Sunday, 22 July 2018

Kyoto revisited - Gion

One of the most iconic (and thus one of the most crowded) places in Kyoto is Gion.  This district kind of sums up Kyoto.  Traditional, old, beautiful, and historic.  It is one of the busiest places in Kyoto and therefore one of the most frustrating places........unless you go there at night......

For me, there is something magical about old traditional places in Japan at night time.  Without the hustle and bustle of daytime, you get a more realistic vibe of what the places would have been like when the traditional was the norm.  It was for this reason that myself and friend Tetsuya caught the train to Gion at about 9:30 at night.  We got off at Kawaramachi station and headed straight for Hanamikoji dori, the heartbeat of Gion.  Right on the first corner is an exclusive restaurant, Ichiriki-tei.  For those of you who know the story of the 47 Ronin (very different to the Hollywood movie, you can find my post about the story here) the leader of the 47 Ronin, Oishi, used to frequent this place as he and the others were plotting their revenge.

As I said before, you get a special feeling walking along streets like these at night.

And, like I said, the hoards of tourists are nowhere to be found!!

As with any place in Japan, often the side streets are more interesting than the main streets.

This tiny alleyway was lined with restaurants and from the outside we could hear people talking, laughing and enjoying themselves in these exclusive restaurants.

Just after taking the photo above a geisha walked out of a restaurant and hurried along down the street!  My first geisha!!  About 20m behind us was a couple of other tourists who took it upon themselves to spoil her night.  As she walked past they pulled out their camera and started snapping away like a pair of paparazzi.  Please, if you are ever graced with the good fortune of seeing a geisha, please, please don't do this.  She is not a tourist attraction, she is just doing her job.  If you do want to take a photo, please ask her if it is okay, but remember, you are imposing on her.  Sorry, rant over.

We walked passed Yasaka shrine

and back down to Pontocho (to be featured in a separate post).  We stopped at a little shop selling takoyaki (balls of batter with octopus pieces and other bits and pieces in them) and wagyu beef skewers.  We ordered a couple of skewers and I stood back to take this photo.

As I looked up, Tetsuya was looking at me and said "You just missed it!".  "What did I miss" I asked.  "Another geisha just walked past!"...... I slapped myself in the forehead for missing it.  We walked off down Pontocho with our wagyu skewers.  As we walked along Tetsuya said "The geisha, she walked into that restaurant".  A second or so after he said that, she walked back out again!!  Now Pontocho is a pretty narrow alley and Tetsuya and I walking along cover about 90% of the street!  We both jumped to the sides of Pontocho and said "すみません" (excuse me).  She looked at us both with a smile on her face and said "Sorry".  Now that little encounter was so much more memorable than a photo!

That finished the night on a high note!

Thanks again for reading.  Please leave a comment below and sign up with your email on the right hand side of the page to get updates whenever I put up a new post.  See you next time!

Friday, 8 June 2018

Kyoto revisited - Arashiyama

Hi everyone.  Just a really brief post.  I am currently in Kyoto for about a week.  More posts will follow, however I wanted to do a quick post today to talk about an experience I had today.  Almost 5 years ago my beautiful younger sister came to visit me and she asked that we visit Kyoto.  We did so, for only two brief days.  One place we went to was a place called Arashiyama.  Now, i went back there today and had an amazing experience.  Let me explain.

Almost 5 years ago my sister and I jumped off the bus that we had caught to go from Kyoto city to Arashiyama.  Almost immediately I took this photo.

Today I took this photo.

An incredible feeling of dejavu.  Some good memories!

Five years ago my sister and I crossed this bridge and on the other side I took this photo, which, to this day, remains one of my favourite photos.

Today I returned to the same place.

As I was taking the photo, I wondered if the old couple in the original photo were still around.

After taking this photo I wandered back behind me to a smaller bridge and took this photo.

So serene.  Today.

You may have noticed haw uncannily similar the weather was five years ago compared to today!  It was a precious moment to return to the locations of these photos.

One thing that was in stark contrast today compared to five years ago was this.  I took this photo at the entrance of the bamboo walkway.

Contrast this with five years later.....

What a difference five years makes....

It was a great day that I had to post about straight away.  Stay tune for more from this trip.

See you back here soon.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Naha's castle - Shuri castle (Shurijo - Naha, Okinawa 首里城)

As you know from a post last year (Charlies tacos), I took a trip down to Okinawa with good friend Tetsuya.  One of the places that we wanted to visit was Shuri castle.

Shuri castle was built back in 1429 and a lot of the structure has real similarities to Chinese architecture.  It was the palace of the Ryukyu kingdom until 1879 when Okinawa became part of Japan.  It was left mostly unused and deteriorated over time.  During the battle of Okinawa that devastated much of Okinawa, Shuri castle was heavily damaged.  In 1992, reconstruction commenced back to what it is today.

Tetsuya decided to brave the heat and visit the castle during the day.  I chickened out because of the heat and decided to visit later in the evening.  Jumping on the monorail I went all the way to the end, Shuri castle and started the short walk to its location.  Along the way I spotted some beautiful old style buildings.

Not sure what they were but they looked nice.  I kept on going and saw a sign pointing the way to the entrance of the castle.

I wasn't so sure, but I decided to trust the sign and continued on and things started looking a little better.

This looked a whole lot more Royal and closer to what I was expecting.  I rounded a corner and came face to face with this.

I stopped to say Hi to the Shisa at the entrance.

Shisa are traditional Okinawan guardians.  They represent lions and are often seen in pairs, one with it's mouth open, the other it's mouth closed.  The open mouthed one, like this one here, keeps evil spirits away while the open mouthed one keeps good spirits in.  I thanked him for his work and moved on inside the gates where I was greeted with this view.

Incredible!  And for it to be so quiet too!  It was almost like Okinawa was saying "Jason, here you are."

I bought a ticket (820 yen) to go inside and headed on in.

As with a lot of places at the moment, Shuri castle is undergoing renovations and the front part of the main castle was having some work done.

It is inevitable that tourist spots will have work done on them from time to time to keep them in top condition.  This, in no way, detracted from the experience that I was going through.  I moved on in to the castle itself and it was here that the mix of Japan and Ryukyu shone through.  This, very much Japan.

and this, very much Ryukyu.

Unfortunately for me, closing time was approaching so I made my way out of the castle

and back towards the station.

Okinawa has a unique culture and Shuri castle had just given me a unique experience. In fact it, and the people and the way of life, reminded me a lot of Australia and Australians.  I highly recommend visiting the castle in the evening.  Not only will you avoid the heat, but also the crowds and get a beautiful perspective of the castle lit grandiosely.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the photos (which don't really do the castle justice).  Please leave a comment below, I would love to hear from you, and please sign up on the right side of the screen to get email updates when I upload a new post.  Take care and see you next time.

Monday, 5 March 2018

An Epic Journey - Katsuura, Chiba

First of all, I apologise for the recent lack of activity here.  For a variety of reasons I lost focus on the blog over the last 12 months or so.  The blog became hard work and thus the number of posts over the past year has gone down.  I recently had a moment of enlightenment, but more on that later!

A couple of weeks ago I decided a day trip was in order.  I got online and started doing some research and after a couple of days I decided on Katsuura a little more than halfway down the east coast of the Boso peninsula in Chiba, to the east of Tokyo. Katsuura is a nondescript little fishing town with a population of around 20,000. It was a long trip, about 3 hours from Shinjuku I guess (a little closer from where I live).  I jumped on the train (the Sotobo line from Chiba station) and a while later I arrived.

Some of you might be wondering why I decided to come to Katsuura.  Was it because of this guy welcoming me at the station?

Nope, but he was welcoming everyone warmly!

Was it because of the local Hina matsuri displays all around town?

Nope, but they were very impressive and it seemed that a lot of people had come for that.

Was it to sample the local gourmet French cuisine?

No, but I'm sure it tastes great and that couple looked interested.

Was it to have a beer at this "little" bar?

I was too early anyway.

Was it for this gorgeous street

lined with these beautiful buildings?

Nope, but they were incredible.

Was it because of the eagles overhead calling out with their shrill cries?

No, but they were awesome!

Was it for the fishing port,

or the nearby beach?

No, but they were nice, and I'm guessing a whole loot less crowded than anything nearer to Tokyo!

What was it for?


Katsuura tantanmen.  Thanks to my ramen guide, Ramen Adventures, I discovered that this little town in the middle of nowhere had developed their own style of ramen.  Before we go on any further, it has to be said that Brian Macduckston is THE voice of ramen in Japan.  If you speak English and you love ramen, you need to be reading his blog.  Ezawa is the name of the restaurant that invented this style of tantanmen and that was where I was heading today.  The regular style of tantanmen is spicy and usually involves some kind of sesame in the soup.  Katsuura tantanmen is quite different.  It has a soy sauce base, a combination of cooked and raw onions, minced meat all covered by a layer of hot chili oil!  Who wouldn't want to try that!!

I worked my way back to the train station to jump on the bus to take me to Ezawa.  I arrived at the station to find that the next bus was about an hour away (they run about once or twice an hour out in the direction that Ezawa is).  I checked my google maps and found that Ezawa was about 6km away so I decided to walk and jump on the bus when it met up with me halfway there (I enjoy walking...).  So I set off.  Unfortunately I had not taken into account the topography of the area that I needed too pass through.  Pretty soon I discovered that I needed to pass over a mountain range.....

If that was what I had to do to reach my holy grail, then so be it!  After about 20 minutes I reached the summit of my Everest.  All downhill from here I thought.

Except it didn't go downhill....  It went flat for a while and then kept going up......

and up....

and up.....there was no end......

As I trudged on I heard the sound of an approaching bus and I was nowhere near a bus stop.....It passed on by.....

This day had gone from bad to much worse.  Route 297 was to be my cross....

Suddenly I stopped dead in my tracks and a big smile crept across my face.  This.....this was what I had been missing, the element of adventure and discovery!  Of going somewhere and just exploring.  This was what i had been missing for the past year or so, the enjoyment of going somewhere with a final goal, but just winging it for the rest of the time!  Suddenly I started looking at what was around me.

and it was amazing!

Suddenly my cross had ceased to be a burden and I was enjoying my trek!  Then Mrs google told me to turn left.

"Are you sure?" I asked her, to which she remained silent, adamant that she was right so I kept on walking, blind faith in Mrs google.  Suddenly I found myself in this.

Blind faith.....

Suddenly I rounded a corner and there it was.....

my holy grail.....

but it looked closed!!  I checked with Mrs google who told me that they were open until 6pm, but it looked closed.  I looked through the windows and there were a few people inside.  I poked my head inside and asked if I could come in.  They were definitely closing, but they ushered me in.  So kind, I felt guilty.  I ordered and soon it came out.

It looked amazing!!

It tasted amazing!  The chili oil created a slow burn, a slow and enjoyable burn!  I quickly finished it off, not wanting to impose any further on the staff and left with a full, glowing belly.  I suddenly realised that it was about 10 minutes until the last bus back to the train station.  As much fun as it had been coming out, I did not want to walk back to the station!  Hustling back to the main road, I made it a couple of minutes before the bus arrived.

less than 20 minutes later I was back at the station and the little guy was back there to see me off.

What a nice guy!

I decided to reward myself with a reserved seat on the limited express train back to Chiba station and I had the entire car to myself!!

What a way to finish off the day.

Well, that's it for another post.  Thanks for reading, and thanks for sticking with me.

Please leave a comment and feel free to sign up with your email address on the right side of the page to get an alert when I upload a new post.  Until next time, bye!