Day nineteen – Kyoto, Fushimi Inari

We had one mission: get to the top of Mt Inari, via the thousands of Torii gates that make up Fushimi Inari.

To get to Mt Inari, we went on the local subway and then a train line to right by the entrance of the shrine. It was Saturday, so very very busy at the shrine. The main shrine is a short walk from the train station and has a tea house and garden nearby as well as lots of little shrines. Behind the main shrines are the trails heading up the mountain, which are lined with Torii gates.

It’s hard to explain how weird and cool the experience is. The gates are packed densely enough that it’s quite dark in the tunnel as you walk, but you can see between them that there’s bright sunshine, or beautiful forest. Here and there along the path there’s little shrines, stones and guardian statues. Lots of foxes, as they’re messengers of the Gods. Anna took some beautiful portrait mode shots…

It’s not an easy climb. Some of it is slopes, but a lot of it is steps, and they’re not regular, even steps. They’re old steps which have been paved over many times, and some of the paving stones are cracked or otherwise askew, so I found I was watching my feet quite often.

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We took breaks on the way. Saw a young family with a toddler who flatly refused to walk and insisted on being carried. An American tourist asked me to take a photo of her with the gates. We saw some giant bee things, and some round shiny black beetles. And shrine cats. Lots of cats on this mountain.

A lot of people stop walking at the crossroads, so as we made our way to the summit, there were less people around. This allowed for photos like the above where there’s no one else in them. It was still busy though, I think some people walked down the hill right after I took this photo.

Even though it was hot, and we were tired and in various pains, we made it to the top. At the top of the mountain is a shrine and a gift store, so we didn’t stay too long before heading back down on the other side of the walking loop.

Down felt a lot better, although sore in different ways.

After that, we picked up some souvenirs and got back on the subway to get back to the hotel.

One thing which isn’t immediately obvious about Japan (or at least, the big cities with the subway systems) is that there’s another city underground. I don’t just mean a couple of shops, like, entire malls with food courts and banks and things. Kyoto subway station is made up of multiple malls and we got slightly lost in them yesterday.  If you turn the wrong way, you’re in a whole different mall. The signs are generally useful assuming you can find them.

I did find a uniqlo and bought some comfy, comfy clothing though.

Anyway with how tired we were after the many, many steps, we found a Macdonalds and sat down for a comfort meal. Anna tried some local specials: fries with cabonara sauce over them, and a chicken teriyaki burger. I had a double cheeseburger and regular fries, plus nuggets and we both had green melon fanta with them. I needed the salt and also something familiar. It was delicious, and we sat for a good half hour just unwinding.

After we’d eaten and hydrated, Anna found us the way out of the mall and we got the local line back to our hotel.

A quiet night in, doing laundry, using the hotel onsen and complaining about how our feet hurt.

Day Sixteen – Hiroshima, Ōkunoshima

We started the day with the hotel buffet breakfast. I was pretty firmly up on the wrong side of the bed and cranky, which didn’t help when someone barged in on the line for the toaster.

The trip to Ōkunoshima involved four kinds of transport. Streetcar/tram from hotel to train station, shinkansen to Mihara, bus replacement instead of local train to the sleepy seaside town of Tadanoumi and then a 15 minute ferry to the island.

Ōkunoshima or, as it’s commonly known, Rabbit Island, has a dark past. It was a testing ground and factory centre for chemical weapons which were used by Japan in China during World War Two. The island is dotted with remains of factories, laboratories and a poison gas museum. However those were all closed up, which was good because we weren’t planning on exploring that history anyway. We went for the rabbits.

Stories vary on if the rabbits currently on the island are descended from the lab bunnies used for testing chemical weapons or if they are just other rabbits intentionally released on the island. Either way, the island is packed full of cute bunnies.

The place you buy ferry tickets from also sells bags of rabbit food, so we bought a pack each and hopped on the ferry. As soon as you get off the ferry, there’s rabbits.

They know which side their bread is buttered on. If you hang out near the boat where all the tourists get off, you will get fed. They know the sound of a paper bag rustling, they know the meaning of an outstretched human palm. They’re wild, but they’re a tame sort of wild.

The rabbis were very good at showing you what they didn’t want. If they didn’t want a pat, they’d back away. There are walking trails around the island but there’s also a lot of dense bush, so if the rabbits don’t want to be around people they have so much space to fall back to.

It was a hot day, and I learned that on hot days rabbits will dig a shallow hole and lay in it like it’s a dirt hammock. They will also seek out shade wherever it is. They will then sleep.

The bunnies generally wanted food, not pets, but if they lay down like a loaf of bread, like the one in the second to last picture above, they’d let you pat them. Their fur was super soft and the ears even more so. That one settled in for a good five minutes of pats from me and Anna before moving into their hole next to the concrete to cool down. Good bunny.

There were a ton of other people doing the same as us, including people who’d thought ahead and brought fresh greens and carrots. The bunnies loved that, you could see them munching on carrot sticks or bits of cabbage leaf very happily. They did still come over for rabbit pellets as well though. It was such a hot day I think a lot were sleeping or staying in the bush out of the sun. I know I’ve seen images of people swarmed with dozens of bunnies at a time, and I think that would’ve quickly got overwhelming for me. As it was, it was just a really nice bunny trip.

We stopped and had lunch at a picnic table and a bunny pushed past my leg, and it was like my cat rubbing by me. Somewhat startling but cute.

I had fun spotting the proper burrows as well. There’s a hotel on the island and there were some very large burrows near that.

You just can’t quite get used to how many rabbits there are. I kept being surprised by it.

It’s also a really beautiful island. There’s a swimming beach and I think I’d quite enjoy staying at the hotel, but it’s definitely on the hard to get to side of things.

We got the ferry back to Tadanoumi and had to wait about 40 mins for the replacement bus (train line wasn’t running). There’s not much to do in Tadanoumi so it was one of those liminal times were you can’t really do anything but wait. Once we were on the bus it was easier, although again we had to wait a half hour for the next shinkansen back to Hiroshima. It made for a long day.

On the way back to the hotel we went wandering, I vaguely remembered there being bars and restaurants a block away from our hotel so we tried the first place advertising okonomiyaki we found. It was a little bar/restaurant called Ichiro and it was incredibly good. Also, long hot day, lots of travel and not enough hydration means beer goes to my head very fast.

Another early to bed night 🙂

Day fifteen – Osaka to Hiroshima

To be fair, we weren’t allowed in our hotel room right away. We had to kill some time. And we killed that time by hitting the Hiroshima pokemon center.

This morning we got up, packed up our bags and headed from our hotel to the local metro and got on the train to Shin-Osaka. From Shin-Osaka we tried to get reserved seats on the shinkansen but it was too busy a day, so we went with the non-reserved tickets instead. What this means is the first three cars of the shinkansen are ‘just find a seat’. It’s a little nerve-wracking, I’d prefer to have a guaranteed seat, but it actually worked out fine. Although there were a number of people waiting for the train, each car has 24 ish rows of five seats so, three cars worth of that is a lot of space.

We got some good seats near the front, got our suitcases up on the racks and settled in for the ride to Hiroshima.

This shinkansen ride I didn’t get motion sick at all, and I was very happy about that. I got a little writing done on my laptop even! Up until the pocket wifi started having issues with the high speeds and the tunnels and I wasn’t able to connect anymore. But yay, fiction writing is still going well.

We navigated the streetcar system, dropped our bags off at the hotel in Hiroshima and went to Cafe Velloce which seems to be a not as good Doutor. Disappointing cocoa. Although they do a cocoa float which is iced cocoa with soft serve and quite good.

Hiroshima is a lot quieter than Osaka and Tokyo. Noticeably fewer people on the road, fewer cars, etc. It’s a relief, a little more like being at home.

After that we went to the local Tokyu Hands and I got some more postcards to send people, and then the Hiroshima Pokemon Centre which is one we’ve been to before. The Hiroshima baseball team is the Carps so there’s some amusing Magikarp baseball merchandise.

It was also raining properly, big heavy drops so we bought our first Japanese clear umbrellas.

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One weird phenomenon we’ve noticed is to do with certain light levels or sources. It happened in a seven eleven to Anna and to both of us in the laundry room at the Osaka hotel. Basically you go in there and get vertigo, or a sensation of the room spinning. Now, it’s fully possible this is just we’re tired and traveling a lot, but both of us felt better as soon as we were out of whichever light source had caused it. Weird.

Epic levels of tired started to hit, so we picked up snacks and drinks and checked into the hotel as soon as three pm rolled around. The beds in the Chisun are way more comfy than the ones at Nest Osaka so we were both very happy about that.

We nipped out for dinner at Nakau, but possibly the chain has gone downhill or possibly I was just remembering it better than it was. The menu’s changed so Anna couldn’t get the salmon bowl she was looking forward to and my katsu curry was good but not great. We were both just exhausted as well, which won’t have helped.

Early to bed and early to sleep.

Day fourteen – Osaka, Pokemon center and Spa World

Osaka Pokemon Center was today’s first stop. I was thinking we’d be okay because surely it’d just have all the same stuff as the Tokyo one, right? Wrong. It had a lot of the same stuff but a whole lot of awesome new stuff as well.

Shopping was done.

We also played a Halloween game where the screen had us as characters using a video and we had to catch the animated falling treats and avoid the glowing Gengar treats. We caught enough for lots of pokemon to show up at the party at the end, but apaprently we could’ve done better and had ‘everyone’ turn up. It was good silly fun anyway.

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After that we took the Osaka metro up to Spa World, which I’d researched on pinterest.

Spa World is a public bath complex and hotel. We got the day passes and went in, slightly confused about the set up. You have to take your shoes off almost immediately and store them in a shoe locker. Then you cross over to the other side of the lobby and take the elevator to the designated zone. The onsens (hot pools/public baths) are split into Asian zone and European zone and they’re divided by gender.

The women’s zone was the Asian zone so with some more confusion – where do we get undressed? (it’s right at the lockers where you store your things) and when do we wear the little tunics they gave us? (it’s once you’ve left the onsen and want to randomly wander the building) and where do you scrub off before soaking? (This one was beyond us, you have to go all the way into the zones and use them).

Anyway, we were both a bit nervous about a) public nudity and b) getting it wrong, but once we saw a gaggle of Japanese grannies strip off and head into the bath area totally nude we got over it. The first section was a walk through side shower, which was very nice. Then the Asia zone was divided into rooms with different kinds of gigantic hot tub.

They were varied heat levels and we moved through most of the rooms and relaxed. My favourite one was the outdoor stone bath, styled after traditional Japanese onsen. Lots of stones and running water, with trees around it. It was also kind of lovely to just be outside, naked in a hot tub. The Japanese cypress bath was lovely too, although very very hot.

There was also a Persia room, an Islam stone bath and a Bali resort jacuzzi. We tried a cold pool, a steam room and standing under the hot water fountain to use it to massage our shoulders. The the Persia room we lay on our backs in the hot water and almost fell asleep, we decided not to try out the purple water tub or the various ones in the “Dr Spa” room because the signs were all in Japanese. (on the website it says they’re Oxygen bath, hydrogen bath and carbonated bath.)

Anyway, when it comes to self care, taking a few hours to submerge your body in various hot pools, this is tops.

Although we’d thoroughly cleaned ourselves and got dressed again, we were both a little faint and very thirsty so we hit the restaurant zone. Once we’d eaten and drunk a bunch of water and green melon soda we felt a bit better and came back to the hotel feeling very relaxed and chilled out.

Day thirteen, Osaka castle

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Slept in a bit and then took a walk to Doutor for breakfast, I also managed to find a post box to send off some postcards in, so that was exciting.

Then we navigated the Osaka subway and got to Osaka Castle park. It’s a beautiful place. They were selling plants and bonzai off one of the paths. There was also an ice cream truck, so the first thing we did was get soft serves. I had chocolate and Anna had condensed milk strawberry. They were both very, very good.

It was a scorcher of a day, very hot in the sun, but sitting on the edge of a fountain, enjoying ice cream and people and dog watching was really nice. Calm. Nice get a little vitamin D without having to navigate a themepark or rush to get somewhere.

The walk up to the Castle’s main tower was quite steep and involved a lot of steps, so it stopped feeling quite so restful. However it’s might impressive up there, and worth the climb.

 

We didn’t go into the castle itself, we just sat in the courtyard and watched people again. Took in the beauty of the place, watched an acrobat couple do tricks to eighties music and soundtracks from Jurassic Park and drank apple juice. It was a very restful visit, up until a creepy gigantic beetle thing landed on my leg and we both decided it was time to move on. We walked down the other side. The moat is really pretty

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After this we headed back to Shinsaibashi where I hit UniQlo and bought pants! That fit me! In Japan! and some great T shirts, and then we went back to the hotel for an afternoon rest.

For dinner we went back to Chibo Okonomiyaki and had a Hiroshima style one with crispy gyoza as well.

A word about Osaka – now, I love Osaka, but in a lot of ways it’s a different country to Tokyo. It feels like Osaka is the drunk uncle to Tokyo’s perfectly presented business person. Tokyo crowds are quiet, well behaved and no one ever bumps into you.

Osaka people act a lot more like New Zealand crowds. They’ll yell at each other, stop in the middle of the walk way and have arguments. The kids are much more likely to be crying and running away from their parents, something we almost never saw in Tokyo. People hoik and spit in the street, ride their bicycles through red lights and directly towards cars and people jaywalk all over the place.

Also we’re staying near Dotonbori which is a weird mix of great food, host clubs, strip clubs and pubs. We wander to and from dinner past signs which aren’t always clear what they’re advertising. Does that name indicate a regular pub, or somewhere you have to spend a lot of money for pretty boys to drink with you? or is it a nice place for food? We just don’t know.

The crowd thing is a little annoying but otherwise it’s great. Osaka is a lot of fun. It’s just so markedly different from Tokyo.

Day twelve – Osaka, rest day

Today’s a rest day so aside from the laundry we got done most of the day was either reading, napping or writing (depending on if you’re Anna or Jamie) with out feet up in bed. In this hotel we’re in separate beds as one of the things I said to our travel agent was ‘if it’s not a proper Queen size bed or larger, we want a twin room’. This is because standard Japanese doubles are built for smaller people, and neither of us sleep well when we’re crammed in together in a hot room.

Anyway, I got lots of writing done. I did editing on my paranormal mystery and wrote a new chapter on my new thing. Anna got lots of reading done and we rested our bodies and took a break. It was pretty great.

Finally we left the room to check out Dotonbori, which is a full on red light district which is also a shopping mall and a brilliant source of delicious food. We hit a couple of shops and then tracked down the same okonomiyaki place we ate and loved last time: Chibo, it’s a eight floor oknomiyaki restaurant.

It was super delicious. We also got crispy gyoza for starters but we were both so excited to eat it we didn’t get a photo. It was really nice. Okonomiyaki is a batter and cabbage pancake pizza with various fillings, covered in delicious bbq-ish sauce, mayonnaise and bonito flakes. Ours have beef and seafood inside and was really, really freaking delicous. Also it had an egg on top.

After that another wander through Dotonbori, and hit up the Osaka Tokyu Hands before heading back to the hotel room.

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Day eleven – Osaka USJ port to Shinsaibashi

Sleep in, late breakfast at the hotel buffet and a lovely late check out so we went back to bed for a bit.

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Smoked salmon and saury, camembert and salami, takoyaki and dim sum, okonomiyaki, deep fried fish cake with dinosaur print, onigiri

In the room I got some writing done, because being around themeparks is super inspiring for writing a themepark based romance. We checked out and left our bags with the hotel, then headed out the back to the port where we could catch a ferry to Kaiyukan Aquarium.

Kaiyukan is gigantic, and focuses on the ring of fire, highlighting wildlife from all around the Pacific. According to wikipedia the largest, central tank is nine metres deep and holds 5,400 cubic metres of water. This is a tank which holds manta rays and two whale sharks and is my favourite thing.

As we were just a short ferry ride from it, at Universal, we figured we’d knock it off quickly and have Saturday as a rest day. Save ourselves the trip out to it from town. So, here’s some pics and videos of the love of my life, whale sharks (and some other weird fish).

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whale shark friend #kaiyukan #AnnaJamieHoneymoon

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We stopped at the Mermaid cafe because we both got pretty sleepy, and I had the blended whale shark soft serve, which is half vanilla and half ramune (Japanese lemonade soda) flavour. It was really, really good. The hot dog we split wasn’t quite as nice.

On the way out there was an Antarctic exhibition and some penguins, including some babies at the ragged half fluffy mess stage, which is pretty hilarious and endearing. Anna filled up the official Kaiyukan stamp book with all the animal stamps and we exited through the gift shop. So many pretty stickers… I also got a fabric printed in whale shark stripes and spots, which I’m excited to use in patchwork somehow.

We got the ferry back to the hotel and asked one of the helpful staff to call us a taxi to get to our new hotel. Osaka’s train system is a slight nightmare, there’s at least three different rail companies and they all go different places and many have different stations. To get to our hotel in Shinsaibashi would have taken three different trains and connections.

The taxi driver seemed to understand where we wanted to go, but at the last moment he went to a different hotel in the middle of Dotonbori. It was a slight nightmare, as he was confused and we were confused, and Dotonbori is an exceptionally busy place with people all over the streets, driving their bicycles towards you and beeping if you stop in the middle of the road, which our taxi did. He even jumped out and went into a building looking for the hotel he thought we were staying at. Around then I remembered my google translate app and used it to bring up the Japanese characters for “not our hotel. Hotel Nest Shinsaibashi” and then he took us there. It seemed to be a simple misunderstanding between ‘nest’ and ‘Nishi’ but it was stressful. Still easier than three trains with our suitcases though!

We’ve been a bit spoiled by the luxury of the park hotels, which are very generous room sizes with white person sized baths and separate toilets. Although I remember Nest being pretty nice when we stayed here last year it feels small and a little grimy. The bathroom is the standard Japanese hotel ‘all in one’ where the sink and bath and floor and walls are one big plastic piece. It’s fine, and our hotel in Hiroshima will be smaller still, but I do miss the nice big soft bed at Universal Studios.

We had a rest and then went over the road for Mos Burger for dinner. According to my research, Mos Burger is the second largest burger place in Japan after Macdonalds.

Anna had a pork cutlet burger and I had a chicken burger. Both had a really nice amount of greens in them, and you could choose fries or fries and onion rings to go on the side. I also got chicken nuggets because I kept thinking about how nice the ones at Disney were. Mos Burger didn’t disappoint, and since it’s directly over the road we may go there again… maybe. If we can’t be bothered walking to Dotonbori and the excellent food there.