We only have a week and a half left in Japan, but we've done so much since my last blog! It's been non-stop. Everywhere is so different, and we have seen some really interesting places (although I'm still going to get mixed up between all the cities and the temples when I look at my photos!).
Since the last blog, in Kamakura, we headed next to Nagoya, where we stayed only to go to Tsumago and Magome the following day, and do a walking trail through the forest (and snow!) and little old houses in the mountains. There were bells every few hundred metres to ring in order to scare off bears - we read a sign before we started saying that bears had been reported in the area in the news, but no one had seen any, so we should be careful! We didn't see any. Lovely walk (8km) in the freezing cold , and we tried some rice balls on a stick, dripping in teryaki, to keep us warm.
Next we headed to Takayama, which is a pretty little town full of black and white merchant houses and old fashioned Japanese buldings, as well as its fair
share of temples and treasure houses. Did another walk amongst the temples here, on the hill and through forests. And visited a folk village of old houses and craft workings. Really pretty, and saw Shitaki mushrooms growing. Stayed with a lovely old Japanese couple．They made us feel very at home, showing us lots of maps (all in Japanese) and telling us about the area (again in Japanese), but we got the jist and they weren't too worried that we didn't know what they were saying, they just kept smiling and laughing at us! We had our first Onsen experience, although in private so it was more like a bath! And we slept on much more comfy futons, and in a bigger room, than that in Kamakura. The hot beef rice bowls just down the road were amazing, as were all of the snacks they served on the street stalls. We were sad to leave． Especially when the couple waved us off like members of the family as we walked at least two blocks down the street! Would recommend it in a heartbeat.
We got the train to Kanazawa next, which was a much bigger city than I expected it
to be, but still had a traditional vibe. Big beautiful gardens (one of the top 3 in Japan!) and a castle (rebuilt after the war so not particularly old). We found a lovely place to eat down the side streets and went back again too - bowls of noodles with plenty of veg which we'd really been lacking until now and a very friendly chef who wanted to practise his English and recommend we went to their other restaurants all over Asia! (Yes possibly a chain and not a back alley restaurant, but great all the same!). On the way to Kanazawa, we went to Shirakawa-go, a folk village area where lots of old farm buildings, houses from the countryside and other buildings from surrounding areas have been relocated. Was about 6ft deep in snow when we arrived, which was a surprise following the sunshine we had just left! But very interesting to visit and we learnt about old farming techniques, silk farming and bracken milling, whilst trying to keep warm.
Next we went to Hiroshima for 2 days, Nagasaki for 2 days and then Kurashiki and Okayama for 2 days. On the way we visited Himeji, for its
much older castle - not rebuilt in the war, which was being restored while we were there, so we saw all the ancient techniques of castle and temple building being redone - mud and straw walls, ceramic tile roofs with wooden panels, etc. Interesting to watch, but must take painstaking months to complete.
The peace museams in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were really interesting, and moving. We spent over 3 hours in the one in Hiroshima! They had also kept one of the buildings that had withstood the bomb (with its twisted frame), called the A-Bomb Dome, which ensured we could imagine the place being desolate. Made it a lot more real than trying to imagine the now completely rebuilt city and pretty parks in devestation. Both cities have good parks for peace memorials and plenty to read about the days of the bombings, as well as Japan's role in the war. Really glad we went to both. Probably had some of the best food here too. Okonomiyaki is my new favourite Japanese food - need to find somewhere in Birmingham that does it! Cooked like teppanyaki with the spatulas and the griddle, but its like a pancake, with veg
in the middle, plus whatever extra you want (I had shrimp and squid in the best one), then slices of pork on the top, flipped over so it cooks, then flipped back and a thin omelette on top of that, plus some sauce that was sweet and sticky! Yum yum. See pictures if I can get them to work :-) Also had fried beef in Nagasaki that came on a sizzling dish and cooked in front of you, so you could have it as rare as you wanted, then stir it into your rice and veg. Delicious, great meat, and lovely sweet sticky sauce again too! Hooray!
We did a trip to Miyajima from Nagasaki, an island with a few temples, a famous archway, some deer (!) and a walk to the summit of the mountain (500m mountain anyway). From Kurashiki, where we stayed last, we did a day in Okayama, the nearby city, walking around the beautiful gardens (another of the top 3 in Japan, apparently since 1700) and then a day on a bike ride - the 15km Kibi Plains Route. Mainly across farmlan (and luckily very flat as we didn't have gears) but we found a
few temples to stop at and wander round, and a few strangers who wanted to take our photo! Bit weird. Lovely weather for it though and good to get out of a city again.
We are in Koyasan now, staying in a Buddhist temple complex, eating vegan meals and getting up tomorrow with the monks for 6am prayer ceremony. The vegan dinner wasn't bad surprisingly, and even Eoin ate as much as me!! :-) Tempura vegetables, clear soup, noodles and shitaki mushrooms, rice, pickles, and about 4 different Tofu dishes - probably not the best part of the meal, but everything else was good. Just looking forward to breakfast now.
Sorry this has turned out to be a long one, so I hope it's interesting enough if you get this far :-) Thanks to everyone who has sent messages and comments. I am picking up emails on hotmail if that way is easier - heard the blog site might not be the easiest. But lovely to hear from you and hope things are going well at home. Next blog will be in New Zealand. Wish us luck with the driving!! xxx
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