Fascinating Location in Lovely Kyoto

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We set off early from the hotel on the shuttle bus to the district of Gion, Kytoto’s most famous geisha district, located around Shijo Avenue. This area is filled with shops, restaurants and ochaya (teahouses).

It is here among the teahouses and private clubs that you can catch a glimpse of a geisha in full dress including white makeup. We were very fortunate to see a Geisha, who was very “clandestinely” hurrying along the sidewalk, almost as if she was hoping not to be noticed. Seeing a genuine Geisha is quite unlikely especially during the day.

We explored this fabulously maintained district for quite some time just following our noses until we accidentally ended up in the Higashiyama District. This definitely was one of my highlights in Japan.

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The Higashiyama District is one of the Kyoto’s best preserved historic districts. It is a great place to experience traditional old Kyoto, where the narrow lanes, wooden buildings and traditional merchant shops invoke a feeling of the old capital city. The streets in Higashiyama are lined by small shops, cafes and restaurants which have been catering to tourists and pilgrims for centuries. These businesses retain their traditional design, although many have been renovated through the years, and they continue to serve customers today, selling local specialties such as Kiyomizu-yaki pottery, sweets, pickles, crafts and other souvenirs.

While the walk through the Higashiyama District between Kiyomizudera and Yasaka Shrine is only about two kilometers long we spent most of the day in the area, visiting the various temples, shrines, shops and cafes along the way. And, I could easily return and spend longer experiencing this fabulous area.

After hours of exploring, shopping, eating, and taking photos we reached the popular Kiyomizudera Temple.

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There are a couple of streets leading up to Kiyomizudera temple that are worth exploring on your way there or back. They are historical streets with paved lanes and old wooden merchant houses. These lanes are filled with small shops selling souvenirs, Kyoto handicrafts and food items.

We arrived early that morning to find it very quiet with not too many people around however, later towards lunch time the streets, shops and shrines were packed. I definitely recommend getting there early if possible.

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Delectable Experience in a Japanese Department Store.

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Every day while I was in Japan, I went from one amazing place to another amazing place. Whether it was a shrine, temple, castle, park or in this case a department store.

My first experience with the Japanese department stores was in Tokyo. After a long day out exploring we were happy to have a snack in our hotel room rather than go out to dinner. This is when we discovered the food hall in the department store close by to our hotel. We bought some amazing freshly prepared meals to take away. The selection is vast and the food is interesting and so beautifully prepared and presented. It would be quite easy to buy these meals on a regular basis and in fact I would not be surprised if this is a regular way of eating in Japan. These meals are unlike the prepared packaged meals that we can buy here in Australia.

As we travelled through Japan we realised that these fabulous food halls in the department stores are in all the big cities.

While we were staying in Osaka we went to the underground to the Osaka Train station many times. The elevator in our hotel went directly down to the underground making it ever so easy. There were hundreds of shops and restaurants in this area and this is where I discovered Hanshin Department Store.

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Hanshin Department Store is best known for the incredible variety of food and drink available in the basement food hall.

I thoroughly enjoyed walking around enjoying the colour and bustle and nibbling or sipping the free samples. Viewing all the Japanese sweets, pickled vegetables, assorted tea varieties, and beautifully packaged bento box lunches gave me a short education in Japanese cuisine. There are also bakeries selling delicate cakes and pastries and popular snack stores selling rice crackers with various savoury flavours. Particularly well-known are the “ikayaki” squid pancakes, an Osaka specialty something like a crepe.

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This entire floor offers delectable delights including coffees, teas, pastries, candies, chocolates, pickles, sushi and world class, flawlessly perfect, fresh fruit and even smoothies. And, so much more.

In the drinks section I found a range of local sake rice wine, shochuspirits, Western style wines and spirits, and a pretty good selection of regional craft beers.

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Here in this food hall you will find a wide variety of food and drink, all of which is impeccably packaged and displayed. This is where I purchased several of my gifts to take back to Australia including some pretty amazing coffee.

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Of course there are many other departments in this wonderful store but it was the colourful, interesting and exciting food hall that won my attention.

The Japanese understand quality and this store is no exception, it is upscale, impeccably clean and well staffed. Nobody speaks English and that isn’t a problem at all. Courteous service is the rule.

Photographers Dream in this Timeless Garden

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We were at the Peace Memorial park when we heard about this beautiful garden so we grabbed a cab and headed over to Shukkeien Gardens.

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After the peace park, Hiroshima’s Shukkei-en Garden is an oasis of peace and tranquility and one of this famous city’s little-known treasures. Once the home of Emperor Meiji, the gardens were opened to the public in 1940, and, despite being badly damaged by the nuclear attack of 1945, were completely restored and reopened in 1951.

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Shukkeien Garden is about a 10 minute walk from Hiroshima Castle. The name Shukkeien apparently means “shrunken-scenery garden” and the idea is to represent through miniaturization the beauty of nature such as mountains, forests, valleys, lakes etc.

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There is a main bridge that runs across a lake and divides the garden in two. Walking around was so pleasant; everywhere was something scenic including tea houses, bridges, turtles, birds, etc. There are suggested routes around the garden which helped us to better appreciate its beauty. The entire garden is connected by a path which winds around the pond at the centre of the garden with plenty of signs. The path passes through all of Shukkeien’s various miniaturized sceneries. Following this path around the garden is the best way to enjoy Shukkeien

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The beautiful, almost artificial vibrantly coloured flowers set against the backdrop of multi coloured autumnal plumage is almost surreal. It was such an explosion of vivid imagery with arching bridges and secret stone pathways leading to hidden treasure. Cascading waterfalls provide the perfect tone for this quiet space creating a zone of peace, wonder and utter amazement that such beauty exists after the shocking exposure to the destruction at the peace memorial park.

The lake in the middle is filled with koi and turtles that follow you around and come to the shore looking for a handout. One of the prettiest parks I ever visited. Each corner brought to perfection… the way nature intended.

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This serene garden that survived a great tragedy is beautiful and compact; however, it also bears testimony to the tragedy that befell Hiroshima. It has a leaning ginkgo tree which is the only tree that survived the tragedy. There is also a monument to victims of the A-bomb where remains were recovered as recently as 1987.

 

 

The calm and beauty of the garden was a wonderful relief after the Peace Park, which is important to see, but brings into focus the horrors of war. There is also a small coffee shop here, but the garden is really about beauty. I would definitely spend time here. It is also free with ID if you are over 65.

 

 

Set in the midst of a buzzing metropolis and high rising buildings, this time-out space is a must see. The leaves were changing for Autumn which made it a photographers dream.

Moments of Reflection and Peace in this Beautiful Park.

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We took the bullet train from Osaka to Hiroshima. This is such a wonderful way to travel, certainly as good as flying if not better.  Once arriving in Hiroshima our first place to visit was  the Peace Memorial Park.  Our hotel was right by the main train station so it was easy to take the local tram from the station over to the park.

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Hiroshima Peace Memorial in the centre of Hiroshima, is dedicated to the legacy of Hiroshima, the first city in the world to suffer a nuclear attack, and,  to the memories of the bomb’s direct and indirect victims.  Visiting Hiroshima is a sobering experience when one considers the devastation that was wrought in August 1945. The fact that the site is now a vibrant city is a credit to the Japanese people. Hiroshima Peace Park is a very tranquil area which provokes thoughts and memories of the devastation caused by the atomic bomb.

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In Peace Park you can see various sites related to the atomic bomb. Before the bombing, the area where the park is located today served as the political and commercial centre of the city. That is why this area was chosen for bombing. Four years after the disaster, they decided not to rebuild the buildings, but to turn the area into a peace park; a park in memory of the 70,000 people killed directly by the bombing and tens of thousands of people who were killed the following year as a result of its effects, a total of 160,000 people. Here you will also find one of the only buildings left in the park after the bomb was dropped on the city. The building is now called A-Bomb Dome which is now  on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

20190211_140703Beautiful and serene, the park definitely has a significant role to play in the hoping for world peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons from the world while reflecting on the history and not repeating it again. It is a wonderful place just to walk around with so many features including the Children’s Memorial, the Cenotaph, the reflecting pool and eternal flame, the Peace Bell that you can ring, the Peace Clock that strikes at 8.15 every morning, signifying the time when the bomb detonated, the Memorial to the bomb victims and many statues and fountains. It is a gorgeous park with the river flowing along one side and the Atomic Dome on the other side that can be reached via the Aioi Bridge.

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The Japanese people are very determined and the result of the post-war is proof of this. They rebuilt the country on the basis of education and culture. This park in Hiroshima, despite the historical sadness it carries, also brings much to us about the new Japanese era.

Vivacious and Exciting – Dotonbori

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I loved this place. It was crowded and colourful.

Dotonbori is the bright heart of Osaka running along the Dōtonbori canal from Dōtonboribashi Bridge to Nipponbashi Bridge.

Dotonbori is a popular place for tourists looking for great street food with a good variety. For the food lover this is a perfect place to be.

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Dotonbori is great for shopping and for cheap eats. We were there from late morning to late afternoon but if we wanted to experience the whole district we could have been there for much longer. We loved exploring the little lane ways where it was much quieter with many quaint little local restaurants.

We arrived at Dotonbori and found our way to the canal where the well known neon sign (Glico man etc) can be seen. If you stay long enough and stare at Glico running man, you will see that he is actually running and running and running from day to night to day to night. It is crowded but the pedestrian traffic is smooth.

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We stopped for lunch at one of the many noodles restaurants in Dotonbori. This was my first experience of ordering food via a vending machine. Possibly or probably, Japan is the capital of vending machines in the world. Many ramen, soba and udon restaurants in Japan often have vending machines where you have to buy tickets before taking seats. At first I was not sure if I could use the machine, however one of the staff from the restaurant came out to help us. I soon realised that it is a great method. The ordering process was so efficient, it certainly prevents customers leaving without paying and the staff do not need to deal with money at all. They can concentrate on the cooking and serving.

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Before we put our money into the machine, we chose which meal we wanted. There were pictures for all meals.

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After we purchased our tickets we went inside and handed them to a staff member who advised the kitchen staff of our orders and showed us to our seats which were at a long bench. It was tiny inside but everything was clean and efficient. I noticed that there were baskets placed on the benches with 5 raw eggs in each which diners could add to their noodle dishes if they wished. We took our seats and sat back and waited for our meals to come. I ordered the Pork ramen which was the best noodles I have ever eaten.

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It was a tremendous experience which I could recommend.

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Dotonbori is a must for any traveller looking for good food in Japan. This is a canal district that has many restaurants serving staples like takoyaki, ramen, sushi, etc. There is a fair bit of shopping, also, but definitely the food is your true aim. It is very crowded and vibrant here but not to be missed when you are in Osaka.

Magical Japanese Island – with wild deer, oysters, temples and Torii Gate

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My visit to Hiroshima was one of the highlights of my trip to Japan, especially to Itsukushima Island which is popularly known as Miyajima Island. As soon as I stepped from the ferry to the island I knew it was my happy place.

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We arrived to the ferry terminal by coach however it is easy enough to take the train from Hiroshima station to Miyajimaguchi station which takes about 30 mins. Then onto the ferry which takes about 10 mins across to Miyajima Island. It was 10 mins of stunning beauty on a perfect day.  As the ferry approached Miyajima Island, the great floating Torii came into sight…and what a beautiful sight it is.

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Miyajima Island is one of the most scenic spots in Japan. It is a romantic and historical island where the Ituskushima Shrine, a World Heritage site, is located, along with many preserved shrines, temples and historical monuments.

The island originally takes its name because of Itsukushima shrine and subsequently Miyajima which literally means Shrine Island.

The floating torii was the entrance gate for this shrine, once accessed by boat directly to the shrines own pier. The shrine is, of course, very much an icon of Japan. At low tide you can walk out to its base.
The historic Torii Gate sits mystically on the sea.  The floating Torii gate is one of the most popular photo attractions in Japan,

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I had seen pictures of Miyajima but nothing could quite prepare me for the beauty of the actual experience. As we approached the gate from the shore, walking along the tourist shops and gently fighting off the perpetually hungry deer we were transfixed by the astonishing magnificence of the site. It is one of the world’s greatest spiritual artistic achievements

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A visit to Miyajima provides many pleasures, cultural, religious, scenic, enjoyment of the “wild” deer on the island, beach time, hiking, eating, shopping, and tram/ropeway

The island is small yet magical with temples, pagodas, shrines and many nature tracks you can visit. The temples, pagodas, and shrines are lovely. The place is very special  –  you can easily spend the whole day there, or stay over and enjoy everything at your leisure.

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There are loads of white tail deer around the island; you will see them outside the ferry terminal when you first arrive and along the way to the torii shrine and temples.  Although they are wild, they are tame and friendly. It reminded me of the Nara Deer park.

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Hiroshima is famous for oysters so of course we had to stop and try them along the way. Also, many of the restaurants serve oysters.

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I totally loved our visit to this little island filled with history and beauty – the natural scenery and architecture together creates such an amazing blend of peace and tranquility.  In contrast to the emotionally fraught experience of Hiroshima, it’s a tranquil and necessary balance

What a magnificent day on this sacred Island.

A Leisurely Morning at the Markets interacting with the Locals

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I loved my experience in this market along the river.

There are 2 morning markets in Takayama. One is held in front of the Takayama Jinya, and the other at the Miyagawa River side. We went to both.

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At the Miyagawa market, there are many shops and stalls open in approximately 350 meters from Kaji bashi Bridge to Yayoi bashi Bridge along the Miyagawa River which is in the centre of the town.

 

The shops open their doors and the other vendors set up their spots on the street. Located on the side of the river bank, the morning market is held from about 7 till noon and provides an opportunity to view, and even sample.  The stands sell local crafts, souvenirs, snacks and farm products such as vegetables, pickles, flowers and so much more. The goods are displayed in a tidy and eye catching way. The merchants are not pushy. And, there is No trash in sight as is usual in Japan.

We so enjoyed the morning market. What a treat, we were able to sample many different types of food and also had some great treats along the way from the food vendors. It was a very nice walking pace and it took about 1.5 hours to go through the market. It was such an enjoyable atmosphere sauntering from stall to stall alongside the locals, purchasing and sampling different foods and talking with the vendors.  The stall holders were obviously used to tourists and were keen to answer any questions which we put to them via our guide.

 

We stopped for a Sake sampling at an old Sake Brewery which was towards the far end of the river side markets.  Although I have had sake on several occasions I was never aware of the so very many varieties and tastes that are available. I guess like wine in a way. There were a few I tasted that I really did enjoy.

 

All of this, while following the banks of a beautifully clean, flowing river. The river is so clean that huge koi are in abundance, alongside ducks and even the odd crane.

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This was a great way to spend a morning in Takayama

 

 

A Lovely Walk in the Forest but no Monkeys

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The area is lovely, the walk was a pleasure but alas there were no monkeys when we visited Snow Monkey Park.

However this is what we could have seen if the monkeys were in fact out and about. These are photos I took of the posters in the park.

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There are two approaches to the Monkey Park: one requires a 25-40 minute walk through the forest, while the other requires a 10-15 minute walk from the nearest parking lot.

The hike up was absolutely breathtaking. We enjoyed the beautiful walk up the hill to the monkey park, which took about 30 mins. It was such a refreshing change to be amongst the beautiful forest and plain natural beauty.

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Although the park is open all year round, the bathing monkeys are particularly photogenic when the area is covered in snow. There is usually snow in the region from December to March, and the best timing for a visit is January and February.

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Located near the base of the Joshinestu Kogen National Park, the Jigokudani Yaen Koen (otherwise known as the Snow Monkey Park) is home to a very special troop of monkeys.
The Snow Monkey Park is a unique place where you can observe the wild monkeys going about their daily lives including the unique behaviour of bathing in onsens (natural hot springs).

The park has one man-made pool around which the monkeys gather, located a few minutes walk from the park entrance where there is a small information centre with information mostly in Japanese, souvenirs and lots of photos.

So, although there were no monkeys on the day we visited, it was still a wonderful experience walking in the lovely natural forest where the monkeys live their interesting and unique lives. I have read many stories by folks who did in fact see the monkeys on their visits which only encourages me to return some day so I can really get to live the experience.

Christmas in Brisbane 2018

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Our annual visit in to Brisbane city at Christmas time has become a very fine tradition.

Once again we took the bus in to Southbank and then rode the city cat down the Brisbane River towards the mouth. We alighted at Teneriffe where we stopped at one of the many popular cafes for dinner.

Once it was dark, we were back on to the city cat and we travelled back up the river to enjoy the city lights and the Christmas lights on the many bridges. My favourite is always the iconic Story Bridge however this year, it was one colour only, Red. I guess if you are to choose a single colour for Christmas, red is a pretty good choice.

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We left the city cat at North Quay and walked through the city taking in all the magic of the Christmas lights displays, till we finally arrived at King George Square where our Brisbane City Hall is and Brisbane’s towering 20m tall Christmas tree

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With its enchanting narrative and creative flair, The City Hall Lights has fast become a highlight of the festive season. We watched a playful Aussie Christmas tale with an international flair come to life via animation onto City Hall. This 15-minute, custom-designed Christmas story is projected onto City Hall nightly from 7.30pm until midnight from 7-24 December.

2 nights later we took the train in to Roma Street Parklands in Brisbane city to spend the evening at the Enchanted Gardens for the ultimate Christmas light experience.

Commencing near ‘Queensland Greats’, we wandered through shimmering gardens, delicately-lit weeping figs, twinkling rainforest, and to a tranquil lake where we enjoyed a light dinner from one of the many food truck eats.

The Enchanted Garden’s beautiful plants are delicate, so we were asked to keep to the paths and refrain from touching while we enjoyed the beautiful displays. The planning of it was so well done making it so easy for us to experience and enjoy it all.

There were many special points throughout the garden for us to take photos.

It was Truly a Magical Evening.

I would like to wish you and your family a magical and blissful festive season. Have a happy Christmas and a wonderful 2019, from Lyn, in Brisbane Australia.

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.