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..

 

The Start of a Lifelong Love Affair – Japan

Oh Wow. Japan. What an amazing country. It has always been a place that I wanted to visit but little did I realise how much I NEEDED to visit the country. The history, the culture, the sights, the food, the Shinkansen.. everything has just worked its way into my heart and I have a feeling will be staying put for a long time to come.

Anyhow, we planned to spend a week in Japan – leaving Songdo late on a Wednesday night and returning first thing the following Thursday and we packed in a lot, so Japan is going to be the subject of my next few posts, starting with pre-departure.

Planning the trip started off pretty easily – we wanted to visit our friends in Tokyo before they moved back to The States and to minimise the days off that Raj needed, we decided to go over the long Children’s Day weekend in Korea – but this did mean that flights were slightly more expensive than usual for this 2.5 hour flight. We later realised that our trip also coincided with the tail end of ‘Golden Week’ in Japan. It worked out great for us, as it meant that Tokyo was nice and quiet (although restaurants had a habit of closing early on us) and when we moved onto Kyoto, it was a teeny-tiny bit quieter.

We made the decision to pack in some travel and so, I ordered JR Passes from http://www.jrpass.com on Friday morning. By Monday lunchtime (for an additional fee of $19) FedEx had dropped the exchange vouchers into my hands. You need to make sure that you get the ‘temporary visitor’ stamp in your passport upon entering Japan and then take your passport with you when you go to exchange the voucher for the actual pass. You have to choose the day your pass starts and for us, we started it immediately as we had exactly 7 days to use it in. This meant that we could use it on the Yamanote Line within Tokyo as well, which definitely saved us $$$.

We also got Suica cards (The Japanese T-Money Card equivalent) for all the inbetween journies and although you can return them to get your deposit back (500 JPY) we kept ours for future visits.

IMG_5564Once in Japan, unlike in Korea, Google Maps is your friend. If you aren’t using roaming on your cellphone (we had Raj’s work phone for that) then I’d say it is helpful to invest in a pre-paid sim card / hire a phone at the airport for the duration of your stay. We also made good use of our battery pack – a must on any day trip with an iPhone.

Our friend’s in Tokyo had prepared some useful information for any travellers to have and you can access it via this link:

https://drive.google.com/open?id=193Fu1dfQwLEGz260cla0ReWeC2CwaHvFSJG30X-axDo

Anyways, as I said, we packed in a lot during our week in Japan and below is the itinerary we ended up following (we started with a slightly different one, but adapted as needed). I’ll be writing a few posts about the trip, but combining the days so that they make more sense, not to mention limiting my ability to waffle on…

Thursday 5th May & Friday 6th May: Exploring Tokyo

Saturday 7th May: Day Trip to Nikko (and my first Shinkansen)

Sunday 8th May: Kyoto

Monday 9th May: Miyajima Island & Hiroshima

Tuesday 10th May: Yamazaki Distillery & Nara

Wednesday 11th May: Kyoto and return to Tokyo for our flight the next morning

For fear of boring the reader with too long a post, I’ll continue with Tales of Tokyo soon…