Japan

one lone crane

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Cooking okonomiyaki
Cooking okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki is a Hiroshima speciality!  We ate okonomiyaki on bar stools around a big hot plate. It wasn’t quite teppanyaki where the chef threw it to us to catch, but it was cooked right in front of us and served to us on a plate.

Growing up, we all would’ve read or at least knew about “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes”. Hiroshima is nothing like anywhere we have ever been. There is obviously a lot of “new” since the rebuild after the devastation caused by the atomic bomb on August 6, 1945. But with all that “new”, there is also so much history.

Peace flame
Peace flame

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is a very moving place, dedicated to the victims but also advocating world peace. We visited the museum which was interesting to start off with but soon became too overwhelming when we reached the stories and items belonging to victims (who were mainly children). It was simply too emotional and gut-wrenching to read and look at the exhibits so we left early. It is incomprehensible what the Japanese people in this city and in Nagasaki would have experienced on the day the bombs were dropped. It reinforces how no one really wins when it comes to war!

We visited the A-Bomb Dome which amazingly remained in-shape despite the bomb detonating 600 metres above it. And we were fortunate to witness one lone crane perched above it as we walked past. It seemed so fitting to be be able to see a crane in such a place.Within the memorial park, there is a statue of Sadako with the paper crane representing Children’s Peace Monument. And to this day, you can still fold paper cranes and send the 1000 cranes to be displayed near the statue.

Crane above the A-Bomb dome
Crane above the A-Bomb dome
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extending our lives by 7 years

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We were getting very traditional in Hakone – we were sleeping in a ryokan on the tatami mats, bathing in hot spring water, having tea ceremonies in our room and sitting on the floor for our meals.

Our own tea ceremony
Our own tea ceremony

Entering our room at the ryokan inn, there was no bed, just a table set up with hot tea and some nibblies. There was also kimonos and slippers which we were asked to wear to dinner. It was an interesting affair, with all of us trying to keep the kimonos closed as we sat on the floor to eat. That aside, the dinner was divine – there was an array of Japanese delicacies (most of which we didn’t recognise but happy to eat). It was a Japanese degustation so by the time we finished, our bums were numb from sitting on the floor.

Dinner on the floor
Dinner on the floor

Hobbling to the bedroom with pins and needles in our bums and legs, we-rentered our room to see that the “turndown” service had occurred. Our beds (?sleeping bags) were rolled out. Surprisingly we had an extremely comfortable night sleep considering we were sleeping on the floor.

Beds for the night
Beds for the night

How does one extend their life by 7 years? Easy – boil an egg in the hot springs of Hakone and eat it! Well, not technically boil it yourself. You can purchase eggs that have been boiled in the hot springs! The shells are black but the inside tastes and looks like any other hard boiled egg!

Eggs boiled in hot springs
Eggs boiled in hot springs

Hot spring baths are very popular here. And the concept definitely took us out of our comfort zone. So much so we opted not to do it. Basically, it requires no clothes whatsoever (that includes no swimming costumes either), and you clean yourself in the showering area first and then enter the communal bath naked with everyone else – men and women are separated of course. We have no doubt that it is very good for you but we didn’t really feel entirely comfortable doing this – yes we sound prudish. However, we found out the water used in the ensuite is also hot springs so we got the experience without all the companions – its so awesome how the water doesn’t get cold quickly!

Hot spring bath in the room
Hot spring bath in the room

misty monkeys

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Our time in Tokyo was quite short because one of the days was dedicated to a day trip out to Nikko. It was out at Nikko that we saw the 17th Century carvings above a doorway of the three wise monkeys. You can imagine our excitement to be able to see this – this is what we were all about 🙂 There were lots of statues on sale so we of course had to pick some up for our collection.

The National Park (albeit the tourist crowds) was still a peaceful place to wander around and see the temples and carvings. There were a lot of steps and also relatively slippery as it had rained the night before and was still drizzling occasionally.

As we travelled to Nikko, we were meant to view Kegon Waterfall however due to the fog, we could only hear it and not see it when we arrived. It was a bit of a shame as we enjoy viewing waterfalls. Similarly, we enjoy lakes and photographing lakes. And that is where we had lunch – at Lake Chuzenji. The food was magnificent and the view of the lake from the restaurant was spectacular, especially watching the mist travelling low and across the water. Within minutes the lake was shrouded by “white smoke” and our view of the lake was no more.

View monkey gallery for more pictures of our collection and view more pictures from our trips in Photo Gallery

Three wise monkeys carving
Three wise monkeys carving

sumo finals

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We have been dreaming about going to Japan for ages and we were finally doing it. We also LOVE Japanese food so were very much looking forward to 2 weeks of it. We had decided to do the Bunnik Tour – it appeared well organised and the itinerary was exactly what we were after. We arrived in Tokyo and the city is so fast paced and busy yet very civilised. Bright lights, lots of traffic and  extremely polite people. Our first touristy thing was visiting Edo-Tokyo Museum and it was there that we met this fit and lively 88-year-old man who was there with his grandson and wanted to practice his English with us. So after we exchanged a few sentences and pleasantries, we parted ways only to bump into one another again about half an hour later. And he had purchased us a lucky cat charm as a gift. It was a very humbling experience. It pretty much set the mood for the rest of the stay in Tokyo.

Sumo ceremony
Sumo ceremony

We had also arranged to get Sumo wrestling tickets separate to the tour and the only day we were able to get tickets were for the biggest event –  the Sumo Final Day. Nothing bad or inconvenient about that at all! We were so fortunate to be able to watch several matches and although have no idea of the rules, cheered when the crowd cheered and clapped when the crowd clapped. To top off our Sumo finals experience, we had arranged to meet really good friends who were in Japan the same time as us. We booked Gonpachi for dinner which is the restaurant that inspired the restaurant scene in the movie “Kill Bill” – very very cool.

Gonpachi - "Kill Bill" restaurant
Gonpachi – “Kill Bill” restaurant

And who says Japan is expensive? It’s far from it! The food is so unbelievably cheap and if you like sushi train – you can indulge in sushi for only about $10 (admittedly, we did have a great exchange rate).

View more pictures from our trips in Photo Gallery