and pieces from the many stalls we caught the train to its northernmost station Demachi-Yanagi and a bus to Ginkakuji and the Philosophers Path. This area was busy as we expected but we really enjoyed the temple and our daughter really enjoyed her first experience of a Buddhist temple. It means “silver pavilion” but one story goes that the the shogun (Yoshimasa) who built it as a retreat from civil war modelling it on his grandad’s Kinkakuji ran out of money to pay for the silver. It was converted to a Zen temple after he died. It was in his time though that the culture that included the elaborate tea ceremony, flower arranging, noh theatre and poetry became popular. There are pretty ponds, a moss garden and a dry sand garden.







What happens when it rains?












View from the top of the garden


Afterwards we wandered along the Philosophers Path (named for a philosopher Nishida Kitaro who walked along it meditating to nearby Kyoto University every day). Still no cherry blossom yet but getting close! Discovered the canal (which links to Lake Biwa –where we near at Hikone Sat) contains large fish and turtles.











DD found one blossom out


We detoured to visit Honen-in and discovered it was one of the few times a year visitors could enter so DD and I went in. DD especially was most impressed as we could wander around the entire complex-through the book lined library, through rooms with beautiful painted sliding doors and panels (they had girls there to explain various items but all in Japanese), into guest rooms with openings to contemplate the inner gardens, etc. Very peaceful and beautiful. I love the way the wood floors in all these temples (where there are not tatami mats) is polished smooth by the thousands of feet over the decades. Here are an assortment of pics where we were able to take them. DD was also surprised at the richness and gaudiness of the worship areas-she expected being Buddhist it would be more restrained but these were rich in gold and ornamentation which I had noticed at other temples too.







The inner garden




Back on the Philosophers Path and our stomachs were grumbling. A restaurant nearby that had western furniture looked appealing and we had an excellent meal. DD’s vegetable spaghetti had these weird whispy fishy smelling shavings on top that curled in the steam like they were alive- Katsuobushi the internet informs us (we think)-dried fermented tuna and chirimen (little wormy things with eyes-dried anchovies). DH had good old spag bog-looked good and I finally had my pork tongatsu with curry and rice.





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Old 04-29-2012, 03:41 AM   #42
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Really really loving the pictures in your TR. Thanks for sharing.

I've been sharing your pics with my DH and he's really interested to go visit Japan. So, I'm glad to be using your TR to add to the interest.
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Old 04-29-2012, 06:59 AM   #43
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Thoroughly sated we continued on and found our way to the final shrine off the path I had noted-Otoyo-jinja which has cute koma nezumi (stone shrine guardians in the form of rats). They are because rats saved an important Shinto deity from a forest fire. There are also some bird and other guardians, to guard against evil. How cute are they!

















We bussed from here back to the path leading towards Kiyomizudera. DH called into Fresco supermarket for more supplies and DD and I wended our way up the hill stopping to shop and watch girls dressed as geishas posing for pics.



A couple more of the outside parts of Kiyomizu







We both bought some traditional Japanese teacups and observed the quality and price of teacup sets increased as you climbed the hill. DD declared she was too tired to explore Kiyomizudera and we headed home for some tea and toasted sandwiches as we didn’t want a big meal after our filling lunch.

Tonight we were visiting Shoren-in, another smaller temple that was only open for a few nights for light-up. This was the temple with the huge camphor trees I had taken a pic of earlier. This turned out to be one of our best decisions. This was so peaceful and beautiful. We caught a bus part of the way and on finding our way to the temple stumbled across yet another pretty little canal.



At the temple we sat on the tatami for some time in the main hojo looking out at the changing fairy lights on the garden that looked like fireflies then explored the rest of the garden, past the pond, and up to the backlit bamboo forest with views out to Kyoto. It was very romantic.





















Need to photoshop the light out of this one


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Old 04-29-2012, 07:03 AM   #44
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After the temple we strolled down through the various back streets and found ourselves in Maruyama Park where the younger gen had decided it was time to start partying early. The centrepiece weeping cherry tree was almost but not quite, out.





We sat for a while and watched amused that shoes were removed before sitting on a tarp and DD especially noted that the same drinking games were being played as they play everywhere else. From here it was out through Yasaka shrine, another look at the lanterns, and into Gion where we spotted several geisha rushing to their appointments (far too fast at night for more than a blurry pic). We also discovered our our pretty canal again, Shirakawa and guess what, some early flowering cherry trees were out attracting the crowds. Several photos later and it really was time to call this incredibly full day done.











We spent far too long in the cold for DD trying to get a shot of this heron.



So we got one of us too.

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Old 04-29-2012, 07:22 AM   #45
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Everything looks so pretty - like postcards - love the photo in the bamboo forest looking at the moon!!

Must remember to pack warm coats if we go - still a big if -
(was going to write - we dont even own them, but you probably didnt either, being QLD'ers! )

Did your DD enjoy it - I am worried that, other than Disney, and the Tokyo highlights - it might be a little tiresome for our teens
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