Friday, 30 May 2014

Extra: Day Eighteen - Osaka

For our final day in Japan we headed to Osaka.

The weather was lovely and we were greeted by heat and sunshine as we stepped off the train.

We took a short walk Osaka Aquarium (Kaiyukan) and spent the morning checking out the Seals, Dolphins, Rays, Otters and lots of fish! Their main attraction is a Whale Shark, however she was currently elsewhere undergoing a medical examination - which was probably a good thing, I can't picture how something so big would have manged to fit in the main tank.

Once again the place was overrun with small children being lead by their teachers. They seemed to be colour coded, with each age range wearing a white t-shirt and a different coloured hat.

Afterwards we checked out the indoor market and then took some time to laze in the sun on the waterfront.

Eventually we headed to Kansai Airport where we toasted the end of our holiday with white wine, then began packing for the long flight home.

It's been such a lovely holiday.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Extra: Day Seventeen - Shopping

This evening we decided to head to Kyoto's market district.

We had forwarded our bags to Osaka yesterday planning to travel light, however we both brought a lot of stuff due to knowing our holiday would soon be at an end.

I brought a cute glass with pink bunnies on, lots of sweets to bring in to work and a pokemon flannel.

Hayley really stocked up! My favourite purchase being a giant cuddly seal; that's going to make packing interesting!

We also accidentially wandered into the game arcade, a place called GamePanic, which was an appropriate name seeing as Hayley was concerned a lurking man would swoop in and snag tbe prize she'd been working on!

Eventually she won her Hello Kitty tissue box and I managed to win myself a couple of cute, plastic cat 'doughnuts'.

We also had a final venture into the photo booth to round off the trip!

Extra: Day Seventeen - Arashiyama

We took a trip to Arashiyama today.

We had this on our list because we had seen photos of the bamboo groves and decided it looked like a peaceful walk. However once we had finally navigated our wsy to the groves they weren't as dense of peaceful as we had been lead to believe!

There were plenty of people visiting and although the bamboo was very pretty, we kept havong to dodge out of the way of cars that were taking the same path.

We did a little shopping and we both purchased some pretty art pieces to take home.

In the end we headed back early and decided to spend our evening in Kyoto.

Extra: Day Sixteen - Nara

We arrived in Nara a bit later than planned due to the length of the Maiko dressing up experience.

Once we reached Nara we heading along tbe streets towards Nara Park, aiming for Todaiji Temple as our destination.

It was an extremely hot day and although most of the paths only had a few people, once we reached Todaiji it appeared that every school kid in Japan had come to see it!

We took the long walk through the park surrounded by (often over friendly) deer and by the time we reached the temple it had just gone 5pm. At the top of the street a man ushered us down telling us that the temple closed at 5:30!

We rushed down - doing a great job of dodging and weaving all the school trips who had also decided to leave it until the last minute.

Finally we arrived and spent the last twenty minutes admiring the enormous Buddha statue - truly a sight to behold!

We were exhausted after that, so we caught a taxi back to the station.

Extra: Day Sixteen - Maiko experience

Today we headed to YumeYakata studios for a Maiko photo session.

Firstly we had to undress and put on a type of gown. Then we were ushed to a bathroom to wash. Our hair was pulled up and out of the way. Next we sat in front of mirrors as the make up artists applied what felt like wax over our faces before adding thick white foundation over our face, neck and shoulders. They applied make up to our eyes and lips next.

Once the make up was done we were fitted for kimonos. This took a great deal of time as dressing involved many layers and they had to wrap us up tight to give the kimonos the best fit.

Eventually we were fitted with wigs and told to pick our hair accessories.

Next came the photo shoot. A talented grouo of young women prodded us into poses with instructions like 'move your head like this... Just a little!!'

We both came away with fond memories and three photos each.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Extra: Day Fifteen - The Arts

Today was a very relaxed day. Our first appointment was with the Roketsu Dying place at 10am.

Once we arrived we were shown all the equiptment and picked out simple designs to have a go.

To start you have to apply melted wax with a brush in the design of your choice, tracing it on to fabric with the aid of a light box.

One layer makes the lines come up faded, two layers keeps the background white.

Once this is done you have to suit up in aprons and gloves to stir and dunk the fabric into the dye for fifteen minutes. The more you stir the more cracks will appear in your design, this gives it an intresting look!

They are then left to change colour once oxygen reaches them, before the wax is boiled off and the material washed.

It's then dried and iron so you can take it home!

In the afternoon we took part in a tea ceremony with another couple of travelers (from Switzerland!) and learnt the art of tea preperation.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Extra: Day Thirteen - Shopping

We left Yokohama bright and early to head back to Tokyo.

Without our tour leader we were armed with only our booklet, a handful of Japanese words, pointing guestures and our street smarts to navigate.

It took us a little bit of time but we got there in the end! It's moments like these that allow you to truly appreciate having a guide to get you on the right path.

Today we had two locations to visit: Akihabara and Harajuku. The former is the electronics and manga capital of Tokyo which I was very excited about. Then Harajuku which is the youth and fashion capital, which Hayley was looking forward to.

Once I had dragged Hayley into several model anime character shops and truly tested her patience, it was time to head to Harajuku.

The closest comparison I have for Takeshita Dori is that it has the same sort of vibe as Camden Town. Lots of funky clothes shops as well as teenagers sporting intrestingly dyed hair.

We regressed back to our childhood a bit and brought ourselves Tamagotchis.

Tour Day Twelve - Goodbyes

Tonight was our final night as a tour group. Some of us are staying on longer but most are all ready to fly home.

It was a great final meal, the food was excellent and myself and Hayley accidentially ordered glowing cocktails.

We toasted each other and then presented our tour guide with thanks for all his hard work - he was brilliant, not only did we get to locations (almost) hassle free, but he was always willing to offer a helping hand with smaller tasks;  aiding us on and off of trains when our bags became a bit too heavy! So a special thanks to Alain Sabourin and all the wonderful people we travelled with for making the tour a great part of our holiday.

Heres hoping we can keep in touch.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Tour Day Twelve - Yokohama

As soon as we stepped off the train and reached the streets of Yokohama I was buzzed. This place has been on my bucket list for a while.

We dropped our bags at the hotel and went exploring.

As Yokohama is right on the waterfront the weather was both warm and windy, making the stroll a pleasant change from some of the muggier places. It was even better with icecream!

We visited a pokemon shop and ghibli store inside the base of Landmark Tower, and I also snuck in ten minutes at a manga shop.

After a bit of gentle nudging I was convinced to swallow my fears and venture up to the 69th floor of Landmark Tower Observatory in the worlds fastest elevator.

I'm so glad I did, the views from the top were incredible and it was very surreal to find a cafe that high up!

Tour Day Twelve - Golden Pavillion

This morning we left the Ryokan at 8:30 and caught a bus across Kyoto to visit the Golden Pavillion.

Unfortunately even this early on a Saturday the place was crawling with schoolchildren.

We lit wish candles and left them on a shrine, then stocked up on trinkets.

Luckily we managed to get a few good shots before heading to our next destination.

Tour Day Eleven - Nightlife

In the evening we went back to the 'English Pub' with Andy and Frank. We shared some drinks (baileys chocolate milkshake is far too tasty) and the guys were tempted into drinking a 'Tarantula' cocktail and one that was blacked out on the menu, known only as 'X'.

After inquiring at the bar we discovered that X was a mixture of whatever different spirits the bartender currently felt like putting together. Only one of us was brave enough to try it!

Tour Day Eleven - Nijo Castle

After the Inari shrine we headed by bus to Nijo-jo to look around the castle grounds. There were some beautiful gardens and we had to take our shoes off to look around inside.

Afterwards our little group headed for lunch and then split up to do some independent shopping. I brought a fancy new suitcase!

Hayley and myself found a photobooth that allowed us to strike poses and then alter them by drawing all over them.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Tour Day Eleven - Inari Shrine

Today the group split for a 'free day'. There's so much to see in Kyoto that there would be no way to please everyone.

First thing in the morning a bunch of us hopped on the train to go see the famous Inari Shrine.

This shrine has fox guardians and hundreds or orange tori gates.

It was a great atmosphere and by going first thing I think we missed the main rush!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Tour Day Ten - Gion

Today we headed to Kyoto.

We began our tour by looking around the Geisha districts and the Kodai-Ji Temple along with it's lovely gardens.

We stopped for dinner and had Chicken Hot Pot cooked at our table. Although it wasn't really our kind of thing it was an interesting experience.

Tonight we went out to an 'English' Pub with some of our group. We drank cocktails and beers while chatting.

It's sad to think we only have a couple of days of their company left.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Tour Day Nine - Kurashiki

Today we travelled to Kurashiki by train.

Our tour leader organised a three hour bike ride for any group members who fancied a go.

Not being big fans of bike riding we opted to take today as a 'free' day instead and do some exploring.

We went for a walk through Kurashiki old district and sought out the small Natural History Museum, the Art Gallery and the Toy Museum.

We struggled to find anywhere for lunch as the area was more expensive than most we have visited and the menus not as diverse. This was also the first time we have really hit a language barrier during our stay - most places only had Japanese menus with no pictures and we were not brave enough to order blindly!

We did manage to find a nice little italian place for dinner though.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Hiroshima by Night

Tour Day Eight - Miyajima

This afternoon was marred by the rain, which began as we were catching a train to the ferry port and hasn't stopped since.

Miyajima Island is famous for its floating Tori gate and even it the rain it was a beautiful sight!

The island is home to many 'wild' deer that roam the streets and will eat out of you hand. As long as they are treated peacefully they'll even let you scratch their heads!

We ventured part way up the steep hillside to visit Daishoin Temple. There we found plenty of jizo statues wearing hats along with several Buddhist momuments.

Tour Day Eight - Peace Museum

This morning was spent comtemplating Hiroshima's history.

The Peace Museum is a very humbling experience and well worth a visit if you want to learn more about the A bomb attack.

Even our normally chatty and jokey group were hushed and reserved while we walked around the displays.

One thing I found particulary eerie was the A bomb clock; this showed the number of days since the Hiroshima attack (25,124) and beneath it the number of days since the last Nuclear test (250).

Tour Day Seven - Okonomiyaki

Tonight our tour leader booked us in for a local speciality: Okonomiyaki.

As we discovered, Okonomiyaki is a sort of 'as you like it' style pancake made from vegetables, egg and pork.

The food was cooked in front of us and made to each of our specifications; Hayley ordered the basic (cabbage, pork, beansprouts and egg), where as I ordered mine as a basic plus Udon noodle base.

Some of the rest of the group had toppings such as onion, cheese or even shrimp!

As the 'pancakes' were made we all wondered how we'd ever be able to eat such a mountain of food, but I think we all managed!

Monday, 19 May 2014

Tour Day Seven - Hiroshima Peace Park

Today we travelled to the city of Hiroshima.

A rather somber day of our tour, we took an hour or so to learn the history of the A bomb attack and see the devestation that followed.

Our tour guide lead us on a short, respectful walk around the gardens and talked to us about what had happened.

As well as seeing the famous dome, we also took some time visiting the surrounding monuments, including the paper crane displays sent from around the world to honor the children whos lives were lost.

It was a touching afternoon.