Nikko, Yamazaki & Nara

Following last night’s little rant about a mere handful of things going on in the world which all leave me indescribably sad, I thought I would lift the tone by returning to my current favourite topic. Japan.

This blog seems to have taken a turn for the travel-blog, rather than one of my musings but I suspect that as I end my missive to Japan, things will return to normal, so bear with me dear folks.

Right, so, I’m combining a few of the day and half-day trips that we did (using our trusty JR Passes) – I could quite easily wax lyrical about each place in a post of its own, but your comfort and interest is at the forefront of my mind (somewhat) and so brevity is the order of the day.

On Saturday, the sun was shining and we planned to take our first Shinkansen. Now, as much as I love Japan, I super-super love the Shinkansen. Granted I only managed to stay awake on one of the Shinkansen (I even love to say the word..) trips we did but wowowowowow. Anyhow, my first Shinkansen experience was to Nikko. We’d heard many good things about the place and it didn’t disappoint. The initial sunshine of the day waned a little, so we didn’t spend the whole day there, but we did visit the Shrines Tosho-gu and Futarasan. I can imagine that when the weather is more consistent, Nikko would be a glorious place to spend a couple of nights.. and that is on the agenda for my next trip. The evening consisted of dinner with friends in Shibuya and the all important viewing of Captain America: Civil War, followed by a little stroll and the easy-peasy reservation of our seats on the Shinkansen (there is that word again) to Kyoto from Shinigawa station.

Jumping forward a few days, we spent Tuesday visiting the Yamazaki (or Kamikaze, as i kept, rather Freudian-ly kept saying) distillery and the temples of Nara. As we only realised the distillery was so close to Kyoto rather late in the day, we were unable to get a space on the tour – this books out months in advance, so plan ahead and make the most of it. We were however able to wander through the museum and try a few of the more choice whiskeys, which made for a most pleasant morning! A word to the wise for you whiskey aficionados out there: Yamazaki 18 is near impossible to buy. A bartender in Kyoto told us that most bars send their staff out to remote countryside liquor stores on the off-chance that there is a bottle in stock and nobody has realised it’s worth. The distillery had none left to sell and nor did any of the stores or bars we went to. I believe that a few years ago there was a dramatization of the Whiskey Industry in Japan, which increased popularity and led to ginormous sales and the current low stock situation. So enjoy the drink when you find it in bars but set your sights a little lower when planning which bottle to take home!

From Yamazaki, we went back to Kyoto and took a local train (no Shinkansen today, sigh) to Nara. If you head to bus stop 2, you’ll get to the Todaiji Temple Complex. The main sight, the Todaiji Temple itself is of huge historical significance in Japan. Constructed in 752, it was the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples. At the time, Nara was considered the capital of Japan but the growth of the Todaiji temple meant that the capital was moved to Nagaoka in 784, to reduce the influence of the temple of the governmental affairs.

We then wandered uphill to Kasuga Taisha – unfortunately slightly too late to go inside, but we hung around the front and snapped a few pictures nonetheless, and I met one of my favourite trees of Japan.

Dinner was Ramen at Ippudo (more about this in the Kyoto post) and a little wander through the streets of Gion, which evoke all the traditional feelings that one associates with Kyoto. Tonight was the night of drinks at the wonderful Finlandia, but I’ll tell you more about that next time..

 

Korean Beauty Kings & Queens

Korean beauty and skincare is in a class of its own. I know there have been tons of blogs and vlogs already about the (in)famous 12-step-skincare routine, carried out twice daily, but it really wasn’t until I got here that I realised just how serious a business it is.

There are masks for EVERY eventuality – I wouldn’t be surprised to find one that calms the nerves after your pet disappears – with all sorts of ingredients. And they come in this weird sheet, with the eyes, nose and mouth all cut out. You stick it on your face and just have to sit around and wait for it to dry. If, as I am wont to do, you wander around doing bits and pieces while you wait for the mask to work its magic, it will invariably slip off. I hear that once the mask is dry, many women (and men) will spritz their face to reactivate the mask and then wait some more.

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And then there was the day I saw this in a store and thought the whole industry had gone way too far….

Pore Strips

Closer investigation made me realise that the nose strips are intended to give you “skin as clean as a baby’s” and not for use on babies but talk about misleading.

Haircuts are cheap – well, comparative to the cost of everything else here – and well priced enough that I’m definitely considering weekly blow-drys :-).

The mani/pedi culture here varies. A manicure with regular nail polish is reasonably priced and the attention to detail is amazing. Change the varnish to gel, and the price triples (but then, so does the durability) and there are no end of nail salons to try out. Pedicures here strange. Unless you specific request a scrub, it isn’t part of the routine. And if you think that a pedicure will always come with a nice foot soak and massage, guess again. A nice touch is the gift pack you get at the end of your treatment:

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As well as the face masks, there are hand masks and foot masks and who knows what else. Personally, I don’t have the patience to use everything as they should be but I am having fun trying out the various gloopy bits and pieces that I find and I am sure that there will be no end to the treasures to come…