Sunday, December 18, 2016

Day 6: Japan (Mount Koya-Osaka)

The next morning, we had our breakfast before we decided to tour around Mount Koya.

Oh ya, I almost forgot to share another tip – before we made our journey to Mount Koya, we made our luggage lighter. Instead of bringing the huge luggage with us, we changed into the smaller bags and left the huge luggage at the luggage locker in Namba Station. It made our journey a lot easier.

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That morning, we had another round of vegan food for breakfast in the dining room with the other guests. After we were done with our meal, we packed our bags and brought them along with us.

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It was raining that morning and the weather was really cold. The first place we went to was Garan temple. It was just opposite the temple we were staying. As we had a tight schedule, we did not go around the place.

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As we were walking towards the bus stop, a bell rang. It came from this huge temple, Kongobuji Temple. As we needed to catch our bus to go to Okunoin Temple, we did not enter the temple.

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Okunoin is known to be one of the most sacred places in Japan and a popular pilgrimage spot. It is the site of mausoleum of Kobo Daishi. To reach there, we had to walk past the Okunoin’s cemetery – the largest cemetery in Japan with over 200,000 tombstones. There are two approaches. If I had stayed another day in Mount Koya, I would have used the longer walking trail. Hence, we used the shorter approach.

This alternative route leads through a more recent addition to the cemetery with modern tombstones by individuals, associations and companies. Graveyard was meant to be an eerie place but, Okunoin’s cemetery gave me a really nice and soothing feeling. I felt calm and serene when walking past it. Even the boyfriend loved it.

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Before we left Mount Koya as a whole, we had our lunch at a restaurant just outside Okunoin Temple. As the  boyfriend was not hungry, I ordered mountain herbs noodle. It tasted weird but it was not all that bad.

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When we finally reached Osaka, it was the very first time for us to get out of Namba Station. We were there for 3 times and always stayed underground. We stayed in an Airbnb unit in Osaka> we did lose our way but we managed to pull it through.

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After settling down, the first place we went was Dontobori, known to be one of the most popular destinations at night. It is a popular shopping and entertainment district but, for us, it is our food destination. If it was not because of my gastric, I would wallop the street food there. 

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Dinner? We had pizzas at Pizza Bar. The environment was okay and oh, it is compulsory to order drinks. Not one drink, but two drinks since there’s two of us.

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We did try the cheesecake at Pablo before we left. I had seen on the net that it seems to be very popular. However, it was not that great – overrated.

The way back to our place is poorly lit but, it was not worrisome because, really, it is safe in Japan.

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.