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.

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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.

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