Shoraian, serving Kyoto’s famous tofu

imageYou may not have eaten much tofu before or even be tempted to go to a restaurant that specializes in the food unless you were vegetarian or vegan, I myself would not have if I hadn’t been living in Japan for the last 16 years. I do however after eating at Shoraian which serves set menus featuring Kyoto’s local tofu recommend this to anyone visiting Arashiyama.
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How to spend a day in Arashiyama

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Arashiyama is an outlying western district of Kyoto which is one of our favourite  places in Japan. It is one of those places that are filled with various sightseeing attractions from wildlife  such as viewing wild monkeys in the mountainside  surrounding the area, to cormorant fishing on traditional boats.  The various temples,  the bamboo forests and the charming lane way of traditional buildings far from the touristy area make for a great day of exploring this area. Follow our itinerary as we show you how to enjoy this traditional district.
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Three Hiking trails in and around Osaka

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Hiking has always played apart in our travels, ever since Rei was capable of walking considerable distances we started taking him out on the local trails around Osaka. Osaka being an enormous city you wouldn’t imagine there being any hiking trails nearby but these three trails are within an easy thirty minutes from Osaka. Continue reading

Korakuen one of the best gardens in Japan.

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Korakuen Park is one of the three most famous gardens in Japan located in the city of Okayama. The garden dates back to 1700 when Lord Ikeda Tsunamasa had it built. The gardens were used to entertain important guests such as Feudal Lords but was used by ordinary people on certain days.

The gardens like many set in Japan are perfect for strolling along the paths and cover over 133,000 sq metres like many landscaped  gardens in Japan the garden features ponds full of koi,streams,paths and  a hill that can be used as a viewing point. An unusual feature of the garden for Japan is the use of expansive lawn.
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The hot spring experience in Japan

Everyone seems hesitate at first to experience their first hot spring, the nerves of bathing naked in front of strangers , in front of people who  look totally different to you. You will feel it’s natural for them to want to take a peak. After all you have a different shape and body type to the Japanese that you will be sharing the hotspring with.  There is no need to worry as this most likely won’t happen.

Your nerves, your apprehension to be naked in front of someone shouldn’t be enough to stop you from experiencing a hot spring while you are in Japan.

Fortunately, I’ve never had a fear of dropping my strides, don’t get me wrong I’ve never been a stripper or anything. Though I have to admit I have once dropped them on the stage at a sports function performing at a players concert with the soundtrack of The Full Monty but that is another story………..

There’s also the added pressure of following protocol. What happens if I do something wrong. Don’t worry about it first of all wash your body like you would at home, make sure you have rinsed all the soap off your body and then take a dip in the hot spring.

Remember the springs are not to be swam in, just relax and soak in the natural minerals that are good for your body. The water temperature may feel hot at first as the temperature is usually around 45 degrees but your body will soon adjust and the aches and pains from a full day of sightseeing will soothe away.

If there are two hot springs one being indoor the other being outdoor then bathe in the indoor one first before moving to the outdoor one, feel free to move back and forth if you like.

When finished change back into your clothes or the hotels yukata which is similar to a kimono. Feel free to walk around the hotel/ ryokan that you are staying at and also the surrounding areas outside.

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If you’re really concerned about having a hot spring in front of others then quite a few places have a couples hotspring which you pay extra to use and can then bathe with your partner, family or friend. The photo taken above is a jacuzzi using hotspring water which was actually in our room.

Dinner Time

If you’re staying at a Ryokan, a Japanese style hotel then the meal that they serve will be amazing. I recommend having dinner at the ryokan because a lot of ryokans are located in an isolated area far from other restaurants .

The food for me is just as good as the hot spring and overall makes a great experience. If your ryokan is near the sea then you will be served a course of seafood consisting of fish, sushi and sashimi. During the Winter months if the area is famous for crab then this will also be part of the course.

If the ryokan is located in a rural area in the mountains then the meal will consist of  local vegetables and meat dishes consisting of pork or beef.

The food will be served delicately on a dish, served in tiny portions but the dishes will keep coming and soon you will be struggling to end your meal. The last dish is usually a small plate of fresh fruit grown in the region.

There are sometimes two choices for you to have your dinner either served in the main restaurant or sometimes served in your room. You will also be given two choices for the meal time usually 6.30 or 7.30pm.

If you have your meal at the restaurant,  when you have returned to your room you will discover that your futons(Japanese style mattress) has been laid out on the tatami (Japanese straw matted floor).

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Sleep Time

The futons will make for a great sleep, especially if it’s Winter time, the smug tight fitted cover will keep you nice and cozy but even after all these years of living in Japan I would rather sleep without the rock hard Japanese pillows and this is no exaggeration when I say this. I’m sure you will have a great sleep and wake up refreshed which is exactly what the hotspring experience is supposed to do.

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Have you experience a hot spring in Japan or another country? We would love to hear about your experience.

 

 

Cherry Blossom Viewing in Osaka.

Spring is here, the blue sky, the warm weather and in Japan where I currently am, the pretty pink cherry blossoms have bloomed. Once you see the pictures you will understand why it is our favourite season. There is something special when you see the blossoms for the first time. There is a sense of warmth that fills your body.

Luckily you can see the blossoms anywhere in Japan. They start blooming in the Southern part of Kyushu sweeping across the country throughout April. People tune into the nightly news to listen for the best time to view the blossoms in their local area.

Originally only aristocracy and feudal lords would participate in the cherry blossom viewing parties otherwise known in Japanese as Hanami.  The common people started to take part after the 8th Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimue  planted trees along the Sumido River in Tokyo.

Families, friends, company employees all have parties under the cherry blossom trees. In the popular places, people arrive in the early hours of the morning to save a spot for everyone to enjoy the party and enjoy they do.  This is the time when they let down their hair, drink and become merry, sometimes drink  to oblivion.

Food is usually brought from home and shared amongst the party guests or meat, vegetables, okonomiyaki or yaki soba are grilled on hot plates similar to a BBQ. Portable karaoke machines are sometimes brought so everyone can sing the latest songs or enka traditional Japanese music popular amongst older people.

We are currently in Osaka and will tell you the best places to view them.

Osaka Mint Bureau

This is the most famous place in Osaka for viewing cherry blossoms. The mint has the largest variety of trees with 100 varieties amongst the 300 trees that are for viewing. The blossoms bloom slightly later here because of the late-blooming yae-zakura trees.

This years viewing period is scheduled from April 11th-April 17th. Opening 10am to 9pm. Weekends from 9am.

To see the cherry blossoms it is a ten minute walk from Temmabashi station.  Free admission.

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Osaka Castle Park

This would be the most common place for people to view the cherry blossoms. Over 4000 trees have been planted in the park. The castle makes a perfect backdrop to the blossoms, making it a great place for photography. They light up Nishinomaru garden.

Free entry except for Nishinomaru Garden.

Nishinomaru garden open from 9.00 to 20.00

200 yen day time.

500 yen light up

illumination from March 29th to April 17th

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Expo Park

Expo Park was home to the 1970 World Expo since then it has been turned into a large park with over 5000 trees line the paths and its lawned areas. This used to be near where we lived so we would often visited this great park which also has a traditional Japanese garden, ethnology museum and home to a professional soccer team.

To enter the park costs 250 yen whether it is cherry blossom season or not.

take the monorail and get off at Banpaku Kinen Koen station.

There is also a light up in the evenings from March 29th to April 13th

illumination from 18.00 -21.00

The park is open from 9.30-17.00

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Kema Sakuranomiya Park

This is the most picturesque place to view cherry blossoms as the blossoms stretch for several kilometers along the Okawa river. 5000 trees line the promenade making for a beautiful walk or they can be seen from boats that cruise the river. Osaka Castle can also be seen from here.

To view the blossoms take the JR loop line to Sakuranomiya station.  Illuminated till 22.00 during blooming periods.

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Each year the dates change. These dates are for 2014.

 

Have you seen the cherry blossoms in Japan?. We would love to hear what you thought of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The force of Naruto whirlpools, Tokushima, Japan

Located in the north east of Tokushima on the island of Shikoku lies a small town called Naruto. Naruto is famous for its swirling whirlpools that just happens to be the fourth strongest in the world that can reach up to 20 metres in diameter. Having never seen a whirlpool except for the powerful vortex that forms whenever I pull the plug out of bathtub. I was looking forward to witness the force of these whirlpools, though I had heard from many people that they can be rather disappointing if you don’t come at the right time.

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The best time to see the whirlpools are at the change of tides when it moves a large volume of water into the Inland Sea. Naruto and Awaji Island are seperated by a width of 1.3 kilometres. The strait is one of the connections between the Pacific Ocean and the Inland Sea. Due to the narrowness of the strait, the water rushes through the Naruto Channel, forming the whirlpools.

From the Renaisance Hotel we took a taxi up to the whirlpools passing the Otsuka museum of Art ,as well as the dock where the boats venture out into the channel and travel under the Naruto-Ohashi bridge to inspect the whirlpools up close.Whirlpools have been known to kill unlucky seafarers but their power tends to be exaggerated as there are no stories of large ships being sucked into a whirlpool.

Arriving at the whirlpools, the signs showed best viewing times. On the day that we were there the best times to observe the whirlpools were 9.30am and 16.30 pm, with two hours to wait we thought it would be good to walk around Naruto Park. The area had a few souvenier stalls attended by elderly women selling tacky souveniers as well as a museum about whirlpools throughout the world. The museum was quite interesting but if you don’t know Japanese it wouldn’t be worth the entrance fee as there are no signs in English.

While walking around outside we saw a sign Cha- En, a traditional tea house located 300 metres up the hill. We wandered up to where we thought it would be but there was no tea house instead there was a sparse open, manicured lawn overlooking Naruto Ohashi bridge, Awaji Island and the gushing water flowing in under the bridge, even from this distance you could tell the velocity of the water was extremely powerful. The view was spectacular and I could only imagine what it would have been like centuries ago when the tea house was standing there.

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Standing in the chilled air but still a bright blue sky we wandered down to the bridge which had been built with a pedestrian platform underneath for people to get a close up look of the whirlpools 45 metres below. The taxi driver had told us that it would be cold up here, he wasn’t exaggerating with the wind whipping against our face and the cars pounding the bridge from above. The bridge expecting to last 100 years is capable of sustaining the force of an earthquake to a level of eight on the richterscale, that history shows occurs once or twice a century.

As we walked along the bridge after about 100 metres, came the first glass panel to observe the water. Looking through the panel, my stomache felt squirmy filled with nerves watching the water crash against the rocks and the shore. Walking further along, the panels came more frequently until we came to a closed off area where you could walk no further. The panels before had only been a small squared window, now the whole area was a panel covering a space of 15-20 squared metres right over the centre of where the whirlpools occur. The ferocity of the water swirled at amazing speeds it was unlike any bathtub I had seen before, even though the whirlpools that we saw were probably only five to ten metres in diameter, the sheer force of the water, the power of nature that is formed without any help from humans left me in silence while people moved around trying to find the best spots when a whirlpool would appear.

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I just squatted peering through the panel taking everything in, watching the whirlpools form. Man can destroy forests, pollute water and air but one thing they can’t destroy are these whirlpools. As we were leaving I walked to the edge and looked out between the wire and watched a boat carrying tourists to get a close up of the whirlpools. I stood knowing that boats had never been sucked into the pools below but it still made me stand and watch, luckily for the passengers they too were not to be the first to be sucked into the whirlpools.

Whirlpool information

The whirlpools occur twice a day usually in the morning and afternoon. The day we were there the best viewing times were 9.30 and 16.20.

You can get close to the whirlpools by taking a glass bottom boat for a 20 minute viewing of the whirlpools for 1500 yen.

We only walked on the bridge which still offer great views. 500 yen

whirlpool museum 600 yen.

A bus runs once an hour from Naruto station takes about 15- 20 minutes.

Have you seen the whirlpools of Naruto?