Thursday, December 1, 2016

Japan: Day 5 (Ise-Mount Koya)

As the guesthouse did not provide breakfast, we had asked the host the night before on the recommended place to have breakfast. She recommended us to this 100-year old restaurant. It was neither difficult nor easy to find the place. Our worry was, since it is a 100-year old restaurant, it probably does not have an English menu.

And we were right.

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Anyhow, we managed to pull it through and left Ise to go back to Osaka to make our way to Mount Koya.

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It was a long journey to Mount Koya. We paid extra to take Limited Express (less stops that Local Train) and had to change to a cable car and lastly took a bus to reach the place.

We were staying a night in a Buddhist temple and they provided dinner for that day itself plus breakfast for the next morning. However, the only condition for serving the dinner is you need to check-in before 5.30pm.

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And we reached the temple at exactly 5.30pm!

What to do? They serve dinner either 6pm or 6.30pm.

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To be honest, I love the room. It is the best room for this entire trip. Traditional, yes, and a little bit of modern’s touch.

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Dinner was served in our room. The monks brought the food to us. We were not given a period of them to finish our food. We could just give them a call after we are done. Since it is a Buddhist temple, of course they serve vegan meals for both dinner and breakfast. It was my very first time to have a vegan meal. It was weirdly delicious.

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What happened next was the most interesting story. The temple does not provide private bathroom in each room. It is a shared bath and only operates from 4pm to 9pm. Since we did not have enough time to explore Mount Koya and to make it for the bath, we decided to stay in. Plus, there is a curfew in the temple which is 10pm.

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When I went to explore the bath, I was surprised to learn that it is an open bath! Of course divided into genders. But still..

It was a bit awkward for me but, I was lucky because no one else was there when I was taking my bath. I even dip myself in the hot pool to relax my feet. Unfortunately for the boyfriend, he had to two other men in the bath with him. Well, he was proud to show, well, you know..

Anyhow, it was a great experience and I truly enjoyed them!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Japan: Day 4 (Ise)

After bidding Kyoto goodbye, we headed to Ise, a home to Japan’s most sacred Shinto shrines. It is quite far from the big cities and less crowd. A small town. We used Kintetsu Railway Pass to go Ise from Kyoto. Remember we had 3 free Limited Express rides? We used one of it for this journey – Kyoto to Ujiyamada. We can use the same pass to use the bus service in Ise City – CAN Bus.

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When we arrived Ise, we searched for the guest house which we would be staying the night – Tsumugi-ya Gust House. It was not easy nor difficult to find it. With Google, you could easily find the place. The place is really quiet with less traffic.

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After dropping our luggage, we went into this small random restaurant we found for lunch. When we entered, there was a vending machine on our right – to place our orders. Yes, it was not our first time to place an order using the vending machine but, what made this time different was, there was no English menu at all! The worse part was, there was no picture for us to refer as well. In the end, we placed the orders based on the price shown next to the Japanese wordings.

And the food we ordered were surprisingly delicious!

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After we filled our stomach, the first destination was The Outer Shrine (Geku). It is one of the two main shrines making up the Ise Shrines in Ise City. All signs are in Japanese only. Fortunately, I could recognise some of the Chinese words. Else, we monkey see, monkey do. I did read in one of the pamphlets that we have to bow before and after we enter through each Torii Gate to show respect. Also, before we entered the shrine, we need to clean ourselves at the water place, outside the entrance to the shrine. We watched the locals before we did the cleaning.

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Next was The Inner Shrine (Naiku). It is considered Japan’s most sacred shrine. Its compound is bigger than Geku. In order to reach to the main sanctuary, we had to cross the Uji Bridge, a wooden bridge across the Isuzugawa River. The brige has two large Torri Gates. On our way to the main sanctuary, we stopped by the Riverside Purification Site. The main sanctuary is found at the top of a flight of stone stairs. Photography is not allowed though. To make a prayer, we need to make two deep bows, clap your hands twice, pray in silence and ended with another deep bow.

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We then proceeded to Meoto Iwa, two sacred rocks in the ocean. They are also known as The Wedded Rocks. The large rock represents the husband and the smaller one represents the wife. Both rocks are connected by a rope.

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Due to Ise being a small city and not much of English speaking locals, we missed the last bus to go to Toba City. We had to walk more than 2km to the nearest train station. However, it was already very dark and we could not find the way to to the station from the main road. It was just right there but we did not see the small path to it. So near yet so far. To be honest, I was really scared. I am glad that the boyfriend was calm. Yes, there were cars passing by us but we could not stop any one of them. Or rather, they would not want to stop for us.

When we decided to turn back, we ran into an old lady who was riding a bicycle. I decided to challenge myself with some Japanese words that I learned from watching anime for years. Plus, body language and signs. Fortunately, the lady was able to understand and she showed us the way to that train station we saw from the roadside. I am glad we made it for the next train ride back to Ise City.

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We were really hungry by the time we reached Ujiyamada Station and decided to dine at any nearby restaurant. We came across this dodgy-karaoke looking restaurant. You have your own room, with door closed. Anyhow, the food is great and the service was superb. They had to send a waiter who has the best English proficiency (among them) to serve us. Fun experience I shall say.

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The room was ready for us when we reached the guest house. There were some other guests in the place already. Though shared bathroom, we had a bedroom to ourselves. It is an old Japanese style room where we slept on the tatami. We were really tired that we knocked off after our shower.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Japan: Day 3 (Kyoto)

It was our last day to explore Kyoto – so many places to go but, so little time. However, we did not force ourselves to rush or shorten our visit just to cover all the places.

Since we did not get to walk in the Bamboo Groves, after our breakfast, that was the first place we went to. In my personal opinion, you can spend more time in Bamboo Groves than the Tenryuji Temple unless you love garden.

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We headed to Nishiki Market in time for lunch. But before we went for our lunch, we explored the stalls at the market. I had read from a site that there are a few good stalls that offer delicious food. I had Kyoto-style beef manju bun which was served hot. Yum! Then the soy milk donut – fluffy bite-sized rings. Each bite left me craving for more. Please finish them while they are still hot. Do not be like me – save some for later and they got cold – not delicious anymore. Last but not least, Sawawa thick matcha soft serve cone. Remember to order THICK and not just matcha flavour.

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Our main dish for our lunch was none other than ramen at Ippudo. Since I could not eat too much due to my poor health, we shared and trust me, this is one of the must-go places if you are in Nishiki Market. There are a lot of choices of ramen but we decided to go for the famous classic ramen.

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We went to Owl Family Kyoto after our lunch since it is in the same area. I had been looking forward to  go to this place before this adventure even started. I just love owls that much. We arrived just in time for the next petting hour. It seems they have time slots and reservations are needed. We were really lucky. We were given 50 minutes to pet the owls. However, only the owls that were on duty.

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When it hit 3pm, we decided to  continue our adventure. However, we were torn in between Kiyomizudera Temple or Ginkakuji Temple (Philosopher’s Path). We did not have enough time to cover both places as they are in different directions. The lady at Owl Family Kyoto recommended us to go Kiyomizudera Temple and that was where we decided to go to. We bought our souvenirs there as well.

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When it was nightfall, we left for Gion, where we would be spending the rest of the evening at. We were hoping to run into a Geisha but luck was not on our side this time. Also, Gion was not an affordable place to eat. We almost gave up when I came across this restaurant in a dark alley. Google-d the place and apparently, it is quite famous – Yagenbori Japanese Restaurant.

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It was raining heavily by the time we finished our dinner. We did not have our umbrellas with us and therefore, we decided to call it a day earlier as we would be traveling to Ise the next morning.