Day 13: Kimono's, Tea and the Nightingale Floor

Today had to be one of the most unexpected days and one of the great things about doing a self guided tour of Japan. This morning when we set out we were going to walk to Nijo castle and walk down Muromachi-dōri to see about getting some kimono accessories. Within 15 minutes I found myself being drawn into this shop which is just off Muromachi-dōri.

The Kimono shop where I discovered more about myself and Kimono
The Kimono shop where I discovered more about myself and Kimono

Here there was a friendly English speaking lady who I gave my list of kimono accessories to and somewhat reminded me of the Okaasan of a Okiya. Once she saw the list she took me to the kimono sensei and proceeded to translate. Essentially I had stepped into very deep waters that I know almost nothing about! After many questions (from them) we decided the best thing to do was bring the kimonos I bought to them and let them have a look as well as try and fit them to me.  I hadn't thought of trying them on (I wouldn't know how to fold them back again!) So they have been safely wrapped in their plastic bag since I got them.

As I was bringing them there, I got a little worried that, as kimono experts, they would tell me there are problems with the kimono and whilst it's good to know, it would be a little sad. Still, I brought the kimonos to them and as soon as they opened the bag they made a big fuss over them. The kimonos, whilst second hand, are done in a style that isn't done any more and most likely custom. Also, being clean and in good condition, they are very formal with some having the family crest on it (known as Mon). They asked where I got them as well as how much they were. They were shocked at how cheap they were and said I made a very good purchase on these kimonos.

Still, they explained to me that the kimonos I had bought were very small and would be too small even for a modern Japanese person to wear. These kimonos had been worn by someone much slimmer and much shorter than the kimono sensei. We tried them on me still; however, they are too small alas I have no kimono to wear!

Another conversation I also had with them was the idea of a custom kimono. For a silk kimono, the roll of silk has to be purchased seperately and this starts at 50,000 yen for the cheapest roll. As the Japanese tend to be more slender and shorter they only require one roll but westerners normally require two for an accurate fit. Though it is possible for them to fit into only one (though it tends to be a bit small). Once the silk rolls have been purchased the tailoring costs need to be factored in and that is between 45,000 yen and 67,000 yen. This depends on the type of kimono and how many rolls are used. Finally, family crests are not set in law so it is possible to adopt one and or create your own by either adapting other Japanese crests or making one from scratch. To add a crest to a kimono would be of extra cost though.

So when you convert the costs for a custom kimono you are starting at £1000 for the cheapest silk depending on the rolls used. It's a lot of money but it's really good to know. I figure if I save £10 a month then maybe 8 years from now I can commission one. Time to start a kimono fund!

So after much well wishing, they gave me a little calendar to take away with me as well as ideas for a Greensword crest. We returned the kimonos to the room and set off for Nijo castle (again!)

The moat that surrounds Nijo castle
Nijo Castle has two moats, an outer one that surrounds the Ninomaru Palace and an inner moat that surrounds the ruins of the Honmaru Palace

When I first stepped out of the subway I thought the castle looked small but that was my mind comparing it to Osaka castle which is huge and set on a hill. Nijo castle is on flat ground and is not built up as a fort but more as a residence.

The rooftops of Nijo castle from one of the wall outposts
The rooftops of Honmaru buildings from one of the wall outposts

Inside there were many beautiful gardens, cherry blossoms and gardeners. They were wandering about everywhere maintaining the trees and you could see how the trees were being cultivated into particular shapes using different techniques.

the gardens at Nijo Castle
the gardens at Nijo Castle

Also after reading so many books I finally saw and heard the Nightingale Floor. It sings just like a Nightingale and sounds beautiful. There were many people walking through the passages making the floor sing. It would be wonderful to try and recreate such a thing in parts of a household. One life ambition completed!

(If you are wondering what that life ambition is, it is to see something I have read about in historical fiction and to experience it.)

Nightingale Floor - finally!
Nightingale Floor - finally!

After leaving Nijo castle we made our way to Gion, the famous geisha quarter that you read about in Geisha of Gion and also see part of in Memoirs of a Geisha. It is not fully modernised with every other building being more traditional. Here we went to experience Gion En tea ceremony.

Gion En Tea House
Gion En Tea House

For 45 minutes we learned a brief history on tea, saw the tea ceremony being prepared and also we prepared some tea ourselves. Unlike green tea in England, whilst powdered tea can be strong (stronger than coffee in terms of caffeine) it's not bitter and can only be had in small amounts.

Tea Ceremony in Gion En Tea House
Tea Ceremony in Gion En Tea House

Finally to end a long and very fruitful day walking the streets of Kyoto we watched the sunset over the Niomon dori canal with the cherry blossoms hanging over. Tomorrow is Miyako Odori day and I look forward to seeing it!

Cherry Blossoms over a river under a sunset
Cherry Blossoms over a river under a sunset

bamboo grove arashiyama

Day 12: Exploring Arashiyama, Kyoto

Arashiyama, also known as the "Storm Mountain" is the final proof to me that all those old painting with mountains shrouded in clouds and clouds rolling over them truly are accurate. We spent most of the day in Arashiyama with a small portion of the morning learning how to make traditional sweets with rice flour.

here we made some sweets (chocolate, strawberry and sweet red bean)
we made some traditional Japanese sweets (chocolate, strawberry and sweet red bean)

Arashiyama

Togetsu-kyo Bridge is one of the symbols of Arashiyama and also one of the best places to see the cherry blossoms in the mountain from afar.

clouds rolling across storm mountain Arashiyama beyond Togetsu-kyo Bridge
clouds rolling across storm mountain Arashiyama beyond Togetsu-kyo Bridge

Beyond the bridge we come across the tourist section of the town, and down a little alley just off the main street heading towards the bamboo grove I spotted one of the greatest things... cute fluffy animals!

cute-fluffy-animals
silk worm cocoons make great little fluffy animals

Just like a bread crumb trail I followed it, taking photos of the little exhibitions. This led me into the main shop where I was surrounded by lots of little fluffly creatures!

Inside the cute fluffy animal shop
Inside the cute fluffy animal shop

I was so happy and excited and found lots of different creatures for different people I knew. Eventually though I found the one that said take me home! I got it customised with a little Japanese banner and all. When I get back to the UK I'll post a photo of it then.

entrance-to-cute-fluffy-animal-shop
the entrance to cute fluffy animal shop

The shop entrance is not easy to find, I more or less stumbled on to it though there is a big lantern outside it with the little exhibitions. We then went and visited several temples including Ryoanji and Tenryuji Temple as well as the bamboo groves. You can see more images of these places on Jose's post for today.

The beautiful rock garden at Tenryuji
The beautiful rock garden at Tenryuji
bamboo grove arashiyama
These bamboo take two months to grow and are originally from China.

Before we got to Ryoanji temple we stumbled across an artists workshop and I wouldn't have realised what it was if the artist hadn't been looking out of the window. So we went in, had a nosy around and with the help of our guide interpreting we managed to find out that he not only creates work but collects work and had some pieces from famous Japanese artists.

His name is Masaki Kagei and he gave me a little drawing of himself working in his work shop (which I will post up later on). He also explained that some of the artists used to create their art in the temple as the previous owner had wanted art to be created there.

Masaki Kagei Workshop
the artist Masaki Kagei in his workshop
masaki-kagei journal
Masaki Kagei's journal which he kindly let me look at and photograph.

There is so much stuff that we did today that I kept thinking about how am I going to capture this all in one post? When I head back to the UK there will be a lot of editing for me todo! There is so much that I want to tell and add like the food, customs, weather the fact that Kyoto-ites say "okiini" instead of "arigatou gozaimasu".

 

 

 

 


Miyajima island from ferry

Day 11: Kyoto, the cultural capital

We are now halfway through our trip and so far it's been absolutely amazing. The places we have stayed and the food we have eaten have greatly contributed to this grand little adventure of ours. Today we leave beautiful Miyajima Island and the Yamaichi Bekkan Welcome Inn to go on to our next destination, Kyoto, the cultural capital of Japan.

The wonderful Shinko san standing next to Jose - thank you for your hospitality!
The wonderful Shinko san standing next to Jose - thank you for your hospitality!
Miyajima island from ferry
Travellers viewing Miyajima as we ferry back to Hiroshima

Arrival in Kyoto

From Miyajima-guchi station we took a train back to Hiroshima's main station and the Shinkansen towards Kyoto. The journey took about an hour and a half. When we got to Kyoto it was completely unexpected. As a modern city it is a urban sprawl with architectural clashes between the old traditional buildings and the newer ones. The new buildings as well as layout seems like something you would find out of a movie. The streets are clean but everything else feels very stark, no swooping curves from the traditional buildings and nothing like London either. As I've only just arrived, that's my first impression however tomorrows exploration of the city will provide me a better insight I believe than what I've encountered today.

Still we took a taxi to where we are staying. As much as we wanted to go explore, today is meant to be a rest day, especially after the trekking we've done in Miyajima. This doesn't mean not doing anything though! We visited some of the local shops, did laundry and watched the samurai drama channel which whilst we didn't understand it was still interesting to watch!

Sakura Taxi in Kyoto
Sakura Taxi in Kyoto

Tomorrow we will be going around Kyoto at what may be a pretty intense pace with our guide. More to come soon!

 

 


Day 10: Exploring Miyajima and Cherry Blossoms

Miyajima is one of the most beautiful places we have visited since leaving Hakone. It lies just a ferry ride from Hiroshima's Hiroden-Miyajima-guchi. There are lots of deer walking freely between tourists and local people. They almost seem domesticated in the sense that they don't fear people but they go where they want to. They also don't mind people touching them however for the unwary they may walk up to you and nibble on your shirt (like they did to Jose!)

You can read Jose's thoughts on today here.

A kid petting one of the many wild but peaceful deer on the island
A kid petting one of the many wild but peaceful deer on the island

We were out exploring for around ten hours walking through the shopping areas, along the beach, up stairs to the various temples across nature trails and finally up the mountain using the ropeway. By the time we got to the top I was exhausted.

cherry blossom next to a pagoda
We finally saw cherry blossoms!

Daisho-in Temple

Daisho-in is not just one building but several buildings serving various purposes. It is also within the world heritage area that covers the mount mizen and Ikutsushima shrine.

cherry-blossoms-in-a-courtyard
This has to be one of the most beautiful courtyards. I would love one!
view to the ocean from Daisho-in, miyajima
view to the ocean from Daisho-in

Shishiiwa Station is at the top of mount Misen and despite being so high I didn't feel worried at all.

Shishiwa Ropeway Station
Shishiiwa Ropeway Station

Whilst I have tonnes more to say, we'll be leaving for Kyoto in the next 2 hours so time to start packing once more! I'll try and update this a bit more later. For now here is one of the night shots for you to enjoy.

Not bad without a tripod and considering it was pitch black!
Not bad without a tripod and considering it was pitch black!

 

 


Day 9: The road to Miyajima; Hiroshima

Today we travelled from Osaka on the Shinkansen to Hiroshima. All the trains leaving before noon was fully booked so we had to queue up for the reserve car and the queue was terrible! By the time the Train had opened up it's doors the queue had almost tripled. Luckily for us me and Jose managed to get a seat, some of the business people had to stand up for the 90 minute journey.

Hiroshima

Well known for it's tragic history Hiroshima is a beautiful place now full of kind people carrying out peaceful lives. The landscape is not at all what I imagined. In some ways the atmosphere reminds me of Broadstairs and Ramsgate in England.

Hiroshima as it looks now
Hiroshima as it looks now
Japanese-streetcar- exterior
How the streetcar looks from the outside
Japanese-streetcar
The Japanese streetcar is what we in the west would consider a tram.
Genbaku Dōmu or A Bomb Dome that serves as a memorial today
Genbaku Dōmu or A Bomb Dome that serves as a memorial today
A memorial to the children of Hiroshima
A memorial to the children of Hiroshima

I came across this worn engraving with what used to be letters and whilst what it means is lost on me it may be a tribute to those who perished. There are so many things it could be.

This is the remains of a worn carving which I can only guess it's purpose
This is the remains of a worn carving which I can only guess it's purpose

The worn engraving above makes the below image more meaningful which is deeply engraved in granite so that it will take (as the geological expert Jose predicts) thousands of years before it wore away. The scripture here labels what the A Bomb dome is and the hope that as a peace memorial they would strive to rid the world of nuclear weapons and never forget that purpose. Before today I have never seen an engraving so deep and I found it very moving that they should wish the script to stand the test of time and the elements to remind all of their determination.

hiroshima-deep-engraving
The newer and deeper engravings

 

Miyajima

After a long 90 minute ride to hiroden-miyajima-guchi we finally took the ferry across to Miyajima as the sunset and it was absolutely beautiful. I took many photographs here and none do the landscape justice which could have been taken from a painting.

Approaching Miyajima island as the sunsets
Approaching Miyajima island as the sunsets

The ferry was quite small compared to the ones in London however I thought they were quite nice.

The deck of the ferry that we took
The deck of the ferry that we took

We will be exploring Miyajima tomorrow and running around petting deer, climbing mountains and taking more photos as usual.


Dotonbori quarter at night

Day 8: Osaka and rain

We decided to rest this morning to try and recover from all the travelling we have been doing. At 11:30 we met up with Tsuyoshi who I had been trying to exchange English for Japanese with a few months back through My Language Exchange. He had kindly agreed to meet up with me and Jose and show us around Osaka for the day though the rain meant that we were more limited to what we could do today.

Tsuyoshi
Tsuyoshi - thank you!

Our first stop was to a famous udon restaurant called Tsurutontan. I had ebi tempura with udon and the food was delicious! The atmosphere was peaceful and quiet and it felt very traditional. I enjoyed going there and would go there again if there was time!

Tsurutontan
A famous restaurant in Osaka, Tsurutontan

Osaka Castle

Despite the rain we decided to go see Osaka castle, you can see more images of the castle on Jose's post. The scale of it is huge with stone blocks taller than myself and wider than I am tall! I also learned that this castle had been destroyed and rebuilt so many times and the current version of the castle is a concrete reproduction and the interior designed as a museum.

Inside Osaka Castle
Inside Osaka Castle Museum

The model exhibits are absolutely beautiful with painstaking detail and several scaled master planning models of  the 15 acre site (sadly we are not allowed to take photos of those!)

One of the model exhibits at Osaka Castle
One of the model exhibits at Osaka Castle
One of the model exhibits at Osaka Castle
One of the model exhibits at Osaka Castle
One of the model exhibits at Osaka Castle
One of the model exhibits at Osaka Castle

Osaka at Night

After leaving the castle we headed back to Namba. The difference between Hakone and Osaka is vast; akin to comparing water and oil. Osaka is split into two districts from what I understand so far, the quiet business district to the north which also has Osaka Castle and the noisy vibrant entertainment district to the south. We are based in the Southern part of the city and when we arrived it was an assault on the senses. Bright lights turned the night to day descended on by swamps of people who looked like they had walked out of a manga.

The Nightlife of Namba
The Nightlife of Namba
Namba at night
Namba at night
Dotonbori quarter at night
Dotonbori quarter at night
The Dotonbori Hotel
The Dotonbori Hotel where we are staying

We will be taking the Shinkansen to Hiroshima soon. Time to start packing!


Odawara Castle

Day 7: Hakone to Osaka with a bit of manga

Today we said goodbye to Ichinoyu Honkan and the delicious food as well as great people at the Kamikaya restaurant.

Kamikaya Restaurant
ありがとうございました みなさん! (In English) Thank you everyone!

From Hakone we took the bus back to Odawara and it was very crowded during the 30 minute journey. Once we reached Odawara we reserved tickets for the 12:08pm Shinkansen (Bullet train) to Shin-Osaka and then went to go find Odawara castle. The journey from the station to the castle took about 15 minutes (with luggage) so once we had reached the castle we could only spare about 10 minutes or so before we had to head back to the station again to catch our train. Still it was the first castle seen so far and there are many more to come!

Odawara Castle
Odawara Castle

On reaching Shin-Osaka we went to go visit the manga museum in Takarazuka before it shut as today was the only day we could do it. Takarazuka is a really interesting place as they have what could be described as a European Quarter which has Japanese ideals of Europe (I prefer it to the real thing!) It was very pretty with a mix of Spanish and English concepts (whilst having American words everywhere like "avenue").

Hana-no-michi-in-Takarazuka
Flower Avenue in Takarazuka

Tezuka Osamu Manga Museum

The manga museum was very interesting to visit although we only had an hour and a bit to spare in it. The way everything was displayed reminded me of what people in the 70's  thought the future would look like. Below are a few images showing some of the cool things inside.

The manga museum in Takarazuka
The manga museum in Takarazuka
beautiful-book-manga-museum-by-linaka-greensword
There were so many beautiful old artefacts
An unfinished cover for Primerose manga
An unfinished cover for Primerose manga
stairs in manga-museum-in-takarazuka
heading down into the basement
manga-museum-pipe-work in Takarazuka
Pipe work theme on the basement floor
manga-museum-animation-workshop
Animation Workshop on a past-future machine

Tomorrow will be a very long day exploring Osaka. Will talk about the Dotonburi Hotel as well as the huge difference between Osaka and Hakone.

Mata ne!


Hakone Jinja

Day 6: Mount Fuji, Lake Ashi and Black Eggs

Today we did a circuit of Hakone which took us through and over mountains, across lakes and down meandering roads. I could live in a place like here it's just so very peaceful and soothing. Saying that though a lot of the transport was crowded today with tourists from across everywhere including Japan.

Our circuit route was Tonosawa - Gora - Souenzan - Owakudani - Togendai - Hakone Machi - Moto Hakone - Hakone Yumoto.

Hakone Ropeway to Owakudani
We took the Hakone Ropeway to Owakudani - it wasn't as scary as I thought it might be

Just to clarify this area is huge and spans several different transport links. We took the mountain railway, cable car, ropeway, pirate ship and finally bus which was all covered by the Hakone Free Pass.

Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji in Japan on a clear day
Mount Fuji in Japan on a clear day - great weather!

The best views of  Mount Fuji (short of going to the top of Mount Komaga-take) were taken at Owakudani on a clear day. We were really lucky that the day was so beautiful, clear and warm as the top of the mountain and at the lake the wind tends to blow a lot fiercer. Thank you Cotsworld for my wonderful mountain jumper!

Black Eggs from Owakundani
Black Eggs from Owakundani

The mysterious Black Egg is said to increase your life span by 7 years. I'm not an egg person but I had a nibble and it was really yummy! You can find out more about the eggs here.

Vince from France who gave us some of her Black Eggs
Vince from France who gave us some of her Black Eggs - Thanks!

Vince was the really nice lady who offered us the eggs as the place that sold them only sold them in batches of five. Thank you Vince! It's also unwise to eat more than two by yourself! I wonder what she will do with the last egg...

Lake Ashi

Pirate Ship across Lake Ashi
Pirate Ship across Lake Ashi

When I first heard we would be taking a pirate ship I was wondering why there is a pirate ship on Lake Ashi. Then I saw it and I thought "this is really cool!' and so it didn't matter why so much. I always like to see fun stuff anyway!

Pirate Ship across Lake Ashi
This was the pirate ship that was pulling in as we were leaving for Hakone-machi
Lake Ashi and the peak of Mount Fuji
Lake Ashi and the peak of Mount Fuji

The view across Lake Ashi is really stunning. That postcard photo of  Mount Fuji, Lake Ashi and Hakone Jinja can be taken as the pirate ship goes from Hakone-machi to Motohakone. The wind was really cold though despite the warm sun and high temperatures. In winter it must truly be freezing!

Hakone Jinja
Hakone Jinja

At Motohakone we walked to Hakone Jinja and Hakone Torii where we climbed several flights of stairs (reminded me a bit of Kung Fu Panda) and had a look at the huge cedar trees, temple and dragon fountains.

Dragon Purification Fountain
Dragon Purification Fountain

This section of the trip was truly amazing though, I thought it would be and I definitely wasn't disappointed. We'll will be heading out to Osaka in a few hours time where we should hopefully be reunited with our couriered luggage.

Read Jose's post about the day here


Ichinoyu Honkan Hakone

Day 5: Arrival in Hakone and Ichinoyu Honkan

This morning we left Asakusa and Tokyo to begin our journey travelling to other places around Japan. Our first stop is Hakone! We used the Takuhaibin (luggage forwarding) to courier one of our bags from Asakusa to our hotel in Osaka which cost 1470 yen which is about £8.68. From the hotel we headed to Shinjuku to visit the Hanazono Jinja Antique Market.

checking out of Richmond Asakusa Hotel
checking out of Richmond Asakusa Hotel

Hanazono Jinja Antique Market

Here I came with the intention of getting a kimono and I did. The lady was so surprised and happy that she gave me a gift of a bag. She got them from Kyoto. The kimonos are second hand which means they are a lot cheaper. These particular ones are not antiques either. All in all a kimono was about £11.82 and with the obi came up to £17.74 which I wouldn't be able to get on ebay! Brand new kimonos cost between £150 - £300 normally off the shelves. Custom kimonos can range into the thousands! Still my kimono and obi is beautiful and i'll post a photo of it later.

I also saw another seller selling various furosoide that was about £100 (17000 yen). They were beautiful and also looked very new. Other than the fact they were too big to carry home, as well as more for a bride, I could never wear it anywhere in London casually. I also felt a little cautious on things designed for tourists especially as I suspect many of these are probably sourced in Kyoto where we will be going later on. The lady who I bought my kimono from looked more authentic and her behaviour was more what I expected as well as seeing more locals flocking around her, where as tourists flocked to the other places.

Shinjuku

Shinjuku is a very busy place, filled with lots of people, so many of them shopping and hanging out. We wandered the back streets of Shinjuku whilst we waited for our train.

the back streets of Shinjuku
The back streets of Shinjuku

The Journey to Hakone

We took the Hakone 31 on the Odakyu line which sped from Shinjuku through the west of Tokyo down to Odawara and Hakone Yumoto. It was beautiful to see the suburbs and the small towns in-between.

Hakone 31 train to Hakone Yumoto on the Odakyu line
Hakone 31 train to Hakone Yumoto on the Odakyu line

I also got to see rivers and mountains again which was great. Sitting on the train with the warm sun bearing down on you is a wonderful experience.

Between Shinjuku and Hakone
Between Shinjuku and Hakone

Once we reached Hakone Yumoto we switched onto the mountain railway towards Gora and got off at Tonasawa. It really was beautiful, once more with the sun beaming down, and I can see this place being extraordinary during autumn when the leaves turn yellow.

Ichinoyu Honkan

This place is Amazing! I was so happy and excited, running around in my joy and took a lot of photos. The sound of the river eases me even now. I am going to write a post just about this place and have been taking notes! Will post a link here once the post is up. Also you can read about Jose's view on our journey here.

Ichinoyu Honkan Hakone
Ichinoyu Honkan

 


Design Coco Curve - Anime japan 2014

Day 4: Anime Japan - Tokyo Anime Fair 2014

Today we went to Anime Japan in Tokyo's Big Sight, Odaiba which is located in southern Tokyo. This place is huge! The scale of it is incredible.

Tokyo Big Sight in Odaiba, Tokyo
Tokyo Big Sight in Odaiba, Tokyo

Anime Japan was completely not what I expected. There were so many animes I had never heard of and also my limited knowledge of Japanese meant that it was hard to find out the names of some of them. However from what I saw there are so many amazing animes to watch that just aren't available in the UK or the US.

Anime Japan 2014
Anime Japan 2014

They also had a 50 years of anime theatre section showing early anime like Astro Boy and others I'd never encountered (Dragonball will be showing tomorrow but alas can't go and watch it!)

sword art online 2 - phantom bullet
sword art online 2 - phantom bullet

Also after a great first series, Sword Art Online 2 will be making a return. This I'm looking forward to watching!

Saint Seiya anime japan 2014
Saint Seiya Legend of Sanctuary

I was really impressed with the Saint Seiya trailer for Legend of Sanctuary. I've not watched the series but the trailer looked really amazing and I look forward to watching the full version.

mech truck
mech truck

There was a huge crowd of people here and at first I didn't know why... until I saw the image below.

Mech Bot
Mech Bot

GIANT ROBOT! I finally got to see one! :D True it wasn't moving or anything (yet) but it was still good to see.

FairyTale Cosplay Anime Japan 2014
FairyTale Cosplay

These professional cosplayers really do outdo themselves. I've put in a few more images below showing some more stuff. Tomorrow we are heading over to a antique market and then to Hakone and more mountains. We will be staying in a ryokan. Not sure if we will have internet, if there is I'll post something, if not my next post will be on Tuesday 25th March.

Design Coco Curve - Anime japan 2014
Design Coco Curve
Professional Cosplayer
Professional Cosplayer
Blades and Soul cosplayer
Blades and Soul cosplayer
TV Tokyo 50th Anniversary
TV Tokyo 50th Anniversary