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Japan

The Adventure

Tokyo Disneyland

A huge day for each and every one of us. We packed our bags and said our farewells to Kyoto. Boarding our final bullet train in Japan, we decided to spend our last day in Japan at Disneyland. The kids were so excited, it was hard to keep them quiet for the entire morning.

We arrived at JR Tokyo Station and transferred lines to the local subway bound for Disneyland. We were blessed with great weather, a cool breeze with a little sun and low humidity. I was a happy girl!

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Rides were ridden. Chocolate ice-cream sandwiches were shared. Churros were devoured. And we smiled and laughed all afternoon. Sure, it’s a little over the top, and expensive, but you only have a few times in your life to enjoy days like these, so we relished in every moment. The kids loved the parade that weaves around the park. Ted waved furiously at his favourite characters while Abi was a little more timid. She was thrilled to see Mary Poppins make an appearance though.

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I had previously been warned by a local Japanese friend to avoid Disneyland on the weekend and she wasn’t wrong with her advice. I have never seen a crowd like we witnessed that day. Most rides had a 60-90 minute wait, even the not so great rides. Fastpasses for the better rides were long sold out by the time we arrived. We made the most of it and managed to ride on the favourites like Pirates of the Caribbean, It’s a Small World, the spinning teacups, Autotopia and the mini rocket ships.

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We had many people ask for photos with the kids and at one point as Pluto was posing with Abi, we were swarmed by locals, taking more pictures of us than of Pluto. It was quite surreal.

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We bought huge oversized character hats and wore them with pride. A quick walk home to our hotel meant the kids were tucked into bed at a reasonable hour before our transfer to Haneda Airport the next morning at 7am.

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Sayonara Japan, Ni Hao Hong Kong!

 

The Adventure

Kyoto Part II

My favourite day in Kyoto started like every other morning in Japan. A collective, family sleep in followed by a slow walk to the buffet breakfast. The children loved eating fruits, blueberry yoghurt, eggs and fresh croissants. Early in the afternoon, we took a cab to the southern part of the city to visit the most amazing shrine I have ever seen.

Fushimi Inari Shrine is an important shinto shrine, famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds. Fushimi Inari is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the shinto god of rice. Foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers, resulting in many fox statues across the shrine grounds. Fushimi Inari Shrine has ancient origins, predating the capital’s move to Kyoto in 794.

We were not prepared for the absolute beauty of this place. We were spoiled too in that it was completely deserted for our entire visit, a rarity in Japan! We passed only a handful of tourists along the walk, but for the most part, the only sounds we heard were the animals in the bushland, a stream running through the track and the sounds of bodies, breathing heavily as we climbed the steps through the torii gates.

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Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion is a zen temple in northern Kyoto whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. Formally known as Rokuonji, the temple was the retirement villa of a shogun. Kinkakuji is an impressive structure built overlooking a large pond. It has burned down numerous times throughout its history including twice during the Onin War, a civil war that destroyed much of Kyoto; and once again more recently in 1950 when it was set on fire by a fanatic monk. The present structure was rebuilt in 1955.

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On our last night in Kyoto, we visited the Yasaka Shrine. Also known as Gion Shrine, this is one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto. Founded over 1350 years ago, the shrine is located between the popular Gion District and Higashiyama District and is often visited by tourists walking between the two districts.

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The shrine’s main hall combines the honden (inner sanctuary) and haiden (offering hall) into a single building. In front of it stands a dance stage with hundreds of lanterns that get lit in the evenings. Each lantern bears the name of a local business in return for a donation.

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6 days just seemed to fly past. Our visit was short but enjoyed immensely by the entire family. I will have to visit Kyoto again, I was so drawn to the senses of this city. Next time, I want to rent a house and ride bikes around the flat streets and get lost in the back alleys that zig zag this amazing little part of Japan.

The most important part of our time in Kyoto was that Harriet officially mastered walking. She finally had the courage to let go of the walls and just do it. We are all so proud of her and ever since, she is seeing the world from a much higher prospective on 2 legs instead of all fours.

More to come from our last day in Japan, spent at none other than Disneyland!

xo

 

The Adventure

Kyoto Part 1

I don’t think my heart was prepared for all the beauty of Kyoto. I really connected with the city, and felt at ease during our visit there.

After a quick trip on the bullet train from Hiroshima, we arrived at our hotel and unpacked in our suite. We were really spoiled with our accommodation at the Hyatt Regency Kyoto. I know sometimes a room is just a room, but when you are travelling with 3 small kids, it’s nice to have some of the extras included that a 5 star hotel offers.

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The children slept in a separate tatami room in the suite, and every night the staff would come in and prepare the futons and doonas on the beautiful straw room floor. The smell of the straw tatami was sublime. James and I had a double bed each which was a welcome change after we had tiny, single beds for over a week in Tokyo.

The city is famous for its impressive list of shrines and temples, over 2000 in total. On our 1st night, we decided to have an early dinner in the hotel and the kids enjoyed fresh wood fired pizza while I relished in a plain salad, something I had been craving for weeks after eating rice and noodles.

We decided to tackle the most famous temple first, Kiyomizu-dera, translation, the Pure Water Temple. It is one of the most celebrated temples of Japan. It was founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall in the wooded hills east of Kyoto and derives its name from the fall’s pure waters. The temple was originally associated with the Hosso sect, one of the oldest schools within Buddhism but formed its own Kita Hosso sect in 1965. In 1994, the temple was added to the list of UNESCO Heritage Sites. 

We hiked 2kms from our hotel to the gates of the shrine which then involved an 800m hill climb up a narrow little street with cars and tourist buses whizzing past. Add the humidity and lack of breeze to the mix and by the top of the hill, we were all covered in sweat but were rewarded with beautiful views over the city.

The shrine was so unbelievable crowded with tourists and school children, it was hard to appreciate the surroundings.

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We were swarmed by local Japanese girls who wanted to look at the children and take photos. After 2 weeks in Japan, this didn’t phase the kids all too much.

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At the temple, James and I blessed each other and the children and asked for good health and safety for the duration of the trip. It was so beautiful, I really think I could adapt many of the buddhist traditions and beliefs into my life.

Later that afternoon, I ventured downtown to the shopping district and discovered my favourite shop in Japan. An amazing boutique store named ‘Loft’. I bought some really great stationary here and they have reasonably priced make-up, clothing and home wares too.

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One afternoon, I took Abi to the Geisha/Maiko photo studio to be dressed in traditional Japanese threads. She looked absolutely stunning and was so graceful and mature as 3 woman twirled her, draping her in layers of cloth then finally adorning a red kimono with wig and props. I shed tears as she posed quietly for her photos. Once the session was completed, she beamed during the taxi ride home

One night, we walked along Pontocho Alley, a gorgeous narrow street filled with private Geisha houses, bars, clubs and restaurants overlooking the canals. Most had no signage and we assume only the locals knew what was where. Red lanterns swayed in the breeze and lights lit up the darkened side alleys filled with cats and chefs on break.

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Imagine living here and being spoiled with such beauty and romance. More to come from Kyoto.

xo

The Adventure

Osaka Stopover

We stayed in Osaka for 2 nights because we decided after 8 nights in Tokyo, we only needed 48 hours in another big city before heading to the more traditional areas of Japan like Hiroshima and Kyoto.

I have visited Osaka twice in the past and remember it to be Tokyo’s smaller and quieter sister. But years of development and growth have seen this gorgeous place morph into a cosmopolitan, vibrant and hip place to work and live.

After a 2 and 1/2 hour trip on the Shinkansen (bullet train), we went for a swim in the gorgeous hotel pool and hot tub.

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Our 2 bedroom apartment located within the Inter-Continental Osaka was simply amazing. 31 floors in the sky, we were spoilt with views of the river, bridges, buildings, boats and trains passing by in the world below.

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We decided to use these 2 days to have some downtime, catch up on sleep, visit the gym, launder clothes and prepare for sightseeing in southern Japan. I think people would be naive to assume that we are sightseeing every day, visiting museums and playing tourist all the time. In reality, we all need a break from that vigorous schedule of trains, tours and exploring.

Our first night, we walked to the mammoth Grand Front Osaka development which was next door to our hotel. The 3 office towers include restaurants, office floors, bars, shops and gardens. We chose dinner carefully from the signboards on the ground floor and cruised up to Level 7 for some dim sum. This stylish Chinese restaurant offered views over Osaka while serving up modern takes on dim sum. The children really enjoyed tomato and buffalo mozzarella dumplings, coloured in red and white. It DID taste different but delicious nonetheless!

The waitstaff seem to love practising their English with us and take time to find out details about our family, the trip, and seek our opinion about Japan and what we think of it.

After an amazing night sleep and buffet breakfast, we headed over to the shops near the main part of town. The children enjoyed dumplings with rice, while James had beef ramen and I indulged in chilli wontons. James took the kids up the Hep 5 wheel which they thoroughly enjoyed. We treated the kids to an hour or so in an arcade, playing video and skill games. I have to remind myself to see the trip from their perspective and give them a break from the sights and shopping combo we so often filled our days with in Tokyo.

We cabbed it over to Dotonbori, a neon signed, chaotic shopping & entertainment area of Osaka. Photos can’t capture the colours, sights, sounds or smells of this place. We kept the kids pretty close here, it was extremely busy with tourists and locals soaking up the experience.

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Photos were taken. We watched neon lights blink and flash. The kids were in awe of their surroundings. Once the sun set and the young locals arrive in droves, we hightailed it back to the hotel to pack for our early morning bullet train to Hiroshima.

 

 

The Adventure

Hiroshima

 

We booked 3 nights in Hiroshima as we had been told that it was a place we should visit while in southern Japan. So we boarded a bullet train from Osaka for the 90 minute train ride to Hiroshima.

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Our purpose there was simple. To pay our respects and be educated about this special city that has lost so much.

Our hotel was attached to the JR station where the bullet trains arrive. So after a quick walk to the hotel, we caught a city loop bus to get an idea of the tourist sights and restaurants.

A larger city than I had expected, with lots of parks, green spaces, quaint trams that run through the town, all in all, a place that has been rebuilt from scratch with mod cons and space.

The entire duration of our stay, I was constantly thinking about the obvious. The war, the bomb, the suffering, the people. How could it have happened here. How on earth did these people rebuild this city.

We noticed more caucasian tourists here than any other place in Japan. Many Americans and British families, paying respects to the various memorials around town.

First stop was the Atomic Bomb Genbaku Dome, which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

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When the United States dropped the bomb on August 6, 1945, it exploded just above the building, but didn’t totally destroy it because the immediate blast and heat buffered the air at ground zero. We had a group of Japanese girl guides join us here, as they wanted to tell us more about the sight while practising their English with us. They informed us that some of the locals wanted the dome to be destroyed as it is a constant reminder of the war. But the city of Hiroshima chose to have it restored and become a place of pray and memorial.

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The days seemed short here, time at the sights seemed to freeze as we were captivated by our surroundings.

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Yesterday, we caught a train 30 minutes out of Hiroshima to a town named Miyajima which lies on an inland lake.

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A quick 5 minute ferry ride later, we arrived at Miyajima Island which is home to many shrines, few hotels and the magnificent orange torii gate that lies out in the water. The great Torii is the boundary between the spirit and the human worlds. The first Otorii of Itsukushima Shrine was constructed in 1168 and was built about 200 meters offshore.

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It was very rural, but the locals spoke fluent English. The island is quite large and has wildlife that roam the area. The children were terrified of the local deer that wandered around the tourists, searching for food. I felt terrible but it was quite funny watching them run away from these tiny baby deer.

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James and I celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary yesterday too. We didn’t do anything out of the ordinary to celebrate, but we did reflect on our years of marriage and all the amazing things we have accomplished together.

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Today we ride another bullet train, bound for a 5 night stay in Kyoto. I have been to Japan 4 times but never have I visited Kyoto. I am so excited with anticipation as to what this city will offer. Our time will be spent at temples, shrines, searching for soba noodles and sushi. I hope to visit a tea ceremony and Maiko/Geisha dress up studio with Abi too.

More from me as soon as we arrive in Kyoto.

Until then, sayonara!

xo