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TRIP REPORT: Just returned from first visit to Japan!

TRIP REPORT: Just returned from first visit to Japan!

Dec 10th, 2015, 05:40 PM
Join Date: Oct 2011
Posts: 833
Looking forward to reading about Arashiyama. Didn't make it there on my visit but it's at the top of my Kyoto list for trip #2.
MinnBeef is offline  
Dec 11th, 2015, 12:10 PM
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November 13 – Kyoto

Although the forecast for Kyoto showed rain, we woke up to a beautiful sunny morning. We headed downstairs for our Hotel Mume breakfast, included in the price of our stay. Our breakfast was delicious; definitely a step up from our FamilyMart pre-packaged pancakes the day before!  We had a basket of assorted freshly baked breads, various jams and spreads, mixed fruits, yogurt, hardboiled egg, and a hot vegetable soup (and of course tea and coffee). The breads, jams and soup changed daily so we never had the same breakfast. Having soup for breakfast was foreign to me, but it was delicious so I cannot complain! The homemade baked breads were some of the best I’ve ever had. After a filling breakfast we were ready to start our day’s adventure in Arashiyma in Eastern Kyoto.

We took a taxi from Hotel Mume to Arashiyama – it was about a 30 minute ride and cost us about $40. A little pricey but very convenient and a quick route from the hotel directly to the Arashiyama Monkey Park. We arrived at the Monkey Park just after 9am and started our ascent up the mountain to the park area. It took us about 20-25 minutes to walk up the mountain, stopping and reading the informational signs along the trail. We saw some monkeys swinging in the trees above us as we made our way up.

We finally reached the top of the mountain and the view of Arashiyama was lovely. There weren’t as many monkeys as I expected there to be, but there were a decent amount and even a few babies too. We went into the “feeding room” to get some monkey food (peanuts and apple slices) where we hand fed the monkeys from inside the caged area. It was fun to see the baby monkeys up-close and personal. After a little while we decided to head back down the mountain and onto the next sight.

The Togetsukyo Bridge was just a few minutes away from the Monkey Park (I loved the proximity of all the sights in Arashiyama). The Bridge had great views of the mountains and the river. We watched as other tourists took boat cruises down the river. Just on the other side of the bridge was the path to Tenryuji Temple.

The walk to Tenryuji Temple was beautiful and the streets were lined with magnificent fall colors. I remember taking a photo in front of the largest most yellow tree I had seen – it didn’t look real! Tenryuji was the first zen temple that we had visited and it was interesting to see the fields of perfectly designed sand. The autumn colors were even more beautiful in the temple’s garden and reflected stunningly in the pond water. There were many koy fishing swimming in the pond. The scenery was spectacular.

As we made our way through the temple complex we had a group of school children run up to us and ask to take a photo with us. We agreed and we all held up peace signs. After the photo they asked where we were from and for us to sign their school book. Before we had a chance to ask what it was for they were off running somewhere else.

We exited Tenryuji Temple from the back entrance which leads to the Bamboo Groves. The bamboo grove was just as magical as I thought it would be, but it was a bit too crowded to enjoy it fully. I can only imagine how amazing it must be to walk through the groves on a slow day. At the end of the pathway we took the street north towards Jōjakukō-ji Temple. We were planning to stop here, but as we learned, we simply did not have enough time for everything we planned to do each day. We were also getting hungry so we continued towards Saga-Toriimoto Preserved Street. We stopped for lunch and picked up a few souvenirs. The preserved street was very scenic and much less crowded than areas around Tenryuji and Jōjakukō-ji – I think that most people must spend their in the southern Arashiyama area.

Continuing north, we walked to Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple. On the way, we were stopped by more school children who asked us a couple of questions about where we were from and what our favorite part of Japan was. They were very excited to talk to us and it was a pleasure interacting with them. They must have had some kind of school assignment to talk to visitors.

Adashino Nenbutsuji was my favorite temple of the day – there were no crowds which made it very peaceful, the fall colors were popping, and the temple grounds were unique. This temple is located on a hill where people abandoned the bodies of the dead during desperate times of war, epidemic and famine. When things stabilized the relatives of the dead visited the area and left Buddha statues as grave markers to remember their loved ones. In 1903, Nenbutsuji was founded in an effort to collect the scattered statues. The temple has approximately 8000 mini statues and it is quite a site to see.

At this point it was the late afternoon and we were pretty tired, so we made our way back to southern Arashiyama to find a taxi back to our hotel. I really enjoyed Arashiyma, and even though we didn’t see as much as we planned to, it was a beautiful day. We were beginning to realize that maybe we had packed too much into our itinerary and didn’t leave room for down time or account for how long would we stay at each location. It was at this time that we decided to skip Nara, which we had planned to visit the next day, for more time in Kyoto. We still hadn’t had the chance to see Kinkakuji or Fishimi Inari, which were high on our priority list.

We spent a couple of hours back at the hotel and exploring a few nearby shops before heading to dinner. Hotel Mume booked us reservations at Iroha, a Shabu-Shabu restaurant in Pontocho Alley. Pontocho Alley was just a 10-15 minute walk from our hotel and was a very scenic and lively street with what seemed like hundreds of restaurants. We arrived at Iroha and were shown to another private room (it seems like private dining rooms are very common in Japan). There was a round table with a large pot in the center. We sat on cushions on the floor but there was space under the table to hang our legs and feet. There were 3 set menus and we choose the middle priced one. Our server, who was beautifully dressed in traditional style clothing, brought us our raw meats and vegetables and began cooking the ingredients in the pot at our table. She served us our first course and as she left the room, she gestured that we should cook the rest of the food when we were ready.

We had an assortment of food including large pieces of finely sliced beef, many types of vegetables, and tofu. The idea is to flash cook the food in the hot pot on the table and then transfer the food into a bowl with hot broth and seasoning. Everything was mouth-wateringly delicious. Our server came back to check on us and a few minutes later returned with tea and desert. Our desert consisted of fruit and a yogurt sauce. We found ourselves in the same situation as the night prior – we didn’t know what to do when we were done. We saw no phone or button in the room this time. After waiting a while my husband got up, opened the door and peaked outside. Our server was patiently sitting outside our room and politely handed us the check. I hope she wasn’t waiting for us too long!

We ended the evening by walking down the rest of Pontcho Alley and heading back to Hotel Mume.
rachill_az is offline  
Dec 11th, 2015, 01:17 PM
Join Date: Feb 2006
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Loving your report. You are moving Japan well up my "must go back to" list -especially Kyoto as I was limping when I was there.
thursdaysd is offline  
Dec 11th, 2015, 02:07 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
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Oh, I loved Maruyama Park! The place I'd head for first if I ever get back to Kyoto, which is unlikely, alas.

Second russ_in_LA (and just about everyone else) - thanks for taking one for the team re the capsule hotel! I kinda suspected it wouldn't suit me - I sometimes need earplugs even in ordinary hotels - but I admire you for giving it a try.
Sue_xx_yy is offline  
Dec 11th, 2015, 05:04 PM
Join Date: Sep 2012
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I really enjoyed our time in Arashiyama and can only imagine how much more beautiful it must have been with the koyo. Your trip seems to get better and better.
tripplanner001 is online now  
Dec 11th, 2015, 06:10 PM
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 615
I'm so happy that your Hotel Mume experience lived up to ours! Your day in Arashiyama sounds ideal. We didn't make it to the Monkey Park, but Adashino Nenbutsuji was also our favorite temple on our first visit as well. After two trips in a row to Japan, we are trying so hard to plan a trip to somewhere else next year, but reading the account of your trip is making it very difficult! Looking forward to more.
russ_in_LA is offline  
Dec 11th, 2015, 07:31 PM
Join Date: Jul 2013
Posts: 137
Oh, my post has gone... I must have forgotten to press "SUBMIT"...

Salvaging history in Chrome...

Your seed pots in Kamakura would be "Mukuroji".

Your love shrine would be "KuzuHaraOka" shrine, if you have seen the rocks shown in #5 in the link below. The layout of Kuzuharaoka shrine follows. This shrine in Kamakura is getting popular now.

Basically, you were travelling the season of "Shichi-go-san". Many people would have been taking pictures of their little children.

Two bows (getting their place politely), two claps (calling them with the sounds), and one bow (asking them your wish) are assumed to be the correct procedure. They here would be somehow analog to Greek Gods.

Your game in Sensoji is "Omikuji".

NEX goes deeply into the ground to the B5 floor to the Tokyo station. Keisei Skyliner + Nippori or NEX + Shinagawa would be easier.

Kawaguchiko => Mishima => Kyoto would have been much easier and faster.

You visited Kawaguchiko in the best timing in this fall color chart:

What else... Oh, I have enjoyed your report so far, especially your lovely descriptions of your husband in Akihabara and the Motor Show. I will get back to your report now. Before that, I WILL press the "SUBMIT" definitely.
LuisJp is offline  
Dec 11th, 2015, 08:04 PM
Join Date: Oct 2011
Posts: 833
Looking forward to reading about how you enjoyed Kinkakuji and Fushimi Inari. Fushimi Inari was my favorite site in Kyoto and one of my favorite things in Japan. It was lightly drizzling the morning I walked up the mountain, which only added to the mysticism.

Loving your report.
MinnBeef is offline  
Dec 12th, 2015, 07:13 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 9,220
Lovely lovely lovely, and such a pleasure to read as I'm back to planning our spring 2016 trip and we're returning to Kyoto for another week!
Kavey is offline  
Dec 12th, 2015, 12:12 PM
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Posts: 180
LuisJp - thanks for all of the information, especially the "Mukuroji" seed pods!! I finally have a name for them!
rachill_az is offline  
Dec 12th, 2015, 12:21 PM
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Join Date: Jan 2015
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For anyone interested in photos, I finally had a chance to add my Tokyo trip report to my blog along with pictures - http://livelifeoutofoffice.com/2015/11/06/tokyo-japan/

I'll try to get Kamakura, Kawaguchiko, and Kyoto photos up this weekend.
rachill_az is offline  
Dec 12th, 2015, 12:31 PM
Join Date: Sep 2012
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Love the energy in your photos. Thanks for sharing.
tripplanner001 is online now  
Dec 12th, 2015, 02:20 PM
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Join Date: Jan 2015
Posts: 180
Kamakura Photos: http://livelifeoutofoffice.com/2015/...amakura-japan/
rachill_az is offline  
Dec 12th, 2015, 02:30 PM
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 615
Love the blog and the pics. Thanks!
russ_in_LA is offline  
Dec 12th, 2015, 02:46 PM
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 1,080
Great report and photos, you were lucky to have such a wonderful guide in TOkyo.
FromDC is online now  
Dec 12th, 2015, 02:52 PM
Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 1,085
rachill_az, wonderful blog and pics. Thank you. Now I'm even more excited for my upcoming trip.

jdc26 is offline  
Dec 13th, 2015, 06:50 AM
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Thank you all so much for the positive feedback on my blog! I'm glad to hear you are enjoying the photos.

Kawaguchiko photos are now up (Kozantei Ubuya Ryokan, Kaiseki dinner, and Fujisan)
rachill_az is offline  
Dec 13th, 2015, 08:50 AM
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Love the blog with all the photos interspersed!
Kavey is offline  
Dec 13th, 2015, 10:29 AM
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November 14 - Kyoto

After enjoying another delicious breakfast at Hotel Mume, we planned to take the train Fushimi Inari Shrine. However, Hotel Mume suggested that a taxi might be more convenient and we agreed.

Fushimi Inari Shrine is famous for its thousands of torii gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. Fushimi Inari Shrine has ancient origins, predating the capital's move to Kyoto in 794 and is considered the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Foxes are thought to be Inari's messengers, resulting in many fox statues across the shrine grounds.

I had been looking forward to Fushimi Inari’s giant tori gates and I was not disappointed. Our taxi driver dropped us off at the bottom of the road which lead up to the Shrine. The street was lined with many shops which were just starting to open. We had arrived early enough in the morning so that it was not too crowded. We spent a while wondering through the trails covered by the bright orange tori gates.

The tori gates were so closely packed together that the trails almost looked like a network of tunnels winding through the mountains. After taking countless photos and admiring the beauty of the area, we decided to make our way back down. By this time, Fushimi Inari had started to attract many more visitors and the shrine entrance was very crowded. The shops had all finished opening and there were now vendors selling all sort of street food.

We quickly found a taxi and headed out for Kinkakuji Temple. It was the early afternoon and Kinkakuji was beyond crowded (probably the most crowded temple we had visited). We bought our entrance tickets and were directed to a viewing are immediately to our left. As we turned the corner, there was Kinkakuji glowing in the sun and reflecting beautifully in the water below. All eyes were on the gorgeous Golden Pavilion. Because of the enormous crowds of people it was difficult to get pictures, but we did manage to snap a few great photos. As we exited this viewing area, the crowds started to dwindle and spread out along the trails. The trail lead to the back of Kinkakuji for a closer look at the two tiers of gold leaf plated walls and then up through the hills for an aerial view.

Next we headed for the Shijo Dori shopping street to get some last minute souvenirs that were still on our list. We wandered into some very unique shops including a sticker store that store that sold designer T-shirts with the most unique screen printed art work. We stopped for lunch at café that sold an assortment of baked goods and deserts. Each selection was displayed as a plastic replica behind a glass window. I remember seeing some sort of ice-cream sundae topped with soba noodles – very interesting! We enjoyed wandering around the area with no real plan or itinerary. Hotel Mume was just a 15 minute walk away so we headed back to get some rest before dinner.

This was our final night in Kyoto and Hotel Mume recommended The Sodoh Higashiyama for a special dinner. The Sodoh is a Japanese-Italian fusion restaurant. Although only a 15 minute walk from the hotel, it had started to rain so we decided to take a taxi. We were seated at a table for two next to the window overlooking a garden. We decided to order some champagne and selected a pre-set 6 course menu.

Each course was a “standard” Italian dish but with Japanese flavors and ingredients. We enjoyed a salad, an appetizer, a seafood dish, beef dish, pasta course, and a desert with tea and coffee. Each course was delicious and of course artfully arranged on the plates.

It had stopped raining so we decided to walk back to Hotel Mume. We stopped at the Yasaka Shrine on our way back which was illuminated for an autumn foliage event. It was beautiful to see the shrine and surrounding trees lit up in the dark evening. We headed back to Hotel Mume, knowing it was our last night in Kyoto and we had to get our luggage ready for an early morning train to Koyasan the next day.
rachill_az is offline  
Dec 13th, 2015, 10:38 AM
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Join Date: Jan 2015
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Kawaguchiko/Fujisan Photos: http://livelifeoutofoffice.com/?p=1646

Kyoto Photos: http://livelifeoutofoffice.com/?p=1699
rachill_az is offline  

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