Kyoto -> Miyajima

After an impromptu breakfast at the hotel, we checked out and headed for Kyoto station on foot. Today we were headed for Hiroshima and then on to Miyajima. It was bullet trains from here to Hiroshima, so we got in line for reservations.

Up to this point we had been getting reservations about 10 minutes before we boarded with no problems. We asked the agent for passes and she said NO…our passes were not valid on the line. Further, she said that the other option, the Hikari line, (still a bullet train but arriving 30min later than we had planned) was sold out.


We exited the line in a bit of disbelief and leaned against the wall for a few minutes to regroup. If we couldn’t get on these routes, it would take up to 4 hours longer than we wanted.

The trains here, like a lot of places, have different classes of cars. Some cars are for reservation holders and others are first come first serve cars…you can get a seat, it’s just not guaranteed. On a hunch, we thought that perhaps there was a miscommunication (go figure) when we asked about the availability of non-reserved seats on the Hikari line. We went back to the counter and asked again about getting on the non-reserved cars, of there were any.

She explained (and we would later figure out how to tell this ourselves) that there were in fact 3 non-reserved cars on the Hikari train and, of course, we were free to get on those. We shuffled up the stairs (we have this move down pat…normally we each have a rolling suitcase and a backpack…Erin also has a hip bag with the train tickets in them and I carry the ever-expanding shopping bag of souvenirs…when we approach stairs we do a ritualistic dance where Erin turns her rolling bag sideways, turns to her left and takes the souvenir bag at which point I assume control of her rolling bag’ stop handle as I change the grip on my rolling bag so that I can carry both up and down stairs) to the Hikari platform and got in line to board the non-reserved car.

We were able to easily find seats and settle in for the 90 minutes bullet train to Hiroshima. Nice try trains, but we still win.

Once in Hiroshima, we stuffed most of our stuff into a coin locker and set out to see the Atomic Bomb Dome, Peace Park, and Museum. I was a little apprehensive about visiting here (though I don’t really know why) but I’m glad we did. It was a pretty heavy feeling standing on the infamous T-shaped bridge. The sites and especially the museum were tastefully and factually put together. All in all, it was definitely worth the 2 hour visit.

A little famished due to the hot day we went for some lunch in a building across from the train station. The 6th floor of the building was basically a Okonomoyaki food court, about 12 stands in all. We did one lap around the place (it felt like a brick and mortar food truck rally) trying to figure out what each one’s specialty was…it probably said clearly on all of the signs we couldn’t read…but we couldn’t, so we just sat down at one that had a guy eating at it already.

Apparently Osaka and Hiroshima have difference types of Okonomoyaki. Since we had it in Kyoto, I would have thought it would have been Osaka-style but maybe not because this meal was almost exactly like it. Perhaps one of those signs we couldn’t read said: “Featuring Osaka style”…whatever. The food was better here than at Yasube, even if the eggs they used had 2 yolks. Is that a thing? Yes, it apparently is.

We left Hiroshima in the late afternoon and caught a local train to Miyagimaguchi station. From here you take a ferry across the inland sea to the island of Miyajima (I think jima means island, so I may have just said the island of Miya island). Miyajima is famous for being the site of a large, self standing orange torii I gate that is partially submerged during high tide. If you’ve ever been to Japan in Epcot, you’ve seen a replica of the effect. The island is also dotted with many temples, but somewhat more interesting are the wild, yet completely tame, deer. They are everywhere from the moment that you get off the ferry and are mostly looking for handouts. If you acquiesce, they will follow you for quite a long time before giving up.

They are also apparently found of newspaper. As we exited the port station, we noticed a man sitting by himself reading the paper. It was held up to his face, dad style, so he did not notice the deer coming up right in front of him. In a flash the deer had put its mouth around the top edge of the paper and ripped the headlines (right?) out of the guys hands. In a flurry he stood up and tried to shoo the beast away, but seemed to only encourage the little guy because he continued to advance and take swipes at the newspaper. Before long the deer and the guy were in an all out tug of war and were starting to attract a lot of attention from the other 4 legged friends nearby. Finally the guy, seeing his position worsening, gave up.

We trudged up a muddy hill to get to our place, and eventually found it tucked back into the woods. It was a welcome site and we were both a little out of breath when we got there. We could have called them to pick us up but….well, but nothing we should have called.

It was about 6pm by this time and we had heard that most the restaurants on Miyajima close by 5. Thankfully we went grocery shopping in Hiroshima and were prepared with peanut butter, strawberry jam, 6 slices of thick cut bread, and some grapefruit juice boxes. There was tea in the room and they also gave us some really good maple cakes that are made on the island so we feasted.

We’d considered going back out but it was getting pretty dark so we just rented Jiro Dreams of Sushi in the room and watched it before going to sleep.

Atomic Bomb Dome
Hiroshima peace park
O-torii gate in the water


An obligatory twerk.

Our last day in Kyoto we had really good weather, but we were kind of exhausted so we decided to have a pretty easy day. After eating breakfast at a cafe in Kyoto station, we spent the morning and early afternoon outside of the city. We traveled via the JR Sagano Line to the Arayashima area, further northwest than we were the day before. There are several shrines to see, but the highlight is walking to and from them all under cover of a bamboo forest.


bamboo forest

Two of the places we went really stood out. The first, Tenryū-ji, featured a Buddhist Zen garden with the most tranquil of tranquil ponds.


so tranquil at Tenryū-ji

The second, Jojakukō-ji, offered incredible views of Kyoto city from mid-mountain. This was probably my favorite because the whole site was built by some monk who basically just wanted to go off the grid, moved to the mountain, and lived there till he died.


steps up to Jojakukō-ji


view from Jojakukō-ji

  1. Tenryū-ji
  2. Jojakukō-ji

We came down off the mountains and stumbled into a pottery shop with a dog sleeping on the floor. The guy made all his own stuff in the shop, and looked cool, so we bought a few pieces. We also purchased an ice cream cone from the shop next store….sans balls.


pottery guy place

We took a train halfway back to Kyoto station, hoped on a bus to downtown and found a spectacular noodle bowl place/chain called Ippudo. I had a standard pork Udon noodle bowl, while Erin got one with “8 spices.” Both were excellent and hit the proverbial spot…the pickled bean sprout and ginger that accompanied the meal were welcome also. Oh and Gyoza is the bomb diggity…we got a side order of these little fried dumpling guys and mowed through them in about 10 seconds. Gyoza, so hot right now. Gyoza.


Dinner spot…Ippudo

We ducked into a coffee shop (okay it was a Starbucks, we wanted free internet) to digest our food for a while. We both agreed that we weren’t really hungry for anything else and that an early turn in would be a good idea since the next day we would be getting up early and traveling.

On the way back to the hotel I had an impromptu discussion with (mostly) myself about the origins and the sonic quality of the word obligatory. I mean it’s just such a weird sounding word. This is type of thing that is going through my brain here, listening to all of the strange (to me) sounds coming from people’s mouths. There is nothing more or less weird about the word “obligatory” and Japanese words, but the meaning that my brain associates with one (and not the other) somehow makes sense of it all. Try to say the word (or any word for that manner) while trying to, at the same time, consciously avoid its meaning popping up immediately in your head. It’s hard because the interface is so well known. If you can manage to do it, it can be off putting just how weird language sounds in general without having the concrete concepts behind it. This got me to thinking about how new words are conjured up, and the process for them entering common language. Japanese is a perfect example for this as the writing system has 3 different sets of characters to accommodate foreign words which they freely adopt (plus the Romanji to make words easier to identify for Westerners). I wonder when obligatory first became a word, was it slang first? Was there a big uproar among language fundamentalists? Was its original meaning different than todays usage? I’m sure I could look these things up…

Whatever, maybe one day we will all twerk and not think twice about it.

Edited 3/18/2017 for spelling, “grammar”, image rendering, and Google Maps API v2.

No Tripods?

The next day in Kyoto we were greeted by more rain. We also learned that another typhoon, Francisco, was bearing down on Japan and likely to make landfall later in the week when we were going to be back in Tokyo. Generally, the weather has cooperated, and when it is nice it is really nice, but news of another typhoon (a super typhoon at that) was a bit of bummer.

Blue marker 0 is number 10 in the list.

  1. Kyoto Station
  2. Siam (from last night)
  3. Kiyomizu
  4. Maruyama Park
  5. Chion-in
  6. Inari
  7. Kinkaku-ji
  8. Nijo Castle
  9. Start of Nishiki market
  10. Ganko Sanjo Honten

We hopped on the bus in the morning and took it to Kyoto station. Not eager to go out in the rain, we putzed around the iSetan department store for a while (the food floors of course) and saw what there was to see. We bought some dried fruit and other assorted snacks for the day, passing on the $520 boxed dinner set, and hoped back on a bus toward the northwest corner of the city.


the fake display version of the $520 box set

Our destination was the famous gilded temple of Kinkaku-ji. The second and third story of which (each story in constructed in a different architectural style from a different period of history) are covered in gold foil. The effect was cool, but the place was not.


I like gooooollld

On every I trip I have at least one time where I’m a total grump truck. This morning was that time. Most of the temples we had gone to allowed you to roam the grounds freely; you could bounce around from structure to structure at your pace and take in the sites however you pleased. Not here. From the moment you arrived you were ushered through a set “route” and hurried a long at every opportunity. Stand here, take a picture, move here, take a picture, move here take a picture…etc. The rain didn’t help my spirits either. The crowd had occluded a nice little puddle of water from my view as we were paying our ¥500 entry fee….so I had a wet foot in wet socks in a wet shoe. Also, being 6′ (which is normally great in Japan) became a liability as my eyes were at the exact height of every little lady’s umbrella spokes.

We continued down the “route” like we were standing in line for a ride at Disney World, except there was no real attraction. Look, the temple was okay, but everything about the presentation of it was geared towards monetizing tourists; the entry fee, the ol’ throw a coin in the pot and make a wish (¥50 coins are the luckiest!!!), the “cafe”, and then the row of cheesy knick knack shops at the end. Gross.

Also, they had an explicit “no tripod” rule which was even stranger…it’s like they are saying “you can take a quick picture, but then please GTFO.”

Okay, happy face on.

We jumped on another bus and headed over to Nijo Castle in the center of the city. The castle incorporated two palaces, several gardens, and an inner keep. We toured through one the palaces (rules here inculded No Sketching), walked through the garden, and climbed to the top of the remnants of the north eastern turret for decent views of the city.


rainy day view from Nijo Castle

Back on the bus we headed for Shijo station and the downtown area. We farted around a bit, notionally looking for a cafe to kill some time in (and mostly rest our feet). As we walked around the back streets of downtown Kyoto, we stumbled across The Nishiki-kōji street market. One thing that has been nice about this trip is that things that are called markets are actually markets and not tourist trap trinket black holes. This market was several blocks long (and wide) and was covered from above which was welcome. We purchased two of these fried mashed “patato” with pork things and gobbled them up because we suddenly realized we were famished.


inside Nishiki market

We had some good sushi/sashimi on the trip so far, but we really hadn’t eaten it for a meal yet. We set out to change that by looking for a place a called Ganko Sanjo Honten. We put the Japanese address into our data-only phone and walked for about 15 minutes to the place….except it wasn’t the place…instead it was an alley in between two apartments. We looked up the address again on a different site and sure enough this one told us to go 15 minutes back the way we came. We had been standing pretty much right on top of the place to begin with. Ugh.

The effort was worth it because the sushi was pretty good. There was egg sushi, salmon, grilled unagi (eel), white fish (halibut?), boiled shrimp, fatty tuna, and lean tuna all served with a bowl of udon noodles. Also….them beers you guys.



Bus, hotel, Japanese TV, bed.

Edited 3/18/2017 for spelling, “grammar”, image rendering, and Google Maps API v2.

I’ll have an ice cream…hold the balls.

Kyoto is a big place you guys…

Our first full day in Kyoto began with a big Western breakfast. It felt good to not sleep on the floor for a night, but at least the bathroom still has “toilet slippers” so the Japanese charm isn’t completely lost. I can’t decide if putting on community shoes to go to the bathroom is more or less gross than what we do (standing in everyone’s missed urinal shots…talking about guys here…) but I’m leaning towards more…something about sharing shoes with someone gives me the willies.

Anyhow, we got ready for the day under the pretense that it would rain on us but it didn’t until later that evening. Needless to say carrying around an umbrella that isn’t needed is fairly annoying. We hopped in the 205 bus which ran through Kyoto station and up the Eastern border of the city to an area called Higashiyama, and got off at the Gojozaka stop.

Kyoto was the Imperial Capitol of Japan from the mid 800s until it was moved to Tokyo in the late 1700s. As a result there are shrines and castles and what not ALL OVER THE PLACE. I mean it, you can just walk down the street and stumble into one. Because if its origins as a capitol, Kyoto also attracted a large percentage of the religious and artistic population of the time. The former built great shrines/monuments for their particular sects (mostly Buddhism) up on the sides of the mountains that border the city to the north, east, and west. Due to their remote nature from the hustle and bustle, they have remained in place and mostly untouched upon by the sprawl of Kyoto.

  1. Kyoto Station
  2. Kiyomizu
  3. Maruyama Park
  4. Chion-in
  5. Inari
  6. Yasube is somewhere around here…couldn’t tell you where though…damn…

The Higashiyama area, for us anyway, was highlighted by Kiyomizu temple. We walked uphill through a quaint little village and entered the massive complex. The shrines themselves were pretty standard, but the architecture is what stood out to me. The particular sect that this shrine was built for was based upon the idea that the land is the purest of all things (or something) and it constructed its main hall in such a way as to “borrow” the surrounded scenery and incorporate it into structure. The effect was awesome. Standing out on a cantilevered porch extended out over a mountain gorge was an pretty inspiring site. Across this gorge on top of the adjacent mountain ridge was a bright orange pagoda. We made our way over to it and then back down to the front.


Overhang balcony at Kiyomizu with Kyoto tower in the background


Orange pagoda at Kiyomizu

We continued north through the winding streets, spotted a few fake Geishas (Feishas?…yep, I’m going with Feishas…actually I think they have a special name), and found our selves in Maruyama Park. There was some hype around this place but we pretty much breezed through…Kanazawa had ruined us for gardens.


streets of Higashiyama

The last stop on the outing was Chion-in Temple. This place featured a massive gate that was enhanced by the paved boulevard leading up from Higashioji-dori. Behind the gate was a stairway that led up the height of the gate itself and then opened up into the main shrine complex. There was a giant bell. I wanted to ring it. I wanted to ring it bad. Reeeeeeeaaaallllly bad. Unfortunately, the hammer was one of the only things in Japan that I can’t reach.

We made our way back down and caught the 206 bus from Gion back to Kyoto station. We were famished so we ate a serviceable bowl of noodles in the train station at something that I imagined to be akin to a Bob Evans. We also got a vanilla and green tea swirled ice cream cone that came with sweet bean paste (way more oishī than it sounds) and two…well…two…uh, balls…which is about all I can say about them.


bean paste and balls

We jumped on the JR Nara Line and took it two stops south to Inari.

Fushimi Inaru Shrine is the coolest place, in my opinion, that we have been to yet. Built into the side of Mt. Inari, the…complex?…is a maze of paths (there was a map, but we couldn’t read it, and it was totally not to scale) and shrines that wind from the base to summit. The trick however, and what gives the place all it’s charm, is that all the paths are enclosed by thousands of red-orange torii gates of varying sizes. In some places they are packed so tightly that it is like walking through a bright orange mine shaft.

To top it off, each gate has inscriptions written in it as they can be sponsored by businesses wishing for good fortune. This got me going a little bit, but ultimately the beauty of the place won me over. It really was an epic experience, and I do try to choose my superlatives carefully.

We traversed about 3 miles of trail, that included going up and down 70 flights of stairs, in a little over 2 hours and we took A LOT of pictures…I mean every twist and turn of the path was a spectacle (I played with the shutter speed on the camera quite a bit…arg, needed a tripod)…and left around dusk to head back to Kyoto station.


Inari entrance


cool right?

We hopped on the 208, got of at Nanajo-Omiya Kyotosuizokukan-mae (lol) and walked “the last mile” to the place.

Buses. Remember, I never said anything about buses. Only trains.

We were heading back over towards Gion for dinner, specifically an area called Pontocho on Nishikiyacho-dori. The bus system thus far had been easy enough to sort out…you look at the map, figure out the route number that goes where you want from where you are…walk to a stop…get on the correct side of the street, and get on when the bus that matches your number comes by. Paying is easy too. You drop ¥220 into the bowl when you get off, or you buy a ¥500 all day pass that you scan through each time. Easy.

There was one other piece of information that we (okay, I) wasn’t accounting for and that was the destination of the bus. It is clearly spelled out under the route number of oncoming buses, but since most buses just do loops it hadn’t been an issue. The 205 bus however has multiple destinations. Instead of getting on the route headed for Gion via Kyoto station, we got on the one headed for Tojo. Further, rather than making a loop, this bus simply ends in the middle of “Kyoto-Compton” (not really, it was just dark and we were lost…besides there is no such thing in Japan…there is like one police car and the officers carry smiles instead of weapons) and forces you to get off. We were approached by a nice young fella who helped us get on the correct bus (207 to the rescue!) and get back on track.

We arrived in Gion and cut north along the river. The Pontocho is this nice little tree covered street that has a canal running along side…it looks a lot like Park Ave in Winter Park actually…well, if Park Ave allowed “lady bars” on it, was double sided, and was 4x as long.

We tucked down a little alley way, then down another and settled on a place called Yasube for dinner. One of the cuisines we were supposed to try in Kyoto was Okonomiyaki; they had it and a menu in Janglish (right!) so we went in.


Yasube…couldn’t find it again for my life…

The only way I can describe Okonomiyaki is like making hashbrowns, and then topping it with an omelette, and then topping it with veggies and protein, and then grilling it all on a skillet. Another way to describe it is: Delicious drunk food. They were served on a hot plate built into your table (you could cook them yourself if you wanted) and were accompanied by sweet and spicy sauces that you brushed on. It was pretty good, but not the best thing we’ve had.


Okonomiyaki and Beta-Yaki…a solid meh

After dinner we walked through the alleys of Gion. 99% of streets in Kyoto are N-S or E-W (purposely done at its founding after the Chinese city Xi’an) so when you look down one, even back streets and alleys, they appear to go on forever. You wouldn’t be half wrong if you thought this either; you could explore a square mile for a life time and not see everything.



We passed some of the “seedier” areas…those highly populated with “lady bars” (with hilarious names like BooBs and Humps Place) and escort bars full of #business men out doing #business. From what I’ve been told the whole escort bar custom itself is not “seedy” (you should look it up), but I can’t help but think that there is a darker side to what is advertised lurking somewhere around here.

We took the 206 bus (and let the 205 go by) back towards the place but it was the last bus of the night (11pm) so we walked the rest of the way.

Kyoto is a big place you guys…

Edited 3/18/2017 for spelling, “grammar”, image rendering and Google Maps API v2.

Sake sake sake

In the morning we were served breakfast in the south chamber of our expansive room after a long soak in the bath…yes, another bucket and tub deal. Before boarding our train out of Takayama we had a few missions that we, convenient for writing, completed in chronological order.

Mission #1: Get Cash
The ryokan only accepts cash and since we still had nothing but loose coinage in our pockets, we asked them to point out where an ATM was. We were unable to locate our English map, so they pulled out a hilariously illegible sheet of paper that they insisted was a map and circled a building on it. By some stroke of luck were made our way there only to find that they do not accept our card. Again, hilariously, I tried to communicate this to a clerk. I think she understood me because she circled a different building on our “map”. We walked over to it and found an ATM, but it sounded like something was dying inside so I was a little nervous to put my card in. Thankfully I didn’t because the attendant, who spoke good English, told us that it was out of order and probably would have eaten it. He led us what I’m assuming was the only remaining ATM in the city. Thankfully it accepted our card and we were back in business after 45 minutes of ping ponging around the city.

Mission #2: Buy some sake.
I had sampled a sake from a brewery called Funasaka that I really liked. This is rare for me because sake that I’ve had in the past has either been too dry or too fruity for my taste…or is a blur because it was consumed during the Epcot food & wine festival. Further the sake was served cold which was a first, and I liked it much better than hot sake. Also the guy who helped me sample the different types the brewery makes was really nice and spoke good English. We eventually re-found the place (these streets are a little tricky) and I got a bottle.

Mission #3: Center4 Hamburgers.
The #1 rated restaurant on Trip Advisor in Takayama is named, in a very Zoolander-esque fashion, The Center4 Hamburgers. It is exactly that. It’s run by a young local couple and features a Hida beef burger for ¥2100. Tucked in the back of a hallway off a street in San-machi Suji; past some antiques and a garden full of junk, lies this absolute treat. The place is just big enough to seat 12, is decorated in the right amount of random (a boat hanging from ceiling, an entire shelf devoted to Canada, a Bob Dylan poster) and was playing Johnny Cash’s NIN cover when we walked in. The burger (I did not get the Hida beef burger) was perfect, and the Yona Yona beer, which I had not seen before was equally satisfying. If you are somehow reading this and are in or are going to be in Takayama, go eat here.

In addition, we walked through a morning farmers market and sampled pickled versions of all the local vegetables, had some dried persimmons, and bought some rice crackers from a crazy old guy who was the most excited person about crackers probably ever. We also dove into an awesome antique store that had stacks of ornate trunks and flat ware and castle nails and cart wheels and well just about everything. I was trying to make up a reason to buy something, but it didn’t happen.

1- Takayama Station
2- Sumiyoshi
3- San-machi Suji area
4- Kyoya, holy crap GO HERE
5- Funasaka
6- Center4 Hamburgers
7- Farmer’s Market street

We left Takayama converted, liking it more and more with every store we went into. I don’t think either of us were sad that we skipped the touristy stuff, but somehow I think another day there wouldn’t be wasted.

The train we were taking to Kyoto left at 130, so after finishing up lunch we got down to the tracks and hopped on our JR. It was a bit of a hustle, but we made it with 10 minutes to spare…trains are still easy.

The trip was basically a straight shot down the center of Honshu along a much less manicured river. After a brief stop in Gifu, the train kicked into reverse until arriving in Nagoya. We got off. The rest of the trip to Kyoto would be on our first Shinkansen: the bullet train.

Man these things look cool coming into and leaving the station. The interior is nice as well, though it was much more crowded than our sleepy little JR trains had been. There is no doubt we were moving fast, but I was a little disappointed we weren’t going faster. The trip wasn’t very long though, and we were up and down mountains so I imagine the terrain had something to do with that. Perhaps the trip from Kyoto to Hiroshima will be a different story.

We pulled into Kyoto station, got our bearings and walked to our hotel. While not technically a ryoken (we have western beds and our own bathroom here) it is advertised as such. Whatever, I’m not complaining. We figured out the bus system (though the guide is in English, some of the tables are a bit confusing), which is the main form of public transit in the city, and headed out for a quick dinner at a Thai restaurant about 10km north of us. The place, simply called Siam, served a decent curry; we sat at the counter in front of the cook and he whipped it all up in front of us.

Before getting back on the bus, Erin insisted we stop into a 7-11 for some dessert. We picked out some kind of ice cream thing wrapped in a dough ball (which was a surprise since we had no idea what we were getting really) and headed back.

Tomorrow it is supposed to rain all day again which is a bit of a bummer, but Kyoto promises to be an interesting place.





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