We arrived yesterday in LA after another whirlwind few days of fun in Japan which we loved. Arriving in LA was a bit of a relief – we’re ready to unpack and have a few days to relax – our darling little Leo has kept us on our toes travelling and we’re ready to catch our breath. That said, she was actually really good on the flight. There were some extra seats around so me and her went and sat further back in the plane where Leo could stretch out on a seat next to me and sleep with her head in my lap, and she slept nearly the whole way from Osaka to LA! Jacs and I still didn’t get much sleep – hard to sleep on a plane with a baby on top of you, or when you’re 6 months pregnant apparently! It was also super smooth getting through the airport – we were our in 30 minutes which is unheard of for LA, and as we walked out Leo ran in to her Nonna’s waiting arms which was so sweet to see. It is great to see all of the Fishers and to meet our new little niece EJ! Anyway, more on California in the next post… back to Japan!
Day one: Shinkansen to Kyoto
After a relatively relaxed morning since we didn’t want to hit the road until rush hour started to past, we checked out of the beautiful Park Hyatt intending to hop in a shuttle bus to Shinjuku station, however in a nice touch they put us in a nice Jaguar black limousine which made for a very comfy start to the journey and was a lovely way to wrap up Tokyo! As we walked out of the hotel, we did have a little unplanned excitement as Leonora managed to get her hand stuck in the lift door as it opened and we had to react quick and pull it out – no real harm done other than a bit of swelling and some shock for her, but she was brave and said ‘take that ouchy’ and moved on very quickly after some ‘mummy tuddles’.
The trip to Kyoto was actually a breeze – a short train to Tokyo station followed by a 2 hour 20 minute bullet train to Kyoto station and then a 5 minute cab ride (compliments of the Hyatt in Kyoto) to the hotel. By the time we arrived however it was around 1, so we quickly checked in, squeezed in a welcome drink (a hard earned thirst deserves a nice cold beer 😉 ), and started to explore South Higashiyama where the Hyatt is located and luckily also the main sightseeing area. Kyoto is a really cool, gorgeous city, but what I hadn’t realised until getting there was that it is a big modern city, as well as having all of the beautiful temples and gardens that we all think of.
Like father like daughter
First stop was a Udon restaurant for some yummy noodles and some energy for the afternoon which Leo slurped down very noisily! We then had a bit of a wonder around some of the nearby temples including Kiyomizu-dera which was beautiful with views over the city from the foothills of the mountains. It was lovely to realise that although it is December, the autumn foliage was still definitely around and the trees and gardens were beautiful and red and yellow. We did however start to realise that in the afternoon (and on the weekend especially we would find), there really are a huge number of tourists – hot tip for Kyoto: start early and try to check out the temples on weekdays since it makes a huge difference avoiding the crowds! Nevertheless, walking through the beautiful little old streets, eating local sweets (mostly bean based… I missed some chocolate) and feeling a little like we’d gone back in time was a great start to the Kyoto experience.
Beautiful back streets
Treat time with some local sweets
The view from our first stop
After a quick rest back at the hotel, we hopped on the bus for downtown, which although modern, is an approachable size and has some really cool areas. Our first night we walked down ponto-cho which is a cool little lane lined with bars and restaurants, and also one of the areas where Geishas still live so we got to see a couple darting out across the street as we wandered around to pick a restaurant for dinner. Dinner ended up being delicious: a nice big glass of sake for me, followed by some fresh tofu (a Kyoto specially due to the spring water), some sashimi, teriyaki salmon and fried eggplant bowls! Yum yum!
I’m getting thirsty
Delicious dinner on ponto-cho
Day two: Nara
Despite only just starting to explore Kyoto, we decided to do our day trips early in the stay so we could relax for our last day before travelling. Our first day trip started with the 35 minute train from Kyoto station out to Nara which was definitely worth it. Most of the sites are in a confined area, Nara Park, which we walked around in just a few hours. Nara Park is filled with deer too which Leonora loved as she could feed them ‘biccies’ as we went. Despite being there fairly early (we arrived at 9), it was Saturday and the tourist buses were streaming in, but nevertheless the temples were cool to see. Our favourite was the main temple Todai-ji, which as we walked in and saw the size of was really impressive and houses a huge Buddha, the Daibatsu. Leonora was also a huge attraction with the school groups and tourists from around Japan and China.
Leo not impressed with being a celebrity
Feeding the deer
An interesting mascot…
Did a school group bonehead our photo?
After exploring all the other beautiful sites, we hopped on the train back to Kyoto, and decided that since it was only lunchtime, we’d have a quick lunch (pork katsu with curry sauce – basically schnitzel with gravy 🙂 ) we hopped on another train for about 20 minutes to Arashiyama to see the bamboo forests, which were cool to see, although a little over run with tourists!
Just hanging on the train
From there is was back to the hotel for a rest and then a drink in the hotel bar, Touzan, which is a cool underground bar that also happened to have happy hour from 5-7 so I decided that a martini was in order! Given all of the walking and exploring during the day, we decided that it was also a great opportunity for some non-japanese food at the hotel’s Trattoria Sette – duck ragu and wood-fired pizza was a great break… even if Leonora decided the most fun game was putting parmesan in her hair so we started calling her ‘cheese head’!
The hotel bar
Day three: Osaka
After the busy day getting out to Nara, we started the day slow with a trip to the gym and brekkie, before starting our next day trip to Osaka. Osaka was also only a 45 minute train ride from Kyoto station so we thought it would be fun to explore for an afternoon as well. The trip was definitely worth it as it is a bustling city with a different feel to Kyoto or Tokyo. It also has a reputation for beeing a foodie city so we took it upon ourselves to eat our way through the day. First stop after walking out of the massive Osaka Train ‘city’ was a restaurant called Yukari on a nearby walking arcade for some Okonomiyaki, a local specialty. Okonomiyaki is often explained as ‘Japanese savoury pancakes’ and is grilled at the table teppanyaki style and is a large pancake looking meal of egg, veggies and all kinds of meats depending on what you order. I opted for the special which was delicious if a bit weird sounding: beef tendon, pork, squid, prawn and konjac jelly (which they all seemed to have – turns out to be a fairly tasteless gelatin like vegetable product…), and Jacs had a pork one but with a lighter green onion base which was welcome after my heavy choice!
Well if it is #1 most popular!
After lunch we had a quick look at the Umeda Sky Building, a local landmark, before hopping back on the subway for 5 minute to the southern part of town where most of the sights are. The first area we explored was called Amerika-mura which was really cool – some really funky stores, a bit of a grunge feel, and of course a statue of liberty on top of one of the buildings. We had a good relax in ‘triangle park’, a concrete area on one of the corners, while Leo chased pigeons, I had a beer, and we watched all the crazy fashion walk by and people stop to eat Takoyaki – another local specialty of batter balls with octopus in the middle. We also saw a crowd following a local celebrity as he filmed something around the area, although no idea who of what!! As we continued our walk over the Shinsaibashi-suji, a long shopping arcade, we stopped to hear some beatles covers and christmas songs from a band at the entrance to one of the malls at Leo’s insistence (she sat down on the steps and slowly worked her way to the front row which was cute).
The famous peace on earth mural in Amerika-mura
Time to rock-out!
Hanging with the locals in triangle park
Shinsaibashi-suji was packed and goes on and on and was cool to walk down although we had a tantrum on our hands so didn’t dawdle until we reached Dotombori which is where you see a lot of the photos of Osaka – a strip of restaurants, bars and neon signs along the river. It was really cool, and a great place to stop and try some Takoyaki (although I was still recovering from my Okonomiyaki so didn’t get through many of them!). We also became local celebrities after posing for ‘Kansai TV’ (Osaka is in Kansai state) to say ‘Kansai is the best’ and then having our photo taken by some teenagers for their blog!
The big crab
Back in Kyoto, we decided that we had no room for a dinner out so relaxed in our new suite with the biggest bed ever of two kings joined together (one wasn’t available the first two nights but they had upgraded us during the trip to Osaka), and had some room service and a glass of japanese whisky to relax.
Day four: Our final day in Kyoto
After an early morning wake up, we decided to continue our explore of Higashiyama from our first day by hopping on the bus up to nearby Gion where we left off last time. It was like night and day being early on a weekday and we had many of the temples to ourselves which made for an even more special experience. Yasaka-Jinja and the beautiful Maruyama-koen gardens were the first stop, followed by Chion-in, the headquarters of the Jodo sect of Buddhism and the biggest temple gate in Japan. It was then onwards to Shoren-In and up to Northern Higashiyama where we saw Nanzen-Ji, Eikan-do, and walked along the river along the path of philosophy all the way up to Honen-In, a nice hidden temple in the forest where we also found a little playground for Leonora. It was then time for our final stop at Ginkaku-Ji which was gorgeous – beautifully manicured gardens on the hillside with raked sand gardens and huge cones to symbolise the mountains. At this point it was only 11 but we had covered some serious ground and were ready for lunch – luckily just down on the main road we found a restaurant called ‘Omen’ that served a version of Udon where you add veggies to the broth and dip the noodles in and eat them ‘little by little’ which was delicious. I also tried some Yuzu wine which was refreshing citrusy-deliciousness after the hike!
Family shot at Ginkaku-ji
The view from Ginkaku-ji
mummy and leo exploring the gardens
mummy and leo at Ginkaku-ji
The gardens at Nanzen-ji
We found a cherry blossom!
Now that is a big gate
Daddy and leo
More daddy and leo time! She gets heavy!
Starting the day early without the crowds
After lunch we hopped on the bus (public transport really worked well!) home for an afternoon nap before heading out for a walk through some of the beautiful streets around Gion, one of the main entertainment/nightlife areas, and pack in to downtown for a delicious final ramen dinner at the famous Ippudo restaurant (which has outlets globally these days) where we beat the queues given our early appetite and gorged on heaps of Gyoza and ramen before heading home for a final beer and Asahi Dry Zero (Jacs’ non-alcoholic beer discovery) which had become an evening tradition!
Beat the queues!
One final ramen!
A beautiful snack of apple sauce in cinnamon rice paper
Day five: Homeward bound
That about brings our trip to a close! A final 80 minute express train to Osaka Kansai international airport had us on our way to LA! What an amazing trip it was. We really loved Japan and will have to make another trip at some point – both to get a chance for some snow boarding there which I’ve always wanted to do, as well as to enjoy some of the sights and nightlife without a toddler (sorry Leo – we love you!) in tow.
We’ll post again soon from LA!
Ben and Jacs