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 16

James wanted the alarm set for 7.20am and when it went off, he decided snooze would be good… We did get up around 7.40am as breakfast was being served at 8am and we were concerned that they may have been ready earlier than this (as they were 15 mins early serving dinner the night before). As suspected, there would be more rice and lot’s of little things including tofu and eggs <EN – In San was was concerned that I couldn’t handle so many rice meals in a row, it has not been a problem so far>.

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Breakfast was big and filling, just what we needed

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We ate it all in 20 minutes and then headed back upstairs to get ready for our day ahead. We got a lift up the boring hill to Takahara where our next trail would begin. Of course, we needed to check out the only shop for snacks and opted for mochi balls with red bean inside, I was briefly tempted by trail bars but James put me off by saying the mochi would be better, it was only afterwards that he admitted the bars were JPY 374 (when the mochi was only JPY 100) <EN – I couldn’t just say that in front of the nice lady in the shop>.

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Of course the car didn’t have seatbeats.

The first part of the trail was quite uphill and we had very useful signs everywhere, they were so clear they even had signs telling you which trails weren’t part of the official route.

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There were a couple of friendly faces along the route

The route was quite mossy and there were a lot of things moving which I didn’t like, the spiders are definitely a lot bigger and scarier. <EN – In San is not enjoying the giant insects in Korean and Japan. Japanese people delight in pointing out to her when insects are crawling up her leg>

We stopped off at a rest point for our mochi break and then a giant bee came to join us, we decided to eat them on the go.

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It was always clear if a route was not part of the official trail <EN – Unlike in Korea where you had to make bold decisions and find out afterwards if you were correct>

We walked past quite a few shrines and some cool tree roots. We walked and saw a particular Japanese lady a few times as we must have been walking at similar paces. She rather sensibly brought a plastic mat with her to sit on whilst eating her onigiri and when we stopped to look at an oji, she asked us where we were from. James always responds England and I have been requesting that he says London, to date he has still not satisfied my request. We made polite conversation which included mentioning how difficult the walk was and the word ‘sweaty’ also came up.

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We kept on walking and saw a stick with mushrooms growing on it. This was pretty awesome to us so we took quite a few photos. At the same time, another walker was passing from the other direction and joined in on the mushroom watching. Another conversation was started with the classic ‘where you from’ question, although this guy was particularly friendly and he got out his map and we talked about the kumano kodo trail and which parts we were walking. There was obviously a lot of pointing at the various maps and gesturing during this conversation and when he realised we didn’t have an English version of his map, he went into his backpack and gave us one he was carrying around. I thought it was very random that he would carry a map for other people just in case but we were grateful as his one included information about snack breaks and may come in useful if we decide to do another part of the route in the future.

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The mushrooms were enchating
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<EN – In San seemed to really enjoy crossing the bridges, maybe they distracted her from the sheer drops on the side of the trail>

When we got to Chikatsuyu-oji, we decided to sit down for our bentos. They had a bit of everything including octopus, beef, chicken drumstick and two onigiri. They were nice but I didn’t like the pickled filling in the onigiri as much as James did. The pit stop had a cafe which sold ice cream, this wasn’t the official ice cream spot as indicated in our guide but we saw they had premium cones and couldn’t resist. We opted for one matcha one to share and at JPY 300 it was totally worth it.

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The bento lunch was exciting and we were happy to finish it off with some matcha ice cream

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The scenery was pretty magical (not quite Ghibli level as before)

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We then made our way to Minshuku chikatsuyu where we would be staying for the night. As the walk was only 4 hours,  we arrived too early to check in and decided to explore the area. There was a foot bath so we made use of that. We had hoped to have plum ice cream <EN – I was officially suggested in our guide that here was the place to get plum icecream> to eat whilst bathing our feet but the lady said they didn’t have any. We were very grateful for our matcha ice cream purchase a few kilometers earlier.

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We got a stamp in the middle of the trip, as well as the start and finish.

There was a random shop which had rabbits in cages. We did not put our fingers anywhere near them as there was a clear warning they would bite.

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The shop which was meant to sell plum ice cream, didn’t. It made us sad.
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We also took advantage of the free public foot bath

The other shops amused us for some time <EN – they were all rather high end but interesting to browse>, we found some orange juice and there was finally a vending machine that sold royal milk tea in hot rather than cold form.  We also explored the A-coop supermarket to get snacks for tomorrow’s walk.

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The orange juice didn’t taste quite like the orange we recognised and there was nothing google translate could do to help us understand why.

On arrival, we were shown to our room and the host asked us a few times if Japanese style dining would be fine and of course we said yes. Dinner would be served at 6pm and so we headed off to have a bath before then. We were very happy to amuse ourselves for a little bit as the humidity made it difficult to walk uphill, we are certainly not designed for warm climates.

We weren’t sure what to expect for dinner at a minshuku as it was a less excessive ryokan from our understanding. Dinner didn’t let us down. There was sashimi (oh yeah!), mushrooms <EN – Steamed fresh in front of us> with a yuzu sauce, and traditional rice with burdock and chicken. We later discovered the Japanese couple next to us got rice and fish instead so the hosts must have tailored the food for our Western palettes.

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Dinner = tasty, there was even a small glass of plum wine

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There was also tofu soup and ‘fish and chips’

The host joked that we were given wasabi ice cream for dessert, I believed her until I tried it and it turned out to be melon. It was a nice way to end the meal. We carried on chatting to the couple next to us who were intrigued as to how we even knew about the Kumono Kodo as it’s only really popular in Japan with older people. I got the impression they may have thought we were old before our time.

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‘wasabi’ ice cream and snacks for tomorrow

We pleasantly surprised by how delicious the food was and look forward to the next stage of our trail adventure. Getting up for breakfast at 6:30 we are less keen about.

Japan – Day 14 – Feeling full of fat

We decided to deviate from the french toast and opted for a fried egg sandwich. The tomatoes we purchased were amazingly sweet and added a touch of healthiness we had been missing.

It was then onto the station although James needed some coffee to help him along the way, the coffee at 7-11 was only JPY 100 and tasted like it according to James. <EN – It was fine, to be honest for 70p it was surprisingly good. I try to keep myself used to cheap coffee, it is already too late for me and tea but I want to avoid becoming a coffee snob>

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We opted for egg sandwiches for variety, James let me have the one where the yolk didn’t get ruined <EN – Because I am such a gentleman>.

We were heading to Osaka station to find the central post office, this was because we needed to collect our trail map and guide for the trip tomorrow. Unfortunately the post office was hard to find seeing as it was underground and needed to be accessed via a bank. Luckily, we managed to ask at a bank and they pointed us the right direction as we knew we were close when at ground level and couldn’t understand why we couldn’t see it despite the location on google maps <EN – By pointed us in the right direction they literally took us there from the bank, down an unmarked stairway into the basement and round a few corners>.

With the map collected, we also took the chance to change our KRW to JPY. Note to self, exchanging money requires form filling and not everywhere necessarily takes KRW. In the UK we would usually hunt down the best prices but here we just wanted somewhere that would take our money.

With our money exchanged, we headed to Kobe for you can guess. James had previously researched and decided that Ishida was the best. We got our hostel manager to try and book but they don’t take bookings, it wasn’t clear whether this was just for lunch times only but we turned up at 12.30pm and there was space <EN – They recommended this time, and it was just after the first set of people finished and the second round of people started to arrive>.

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Ishida was a step up from steak land, it was tasty but super rich.

The menu was limited (no a la carte at lunch time) but it was obvious what we were going to go for. The Kobe beef set lunch menu (I had wanted to try some black beef for comparison but James wanted us to both have the full Kobe experience). Turns out A5 with grade 8 -12 marbling is pretty darn tasty. Be warned, the food is super rich, I didn’t think it would be so filling but it was and it made me feel weirdly full the whole day. Before the main event, we got some cold roast beef, it wetted my appetite but didn’t taste that special.

We also opted to enhance the experience with some local sake, given it was only JPY 1,500 for a 300ml bottle we felt it was very reasonable <EN – At Kagawa it had been JPY 2,200 for 120ml>. This is compared with the JPY 7,800 and JPY 8,800 lunch we were about to embark on (prices are without tax so the total bill worked out closer to JPY 20k when we were finished) <EN – Only fancy restaurants do this, everywhere else what you see is what you pay, no tax no service. Shops on the other hand all seem to add tax>

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The roast beef to start the meal was so so, I quite liked the sake but not enough to try and source it in London

So the meat turns up and you can see all the fat on it. I’m a bit scared but it’s the most amazing fatty taste and as it’s sirloin it has some texture (it differed to steak land where we probably had fillet and it all melted in our mouth with no texture).

The chef asked us about how we wanted it cooked, James asked for his recommendation to which he said medium but James still asked for it medium rare. Typical. We got two different salts and to be honest I couldn’t taste much difference between the two <EN – If only we had the salt from the Tonkatsu place with us>.

What we really like about the beef is how they cook it up and then you are served with lot’s of mini steaks. We opted for a 130 g and a 150 g steak (as James is greedy <EN – Sensible>), he also opted for the fried rice <EN – Which was delicious as it was fried in the A5 Kobe beef fat> whereas I kept it simple with the steamed rice.

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The beef was pretty intense, there was also soy sauce with mustard but I felt it tasted best with just salt and pepper.

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The fried rice was intense, it was fried in the beef fat, I’m glad to have stuck with the steam rice but James being James had to go for the up sale (+ JPY 500)

The glorious meal was over too quickly but then we did get coffee and English tea. Unfortunately the tea was too bitter that I had to use James’ coffee cream to make it drinkable. We also got some yuzu sorbet which was surprisingly nice and the refreshing citrus taste helped balance all the fattiness we had just consumed.

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I would much prefer Japanese tea to end the meal on but I guess English tea is more popular at this place.

With our meal complete, we were going to wander around Chinatown and the harbour due to a recommendation from someone we had befriended earlier that morning however the rain made us feel like we should be indoors so we headed back to Osaka. The stations here are massive and so easy to get lost. I was feeling very sleepy and needed to wake up so we visited some game stations and had fun seeing how awesome other people were. We decided not to compete and stuck to what we knew i.e. time crisis. <EN – We also went on the Initial D racing simulators, pretty fun>

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The malls are giant and endless. <EN – Unlike this tiny escalator that In San was lazy enough to take>
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We limited ourselves to JPY 400 on time crisis <EN – In San is a cold calculating killing machine at Time Crisis>

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James was insistent that he had space for dessert whereas I knew I was full but I was happy to accompany him. We went to search for a particular place that did matcha souffle pancakes but we couldn’t find it so gave up. We went for the next best thing, souffle pancakes.

Now, it was a difficult decision, there was a single and a double pancake souffle but we weren’t sure how big they were and I was still full <EN – Yet managed to eat almost half the pancake>. We opted for a single but with chocolate sauce and banana. To help things along James went for a decaffinated coffee (tasted alright to me but I don’t know coffee) and I had a darjeeling tea. The coffee came with the most tiny jug, I wanted to steal it but I knew it wouldn’t be useful if I got it home. The pancake souffle was incredibly light but kept it’s shape once it had been broken into. I am interested in how we can potentially recreate this experience at home.

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Pancake souffle = amazing. Tiny milk jug = super cute.

We then went for a walk and still kept under cover due to the ongoing bad weather. We got distracted by a fountain that showed different messages, we managed to get a photo when it was showing the time. It was then onto the Pokemon centre on the 13th floor. It was funny because everyone got into the lift and everyone but one person got out. It was insanely busy, they even had someone with a sign to show everyone where the moving end of the queue was and the checkouts were constantly ringing. Many items caught my eye, I liked the idea of a fluffy pikachu pass case / coin purse but figured a bright yellow keyring did not look very professional. Instead I picked up a hand towel as I have misplace my towel from my previous trip.

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The pokemon centre was full of cuteness.
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James made a rash decision to purchase halloween pikachu even though it didn’t say Osaka on it.

With our purchases finished, we headed off for dinner. We decided to walk as I was still feeling full and needed to work up my appetite. We were going to tomato ramen and James even admitted the reason he wore his red shirt was because we were going there. This place is near the hostel we stayed at the last time we were here and it was nice walking back and being able to see some familiar sights.

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It was amusing to watch these men play a game where they could be a train driver. <EN – I like to think they are actual train drivers in real life>

The tomato ramen didn’t let us down, this time James opted for the seafood version which had clams and I got the original which had chicken. I really wanted the extra rice to finish off the soup but knew it was a bad idea so didn’t. We were both glad to have come back and will definitely try to recreate this at home, we already made an attempt once but it didn’t taste as good as the real thing. Once we got to the station James rooted around for his limited edition ICOCA card and turns out he lost it. He traced back his steps to tomato ramen but with no success so he ended up purchasing a new card. It made me sad at there was around JPY 1,500 of credit on the card.

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Tomato ramen was more delicious than we remembered.

We walked back to the hostel (the pics below are from the previous night when we took the long way back) and are preparing ourselves for our hiking. There is no wi-fi at some of the places so we were are going to be in the middle of nowhere.

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Japan – Day 12 – Problematic public transport and fake food

Due to our excitement at finding dinner the night before, we had forgotten to get breakfast which meant that we had to venture out for food on an empty stomach. We ventured onto the tube thinking it would be easy as we are seasonable public transport takers. How wrong we were. The tubes run by different privately owned companies and confusing signage meant that it was difficult to decipher which tube to go on and where to get to it at the station. One guy helped us when we showed him which line we wanted, unfortunately we didn’t say which way we wanted to go so we ended up getting on one going the opposite direction we wanted to. By the time we got to our destination station (Namba), it took around 45 minutes for a journey which should have taken 15… <Editors Note – Things were complicated as there was a local, semi express, express and special express train which all stopped at different stops. As they were going out of Osaka as well they only had their end station in different parts of Japan which wasn’t helpful to us with only a Osaka Metro map>

We figured it would be easy to find food but it turns out that quite a lot of the shops and cafes which we had seen open the night before didn’t open until 10am.

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The empty and quiet shopping centre was a completely different scene to the night before.

We didn’t have much choice as we had arrived around 9.30am so we ended up at what we assume is a chain, it had halloween croissants it was promoting and the idea of chocolate and orange croissant for breakfast seemed exciting. Except it turned out to be chocolate and banana, it was still tasty but unexpected. We also purchased additional items, we independently both thought the food was plastic food <EN – It looked so plastic it was unreal, but that was a testament to how good the plastic food we saw everywhere is> but then when we saw the tongs, we realised that it was real food. I was hoping they would heat the food up but they didn’t. My cheese egg toastie was a bit odd but it was bready enough to fill me up for a bit.

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Breakfast was adequate, note to self, halloween packaging doesn’t necessarily mean halloween flavouring.

This was also the day I decided to move onto my new glasses, I had not switched over as I was carrying my sunglasses with my old prescription and wanted the option of still being able to wear them but I felt sad these had been in their cases for the last few days so I decided to switch out.

As our breakfast was relatively light, we ventured down and as soon as we saw a pork bun stall, James immediately decided he wanted one. It was only JPY 300 and made him very happy. The next stall down sold glutinous rice balls with sesame seed paste filling so I got one for myself, a bargain at JPY 150. Both were tasty and we were happy to have stumbled across them. <EN – My one had massive chuncks of juicy pork belly in which was amazing, no sad and minimal grisly meat for me!>

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Supplementary breakfast was definitely required.

There were many sights to see and we kept on being distracted by lot’s of food and brightly coloured stalls. It took us to just before 11am to reach the cookware street (Sennichimae Doguyasuji) which we had hoped to get to earlier.

We were sucked in by a shop selling fake food and it also had the option of making your own, it was our lucky day and it turned out the next course was at 11am and it was the one for making sushi, given this ideal timing, we decided to partake in the activity.

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Design pocket, the land of fake plastic food dreams.

We chose our sushi and made payment (almost JPY 4,000 so not cheap but at this point we were already committed). We were a little dispirited to see the guy remove some premade plastic food from some containers as we were hoping for it to be hands on (when we finally finished 1.5 hours later we realised that there’s a reason why we would only be doing some shaping and painting).

Our teacher apologised for not speaking English but he did know the odd word and we found google translate and hand gestures to be very useful. We took our roles so seriously and concentrating so hard that he even had to remind up (via google translate) that we could talk. <EN – We found out afterwards that the course was perhaps aimed at children who wouldn’t take it so seriously and would blob a bit of paint on rather than spend an hour carefully shading and putting in individual veins … maybe we take things too seriously>

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Shaping the food was quite an art, it didn’t help that it was really hot to hold.

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When we had finished, we had the most delicious looking sushi that we wanted to eat. We even got sushi take away boxes to take them home in.

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Our finished pieces look pretty tasty. <EN – Looking at this I am suddenly hungry again>

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With this side track, I had derailed James’ plans to take me to a delicious lunch place he had previously researched. We made our way over to Kigawa which does traditional Japanese, it would be fancy and we felt a bit sheepish in our very casual clothing. There was no menu on the outside and it wasn’t clear what the situation was. We made our way in and were greeted by someone who didn’t speak any English and he handed over a small Japanese menu which had 3 prices, luckily someone else came over with a menu printed in English to help clarify the situation so we stuck with the middle choice (JPY 8,000 each) and were sat down at the counter so that we could watch the chefs as they cooked.

Happy that we were accepted as a walk in and our lack of effort with our appearance we were energised and chose to enjoy the meal with the Goshun Sake. There were a couple of changes to the menu which the lady explained but these were substitutions rather than anything major.

 

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It was not obvious whether we would be accepted before entering the restaurant. <EN – I knew that Osaka fine dining was a little bit more relaxed but we were cutting it pretty close>
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For once we remembered to take a photo of the menu.
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The sake set was made of glass rather than pottery, it made us feel fancy.

We found the food to be very interesting and will let the pictures do the talking.

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The food looks particularly good as each diner has their own spotlight.

Overall we really enjoyed the meal as it used many ingredients we hadn’t tried before. Also, it was unusual for us to have such a fish based fine dining experience. We particularly enjoyed the sashimi round which was well executed with fresh fish and different garnishes we wouldn’t usually bother with as we usually eat it with soy sauce only.

After our dining experience, taking a little over 1.5 hours (and we were slow compared with other people), we headed to find some more cups to add to our collection. It took us a while to head around the shops to determine which ones we wanted and we spotted a cute sake set we didn’t purchase on our previous set, this was something we had regretted and we weren’t sure why we didn’t buy it previously but we would not make the same mistake again. <EN – Many of the shops had stopped their habit of piling up the crockery everywhere making every step treacherous but our favorite was more traditional>

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Our favourite shop was also the one which was the most precarious.

James thought the car park was particularly cool, it was a vertical one and once the correct car was selected, it reversed onto the round thing which then rotated it the correct way to drive off. We were both impressed. <EN – Who knows how many cars were stored in this tower, so efficient>

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The vertical car park amused James for 5 minutes

Before making the crockery purchases, we did have to sit down for a cup of tea and then go back as it was such an emotional decision. I ordered yuzu tea which I assumed would be a citrus/lemon tea, turns out they had a yuzu marmalade which I then add hot tea to, it was far superior to James’ original blend he selected. <EN – It was, I can’t even try and deny it>

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There’s always time for tea <EN – In San’s new glasses matched her tea>

With our purchases made, we attempted to go shopping for clothing but everything was pretty pricey, we were clearly looking in the wrong place. Instead we decided to call it a night and go for an earlyish dinner so we could head back for an early night (except it’s currently 10.35pm and I’m still typing this <EN – It is 11:03 and I am still editing it>). James did a quick search for tasty udon and ramen places nearby and Miyoshiya came up, taking a look at the pics it turns out this was the same place we had been to for an udon making class. Given it still had good reviews we decided to try it again.

It didn’t let us down. James went for curry (ton)katsu udon, there was an option to select the spiciness and he went for regular (which confusingly is one down from medium). I was still full so went for a plain udon, they offered this in a mini size for JPY 150 discount so I took advantage of this.

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James was particularly slow at eating the udon, 2 other individuals came in after him and both finished before him. <EN – It retained heat for a long time, I am unable to eat things that are too hot. The draft Asahi came in a thermos tankard, genius and icey cold.>

We made our way back although taking the wrong exit at our station meant our 1 minute walk took more like 5. We have picked up breakfast making goods from family mart so we are looking forward to having a more substantial breakfast.

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We were not convinced by the signage outside the eel restaurant.

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Japan – Day 11 – Failed UFO abduction and cubicle dining

On to Japan! We were sad to leave Korea as we still really liked the sites, food and people but we were excited to be going to Japan. We had a tight schedule so we got up with speed and efficiency. After a few rounds of the snooze button.

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We had a more exciting selection than usual, from Gamcheon Village (fish bakery) and a trendy Haeundae bakery (that tasted amazing fresh). We were sad to leave the whimsically decorated room even if one of the windows didn’t close. 

Previously we had been considering an early morning flight ‘oh we can make that no problem’. Fortunately we saw reason and booked one at midday which allowed us to be a little more relaxed. We remembered the sad sandwich which was all the food that was available after security so we made sure to have an extended brunch beforehand to keep us going <editor’s note – James got very excited by the soup in a bread bowl so he insisted we get one each rather than sharing>. Also claim some sweet sweet tax refund money for our glasses purchase (conveniently in JPY) <editor’s note – my reclaim was in JPY, James’ amount was much smaller so could only be refunded in USD>.

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With our memories of poor post security food to warn us we eat early, mushroom soup in a bread bowl should tide us through till we can get more food.

We got some snacks as well to finish off any remaining KRW change we had and also in case we got hungry.

In San went for her usual crisps, in this case unexpectedly she was lured into buying a small packet of super high quality crisps rather than the usual giant bag of flavoured foam and sawdust. I went for the intriguing ‘conch shaped snacks’ what they actually were was a mystery as no other description was given so I went for it (they tasted like extra sugary Frosties cereal so could be considered yet another extension of my breakfast) <editor’s note – my choice was clearly far superior to James’ and even he will admit it>.

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We had some tasty snacks on the plane and then then after a short flight (only one episode of a TV show for In San) we landed and picked up our trendy ICOCA cards for transport.

On arrival we decided to dump our bags in the locker (no high tech options like Korea, only coin locker operated key jobbies… disappointing Japan we expecting better) so we could get straight into exploring.

We walked through Tennoji park then up to Nipponbashi and explored this little corner of geekdoom and electrical stores. Then on to Kuromon Ichiba Market for some snacks, everything was very expensive and high end (but delicious looking) we cracked and bought some squids on a stick <editor’s note – I suspect the prices haven’t increased, more that the weak is seriously weak still due to the Brexit vote>. We were passing the cheap Korean street food. Then we saw some cheap and tasty dango (similar to mochi but chewier and grilled with either a sweet and soy salty sauce or just sweet) and our spirits raised (I love dango so much) <editor’s note – plus at JPY 120, it was a good value filling skewer>.

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Tennoji park was interesting but mostly full of the zoo which we did not want to visit.
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We wandered a around the park and up through Nipponbashi (geek central) then into Kuromon Ichiba Market where we picked up some snacks.

The snacks would keep us going but after our lack of lunch we were hungry for more. So on to Dotonbori for food. There are so many great options, so we got some takoyaki (octopus filled pancake balls) while we waited. In San wanted ramen and I am always up for ramen so we went for the tastiest place we could find Ichiran Ramen (it also had the longest queue).

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We were starting to get hungry so we headed up to Dotonbori for food, it is a magical place.

There was a 30 min queue so we were settling in for a long wait, when a member of staff came up to us and asked if we spoke Chinese and then when we said English she whipped out a sign (in English) explaining that there was a sister restaurant we could go to that was already the same and was much larger so less of a queue. As we had been considering whether or not it was worth checking out the other restaurant anyway we agreed. Importantly the new restaurant still has their most fun feature, you are served in an individual cubicle and your food arrives via a little curtain at the front. Added to this you order via a vending machine before you sit down and order extras via paper. So you don’t need to interact with anybody at any point even the people you go to the restaurant with, perfect! You also get to select exactly how rich/umami/firm you want your ramen to be. In San maxed out the garlic but put everything else to minimum, ‘I want something subtle’. She declared that there was an acceptable amount of garlic and that it was lucky that I didn’t have a garlic allergy or she would have chosen garlic over me. I take this to mean she enjoyed the ramen <editor’s note – James said that if I had a chocolate allergy which meant he couldn’t eat chocolate then he would choose chocolate over me>.

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We decided that we wanted ramen for our first meal in Japan so we headed to Ichiran Dotonbori, we had heard good things so we were intrigued <editor’s note – we had also been reminded of a youtube video we saw from strictlydumpling where he visited this place>. There was a massive line but a helpful member of staff suggested that we follow her (and her flag) to their new second restaurant round the corner, which had no queue.
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It was amazing, the broth was rich without being greasy, the meat was tender and full of flavour and the noodles were chewy and delicious. In San maxed out the garlic (as far as possible without paying extra).

In San declared herself too full to eat anything else, I however had room for a cheeky melon bread I had seen that they were selling from a stall. It was really fresh, soft and crispy (of course In San suddenly had room for several bites. Nice. Then we went into a weird tax free shop that sold everything from plug converters (useful for us as we had entered for the intention of sourcing and purchasing this) to dyson vacuum cleaners and hello kitty rice scoops.

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Fresh Melon bread (delicious) and weird and wonderful things, magnifying glass for nail clippers … of course.

We had been resisting the UFO machines successfully but In San cracked. She was unsuccessful but I did not let her put all our life savings at risk and pulled her back from the brink <editor’s note – James agreed I could spend JPY 500 for 6 plays, I felt this was reasonable and did not try to pursuade him for more as even I understood our chances were low from watching the previous people try multiple times and not succeeding and it was clear they had spent much more than me>.

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In San is still addicted to UFO machines, there was too much temptation to resist. She traded her snack money for 6 goes. She failed. We had fun living vicariously through others watching them (almost) win their prizes.

We had a relaxed first day and we are excited to explore more tomorrow.