Where we've been: Hakone, Kyoto, Uji, Nara, and Osaka
Our newest member of the crew, Kimono Monchichi! She rode the speed train too!
Last I left you we were traveling from Tokyo to Hakone, Japan. It's a beautiful mountain town in Mt. Fuji national park. Unfortunately we didn't get to see Mt. Fuji because of some autumn rain and clouds. We did however eat some delicious fresh seafood (caught that day by the restaurant owner) as we passed by the coast on our way from Tokyo.
We then went to the Hakone Open Air Museum which was a fabulous sculpture garden and indoor museums.
There was art from world famous artists (like Picasso and Miro) as well as Japanese artists.
Fay enjoyed the interactive art installation for kids. It was the first playground we found in Japan so she was hooked!
Next stop was the Ryokan or traditional style Japanese hotel where we would stay the night (although I could've stayed a week there!).
Everyone who stays there gets a set of pajamas that you wear to the Onsen or natural hot springs. It was so nice to warm up on a rainy day in some peaceful indoor and outdoor pools. Plus the onsite restaurant has a traditional 5 course dinner and yummy breakfast that were delectable! This is definitely a bucket list experience if you ever are in Japan!
Each deck outside of the hotel rooms had their own bath tub to soak in as well. It was probably my favorite place to stay and be in nature. I didn't want to leave but the next day we were taking on Kyoto!
We took the high speed Shinkansen train that goes from Odwawra station to Kyoto in just about 2 hours. Driving would take 6 hours. But at 200 mph, you get there in light speed.
Our hotel was across from the train station and we had the afternoon free. So we checked out a nearby park that had an aquarium, a playground, and a music festival going on. It was very cool to get a taste of the real Kyoto and not just the super touristy places which we'd see tomorrow.
The Kyoto aquarium had examples of the Giant Salamander from the area which can be up to 5 ft long! I had no idea this creature existed.
Or that sand eels are real and not just from the movie Beetlejuice.
The next day our wonderful guide, Yoshiko, met us at the hotel and began our journey via buses and trains around Kyoto. She has a daughter Fay's age and brought presents of origami and Japanese candies for her. It was so sweet!
We started our adventures at the Bamboo forest right outside of Kyoto in Arashiyama. It was a gorgeous and peaceful place when you got into the forest and away from all the people taking selfies.
The Kimonos in the Bamboo forest were really cool to see. In the olden days, people would escape the city life and enjoy some peace and quiet in the forest.
Next we trooped around Nijo castle, made by the first Shogun of Japan. It was very cool to see the architecture and learn about the Shoguns and the emperors from the 1600's until present time.
There were a lot of rickshaws pulled by people. It looked like hard work especially uphill!
Then we walked down some of Kyoto's most famous streets- Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zakka. This area was what I imagined when I dreamed of Kyoto.
The houses were so beautiful! Although most are now full of souvenir shops and cafes (and even Starbucks made it there ;().
To end the day we went to the Nishiki Market. Its the largest traditional Japanese food market known as "Kyoto's Kitchen".
We even tried sea urchin! Not sure what the hype was about but they were ok, Fay was not a fan. She stuck to her cucumbers and shrimp skewers. After such a long day, we crashed in our tiny hotel rooms and dreamt of new adventures!
The next day we were picked up and driven to Byodoin, which has a historic temple house from the Heian Era and is surrounded by a beautiful garden.
The temple has what's called the Phoenix hall in the middle with a rather large and sacred Buddha which we got to see up close. It was spectacular. The hall is featured on the 10 yen coin.
Next we went to Uji where Matcha tea and much of the green tea in Japan is from- my personal mecca! We got to do a traditional tea ceremony! The tea is very bitter so they give you something sweet to eat before drinking it. They even made Fay's less strong and she really enjoyed the tea and the whole experience.
The Sado (way of the tea) was so particular and beautiful. The wonderful local women took us through each step of the matcha tea brewing process then let us do it on our own.
The experience was one of my favorites and I hope to continue it when I'm home. I bought some matcha to brew when we return to the US so come on over!
After all that work we stopped at an Udon noodle place that was very tasty. Each meal we have has been so well made with delicious sides and healthy foods.
When we were done filling our bellies, we headed to Nara Park and the Todaji Temple. It had an enormous Buddha and two bodhisattvas on either side which seems to be the tradition in Japan.
Outside of the temple, there are lots of deer which are thought to be sacred and that you can feed. Vendors sell special crackers formulated for them and the deer are very smart and know when you buy some. When I got the crackers, one deer was carefully watching me and came up from behind and nibbled on my bottom trying to encourage me to feed it. I squealed loudly! Everyone laughed and David helped shoo it away, like a Shogun knight.
After that interaction, we were able to feed them without getting bit but I was much more careful. You hold a cracker up, they bow their heads, then you give them a cracker and show them that your hands are empty. It was a fun experience! Fay loved being able to interact with animals.
Last stop in Nara Park was the most celebrated shrine, Kasuga Taisha. It's full of 1,000s of golden lanterns and is dedicated to the deity responsible for the protection of the city of Nara.
One of the rooms in the shrine is pitch black and they light the lanterns as if it were nighttime. It was pure magic!
After the long day of touring, we headed for Osaka, our last city in Japan. We had a blast exploring on our own for a few days. Highlights include:
Playing at the Osaka Kids Plaza. Some favorite hits were playing with bubbles.
Dressing up in a traditional Korean Hanbok.
And becoming TEAM SPARKLE!
At night, we visited Dotonbori street which is all lit up and features the Glico man!
We rode a fun (but terrifying!) Ferris wheel over the canal by Dotonbori.
And finally got to sing Karaoke in Japan!
We had such a good time in Japan and wished it could've lasted longer. But we all figure we'll come back some day have more adventures, as long as we follow the cultural rules.
Like everyone has to stand on one square while waiting for the train and waits patiently for others to exit the train. They are a very orderly country.
Onward to Korea! We'll see what's it's like in comparison!
(NOTE: My sister is a photographer and took many of the pictures I've been posting. I want to make sure to give image credit to Maja Saphir ;)