Life’s Lessons

At the end of a trip I like to look back and reflect on lessons learned and things I would maybe do differently next time.

Don’t get a hair cut before you travel – especially if you’re going shorter than you’re used to making it tricky to put up in the heat or on a bad hair day.

badhairday1

When packing – less is more.  We did a super job this trip.  I’ve finally learned to pack light.  Every item had a dual purpose and we wore every item we took – even if it were for 5 minutes (hat/scarf/gloves).  Credit where credit is due – well done us!

joey

Downloading apps and subsequent extras, like maps BEFORE you leave home is a fairly important lesson.  You never know when you’re going to have free WiFi.

Unknown

My good friend, Marie will shudder at this next point, but you really don’t have to take your own shampoo and conditioner.  Hotels will give you something that is workable for the couple of days you’re staying.

Unknown

Be willing to try new foods.

weird-food-7

Always, and I mean always learn the language basics, even if it’s hello, goodbye and thank you. It shows respect; that you are trying; most people will humour you and help you along; and it’s fun!

Thank you in different languages

If you are going to a country where you will struggle with the language beyond the basics, brush up on your mime skills before you go and have a practise on the plane.

actor-mime

Bandaids, ziplock bags in varying sizes, small containers for creams/lotions and shower caps to cover the bottoms of your shoes in your case –  amongst other things are invaluable items.

band-aids

Pick some easy jewellery that goes with everything that can be worn in the shower and the pool so you’re not taking it off and putting it back on all the time – you’re less likely to lose stuff then…… and probably leave the diamonds and rubies at home.

Unknown-1

A smile says 1000 words in all languages around the world – sure some are more creepy than others, but that’s a whole other lesson!

finger smilers

Happy Travels campers……

Until next time, take it easy and watch out for wankers!

Shopping Disaster

So, you know how I said that we were thinking we might buy an extra suitcase for all our purchases?  Well, as it turns out, there is nothing to put in an extra suitcase…. hence an extra case wasn’t even purchased.

It’s a sad day for shoppers everywhere.

Pink shopping box to look inside isolated on white

Let me talk you through it….

Yesterday we had an ok day and we found a couple of pairs of shoes at the Sungei Wang Shopping Centre – a place that was recommended to us when we asked for something ‘middle of the road’ – not cheap shit and not Prada.  But after our one purchase, the shops thinned out considerably and we didn’t even slow down as we passed them.  Hope was given up momentarily until we headed over to The Pavillion Shopping Centre which was new and glitzy and full of promise.  We hardly went into any shops let alone purchase anything – all too expensive or too small or too gaudy or too fru-fru (that’s a word), so we simply had dumplings and came home very light on.

Today we were on a mission – to find – ‘something’ – ‘anything’.  We first went to the Suria Shopping Centre under the  Petronas Twin Towers – we’re talking high end labels – your Tiffnays, your Cartiers Darl’, your Louis Vuittons, etc….. so looking around that entire centre took about 10 minutes.

We did manage to capture a little pic to prove we were actually there.

IMG_5978

To our thinking we needed to take it down a notch or two and headed to the Central Market.

IMG_5999

For those of you thinking you might want to go there, we can save you the trouble.

We’ve done it for you.

No need for you to go anywhere near the place.

You’re welcome.

We spent about 15 minutes at these markets, 10 of which was taken up looking at the map trying to figure out where to go next.

So, we headed back to The Pavillion – for more dumplings, as you do.

Dismayed, disillusioned and downright bored with shopping, we decided to pack it in and head back to our hotel for swimming, packing and a little afternoon tea in the air conditioning.

We definitely needed my lovely cousin, Chris with us here – she has a black belt in shopping, and not just because she bought it!  Chrisso, you’d be so disappointed with our performance here.

This is not a picture of my lovely cousin Chris

This is not a picture of my lovely cousin Chris. My lovely cousin Chris is so much lovelier than this lady and even if we did disappoint, my lovely cousin, Chris would never be so flippant and flamboyant in displaying her disappointed emotions like this.

Kuala Lumpur has been interesting and I’m glad that we stopped here, but if I’m honest, I don’t think I need to come back again.

So we are leaving with pretty much the same weight in our small cases as when we left!  We’ve jettisoned a couple of clothing items that have done their job with gusto, but unfortunately are not making the trip back.  Having said that,  whatever weight we’ve lost has certainly been made up by the socks that I’ve collected along the way.

images

Getting our dumpling on in Kuala Lumpur

If you were going to pick a place to wind down after a jaunt to Japan, then KL could be your place.  And when I say ‘wind down’, I totally mean ‘go shopping’!

We only took very small bags with us and have only bought 2-3 very small items each the whole trip.  So now we’re ready to cut loose and maybe even buy a second suitcase to accommodate all our purchases.

First though, it’s important to build your strength on dumplings.

IMG_5963

This is the best dumpling place in the world – as far as I am concerned.  We tried to go to one of their restaurants in Singapore, but there was an hour wait for lunch, and then we went back for dinner, but they don’t do dumplings at night – selfish!

So, today was our day.

IMG_5964

If you’re in KL it’s on the 6th floor of The Pavillion Shopping Centre or the Garden Mall – Mid Valley City or, if you’re in Singapore – here’s the website with all the locations and you too can look like this….

IMG_5965

We watched the chefs making the dumplings in Singapore and one lady was on ‘filling’ duty, then she would pass them on to the man who was in charge of crimping.  She was going so fast that she ended up tossing the dumplings at the man…. sometimes it’s better not to look.

Still tasty though!

IMG_5967

 

Japanese Delights

Our favourite things in Japan were:

The cherry blossoms

IMG_5712

We were so lucky with the timing.  We were too early in Tokyo, just right in Kanazawa and they were just ending by the time we got to Kyoto.

Mout Fuji

IMG_3793

We had two of the most perfect days to look at Mt Fuji.  It was quite mesmerising; like the ocean or a fire, you could just sit and look at it for hours.

Kyoto

IMG_5718

Out of all the cities we visited, Kyoto was the prettiest and the most user friendly.  It seemed to have more restaurants and quaint shops.  It’s definitely the place that I would return to if given the chance.

Shirakawa-go

IMG_5143

The UNESCO village up in the mountains.  I love that they are trying to preserve a piece of their history even when the  Tokyos and the Osakas are building high rises all over the place.

The Food

IMG_4888

We loved the sushi, the sashimi, the seaweed and the rice balls…. oh, and the steak!

The Trains

Japan-500-shinkansen-train

The fast trains – I’m not sure how we’re going to cope having to travel at only 100km (or 110kph between Safety Bay Road and the Manjagoogoodap Road Exits on the Kwinana Freeway).  It really is the best way to travel!

The only Japanese wanker in the village

Our last night in Japan called for one last search for sushi.  We asked at the reception desk and there was not much joy.  You’d think that other people would have asked the questions of “where’s a good sushi restaurant?” before, but apparently not.  There was much discussion and asking of colleagues which resulted in some blank faces.  It was also a Monday night, where it seemed lots of places were closed.

So, a quick bit of googalising and we were off.

Our first attempt thwarted us with this sign…

IMG_5940

One was full and another one was closed.  Then we found this place.  We were excited.  It was full, but they asked us to sit and wait for a spot at the bar.  This was where the action was.  We watched the chefs interact with the customers. There was laughing and handing over of freshly made sashimi and sushi.  There was sake being drunk.  Excitement.

Jenny was more excited about these baskets under the seats.  We’d seen them before and Jenny just couldn’t believe what a great idea they were and why we don’t have them….. probably because your stuff would be flogged and you wouldn’t know about it until you got up to leave!

IMG_5941

We finally got our spot at the end of the bar and the chef down our end having clocked who his new customers were had a look on his face of palpable distain.  No welcome, no hello, no reply to my ‘konbanwa’, no konichiwa, no smile – nothing.

We ordered our first dish from a picture menu by pointing to which he said “ok” and then said something in Japanese to the chef next to him who looked at us and said something back to him – it felt exactly like that Seinfeld episode when Elaine goes to the nail salon with the Korean staff.

This is what we ordered…..

IMG_5945

And this is what we got…

One might say that he had a lacksidasical approach to his craft.

IMG_5944

The rest of the dishes were ok looking, and all tasted delicious.

IMG_5947

He seemed pretty happy when I threw out an “Oishii” (delicious) and he replied “thank you” with one raised eyebrow.  Then I thought – well, it’s raw fish, how much credit can he really take for it?

IMG_5949

He made no attempt to converse and then when a French couple sat down next to us who spoke as much Japanese as we did, he almost rolled his eyes, said a few more things to the chef next to him and they sniggered!  They sniggered!

It made for a fairly awkward hour and we left stomachly satisfied, but certainly not culturally.  It made me want to go home, learn Japanese and go back there, sit and order, eat my food and at the end of the meal after he’d rudely whispered whatever to his mate in Japanese, I would triumphantly speak in Japanese making him realise that I had understood every word he’d said.  Sure it’s a long range revenge tactic, which will require a fair amount of work on my part.

Or I could be like Jenny who just said, “Stuff him!”

The Kyoto

Today was all about the shrines of Kyoto – we weren’t going to see ALL of them, but we were going to go close.  Today we had a tour guide who was going to take us to all of the ‘must see’ spots.

Our first stop was the Golden Shrine.

IMG_5627

On the way through the gate there was this small pavilion with a large bell.  People go there and put in their wish for their future – apparently it’s a very popular spot on New Year’s Eve with people trying to get their resolutions in before it’s too late.  Our guide said it gets very noisy with all the bell ringing.

IMG_5613

This is us red red ready to see ALL the shrines.

IMG_5614

Our ticket for the Golden Shrine – it gives you passage through the gate and it also wishes you good luck.

IMG_5615

Here we are.

IMG_5622

Our guide, Hideck insisted on using his tour guide flag in case we lost him although we were never more than a meter away from each other at any one time.

IMG_5629

This is what the Gold Shrine looks like in winter.

IMG_5637

And this is the inside of the upstairs section.  The floor is painted with lacquer to give the illusion of water.

Nobody is allowed inside the building except for very special occasions or if you’re George Bush Senior – he got to go in there once on a visit.

IMG_5638

There are beautiful gardens and ponds all around the shrine.

IMG_5654

There was a special section where you could have tea.

IMG_5660

Burning incense is an important ritual in the Buddhist religion.  The smoke is very symbolic and people like to make sure that the smoke touches their body, especially their head as they believe it will heal them or make them smarter.

IMG_5665

Then they ding this big bell to wake the spirits and make sure their thoughts and prayers have been heard.

IMG_5668

Seriously – we were walking along an empty street and Hideck still thought it was necessary to use his tour guide stick.  He was not going to lose his group – no way – not on his watch!

IMG_5669

And the pointer comes in so handy for other things….

IMG_5670

We were now at the second of today’s long list of shrines – the Ryoanji Temple.  Inside the gates is the Kyoyochi Pond.  This pond was made in the late 12th century.  Until recent years many mandarin ducks were to be seen on the pond.  Hence, the Ryoanji was generally known as Oshidoridera, the temple of the mandarin ducks (pretty imaginative if you ask me).

IMG_5673

Buddha sits peacefully at the bottom of the steps that lead up to the Kuri, the main building of the temple.

IMG_5681

The Steps

IMG_5682

Inside the main building is The Rock Garden.  It is simple and quite remarkable, measuring only twenty five metres from east to west and ten metres from south to north.  The rectangular Zen garden is completely different from the gorgeous gardens of court nobles constructed in the Middle Ages.  No trees are to be seen; only 15 rocks and white gravel.  The walls are made of clay boiled in oil.  As time went by, the peculiar design was made of itself by the oil that seeped out.  This internationally famous rock garden was said to be created at the end of the Muromachi Period (around 1500) by a highly respected Zen monk, Tokuho Zenketsu.

IMG_5692

Apparently, the garden has been designed so that you can never see all 15 rocks from any one spot because to see them all would mean you had achieved perfection and a big Buddhist teaching is that nobody is perfect and we should all strive to work harder to better ourselves.  I counted 14…. apparently it helps to see more of the rocks if you are taller.  Hideck said the garden was designed with short Japanese people in mind.

This is a small replica of the rock garden with braille signs so that the sight impaired can also enjoy the garden.

IMG_5685 IMG_5686

There are all sorts of “Zen” bits and pieces around the temple…. this bamboo water spout for one.  The water drips into  a bowl that is shaped like a Chinese coin.  It has Chinese characters one each side of the square that basically spell out (in the most confusing way possibly) “Money can’t buy you happiness”

IMG_5700

I tell you what wasn’t Zen-like was these red buckets.

IMG_5698

Something else not so Zen – these people frantically working in this office.

IMG_5703

As always, shoes off when you go into a temple.  I didn’t see any others that I liked on the way out, so I just put my own back on.

IMG_5704

From this temple, we hit the local train station which was quite a pretty walk….

IMG_5710

IMG_5718

… past some interesting parking set ups.

IMG_5720

And when we got on the train – it was all decorated with cherry blossoms – heaven knows what happens here during the other 50 weeks of the year!

IMG_5721

They even painted the train especially for this cherry blossom season.

IMG_5724

This area, which is full of tourists had quite a few of these rickshaw ‘runners’.  When I took this photo I thought the panda was just a stuffed toy, but on closer inspection – I think that could be a person in a panda suit!!!

IMG_5726

More pretty flowers….

IMG_5728

IMG_5738

Then a stop for lunch.  How lovely does this lunch look?

IMG_5729

Apparently all the bowls have been chosen to compliment the colour of the food.

IMG_5734

Next stop – the Bamboo Forrest!

IMG_5748

Kyoto is mainly quite flat, so there are lots of bikes around and they weave through the people quite fast.  Someone else who was whizzing through the people today was this speed demon.  No beeping, no ‘excuse me’ and no slowing down – just ploughing though!

IMG_5752

There is a shrine with the Bamboo Forrest where people, mainly young ladies, come to ask the spirits for a good partner, to be married soon, etc…..  They write their wishes on these wooden plaques and then hang them here.  The plaques are eventually burned and the wishes are meant to rise up with the ashes to the spirits so their wishes can be heard and hopefully granted.

IMG_5753

Then they pay some money (a donation) and line up here to make their wish and ring the bell to make sure somebody up there is listening.

No, I didn’t get on the end of this line.  I line up for no man!

IMG_5755

You know how earlier I was telling you that I couldn’t find a picture of a couple who dressed alike?  Well, here is a couple!  Not the ones in the kimono – the two on the left – matching jackets, jeans and shoes!

IMG_5762

The Bamboo Garden was absolutely beautiful.  Really calming and quiet.  The height of the trees blocks out the noise from the outside world (except for the occasional train as the tracks are right there!)

IMG_5764

Quite a magical and serene place.  Imagine it with no people…..

IMG_5765

We hiked up the hill a bit to this look out which was just glorious.

IMG_5775

Look at the colours!  I can only imagine what it would look like in Autumn!

IMG_5778

The scenery is almost as pretty as Me Jenny!

IMG_5787

This poor man was trying to sit and paint.  The poor girl was behind him trying to take a picture I assume of what he was painting.  At one point she got so close that her camera was almost sitting on top of his head.  Then she slipped a bit and all I could imagine was him and his easel going flying.

IMG_5793

Next on our tour of shrines was the Tenrū Temple.  The temple itself was pretty standard, but the garden here was beautiful.  Here are some of the flowers….. you’re welcome.

IMG_5799

The Bridal Wreath!

IMG_5801

Little snippets of pink everywhere.

IMG_5803

How’s this rabbit-eared, two-budded number?

IMG_5805

I wasn’t the only one here fascinated with getting up close and personal with the flora.

IMG_5811

And these little blossoms…. bless

IMG_5815

This temple also has a pond – with water so clear.

IMG_5817

The pond is full of massive carp.

IMG_5827

And….. this is what it would look like in Autumn!

IMG_5835

And that is it for the temples!  We made it!

This is one of my favourite photos of the day.

IMG_5846

People jostling and pushing and manoeuvring to get a good spot – me included!

IMG_5848

So we hightailed it out of the temple and down one of the busiest streets ever (no photos because I couldn’t raise my arms from by my sides) and then emerged on this bridge.

IMG_5866

This is what everyone was coming to look at.  The river has been dammed and so the people take advantage of the flat, calm water to paddle in boats.

The couple you can see who are perilously close to going over the edge there tried in vain to paddle their way out for a good 20 minutes, and then as we crossed back over the bridge, we saw the brown boat with the outboard motor towing them away from the edge.

IMG_5869

There was also this chap giving a bit of entertainment.  I don’t think he was busking as such, but practising the skill of twirling this star shaped material.  He was really very good.

IMG_5874

On the way back to the train station Hideck walked us through the Kimono Forrest.

IMG_5886

Hundreds of poles all lined with kimono fabric

IMG_5891

they light up at night and look amazing – such a great idea!

IMG_5893

Then it was back to the train station and here’s what we passed in the back streets….

IMG_5905

Pretty bikes everywhere

IMG_5906

IMG_5907

And two more people dressed the same!  I told you they were out there – exact same shoes and everything!

IMG_5908

All in all we walked 11.6kms today.

Not a bad effort.

Now we’re exhausted and all shrined out

(possibly the title of a Weird Al Yankovic version of Alison Moyet’s “All Cried Out”?

Geisha Girl

After yesterday’s atrocious breakfast fiasco which was so terrible I couldn’t even write about it, we decided to skip it this morning and grab something at the train station.  This cafe served a choice of 2 western style brekkies both as terrible as each other, but not quite as terrible as yesterday (I’ll have you know, there was no Japanese options either – just two set dishes – eggs, scrambled or fried; 3 inch thick toast; brown bacon and today they added some sort of salsa and when I say scrambled egg – I mean a teaspoon’s worth.

Anyway – the good thing about this cafe is the ‘smoking room’.  They have a closed off room for the smokers – a great idea.  The better idea would be to ban it altogether, but I’ll go with this if they’re not going to go with that!

IMG_5484

So this was our last train ride on this Japanese journey and Jenny finally accepted the window seat.  She’s always been an aisle girl, you see, but for the 15 minutes we were on the train from Osaka to Kyoto – she threw caution to the wind.

IMG_5488

This is Kyoto’s version of road work barriers.

IMG_5489

We arrived fairly early, so couldn’t check in to the hotel.  We dumped our bags and went a walkin’.

This is a good idea for map readers, isn’t it?

IMG_5495

We’ve been quite surprised by the French influence in the building in Japan.  I mean, they building here can’t be all that new, and yet Japan was a closed country for so long, and yet here it is – French inspired.

IMG_5496

This was just a cool little interior furniture shop we came across.  Kyoto is definitely the more cosmopolitan of the big smokes in Japan.

IMG_5497

We spotted this alleyway with some flags out the front, so we knew it was an eatery of sorts – the big menu out the front also helped us to come to that conclusion.

IMG_5502

So down the end of the alley – and more flags – good sign.

IMG_5503

Then inside, we were seated and given this bowl of sesame seeds in a sort of mortar bowl with a wooden pestle and told to “smash in circles”

IMG_5504

So we did as we were told….

IMG_5506

We kept our eye on everyone else to see what the hell they were doing.

IMG_5507

Then we were to add our choice of sauce… this was delicious!

IMG_5508

lunch, which was katsu pork, as always, came with miso soup, rice, pickled vegetables and cabbage – we were stuffed.

Then it was time to walk it off.  We were headed in the direction of a big park with many shrines for a date with a Meikosan (an apprentice Geikosan / Geisha) for a tea ceremony, but that wasn’t until later in the afternoon, so we thought we would take in some sakura whilst we waited.

IMG_5515

The river was a hub of activity – we’re not sure if they were protesting, or artists or just having Hanami?

IMG_5518

Again, we took the back streets when we could – you always see the best things in the back streets!

IMG_5520

There is a little stream/creek/waterway that runs through a section of Kyoto which is only ankle deep and these kiddies were playing in there quite happily trying to catch – something?

IMG_5525

IMG_5526

Check out this laid back motor bike!!!

IMG_5534

Sakura – they were close…

IMG_5535

And there was plenty of tourist buses and taxis so we couldn’t be too far away.

IMG_5536

We reached the park and started our trek up the hill….

IMG_5543

There were shrines-a-plenty….. but no sakura.

IMG_5544

At most of the shrines there are these water coolers.  Here’s what you do…. you scoop up some water in the big spoon and pour it into your hand, then you drink the water our of your hand, then swill it around and spit out into the trough around the edge.

IMG_5545

Opps, there’s a tiny cherry blossom.

IMG_5547

And another little baby one there…..

IMG_5550

And…. petty of young gals dressed up in kimono.  Most of the people dressed up, according to our Meiko host today, are not Japanese, and certainly not Meikosan (apprentice) or Geikosan (fully trained – like after 5 years of training)

IMG_5553

There was even an Aussie girl there posing for some pics.  She had people from all over want to take a picture with her and talking to her in Japanese.  She looked over at us sitting on the step and said laughing, “I’m clearly not Japanese!”

IMG_5554

IMG_5557

So there was the odd blossom, and there were still people hanging on so they could have their Hanami in the park.

IMG_5559

IMG_5560

IMG_5561

IMG_5562

These ladies will no doubt be looking through the hundreds of photos they’ve just taken of each other.  This seems to be the modern reason to dress up in kimono and hit the parks – to pose and take photos of each other – with absolutely no self consciousness – at all!

IMG_5563

We were about an hour out from our appointment with our Meiko and tea ceremony, so we started heading towards where we thought it was going to be.  We had some VERY vague directions written in Japanese which I translated with the help of Google Translate – I’m not sure the peeps there at Google have a full handle on this yet.

Anyway….. we didn’t know where the hell we were going.  We stopped a taxi driver and asked him to read the directions hoping that they were really very clear and something just got lost in translation.  He sent us straight ahead and then crossroads, two, go (pointing, gesturing left).  We gave him a big arigato and thought – thank goodness for him because that’s nowhere near where we thought it was……. and we walk and walk and walk – still confused (although I’m not sure how we could be after those directions)

I stopped and asked a chef who was outside his restaurant pinning up today’s menu.  He enlisted the help of another lady from the restaurant and a lady who was passing by.  They all had a good look at the original directions and then looked at the map I was using – and laughed.  The lady went inside and got a massive map – all in Japanese.  The passer by had to go, but luckily another chef came outside to see what everyone was doing and he put his two yen in as well.

They finally worked it out and then started to give us directions – back the way we had come and very close to where we thought it was….. but not exactly.  We thanked them all profusely and went back on our way saying to each other “we’re going to have to ask someone else when we get closer”

We’d walked about 100 metres and the chef trotted up behind us…. “I’ll show you”, he said.

He tried to chat to us in Japanese and I tried to use my many apps to respond, but we all just shrugged our shoulders in the end and he strode forward and lead the way.

IMG_5565

4-5 blocks of winding streets he lead us.  We got to the 5th block and I started to wonder if this was going to be some sort of scam, but then I thought, how fortuitous that we just happened past his restaurant whilst he was putting out his menu, and I should happen to ask directions to a place that I thought was in this direction in the first place for him to now think – this could be a good opportunity for me to rob some people!  It made no sense.

Then – he suddenly stopped and as we watched 5 English people go inside, he said “This is it”.  I could have kissed him.  There was absolutely no way – even if we had the proper address and a GPS location tracker that we would have found this place on our own!

We tried to bundle in with the English peeps, but the efficacious lady said “Yes?”

I answered, “Konichiwa, we have an appointment at 3.30.” in the hope that she might say ‘of course come in and wait in our very comfortable seating area because it looks like you’ve been walking for hours’.  But as it was only 2.15, instead she said, “Well, please come back at 3.30.” and flung the curtain across the doorway.

IMG_5566

I took a photo of the doorway not only for the blog, but just in case we couldn’t find it again!

It was right around the corner from a function centre where Jakuya and Junko were getting married – I was snapping landmarks all over the place.

IMG_5568

So we went back to the park to wait it out and do a bit of people watching.

IMG_5570

I wonder how the chap who always seems to be at the end of our driveway fiddling with the NBN wires (more often than not, cutting or knocking a wire out of the socket leaving us with no internet or phone and having to go through the rigmarole of calling faults) would go with this lot?

IMG_5571

3.30 on the dot and she let us in.  This is something that Jenny had wanted to do since the idea of coming to Japan was thought of.  We were lead upstairs by the lady from the front door (not a Meiko or a Geiko, but the owner of the establishment)

IMG_5574

We sat on these lovely little floral chairs.

IMG_5575

Whilst Timi – a Maikosan – apprentice Geiko (Geiko is what they all Geisha in Kyoto) prepared our matcha tea.

IMG_5577

Then the tea was cleared away and she performed a dance.  This was a little bit awkward as it was just us and her – but you had to remember that she had been training for 5 years to do exactly this.

IMG_5581

She didn’t look like she enjoyed the experience at all, but I think the emotionless face is part of the training.

IMG_5582

You can become a Meikosan at the ago of 15 and you train for 5 years.  After that you can decide if you want to become a Geikosan and then you go through stages – each lasting 5 years to work your way up the ranks.  A Meikosan, being an apprentice has more rules and is more strict.  They have to use their own hair for the styles – they have it done once a week at a salon and then sleep on a wooden neck block with a small pillow so their hair doesn’t flatten.  Once they are a Geikosan, they have a wig made.  There is a kimono and hairstyle for each month of the year and they must follow the styles.  They also go to private classes for two hours a day and watch other Meilkosan’s private lessons to learn from them as well.  They can only wear lipstick on their bottom lip whilst being an apprentice, and must not engage with boyfriends – and when they get married, they must retire.  They learn about 20 different dances and learn how to entertain guests by pouring them drinks (sake & tea) and having conversations.  They don’t learn about the wide world, but they do learn about current events so they can be part of the conversation.

Timi’s dance was lovely and very graceful, but as she about to graduate,  I hate to think that was all she had learned in 5 years.

She spoke a little bit of English, but even when the host asked her a question or acted as a translator, Timi was very timid and softly spoken.  I searched her eyes to see if she was silently screaming out for help in some way, but she showed me no sign of being held captive, so we took our photos and we went on our way.

IMG_5595

The make up on the back of the next is designed to elongate the next making her look more feminine.

IMG_5599

So we sat around somewhat awkwardly asking questions to our host whilst Timi sat staring blankly in front of her, then we brought it all to a close with a “well, that was great….” and started grabbing our things.

They came outside with us and encouraged us to have photos with Timi outside in her wooden shoes, to complete the look.  These photos will never see the light of day as they were terrible – our lovely host was not the best photographer and then as we walked up to the main street, they stood there outside the door waving, just like the staff at the hotel in Kawaguchiko.  We checked a couple of times over our shoulder and they were still there waving…… until we turned the corner.

What an intriguing experience but now I’m more confused than ever why you would become a Meikosan/Geikosan?  it’s not for the money, because they don’t earn a wage – they are just given a weekly allowance.  Also, Timi and our host went to Perth earlier in the year for a Japanese festival – it was 40 degrees while they were there and the fully trained Geilkosans went to the beach, but because Timi couldn’t get her hair wet, or wear bathers or go out into the sun, she had to sit in her full kimono (at least i was the  summer cotton one!) because when they have their hair done like that, they must wear the full kimono – even for relaxing.

IMG_5602

A strange life choice – but I guess it’s a choice.

Steak

After our massive walk today, and after 2 solid weeks of sushi and think slices of meat, we both really craved a big fat juicy steak, so I googled and low and behold, across the road and down the street was a little steak restaurant.  I read the reviews – translated them from Japanese, which made no sense, but they all gave them 5 stars, which is a universal language.  So we popped down there and it was the most interesting/bizarre experience.

Welcome to Ikinari

IMG_5467

There are no chairs in this tiny restaurant, just tall benches.  You stand to eat your steak, which is probably a good thing for digestion?  But also, because it doesn’t make you want to sit around and chat afterwards, you just eat and get the hell out of there – genius for the restaurant for a good turn over.

IMG_5473

We had a little bit of difficulty understanding how to order, not even google translate nor the plethora Japanese language apps I downloaded could help, but we got there in the end.  You order your meat from the chef at the back of the restaurant.  He has a big glass fronted cool room and once you’ve chosen your meat and told him how many grams you would like, he pulls out a big slab, cuts it and weighs it – he was pretty spot on with his estimations.  Then you tell him how you’d like it cooked, then walk back to your standing table and wait.

IMG_5469

That’s all there is on the menu – steak, but you can order a side of salad or corn or onions and that’s it.

So we just strapped on our bibs and tucked in.

IMG_5470

Kanpai!

IMG_5471

Not even sure why you need chairs……

IMG_5475

IMG_5474

I am going to make a big statement here, it was the best steak that I have ever eaten – ever!

大阪市 – Osaka

大 = Big

阪 = Hillside

市 = City

OSAKA

IMG_5298

Not sure where the big hillside is though….?

Famous for being the capital city of the Osaka Prefecture and the second largest metropolitan area in Japan.  It is also among the largest cities in the world with over 19 million people living here.

There is not a lot to see here by ways of traditional Japanese buildings or gardens.  Osaka was pretty heavily attacked during WWII which is probably one of the reasons that it is now quite a new city with modern buildings.

There is one part of Osaka however that has been kept in perfect condition – the Osaka Castle.

But before I show you any of this, we need to navigate our way through one of Osaka’s biggest train/subway stations/shopping centre/underground tunnel of lost hope….. We got in ok, but getting around and then out again needed careful map reading, assistance from locals and snacks.

Unknown

We eventually worked it all out and made our way to the subway line we were after and stood at this sign on the platform.  They have women only carriages during peak hour to try an protect women from all the groping that goes on when people are packed in like sardines.

IMG_5294

We managed the subway like a couple of professionals and found our way here…

IMG_5298

The rain last night had done a bit of damage to the flowering sakura, but there was still plenty there that were hanging on to their blooms.

IMG_5300

The river was lined with stall after stall of all kinds of food.

IMG_5329

And again – most things are rammed onto sticks.

IMG_5331

The crowd, as always doesn’t disappoint.

IMG_5332

Even our furry friends have come along – this one wearing his best Spiderman coat.

IMG_5335

Unfortunately smoking has not yet been banned in Japan (well in Osaka anyway) around food preparation.  Here you can just ash away over whatever you are cooking.

IMG_5336

These are called Okonomiyaki – apparently it’s delicious, but overtime we’ve seen them, we’re not hungry.  They are noodles, cabbage, vegetables, egg and bacon/mystery meat and then fried up.

IMG_5338

Or you can just have some occy on a stick!

IMG_5342

These are a fantastic idea – instead of using chairs and having to unpack and pack them up each day…. you just have long tables and then put a short one on the top.

IMG_5345

And people take their shoes off and sit on the lower table like it’s the floor – genius!

IMG_5348

Now, this was a strange thing.  We first past a lady witting behind a tank with very shallow water filled with goldfish.  At first we thought she was selling them.  Then we passed another lady with the same set up and then another and another.  The last one had some customers and this lady in the pic below was flicking the fish into a bowl.  We weren’t sure whether she was going to take them home or if it was a game where she had to try and catch the black ones with the big eyes or what?  There was a bit of cheering going on as she flicked each one, but we walked on – still confused.

IMG_5330

Then we passed the same set up, but with tadpoles……. ?

IMG_5351

We’d been walking for a fair while and it wasn’t until we’d come to the end of the markets that I checked the map and realised that we’d completely walked past the entrance to the Osaka Mint garden – which was open to the public for one week a year – when the cherry blossoms are out and today was the first day.  So we got to an entrance and even though I could understand the Japanese sign for no entry, we snuck in anyway because – too hard.

IMG_5386

IMG_5406

Look at our pretty flower

IMG_5404

There’s going to be lots of cherry blossom photos now, enjoy!

IMG_5396

The carpet of petals was so pretty.

IMG_5395 IMG_5393

And make for a lovely backdrop.

IMG_5390

IMG_5385

You’ve got your double blossom…

IMG_5380

Then you’ve got your triple blossom with buds.

IMG_5379

This is us walking the wrong way around the garden!

It was a little bit like that nursery rhyme:

As I was going to St Ives

I met a man with seven wives

Every wife had seven sacks

Every sack had seven cats

Every cat had seven kittens

Kittens, cats, sacks and wives

How many were going to St Ives?

IMG_5377

The answer:  one – all the rest were going the other way!

IMG_5375

IMG_5374

This lady caught me by surprise and I had to be quick to snap a pic as I strolled past her.

She’s got sakura hair.  Good on her.

IMG_5371

IMG_5366

IMG_5359

Jenny moonlighting as a hand model.

IMG_5353

With all the photos and checking of the map on my phone today my battery ran down pretty quickly, but luckily I had packed my specially purchased sakura designed external battery.  I think it goes nicely with the surroundings.

IMG_5431

We managed to reach another bridge down the river and crossed over to the other side where we came across this beautifully designed building, that even the cherry blossom at the front had trouble making it pretty.  The people who lived there would have had an awesome view of the river and the cherry blossom trees though.

IMG_5412

And now for something a little arty.

IMG_5414

Our first Japanese cat spotting.  He was a little unsettled by us – I think it was Jenny’s blonde hair.

IMG_5420

There were Hanami parties going on all up and down the river.

IMG_5421

And lots of people just walking around and admiring…. I was very lucky to snap a shot with nobody in it (besides those 2 in the bottom corner)

IMG_5427

Until somebody stepped into the shot – and 1…2…3… turn and pose.

IMG_5429

After some awesome map reading skills and some asking people, we finally made it to the walls of the Osaka Castle.  It is surrounded by an outer moat and an inner moat – talk about upping your security!

IMG_5465

The walls are also adorned with the blossoms which probably served to distract any attackers with their loveliness – although that would only have worked for about a week to 10 days in April.

IMG_5458

This our first proper glance at the castle.  It stands very high up on a hill and is quite majestic.

Their website calls it: “Osaka Castle -a symbol of Osaka, which has been handed down through the dramas in history to the present day.”

IMG_5451

You can climb to the top level, but ……

IMG_5457

Do you think this man could have found a more public spot to have his midday nap in full suit and tie?

IMG_5459

This morning we asked the lady at reception what there was to see in Osaka.  She started telling us about all the wonderful shopping centres.  So when we asked about something more traditionally Japanese, she screwed up her nose and said, “No, we only have buildings and shopping, you have to go to Kyoto or Nara for old buildings.”

So now that we’d seen Osaka’s only transitional things (that we know of), we were ready to go home for a nice cup of tea and good lay down with the feet up.

On the journey to find the subway again, I noticed this tree which is right on the road and in front of what would have been the driveway of a high rise building.  But they didn’t knock it down to make way for the drive way, they built the drive way around it and just let it be.

How lovely.

IMG_5466

See Ya Round Taks

So, see ya round Taks!

IMG_5262

It seems that each place we’ve been so far, it has rained on the day we’re leaving.  Perhaps symbolising that the place agrees it’s time for us to go.  Sort of like a wet Big Brother eviction or a rainy rose ceremony.

IMG_5238

This looks like it will blow over pretty soon…….

Well this morning she was bucketing down.  We only had a 4 minute walk to the station, but in that time our suitcases and our bodies from the elbow down were pretty much sodden.

Takayama Train Station

Not my photo. Borrowed from Google. Thanks Google.

Luckily the Japanese don’t like to you to be too cold for too long and the train station waiting room had no less than 6 bar heaters dotted around the walls, which when coupled with 4000 people all trying to organise their travel arrangements makes for quite a warm and cosy environment.

Jenny and I nearly had to strip down to our underwear it was so hot!

PHO-11Jan10-281911

Not my photo. Borrowed from Google. Thanks Google.

To make matters that little bit more chaotic, because of high winds the train going in the opposite direction to where we were going had been delayed/cancelled leaving people struggling to know what to do.  There were lines forming all over the place.  We watched a lady run in from the rain and take her place behind a man who just happened to be standing there with his bag.  He wasn’t lining up for anything, but the lady who joined him was eagerly looking over his shoulder to see if the line was moving.  Not sure how long it took her to realise.

CRES_Home_buyer_line

Not my photo. Borrowed from Google. Thanks Google.

Then they finally called our train and a sea of people moved en masse through the gates.  The ticket checking man tried his best to check all the tickets as the people surged, but it was just too much for him to punch a hole through everyone’s ticket as they flew past.

Travel-chaos-sweeps-the-U-012

This is not Takayama Station. Borrowed from Google. Thanks Google.

Reserving seats is totally the way to go if you are happy to be on a schedule.  After the sniffing incident in the non reserved car a few days ago, I don’t think I could go back.  That may sound snobby, but I can guarantee you that it is mainly for the safety of the other passengers.  However, my comfort comes a very close second!

Saying goodbye to the unpronounceable hotel we have called home for the last 3 nights was pretty easy.  It wasn’t the beige, North Korean military style lounge suits that we objected to, quite the contrary, they got the wearing of their lives!

IMG_5233

IMG_5234

(although, side note – in your rooms, you are presented with the most neatly folded set of lounge suits in size M.  Jenny tried hers on and as we didn’t think they were meant to fit like jeggings, we popped up to the 7th floor to change over the size to something a little more relaxed.

images-1

Not my photo. Borrowed from Google. Thanks Google.

Each day, when our room was made up the suits were removed and replaced with another fresh set in size M.  So off we would trundle to the 7th floor again to change the size….. now, wouldn’t you think you’d check the size of the ones you are removing?  Each day, you are also given a new pair of socks to wear with said lounge suit.  I’m coming home with more socks than I imagine I’ll ever need)

It wasn’t because you had to take your shoes on and off in the foyer and it wasn’t even the mattress beds on the floor.

Not my photo. Borrowed from Google. Thanks to: www.shikibook.wordpress.com

Not my photo. Borrowed from Google. Thanks to: http://www.shikibook.wordpress.com

It was the food!  Can you believe it?

The chefs there must have been so incredibly bored as they made the exact same dishes every single day and night.  Some were still as much a mystery to us on the last night as they were on the first.

On the first night we were so excited to be sampling some of Takayama’s finest dishes and trialling our skills on the special cooking equipment, but after three days of exactly the same thing, we’d had enough – time to move on.  And the worst part about is that I’m not sure how long it will take for me to be able to stomach another tempura prawn!

crispy-tempura-battered-prawns

So we said our goodbyes and we pulled away from the station.  On our way to Nagoya we passed some of the prettiest countryside – rivers, rapids, waterfalls, little villages and sakura!  Just a shame we viewed it all like this…

IMG_5240

The pretty sakura.

IMG_5265

We pulled into Gero station who had a lovely cherry blossom right there at the station.  When the announcement came over the speaker as to where we were, they pronounced Gero with a soft G as in ‘garden’ rather than G as in ‘Geraldton’. (*Geraldton [aka Gero], for those who are not in the know, is the town where I grew up).  I thought about getting my google translate app out to explain their error, but it all became a little too difficult.  Probably best that there is a point of difference, otherwise people would get totally confused!

IMG_5246

I mean, it looks similar, right?

Not my photo - Borrowed from Google - Thanks to: www.communityprofile.com.au

Not my photo – Borrowed from Google – Thanks to: http://www.communityprofile.com.au

So one little change of train in Nagoya to the bullet train – you don’t want to dilly dally here people.  We had a full 17 minutes to get off our first train, find our second train and get on.  We probably only needed 5 of those minutes, but you never know.

IMG_5273

She was pretty chilly on the platform which was great as it gave me a change to actually wear some of the cold weather items that I had brought along with the promise of cold weather!  So I had this scarf on for about 12 minutes.

IMG_5276

Then, the train arrived.  On time.  And left.  Right on time.

IMG_5275

It was still raining when we got to Osaka, so we popped out of the station and found the taxi pick up line.  There were about 20 people in the line when we arrived and it was the fastest taxi line I have ever been in!  It totally beats the line outside the Flinders Street Station in Melbourne – I’ve waited literally hours there before (as have many others, I’m sure)

Check out how many taxis were there, ready and willing to pick you up.  There was even a tiny lady there calling the cabs in and signalling them to pop the boot and she was hauling the suitcases into the boot, then signalling you in the taxi, then waving you off and waving the next one in.  It was done with such precision.

The taxis, just by the way are the cleanest I have ever seen (that would go for the trains too, while I’m at it)  The taxi drivers all where white gloves and are extremely polite and helpful.

IMG_5277

So here we are….. Konichiwa Osaka.

Shirakawago

IMG_5081

Today’s tour was to the quaint little village of Shirakawa-go in the remote mountains that span from Gifu to Toyama Prefectures. The town, and a couple more similar ones nearby were declared UNESCO world heritage sites in 1995.  They are famous for their traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old.

IMG_5170

Gasho-zukuri means “constructed like hands in prayer’, as the farmhouses steep thatched roofs resemble the hands of Buddhist monks pressed together in prayer.  The architectural style developed over many generations and is designed to withstand the large amounts of heavy show that falls in the region in winter.  The roofs are made without nails and provide a large attic space used to cultivating silkworms.

But first, a visit to the ladies room, where there was a speaker build into the wall playing toilet flushing sounds.  Apparently, if I’d pressed the button there on the right it would have given me a selection of music and other sounds to mask the actual sound of me being in the toilet.

IMG_5102

And then you got to wash your hands here.

IMG_5103

Ok, on with the tour before the rest of the tourists catch up!

IMG_5099

We crossed the Sho River to get to the village.  The water was crystal clear and presumably freezing!

IMG_5104

There were monuments covered in these teepee style sticks which we learned were to save the statues from the heavy snow.  It also occurred to us that the trees we saw back in Kawaguchiko with the strings attached to the branches were there for the same reason.  The things you learn about snow when you come from W.A!

IMG_5106

Most of the houses had water streams running past their houses which catch the snow as it falls off the roof and melts away.

IMG_5109

This is our lovely guide, Hiso.  He was awesome!  He had lived in New Zealand for 6 years and spoke perfect English and not even with a Kiwi accent although he did say his favourite food in NZ was fush and chups – don’t try and tell me the Japanese don’t have sense of humour!

IMG_5110

The man hole covers we learned are different in every region.  This one is all about the mountains and the thatch roof tops.

IMG_5113

All the houses fave north to west length wise to take advantage of the wind that blows north – south through the valley and also to maximise the sun going east – west.  They were pretty cluey way back when.

IMG_5114

People still live in this village, so most of the houses have plots of land near them where they grow vegetables and rice. They must detest their homes being gawked at by tourists every single day, but Hiso assured us that it is the tourist yen that pays for the upkeep on the roofs – which run into the hundreds of millions of yens.

IMG_5120

The construction of the roofs is quite incredible as the roof is not actually attached to the bottom of the building.  The triangular shaped beams that hold the roof up merely nose into a hole in the floor and the weight of the thatch is enough to keep it on there, even in a strong breeze!  And here’s how much snow they get – about 2 metres.

shirakawago-1

It was quite a magical place and definitely a highlight for me.

IMG_5127

Look how thick the thatching is.

IMG_5128

Next month there is a special “Boy’s Day” – If you remember, back in Tokyo there was a display of dolls in our hotel which were for “Girl’s Day” or “Daughter’s Day” – well, they also have a day for the boys.  It’s called Tango no Sekku and it’s been celebrated for a millennium.  Originally it was celebrated in the houses of warriors.  It celebrated boys’ courage and determination.

IMG_5137

After WWII, Boys’ Day became toned down. This holiday officially became known as Children’s Day or Kodomo no hi. It’s supposed to be a day to celebrate the health and happiness of all children. But many people still see it as Boys’ Festival.

Large carp windsocks, called koinobori, are displayed outside houses of families with boys. There’s one windsock for each boy in the house. The largest windsock is for the oldest son of the house.

250px-Koinobori4797

The carp is a symbol of Tango no Sekku, because carp are considered strong and determined. They’re able to swim upstream against the flow of the water. This is a day for families to celebrate their sons’ strength and character.

Warrior dolls and helmets, armour and swords are also displayed in houses with boys.

The symbolic flower of Tango no Sekku is a type of iris called shobu. The shobu has long leaves that resemble swords. Boys traditionally take shobu leaf baths on this day.

One traditional food eaten on this day is kashiwa mochi. It’s a rice cake steamed with sweet beans and wrapped in an oak leaf.

Hiso got to this spoke and told us that this was the best view in the village…..

IMG_5139

Then I turned around and saw this – snow capped mountains!

IMG_5143

Look!

IMG_5147

Me Jenny & Hiso

IMG_5149

After winter this is where you bring your car to have your tyres changed over.

IMG_5151

Even the shed roofs are thatched…. this one has probably seen better days

IMG_5152

And this is what the thatch is made out of – lucky there’s lots of it!

IMG_5155

The weather forecast the other day had predicted rain today…. but I tell you what, we couldn’t have been more lucky – just look at this day.

IMG_5156

You only have to turn around 90° and you have a totally different view.  Now it looks like we’re in the wilderness, stumbling upon an abandoned cabin – such adventure.

IMG_5157

This was a fresh water trough complete with serving spoons for what you might assume are used to scoop out water for a well earned drink after planting your rice, but I’m not sure I’d be game….. it’s probably the cleanest water there is – straight from the mountain, but it’s the rusty barrels that is doing it for me.

IMG_5165

This chap has made a garage specifically for his snow plough.

IMG_5167

What do you think this extra shed could house?

IMG_5173

This man was taking it all in with his pencil.

IMG_5169

This is what he was drawing.

IMG_5170

There is a fire hydrant on nearly every corner as their whole village is highly flammable and they have open fires inside to smoke out the bugs in the thatch.

IMG_5171

Every now and then they test the hydrants…

0fa19cab62a68543a08c1759c48368c6

In the village, to help raise money some people open up their homes as hostels and two houses are open to the public to just come in and have a look at what it would have been like to live there.  The open fire where the smoke goes straight up through the vented ceiling and right up to the thatch.  It was so smokey that we had to “Febreze” all of our clothes on our return and we’ll be doing a bit of hair washing as well.  I’m not sure how they live in it, it was very hard to breath.

IMG_5179

Now, this was an interesting story.

The family who owned this house were mainly engaged in raising silkworms, but to make a bit of extra cash on the side, they began making “fuming nitric acid’ which is an ingredient of gunpowder under the floor.

How did they do this? I hear you ask…

Well apparently, they put layer upon layer upon layer of fertiliser, wood ash, soil, straw and urine, then they left it there for a few years and waited for a chemical reaction.

Now, wouldn’t you think you’d try the first batch user a shed or somebody else’s house?

So, they were able to sell what would become ‘saltpeter’ up until Japan opened it’s doors to trade internationally and the government started to import saltpeter from Chile, so luckily they had their silkworms to fall back on.

IMG_5180

Again – obviously designed for the shorter person…. Jenny asked it the first sign said “mind your head”,  but no, the ‘mind your head’ sign was after you’d walked past the first head bumping beam.

IMG_5189

This was another piece of ingenious engineering – to build these houses, they got their bendy beams from the trees that grew on the mountain and had survived the weight of the snow on its lower trunk, causing it to curve.

IMG_5192

When building a house like this, they go in search of the strongest bendy tree

c2d9ab31111579.5641d451ca830

to make beams like this.

119_hida_no_sato_curved_beam_takayama
Inside the house on the second floor, there were old woven shoes and bags and whatnots that people had made to wear in the snow.

IMG_5193

I don’t think  these are used anymore…

IMG_5194

or these…..

IMG_5195

but apparently these are!  They’re the things that you strap on to your snow boots to walk in the snow.  They look more like a torture device or perhaps a trap.

IMG_5196

Although we haven’t seen a single cat on our travels, they are apparently a very popular pet here in Japan.

IMG_5197

These are the massive needles they use to stitch up the thatch.

IMG_5199

Because Hiso knew the lady who owned the house – she was the grandmother in the three generations that lived in the house, she ran up to me and grabbed my phone/camera and grabbed my arm and said, “I take picture”.  She then placed me in the window and grabbed Jenny and placed her next to me.

This is what came about.  Not bad hey Nanna?

IMG_5201

We then sat and had a cup of green tea whilst watching a video starring the grandfather of the house, it was a documentary showing how the houses were built.  Very interesting, especially as Hiso translated the whole thing.  We then flicked through a booklet on the table – a school project on the history of Shirakawago, by: the grandson of the family.

IMG_5202

Check out how many people it took to get the thatch on – there were this many people again on the inside passing the big needles back and forth to each other.  OH&S anyone?

IMG_5204 (1)

As off the grid and slightly backwards as this place seemed – there were quite a few satellite antennas about the place.  They weren’t missing a thing!

IMG_5207

Never let it be said that masking tape and a bit of chug can’t fix anything and everything.  Again – this would come from the school of use what you’ve got.

IMG_5210

We were a bit early – again for Sakura in these parts – it’s a bit too cold, but this little tree put on a small show for us.

IMG_5213

And lunch.

Hiso took us to this little place with one table and a small room where you sit on the floor.  There is only two things on the menu and you usually get whatever they are cooking for that day.

This place was run by an older Mum & Pop team who just keep bringing out plates and plates of different food.  This was the speciality for this area – the dumpling soup.  You’ve also got sesame coated potatoes, tofu, pickled something, shredded radish and carrot and then something else – maybe a wildflower something with something?

Anyway – it was all delicious!

IMG_5221

This was the room where you sat on the floor, but we’d already taken our shoes off once to go inside the smokey house and Jen’s not too flash at getting up off the floor.  Honestly, these mattresses on the floor have been a killer!

IMG_5223

So we said sayonara to Shirakawago as we crossed over the Sho River once more.

IMG_5225

But not before catching a glimpse of this adorable puppy.  Look at his tongue!

IMG_5229

If you’re ever coming to Japan and looking for a guide – Hisa was fantastic.  He works all around the Hida Ranges, speaks perfect English, hikes, knows stuff and is a ski instructor, so whatever you want – he’s your man.

Hisa Matsuo – hisa.guide@gmail.com

Shabu Shabu

IMG_5070

Check out our new prison camp lounge suits – you actually look more out of place if you don’t wear them!

Shaba Shabu is a Japanese dish featuring thinly sliced beef boiled in water.

The term is meant to be an onomatopoeia because of the sound emitted when the ingredients are stirred in the cooking pot – however, we heard no such sound.

So you are presented with a funny pot of water that sits over a tea candle, thin slices of beef and a mix of thinly sliced vegetables.

They you wait until the water is boiling and plonk everything in.

Then you dip it all in the different dipping sauces – usually Ponzu sauce and Sesame sauce and eat it with rice.

Delicious!

IMG_5072

You also get an appetiser box full of tasty goodness knows whats.

IMG_5071

Then she’s up to the buffet for the all you can eat tempura!

The Little Town of Takayama

This morning’s journey was all about exploring the lovely old town of Takayama.  We took the backstreets to get a better view of life in the town.  Again, we saw very few actual people, but we did see some interesting architecture, including his and her’s doors, some beautiful Japanese gardens, a Japanese Akita dog (in fact, there were quite a few of these gorgeous little babies being walked) and a dad playing soccer with his kids.

This was all on the way to the open air morning markets which we were really looking forward to.  Perhaps they’ll be like the Tsukiji Markets in Tokyo?  Maybe they’d be like the Onicho Markets in Kanazawa?

Then we found them….. Bless their hearts.

IMG_4924

There were about 10 stalls – mostly selling the same thing.  We made sure we looked at every stall.  We thought about purchasing the cute little yellow, strawberry shaped coin purse, but thought better of it.  We did purchase a humungous apple from a lady who peeled it with a special peeler, then cut it up into bits and popped a stick into the slices.

Jenny and I have a special gift, if you can call it that, where we often turn up or go into an empty shop and within about two minutes, the crowd follows us in.  The apple stall was empty when we arrived…… the photo at bottom right is the stall as we left.

You’re welcome shop keepers.

Now, I don’t know who this chap is, but he was obviously some sort of samurai warrior based on his dress and large sword, but I don’t know how good of a warrior he would have been based on his choice of footwear.

The rest of the morning was spent meandering up and down the old houses, which have mainly been turned into tourist shops, but it was still lovely.

They are quite dog firendly here… the first sign says:

“no pets allowed – please leave your pets at our pet place.” – there’s a pet place!

The second sign, not so dog friendly, but if you have him in a cage, I think you’re ok.  Or perhaps you’re just out and about with your budgie or your iguana?

Most of the shops/houses have lovely garden displays at the front door, or they have a tranquil garden behind the shop… even the man hole covers are pretty.

These little beauty buns are apparently a Takayama specialty.  They’re like a steamed pork bun that we all know and love from yum cha, but these ones were filled with beef…. unless you’re a woman, then they recommend the more femine black sesame and sweet bean paste as it says on the sign.

We went for the beef.

There were tiny doors (note the cushion at the top for head bumping), little seats outside to sit and eat your beef bun, little windows selling their wares (this chap was flogging a crispy rice biscuit that he dipped in a sticky soy sauce and shops full of Japanese bits and pieces.

Me Jenny lives in Perth, well Mandurah which is generally quite warm for most of the year.  In the winter, we might get down to maybe 12 or 13 degrees with perhaps a low of 5 at night maybe once or twice a year….. anyway, Me Jenny – she loves a scarf, and a coat while we’re at it.  She’s got hundreds of them because she buys one whereever she goes, but never gets to wear them unless she blasts the air con.

There was ban on her purchasing another scarf, but then we came across this pretty little number and you know what?  You only live once – so a purchase was made.

Space in these little streets is very tight, but they use the space very well.  Having a tiny, mini car helps a bit too.

There’s no reason for these next two photos.  None at all.

Here was something we saw heaps of – barber shops and something that was very rare – an empty vending machine!

We are 10 days too early for the Takayama Spring Festival.

In April when the snow on the mountains which surround the basin of Takayama melts away and solid ground reappears, Spring finally comes to Hida Takayama. As people joyously celebrate the new season, the sound of drums from festivals in nearby village shrines echoes in the clear Spring air. The largest festival, the Sanno Matsuri, which is held on the 14th and 15th of April is hosted by the Hida Jinja Shrine. It is popularly known as the Takayama Spring Festival. Every Spring, people from all over Japan come to Takayama to celebrate this special festival.

The festival is thought to have been going since about 1586 and is regarded as one of the three most beautiful festivals in Japan – they don’t like to boast!

Big floats are made for the parade.  We passed this one which looks pretty finished and across the road, a roller door opened and there was about 10 people looking over at it – they were obviously about to start building their own.  You’ve got 10 days peeps – good luck to you.

IMG_5003

There were some absolutely beautiful houses and buildings in this area…….

Then there were a couple of shockers!

I mean, this is when the police should be called.

IMG_5031

This whole country is definitely made for tiny people who don’t require a lot of space.

This here is Tanuki – the Japanese racoon dog.

IMG_5028

He’s Eddy Everywhere!

He has been significant in Japanese folkore since ancient times – some would call him legendary and he is reputed to be mischievous and jolly, as master of disuise and a shapeshifter (Star Trek, Deep Space Nine anyone?) but he’s also meant to be gullible and absentminded.  There are cereamic versions of him outside most pubs and cafes, presumably to bring luck or good fortune.

This is what the real Japanese racoon dog looks like.  How cute is that? I wonder how strict Australian customs would be if I popped one in my suitcase? – I’d be sure to make it onto Boarder Patrol!

adorabletanuki.jpg.653x0_q80_crop-smart

The streets kept going and going….. a little like this post, but I want to make sure you don’t miss out on anything!

This street leads up to a shrine – you can just see the gates in the distance…

IMG_5034

But as we feel like once you’ve seen one shrine, you’ve pretty much seen all of them, we opted to stop and have a cup of tea.

The Japanese green tea was served in a very special cup that was made by the owner of the cafe’s son.  We’re not sure how old the son was or when he made it, but it was so special that the chap came out to us especially to tell us about it.

Then it was a slow walk back along the river… We wondered if the little house in the middle was the first house and the others built next to him, encroaching on his land, or perhaps there was a little plot of land where the town planner might have got the maths wrong, but he’s squeezed in there quite nicely – you only need one windo for a river view!

The next pic shows a house that is built slightly on an angle requiring a stake to keep it from falling into the river….perhaps another maths oversight?

 Then there’s this shop/restaurant with a pig out the front (?)

I forgot to mention in the last post that our hotel does not allow shoes to be worn in the hotel at all, so each room is assigned a locker where you take your shoes off in the foyer and pop them in the locker.  The wheels of your case are also wiped before you can come in.  This is great for keeping outside dirt out, but when you have literally busloads of people all trying to put shoes on in the foyer area – she can get a little messy.

I caught one guy in there this morning putting his shoes on in the locker room – a big no no.

I joked “ooh, you’re going to get in trouble putting your shoes on in here.”  He replied, without a hint of a smile, “I’m leaving, so I don’t think it matters.”

I think the point of the exercise and a sense of humour had eluded him.  Perhaps he need a damn good onsen to help him relax.

IMG_5067

Hello Takayama!

Whilst waiting for our train from Kanazawa to Takayama we popped into a mini supermarket to marvel at all the weird and wonderful foods on offer.

Everything is pre-packaged here – this is a cryovaced omelette!

And this is a sandwich with the crusts cut off and sealed around the edges, like a jaffle.

Then there’s this……

Balanced Food. Calorie Mate. Block.

IMG_4871

We snacked happily on the little packets of seaweed that we stole from the buffet breakfast at the hotel.

IMG_4888

And to the Bullet Train we go.

IMG_4877

Our rail passes were organised by our fabulous travel agent – Lyn Tyson, who is awesome and you should totally call her if you plan to do any travelling!  So, I wasn’t aware of the different classes on the train.

We were in the Green Class…

But as I am travelling with a senior, I think we should have automatically been upgraded to  “Gran” class.

Even in Japan, it seems all roads lead back home to Geraldton!

IMG_4892

I still can’t believe how much open space there is in Japan.  The train on this Takayama line goes through all manner of farms and land and rural housing and mountains.

And….. welcome to Takayama.  After a 4.5 minute walk from the station we arrived at the Hidahanasatonoyu Takayama Ouan (this is our hotel)

To more traditional beds on the floor.  It’s a little bit like a youth hostel with loads of bus tour groups checking in and out throughout the day.

IMG_4901

But, when the weather cleared up (we’d had our first rain on the trip besides one 10 minute downpour in Tokyo) we were going to have a spectacular view of the snow capped mountains.

IMG_4904

Hopefully tomorrow Jen…..

IMG_4902

Need to do some work?  You don’t really need much more room than this, do you?

IMG_4903

This hotel is also a spa with onsen and private baths.  You’re not allowed to take photos up there, but they are on the top floor, open aired and all look out to the mountains.

The ‘do’s and don’ts’ sign was hilarious!

IMG_4905

But, this one was my favourite.

IMG_4906

Dinner, included at the hotel was the cook it yourself variety plus the all the tempura and rice  you could eat at the buffet.

This is Japanese miso paste that is being heated up on a leaf, then you cooked your veggies and wafer thin meat and dipped it in the miso – She was delish!

IMG_4907

Closed, sorry we’re

One the way back to the hotel and we stopped outside a shrine, as you do, for a coffee from this little van where the lovely man was peddling alcoholic coffees and then just next to him was a table lined with litre bottles of sake that were there for free tastings!

IMG_4798

I’m not sure that was entirely appropriate for the entrance to a shrine, but there you have it!

We decided to take the back streets to stay off the main drag and we’re not sure if it was just because it was a Sunday or if people just don’t come outside…. but it was like a ghost town.

(besides this one chap who made it into this picture)

IMG_4814

But the old buildings were lovely to see.

Much more interesting than these monstrosities – I still think the police should be called!

There was plenty of room for parking….. We wondered if this person just parked there and then painted around the moped?

IMG_4829

This was such a gorgeous gate and entrance into the park.  When I saw Jenny sitting there, it reminded me of the picture of Princess Di in front of the Taj Mahal…..

IMG_4818

So when I said, “You look like Lady Di”, she did this…..

IMG_4819

Taking the back streets also allowed us to see some of the old architecture that they’ve left alone, even though it is all being swallowed up by these awful looking buildings behind it.

IMG_4837

And we saw this little antique shop/cafe which was now open, but still had this sign out the front….. owned by Yoda maybe?

IMG_4845

But Wait! There’s More…

All throughout the park, naturally there are gift shops and snack places, etc…. and I found an awesome gift for just about anybody – ninja stars!  Who doesn’t love a good ninja star?

IMG_4704

Here are some more lovely scenes from the Kenrokuen Gardens

One of my favourite things to do on tour is getting Me Jenny to post – even when she doesn’t know she’s doing it.

I had instructed Jenny to do an Adriana Xenides from The Wheel of Fortune…

Adriana-Xenides-420x0

RIP Adriana – The best gameshow host ever!

… and the ladies to the left of Jenny on the bridge are clearly staring and thinking ‘Why is this woman standing here with her hand out like that?’  The friend on the left has finally spotted me and the the penny drops.

IMG_4722

This was the most amazing tree – It is either  growing wildly and they are just trying to help it, or they are training it – ‘bonsai’ style with the aid of these poles.  Either way, its awesome.

Then we found this one tree that has grown on a slight angle and they have gone to all manner of lengths to keep it from falling over….

IMG_4740

….. not like the tree in Greenough, Western Australia – there’s nothing holding that thing up.  They make ’em tough back home! (although admittedly, it has already hit the ground)

Unknown.jpeg

Borrowed from Google Images – fstoplounge.com

There were so many people there, but none stand out more than the cute kiddies, unless of course you are wearing your robe out, you are a giant anime character, you’re dressed in your beautiful kimono or you have Japan’s best mullet!

 

Sakura!

After last night’s find in the park, we knew exactly where were headed today and we also knew that we weren’t going to get back on the bus.  We meandered our way through the back streets and found this lovely antique shop/cafe along with some lovely little makeshift gardens outside front doors.

Then we came across the Onicho Markets – fresh seafood, veggies and restaurants.

Smoked fish anyone?

IMG_4633

We picked up a cup of strawberries (and two sticks to eat them with) and we were on our way to the park.

Please strap yourself in for cherry blossom overload.

Again – we invited a few friends along with us for the day….

IMG_4665

But a few hundred people didn’t stop Jenny from seeing every single one of those trees!

IMG_4667

People were all getting ready for their ‘hanami’ – the Japanese word for sitting under the cherry trees and having a picnic – we were sitting on a bench and two gentlemen asked to share our seat.  Then the first gentleman, who spoke excellent English asked us where were from and if we minded if they ate their food.  “or course not” was our reply.  Then they asked if we would mind if they had a drink. “of course not” was our reply.  Then he clarified that it would be beer that they would be drinking, because you know – Hanami – just in case that was the deciding factor… and I realised that he didn’t really understand where we came from!

He had been to Australia three times.  He was a professor of physical education and his friend was a policeman, who was very high up (probably worked on the 7th floor) and was also a 6th dan in Judo.  At first our friend told us he was a 5th dan, but his silent friend whacked him on the arm said ‘6!”

He shared his dried squid with us and then we left them too it.

IMG_4668

Where’s Me Jenny?

IMG_4672

Taking a selfie here does not put you out of place – AT ALL!

IMG_4685

Nor does wearing your robe!

IMG_4687IMG_4638

Honestly – tell me who’s prettier?  I just can’t decide!

IMG_4646

As we were walking along this lovely, open park – with the plenty of room, we noticed that there was man very close behind us – almost ghosting except for the sound of his slappy shoes.  So we slowed right down and he had to slide sideways to get around us – I’ll just repeat here that we were in a very open park with plenty of room, then he stepped sideways in front of us as if he had a specific path to follow and we were just in his way!

IMG_4647

Cherry blossoms at the castle.

IMG_4649

And here’s Me Jenny walking without moving her arms.  I wasn’t sure why, but I just asked her and she said, “Because that’s how the Japanese walk – perhaps because there isn’t much room.”

Funny!

IMG_4657

So there you have it!  Our reason for coming to Japan – to see the Sakura.  We were panicking a bit back in Tokyo as everyone kept saying we are too early and it is too cold, so if we don’t see another blossom this trip – it will be ok, because we have takin in our fill today.

Well done Kanazawa!

IMG_4663

Welcome Kanazawa

We were given a very warm welcome at the Kanazawa train station – the big dome behind the entrance is called  “Motenashi (Welcome) Dome,” which looks like a huge umbrella.  It’s meant to welcome new visitors and offer safe passage to people leaving.

DSC01588

How cool is this?  It’s a fountain!

DSC01589

DSC01591

DSC01592

So we found our hotel and checked in with the lovely lady at reception told us that we had a wonderful room with a view of the “Japan Ocean”.

IMG_4847

We poured through the tourist information to see what was on offer in this lovely, petite city and found what looked like an awesome ‘tour’ of sorts – I say that because it wasn’t actually a tour, it was a hop on/hop off night bus that went on a special route around the city to include a whole lot of buildings lit up at night – they called it the Light Up Bus.

eng_icon_jokamachi_left

We asked at the service counter for suggestions whether it was good or not and the reply was a resounding “of course!” – ok, that was our night planned.  Woohoo!

So, before we went on what promised to be an amazing ‘tour’ we popped outside the hotel to get a grasp of our surroundings and just around the corner, we came across this:

IMG_4294

CHERRY BLOSSOMS!

IMG_4298

Or as the Japanese call them – Sakura!

IMG_4300

These trees were in a playground that was attached to what looked like a shrine, and this sign was out the front – it apparently says “No Fireworks”.  Who knows what goes on here?

IMG_4303

These lovely, kimono wearing ladies were just there taking selfies, cause why not?

IMG_4307

Then they had somewhere they needed to be….. hate to be all dressed and nowhere to go!

IMG_4311

Then back to our hotel to plan our evening when we came across this – in the little room where you can get ice and there’s sometimes a vending machine was a pay TV machine, where you pay for TV channels in your room.  Really, they could surely fork out to give you a couple of channels, couldn’t they?

IMG_4317

So, the evening was planned and down to the station we popped to hop on the Light Up Bus with about 14 million other tourists.  They squeezed so many people on that we were all standing in the aisle, meaning that we couldn’t see out the windows and not only that, the lights on the bus were on, meaning you couldn’t see the lights outside…… not only that, a lot of the buildings were a fair walk away from the bus stop.  So we jumped off at the one place we really wanted to see – the Kanazawa Castle and as soon as we got off the bus, look what we saw….

You know it’s cherry blossoms, right?

IMG_4325

Me Jenny was very excited!

IMG_4326

They were all lit up and were just gorgeous!

IMG_4603

This is one of the gates to the Kanazawa Castle, which again was full of cherry blossoms.

IMG_4604

And….. we weren’t the only people there.

IMG_4605

They have food stalls all up and down the streets, mainly cooking anything you can put on a stick and these little biscuit things with a bean paste inside.  Honestly, if you can possibly use bean paste in a food, they do it!

IMG_4608

This guys were tossing a few squid around the barbie….. then probably smearing them with bean paste.

IMG_4610

Not sure what these were, but there was an egg involved and you guessed it, bean paste (I can’t confirm the use of bean paste)

IMG_4612

So, we would definitely be coming back to see these lovely blossoms in the morning.

IMG_4620

How do you get a tissue to dance?

Add a little boogie!

Unknown

Our first train ride this morning was in the unreserved section – so lots of people and I was lucky enough to sit next to the biggest guttural sniffer I’ve ever come across.  The sniffing in Japan is out of control!  I’ve done a bit of research into our cultural differences and it appears that to some Japanese people, blowing your nose in public is deemed as impolite, so sniffing is a quick fix until you are able to get somewhere private for the nose blowing. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case for all people as there are toilets on the train and my seat buddy made a conscience choice to  sniff as if he were grinding coffee in this nostrils.

0d8575121ec4a726b152038490d83d3a

These should be made available at every 7-11!

Anyway….. the conductor came to look at our tickets and we realised that instead of getting off at the next stop and waiting an hour for our next train, that we could actually stay on this train and go all the way through…… we decided to get off the train.

20130713-082136

So with our hour wait at Kiso-Fukushima we crossed the road from the station to the row of little shops and had a gohei-mochi and a coffee – Now this was a new way of ordering that we hadn’t come across before.  Thank goodness there were instructions in English!

IMG_4240

IMG_4242

Look how tiny our cases are – we still haven’t purchased anything!

You use the ticket ordering machine, put your money in and press the buttons for what you want, then hand the tickets to a lady at the ordering counter who then gives you a number, then you sit and wait until your number is called and she hands you a tray, then when you are finished you must clean up your table and take the tray to the ‘cleaning’ area.

IMG_4243

IMG_4244

Then back to the station for our next train journey – we had reserved seats for this train, so a much less crowded carriage, only 6 people and 4 of the were foreigners and no sniffers!

IMG_4248

I watched the train drivers swap over and there is a real ceremony to it.  The incoming drivers – there are two of them, stand side on to the train, one behind the other with their brief cases on the ground by their side.  Then the outgoing main driver steps out and faces the incoming driver.  They salut each other and bow and then both reach down into their briefcase and pull out a clipboard.  They talk and tick a few boxes, then they salut and bow again then they pick up their briefcases and Mr Outgoing walks off and Mr Incoming and his offsider step onto the train.  They all wear a very smart uniform, white gloves and their train driver hat – which looks like a pilot’s hat – now that’s what I call a difference in culture. It was so lovely to watch, but can you imagine this sort of shenanigans going on in Australia?

IMG_4251

As we have travelled around, we are quite certain that their should be some sort in enquiry into the state of the architecture here.  There are some old buildings, but then right next to them are newer, but still old buildings that were possibly designed by Mike Brady.  They all look a bit like this…

IMG_4253

I’m finding it difficult to decide whether I should just be appreciating a different way of life or calling the police!

We passed a fair bit of terrain that look like this – wide open spaces surrounded by snow capped mountains.  There’s millions of people that live in Japan, but they obviously only live in the cities, because there is a LOT of space, but not a lot of people.

Our last train ride of the day was on the Shinkansen Bullet Train!  There was a lot of excitement in the air.  At a cool 320kms per hour, we managed to traverse half the country in about an hour and a half.

Japan-500-shinkansen-train

It would have been shorter, but we had to make a left hand turn once we reached the west coast and that took some slowing down.

A Japanese Feast

After the buffet style debacle last night, we opted for the traditional Japanese dining room.  We were shown to a little private room with one of those tables where you sit on the floor, but there’s a hole under the table for your legs which was very comfy, but made for much amusement when getting up.

We had about 8 courses of different Japanese dishes, one of which we cooked ourselves on the little burner which I quite enjoyed.  We talked about getting a couple to take home, but then decided that they would probably just end up in the cupboard with the Vietnamese cooking implements that we just had to purchase after our cooking safari there, and then never used!

There were some foods we recognised and many that we didn’t, but we tried everything.  Our waiter told us that the little bamboo sheet under the meat was “Only for decoration. “Please do not cook”. We heard him tell the people in the next room as well,  so obviously somewhere along the line, somebody has cooked and tried to eat it!