Welcome to part 2 of my travel blog to Japan. For the first part, you can click here.
Day 4. Kanazawa
Today we took the train to Kanazawa. It was the first time we used the bullet train (Shinkansen) to go to another city (the JR ticket train is for tourists only and a must have if you want to travel in Japan). On the platform, it said ‘reserved’, which we found weird. Was this the right train or not? We took it anyway hoping for the best. Apparently, we should have taken the next train, because this one had reserved seats only. My friend had looked it up before online but she hadn’t read anything about it. Anyway, the train conductor asked us to follow him (through a mostly empty train) to take other seats, which I assume were not reserved. Again, we literally don’t speak the same language so I’m just guessing here. We did not get a fine for sitting at the wrong place or kicked out of the train, so that was a win.
In Kanazawa, it was our lucky day because they had their 66th annual festival called the Hyakumangoku Festival. It had a parade, people dancing on the streets etc.
Had the greatest sweet/bun thing called daifuku with chestnuts and beans at the fish market. If you see it, try it. Really delicious. As I said, there was a festival so there were stands everywhere and I wanted to taste about everything. Had anko, which is a red bean paste dessert, ate pickled cucumber with a hot sauce and much more. Really, I could visit Japan again just to sample more food.
Daifuku. A must try! You can find it at a stand at the fish market.
They really have the most amazing things in Japan. This guy sat before me when I was watching the festival. Notice the pin on his hat to keep it from floating away with a breeze? I got one for free when I bought a hat at the market 🙂 (no, I didn’t use it because it seems weird, still it’s amazing someone actually thought of it).
Day 5: Kanazawa.
We visited Kenrokuen garden which is considered to be one of the most beautiful 3 gardens in Japan. Here you can find the oldest fountain in Japan.
Because of the festival, they held a special Tea ceremony in the park. It was a 30 minutes ceremony of which you sit for 20 minutes (I did some bowing and maybe prayed to a tea god, not sure-again, nobody spoke English). Got only 1 cup of matcha tea-which I did not like. Too bitter for my taste. This was not at all what I expected from a Japanese tea ceremony, but I read that a real ceremony could literally take all day. All. Day. The tea ceremony lady was very friendly though and directed us with gestures as what to do.
Yup, I had ice made of gold. They had a theme here of gold in food. Btw, it was nice and you don’t actually taste gold.
We also went to the ninja temple Myouryuji aka Ninja-dera, where they had a harakiri/seppuku room. It’s called the ninja temple but no actual ninjas lived there, samurai did. Worth the visit.
Day 6/7/8/9. Kyoto.
My favorite city during this trip; Kyoto! Our hotel was a walking distance from the Higashi Honganji temple. Worth the visit, also it’s almost impossible not to spot it, being close to the station.
Tip: as soon as you leave the train, go to tourist information at the station. That’s where we found folders on the Geisha tour and bamboo forest.
At night we had a Gion (geisha) tour with Yuki in the suburbs.
Did you know?
- Japanese don’t use the word ‘geisha’.
- A Maiko = a geisha in training.
- A Gaiko = a professional geisha.
- Geisha prostitution is forbidden by law (it’s NOT like in “Memoirs of a Geisha”).
- No tea is being served at a Geisha tea house (who knew?).
- The hourly rate of a geisha is about 1,000 dollars. The more popular they are, the higher the rate.
- Geishas have their own rock, paper, scissors. It’s called samurai, tiger, old lady.
- Maikos are aged between 15 and 20. Despite the drinking age of 20, maikos are allowed to drink, since it is part of their services entertaining guests.
- Maikos are not allowed to have cell phones.
- The 100% silk costumes of geishas weigh about 10 kilos!
- People walking around in kimonos are tourists, not Japanese people in traditional clothing. They just rent the costumes. The exception on this is geishas with white painted faces (if you are lucky enough to spot one) or without paint on their faces. Couldn’t spot one, but our guide could tell. They are a rare species by the way.
We had a really great guide and I would highly recommend taking his tour. I also learned from him to NOT visit ground floor restaurants but eat at restaurants that are on upper and lower floors. According to him, if a-for example 4th floor restaurant-can still make it despite being not so visible, it’s because the food is good.
The sign “don’t touch the geisha” came to life after a tourist ripped the kimono off a maiko.
We visited Gion again to see it during the day. Had the best Indian food for lunch ever. Also visited Nijo-jo castle. Went to the Kiyomuzu-dera shrine which was crowded with people. Kiyomuzu Zaka street is a street in old Japanese style and packed with tourists, but certainly worth the visit.
We stayed at a traditional style hotel in Kyoto, which meant it had a public bath. And public bath here means men and women are separated and in the nude. I usually don’t do the nude thing, but we were pondering what do to in the changing room and an old lady saw us with our towels and said “nude!” Which was probably the only English she spoke because she kept repeating it until we were, yeah, nude before we stepped into the bath. When in Rome…
Today we bought a day bus ticket. We should have done that 2 days ago, so learn from my mistake and do this at your arrival in Kyoto. We went to see 2 shrines. First the Golden Pavilion. People were throwing money at the three Buddhas. It was very crowded, even on a rainy day. Not much else to see except for the pavilion. Spent about 15/20 minutes, mostly because it was pouring and I was cold. Then we went to the Silver temple. The temple didn’t have a wow factor, but I did like the beautiful garden.
Since it was still raining we went into Gion and ended up in a department store. Bought something foamy and black paint soap (yeah, I’m a sucker for salespeople). Saw the food market and had Indian food again. After Japanese breakfast and lunch, it’s nice to mix things up.
Also something very Japanese are the restaurant windows that have fake food samples like the ones above. They even sell plastic ones in shops. It’s a great concept actually; this way you see exactly what’s on the menu.
Day 8 was Bamboo forest day I was really looking forward to. Our guide was a lovely lady named Noriko from the Kyoto Sagano Walk. I absolutely recommend them. We were lucky that day because there were only two of us and our guide, so it was practically a private tour.
Note: do not try/ask to tip your guide. She will not accept it and I think it is considered a big no-no in Japanese culture.
After a few days without eating running sushi, we were in the mood again. Noriko recommended Musashi restaurant at the Shinkansen exit (Kyoto station). It was so so good and affordable.
Our last stop was the best shrine ever: Fushimi Inari. You can not leave Kyoto without visiting this shrine, famous for its orange torii gates.
Day 10: Hiroshima.
Went to the memorial museum, saw the A-bomb dome and the Children’s Peace Monument. Chills went down my spine at seeing all the horrific things people can do to each other. It’s a must visit when in Hiroshima.
From here we took the tram to Miyajima island, which is famous for the shrine in the water. It was about a 50-minute tram ride. With the JR line pass, the ferry to the island is free. I loved it here, and it’s pretty cool to see deer walking around.
Day 11/12: Osaka
Our hotel wasn’t far from the famous Dotonbori. We walked through it on our way to Osaka castle and its gardens. The gardens had a 1,50 entrance fee but were a total letdown. It’s like any other European park without the tea house. Not worth paying for.
Had a late breakfast on day 2 in Ishi bashi. It was a huge pile with pancakes and ice. Yes, ice. Didn’t know that, until I saw it. Ice cream is very popular in Japan, You can even have it at breakfast in some hotels or from a vending machine in the middle of the street. Hmm, maybe breakfast at a waffle and pancake place wasn’t the way to go. It was delicious though.
I went to visit Dotonbori and area. I also happened to stumble upon the matcha Kit Kat my niece had requested from Japan. Yay! Also had running sushi, yes again. Looove the scallop sushi.
Went to Hard rock cafe at night. No live music unfortunately but they did have Freddy and MJ.
Day 13: Tokyo
Back to Tokyo and time for souvenir shopping! Not really for myself, mind you, but for the people back home. You know how it goes. I bought sushi socks, a hot-cold mug with toriis and a Kimmi Doll ‘believe’. I chose for the doll with this theme because I’ve sold my first pre-orders for The Amazon and the Beast during this trip. Yay!
As I told before we had made reservations for the Ninja restaurant and tonight was the night. The interior of the restaurant is really great, it’s like an ancient Japanese village from a movie. The food was okay, the service great, it was more of an experience, kind of pricey. I think especially kids will love it though.
Day 14: Tokyo
Our last day. Boo. We had breakfast at a coffee tent. Finally found a place with yogurt and muesli (really, rice balls in the morning get old after day 2). Went to Oyibara souvenir place. Nice crafts but nothing I was looking for.
So after 2 weeks, I had to say goodbye to one of the greatest travel experiences of my life.
I can cross Japan off my bucket-list, but definitely, want to return someday!
So, next up: a road trip to Western USA!