Japan – Day 23 – The long trip home

The final blog entry for the trip, it’s actually Tuesday 3rd October as we were both forgot about this.

The morning started off by us waking up for our c9.30am train from Kyoto to Kansai airport. Except after we sat down with our tea and heated up bakery goods, we realised our train only got us into the airport for 1.5 hours before the flight rather than 2.5 hours we thought, our maths had clearly gone wrong when we planned this.

Given the situation, we then dashed around like crazy people, putting the buns into plastic bags and grabbing our bags and going. We felt a bit bad for not leaving a note to our host on the white board on the door but getting to the airport for our flight was more important.

Luckily Japanese public transport is reliable and we managed to get on the train earlier which got us in half an hour earlier than planned. There was an epic queue at the check in desk, we had flown out hand luggage only but with all the purchases we needed to check one bag in. We couldn’t even use the bag drop off only as we had checked in 2 days earlier but the website said we were successful but we needed to visit a desk when we got to the airport.

We finally got to the front and explained about the online check in error, it turns out that Malaysia airlines hadn’t actually checked us in and the assistant then checked us in to completely different seats. Also, she didn’t bother telling us this so we only noticed after looking at our seats. We were a bit peeved.

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James wrapped his bag up in a black sack to protect it, it did a surprisingly good job

For the first flight, 6 hours from Osaka to Kuala Lumpa, they say James and I in different rows, despite there being an empty seat next to James and two empty seats behind him. Well done Malaysia airlines, this felt real clever (not).

At least the food was alright, well my chicken and potatoes was terrible but James claims his beef and rice was amazing. They even had ice cream served before landing, it was nice but I hate to think how difficult it was to keep this frozen.

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The plane food was as expected, the ice cream was good though

When we landed in Kuala Lumper, we then had 6.5 hours to amuse ourselves. With the seat situation I went and checked where they put us for the next flight, we were in the middle 2 of a row of 4 just in front of the toilets so having limited recline. We were not happy with Malaysia airlines at this point and with so much time we queued up to see if we could change our seats. Turns out they did have 2 free where one was on an aisle so we chose that. Again, the assistants were a bit useless and didn’t inform us this was right next to the toilets. Ah well, what we have learnt is not to trust Malaysian airlines online check in and next time if we got a ‘confirmation’ then we won’t believe it until we have a boarding pass.

KL airport was interesting, there was a jungle walk in the middle so we got to step outside for that but it was hot and humid, and not that big so we it only amused us for a few minutes.

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The board walk amused us for a good few minutes

After this, we sat down for a boost drink to help the time go by, they were surprisingly affordable 11 RMB each but when we were sipping them the fruits didn’t taste as fruity as we would like, there was probably the addition on ice/water.

We also had some lunch at the airport, again not a total rip off but still expensive for what it was. I had roast chicken rice which was tasty but very boney and James’ noodle dish had so little noodle that he was still hungry so he ordered chicken satay as well. The skin had been skewered separately as if it was meat so that was a bit disturbing as the skin wasn’t crispy.

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Airport food, better than plane food

We then boarded our next flight, by this point it should have been bed time by our body clocks but we forced ourselves to stay awake for a few more hours.

This plane had 2 levels and had a camera which live steamed the take off and landing, it was a bit odd at first and I guess it was for people who wanted to look outside but weren’t next to a window.

We forgot to get photos of the food on the next leg but I know it wasn’t good. We tried to sleep but out of the 2 babies on the flight, one was in front of us. Also, the constant movement of people to the bathroom didn’t help.

We finally landed 30 mins late due to the late take off and got onto the familiar tube. It was nice to be back in mosquito free London. We were both broken and James made his way into work, it would be brutal for him.

We both enjoyed our time away as it meant we got to eat delicious food and see some beautiful sights, we won’t be able to go away for such a long amount of time for a while so we’ll go back to posting about our culinary experiences in our kitchen.

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The video of the take off and landing looked like we were following a missile
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Japan – Day 22 – Tea, tori gates and tasty udon

We decided on a pot noodle breakfast as we had eaten a lot of egg and bread. I forgot just how easy it was and there were even superior chopsticks provided. As usual, the previous day James had insisted on an extra bacon bakery good <Editors note – Which In San immediately ate half of, demanding that I heat it up and feed it to her. As always bacon is a good choice.>.

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We decided to walk to Fushimi Inari shrine however James may have misread google maps <EN – We walked for about 5 – 10 mins past a turning which was enough of an excuse to take the train for one stop. In San was feeling abused because of all of her mosquito bites so it was fair enough>. Because of this, we decided we should hop on the underground to make up the lost time. This involved being led around a diversion by an official looking guy with a traffic flag, he was very helpful but we felt a little guilty that he had to leave his official station <EN – He let us slowly and carefully to the turning then when he though we were out of sight ran back to his post>. We also realised that we had spent a lot of monies and needed to get some more cash out, luckily 7-11 <EN – Actually a Family Mart which charges ūüė¶ > never fails us in terms of providing ATMs.

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The ATM itself only dispensed JPY 10,000 notes, obviously this is pretty chunky so James wanted to get snacks to break it up. He opted for a matcha and red bean choco pie <EN – Because we hadn’t got one in Korea and this was a Korean brand eg. Lotte> and I went for a healthier juice which had kiwi, banana and pak choi.

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We made it to the shrine and it was incredibly busy. We are usually cheap and travel in off peak so were not used to the crowds. It turns out even shrines like to make sure everyone knows their trip advisor rating.

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It was a beautiful day but it was so busy it made it difficult to get photos without any other people in the background. We loved the orangeness of the gates and the general feel of the area.

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We decided to wander off the main track so that we could avoid the crowds. This was successful for that but being away from humanity meant we were closer to our enemies, the mosquitos.

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<EN – Seconds after taking this picture of In San she was bitten>

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At this point, I was impressed by the scenery but also dispirited by the number of mosquito bites I had acquired.

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As usual, we found another wooden stick with mushrooms on it and stopped to take photos. There wasn’t a view point at the top of the mountain but the sheer number of tori gates was impressive. <EN – We had taken almost the same route as last time which was interesting but had missed out on the vital most magical staircase, our vague memories failed us>

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<EN – Some of the good luck charms drawn by visitors were very well done, others were … less artistic.>
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<EN – The man with the frame on his back was running up and down the mountain delivering supplies to the shops>
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<EN – The view from the top was pretty good but the main attraction was the local scenery and all the tori gates.>

With the shrine completed, we set off for lunch. We had already decided to have a tuna bowl at a cafe near our AirBnB at the host’s recommendation but this meant a 40 minute trip back. Because of this and James sensing my hunger, he suggested some snacks. Initially he saw some dango and wanted to go for it but at JPY 500, I felt it was a rip off even if there were 3 large balls. Instead we opted for some fried chicken for the same price.

Good snacks are like buses, they all come at once <EN – We had not walked past them before as we were going to a different station to the one we arrived at>. As soon as we saw some custard filled doughy goodness we had to stop by the stall to finish our chicken to purchase one for JPY 150. And then there was a vending machine that had Orangina, even though it didn’t have the shake it to wake it slogan we felt compelled to purchase it.

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We eventually made it to the station but there was a bit of drama when the barriers came up and then swiftly came down, as the area was so crowded, the barrier came down onto a car and another car drove at the pedestrians to get through to the other side. It was quite panicked and was a good lesson to impatient drivers that they shouldn’t start crossing until there is space at the other side to get to.

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It was hot and getting past 1.30pm at this point and I was definitely flagging. James directed us to the cafe and asked for the Igirisu menu which confused the waitress. When we asked for the Eigo menu, she immediately understood. It was a bit confusing as the menu indicated the tuna bowl was sold out but when we asked for it, it was still available so we managed to get a bowl each. It required a different person to come out and explain that we would need to eat the food first and then we could pour the dashi soup into the bowl afterwards to drink.

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As this was a matcha cafe, we had some matcha desserts to share. We were sensible and opted for the mini (rather than full size) parfait, this had a bit of everything and the matcha ice cream tasted high end. We also shared a matcha shaved ice dessert which looked massive, again this required the same guy to come out and explain in English that we needed to eat the top part and then once done we needed to add the extras in and mix. The matcha flavour on this was much stronger and the ice was super fine, it didn’t melt that quickly and tasted so light, we were both impressed. <EN – We also ordered some tea to drink it was pretty good and they even gave us strainers and little timer hour glasses so we would brew it the correct amount. Quality>

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Once done, we were totally stuffed. We headed to Kyoto station to purchase tickets to the airport for the next day, we figure we will be sleepy tomorrow and it makes sense to buy it now.

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James wanted to buy matcha so we headed to the Ippodo tea store. This was a very different one to the previous store where we brought the sencha. It was very commercial but they did have free tastings. The matcha was limited to one tasting per group so we got to try one out and the lady serving us was clearly practised at getting really small air bubbles into the matcha super quick. We will need to practise a lot more to get anywhere near as good.

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With our matcha purchased (JPY 1,500 and JPY 1,080, plus tax for 20g tins) <EN – There is a huge markup for matcha in the UK so this was a good price for the quality>, we headed off for dinner. We had decided on udon rather than yakitori for our last night as we were already feeling generally gross from the lack of fruit and number of mosquito bites so opted for udon at Uneno, turns out this is exactly the sort of place we would go to in London. Amazing food at very reasonable prices, we felt our AirBnB made particularly good recommendations.

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James being James opted for a more expensive (JPY 1,700) and extravagant udon, his was cooked and served in a pot. I opted for a more standard version and enjoyed it immensely, the flavour was delicate but balanced and it felt like great value at JPY 1,200.

Once we were done, we decided to be lazy and get public transport back rather than walk 35 minutes so that we could pack and get ready for our flight back home tomorrow.

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We are sad to be leaving and ending our holiday, however we also feel ready to sleep in our comfortable beds at home away from mosquitos. I suspect James is also looking forward to sleeping on a fluffy pillow.

Japan – Day 21 – Bit of a pickle in the bamboo forest

Sad though it makes me to admit it we are finally getting tired of bread and eggs. However it is cost efficient and filling. Then we headed up to our first stop of the day¬†Higashiyama Jisho-ji Temple. It was an interesting and intensely structured place, unfortunately it was filled with hundreds of energetic Japanese school children which rather took away from the tranquil and harmonious nature of the place <editor’s note – there were absolutely tonnes of school children, we somehow managed to get the shots below without them in which was a miracle>.

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Higashiyama Jisho-ji was small but interesting as the birthplace of the Zen aesthetic in Japan.

The route up to the temple was filled with some snacks, mostly ice cream. We remember more snacks and variety, we suspect in summer they all switch to ice cream as it is easy and popular when it is hot.

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Matcha ice cream and matcha mochi … of course.

Once we were refreshed we headed for the main reason we had walked all this way, the Philosopher’s walk. ¬†We have been a couple of times but it is still pleasant to walk along with interesting shops and previously lots of snacks including delicious dango with matcha sauce. Sadly this time there were no snacks, only more ice cream. Other snacks must be a more of a winter thing. There were however many more cats which seemed friendly but dis-interested unless you had food for them.

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We returned to our favorites spots today including the Philosopher’s walk.

After we had worked up an appetite and achieved the correct frame of mind we headed to Izuju, a tasty alternative sushi place for some¬†Edomae sushi. This was the sushi popular in Kyoto in the past when they did not have access to fresh fish so they made sushi using pickled fish that lasted. Today a few restaurants continue this tradition and it makes an interesting alternative to the usual fare. Interestingly in summer they had a couple of special options (conger eel which we had seen everywhere and also horse mackerel) which we decided to go for along with the classic¬†saba-zushi (chub mackerel wrapped and pickled in seaweed). One thing we really like about food in Japan is that they really like to use seasonal ingredients, if it is fresh and in season they have it everywhere but if not they move onto what is in season then. It keeps things fresh, delicious and interesting. We also had a Kyoto style soup which was a light and fresh clear fish soup. The sushi is very delicately pickled and is sharp and slightly sweet, complementing and cutting through the slightly salty oily fish. It is very different and delicious <editor’s note – James neglected to mention a nice older Japanese lady started a conversation up with him whilst I was in the bathroom, apparently his starting conversation is strong but then with his extremely limited vocabulary, the lady has to speak in English to ask about our trip in Japan>.

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Of course we had to return to Izuju for some Edo era style sushi. Pickle-tastic.

On our way out we picked up more snacks … we have a problem <editor’s note – James has a massive problem, I kept on trying to resist but James is a bad influence, the roll cake was justified because usually you can only buy the whole ring and he really wanted the dango as it was done over a barbeque>.

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We had never actually tried good ring cake as it was only ever available as a whole, but we found it available as a slice. It was delicious. Plus a dango, we couldn’t resist.

Today we were heading to all our favorite places in Kyoto so of course we had to go to Arashiyama (In San vetoed another trip to the monkey park sadly). As always it is such a calm, lazy and enjoyable place to visit. This time in bright sunshine, it was nice to be able to walk around in t-shirts and the sun made everything more magical. We did miss the variety of snacks as everybody had switched to ice cream. Seeing the bamboo forest in the day was nice and they had opened up different paths through for autumn.

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Continuing our theme we returned to the lovely Arashiyama for snacks and a relaxed and tranquil setting.
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We found some unique chocolate dango and mochi so we had to try it <editor’s note – James had to try it, I knew I wanted a skewer which had green tea paste inside and we both agreed my skewer was tastier>.
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We relived our first visit with some tasty rice cakes of various sorts and continued our trend of tasting soy in all its forms with a soy doughnut. It was surprisingly good <editor’s note – when we ordered the last chewy rice skewer, they put a sold out sign up and told James he was very lucky, good thing we did turn around to go back for it otherwise James would have been very sad>.
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No more snacks we promised. But they had Taiyaki (japanese fish based pancakes) with green tea (and mochi as it turned out) inside so we could not resist <editor’s note – I said I would resist but when James insisted he wanted the fish, I felt it was fair to get myself a dango, by stating I wanted it without any sauce the price dropped from JPY 180 to ¬†JPY 100>.
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Walking through the bamboo forest is always impressive. This time in daylight.

<editor’s note – what particularly amused us was when a guy had a dog with sunglasses and a hat, it appears that 2 attractive ladies asked him if they could have their photo taken with the dog and he obliged, he even gave the dog commands so that it could pose, it was very impressive>

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It is beautiful with lots of new things we discover each time we visit. Sadly we had no time to go to the monkey park this time.

Weirdly most of the restaurants there (that we could afford) closed really early so we headed back for Kyoto’s signature noodle dish, soba. We went to¬†Honke Owariya, a very traditional place. I decided to try hot soba noodles for a change rather than the usual cold noodles with cold dipping sauce <editor’s note – James decided under the pressure and immediately began thinking he may have made the wrong choice>. I think I prefer the cold noodles more but I enjoyed the tasty light and refreshing soup. The tempura was tasty too. In San doesn’t believe in cold noodles so she went for a fish cake and vegetable mix which seemed tasty too. Personally I would recommend going for the cold noodle tempura set (which is what most people in the restaurant were going for).

What was tricky was that it was closing at 7pm and we only arrived at 6:10. We assured them that we would order and eat quickly. Most of the customers seemed in be in a similar situation, it seemed a weirdly early time to close. Everybody ate fast and finished in time because it was all so tasty.

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For supper we went to Honke Owariya the oldest soba restaurant in Kyoto (it is 552 years old). It is so popular even the Emperor (in various eras) has visited. It was surprisingly affordable.

On the way back we decided to mix it up (also walking past the four seasons hotel every night was making us feel poor) so we walked a different route back, it was interesting as we got to see a couple of new sights.

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In San saw a hot royal milk tea and she could not resist.

As we start to reach the end of our trip we are packing in the snacks, sights and meals but it is also nice to go back and do some of our favorite activities.

Japan – Day 20 – Time for tea and the (sushi) train

Again, as we are behind, we are writing this up a day later, this time at breakfast <Editors Note – In San managed to pull it back by doing it efficiently this morning>.

We were excited by our breakfast we had picked up the night before. There were a selection of breads, the most delicious was probably the yuzu stick, although I suspect James enjoyed the salt and butter bread <EN – I enjoyed both, I think the yuzu bread was more exciting>. We both agreed the matcha melon type bread was nice although as it couldn’t be heated up, it wasn’t as exciting as the others at this time.

We then set off for the day and immediately got distracted by other another bakery. James insisted on one with bacon so I got a chocolate shortbread, both were pretty good. We decided that we needed to stop getting distracted by food <EN – The bacon bread was amazing!>.

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Breakfast round 1 and round 2, the bakeries here have gotten a lot better

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the best of days and the forecast stated it would be on/off rain for most of the morning. Because of this we had to carry an umbrella around with us. We couldn’t actually take the one we purchased as the other people staying with us had taken our awesome big one so we took one that belonged to someone else, we hoped the owners wouldn’t mind as they had already left for the day.

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It was the first time we had seen mystery drink being offered

Our first order of business was to seek out tea. James had done some research and there were two shops he wanted to visit. The first was a bit more old school and so we headed there and were pleasantly surprised to find out it was the one we had previously visited and purchased a cherry bark tea caddy from. This was, with more knowledge, we thought we’d be brave and seek advice from the shop owner.

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We were confused by how the shop could be open until 26:00

The owner was obviously very knowledgeable about tea and he had a price guide in English, this also explained the cost for tasting the tea for any potential purchases. As James particularly wanted sencha, it made sense for him to try this out and we tried the Shuppincha and Tokiwagi. He opted for Japanese style brewing so it was about 5g of tea and just enough water (at 80 – 85 degrees celsius) to cover it. We also opted for blind tasting and it was amusing to watch James try and describe the teas to the tea connoisseur. An hour later, we left the shop with 100g of each which meant there was no charge for the tasting. We also got some tea caddies to take them back in.

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The tea shop of dreams, Horaido tea store.

It was only 50 metres later when we realised that in our excitement we had forgotten the hojicha so we went back for 200g of that, stem only for more sweetness <EN – It looked and smelled good and was very affordable at JPY 850>.

Tea’d up, it was actually time for lunch and it was going to be a snack lunch day at Nishiki market. The skewers were generally tasty but they were not filling.

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First skewer – octopus

 

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Second skewer – fish paste with burdock, third skewer – tempura pike
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Fourth skewer – soy sauce tuna. We also got a custard filled snack, James nearly didn’t go for it as he initially thought it was chocolate but it turned out the chocolate ones weren’t cute. Cuteness won out and the custard was tasty so wins all around
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Another steamed bun for James. I choose the omelette burger purely to carb it up

When James noticed a pickles cafe, I figured it would be a good place to stop as it would have rice which is filling and cheap and have a bathroom we could use. We ordered our food and were surprised when it came and seemed a little small for 2 people. Turns out they forgot our extra portion of rice and miso soup so we had to ask for this. We didn’t want to complain in a foreign language but luckily they understood as soon as we showed them the receipt.

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A pickle cafe, very reasonable and filling

After wandering the food streets, we wandered the outdoors for a bit sticking to undercover where we could due to the gray skies.

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There was a lady using a lint roll at the front of her house, we felt it was a futile effort

By mid afternoon, it had started to clear up and the sun was poking through the clouds <EN – We started to worry that leaving the hats and sun-cream at home may have been a mistake>.

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We made the decision to visit nijo castle, we had actually been here 5 years earlier but figured it was so long ago that it was worth another visit, especially as I couldn’t remember much about it.

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This time the castle had some extra art work dotted around, some of it was cool but others were just a bit odd (the bronze coated turd with a footprint figures). We spent ages wandering around the nice outdoors garden and then heard a message saying the castle would be closing at 4pm, it was 3.37pm at this point so we quickly made our way over. Luckily, the announcement was for a last entry at 4pm rather than closure at this time so we could see everything inside without rushing.

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<EN – For some reason there were these golden poo bronze sculptures everywhere … why? … Japan.>

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After seeing the rest of the outside of the castle, we had an hour before dinner so we wanted to find a cafe. The previous day there was an abundance of cafes but for some reason they all alluded us.

Instead, we saw a trendy sake shop and went in as James had already decided earlier in the trip that he wanted to bring a bottle back. We had previously visited some shops but with no one clearing speaking English, we were always a bit hesitant walking around. This guy looked young and seemed relaxed and when we noticed there were open bottles in a fridge, we thought we’d let him know we had tried Dassai 50 which was tasty (and very expensive according to him), he then made some suggestions. We got to try one which was made by a brewery in Singapore but wanted something local so it was a choice between a Kyoto one which was stronger in alcohol and a Kobe one which was fruitier. The fruitier one won out and we purchased the bottle and got it in a box. It wasn’t as intense as the tea experience but we felt with our limited knowledge of sake, it was better to go for a place which was not as hardcore.

Wandering towards dinner, we saw Before9, a trendy craft beer and sake bar, we decided to go in. It had lot’s of craft beer on tap and some we even recognised, we opted for sake seeing as we were in Japan. What was nice was that after we sat down, we were given some pickled carrots with our sake.

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Before9, this definitely made us think of Shoreditch but then as soon as they brought out the pickled carrots it brought us back to Japan

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It was then off for dinner, we had planned to go to Kappa sushi as this was recommended by our hosts however the location google maps had took us to an expensive looking sushi restaurant rather than a 100 yen a plate place. I really wanted a sushi train experience so James looked up an alternative for the area and we headed there. This was more like JPY 146 a plate which is what happens when you don’t listen to a local. We didn’t mind as it was still great value for money. They were a bit heavy handed with the wasabi so we had to extract some but there was infinite green tea on demand so I was happy.

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We ate a lot of sushi. More than we usually would back in London. My favourite was the red shrimp as it’s so big and sweet. By the end, we had 16 plates, 2 of which were the premium ones (JPY 346 each). The bill only came to JPY 2,950 so cheap as chips for us. We were confused by the girls next to us to came in, picked out all the non fish options (including candied sweet potato, ham and cream sushi) and then left in less than 10 minutes <EN – there was also another westerner who seemed confused, he couldn’t find the chopsticks, choose another cream cheese california roll and managed to pour hot water over his hand rather than in the cup>.

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This place was busy but the queue moved fast

After this, we were going to go back to the accommodation to get an early night and got distracted by an arcade. They are much more fun and normal in Japan and we made sure to stay away from the UFO machines. Well we did but then James saw one with a melon bread prize and so he had one play <EN – It was an experiment to see how the hook nets worked, there was no chance of success>. After this, we headed upstairs to the actual arcade. Time crisis 5 would be waiting for us and this had 2 pedals (left and right) rather than just one, we limited ourselves to 2 plays each but turns out this wasn’t very much. The double pedal system and extra missions was quite confusing for us, we were sure instructions would have been given in Japanese but as we didn’t understand we lost our lives quite quickly.

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Time crisis 5 was new and exciting

It was then time for a stroll back along the river, there were fancy restaurants with fancy people inside and there were lot’s of couples on the riverside with picnics. We felt it was pretty although it may also be a source of our mosquito bites so we will avoid walking the scenic route back in the future.

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Japan – Day 19 – Drip and a dip in Kyoto

The previous night we had decided to try a cheeky morning onsen, getting up early to fully appreciate the cave onsen during daylight with hopefully fewer people there. It was a great success, with few people there it was nice to sit back and enjoy the view of the waves and rocks.Unfortunately I forgot to bring my map so I couldn’t get any more stamps (I tried all but one onsen).It also helped us work up an appetite for breakfast.

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Breakfast was still good for a buffet but definitely not as impressive as supper had been.

We had not had high expectations for this final stop (based on a single google maps review that In San had read) but although it was a soulless mockery of the ryokan we had been staying in it was at least a entertaining and well equipped one so we enjoyed ourselves immensely.

We headed off to catch the early train to Kyoto via Shin-Osaka, they only left every two hours so we didn’t want to miss it. We realised that it was a long journey and all we had was some left over snacks so we tried to find food. Although we found a lot of shops selling premium fruit (including different grades of lemon) we didn’t find any bento boxes or similar. We had the bright idea of going to the tourist information in the train station to ask and they directed us towards a few options (cafe/restaurant that would make us one from scratch) <editor’s note – they were surprisingly helpful and checked we would have enough time>.

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We set off back to reality on our cheery white turtle shuttle bus. Kii-Katsura is famous for tuna fishing which explains the amount of tuna on offer last night. As the train journey was going to be a long one we picked up a bento from a local cafe on the recommendation of the local tourist information.

The ticket back was a little pricy (JPY 5,400) as we had a fair way to go but still cheaper than UK. Food gathered we set off and were a little surprised when the train arrived <editor’s note – we were both really excited to see the panda train, even more so than the child in front of us who turned around to see who could be more excited about the panda train than them>.

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The special rapid train we ended up catching was a special panda themed one advertising Adventure World all the small children (and In San) were very excited.

In San claimed that her plum drink had no alcohol in it, but then promptly fell asleep so I suspect otherwise <editor’s note – I was very tired from having to wake up early for the onsen and sleeping on the trains made sense as they were so smooth>. We were sad that the mystery bento box didn’t have any tuna in them (given it was a tuna fishing town) but they were still pretty tasty (and reasonable at JPY 750 each).

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As well as the bento box we also had left-over welcome snacks from the hotel. When we tried to buy the plum wine our server ran off to fetch an icy cold one for us. 

It was a long journey but In San slept for a lot of it and watched her phone for the rest (the realisation that her new phone has space to store a whole series has changed her life) <editor’s note – it has been several years since I had brought a new phone as I had hand me downs a few times in a row, I’m not sure why I didn’t do this sooner>. The train was very comfortable and the scenery agreeable. Sooner than we would have expected we were in Shin-Osaka, so close to Kyoto.

On arrival we headed to our AirBnB, they had given us very detailed instructions. We were told firmly that it was IMPOSSIBLE to find without these instructions. The instructions were helpful and it would have been tricky without them. We ended up walking rather than taking the bus as we can’t help ourselves, we were used to walking at this point. Even though it was raining.

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On arrival in Shin-Osaka for our transfer In San left me alone for 5 minutes. I promptly bought a premium grape mochi. It was amazing, with a real grape inside. Unfortunately it was raining when we arrived in Kyoto.

After dumping our bags we headed out to explore the area, then headed towards Gion as it was nearby. Our host had provided a helpful map with many food suggestions so we were all set.

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After dumping our bags we set off for an explore, I didn’t even realise that there were this many types of Asahi! There were a lot of English themed cafe and doors around.

It was still raining, despite the weather forecast, and we were a little peckish so we went into a highly rated dessert cafe, Gion Kinana Honten <editor’s note – this was entirely James’ idea>. They had some very different flavours on offer, Japanese mugwart, roasted soy and black sesami along with the more normal ones like strawberry, burned sugar and matcha. Each ice cream had a different level of creaminess appropriate for the flavour which was very interesting. We also got some extra sweets to go with it which were delicious. All in all it was very tasty, however it was pretty pricy at JPY 2100. This is normally more than we would spend when going out for supper <editor’s note – it was pricey indeed, it turns out other people found it pricey, I caught someone else looking at the receipt and pulling a face after realising how much the ice cream experience in Gion corner would cost>.

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Gion Kinana Honten was delicious but not cheap, each ice cream had its own unique texture as well as taste which was novel.

After that we wandered round the area a little more, there were many exclusive shops and restaurants as well as some more cheap and cheerful ones to investigate.

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Wandering around the Gion district there was a weird mix of extremely expensive and fancy (marbled bread) and weirdly tacky stick men.

We hadn’t tried Tsukemen (Japanese dipping noodles) and there was a shop that was highly recommended by our host so we decided to go. Unmentioned was the fact that it was tiny and thus only had 8 chairs, so there was a bit of queue but it moved quickly we we didn’t wait long.

You have a thick sauce to dip your noodles in rather than the usual soup. I choose cold noodles and In San hot noodles. One nice thing they did is allow you to choose a smaller amount of noodle and get a free egg. They also let you add more dashi stock to the dipping sauce at the end when you were finished to turn it into a tasty soup.

The noodles were thick and chewy with lots of texture and taste. The sauce was amazingly deep and rich without being too strong. It was amazing. The chashu pork it came with was also very tasty, although not the best. They had very limited space and equipment so they only had one sink, one hot water tank for noodles, two hobs and saucepans for the stocks and had to blowtorch the meat <editor’s note – they also had the seats arranged so that you had to enter through one of two sets of doors as it was so narrow>.

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Tsurukame was delicious and value for money. You could ask them to turn your dipping sauce into soup at the end for free as well.

After filling up on delicious noodles we ambled home getting distracted at every corner as is our way. Happy, content and slightly damp as it was raining. Fortunately we had bought an umbrella earlier so we were not too fazed by the on and off rain all day.

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They love crazy heath robinson machines to bake small tasty treats here. It sucks you in to watch and then the smell gets you. At least they let you buy a single one. We found some entertaining things on the way back (hiding under our umbrella).

We returned to our temporary home (with more tatami mats and futons by chance) after an enjoyable re-introduction to Kyoto.

Japan – Day 18 – Up, up and more up

So this blog is a day late as we were super tired from our hike and wanted to maximise our onsen time. I’m currently typing it up on a train from Kii-Katsuura to Kyoto (via shin-Osaka), with some edits to finish it off at our final destination.

Yesterday we woke up pretty early as we had to pack before our 7am breakfast, the breakfast itself was pretty tasty and we still had not become jaded from the ryokan stays. As usual, there was a bit of everything, I think we may have gotten up earlier than the hosts would have liked as we had to wait 5 minutes for the Japanese omelette to be completed.

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This was our fuel for our journey ahead.

We had a prepaid and prebooked taxi from the ryokan to the start of the trail at Koguchi.

It was actually exciting to actually go into a taxi where the doors were opened for us by the driver <Editors Note – He had a special mechanism that allowed him to open one automatically and one by reaching back>. He was on time as expected and 2 days earlier we had emailed the tour operators about lunch as it wasn’t particularly clear so the driver stopped off at a convenience store along the way. We already had stocked up on buns but felt it would be too confusing to change the plans for the stop off so went with it (we would be very grateful for the extra food later on).

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James got excited by the buttons on the taxi that opened the doors.
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The taxi journey was fun, especially with the driver who was taking his work very seriously.

Once our driver dropped us off (it was a 35 minute journey), we started to take photos at ground level. Little did we know, the driver was waiting for us to start the trail before he would get back into the taxi. After a few minutes we realised and quickly made our way up, each time we turned around the driver was there standing very straight and waving to us with both hands. We felt we had a duty to get out of sight as quick as possible so that he could go on his way.

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The derelict buildings added to the ambience.

We set off and it was a bit scary at first as there were quite a few dogs in cages which were barking quite aggressively. Soon enough, when we got into the forest, we heard a horn in the distance and were asking very loudly to each other ‘what the hell is that?’ <EN – I was thinking … Battle Royal … the hunt is on>. Turns out it was the sound from a few monks (?) up ahead who were completing the same trail as us. We felt it was our lucky day especially as we would only see one other set of people during the whole hike. It certainly made the experience feel more magical.

It was about an hour in and then we opened up the first snack, some dried clementines from family mart. They were surprisingly nice but out of all the dried snacks the dried strawberries were the best.

We kept on going up and up, we knew this would be the case we were ascending 950m over 5 km, it was not going to be a fun day for our legs. Along the way we were warned about snakes.

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There was a lot of going up.
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The monks blowing their horns added to the ambience.
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We had been warned about snakes and then swiftly saw one, we were glad to have been given some notice

The trail kept on going up and up. Sometimes on stairs and other times on dirt trails. There was a lot of up to begin with we were happily taking photos of all the little things that amused us on the way.

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More going up, we were starting to go a bit crazy.

After going up for what felt like hours, we got to a bit of sunlight through the trees and James saw this as a prime photo taking opportunity. It added to the magicalness of the walk.

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James the master photographer in action. The scene really did feel magical, it’s hard to describe it but we appreciated the silence and the sunlight through the trees¬†

It was then time for our next snack, onsen eggs. We were intrigued to see what consistency the yolk would be. Turns out it was nearly hard boiled, a minute or two less would have been ideal but at that moment in time we were just happy to have onsen eggs to power us up. The little origami box for the egg shells was pretty helpful. We also had a melon bread with the eggs, this was one James could not resist from the convenience store as it was all in a little box which indicated it was freshly baked. Unfortunately it tasted a day old.

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Onsen egg was awesome, we were very happy to have spent 15 minutes deliberating about whether to make them the previous day

So up we kept on going, it was awesome to see so many shades of green in different shapes. The creepy crawlies everywhere made me feel uneasy and when James saw a snake he got very excited and went close up to take photos.

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We saw a lot of trees and a lot of green

When we finally got to the highest point on the route, we were excited as we thought it would mainly be downhill from there. As this was a pass, there wasn’t much of a view. <EN – The information sign has a quote – “This route is very rough and difficult: It is impossible to describe precisely how tough it is” – Fujiwara Teika. We felt his pain, and it was only just beging. And there’s more!>

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Finally, we got to the highest point on the walk. Surely no more uphill from here…

We kept on going, it was difficult due to the heat and humidity, we were started to feel really grimey.

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More uphill

We finally managed to catch up to the monks properly (we had previously kept on catching up enough to get a glimpse of them), this was at the rest point which had a nice scene and a stamp collecting point. It was time for us to snack it up.

First up, the onigiri, I thought I had picked up one with a pickled filling. I was wrong, it was tuna mayonnaise inside. I ate the rice around it. James had a salmon one which he didn’t complain about so it must have been okay.

We had a plum drink with our meal and this was finished off pretty quickly.

Next up, James had his galbi snacks which he transferred into a sealable packet and I had some awesome nuts which had been caramelized and coated in chocolate.

After this, we needed something savory. The dried squid was small but effective in satisfying our need for saltiness.

To end, we had one of the buns which would have been our main lunch. It was surprisingly good for a packaged one. It was green which would have indicated matcha flavour but it didn’t taste of it.

Finally, James had no self control so insisted he get a second drink from the vending machine as it had a picture that meant it had to be shaken up. He said it tasted of dreams <EN – I didn’t specify that they were good dreams> but it was a weird cream soda. It was so bad he didn’t finish it.

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At least there was a nice viewpoint for lunch and we got to open our snacks. James made a poor decision with his cream soda drink.
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Our main lunch item, we were very glad to have picked this up
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The dried squid was a crisps substitute, good enough at the time and more space efficient than crisps so it did the job
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Yep, more uphill

We kept on going up and there were some nice views of the mountains. If it was a clearer day we would have seen more but it was definately clear it was mountains upon mountains in the distance. We were excited as there would be a view point later on.

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There was one point with some nice views

When we got to the view point it was clear the sign was put up a while ago. Since then, trees have grown and it was impossible to get a decent view. We were very sad since we had walked so many hours.

We did however find another viewpoint, however there was a single tree stopping us from taking an amazing photo. Also, James’ camera had stopped working. Turned out it hadn’t it merely changed settings <EN – Of note is how the settings were messed up. In san left the camera on for a while as as she walked it bounced against her posterior which somehow managed to navigate the menu and select some very strange settings> but we didn’t work this out until the next day after we decided to put the camera out of action.

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James was very annoyed by the single tree which he felt ruined what would have been an ideal view <EN – I was vexed because the main viewing spot had been completely covered with trees>

We kept on going to Nachi-san and the signs were indicating we were close. We felt they were misleading as everytime we got closer, a new set of signs appeared which indicated we were further away. We were very tired at this point as we had been walking continuously and our knees were hurting.

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Extra walking, this time not in a forest

When we eventually emerged from the forest, we were greeted with an amazing view of the mountains and shrines. We headed down the hill and there was another beautiful view for us, this time of the pagoda. It was around 4.30pm so it was closing and presumably the other tourists had already come and gone.

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Seigantoji pagoda looked amazing next to the green of the mountains
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We had a bun whilst looking at the pagoda to keep us going

We weren’t going to make the bus at 2.45pm so we sat down and enjoyed another bun. We were hoping for some snacks but there weren’t any obviously available.

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The waterfall is the tallest in Japan

Heading further down to find our bus stop, we did not want to miss the next one as it was the last one to take us in time for dinner, we saw some shops. We were going to have an ice cream each but then as soon as James saw that the cones were inferior, he decided we should share. We agreed on plum flavour and it was sweet and also slightly sour, just right for me.

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Plum ice cream, we were very happy to purchase it

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After looking at the waterfall, we waited at our bus stop. There was a slight panic when the name of the bus stop was slightly different to what our instructions said but the time of the bus and the price were the same so we knew we were in the right place.

We then got onto the bus and then a shuttle boat to take us to our hotel (Hotel Urashima), we had just missed the boat so had to wait 15 mins for another one at 6pm. It was pretty fancy but we were not looking forward to it as we had seen some reviews which indicated the food would not be up to scratch. We were really happily surprised to find our big room which actually looked decent. On one hand, it was nice to have the room look proper but it was soul-less and there wasn’t any loving home-made botched DIY jobs.

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The sun was setting as we arrived and it reminded us of Ha Long Bay
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We were ready for our hotel to be terrible but luckily it wasn’t too bad, just a bit soul-less

We opted for a 7.30pm dinner so that we could clean off the grime. As soon as we entered our room we were impressed. For one, we had our own toilet, it had been well over a week since we had one all to ourselves so it made us pretty happy, no more waiting for other guests to finish using the western one before we could have our go.

 

We decided to go to the cave onsen which is what the hotel is famous for, it was too dark to be able to see outside but you could hear the waves of the sea crashing into the rocks. After this we headed down for the dinner and were shown to our table, it was buffet style which we were prepared for however it was probably one of the best buffets we have ever had. Obviously I wouldn’t choose a buffet over a proper restaurant, but if I did have to have a buffet then this one would do.

It turns out Kii-Katsuura is a fishing town and there is a tuna auction most mornings. This explains why where was a tuna which was being cut up for dinner. Other guests were going crazy for it and piling their plates high with tuna sashimi. We had quite a few portions and it was so odd to think it was effectively eat as much as you want. We stuck with the fish and had prawn tempura, tuna in lot’s of forms and some rice to ensure it wasn’t just protein.

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All you can eat dinner, we went up for multiple rounds and forgot to photograph all of them
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There was a short talk about the tuna that we were eating but our lack of Japanese meant we couldn’t understand
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There was a system for letting the staff know when you had finished and they could clear your table.

As we went up separately, James was free to choose whatever he wanted. When he came back with a massive smile on his face, I wandered why he was so happy. Turns out he had a bowl of ice cream which he had topped with chocolate and sprinkles. The amount of sugar seemed excessive but at this point there was nothing I could do.

After all this, we had a second onsen that night to ensure we could get super clean. It was then time for bed, the duvets felt much higher quality here and we both fell asleep pretty quickly.

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James thought it was a good idea to have a biscuit before bedtime, this is one of the snacks provided to us on arrival.

Our alarm was set for 7.10am the next morning so that we could get an onsen in before breakfast, we were not looking forward to this alarm going off.

 

Japan – Day 17 – To onsen egg or not to onsen egg

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We had an early start so we got up at 6:15, this was painful. Breakfast was much more exciting than advertised ‘Some bread and eggs’, although it wasn’t massive it was tasty and had a good variety. We had decided to knock off the first two hours of walking so that we could get to the finishing onsen town ryokan earlier to enjoy the experience for longer. To do so we needed to catch a bus early. Unfortunately there was no-where to buy food that early and the inn didn’t provide a lunch box so we had bought lots of non-perishable snacks the day before. It turns out the self-guided tour was completely wrong and the inn did provide lunch boxes which we could have asked for. We were not pleased.

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Breakfast was more exciting than promised, although the cut up fruit was beautiful In San would have prefered the whole banana.

Along the way we picked up some other guests from the inn we were staying at, they were winging it with only accommodation booked and no maps and no plans. They didn’t even know the bus was an option. In the end they decided to stay on the bus all the way to the onsen town and do a circular walk there instead of walking there as we did.

Unfortunately there was a typhoon in 2011 which destroyed a chunk of the trail that we would be walking so there is an official detour that takes you round it. Unfortunately <editor’s note – or fortunately> it means that you miss out on 7km of the trail.

Even more unfortunately our self guided tour detailed instructions and map hadn’t been updated. They had only put a small note in the day by day itinerary (which normally just details the accommodation you would be staying) after the accommodation entry so it was impossible to find unless you had read the whole booklet. We felt it wasn’t too much to ask to not give us instructions and a map that was wrong given that they had had six years to fix it. Even a sticker to say ‘don’t follow these instructions go here and read this instead’ would have been better. We were a little vexed when we realised. Worse their instructions had sent us the wrong way so we were 45 minutes behind schedule before we realised and backtracked. Because of the detour we had an unexpected super steep multi-km long climb ahead of us instead of a gentle ascent. Fortunately our rage at the tour guide fueled us to scamper up at speed. So angry we didn’t even realise we had climbed so high <editor’s note – we were quite raged particularly as it was quite lazy of them and it was made worst by them indicating a bento lunch box was not available, this was the first time we have tried a self guided walk and we think we are better off sticking to organising them ourselves so that we can do all the research and have all the information even if it does take us hours>.

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It was a lot sunnier today so we got a better view of the mountains as the mist burned off. The detour due to typhoon meant we missed out on a few monuments.

Once we were back on track we could enjoy the scenery, it was very beautiful and remote. It was a big change for us as we normally do day hikes near to a city or similar.

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As we got deeper into the mountains everything become more majestic and magical.

There was bit of excitement when In San almost stepped on a snake, it probably wasn’t on the deadly vipers we saw warning posters about everywhere … but we decided to be extra stompy to be sure they heard us coming. If only we had splashed out for the walking sticks with bells on.

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This far from civilization we were forced to use less advanced loo technologies. The signage on the detour wasn’t quite as extensive as the main route so someone had helpfully added extra information.

We were not able to source lunch (because the guide was wrong) so we had gathered many snacks which we ate along the trail, pacing ourselves out.

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There was no-where we could get lunch we we needed to have a large selection of snacks to compensate. Dorayaki and trail-mix to the rescue <editor’s note – I chose walnut covered in maple syrup, this was a far superior choice>.

These shrines in the middle of no-where were very interesting, many of them had fun stories like an old man dying from fatigue and hunger with a coin in his mouth, or a mother leaving her baby by the road and a wolf looking after it. Interesting times, it was obviously a more hardcore route back in the day.

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Some of the shrines were a bit out of the way and didn’t get the regular servicing that the major shrines got. This made them interestingly decrepit and increased their score on our magical-scenery-ometer (units are Ghiblis of course). This overgrown bus shine looks like an ancient forest bus stop gaining it a value of 0.7 Ghiblis. You can almost hear the Cat Bus coming.

When we got to a restpoint at the top of the mountain we had our ‘main lunch’ In San had a red bean bun and I had a chocolate souffle, maybe not the wisest choice but it was delicious and seemed like a good idea when I choose it.

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When we got to the rest-point at the top of the mountain we decided to have the main part of our lunch.
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There was a settlement in the middle of the forest, tending to people’s needs as they walked the trail for hundreds of years. However in the 1940’s so few people were remaining that they were forcibly relocated to a nearby village and the area abandoned.
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The hidden village originally had a series of farms here that were abandoned, they have been cleaned up and trees planted.

Rather than going directly to Yunomine onsen town we decided to go an extra 2 hours onto Hongu, luckily we had enough snacks to fuel this.

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We had to break out the snacks mark II, crunky and ancient rice cakes (chewy and fermented) for me and weird mini pringles for In San. I took lots of photos of her enjoying the crisps as she looked so happy. I have never seen her so happy apart from other times she was eating new kinds of crisps.

Walking through the little villages was really interesting, they grew most of their own food, and had little honesty shops which had random things like home-made charms or ginger/tea/snacks in them with a money box inside a little shed <editor’s note – it was cute but not what we needed so we didn’t purchase anything>.

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It was getting hotter and hotter and we were running lower of water (we still had sufficient because we had packed two litres). We saw a vending machine and we went for it. This powered us up and allowed us to make up the time we lost early with some high speed downward running <editor’s note – James opted for a weird barley drink, he was meant to get a tea but didn’t want to get the same as me>.
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The little villages along the way were very lovely and integrated with nature.

Because of our starting mis-adventure we were behind schedule and had a choice, give Hongu the time it deserved or blitz through and catch the bus that we had been running for the last hour to arrive in time for (the next would be over an hour and a half later). We managed to see most things at speed but didn’t get a great look at the largest Tori Gate in Japan (it was massive so we saw it from a distance). We did however catch the bus so success of a sort.

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We arrived at Hongu shrine, it was the major shrine along this part of the trail and has Japan’s largest Tori Gate. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to appreciate it fully as we had to catch a bus.¬†

Because we arrived so early (other travelers on the trail were not as focused as us) we arrived before anybody else in the Inn and therefore had first dibs on the private onsen. Success. We also had welcome biscuits and tea to put us in a more relaxed mood.

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On arrival at the ryokan we were greeted with Japanese biscuits and tea. We also picked up some dango (pre-packaged not fresh sadly) at the village shop to tide us over til supper. I also had a cheeky beer from the vending machine, it was a local Kumado Kodo beer <editor’s note – James said it tasted nicer the more you drank, I think it was a little too flavoursome>.
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The ryokan had an indoor group (gender segregated) Onsen and a far superior outside private one (pictured) because we arrived on the earlier bus we got first dibs. It was awesome but too hot for In San (it was 43 degrees or more).

After cleaning up we went for an explore around the town, there wasn’t a lot of town apart from the other ryokan (and randomly a j-hoppers hostel) and a free public onsen.

We went for a wander along the trail that we wouldn’t be taking tomorrow then came back and were faced with a dilemma, to onsen egg or not to onsen egg. It was too close to supper to eat it now and we were not sure we could safely keep it til tomorrow. The decisions were difficult and we obsess about weird food things. After a long time (too long) we decided to go for it and cooked the eggs in the hot onsen water for tomorrow lunch <editor’s note – the shop said to cook for 13 minutes and separately outside it said soft boiled was 9 minutes but hard boiled was 15 minutes, we stuck with the instructions from the shop>.

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After our cleansing we debated whether to cook our own onsen eggs, we felt like we should to supplement our ‘lunch’ tomorrow.

We cooled them down in the sink (to preserve them in the perfect jelly state) and handed them to our confused host to store over-night in the fridge (initially he thought we wanted them for supper). Hopefully he understood and we will not get them as extra breakfast.

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Sadly there were no Royal Milk Tea (Hot) left, obviously the most popular drink. We hadn’t noticed the giant tanuki outside our ryokan when we first arrived. The hot water tank outside was massive.

Supper was very tasty, I will let the pictures do the talking.

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Food was extremely elaborate (if slightly less so than our first ryokan) and very delicious. It was a little less traditional and little more inventive. The sashimi was particular decadent I took a photo but In San hasn’t included it (maybe she is too sleepy).
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The world’s smallest gyudon, and the centerpiece, a steam your own giant prawn and vegetables in a steamer similar to the mushroom dish we had had yesterday. A whole melon slice to finish made In San very happy.¬†Interestingly we had a clear dashi soup rather than the usual miso.¬†

We are sitting here in our traditional room, full of delicious food and content. Our legs are not too sore and although the start was a little flaky we came through in the end. Tomorrow our walking continues with the most intense day yet.