Monthly Archives: March 2016

Lost In Japan: Day 11 – Tsukiji to Akihabara via Odaiba

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

Our first full day exploring Japan and the first half hour is spent getting lost in Shinjuku station. For the busiest station in the world (3 million+ use it every day) it is a labyrinth. The trouble being that you have multiple companies operating multiple lines and not all of Shinjuku station actually links up underground. If, like us, you are not entirely sure which entrance to use for a particular line it can be a nightmare.

We eventually find the right part of the station and make it to our first destination just before 10.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 52/100Sight: Tsukiji Market
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Position: #141

It’s a Saturday at the biggest wholesale market in the world. Even though all the bluefin tuna auctions have finished hours ago and a number of fish have already been shipped out, it is still a hub of activity.

When you arrive to Tsukiji Market the first section you come across will either be the fruit and vegetable markets or the many restaurants (mostly sushi) that surround the main market. In order to see any fish you need to follow your nose and delve deeper so you get closer to the port itself.

It means having to duck and weave around pick up trucks and motorised trolleys, but it’s worth it when you make it inside.

Never have I ever seen so many varieties of fish and shellfish in one place before. I may have seen whale meat, but I am not so sure.

Being a follower of the 1001 Foods book, I was spotting a lot of list food including red snapper, razor clams and geoducks (pictured). So many cases of the “if only” and “what ifs” were going through my mind.

After being nearly run over for the seventh time we made an exit from the market, passing a lot of buckets containing fish remnants. This is truly not a place to go if you are squeamish about dead fish.

Breakfast was, of course, sushi! Places right next to the market fill up obscenely fast, but don’t worry there will be another bunch around the next corner. Most of these are small, so you are able to sit at the counter and watch the chef expertly slice and dice you fish.

The sushi we had will probably forever remain the freshest that I have ever had. The maki rolls (not pictured) and the tuna were exceptional.

The next place we went to, Odaiba, was a choice of the husband. I think the main reason he wanted to go was so he could ride the futuristic looking Yurikamome Line there and back.

Compared to the crowds and the closely packed tall buildings of Shunjuku, Odaiba present a very very different side of Toyko. Everything is a lot more spread out and, in the case of the Dream Bridge leading to Ariake, quiet.

Of course there are a lot of big malls on this island. Having been in Japan for nearly two weeks I continue to be amazed by the number of huge department stores and malls they have. During our time in Odaiba we went to two of them. The second one, Palette Town, was not particularly interesting other than the large Ferris wheel they had.

More interesting was Decks. In here there are major attractions such as Madame Tussaud’s, a Lego Discovery Centre and a Sega Joypolis (which we did not go to since we will be going to a different one later). However I was more interested in…

The Takoyaki (fried octopus ball) Museum! Which isn’t an actual museum, more a place to take cute pictures, buy Takoyaki based souvenirs and to eat a variety of Takoyaki.

List item: Play on a pinball machine
Status: Completed

One of the cooler features of Decks is how a lot of it is set up like the souvenir stalls you would find by the sea. They also had areas filled with games such as whack-a-mole and a number of old pinball machines. How could we not give the Super Mario Pinball machine a whirl? Hubby even turned out to be pretty good at it!

By the time we left Odaiba and got to Akihibara it was getting close to 3:30 and, once again, we forgot to have lunch. So we got ourselves a snack:

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food booksFood item: Acai

Yes, I know. Burger King again. But these acai drinks aren’t exactly something you would find in the UK! Also, it made me notice that a lot of Japanese people seem to eat alone in these kind of establishments, which is rather different to the UK.

Now, if there is one word to describe Akihibara that word would be “chaos”. It is, frankly, a nuts place filled with shops selling any sort of technology you can think of.

 One of the places we went to, Yodobashi, had seven huge floors filled to the brim with pieces of tech whether it be rice cookers, player pianos, earphones or self-righting scooters. Then there was the glorious toy department!

It was the beginning of us walking around a lot of stores looking at games from any console you could think of, whilst trying to avoid the more adult games on offer (I have seen too many cartoon vulvas for one day/the rest of my life).

The last store we hit up was a quite well-known one called Super Potato. Since hubby bought me a Sega Mega Drive for my birthday (which was so sweet of him since he had to reveal to me via photos on his phone) I was on the look out for a Japanese game to go play on it.

However, we were not the only people on the look out there. There was a camera crew for a local Tokyo TV station who asked if they could interview us on camera about why we came to Akihibara. We never did see the broadcast, so I wonder if they used it at all. Still, if they did, how cool is it to say I might have been on Japanese TV.

By the time we were done in Akihibara (side note: there were so many girls in costume advertising maid cafes… all the affected higher voices got a bit disturbing) it was getting really late. So it was a trip to dump stuff at the hotel and go for dinner.


Food item: Akita Hinai-jidori Chicken

After the weirdness at the restaurant yesterday I was on a bunch of websites looking for another, hopefully more friendly, place that did this chicken. Would you know it, there was one right here in Shinjuku.

The restaurant was pretty well hidden. It didn’t help that I knew it by the romaji name instead of the characters. We were the only ones in there and the staff looked very relieved to have customers between us we ordered the 6 piece set with two extra skewers with vegetables since hubby doesn’t really like chicken.

Would you know, that this was probably the best chicken I have ever had. There was no seasoning on it apart from a bit of salt. It was just so juicy and full of flavour. Hell, even hubby really liked it! Now, one of the ways you can have this chicken is as sashimi (ie raw), but the English menu didn’t offer this.

I think that having the set of skewers actually worked out better though as I was able to sample 5 different parts. As well as the more usual breast and thigh meat here was also skin, liver and (I think) tail. The breast and tail having the best meat of the 5. How can I go back to normal chicken now!

Progress: 768/933

So, to round up the day, it was back to the hotel with today’s weird snack food. Avocado cheese crackers… I mean why not I suppose?

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Lost In Japan: Day 10 – Nikko

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

This was the day that our trusty JR Rail Pass ran out. It’s been a good friend over the last week and has given an extraordinary peace of mind when it comes to Japanese train travel. Definitely a must when we return.

So, since today is our last day we used it to venture 2 hours north of Tokyo into Nikko. It meant a Shinkansen both ways and meant that we have added two more Shinkansen route names to our talley (Nasuno on the way in and Yamabiko on the way back).

We were not about to make the same “forgetting to eat” mistake that we made on our Himeji day. So whilst hubby grabbed something that looked like a hockey puck made of rice I grabbed… yakisoba in a hog dog bun. Before you judge me, I only went for this because I saw people go nuts for it in an episode of the World God Only Knows anime.

We arrived to Nikko at around 11:30 and despite it being so close to midday the surrounding mountains were nearly all shrouded in fog.

So there I am in a t-shirt surrounded by people in jackets and gloves. In the hours before we leave Nikko it starts to get so cold that you can see your breath. My cheeks started to feel rather numb by the end of the day. In fact, they weren’t exactly full of feeling by the time we reached the Shinkyo Bridge around midday. Good thing I’m a Brit is all I can say.

The World Heritage area of Nikko is only a 30-ish minute walk from the JR station. Here there are four main temples/shrines to visit (we missed out on the Futurasan Shrine) with quite a bit of renovation activity taking place.

The first temple you come to is the Rinnoji Temple. It has been undergoing some form of restorative work since 2007 and it is not due to finish until late 2019.

Because of this it was not allowed for any pictures to be taken within the area. It did, however, afford us the opportunity to take a far closer look at some of the statues which would otherwise be behind temple regalia.

The two main statues that stood out included a large golden wood statue of a many armed Buddha figure and a series of smaller statues that represented the different signs of the Chinese zodiac. Of the series the one representing the Rooster was particularly impressive since it was the only black one and had a backdrop of rising flames.

Uniquely, this ‘work in progress’ allowed us to see what they were doing to restore the temple. Think of it as a giant 3D jigsaw where they had perfectly catalogued and piled the pieces for later construction. It was fascinating.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 51/100Sight: Tōshō-gū Shrine
Location: Nikko, Japan
Position: #374

And now the reason we came to Nikko – the Toshu-gu Shrine, the burial place of Tokugawa Ieyasu. I did little to no research about it other than where to find it, and was probably all the better for doing so.

It was all go at the shrine. School parties, a bonsai exhibition and, yes, even a wedding was happening. Added to that, there was some extensive restoration being done to one of the big gates. So, I am not entirely sure that we saw Toshu-Gu at its very best.

Still, there was plenty to admire including extensive and elaborate carvings, a huge pagoda whose top is equal in height to Tokyo SkyTree (due to the mountains elevation) and many other beautiful buildings that required the removal of shoes. But hey, I had on sensible socks today!

It also had a massive great staircase leading to the inner shrine where he is actually buried. I swear, I have seen so many more stairs on this holiday than I normally do in 6 months.

Our final religious visit of the day was the Taiyuin Temple. Interestingly its the same as the Toshu-gu Shrine, just on smaller scale. This made the appearance of near identical drum and bell towers make a lot of sense.

My favourite part of this temple had to be the four guardian statues based on Indian deities. The white one looked particularly ferocious.

Now, but the time we were done with all the temples it was approaching two. It meant that it was a bit late for us to be going to the nearby lake and sample some of the autumn leaves. So we pondered a plan over some food in a local restaurant/gift shop. After wrestling with the Nikko free wi-fi and giggling over the dysfunctional waiting staff (it appeared to be a large family) we decided to walk around a bit.

Luckily enough, there was a well signposted circular walking route in Nikko so we just followed that for the 4km it had left. In doing so we got to some really breathtaking views of the mountains, forest and river.It also lead us through the Kanmangafuchi Abyss (abyss being a synonym for gorge) where we passed a whole lot of statues wearing red hats and bibs. I later found out that some of these hats and bibs are left by parents who have lost their children and want to make sure they are safe in the next world. Seeing new every red hat in this long line really tugged at my heart.

So, a Shinkansen ride later we were back in Tokyo. It was my hope that this would be the day that I get to tick off the Akita Hinai Jidori Chicken item off of my food list. There was a place that offered this on the second floor of Tokyo Station. However, the moment we walked in everyone looked at us very confused and a cook came from behind the counter, crossed his arms saying “No” whilst quickly ushering us out. All I wanted was a piece of chicken.

Feeling hungry and dejected we went down the floors looking for food. That’s when I found…

Character Alley! I never realised this existed, but on B1F of Tokyo Station there are 10-15 stores each dedicated to either a studio (e.g. Ghibli, Jump) or to a particular franchise (e.g. Pokemon, Nijntje, Rilakkuma). When I saw the Ghibli store there was no longer any dejection, only the yearning for ALL THE THINGS!

So whilst hubby busied himself buying a location-specific Pikachu plush wearing a train driver uniform, I wandering around the Ghibli store mesmerised by all the merchandise. Should I get the gorgeous statue of the Baron from a Whisper of the Heart and The Cat Returns? The My Neighbour Totoro toilet seat cover? A Porco Rosso mug? Choices!

After making a purchase we became more in need of food. Hubby had been groaking at my Katsu Curry so I agreed to have it again when we came across San Marco. Where the chicken place kinda shattered my faith in Tokyo Station restaurants this rebuilt it completely. Who cares if I had two Katsu curries in one day! This was delicious and it looked so gorgeous with the fried vegetables acting like rice jewels!

Full and happy it was time to head back to base camp where it is now time for me to snuggle up with my new Totoro friend and rest up for tomorrow’s next adventure.

Lost In Japan: Day 9 – Hello Shinjuku

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

Yet again we are on the move. There was still so much in Kyoto that we did not get a chance to do in the two days we spent touristing about. Still, I guess that’s why I am planning trip number two for… who knows when. All I know is that Nara, Osaka and Sendai are candidate cities.

After a breakfast of rather delicious pastries from the Kyoto station (my favourite was the pesto and bacon one). 

It was all aboard the Hikari line once more (fourth time now) for our two and three-quarter hour trip to Tokyo. Apart from a woman who dropped her phone between the train and the platform. I think we had to leave her behind as well as her husband and an older couple who I am venturing were her parents. Every modern commuters worst nightmare!

Of course, we brought some bento boxes with us. It took us ages to decide on the ones we wanted (the agony of choice) but I went for pure cosmetics and got one with Mt Fuji on it. Makes sense since this this trip is meant to afford some of the best views as long as you sit on the left hand side of the train. Being saddos (or smartos) we got a later train just for this view… which sadly never materialised because it was too cloudy,

I also opted to go for some Hikaru Utada music for some of the journey. Listening to J-Pop on a bullet train? Talk about living the dream! I just wish I had a CD player to play the Hikaru Utada album I bought in Hiroshima.

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books


Food item: Umeboshi

Since this was one of the first days on this trip where I might not have been able to link back to a particular food/sight/other list item I was on the lookout for one of two foods. Luckily for me, I managed to find a dessert onigiri that contained umeboshi (pickled plum).

Hubby opted, as his dessert choice, some mochi triangles stuffed with sweet potato. I might have swapped some riceball away in order to try this.

Konichiwa Tokyo! And hello Shinjuku, the base for our remaining time in Japan. But before we explore a bit, it’s time to settle into the hotel and think about dinner.

Food item: Fugu

Before heading for Japan my mum tried to make me promise that I wouldn’t have fugu. I could not make that promise. The thing is, if something is safe enough that there is a restaurant chain (think more Prezzo than Pizza Hut) where parents feel able to bring their children… what is there to worry?

That’s pretty much my thought on the matter. So we went to Torafufu in Shinjuku (eventually, because Tripadvisor sent us the wrong way) in order to try fugu – in three different ways: sashimi, battered meat and fried skin.

When sliced for sashimi it doesn’t really taste of much. We had a soy-ponzu sauce with the fugu and you actually needed it. I have to say that it was a lot nicer deep-fried. It tasted a lot like cod cheeks/kibbeling when deep fried. Although, I have never had to contend with a deep fried pectoral fin before. The fried skin? Well there isn’t much to say other than it tasted like the salt and cayenne pepper it was seasoned with.

Progress: 766/933

After defying death it was time to explore Shinjuku… and I have to say that, as an area, it felt like Time Square on ‘shrooms. The whole place is a marvel of neon signs, huge buildings and crowds of people. I can see how it can be easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle.

We decided that we would just follow the lights. It lead us to a seven floor arcade, a 17-screen cinema that was showing Pixels (remember that film?) at 1am and so many many restaurants.IMG_2607

Now for most of this I was walking ahead like an eager-eyed child, but eventually I have hubby the reins and said he should choose the next direction. That is how was accidentally ended up in the “sex area” of Shinjuku. We found this out because a guy came up asking if we wanted beer, sex or massages. Saying no to these he got very affronted and basically yelled “well what do you want then, this is the sex area”. Now I’ve never met a purveyor of sex before, but he seemed awfully rude. I did my best not to guffaw and hubby quickly led us back out and I took the reins once more.

The long exploring and altercation with a sex salesman made us hungry again, so we broke a little rule of ours and bought a snack in Burger King. The rule being that it had to be Japan exclusive – so we got a Shogun burger, because why not.

Lost In Japan: Day 8 – Himeji

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 49/100Sight: Himeji Castle
Location: Himeji, Japan
Position: #352

I am truly counting my lucky stars here. Himeji castle has been under restoration work for about five years and has only been fully open to the public since I first booked the plane tickets back in March of 2015. As buildings go it is absolutely stunning. It is the fourth thing I have seen on this honeymoon that has been able to take my breath away (not bad considering that this is eight days in).

Standing there and admiring it/taking photos of it on my iPhone I began to think just how much this put Hiroshima castle to shame. Then again, this wasn’t completely destroyed in a nuclear blast and was camouflaged in the war… so not really a fair point of comparison.

 Now, despite it being a Wednesday in school term time I was amazed at just how busy the place was. They had already made preparations for huge queues of people and , being just before lunchtime when we made our way into the castle keep, I can imagine there were still buses full of tourists and school parties showing up.

The castle itself was actually pretty bare inside. Surprisingly so. Considering that this castle has a rather interesting history it would be prime real estate to do a bit of explaining. Then again…

With the castle being newly restored it was shoes off for everyone. Unluckily for me, and (I guess) thanks to the coin laundry, I was once again in my pink dinosaur socks in a important piece of Japanese cultural heritage. When we do another load at our Tokyo hotel I swear that I am not going to wear those when we go to see anything composed of wood.

By the time we reached the second floor do the main keep everyone was being ushered into a queue system. Since there is nothing on display in the castle I guess it makes sense that everyone is there to either say they have been inside the castle, or to take photos of some of the gorgeous views (although a lot of these are inhibited by wiring in front of windows).

If you want to learn anything about the castle and its history, then you need to head on to the west bailey buildings. In there you will find the “Long Corridor” and Cosmetic Tower. These are a lot less crowded, but a whole lot more interesting since you learn things such as the story of the well haunted by a woman who was framed for stealing an expensive plate. Also, just how close the castle was to being beyond repair if not for the rise of tourism within Japan.

It also included a video (in Japanese, obviously) that showed how they actually went about the recent restoration. It is mindboggling to consider that that actually took this castle apart as if it was some 3D jigsaw. It looks fantastic, so congratulations to everyone involved in this labour of love.

After visiting the main keep and chomping on an ice cream in the Princess Sen Peony Garden we went to the nearby Koko-en Gardens (tip: buy the combined ticket to both the castle and the gardens to save 260¥). We have see a lot of beautiful gardens in Japan already and these were definitely some of the best planned of those we have seen.

The Koko-En is divided into a number of separate smaller gardens with particular theme. All of their names were fairly literal (the “garden with a hill and pond” taking the cake somewhat) and each of them was executed with surgical precision. Almost literally. In the “flatly landscaped garden” there were four gardeners hard at work, one of whom was actually shearing the grass with a pair of oversized scissors. This really is a case of good not being good enough.

By the time we left the gardens it was 3 o’clock. Since we didn’t want to be back too early we decided to duck into the Hiroshima City Zoo. I really wished that we hadn’t. I have only seen zoos like this in documentaries. It really was a case of there being animals where it looked like they had just given up or had gone mad. The worst that we saw before I just started feeling sick and had to leave were the polar bears. Two of them just pacing back and forth on a concrete floor with little more than a bathtubs worth of water in the middle of the enclosure.

We left Himeji soon after that. I also reported the zoo to an animal charity. I may be looking at this through western eyes, but polar bears should not have to withstand a Japanese summer.

I had a major crash and fell asleep on the way back. This is why you remember to have breakfast, lunch or both. Good news though. Kyoto station is an absolute cornucopia of food. We got ourselves some takoyaki (octopus balls) and just ate them quickly because they were not, delicious and slathered with teriyaki sauce and Japanese mayonnaise.

Wills fortified, we finally went up Kyoto Tower as a way of saying goodbye to the city. It was nice up there, but I do wish that it had been open air like a lot of tall buildings in New York, or the windows were slightly taller like in the CN Tower. Still, with free binoculars and the large windows available we got a great view of Kyoto at night. Sadly, because of the reflective nature of the glass it was hard to get a picture.

Food item:  Shichimi Togarashi

After an hour back at the hotel hunger struck again. Thanks to Tripadvisor we found that there was a highly recommended ramen restaurant three blocks away. Because it was so small inside (15 seats by my count) we had to do a 20-30 minute wait. Towards the end of our wait a friendly German couple came up to us after leaving the restaurant telling us that it was worth the wait.

Well they weren’t wrong. The ramen and the gyoza that we got were gorgeous. It was also such a great atmosphere since we were all sat at the bar as this couple (probably in their early to mid 50s made all the food with such incredibly prescition. The Shichimi Togarashi comes into play because it was one of the condiments on offer alongside pepper, chilli oil and a sesame seed grinder. The Shichimi definitely gave a gentle heat to proceedings which just gave the ramen that extra oomph. I made sure to pay it forward to some other western tourists who were waiting outside by telling them that the ramen was worth it. It appeared to perk them up.

Progress: 764/933

I’ve been looking for konpeito for a bit now. I wanted just wanted to taste the sweets that the soot sprites get fed in Spirited Away. They are basically just knobbly sugar balls with some flavouring. Pretty addictive though. The green ones are easily the best because of their strong melon taste. I might see if I can get some in Tokyo to bring home.

Lost In Japan: Day 7 – Shabu Shabu and the Golden Pavilion

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

Are the Japanese worry-worts or are they just practical. This thought went through my mind during a walk to a temple when we saw four separate traffic directing personal on the same road. I mean this is a land of earthquake and typhoon after all. Then again, there have been times (like walking down through all the Inari torii gates) where I would have given my eyelashes for a handrail. I guess it’s priorities?

Anyway, I’m off track. Today was our last full day where we could explore Kyoto, so we had a number of places to try and cram in. We didn’t manage to see all the “essentials” in Kyoto as according to Tripadvisor. Then again, when you have two days to explore it is all about prioritisation and the chance to let yourself deviate from the path when you can.

We began the day back at Nishiki market. Based on the recommendation of a few nice lady in Kyoto Tower we got ourselves a bag of soy milk donuts, fresh from the fryer, for breakfast. We happily munched on these passing a number of weird looking (and in the case of the photo, moving) storefronts. A trip on the train was needed for we were going for another one of the lonely planet places.

Before heading there we stopped by the Tenryuji Temple. It was here, the large gardens where we first began to notice that some of the trees had started to change colour. Coming in mid-late October means that we are still going to miss the larger scale changing of the leaves, but the fact that everywhere is starting to look like part of a frozen timelapse makes it very beautiful.

In terms of temples and shrines, of which we have now seen an awful lot of, this is one where the attraction is clearly more the gardens than the building. I don’t mean to downplay this grand old building, but the gardens are the reason to come.
There was also this very beautiful statue that can be scene near the Shinto shrine in the complex. I think it’s a very elaborate grave marker, must have been someone important, or rich.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 48/100Sight: Arashiyama’s Bamboo Grove
Location: Kyoto, Japan
Position: #75

It’s very hard to get photos to so this justice. The bamboo is just so high and the tourists are just too plentiful. I know that this is very much a pot-kettle situation, but the swarming of tourists meant that this was probably not as magical as it could have otherwise been.

The best bit, for me, was slightly further on where they had made a clockwise waking circuit out of the bamboo. It really allowed for some of the best pictures of the bamboo forest, and was probably the most peaceful part of the forest.

Here I was able to actually appreciate just how beautiful this forest of bamboo was. Considering how quickly bamboo can grow I doubt that anything in the forest is more than a year or two old. Plus, judging from the piles of bamboo in different places, this is a forest that must undergo regular crowd control.


List item: Waste a lot of money in a Japanese arcade
Status: Completed

We took the train away from Arashiyama in order to visit the golden pavilion at Kinkakuji. However, there was a large arcade enroute to our bus stop and I was itching to go inside. Then there it was: a Tekken 7 machine. I have a long history with Tekken. I have been playing it since I was 8 and I was a major addict for the following ten years. I had to try it, a few times. The rush of beating a random stranger on my first go was probably the reason why I should be glad that arcades are dead in the UK. I would have no money left otherwise. I managed to stop and we got onto the bus to Kinkakuji.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 49/100

Sight: Kinkaku-ji
Location: Kyoto, Japan
Position: #175

It is ridiculous just how beautiful this golden pavilion is. Like pure decadent absurdity. We both spent a while trying to find the perfect picture taking location on the bank of the pond. Unlike our visit to the silver pavilion yesterday, there was no one in our immediate vicinity making Pokémon references when looking at this. Both fitting and somewhat disappointing. Unlike this pavilion which was more beautiful that I could have expected.

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books

Food items: Oyakodon and Sanuki Udon noodles

It was lunchtime, and we spotted s nice enough looking restaurant on the walk to our next temple. I, being the list fanatic, went for the daily special which was also a dish featured in the second 1001 foods book. Oyakodon (literally meaning mother and child, apparently) is basically a rice pot containing chicken and egg. It is also the last dish that hubby would have wanted in front of him. To be honest, and I think this may have been the place, but this dish wasn’t that great. Once you are done with the chicken (which was nice) all you are left with is raw egg and scrambled egg with rice. There is only so much of that you can eat before feeling bored and sick.

The sanuki udon noodles, on the other hand, were gorgeous. These I are my second favourite noodle after ho fun noodles and I really enjoyed the flatness to these sanuki types compared to other udon noodles


Food items: Matsutake and Shiso leaf

I think hubby enjoyed his meal a lot more. Since he is awesome he allowed me bites of the list items (as is, now, customary). The shiso leaf that was tempura battered on one side was interesting. The fact that it was one side only is a thing apparently, I guess it stops it from just being completely destroyed in the battering process or it is done this way for the sake of prettiness. Either way, it tasted good covered in tempura batter.

The matsutake mushroom rice that hubby had was really good. The mushroom, with its meaty flavour was not at all lost in the rice despite it being sliced up.

After out meal we stocked up on some Pepsi Ghost and arrived at the Ryoanji Temple. This temple is particularly famous for having a reiki garden with 15 stones in it. The interesting thing being that you can’t see all 15 at once unless looking at it directly above. Also, no one knows it he significance to the size and placement to these particular stones, or if there actually is any meaning. It was actually pretty soothing to be sat there contemplating these stones. Maybe that was the point all along?Now, this temple had some of the most beautiful gardens that I have seen so far in Japan. One of those things where everything seems to have been placed for a reason. It is also yet another example of a temple that uses ‘borrowed scenery’ to emphasise things. I am in love with a language that has a specific word for this.

We swung by the imperial palace gardens before heading back to the hotel. The imperial palace itself is massive! Obviously we didn’t have a tour guide so we couldn’t have seen inside it. It’s not as if they couldn’t have heard us coming if we tried to sneak in, pretty much the whole park uses gravel instead of paving stones. Poor hubby was pouring it out of the front of his shoes when we left.

Food items: Arrowhead Spinach, Shabu Shabu and Flying Fish

This is the first time where I have eaten in a top 10 restaurant according to trip advisor. Usually because a top 10 restaurant usually costs gargantuan amounts. We at at restaurant #9 – Agotsuyu Shabu Shabu Yamafuku –  and it only cost us £28. This includes a rather nice plum wine that hubby had with his meal.

The whole idea of Shabu Shabu is that you cook your food in the stock (in this case one with Nagasaki flying fish and soy milk) then when it’s done you put it in dipping sauce before eating. To cook we had some fatty strips of pork, lettuce, tofu and arrowhead spinach. The place we went to was perfect. The staff were so friendly, and one of them properly showed us how to do it. The cardinal rules being move the vegetables, but don’t move the pork.

In many ways this is like the Japanese version of a fondue, and it was one of the best meals we have had since arriving in Japan. I also love how it is named after the swishing sound you make when moving the food in the stock.

Progress: 763/933

When we had exhausted the meat and vegetables some buckwheat ramen noodles were added to the broth (which had now absorbed a lot of flavour) and we got a new noodle-specific dipping sauce. I wish this was back in Britain!

We ended the day with a cute donut and a trip to the hotel reception to explain we had somehow lost a key during the day. It was also time for ‘free drink and snack’ in the hotel restaurant for all paying guests. So I may have had some rosehip and hibiscus tea with a side of soup. I love the Hotel Grand Bach.

Lost In Japan: Day 6 – First Day in Kyoto

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

Red. I have seen more of this colour in the last few days than I think I have in the rest of the year. It’s obviously a very important colour here in Japan, but today it’s something that really struck me.

Anyway, starting at the beginning.

Nishiki Market! Since our hotel is just off of Shijo Road (a major road for shopping) we are remarkable close to the most famous market in Kyoto. With so many sights and smells and wonderful things to buy I was in my element really early on today. Once again the problem arose – what to eat for breakfast!

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food booksFood item: Akashi tako (assuming this after hearing the word Akashi being mentioned by the vendor)

So I settled for a whole baby octopus on a stick with a quail’s egg stuffed inside its head. It was so good! Hubby decided not to indulge, something about no baby octopuses for breakfast. I dunno. Men!

At the end of the street was a shrine with a rather lovely bronze pig inside. It’s getting to the point now where I am no longer surprised by the sudden appearance of a shrine. It’s starting to feel a bit normal, although I will still go in there and have a proper tourist noseabout.

Our first port of call today was the Gion District, although we went there in a bit of a roundabout way by walking through the wooden building of Pontocho. I have just been informed by hubby that there was some signage indicating that this street was one of the more gay areas of Kyoto… which now makes for an awkward segue where I talk about the fruit I ate:

Food item:  Hachiya persimmon

Yesterday I got my persimmons mixed around and bought a Fuya persimmon (that is so like me). That was nice enough, but this ripe Hachiya was so much better. When not properly ripe the Hachiya is meant to be firm and highly astringent. This one that I purchased in Nishiki was really soft, so I felt confident as I just bit right into it. It was so sweet and juicy! You could tell that in the past there was some astringency there… but honeyed sweetness overpowered everything.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 47/100Sight: Gion District
Location: Kyoto, Japan
Position: #147

We were here in the late morning so I knew there was no chance of spotting a geisha at work. (anyway, we spotted two of them yesterday being rushed into a car as we walked back to the hotel so I am not going to be greedy) . What we did managed to spot, however, were a lot of shops that allowed people to rent kimonos. So there were a lot of people, mostly women, in gorgeous kimonos being photographed with paper umbrellas and other such props. As funny as it would have been to see hubby in traditional Japanese dress we didn’t feel too up for it

It was after the Gion district that we started racking up the temple and shrines starting with the Yasaka Shrine complex. It just boggles my mind not only how big these shrines can be, but just how many of them are here in Kyoto. Probably why Kyoto is a major spiritual centre within Japan.

They are also a huge money making opportunity. I’m just not talking about the hairy man that was in the complex selling rather large crab legs on a stick, but the number of charms and other such items that are sold in these shrines. At some point I should buy some as a souvenir, also there are times where I need help finding lost things.

The shrine connected to a really beautiful park called Maruyama Park, this connected Yasaka Shrine with the neighbouring Chion-in Temple.

Now, if the entrance is anything to go by, Chion-in Temple must be absolutely massive. Sadly, it was under a serious case of building repairs so I didn’t get s chance to see it in all its glory. We had a look around the grounds and saw a rather lovely looking Buddha… which was outdone rather quickly.

The Ryozen-Kannon is a huge concrete and steel Buddha that acts as the centre of a memorial to the 2 million Japanese soldiers that died in World War Two. When we went in we were given a lit incense stick each to place at the foot of the Buddha to show respect. Considering that this manifestation of Buddha represents compassion this is a truly beautiful way to remember them.

A brief visit to the Hokanji Temple was next. There was a plaque that said how inside this pagoda structure are some bones from the Buddha and that this version of the building is from 1440. All I can say is that it looks amazing despite being nearly being 800 years old.

Now, the Kiyomizu-dera Temple was one of those many places that was on my original list of places to see. Ever since it was a finalist in a New7Wonders vote a few years ago. The building is massive, and the complex is (like with the Yasaka Shrine) huge. One of the many things I have really come to respect about Shintoism and Buddhism is how well they co-exist together. The complexes tend to festive elements of each other’s religions and that’s really how it should be.

The Kiyomizu-dera is best when observed in a way that just enhances the hanging over. The way that it just juts out into the forest looks lame what surreal. Borrowed scenery is a phrase I saw to describe this.


Food item: Gobo

We were now quite a bit after lunchtime and hunger was creeping up on both of us. Seeing how snack food is in great supply whenever you are near a major temple/shrine in Kyoto we agreed to try some of these. The first was on the walk between Kiyomizu-dera and the nearest bus-stop. A ‘special beef’ dumpling flavoured with gobo (dried burdock root) was the first on the menu. Now, apparently it is rude in Japan to eat and walk… and I wish I had  know this as it would have explained some of the looks I was getting.


Food item: Yuba

A 20 minute bus ride later we were on the Philosophers Walk up to Ginkakuji Temple (also known as the Silver Temple). Yuba, or tofu skin, is something I have seen all around Kyoto so I am guessing that this is a regional thing. All I can say is that they made for the perfect wrapper for this fish paste cake on a stick.

The Silver Temple is a misnomer because it is not, nor has it ever been, properly silver. It was meant to be but, you know, wars happen. Going here had another meaning for us since it was the basis of the Silver Pavilion in the Pokémon Gold and Silver games. There is even a bird at the top that looks like Ho-Oh.

The gardens of Ginkakuji were immaculate. Sand was raked into perfect mounds and waves, there was a huge bamboo growth at the back and it has a number of scenic ponds. So much work has clearly gone into making it look so “natural”.

Now, by the time we were done at Ginkakuji it was about 4 o’clock. Most shrines and temples close at 5, most that is. Thanks to a tip-off on the Something Awful forum we knew there was a good place to be at sunset. We just needed to get to Kyoto Train Station and travel two stops South.

The Fushimi Inari Taisha is one of those places that, now that I have been there, strongly believe should have been in the Lonely Planet guide. To experience it at sunset is something that I will not easily forget. At the foot of Mount Inari, the shrine complex is awash with vermillion and is already incredibly beautiful (interestingly, it has a series of tri-lingual flags indicating how well reviewed it is on TripAdvisor).

The star of the show are the torii. The many thousands of you that form a tunnel on the many paths that wind up the mountain. There are just so many of them in very different states of repair. Some are brand new, others are in need of a fresh coat of paint and then there are those where the wood has begun to rot.

List item: Watch a Sunset
Status: Completed

We quickly made our way up through the first paths to catch sight of the sun as it was setting over Kyoto. The picture doesn’t do justice to it to be perfectly honest, but how do you get a picture of a sunset on an iPhone that isn’t the latest model? Not actually that easy.

In total we must have spent an hour and a half walking up and down parts of this mountain with the torii acting as our guide. We were even doing this on the pitch black of the mountain with only lanterns dotted along the way to provide us with light. The crickets were so loud… and then there were some animals whose noises I couldn’t identify and really did not want to find out what they were (of course my first thought went to a pissed off tengu).

 

Food items: Sake and Maitake

Dinner time in Kyoto! My first pick for a place to eat was shut because it was a Monday (boo!) but I did find us a brilliant sushi place! Sushi as a concept has been ruined for me by visiting Japan. I used to love my very occasional trips to Yo Sushi. That’s going to taste so plain after this holiday. Hubby ordered himself a sake (I got a Sprite) and I tried some for he sake of research. It has been a while since I last had hot alcohol, and this was pretty strong. I just stuck with my Sprite and the free green tea.

The first of three list foods up for grabs was maiitake in tempura form. This went on to become one of our favourites of the night alongside a rather nice eel and fried shrimp roll. For a mushroom it tasted faintly sweet, and the texture was well preserved despite being, essentially, deep fried.

Food items: Bluefin Tuna and Abalone

Now, in Britain these pieces of sushi would be so extremely expensive. I think that together these were 950¥ or £5. It’s pretty damned crazy. The abalone was nice and fresh (nothing much more than nice to be honest), but I was surprised at how hard it was to bite through in places. Them bluefin tuna was a true revelation. No more tuna from a can! This bluefin was so soft, mild and meaty. A bit like the Kobe beef for fish. If I can find it on our next sushi trip I will be going for more.

Progress: 756/933

We are still eating, but approaching full, when I saw something that made me lose my appetite: fish prepared in the ikezukuri style i.e. alive sushi. I could tell it was still alive because the tail would flap occasionally and it looked like the head was gasping for air as it moved from side to side. Not only did I lose my appetite, but I just wanted to be out of there as soon as possible whilst people were taking video of this poor fish not their phones.

Since we were still a bit hungry we grabbed a small burger from the Japanese chain Mosburger on our way home (really nice for a burger chain) and hubby got some radioactive looking melon Fanta.

Wow, it’s been a busy day. A lot of sleep will be needed before we tackle the next one.

Lost In Japan: Day 5 – Hiroshima to Kyoto

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

I was sad to leave Hiroshima. Although I was only there for 3 full days I had really fallend for Japan’s 10th largest city (10th largest yet still has over 1 million residents, as a Brit this astounds me). It’s been the perfect host for the first leg of my honeymoon, as has the Sheraton Hiroshima.

List item: Ride in a high-speed train
Status: Completed

I know that since seeing one of these on Blue Peter many years ago I have always wanted to ride on a Japanese bullet train. By the time I leave Japan I may have been on seven different trains (including two return journeys).

In order to get to Kyoto from Hiroshima (using our JR Pass) we needed to make a change at Osaka. In retrospect, I wish that we had time to spend in Osaka since it does have some gorgeous sites. Looks like I have another reason to return to Japan!

I can not emphasise enough just how luxurious the bullet train between Hiroshima and Osaka felt on the inside (better than Osaka to Kyoto, but that train was still jolly nice). The seating alone feels like British first class. All the seats recline, there are neat foldaway cup holders and coat hooks. Each pair of seats comes with its own power socket. Needless to say, the cumulative two hours between Hiroshima and Kyoto just flew by whilst I stared at the scenery.

That is, apart from we broke open the ekiben! Now, the ekiben are something that hubby really wanted to get whilst we were in a Japan, and boy are there a whole mess of choices. The big one is his, I had some real ekiben-envy when he opened up his official Hiroshima Carp (local baseball team) ekiben up. In the end though, that would have been way too much food. My box, aka the smaller one, really filled me up (it had chicken, rice, red cabbage and something that I assumed was puréed Japanese yam salad). It’s actually quite amazing at how good the quality of the food in the box lunches was.

We arrived at about 14:00. The differences between Kyoto and Hiroshima became evident by the time we got to the hotel room. Firstly, the smell if different. When you are in Hiroshima the air feels just that bit fresher because of all the rivers. Then there is the pace, Kyoto is a lot faster and a bit more impatient than Hiroshima. Where previously I would rarely see someone cross a street without a green man being shown, here I have already seen it a number of times. However, the most profound difference is age – the population of Kyoto feel a lot younger.

We freshen ourselves up at our hotel room, which is done in a more traditional style with tatami flooring, a futon and sliding windows. I mean sure it’s all capped off with a toilet that warms up the seat and a scary looking shower, but the thought was there.

By the time we left the hotel it was nearly 16:30 and I was getting hungry. Luckily, since I have done some research, I had a place in mind. It meant heading back to Kyoto main station (some 30 minutes away from where we were staying in Shijo), so,etching I was more than happy to walk seeing how I’d spent two hours sitting down on trains.

As we got close to the station we suddenly see a massive temple complex come into view – the Higashi Honganji. Sadly a lot of it was under renovation works (which will be done by the time this blog post goes up. According to a sign in the main temple, this is the largest wooden building in the world. It is also one that demands that you take your shows off in order to enter the temple… which is fine if I hadn’t chosen today as a day to wear my pink ‘raveasaurus’ dinosaur socks.

It was pretty spectacular on the inside. I grabbed a few photos and then had a guard rushing towards me gesturing that no photos were allowed. I suddenly became very aware of my pink dinosaur socks and that I had not seen any signs saying not to take photos. We scarpered pretty quickly because I became all British and felt rather embarrassed.

Soon we arrived back at the mammoth building that houses Kyoto railway station. Since we previously went straight to the subway I hadn’t been able to take it all in, but with over 11 floors in some places, it is huge. The restaurant that I wanted to get to was on floor 10, which meant riding up a fleet of escalators and appreciating the cool light up steps on the way.

 List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food booksFood item: Kobe beef

There are six main foods that I wanted to get whilst in Japan. This is second one achieved after Hiroshima oysters and Kyoho grapes. A Kobe beef burger. Easily one of the best burgers I have had in my life. When you bite into it a lot of fat just oozes out, something to be expected since Kobe beef is highly marbled. The thing with the beef having such rich marbling is that as you bite into it the burger just seems to melt in your mouth. I don’t think that is a mouthfeel that I had ever quite had before, but I wish we had ordered a second one each. We didn’t order anything with it, so we were still hungry.

Before going on the hunt for more food we roamed the station a bit more and found our way to the Skyway walk which gave us some amazing views of Kyoto being lit up at night. Especially Kyoto Tower, which just dominates the skyline.

We went into the department store located in Kyoto station in order to scout for an extra snack. Since it was getting late a lot of the food was getting discounted and there was a lot of hubbub as differs stalls tried to get rid of their wares. Poor hubby was getting a bit overwhelmed by all the shouting and the choice so we just got three random croquettes (turned out to be one kelp, one shrimp and one that was chicken, ham and cheese) and some other things.

I am trying not to be too western with my food choices out here (Pepsi Ghost is just too good for me to not have), but we both really fancied ice cream after the burger. The Baskin Robbins on the way home was a god send with it’s ‘Trick or Ice Cream’ which was with dark chocolate chips and an orange syrup that I guess is meant to be pumpkin. It’s amazing how much you can get in a store with smiling, pointing, nodding and quantitative hand gestures.
Food item: Shizuoka Melon

Now, this melon is the fourth of the six foods I really wanted to find. In order to get a whole one I have seen prices ranging from 1800¥ to nearly 5500¥. If you ever play a Japanese computer game with a melon featured you will know what it looks like, perfectly round with a neat stem cut to form a capital ‘t’. This is a melon they people gift each other, I’m guessing more as a ‘get well soon’ or housewarming gift rather than at a child’s birthday party.

The fact that we were able to find some pre-cubed that been discounted down to 390¥ just blew my mind. This saved me quite a bit of souvenir money! As we opened the plastic box the smell of the melon just hit us. It has such a strong fragrance of, well, melon. Taste wise… I was hoping to be able to slander it, but it was just too delicious to even start. Think of a regular melon from a supermarket. Now take that essence of melon flavour and remove all the watering down that regular melons have. Slightly honey the flavour and then at is what you have. It made me annoyed that all melons are not like this.

Progress: 748/933

Tomorrow is our first full day in Kyoto. We are not here for long so we are going to make it count.

Lost In Japan: Day 4 – Miyajima

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

It’s our last day based in Hiroshima and at the moment I am wondering if anything on this trip is going to beat it in terms of sheer beauty.

So where to begin. I guess on a cramped train between Hirsohima and Miyajimaguchi, where I was getting progressively more and more angry at a Swiss family. Why? One thing I found out today about trains in Japan is that people queue for the doors. It isn’t like the rest of the world where you just pile on in, you actually queue for a particular door. Unlike this Swiss family that just piled on into the train and took the last four seats. Ugh things like that make my blood boil.

Anyway, so after a 25 minute train ride it was onto the ferry to Miyajima Island (might I say, I am in love with the JR rail pass that we got; the all you can ride JR rail travel (with some restrictions) for a week for about £100 is amazing). We were stood at the front of the ferry to make sure I could see our destination. And there it was coming into view, the tori of the Itsukushima Shrine.

As soon as we docked we immediately made for vantage point to take some pictures, but not before snapping some pictures of the local wildlife. Yes, there are a lot of wild deer roaming the town that surrounds the shrine. It is absolutely adorable, especially when a particularly hungry one kept following us to try and break into hubbies lunch.

 List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books
Food items: Lotus root and Dashimaki Tamago

Speaking of hubbies lunch, we got some boxes of lunch from the station before we set off.

His was a lot more pretty, but I think I enjoyed my fried shrimp rice balls a lot more than him with his bounty of squid. Still, by pilfering from his food I managed to get two more things to cross off off the food lists (I am really getting s lot of things whilst I am over here). To be honest, I did not notice the taste of the lotus root too. It was crunch but there was not too much flavour to it. Unlike the shredded tamago which was sweet, eggy and delicious.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 46/100Sight: Itsukushima-Jinja gate
Location: Miyajima, Japan
Position: #258

List Item: Visit the Three Views of Japan
Progress: 1/3

When I saw little pictures of this gate I always did wonder if I would feel as taken aback as many other people were. All I can say is, yes I was. I must have taken more than 25 photos of this gate from different views and I just kept staring at it. There is something about the colour contrast of the red with the sky, the water and the trees that make it so mesmerising. Also, it is massive and yet it looks like it is just floating there.

After being prised away from the view we went through the Itsukushima Shrine itself. It was so incredibly red inside that it felt as if the entire hallway was constructed for, a large number of vibrant red-orange tori (no idea what the plural of that is). I have to say, that all of these shrines kinda make me wish that I believed in something like Shintoism. There would certainly be a lot of beauty in the shrines. Don’t worry I’m not having a religious awakening.

Also, this means that another bucket list item – the three views of Japan – has now been started. This honeymoon was not designed for that (obviously) which means that in order to complete that I have to come back again for thee other two. Probably in a spring so I can watch the Sakura bloom and get some in-season Sakura cheese.

It was getting to high sun so we knew it was shade or inside that we had to go. So we went to the Miyajima Public Aquarium to see what different species could be found in this area of the world (plus the mandatory penguins). There were so many species that I had never seen in the flesh before like a nautilus, a huge octopus, horseshoe crabs and my favourite:

I mean, how cute is he with his piggy nose!

Anyway. After managing to not buy anything in the gift shop (it got close) we went for the ropeway (read: cable car) up Mount Mizen, whose presence truly towers over the island of Miyajima. The route to the ropeway station was just the most luscious primeval (their word) woods. It made me wish we were here in a few weeks time to see the trees go fully red.


Food item: Azuki beans

We grabbed a local pudding on the way. You seem advertised all over Hiroshima. They are shaped like a maple leaf and can come with a lot of different fillings. I saw one of these with cow packaging (I am guessing it was milk flavoured… I hope) but we went for the traditional sweet bean paste with skins on, apparently that means I have covered azuki beans… and who am I to argue with another food being crossed off.

The view from the observatory at the top ropeway station was breathtaking. I hadn’t really understood that despite all the saltwater the sea in front of me was actually part of an inland sea. All you can see up there is water, islands and mountains for miles around. I tried to capture it on hubby’s iPhone using the panorama feature, but nothing can really capture it to be honest.

Since we had two hours until the final gondola down we decided to walk some of the trails up there. Our legs were still a bit sore from the 33,000 steps from the day before… but we wanted to get to the summit of the mountain. Seeing how I view myself as grossly unfit I was rather gratified that despite just the fact that I was sweating so much that sunscreen was stinging my eyes, I was still passing thin Japanese people on my way up. Ha!

Now for a weird coincidence time. When we were at the time summit of Mizen, we made for it after stopping at some of the shrines, I actually saw someone who I went to school with. At the time I reasoned out that it wasn’t him, but it turned out it was. Bloody insane! Obviously, I said nothing at the time because it was ludicrous that it would be him, but thanks to Facebook we actually worked out that were in the same place. How cool eh?

The views from the top of Mizen were even more spectacular, but we noticed it was getting close to the time of low tide, so we made our way back down. Now, one of the problems I have been noticing here in Japan is that I am too tall. Previously it was meant that I headbutt advertising in department stores, the sinks and urinals are basically at my knees and my shoulders were almost too wide for the ropeway car. Another side effect is that a lot of stairs are so shallow that I can not rest my full foot. This is an annoyance on a train station escalator, but it is fucking terrifying when climbing down fragmented stone stairs at the top of a mountain.

After getting down in one piece and, for some bizarre reason running uphill some of the way, it was back to the Itsukushima gate where we saw it during the low tide. Being able to walk right up to it was really a different type of wow factor. Utterly ridiculous considering how it was seemingly floating only six hours previously.

Food item: Ramen

By the time we got back to Hiroshima we were absolutely ravenous so I found somewhere on my Tripadvisor app to go and get some Katsu curry! Could we find this place? Hell no. It was so annoying. So we looked for another place… And still couldn’t find it. I was getting bored of this so I pointed to a nearby restaurant that smelt good called Chikara Hacchobori. Well, all I can say is that it was the best ramen that I have ever had. Roast pork, wontons, good greens, plenty of noodles and an absolutely gorgeous broth. The best part? We were the only non-Japanese people on this small place. It really made me feel like we were not just taking the easy way out, but actually try somewhere almost at random.

Progress: 746/933

Tomorrow we leave Hiroshima and arrive in Kyoto. I have really loved it here, and I am so glad that it was the city we started our honeymoon in. I feel it’s been a gentler introduction into Japanese culture than if we had started in Tokyo.

Lost In Japan: Day 3 – Futabanosato Walking Trail & My First Japanese Sushi

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

Today we decided to embark on the Futabanosato Walking Trail that hubby found online. It’s a guided walk through the north of Hiroshima which touches on a number of the historical shrines and temples. In total there are 16 stops along the way, with one that is not all religious in nature.

Now, in order to get to the first stage of the walk, Fudoin Temple, meant a 5.5km walk. We probably could have taken the bus, but you know how it is with being cocky about carrying out walks like these. We picked up some onigiri (rice balls) and bottles of Pepsi Ghost. We thought this would be regular Pepsi, but it turns out that it’s a limited edition mystery flavour. I saw someone on the web saying that this was pumpkin… but I’d have to hitch my wagon to it being almond or marzipan flavoured.

After about an hour we finally made it to the first stop: Fudoin Temple. This is the first Buddhist temple that I have ever been to, and is one of seven on the walk. I have to say that it was a beautiful temple to start off with. One that I have to say overshadowed the next temple on the walk: the Nittsu-ji Temple. I don’t think it helps that the front of the second temple was a bog standard car park. I am going to skip over Stop 3, mainly because it was closed despite the guide saying it was open on Fridays. Oh well.

2km later we were at a really gorgeous little shrine (Ikari Shrine) that was tucked away amongst the more citified buildings. Despite the fact we had just walked off of street with plenty of cards the setting felt serene. Maybe it was all the hanging lanterns and flags. Maybe it’s was the fact that it was seemingly deserted, but it was just peaceful.

A few shrines later we got to the Anraku-ji Temple, the last site on the walk to be far enough away from the hypocentre of the nuclear blast to have not been completely destroyed. It was affected, with the main building now being slightly off kilter, but it did not affect the ginko tree that pierced the roof of the entrance gate. With this and yesterday’s ginko tree, it’s obvious how resilient these are.

Straight after this came the Nigitsu Shrine, with one of the largest tori that I have ever seen. Or, apparently am likely to see. This is clearly a rather important shrine not only due to its size, but also that it was the first of three shrines on the route to have its own rubber souvenir stamp.

By the time we got to stop 10 on this walk the sun was at its height. We also found ourselves without much in the way of shade. Long story short I could tell that I was burning badly from all the sunlight so we had to head back to the hotel (luckily by this point it was less than a kilometre away) until the sun was a bit less intense,

At 3pm we ventured out again and went for the Kinko Inari Shrine. Of all the shrines that was saw today it is this one that will probably stay with me forever. In order to move from the outer shrine to the inner shrine you need to climb up 500 steep stone steps and through 100 tori. There were a lot of smaller shrines along the way, but the main reason we went up here was because the map said that after climbing to the top of this we would be able to climb up further to the Peace Pagoda at the top of Mt Futaba.

My thighs were burning and I was drenched with sweat as we reached the inner shrine, which gave us some gorgeous views… but we could see no path to the pagoda! We scrambled around some of the offshoots only to come to other small shrines. It seemed like we wouldn’t be able to reach the pagoda because there was no way I would be able to do that walk again.

After memorising some of the characters for the peace pagoda as “two lines, some thing, window’ we saw a sign on the floor pointing towards some crude stone steps and clearing near the top. I just went for it and, would you know, we found the Peace Pagoda.

List item: Climb a mountain
Progress: Completed

Okay, this was a small mountain, but it is by definition a mountain. So I am counting Mount Futaba as a mountain that I was able to climb. It was such a good feeling to be at the top that I started to forget just how painful my legs were.

After that victory we breezed through the remaining shrines and temples apart from the the final one (Saizo-ji temple) which was closed by the time we reached it.

On the way back we bought some celebratory corn dogs from a 7-11 and got ourselves cleaner for dinner (after we purchased a Japan-exclusive Kirby game and a blue Wooly Yoshi Amiibo from Edion).

The previous day we walked passed a converter belt sushi restaurant and we decided to give it a go tonight. We could order food using a tablet and an English menu! And overall this was easily one of the best sushi meals I have ever had, and it was so much cheaper than back in the UK too! Aside from the more regular things like grilled eel and fried shrimp there was a wealth of list items that I found here (although sashimi would have been an easy one to do here I decided to wait on it for now).

 List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books

Food item: Sea Urchin

I regretted not getting this in Catania when I had the chance, so this was one for me to jump on. Since we were not too sure how it would taste we found a dish that combined it with squid. The sea urchin was very soft and delicate. It kinda looked like a mushy orange tongue amongst the squid. To be honest, it didn’t taste of much. Pretty much tasted of the sea.

Food item: Salmon roe

Hubby said this of salmon roe, “you don’t expect something to taste of what laid it.” Very true words here from these orange sea water bath beads. They are very large and have a satisfying burst in the mouth when eaten. It’s true what he said about them tasting slightly of salmon. It was pretty unnerving to be honest.

Food item: Kazunoko

More fish eggs, in this case it was preserved herring eggs. It looks gorgeous sitting there. It actually looks like someone has chosen to make a piece of chicken egg omelette out of yellow glass beads. Due to the preservation it was pretty firm. In terms of taste it is one of those things where subtlety and texture reign supreme. It was very chewy and, unlike, the salmon roe, there was no sudden burst of flavour. It took a while to unfurl.

Food item: Mantis Shrimp

I have been really seeking these out since I first saw them on the list. It hadn’t occurred to me that these would be things we might see in Japan. It was weird seeing them prepared for sushi. I mean, if you look up pictures of them on Google you will see that they are gorgeous. If you read up on them, you will see that they are deadly punching machines. In any case we snagged the last two of these (yus!) and promptly munched down. They were like normal prawns, but meatier and a bit stringy. They were good!

Food items: Hiramasa Kingfish and Japanese yam (no photo)

This was the last thing that we ate in the evening, and it probably had the least flavour. It was like a mild tuna with some squid like features thrown in, but nothing particular special there. Still, it had one hell of a cool name. Also, earlier in the meal, we had a tuna and yam roll. The yam (no photo, because I didn’t realise until later that Japanese yam was on the food list) was nice enough, but it didn’t taste like anything special.

Progress: 742/933

With sushi done it was back to the hotel via Asse where we bought some late night blogging provisions (aka snacks).

By the time we got into the elevator up to the hotel I could see extent of the sunburn that I had accumulated over the day. So an ice cold bath and lots of moisturising lotion it is. Ugh why do I never learn.

So here I am finishing the day with another bottle of Pepsi Ghost, some chocolate covered macadamia nuts, lotion slathered over my sunburnt neck and feet throbbing from walking 31,000 steps. It’s been a good day.

Lost In Japan: Day 2 – Hiroshima Castle & Atomic Peace Park

For these posts in Japan I actually wrote the bulk of the text during downtime (train/plane/bus journeys and late evenings mostly) so I could have a nice way to properly look back on my honeymoon.

Over 20,000 steps walking today! So my feet are throbbing as I type this out. I am also munching some local grapes, but more on those in a bit.

Big thing is, we appear to have completely beaten jet lag! We ended up sleeping about 11 hours, but that was clearly what we needed. So we left the hotel at around 10 headed for Hiroshima Peace Park and adventures beyond…

…well that was the idea. We got to one of the many bridges of Hiroshima (since it is built on a delta) and brought out our map in order to confirm that we were taking the right route. Then this old Japanese man comes over, obviously thinking we are lost, and offers to give us directions. Now, hubby got the wrong end of the stick and pointed to Hiroshima Castle.

In Britain if someone comes up to you and offered to give you directions… which is never, but if they did it could be a quick point in the general direction and then an exchange get of thanks. We are, however, in Japan. He lead us across the bridge (he couldn’t walk too fast bless him) and then pointed us in the right direction. I know he was heading in that direction anyway, but talk about being ultra helpful!

So, Hiroshima Castle it was. Well, the reconstruction of the castle anyway since it was flattened with the dropping of the atomic bomb like pretty much everything else in Hiroshima.

What we saw was built about 50 years ago and is exactly how it used to be, which is impressive. The complex itself was really large. At one stage the complex was one of the largest in Japan, which really must have been a sight to see.

It also has a Shinto temple within the complex, so we paid to have a fortune from the box. They know their tourists, so we grabbed an English one each, and then some drinks from some of the numerous vending machines in Hiroshima.

Time for a big lunch and we visited one of the MANY shopping buildings in the city. After admiring a lot of fake food we settled for a place on the 8 floor called Chibo. and I have to say that the food was gorgeous and we managed to get a really filling 5 dish sharing meal for us.

 List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books

Food items: Yakisoba, Kisoba Noodles, Bonito flakes, Katsuobushi, Okonomiyaki

The highlights of this meal (although the pork potstickers were gorgeous) was the mixed yakisoba and the Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki. With the first one, I have had yakisoba at home before, but I don’t know if it’s the fact that it was cooked fresh (almost in front of us) or if it was the local ingredients, but this was the best one that I have ever had. The sauce probably helping out there.

The okonomiyaki was just impressive to look at. I am not sure what makes this is particularly Hiroshima one, maybe it’s the types of filling, but I think that any other ones that we eat may have a tough act to follow. The sweet soy sauce and mayonnaise topping alone was lipsmackingly gorgeous, but with a wealth of noodles, spring onions, cabbage, seafood and pork inside it was never going to be bad.

Both dishes also gave me the chance to try bonito flakes/grated katsuobushi, which flailed about on the heat of the teppenyaki like they were still alive somehow. They gave the dishes a very strong umami flavour that I appreciated more and more as I ate.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 45/100
Sight: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
Location: Hiroshima, Japan
Position: #50

It was Peace Park time after lunch. Just staring at the A-Dome brought a lump to my throat. I mean it is one thing seeing documentaries about the dropping of the atomic bomb, but it is another thing to be presented with the destruction it wrought. Not on,y is it standing in memory of those that died, but geographically it marks a point between the newer high rise buildings and a large expanse of green.

The park itself was incredibly peace focused with a peace flame, a peace pond and many different monuments to the dead. Peaceful… aside from the numerous groups of school children there on visits. They were perfectly behaved, but all of them seemed to have the task of the day to practice their English on tourists. Being the 6’3″ redhead that I am we got a lot of them.

(hubby with his new fan club)

I think we ended up being asked questions by 7 different groups of students of varying ages, and had our photos taken with half of them (managed to get a shot of hubby with a group of them). It was incredibly sweet and we were more than happy to help them practice their English. By the end we did start to notice when they had spotted us and got ready to make a good impression of the English and Dutch people for these young Japanese people.

So friendly were we that we ended up in a conversation about peace with two middle-aged Japanese women… only for them to turn out to be Jehovah’s Witnesses. We only found this towards the end when they asked me to read a verse from the bible using the JW.org app on their tablet. They seemed so happy that we both knew the Bible and that we had chosen to visit Hiroshima first on our tour of Japan that it seemed cruel to mention that we were married gay atheists. So I read the bible verse and let the conversation reach it’s natural conclusion.

After the Peace Park it was a long walk across town to reach another park, Shukkeien Park. Now this was beautiful in a number of different ways. Not just because it contains a ginko nut tree that actually survived the nuclear blast (wow!), but just in how everything was organised. If we had gotten their earlier we could have watched a traditional tea ceremony.

Still, there were enough to koi carp, bridges and general plant gorgeousness to keep us walking around until it closed at 5.

We continued to walk around Hiroshima for three more hours before settling in for some dinner. We took in a round of the new Pokémon fighting game (which is excellent), browsed a number of stores and made some two blog food related purchases before dinner in the food court of one of the many large stores.

Food item: Marron Glacé

Now, after many unsuccessful runs the previous Christmas, I found cheap Marron glacé. The only caveat being that they were broken. Still, how can these be cheaper here! Having had them, I am now glad that I didn’t fork out a lot of money on the. I mean they are nice enough and they rather sweet, but if you have had chestnuts before there is no real surprise. They have the same nutty taste and chalky texture, it’s just that they are a whole lot sweeter.

Food item: Kyoho grapes

Something very Japan specific here. Coming out here I made a list of food to look out for, and this is one of the big three that I am trying to hunt down. These do not taste like the grapes I have had back in the UK. In fact, they taste more like the grapes that I imagine grape flavoured sweets are based on. Just without that  artificially sweet taste. The best thing about them is how they slip right out of their skin when you eat them.

On the first taste I wasn’t too sure about them since they taste so different to what I am used to. Now? We easily finished the bunch between us.

Progress: 736/933