Picturesque Village in the Mountains – Shirakawa-go

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Driving from Kanazawa to Takayama we stopped by the lovely village of Shirakawa-go.  Shirakawa-go is a designated UNESCO World Heritage and a must see if you are in the Takayama area.

Before arriving at the village, we stopped at the top at the observation point where we were thrilled to see the lovely view of the village layout and the surrounding mountains. We went in autumn so the leaves had well and truly started to turn, making the whole scene very picturesque.

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Upon arrival we crossed over the suspension bridge from the parking lot (outside the village), across a beautiful river to the torii gate which marks the village’s entrance.

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The initial streets are filled with souvenir shops as well as full of tourist. We wandered down this street before taking a turn at the end and walked towards the less crowded areas of the village to experience calm.

 

 

The village is famous for its traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old. Gassho-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 is designed to withstand the large amounts of heavy snow that falls in the region during winter. The roofs, made without nails, provided a large attic space used for cultivating silkworms. Shirakawa-go is a unique site and unlike any other area we visited in Japan. Some of the villagers make silk, so they grow the silkworms and then spin the cocoons into silk thread and make fabric.

 

 

We entered some of the houses to see what life is like here.  Generally, the living area is on the ground floor and the upper floors are devoted to work.

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The village is pretty much closed off over the winter when the snow comes so we were delighted to see it before winter hit. I would imagine it will be very beautiful in December when the houses are all covered by snow

A stunning location surrounded by views within a beautiful landscape.  The houses and gardens are lovely. The main street running through this small town has all the facilities, toilets, shops and places to eat.

 

 

Leisurely walking through Shirakawa-go Village was a step back in time;  there are still people living in the gassho-zukuri farmhouses.

I definitely recommend a visit to The Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go,  I am sure you won’t be disappointed.

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Beautiful Lake Surrounded by Woods and Mountains

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After leaving Tokyo we drove to the national park region of Hakone which is about 97 kilometres from Tokyo. Our drive through the most scenic countryside included several stops along the way.

I can see why for the locals this is such a popular weekend getaway from Tokyo. This onsen town with its great views of Mt Fuji, (on a clear day) and diverse landscape has so much to see, do and offer. Certainly taking the train would be a much better option than driving and far more relaxing. After taking the bullet train while I was in Japan this would definitely be my preferred option.

We stopped at Lake Ashi, which is a scenic lake in the crater of Mount Hakone and is famous for its views of Mt Fuji. However, Mt Fuji was covered in clouds while we were there. In fact it was quite an overcast and rainy day but the weather did not take from the beautiful scenery around the lake. The lake’s shores are mostly undeveloped except for small towns in the east and north and a couple of lakeside resort hotels.

We took a sightseeing cruise on Lake Ashi, and enjoyed the peaceful autumn scenery. Lake Ashi itself is lovely. It is a caldera lake which is surrounded by steep mountains that are thickly wooded. The air was fresh and cool. The water was calm and very clean and the surrounding areas looked fabulous.

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Torii Gate to the Hakone Shrine

A number of pleasure boats and ferries traverse the lake, providing scenic views for tourists and passengers. Several of the boats on the lake are inspired by the design of western warships.

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The picturesque forested region surrounding Lake Ashi has been popular for hikers and sightseers for centuries.

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We had time to spend in the gift shop at the boat and ferry terminal which worked out well as they have a great variety of gifts and goodies, including souvenirs, wooden charms, candies, cookies etc. The packaging of the cookies and candies is exquisite. Many of these items looked like they were exclusive to the Hakone area. I was able to purchase several nice gifts to take back to Australia.

The boats operating the trips are very impressive and the views across the lake, the woodland and the magnificent properties along the lake’s shore made for a great trip.

A Little Taste of “Old” Japan in this Vibrant Neighbourhood.

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The Asakusa neighbourhood, famous for the Senso-ji, Buddhist temple, is one of the most popular sightseeing areas in Tokyo. Asakusa offers the sights, sounds and smells of old, historical Tokyo like nowhere else in the metropolis.

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One of the wonderful things about Japan is the contrast of the rich tapestry of the past with the great modernity of Tokyo. In some ways though, especially around the temple, Asakusa does the opposite and contrasts modernity. It is impossible to gain any real understanding of Japan without understanding that the existence of Buddhism and Shintoism side by side have shaped the country. In many ways Japan is neither really ‘Eastern’ or really ‘Western’ and Asakusa shows us clearly that elements of both coexist and create a culture which is both complex and distinctive

Asakusa is not just for visitors, but it is also for the locals and offers many shops and stalls, places to rest and many great eating places.

We slowly made our way down to the Senso-ji temple. Here you can visit one of the many good luck stalls to see what your future holds. The costs range from 100 to 300 yen (about $2-$4 AUD). You put your yen in and then shake the tumbler until a chop stick falls out. On it will be a number and you match it to a draw. Once you read your fortune you fold your paper and tie it to the stand.

We walked up to the temple to a smoking urn, where we leaned in to wave the fumes over our head to improve our health then walked over to the next section which is where you wash your hands. Finally we walked up the stairs and to place some coins into the stand to make a wish.

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On the approach to Senso-ji is Nakamise Shopping Street, a centuries-old promenade of shops selling traditional snacks and souvenirs like kimonos and bottles of saké. The streets zigzag with different stalls and artisan shops.

We spent hours walking around the shops and stalls, and then the temple with its grounds. There are garden areas with stone tablets with Buddhist writings carved into them, some are 7′ tall and many small and interesting statues with the history posted next to them. There are several peaceful places of beauty to sit and just enjoy being there.

For me Asakusa is a small representation of Tokyo. It encapsulates Tokyo’s transformation from old to modern. As well it also encapsulates the Japanese culture as this place is where you can find festivals, foods, markets and of course history and traditions and all within a few blocks. A must visit also if you are looking for authentic Japanese Souvenirs and Mementos. It was great shopping.

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Residential Part of Asakusa

Life is still very much lived on the streets of Asakusa. A visit to this part of Tokyo is essential to get a glimmer of understanding this wonderful country.

A very lively place.

An Oasis of Calm in Tokyo – Meiji Jingu Shrine

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Only a short coach ride from our hotel in Shinigawa was the breathtakingly beautiful Shinto Shrine, Meiji Jingu. Located in a 170 acre forest of 100,000 trees, in the heart of Tokyo, this shrine, constructed of cypress wood and copper is dedicated to the souls of the Emperor Shoken and Empress Shoken. This very historic shrine is important to the history of Tokyo.

The parking for coaches is located on the outside of the grounds and it was then quite a long walk to the shrine itself. Along the path to the shrine I enjoyed the rows of brightly decorated sake barrels. Upon reaching the shrine, we were greeted by another large gate and a wall of wishes. This area is very busy but as soon as you walk through the gate, onto the tree lined path, it feels as if you have been transported out of the city.

I was grateful that we had a guide with us who was able to tell us about the history and traditions of the shrine so we could understand the full experience. She explained some of the traditions and the need to be respectful at all times. She taught us the correct way to wash our hands at the entrance before entering the grounds.

Located in a large forested park, the shrine offers a place of refuge from the bustling city. The massive gates, simple side buildings, and the shrine itself are great examples of Japanese architecture. The buildings are decorated with intricate woodwork and carvings. The shrine sits at one end of a large courtyard with a large gate building at the other end.

For train travel, this gem in the heart of Tokyo is an easy walk from the metro train station. I believe it is only a short walk from Harajuku station to the shrine.

We were very fortunate on the day we were there to see a traditional wedding ceremony. It was very elegant, beautiful and spiritual. We asked permission to take photos which they gracefully allowed. Actually they were quite happy to pose for photos.

This oasis of green can almost make you forget that you are in the midst of busy Tokyo. The beautiful trees surrounding this shrine make it truly a place of tranquillity.

My Wonderful Trip to Japan

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Nothing could have prepared me for this exquisite and pristine country  with the most humble, gracious and polite people I have ever encountered.

We flew into Tokyo from Brisbane and after staying for 4 nights in this city, we made our way south zig zagging across the island of Honshu towards Osaka.  Our main places visited include: Tokyo, Nikko, Mt Fuji, Kawaguchiko, Matsumoto, Jigokudani, Nagano, Takayama, Shirakawago, Kanazawa, Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima

This timeless country is a place where ancient traditions are fused with modern life as if it is totally natural. Japan, with its beautiful natural landscape from mystical mountains to dramatic coastlines and everything in between enthralled us each and every day.  We visited temples, shrines, castles, onsens (natural hot springs baths), gardens and had the pleasure of shopping in many amazing towns and cities.

On the surface, Japan appears exceedingly modern, but travelling around we experienced numerous opportunities to connect with the country’s traditional culture. This place of many faces, left us feeling at times as though we were in a modern city anywhere in the world, then we were in  old towns with structures many hundreds of years old and then we were out in the country in an area that looked like it could have been Switzerland.

We enjoyed the food and soon learned that each area usually have their own specialised dishes. Wherever you are in Japan, you are never far from a great meal with small restaurants everywhere. Although we were tourists/visitors to this amazing country we always managed to find places to eat where the locals were eating. We enjoyed some wonderful experiences. In the Dotonbori area of Osaka, we were introduced to the ordering of meals using a vending machine. The vending machines (similar to cigarette vending machines) are placed near the entrance of the restaurant. With the help of pictures, we chose our meal, inserted out money and received our receipt. Then proceeded in to the tiny restaurant where we were seated at a bench and enjoyed our meal with fellow diners. It is such an efficient and different way of ordering. There is no exchange of money with any staff and your meal is ready very quickly. A really great experience. This was one of many unique and wonderful experiences during our time here.

A few more photos to share with you.

Castles

 

Gardens

 

Shrines

 

Temples

 

My 17 days in this timeless country was far beyond any of my expectations, it was insanely exceptional.

PS Sorry there are no photos of the Onsen.

Till next time

Sayanara

Snapshot of Hiroshima

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From Osaka, we took the bullet train and after about 90 mins, we arrived in Hiroshima. This is such a great way to travel. It is almost better than flying with much more leg room, comfortable seats, great views and you can walk around easily and often.

Visiting Miyajima Island was one of the highlights of my trip so far. The island is simply beautiful and the weather so perfect.

Miyajima Island

A-Bomb Dome, Hiroshima Peace Park

Shukkeien Gardens

Just a little fun sign

Until next time

Sayanara from Japan

Hello Again from Japan

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We have now arrived in Osaka after travelling through many interesting and wonderful towns. Japan is an exquisite country, with friendly gracious folks and fabulous food. The cities are large and modern and the regional areas are picturesque and so very serene.

I will have so many stories to share with you but in the meantime here are a few more photos.

Higashiyama District Kyoto

Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park

Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion

Heian jingu shinto shrine and gardens

Himeji Castle “White Heron” This Unesco complex is an example of the largest surviving traditional Japanese castle

Sika Deer at Nara Park

Out for the day wearing her pearls

Until next time

Sayanara from Japan

Carnival of Flowers – Toowoomba

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It was only about an hour and a half drive to Toowoomba from Brisbane.  Toowoomba (nicknamed The Garden City) is a city in the Darling Downs region of Queensland about 125 k’s west from Brisbane by road. The Darling Downs is a farming region on the western slopes of the Great Dividing Mountain range.

Annually this garden city puts on a spectacular garden show called the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers.  Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers is a cultural party featuring a floral parade, local food and produce, regional wine, entertainment and all things spring.  Toowoomba is a beautiful city all year round but especially during Carnival of Flowers.

 

Our first stop was at the top of the range at picnic point where we stopped for morning tea. The views from picnic point looking east are outstanding.

Laurel bank park

From Picnic point we drove to Laurel Bank park. All the gardens around Toowoomba are beautiful in September for Carnival of Flowers, but Laurel Bank Park is one of my favourites, and is a must see. We always make sure that we go up the viewing platform for the best photos and to really see the theme of the gardens each year.

 

 

We wandered throughout the magnificent gardens taking in the diverse array of flowers, colour and design.

 

The beds were covered with mixtures of flowers that provided colour, levels and designs with each being unique in their own way.
The wisteria arch was covered with flowers and the scent within the tunnel was amazing.

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The gardens are offset by the range of topiary items scattered throughout the park.

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All the parks and gardens around the area are spectacular and the resident’s gardens are just as good. We visited 3 of the private winning gardens which were fabulous. It was just astounding to  see  the amount of effort put into these gardens and an absolute pleasure to meet some of their creators.

 

 

 

Toowoomba shines in September. The generosity of the home gardeners to open their gates and share their gardening secrets to the world is wonderful. The impressive public parks and gardens make for a complete picture of spring. The colours of spring bring the city to life with a sense of community seeing visitors from all nations share picnics and fun in the parks and gardens. A Big thank you to the gardeners of the Garden City in Spring.

Elegant Arcade Dressed up for Spring.

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This was such a lovely way to catch up with a friend who was visiting Brisbane from Perth, WA. We met in the city at the Queen St entrance to the arcade. Brisbane Arcade is a heritage-listed shopping arcade located in the Queen Street Mall in Brisbane city.

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Brisbane’s oldest and grandest shopping Arcade has been wowing crowds with its annual Spring Flower Show since 2014 and this year’s theme is a whimsical Spring Fair wonderland of carousel horses, cake displays, vintage bicycles overloaded in colourful blooms and sweet surprises.

This beautiful old building which was built in 1923, is one of the city’s oldest shopping destinations. A stroll through Brisbane Arcade is a romantic step back in time. The arcade retains wonderfully preserved woodwork, leadlight windows and Terazzo floors and balustrades. The petite stores are mainly stocked with locally produced goods and unique artisan items.

After admiring the elegant floral displays we stopped for a Devonshire tea at the Room for Roses cafe. This beautifully presented cafe on the first floor of the Arcade offers a mixed menu with many French style delicacies and of course the very popular Devonshire teas with pots of Real tea. The cafe appeared to be very popular, tastefully decorated and offering a unique experience but be prepared to pay for it.

If you like the finer things in life the Brisbane Arcade is the place to shop; just looking around will make you feel special.

This cool and graceful arcade is well worth a visit anytime of the year.