Okinawa – 沖縄県

22/03/16 – 25/03/16

Another weekend trip, this time on one of the famous tropical Japanese Islands!

 

 

Located roughly 600 miles from Honshu (the main island of Japan) this collection of over 150 islands are the tropics of Japan. Famous for their sandy beaches, coral reefs and unique culture, (cue terrible joke) it is quite literally one of the hot spots to visit in Japan!!

 

Not during the rainy season, though we wouldn’t want you to get blown away or washed down the drain!  This starts Late April and ends late June, and of course, we booked our flights for the end of April! Right from the get-go I was very dubious about the trip as the weather forecast was rather daunting…

 

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Looks promising right???…

Alas, our flights were booked and off we went to Narita airport to catch are Peach flight to Naha, Okinawa!

Top tip – if you want to save on flights when flying to, from or inside Japan ‘Peach’ and ‘Vanilla Air’ are always having 3/4 day flash sales. You can find out the details by signing up for their email service or make sure to check out their website. 

We arrived in Naha grabbed some water and headed for our apartment via monorail!

 

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This was in fact, my first experience on a monorail, I’d be lying if I wasn’t a bit afraid, yes I don’t like heights….

About twenty minutes down the track and we arrived at ‘Omoromachi station’ our stop for our extremely nice and reasonably priced home for the weekend!

Top tip – we booked our apartment on Airbnb this is a great website to find fun, unique, and exciting places to stay in over 34000 cities around the word! This is a great website/app to find places to stay, also it’s often considerably cheaper for what you get, in better locations and more convenient. This is also great to get the real experience of the local area and to see how people from said location life!

If you want to set up an account and receive a £14 discount that you can use on your fist booking use this link! http://www.airbnb.com/c/stephenk98

 

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With a great view to boot!

 

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We arrived quite late and just grabbed some food in a local restaurant then went for a walk around the area! Outside the monorail station near our house, there is a water/steam/light feature thing. It’s easier if you just see it.

 

 

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Then of course it was off to bed after some local beer and grub!

 

23/03/16

Tokashiki Island

We decided to go on a day trip to one of the many islands that make up Okinawa! Tokashiki island was our port of call for the day. Making our way to the main port in Naha and boarded the ferry to Tokashiki!

 

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After docking at Tokashiki Island we went into the port office for some information about the island. Everyone was being ushered onto a bus that was headed for the famous beach on the other side of the island. We decided to walk as the weather was really nice  (but mostly because I had no money). On the way, we saw some forest or you could say nearly jungle on the way across this tropical island, we also got the opportunity to try planting rice. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time and passed up the opportunity (kind of regret it now).

 

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We made our way over and back down the other side of the mountain coming across another small village (population of about 50 I’d say). We hit the shore and came to the beach, just wow.  This was one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen!!

 

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After walking around for a while and of course doing the very British thing of dipping your feet in and not actually swimming in the water we headed along the beach to a viewing point. The place was just breathtaking and the pictures speak for themselves!

 

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We headed back to the little village just beside the beach as I quite rapidly turning into a lobster. We were able to grab some food and people spoke really good English, nice and easy for us getting vegetarian food!

 

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As I had developed a rather glorious sunburn we decided that (or rather I decided) we should get the bus back to the port instead of walking. We were a little early so decided to have a little cocktail beside the beach before the bus!  It was a long day trip as the boat took 2/3 hours to get there and another 2/3 to get back. The evening was once again spent finding a local restaurant to get some grub and drink some more Orion, (a Japanese beer) by the why I think this is by far the best mainstream (if you can use that term for beer) beer in Japan!

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24/03/16

Markets, Shurijo Castle and more Fun Stuff

We started the day bright and early to try and pack in as much as we could! We bought ourselves a day ticket for the monorail as we wanted to pack in as much as possible. (this was great as we went for some food before leaving meaning we bought the ticket after 10am) In case you are wondering the tickets last for 24 hours and they work by the clock not the day so this was perfect for us as we could use it for our ride to the airport in the next morning!

We set off to Shuriojo Castle, making the obligatory stops at vending machines of course.

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The castle was set up on top of a hill and was an enjoyable walk up to it from the station and the view was just spectacular over the city!

 

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When in the castle they had a stay with people performing 3 or 4 times a day a  dance in the traditional style of Kabuki.

 

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After the castle, we thought we would head to a market, but it turned out to be a night one and not very open during the day…

 

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So we headed off further down the line to Fukushūen the traditional gardens in Naha. On the way, we walked through the city a little bit and found ourselves  emits a Japanese film/tv festival. Of course, we didn’t have a clue who any of these people were but everyone else was going CRAZY!After fighting through the crowd of people we made our way to the nearest station to get to Fukushūen. Of course we found ourself going through another market this time it was open and there was a traditional Okinawan performance going on!

 

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This is when the real magic of a trip happens we were going one way and decided to go another and found the market but more importantly the performance. This style of dance is known as Eisa and is a traditional Okinawan dance performed with live musicans

 

 

3 hours later, we made it to Fukushuen.

 

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Even making some buddies along the way. 😉

 

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This for me this was one of the real treasures of the trip, it was free, not busy and really very beautiful! With its winding paths, beautiful architecture, wildlife and the waterfall that you could walk through.

 

 

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After the park we decided that we would head back, it was time for a nap, some food and I needed to get the frozen towel on my sunburn again. I haven’t actually told you about that yet… (but yes I did have two small onsen towels that I was now freezing and then rotating them to cool down my back and neck, along with the gallons of after the sun… of course Philip and Josie give me nothing but moral support {yeah right}.)

 

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(Photo doesn’t really do it justice!)

So this was gonna be our big night out in Naha and after walking through the town we had seen a few spots that looked promising and cheap (mainly cheap). Josie found a local supermarket and we headed up to get a little something for breakfast before the airport, today’s dinners along with some beers.  So off we go on the 5-minute walk to the supermarket, head in and get our stuff then 5-minutes later we head out again (now, baring in mind that when we left if was clear as day). We got about 2 minutes into our journey and just one block from our apartment me the rain started. Oh, and by started I mean the heaviest rain I’ve ever seen in my life, (baring in mind once again that I’m from Northern Ireland and yes it rains over 200 days of the year there..) this was some hardcore rain. So, of course, we ran back and in the space of 2 minutes we looked like drowned rats. So that kind of concluded our night, ridiculous rain… Let’s just drink the beer play cards and watch a movie!

 

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Oh yeah we also heard that Okinawa was famous for its fruit and vegetables of course Josie and I being the vegetarians were interested in this (and Philip who would literally eat shit on a stick was of course, interested too…) ‘Goya’ or bitter melon (in English) is a cumber like fruit that is really popular and is said to give the eater a longer life. We wanna stay on the planet for a long as we can so we thought ‘ahh, why not give it a go’. That was a terrible idea.

Just Don’t.

In case you are wondering what the devil of all fruits looks like it is this.

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I mean, of course, try it if someone who knows how to cook it is present. You know when you’re watching the TV and the guys say’s “Don’t try this at home” well, this is a don’t try this one at home kind of thing…

 

25/03/16

Flights

Not really too much to say for today. We got up and headed back for Kofu, Yamanashi!

I really had a lot of fun and was so happy that the not so amazing water forecast was not accurate at all!  I hope you enjoyed our little adventure in Okinawa too and it inspires you to get out and see the world!

 

Thanks for reading/looking

Happy traveling,

Stephen

 

I’ll leave you with this image, it was taken at one of the monorail stations. Make of it what you will.

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The Adventures of Kin Niku Kuruma (Part 2) – 筋肉車

Kyushu here we come!

Day 5 – 24/03/16

We started the day off with the 2500-year-old tree on Omishima island.

 

Oyamzumi Jinja, was the first port of call which is famous for its tree in the centre of the shrine and also its roots in samurai culture.

 

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The temple was really interesting and also had a samurai museum right next door to it. We parked the car just down from the temple itself and there was a store full of local produce. Shikoku is really famous for its sea salt, so we got ours from there!

Driving along the islands in between Shikoku and Honshu was by far the most stunning length of road on the trip.

 

 

Everywhere you looked in any direction it was just breathtaking… I don’t know how many times we stopped just to get out, wander around and just take some photos. So beautiful!

After our morning stroll through the temple we were headed for Matsuyama and the famous Dōgo onsen!

 

This onsen one of the most famous in whole Japan, it has been being used for over 1000 years. The building that you see here started its construction in 1894 and has remained virtually unchanged. It is famous for its stone and wooden baths that are both really very pleasant to the eye and of course feel great!

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Are you a fan of Studio Ghibli? Well if you are this is the onsen you want to visit as it inspired the only oscar award-winning Japanese animation – Spirited Away!

So after are delightful bath for the day in Dogo onsen we went across the road to Dogo Beer Bakushukan – (https://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g298230-d1173955-i90179307-Dogo_Bakushukan-Matsuyama_Ehime_Prefecture_Shikoku.html)

I always go into Japanese restaurants feeling doubtful that I won’t be able to eat as I am vegetarian, but the staff here were extremely helpful and made me up some udon with tempura which actually turned out to be the nicest tempura I have eaten since being in Japan (that’s over 7 months now). I would highly recommend it after your hot bath at Dōgo Onsen!

 

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After a bite to eat we did a little sightseeing around Matsuyama. We first went to a temple nearby Dōgo onsen called Isaniwa Jinja.

 

This was a nice walk up to the top with a great view over the town, it was also had some very interesting artwork. There were pieces of art that had been carved and painted on top of wood, really interesting stuff actually!

 

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We made our way down through the city markets towards the castle and some of the gardens in Matatusyama. Philip made some friends on the way.

 

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After adventuring around the town for a little longer we made our way to Yawatahama and the ferry to Beppu! When we drove down we were going to stop and stay in Yawatahama for the night but we discovered that we could get a ferry earlier on in the day. We liked this idea better as it saved getting the 6am ferry that we had originally booked. The process of changing the ferry times was pretty simple, I sat in the car and Philip went in… the perks of driving eh?

 

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It was also great timing as we caught the sunset as we were sailing over! It was a well needed break for me too it was nice just to sit back not think and still be covering miles!

 

 

Just seeing the number plate on the front of Kin Niku reminded me of something funny, indulge me while we are sailing across to Beppu.

We had now gotten to the point in the journey where we had covered a fair bit of distance and a running joke was reoccurring.  If you know or have met any Japanese people you will soon learn when they think something is cool or amazing they tend not to say cool or amazing they just make loud noises. Like OHHHHHHHH or WOOOOOOOO or CHOOOOOOOOO or HUUUUUUUUU or HOOOOOOO or HEEEeeeeeEEE, I could go on. These noises vary as well depending on the individual and of course can change (just to give you an idea). So as I was saying just seeing the number plate reminded me, every time we would go to eat somewhere, fill up the car or stop somewhere to ask for directions we would get a puzzled look followed by “WAHHHHHHH?!?!?!, YAMANASHI????” this happened at least 2 or 3 times a day.

Anyway we had now pulled into port in Beppu, it was time for dinner and a place to stay.  おやすみ (or oyasumi) – good night!!

 

Day 6 – 25/03/16

Beppu, Beppu, Beppu

 

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If only every day could start like this, Hyotan Onsen Beppu.

 

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Beppu is famous for having multiple hot springs in one area. I have a Japanese friend in Beppu and she recommended we visit Hyotan Onsen, of course, she was defiantly on to something. For 1000 yen we were able to try 10 different types of baths water from 3 different onsens and also the famous sandbaths! It was situated right in the centre of Beppu and very easy to find, access and it had free parking!

 

 

Philip and I always managed to be the first to the onsen every morning we were there at 9 on the button! Today was no exception and I was able to run down into the onsen and snap some quick photos so you can get an idea of the place!

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They also had quite an impressive waterfall bath which was very relaxing!

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As in my last post onsen can be used not only for bathing but other things and Beppu is famous for using it in many different ways, for example, cooking food or heating homes. They use it to steam cook fish and other things for example in Hyotan onsen they were cooking eggs with it.
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You could also relax and breathe in the steam from the onsen as it is supposedly good for your throat, if you enjoy the smell of sulfur (or eggy farts) then this is perfect for you! Philip clearly loved it…
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After we spent a ridiculous amount of time in the onsen (two and a half hours later) we decided that doing a bit of sightseeing around Beppu would be good! Again we ask my friend Mi for the hot spots in the area, she recommended The Hells of Beppu, so off we went!
The Beppu hells were all pretty close by to one another, the first group was near Hyotan Onsen, the other hells were located on the outskirts of the city. Driving it was no problem at all even if you were using public transport there was a lot of buses as these are very popular tourist destinations!

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Beppu you were awsome but Sakurajima here we come!!

 

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Driving, driving, driving, toliet break, driving, driving, dinner, driving….

 

Day 7 – 26/03/16

 

What a view to wake up to…

 

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Not to shabby eh?

 

 

Sakurajima, Kagoshima prefecture we spent the morning on a few of the walks around the active volcano. We first ventured up and around the volcano a little. This is the most active volcano in Japan it usually erupts on a weekly bases and can even happen daily.

We started the day with a walk around the base of the volcano.

 

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Here we can see Kin Niku posing in front of Sakurajima! Looking as handsome as ever!

After this, we went down the coast for are daily bath and this time it was a very special onsen! Magma Onsen, yes, I said magma!!!! This was one of the most interesting onsens for Phil and myself, but that’s obvious right?? Its an active volcano onsen, it’s AWESOME!!

The magma bath was really unique and noting like we had tried on are trip so far. For a start it was colder than most onsen that we had visited before, but not only that the water itself was thicker with a mud-like slim consistency. It was copper in colour and felt kind of weird on your skin, but its natural, so it has to be good right???

After are bath we headed for the lava trail and a walk alone the coast!

 

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We saw a lot of interesting rocks, had a great view of the ocean, Sakurajima and most improtantly made a new four legged friend!!!

Meet our little ginger buddy

 

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He walked with us around the trail and we had a great little adventure together!

This was actually a really nice way to end our time at Sakurajima, we saw lots of interesting things and of course made a new furry mate! As we were leaving Sakurajima we were engulfed by a plume of black smoke started to rain down suit and ash all around us, there was a small eruption just as we were leaving! Everything started to turn black, must be a real pain in the ass if you had just washed the car? Luckily we didn’t have that problem!

Fukuoka here we come!

On the road, passing by parks you always gotta call in!

 

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Another destination that wasn’t planned out, Kumamoto and its black castle! We were going through Kumamoto around 4 or 5 o’clock just before sunset and the traffic was crazy! I suggested to Philip stopping in at Kumamoto castle to look and see what if it was nice or not. We hadn’t actually planned to come to the castle or stay very long in Kumamoto but now we are so glad that we did!  It was perfect timing we could see the castle in the daytime and also the night!

 

 

As I’m sure you are aware by now of the devastations earthquake that struck Kumamoto on 16th of April 2016. The castle has been left in ruins along with most of the city. Throughout our trip, we saw many so beautiful things while stopping off at some amazing places but for me Kumamoto had to be one of the most stunning and historical places!  The people of this still great city need all the help they can get, there are many ways that you can support. If you feel like helping out there are lots of fundraising schemes that will do just that. This is one that I have been following – https://www.generosity.com/volunteer-fundraising/2016-kumamoto-earthquake-relief-fund

Other ways to help – http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/04/17/national/kumamoto-quake-info-where-to-go-how-to-help/#.Vx3xChJ96K4

The castle was our first port of call in Kumamoto

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This is by far one of the most beautiful castles in Japan that I have ever seen and its gardens surrounding are an escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city! As I mentioned before we had timed it well coming in being able to see the castle then going inside to view the museum and come out to the castle at night!

Of course we took a stupid photo, it’s a must, right?

Pip and his samurai mate!

 

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It was surrounded by a massive moat and a large park to the rear of the castle that was full of sakura and other plants! One of the most impressive parts of the castle had to be the long winding roads leading to the castle that lined with cherry blossom trees!

 

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After checking out the castle we came outside to find a festival that was happening in the caslte grounds. Lots of different groups from all over Japan dancing in a competition!

Oh, and the castle was just gorgeous at night!!

 

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Then it was back on the road to Fukuoka. Thanks, Kumamoto it was fun!

 

Day 8 – 27/03/16

 

 

Hiroshima anyone?

We had some breakfast in Fukuoka then headed to Kitakyushu, Kokura Castle.

 

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After we went to the castle we realised that we passed quite a nice area so we went back on ourselves to Hiraodai, Kokuraminami. This is known for its limestone caves and unique landscapes. This had to be the most distinctively different areas of Japan I have visited. We were driving up the side of a mountain to come into the valley that the limestone caves were situated when we turned the penultimate corner and everything changed. Most places in Japan are a green lush with trees and bushes this was so foreign and really took us both by surprise. So we desided to stay a while!

 

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We, first of all, went to the limestone caves and went underground, this was somewhat impressive but it was very short and not really worth the 500 yen that we paid as we only spent about 5/10 minutes in the caves. If you are really into caves go for it, if not there are nice hikes to do around this area!

 

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Then we thought, why not climb a mountain?

 

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After seeing the caves and hiking we decided that we should get a move on as we had a lot more ground to cover, so we headed for Hiroshima!

Driving, Driving, oh and driving!!!

We arrive late in Hiroshima around 9pm and it was time for dinner!! We found a good spot to park the car and we headed into the town. Of course, we headed for the nearest okonomiyaki place, and damn it was so good!! (and veggie of course)

 

 

The other great thing is you watch them make it infront of you!

 

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After dinner and a cheeky beer we headed for bed!

Day 9 – 28/03/16

Hiroshima, Hiroshima, Hiroshima!

 

 

Probably one of the most famous cities in Japan for a variety of reason like food, the interesting people and its history in the second world war. Okonomiyaki is up there with Houtou for me but it probably steals first place in being my favorite food (also the fact that they can make it vegetarian easily is nice too!!)

In the morning we started the day with our daily castle fix at Hiroshima Castle!

 

 

It was quite unipe in the colour as it was the first naturally brown castle that we had seen in Japan! Like Kumamoto Castle still has its moat and surrouding wall.

 

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A really beautiful castle and lovely gardens surrounding there is also a zoo if you are into that kind of thing!

 

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When in Hiroshima you are constantly reminded of the atrocities of the Atomic bomb that was detonated on the 6th of August 1945. When the US Air Force dropped “Little Boy” (the nuclear bomb) in the centre of Hiroshima the city was reduced to rubble, while people were turned to dust in seconds. To give you an idea of here is an image of just before and a few days after the explosion.

 

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With this in mind, there are a lot of really beautiful memorials, gardens, buildings and The Atomic Bomb museum which really do open your eyes as to what happened when the bomb was dropped and the devastating after effects it imposed. If you are in Hiroshima I feel that it is such an important part of Japans recent history you should really take your time and let it sink in. I found myself becoming very emotional when in The Atomic Bomb Museum, some of the stories that are used throughout make everything very personal. It is important that we learn from the mistakes in history to never let them happen again while remaining mindful of this history. We mustn’t repeat the mistakes of the past!

 

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Hiroshima’s Atomic Bomb Dome, one of the only buildings to survive closest to the hypocenter, or ground zero. Which was added to UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, in memory of those who died and also a clear reminder that nuclear war fair should never be used.

After a bit of a heavy morning, we decided to head out of Hiroshima and have some late lunch! We drove down the coast heading south to Kure where we discovered (thanks to trip advisor) an Okonomiyaki that turned out to be amazing!!!

お好み焼き&たこ焼き ヴィヴィor Okonomiyaki Takoyaki Vivi is the place, (if you want to find it sreach for it in Japanese) and it is a small local favorite!

 

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We went inside to no seats, but two ladies quickly stood up and moved around the counter to fit us in! The ladies behind the griddle were extremely friendly as were the locals in the restaurant. It turned out that one of the other customers spoke really good English, so we got talking. This is apparently the best in town for Tako’s (squid balls) and Okonomiyaki. This was definitely the cause as the place was full and when people left there were others waiting to get in.  As I said before the two ladies that were cooking were an absolute delight and the food was even better!! We stayed for two portions, fat life… I had both the okonomiyaki with soba and udon, they are both amazing. Try all the sauces the spicey one is the best!

 

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There is also something really amazing about watching your food be cooked and prepared right in front of you. They also had an English menu which is really rare in Japan, they didn’t speak any English but they have gone the extra mile by preparing the menu!

 

 

Overall it was delicious also, a great experience watching the food be prepared and the atomiser. There is something really nice about a room full of women as they are not shy to talk or as we say in Northern Ireland have good ‘Banter’. I feel like this would have been a completely different experience if it were all men.

 

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Great place, great food and even better people check it out!!!

料理も美味しいし、店員さんも良い! 最高のお店なので、みんな行ってみて!

After eating way too much food we hit the road again! It was starting to get late and we wanted to cover as much ground as we could. Himeji Castle was the next port of call! When on the road we called into a few different places, first off was Zenkō-ji temples, Onomichi.

A beautiful temple on the top of a mountain that has been there for over 1000 years!

 

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We packed the car and walked up the path but there is a cable car for those that can’t walk as well! The park that the temple was a part of, Zenkō-ji park was really nice and full of cherry blossom trees, really beautiful and what a view!

 

 

After the spending some time walking around the park the sun was starting to set and it was time to leave! Fukayama was are next stop for a quick castle viewing and also some dinner, mind you I’m not sure were we got the room from after all the okonomiyaki..

 

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The parks have a different dynamic all together at night, posing their own beauty. You may not be able to see all the flowers but this only heightens the other senses. This was in the middle of the cherry blossom season. The smell of sake is in the air the laughter of people sitting under the Sakura. During the day, we have Hanami which translates to flower watching that involves drinking (not always alcohol, but usually alcohol) and eating under the sakura. But of course the Japanese have a word for just about everything nature related, so, Yosakura is basically night time Hanami!

 

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Oh, and of course, the castle was beautiful! Unfortuntly my Ipad dosen’t really do it any justice at night.

 

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What a way to end a great day!

Day 10 – 29/03/16

Himeji Castle and Nara

 

 

The biggest castle in Japan, of course its on are list! We got there bright and early and rightly so. There was just a flood of people come 9am, it was crazy.

 

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We went inside the castle but there wasn’t actually very much to see most of the other castles that we had visited at some sort of museum or exhibition inside Himeji was just empty rooms. A little bit disappointing really but the castle itself was stunning for me seeing it from the outside would have been enough. The gardens, on the other hand, were totally worth the money, Philip and I both really loved the gardens and I’m sure you can see why!

 

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All of these walled gardens were unique and so beautiful in there own ways!!

 

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So much wow for the gardens, if  you are going to the castle you must go and see the gardens!

Off to Nara next and its (in)famous deer!

 

 

I mannaged to meet a nice one, these guys are actually super poliet and are famous for bowing to people if you feed them! Unless you have food though they don’t really bother with you.

 

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Nara of course is not only famous for its wild lif, but its temples also! Some of biggest and more famous temples are here in Nara.

 

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Nara Park is すばらしい (Subarashii) as the Japanese say or in English glorious or superb! The connections of history, culture and wildlife is like no were else!

 

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Oh, the sakura there was pretty damn awsome too!

 

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Getting hairier by the day…

After Nara we headed a little closer to Yamanashi and the end of the trip.

 

Day 11 – 30/03/16 

Shizuoka and home!

 

 

We started the day as all days should start with an onsen and a castle (have you noticed this reoccurring theme?)

 

 

Breakfast at Yoshida Castle, Toyohashi was the start to our day. Situated right biside the Toyokawa river it has a small but beautiful garden with a great view of the city!

So fun fact, this is the morning that our dear Philip got Instagram, so if you want to follow him please do so! @philipmewes

Shizuoka next, first stop was Kunōzan Tōshō-gū.

 

 

This temple was also situated on top of a mountain (or cliff if you like) which had amazing views of the pacific ocean and the strawberry farms along the coastline! Talk of strawberries there was so many strawberry farms in this area all you could smell was the sweet, sweet smell of fresh strawberries.

 

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Oh and lots of steps, I mean about 40 staircases worth! Good luck

After the temple, we went back to numazu to meet a friend and have some lunch! Then in the evening time decided that we were close enough to home to go back and sleep there. The student option, you know cheaper and comfyer! Before going back to Kofu we decided to revist the first park that we went to on our travels Iwamotoyama Park in Fuji to see if the sakura had started to blossom 10 days later!

We were in luck!

 

 

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Even the tea fields around the park seemed more alive!

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What a way to end the trip, back where we first started!  I really hope you enjoyed reading about Pip/Pip’n/Philips and my adventure around the south of Japan. If you’ve gotten this far you have probably read a little bit of my ranting or just enjoyed the pictures, that’s great too! We covered a lot of miles and I think I have captured most if not all of the trip in these two posts. I tried to keep this one as short as I could!

Hope you enjoyed it as much as we did! Thanks again for taking the time out to have a look! See you again soon there are lots of new exciting trips that I will be posting over the next few weeks that have already happened in the time it has taken me to write this. Keep your eyes peeled!

 

 

Thanks for reading/looking,

Stephen

The Oldest Cherry Blossom Tree in Japan, Hanami Jindai Zakura, Hokuto-shi – 花見 神代桜 北杜市(はなみ じんだいざくら ほくとし)

花見 or hanami literally means ‘flower watching’ or to look at flowers.  This phenomenon comes about at the start of spring as the sakura or cherry blossom trees start to bloom. People go crazy for the sakura in Japan and just right too as it probably one of the most beautiful times to see Japan.   As I talked about in my last blog  post on Kawaguchigo spring time is the rebirth of Japanese nature. All of the flowers start to pop out, the fruit trees are blooming and the smell of nectar is in the air.

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The Sakura (or cherry blossom) is the unofficial national flower of Japan and has been celebrated here for 100’s of years! if you ever come to japan you will soon find out how the Japanese are borderline fanatical when it comes to flowers on tree’s….  so where am I going with this you say?  Well,

Yesterday, I took a little trip to Hokuto city, Yamanashi Prefecture to spend sometime flower watching or hanami as they like to say in Japan!

I first went to 山高神代桜 or Bowler Sakura Jindai which is quite a famous area to see cherry blossom, in fact, it is home to this tree.

The Jindaizakura, which just so happens to be the oldest cherry blossom tree in the Japan and in fact the world. Oh, and it’s in Yamanashi Prefecture!!! This tree has been a focal point for Japanese culture for hundreds of years, and at a mere 2000 years young it is still growing strong! Jindaizakura one of the three famous sakura trees in Japan, the second oldest is Usuzumi-Zakura in the Usuzumi Park in Gifu Prefecture which is around 1500 years old and Miharu Takizakura, Fukushima Prefecture is the third oldest at 1000 years old but by far the most famous. After lasting the tsunami and nuclear reactor disaster is it a beacon of hope for the Japanese and is visited by thousands of people when blooming.

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The gardens surrounding the Jindaizakura tree are gorgeous,  fields of daffodils, snowdrops and tulips covered in the fallen cherry blossoms.

The temple park is in full of blooming flowers from all around!

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 You can even stop off and get some tasty food! I would recomend the mochi and the sakura ice-cream. Yes cherry blossom ice-cream!!!! 

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Parking at the temple cost around 400/500 yen depending on how close you are to the temple.

After walking around the park more than once, I got talking to a lcoal and they told me about a famous street that was a five minute drive from were the temple park was. So I thought that I would check it out!

And there it was…
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One of the most beautiful strees I’ve ever seen, I was completely surrounded by sakura. Along the road there are flieds of daliodils and friut fields with lines of peach (or momo as the japanese say) trees  that were some of most beautiful I have ever seen! These trees had three didifernt types of blossoms on each branch pink, white and a mixture of the two!
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If you want to check it out it is very busy and there isnt vey much parking on the plus side it’s free!
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I even met some interesting friends.. Posers
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Enjoy the hanami!
Thanks for reading/looking guys,
Stephen

河口湖 (かわぐちこ) – Kawaguchiko

Today was spent leisurely walking around Kawaguchiko,  probably one of the most famous lake areas in Japan. This is to do with where it is situated, the lakes are at the base of the 3776meter tall Mt. Fuji! This is my third time visiting the lakes and every time it is a wonderful and unique experience. Especially at the moment as spring is starting, the daffodils (or narcissists as they are known), snowdrops and the magnolia trees are blooming. This is one of my favorite times of the year, all that’s missing are some spring lambs running around the fields (coming from Northern Ireland were this is a norm), I suppose you can’t have it all?  But what a view of the blue mountain that is Mout Fuji, or Fuji-San as the Japanese refer to it.

As I said before coming here at different times of the year is always interesting, now we have the classic and iconic view of mount fuji with a little snow on the top. Two months ago it was completely white and in 2 months time it will no doubt be rid of its fluffy white winter coat. Coming from Kofu that is surrounded (in a valley if you like) by mountains it has its own warmer sub-climate (if that’s a thing?) Kofu is situated in relatively the same area as Kawaguchiko, in fact, Kawaguchiko is future south. But this 45-minute drive south makes a big difference. The Sakura or Cherry blossoms in Kofu are our in full but in Kawaguchiko are only starting to bud (this just means I’ll have to go down again and get a nice photo for you all!)

While walking around the lakes you can take some time to go out on the swan paddle boat (if you’re feeling romantic) or just soak in the sun and scenery. We decided to go on the Kachi Kachi Ropeway – (http://www.kachikachiyama-ropeway.com/en/), cheating are way up the mountain to what I can only call the most amazing view of Fuji-San in the Yamanashi Prefecture! If you struggle with hiking, walking long distances or are in a hurry this can be a life saver.  !!!Helpful hint!!!  The ropeway can get busy at peak times like early morning and just after lunch because you could get stuck in quite a long queue! It cost 800yen for one adult and 400 for a child!

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View from the cable car overlooking one of the lakes!

P.s Kawaguchiko is great as there are lots of regular buses from around Yamanashi Prefecture and if you drive there are a lot of free car parks. Which of course are hard to come by in Japan! This is the place you will most likely come to when you want to climb Fuji-San.

For lunch, we had some local food, Yamanashi’s famous Houtou which is handmade noodles that would remind you of a homemade tagliatelle in shape and udon in texture in a pumpkin soup. This is famous thanks to Takeda Shingen, (one of the most famous samurai generals in Japanese history that came from Kofu, Yamanashi) originally this would have been a vegetarian dish as it was served to the samurai before marching off to war.

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This was in fact, Takeda Shingen’s meal of choice before war, it is quite symbolic as we will be marching in the remembrance parade for Takeda this Saturday!! This is one of my favourite foods from Japan, but I love everything noodles. Coming in the soup with big chunky vegetables it is thicker than the soups commonly in Ramen and tastes so fresh and wholesome!  We had our food in a big restaurant called ‘Houtou Fufou‘ – (http://www.houtou-fudou.jp/english.html) This was a really impressive restaurant and well-priced (around 1200 yen pp), oh and you can’t miss it! It’s like the Japanese answer to an iglu.

 

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This is definitely worth checking out if you are near Fuji-San and in Yamanashi Prefecture it is a must!! Try Houtou, Yamanashi Noodles!!!

I’m not sure if you know yet but I’m sure you will find out soon that I am a vegetarian, Japan can be very difficult at times when trying to order food but things are changing and it is becoming much easier. For instance, this usually has meat or fish in the soup but I was able to just ask for a miso based soup, Japanese people are very accommodating. It can just be a little awkward when you are a big hairy guy and you say you don’t want meat or fish, you get some very confused looking faces. That being said after the initial shock and horror they will help you out in some way.

The lakes in Yamanashi are well worth the day trip, soaking in the culture and local cuisine. Go to Kawaguchiko, take your time and enjoy it! I know we did!!

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Thanks for reading/looking,

Stephen

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