We woke up to a brilliant blue sky and took off for Jigokudani, the area where the wild snow monkeys live. A nature reserve was set up in 1964 for this family of monkeys and they come every year, around 200 of them, to bathe in the hot springs during the cold months. They are technically wild – you definitely wouldn’t want to try and touch one – and run free, but the people who work there occasionally give them fruit to entice them to the area.
The snow monkeys – Japanese macaques – are amazing. Really cute little critters with red faces. They were completely fearless and ran around with no regard for any people there, playing, pulling each others hair, rolling all over the ground with each other, but you definitely wouldn’t want to try and touch one of these critters. The warnings all over the park said “We are not loveable monkeys. We bite.”. We say one lady go to pat one then freeze with her hand extended as the monkey she was going to pat opened up its mouth in response and bared its teeth ready to bite … The monkeys were fascinated by the camera phones that all of the Japanese people there had to take photos with. The phones were so shiny and all had dangly bling on them – just the kind of thing that attracts a monkey! We wondered how many people had lost their mobile phones to monkeys …
After the amazing monkey experience Alec and I travelled to Tokyo by bullet train. We arrived in the early arvo, just in time to drop our stuff off at the hotel and go shopping. We found the Sanrio building after a few false starts, where I went completely bonkers buying Hello Kitty stuff.
Tokyo first impressions are great. Amazing vibe to the city, and with the awesome weather finally back, we can really enjoy it.
Another long day in transit. What we thought would take us around four hours actually took eight. We travelled today from Takayama to Yudanaka, which is an hour out of Nagano.
We stayed in a cute little ryokan / hotel with the sweetest staff. Their English was terrible but they were amazingly friendly and were trying so hard to make sure we had a pleasant stay, including walking us to the door of a restaurant they recommended to us and speaking with the owner inside.
The sun came out today just in time for being touristy in Takayama. We spent the morning wandering around the markets and old town, where they have preserved the buildings and so on, then took a short bus ride out to Hidanosato, which is also called the Hida Folk Village.
The folk village is a collection of homes and mills etc from around the 1600’s that were moved from wherever they were originally built in the region to this site for preservation. The result is an open air museum that shows the way that people lived in the area several hundres of years ago. It was worth the long trip just to see this.
Alec and I walked back from Hidanosato into town then embarked on what looked like a walking path on our map. Problem was it took us an hour to find the start of the walking trail as our map was not accurate and mainly in Japanese. Oh well! We eventually found the trail and walked up to the castle runs, which were literally “ruins” as there was absolutely nothing of the castle left. Interesting!
More rain again!! We slept in, had breakfast (mmm toast! Who would have thought toast would be such a luxury!) then made our way to Takayama, in he mountains. Several trains and hours later we arrive – to MORE rain!! We had a quiet arvo and chilled out together at the hotel before venturing out for an amazing meal.
Takayama is pretty touristy. Downside – things like food are double the price. Upside – lots of people speak excellent English. The restaurant we ate at tonight was a prime example. The food was REALLY pricey for Japan, but it was really delicious so we felt it was worth our while. We ate traditional food of the region – Hida beef for Alec and mountain vegetables for me. I seemed to get some really odd things like mountain ferns … is this really what people up here eat?
The weather turned during the night and we woke up to chilling winds and rain pelting down. It hasn’t let up all day.
We did venture out and went to the golden pavillion, which was amazing, but we were so cold and so wet that we had to come back to the hotel for warmth.
Where did the sun go? Why are we doomed to have wet holidays?
I’ve wanted to visit Kyoto for years, just to see real-life geisha. We started the day on a Lonely Planet recommended walking route of Southern Higashiyama, which started at Kiyomizu-dera (an incredible temple), and then north through a beautiful park, another amazing temple and then ended up in Gion – one of the main geisha districts.
We wandered around Gion Corner and marvelled at the authentic buildings that still house tea houses and boarding houses for geisha today before joining a geisha walking tour. The guy’s website sounded … interesting … I though he sounded like an arrogant jerk and Alec thought he sounded like a perv, so it was a relief to see about 10 other people turn up for the tour – all normal looking travellers like ourselves.
The tour was very interesting. It went for about two hours and Peter gave us basically a history lesson of the area and the people who lived there. He explained the workings of geisha culture and the meanings of the symbols and so on around the geisha district. We saw a few geisha hurrying home from their performances to get ready for the evening ahead. They may be small but they can really quickly on their high shoes! I was struggling to get a picture of them – most of my photos are from behind as they bolted into the alleyways.
Kyoto is just amazing. So beautiful, especially right now with the cherry blossoms in full bloom. We’re right on the edge of the season. We were told that they’re one rain storm away from losing the blossoms completely.
One more note on how amazing the people here are. I left my shopping in a restaurant and was walking about a block away when I see this tiny little lady risking life and limb dashing across a main road to return my shopping to me … similarly, Alec left his train ticket in the machine in the subway and a business man dashed after us to return the ticket. Amazing. I love Japan.
We work up at 5:40 this morning to attend 6am services with the monks. The service lasted for about an hour and a half, and was full of chanting, incense and candles. We were invited to partake in the service as well. It was FREEZING at that time of the morning! We were then served breakfast in our room – again, some strange but interesting food I couldn’t identify, except for the rice, and checked out. It was about eight degrees when we checked out, so I don’t even want to think of how cold it had been when we got up at 5:40am!
After checking out we took a walk around town and visited the main temple, which had once been the centre for Buddhism in this area. It also had the largest rock garden in Japan, and we watched the rock-rakists in action. What an amazingly time-consuming job, but it looked fabulous when they were done.
We then walked back to the temple to collect our luggage, played with the temple dog, who was wearing a very stylish hoodie, and caught a few trains to get to our nest stop – Kyoto.
By the time we got to Kyoto we were exhausted. One cable car, three trains and one bus. Enough! We rested up for a bit, then head on out again to check out the Kyoto International Manga Museum.
It was pretty interesting to see original manga artwork from the 1940s, but it wasn’t as large as we had hoped for. Never mind! We found a place to eat called Mr Young Men, had some miso ramen and edamame – delicious!
I’m excited about tomorrow – we’re going to look around the old park of town. I’m hoping to see a geisha and more cherry blossoms.
We shopped in the morning, going completely nuts in stored like Big Camera, which is a 10-story building filled with every kind of electronics you could imagine – for insanely cheap prices.
We then caught a train and cable car up in the mountains to Koya-San, a Buddhist community, for out temple stay evening. After we booked into our temple and were shown our traditional-style room, we walked around town. It was a lot colder up in the mountains, but also really beautiful. We checked out the cemetery, which was huge and filled with ancient trees and headstones covered in moss.
For dinner we ate traditional Buddhist vegetarian food (no meat, no seafood, no onion, no garlic) which included lots of tofu and strange things we couldn’t identify. It was served with great ceremony by two of the monks, who then returned later to lay out our futons.
The only down-side for me was the lack of private bathrooms. There were shared co-ed toilets and a communal bath. I wasn’t adventurous to try this, but Alec did, late at night when there was no-one else around, and he said it was amazing.
The day was overcast, but with only a short time to fit everything in we decided to catch the train down to Hiroshima. We stopped off at the A-Dome and Peace Park Memorial before catching a train and ferry to Miyajima island. The dreary day meant bad weather for taking pretty photos of the cherry blossoms that were out in full bloom. We did see some crazy scatty deer on the island … they weren’t as cute as Bambi unfortunately.
I’m loving how friendly all of the people here are and even if they can’t speak English they go out of their way to try and communicate. All I can say is “thank you”, and I’m saying it over and over again every five minutes to more strangers who are helping us out.
Food though is hard. Everything is written in Japanese characters and the pictures aren’t clear, so it’s tough finding places to eat thus far. I had hoped to lose weight on this trip, but just not eating full-stop is not what I had in mind!