Round 3 around Japan (part 2)

After a long sleep at mine, mostly throughout the day due to our 8am return, we packed up ready for a trip west, to Kansai area. We were to catch a night bus from outside Shinjuku station in Tokyo, for a morning arrival in Kyoto. Shinjuku is a lovely, huge, metropolitan area with lots of nice pockets to see, and we wished to experience some of this before getting on the bus. However, the instructions for the bus location were simply outside the station west exit, and because of the vastness and size of Shinjuku and the station itself it proved more difficult than the instructions made us initially believe. We ended up walking for almost a couple of hours asking various people who all seemed either clueless or pointed us in the wrong direction, finally arriving in the unexpected, but correct, location on the second floor of a massive skyscraper, thus, wasting all our sightseeing time. So we had a Seven Eleven dinner, got on the bus and awaited for the morning and Kyoto to arrive.

Unnecessarily early the next day, we arrived, although went straight from one bus to another, heading once again for Andy’s house, my Japanese Kyotonian friend. After a quick nap, we hopped on the mountain train line up to Kurama, to soak in the local natural onsen. Kurama, is a cute little place, barely more than a single road lined with wooden houses, a river running beside and surrounded by a forest of large green trees. Once at the onsen we paid our entrance and we were given towels and a “yukata”, a traditional Japanese bathrobe. Most disappointingly they told us the outside pools were closed, which was mainly why we were there, however the inside was still natural water. I parted ways with the girls, stripped down and got my zen on. When revitalised, I put on my yukata and met the girls in the common room where we got some nice snaps in our lovely attire. The girls seemed to enjoy it, however, Rosa still didn’t quite agree with the necessity to be naked. So feeling fresh, we were now set on food. I heard of this nice place in the next valley called Kibune, walk-able from Kurama, where the restaurants are built over a river. You could walk up to a temple in the hills and walk down the other side to Kibune, a plan we decided on. The walk up to the temple, was more than I expected and it replaced our fresh clean feeling achieved from the onsen with a sweaty exhausted feeling. However Kurama-dera temple was worth it. Set in the rolling hills, with beautiful scenery it was incredibly peaceful. Rosa managed to find a room underneath the temple that was a maze of shelves lined with urns dimly lit by candle light. It was a little bit ominous but wonderfully amazing. The temple was only about half way up Kurama-yama mountain, which we had to walk over to get to Kibune, so we had to power on and up. It was actually not such a bad walk, it just made us more sweaty and more hungry. When we reached Kibune, we immediately looked for somewhere to eat, but disappointment soon dawned on us. Due to the rain most places were closed, and the unique decking areas over the river that I wanted to experience were not in use. The few places that were open were incredibly expensive, some from ¥12,000 a person! After walking around in the round the rain, tummies rumbling, one of the less expensive restaurants took pity on us and offered us some “soumen”, a type of noodles, for a much more affordable price. It was good, with the nice warm tea, and also just to rest and be out the rain. Although the potion size was very Japanese. When we finished the owner kindly drove us to the train station so we could get back to main Kyoto. So it turned out as a bit of a result.

In the evening we went in to Gion area to find some dinner. We looked around a few places, some izakayas were offering “nomihodai” and “tabehodai”, the all-you-can eat and drink options, but Andy has said that he would meet us later and show us a real cheap place. So to start ourselves off we found this nice little street bar that had a some food stalls, got a couple of beers and some “takoyaki”, the battered octopus balls. Andy then met us there and led us to this awesome izakaya. The deal was you paid ¥1500 and you could drink until your hearts content until the place closed, which of course was fantastic. It also allowed us to spend more money on food. We tried some kind of raw octopus salad that I can say I was not that fond of, but interestingly we all loved dried skate fin. It was incredible, like a slightly chewy crisp. After the drinks got flowing, Taz was up for learning a bit of Japanese, so Andy and I were getting her to say phrases to the waiters as they gave us food and drinks, such as “anata no chinko wa dekai desuka?”, which means “do you have a big penis?”. It got some pretty hilarious results, as they struggled to reply in English, but they loved it. We left early in the morning after much sake, beer and umeshu (plum shouchu, a sake like liquor).

The next day, due to the previous banter fueled late night, we got up pretty late, but had really lovely and more relaxed day. We went to the 1000 gate shrine, Fushimi. It was beautiful weather so we got to walk around much more of it than I did last time. It really is surprisingly huge. It goes on for miles winding up and down through forest, lakes and waterfalls. At one point we were joined by a cat who kindly gave us some affection and posed for some pictures. I highly recommend Fushimi. Later we tried to catch the happenings of Nishiki market, although we arrived a bit late and the days work was pretty much over. So we headed back and treated Andy to an aunty Rosa dinner. The next day, it was my birthday! We were off to Osaka in the evening but decided to get one last day of good sightseeing in Kyoto. We went to Kiyomizu, the temple set in the hills that over looks the city below. I like this temple because a spectacularly vast graveyard covers a whole side of the hill up to the temple and it gives a powerful feel to the whole place. Within the temple there is this area where 2 sacred rocks face each other separated by about 20 paces. The myth behind them is if you can successfully walk between them with your eyes closed your true love will be realised. Rosa made a successful attempt, so watch out Josh. Our next spot was Nijo castle. I was excited about this as I missed it last time I was in Kyoto as I was far to hungover to go sightseeing. It was impressive, although very modest for a castle. The walls around it was huge, but the castle itself was not what I was expecting, it was smaller than I thought and very subtly decorated inside, with barely any furnishings. However, the squeaky floor was enjoyable. All of the wooden boards inside squeak when you walk on them, supposedly like a nightingale, but I am not convinced. Back it the day it was to alert the residence of intruding ninjas and such like, now it is just good fun to bounce up and down squeaking away. Before we got on the train to Osaka we made one last try with Nishiki market, and it was definitely worth it. It was ripe with the finest Japanese foods. Many places sold Kyoto’s famous “Oshinko” pickles, all with taster dishes out the front, so we got to walk along the market sampling as we went along. A common item for sale was this whole little baby octopus on a stick with a quails egg inflating its head, making it look extra alien. A little too much for me to try. We all bought some “Shichimi”, a seven spice mix great for topping anything. The women in the shop let us try a variety. The original one was pretty spicy but the wasabi one definitely gave us a smack in the face.

A quick birthday beer later and we jumped on the train to Osaka for a little birthday banter. Spruced up and bags dumped at the hostel we made our way straight to Doutonbori, the hub of the south Osaka, for nightly happenings. Doutonbori is great. Each place boasts an elaborate shop front with huge octopi climbing out the walls or dragons flying about, I even saw a huge cluster of gyoza dumplings, each bigger than me. Everywhere is brightly illuminated by flashing lights and screens and the local youth walk around with their “Vijyuarukei” (visual rock) hairstyles, looking like someone out of final fantasy. We started a little izakaya crawl, hopping from place to place when our “nomihodai” (all you can drink) time had run out. At one place I got to try some horse sushi. Delicious, tender and different. The night progress quickly and soon it was no longer my birthday, but it didn’t matter because it was a good one running around the streets of Doutonbori. The next morning check out was at 10am. Not so great when we had got back to the hostel around 5am. When we felt a little bit more alive we explored Shinsekai area, where the retro looking and very bladerunner-esque Tsutenkaku tower inhabits. We sampled the local culinary specialty of “Kush-katsu”, literally loads of things fried in breadcrumbs on sticks. We found this one place and hung their, sampling the variety. Andy came to meet us and we went into Nihonbashi, an area that resembles the geekiness of Akihabara in Tokyo. The girls were on a hunt for some souvenir manga, but most shops we tried we just sold walls and walls of porn DVDs. Andy pointed out this one controversial shop that we made sure to avoid, as it specialised in school girl erotic goods, literally like 13 year old girls. Very disturbing. Japan can surprise you around every corner. Soon it was nearing our time in Osaka, and Taz’s time in Japan. We slowly made our way to the station, collecting souvenirs along the way, but by then it was time for Taz to catch her flight out of Japan. Then there were only two. Another night bus back to Tokyo, almost sapped all of our energy that had been battered for the past ten days of intense exploration around Japan. Me and Rosa managed to make it for quick walk around Harajuku, but it was too much to take, so we sat in a friends bar, eating and drinking, then crashed out for one last rough sleep in an internet cafe. Then the next morning it was goodbye for Rosa and once again, I was back to my normal life in Japan, however already missing the great times we had just had.

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