Tag Archives: Train

Japan: Kyoto

The next step on our tour de Japan was Kyoto. I had heard so many great things about Kyoto and I am excited to tell you that they are all true! :)Our train pulled into Kyoto (after another wonderful ride on the Shinkansen), we made our way to our hotel where we dropped our stuff off, grabbed a map and headed out. The map is full of sights to see – there are temples, shrines, palaces, and other tourist sites EVERYWHERE! It’s a little intimidating because there is so much to see and we only had a couple of days, but we were super excited! The first day, we walked to one of the temples that was closest to our hotel.

The most fun part about this was actually our surprise survey once we got there. As we walked up, we had several Japanese students (about middle school age) run up to tell us that they were learning English and wanted to ask us some questions. They were really cute because they had a notebook with questions that they asked us and then wrote down our answers. Question 1 was: “Hello. Do you speak English?”

These were 2 of the students that asked us questions…unfortunately we didn’t get a picture with the girls on our camera – they were the funniest, but the boys thought they were pretty cool. Middle school aged kids are the same everywhere it seems :)

It was a bit rainy, so we ducked in to grab some noodle soup – again…super delicious! We headed to Nijo Castle after that. The paintings in the castle were incredible but the coolest part about the castle was that the floors squeak – it was part of their “security system” because no one could walk around the castle without making noise. It must have kept the enemy ninjas from sneaking in. ;)

This was the view of the castle grounds

And as is customary for all good castles – there is a moat!

That night, we headed to Gion – the old area where the Geishas were usually seen many years ago at tea houses. It was really fun to walk along the main street in Gion – particularly at night with the street lamps lit…certainly gave you the feel of the past. In my guidebook, it had shown that there was a Japanese cultural show every night on Gion Corner so we went that direction and got in line for the show. The show covered many of the traditional Japanese arts – tea ceremony, ikebana (flower arrangement), bunraku (puppet theatre), comic play, and dance by the miyako (apprentice geisha). It was certainly an interesting experience, but I think I was expecting something more elegant and impressive than what they had – the dance by the geisha was the highlight of the show.

Main Street in Gion

Old Tea House in Gion

Miyako (Apprentice Geisha)

Bunraku (Puppet Theatre)

Afterwards, we walked around the city and really loved it – it’s a very lively city and it has a good mix of the old and new.

Kyoto Tower (notice the fountains to the side – they were performing to music)

The next day, we decided to rent bikes to ride around the city all day. We hopped on our bikes and headed towards one of the shrines that we really wanted to see – it’s called Fushimi Inari Shrine. We started to head that direction only to realize that this may not be as easy as we thought it was going to be because there are a lot of side roads not listed on the map and just about everything is in Japanese. Minor set back with a few wrong turns, but we found our way to the shrine. It was so cool! The colors were great and you could hiked up a trail that was lined with bright orange arches. We hiked it for a bit and took some cool pictures and then continued on our bike ride adventure.

Entrance to the Shrine

This place was a photographers paradise – so many fun shots!

We headed in the direction of a few other temples and on the way, we ran into some Austrlian tourists that were about our age. We stopped to chat for a bit and it turned out they were heading to the shrine that we had gone to and they recommended the temple that they were coming from, so we swapped directions and headed that way. It’s one thing I love about being a tourist in Asia – it’s pretty easy to spot other tourists and they’re usually pretty friendly – it’s fun! The next place that we headed was called Kiyomizu Temple and it was up on the side of a mountain with great views! While we were walking into this temple, there were many girls dressed in their traditional Japanese attire – Ryan grabbed a picture with them and I’m pretty sure that made their day because they were all so excited to take a picture with him (who can blame them?! :) ).

On our way to the next stop, we found a nice path down by the river to ride our bikes. We rode on this for some time and it was wonderful – lots of people out running, biking, and enjoying the beautiful weather. We had a mountain in front of us and lots of water birds (herons, ducks, egrets, etc.) in the river.

We rode this for a while and then headed over to Ginkakuji (Silver Temple) and walked around the grounds there – they had a little zen garden and a small temple within the pond. It was really nice to walk around…very peaceful.

Ginkakuji (aka Silver Temple although it is not painted silver)

Sand in the Zen garden

The grounds around the temple

Bamboo Forest

View of Kyoto from the trail around the Silver Temple

Nice Fall Colors already starting to pop up!

On the way back, we decided to ride along the river path for a little longer…it was the picture perfect day for a bike ride and we were loving every minute of it!

Ryan was the fearless leader – picking our bicycle course!

Such a beautiful day for a bike ride! :)

As we were walking back from returning our bikes, we saw this guy sitting outside one of the temples

Then, we headed home to get the bikes back and grab some dinner. Our hotel was very close to the Kyoto train station which was huge – up on the highest floors, they had many restaurants and so we had a bento box and then had some sushi as well. The sushi was to DIE FOR. I have seriously never had more incredible sushi in my whole life – we absolutely loved it!

Kyoto Train Station

Bento Box – so many different plates of food!

Our sushi chef preparing our sushi!

The next morning? You guessed it – another Shinkansen ride…this time to the capital, Tokyo!

Of course, they are always exactly on time! We loved that about Japan.

Japan: Hiroshima

There is a holiday in Korea, called Chuseok which is essentially the Korean Thanksgiving – they get together as a family and make a big meal. In addition, they usually go and visit the burial mounds of their ancestors (there are several around where we live and we had seen them trimming the grasses around them and getting ready for this big event). What this meant for Ryan and I was that we had 2 days off of work that week, so we used a few extra vacation days to make a week out of it. We wanted to head to Japan – Ryan had been there several times for work and really liked it so we decided to go back and see it together.

Our first step was to get to Japan – this was the easiest part! We took a flight from Busan to Fukuoka on Friday night and it was the shortest flight I have ever been on – we were literally in the air for 30 minutes. Once we got there, we spent the night and got up early to get on the train and head to Hiroshima. I was SO excited to ride on the Shinkansen (high speed trains in Japan)…Ryan had already experienced this on several of his business trips and loved it so we were looking forward to lots of train rides during this week. Before we left for the trip, we purchased a week long, all you can ride, Japan Rail Pass (if you are planning to travel around Japan for a week, this is a MUST and make sure you get it before you come to Japan).

Shinkansen pulling into the station

Our first ride together on the high-speed train! :)

The train ride was just as wonderful as I thought it was going to be…it was so smooth and super fast. If you know me at all, you know that I fall asleep as soon as I get in the car, so of course this was no different – it was hands down the greatest nap that I’ve ever had, though…the train really does just lull you to sleep. It was glorious! :) You don’t even realize you’re moving at like 200 mph.

Once we got to Hiroshima, we went straight to a noodle bar that Ryan had been to on his business trip previously. It was absolutely wonderful! Some of the best noodles that I have had – so flavorful! Afterwards, we dropped our stuff at the hotel and did a little plan re-arranging. We were not the only ones that chose to vacation in Japan during Chuseok week – so did Typhoon Jelawat so we quickly changed our plans to stay in Hiroshima an extra day to avoid traveling on the day of the storm.

We spent the first day visiting the Atomic Bomb Dome and then the Peace Museum.  The A Bomb dome is basically a shelled out building that was destroyed during the Atomic bombing.  It was one of the only buildings that was left standing so they created a memorial out of it.  It was unbelievable to be looking at something that I had very often seen in History books at school. It really changes your perspective to see it all – war is never a good thing but seeing how bad it can get really stays with you.

Erin at the Atomic Bomb Dome

Peace Monument

Woman praying at the Peace Monument

The peace museum is very well done – it walks you through the steps leading up to the dropping of the bomb (interesting to see the other side of the story) and then you turn a corner and they have an area dedicated to what it was like immediately after the bomb was dropped. As soon as you turn that corner, there is complete silence in the museum – it’s just horrifying to think of what all of those people went through. The rest of the museum talks about the time after that and the effects of radiation and also what is being done to stop the threat of nuclear war. To be honest, I thought that it was going to be a little awkward being an American walking through Hiroshima, but it wasn’t at all – I think there was a real feeling of peace throughout the city. I think they truly believe in the message that they are trying to send – war is a devastating thing and we should strive for peace. I really like that.

Before and After the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima…

Later that night, Ryan took me to find a yakitori place that he had been to before. It was upstairs on an off-alley of the covered shopping area and it took us a little while to find, but we were glad that they did. We ordered all kinds of meat on sticks – scallops, chicken, beef, Japanese mushrooms, etc. It was great! They also had Ryan’s favorite saki – “Ku-Boh-tah” (yes, sounds like the tractor company) so we enjoyed some of that. When they pour the saki in Japan, they put the shot glass on a wooden saucer and then pour it until it spills into the saucer. It gives you a little extra once you’ve finished the glass – kind of like those extra french fries at the bottom of the bag. I love eating at places where you can watch them cook right in front of you so this place was great – good food and gook saki!

The next morning was full of rain from the Typhoon, so we took advantage of a leisurely breakfast and then headed out to the Hiroshima castle once we had some sun outside.

Entrance Area to the Castle (there’s a mote around the other side)

We walked around this area and had to wear these special shoes, haha

Following the step by step instructions on how to cleanse yourself to enter the shrine area of the castle grounds

At the shrine, you could write out a wish – I thought this really encompassed all I had seen from Hiroshima…they really do wish for peace for everyone.

Hiroshima Castle

Inside the castle, there were lots of exhibits about Samurais…Ryan made sure to try on the official uniform – he’s total Samurai material.

For lunch, we went to a place so that we could have the dish that Ryan had been raving about called   “Okonomiyaki.” He said it was Hiroshima’s signature dish and it’s delicious but really hard to describe. He took me to a place and we sat up at the bar and watched them make it for everyone. They make a small pancake (very thin) and then they put a bunch of cabbage, some meat (usually pork and squid), noodles, egg, sometimes green onions, and then lots of okonomiyaki sauce. They layer it all up and then slide it over to you, provide you a small spatula and you literally “dig in” – it was incredible! I loved it! It’s hard to describe what it tastes like but it is certainly worth trying if you are ever in Hiroshima. Sitting at the bar watching them make it while we ate was certainly a highlight of the trip – it was certainly a Japanese experience I will always remember!

Looks questionable, but I guarantee it’s delicious!!!

Afterwards, we decided to relax and enjoy the afternoon by reading in the Peace Park. The afternoon was so nice and it was great to read and do some people watching – there were so many visitors, especially students from all over the world. We loved our okonomiyaki so much that we found another place and had it again for dinner – this one was slightly different and even more delicious!

Round 2 – this time with lots of green onions and beers!

The next morning, we caught the Shinkansen again and headed to Kyoto for some more adventures…

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