Into the country.

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Some snaps from the weekend. Driving 3 hours into the country. It is such a mixture of melancholy and marvel passing by some of these houses that someone seems to have walked out of never to return.

Also passed by the Buddharama Temple in Fredrika and an art installation of the glass church “Mirage” just outside of Vännäs.

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Japan Photo Diary, Day 12-13: About (cherry) bloomin’ time!

Resuming where we left off last post, mid way through the Tuesday in Hakone – we catch the train back to Tokyo. And so our roundtrip has reached its first and final destination once again.


It is late afternoon, aka rush hour, when we arrive at Tokyo Station that seems busier than a bee hive. We lock our bags away in safety boxes there at the station, eager to be on our way to the Ueno Park, as I have spotted some pink flowers on the Instagram-geo tags of said park.
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Hoards of people are getting off at the same stop and in the nearby supermarket aisles long queues are forming amongst shelves emptying rapidly from beer and bento boxes. It seems we have finally hit the jackpot and are about to experience hanami in full throttle.

It is so interesting to see the Tokyoites, who are normally so proper, well-mannered and tidy finally let loose. It is nearing 6 o’clock in the evening and people are smashed off their faces. Rubbish everywhere. Cigarette butts and asahi cans. Workers have left their offices early and built long tables of cardboard boxes stacked next to one another forming long tables which they surround, passing around heaps of foods from nearby take away outlets. People sleep in the park under an open sky to secure a spot for their party the next day.

It is a bit like being at a party (full of teenagers) and not knowing a single person.
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I cannot help but to feel a little melancholic. Last time we were in Tokyo we had everything before us; the train journeys, the unexplored cities, the constant anticipation and waiting for the sakuras to let their buds burst into a beautiful blossom.

And now, on our way home. Everything blooms around us.


DSC_0256DSC_0263Next morning we* have decided to go to the Tsukiji Market. Which is essentially a giant fish market (you can imagine my great excitement, “we” in this case means = a mother wanting fresh sushi.)

A lot of tourist go there in the early morrow (like 2am for an event that starts at 5am-early!!) to ensure getting a spot at the fish auction, as they only let a certain amount of people in.
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Thankfully, we get to keep our beauty rest and even make (yet another) pit stop at the Ueno Park to glimpse the cherry trees once more. (Different light in the morning, duh!)
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After some sushi (where the waitress seemed very unpleased with me for only ordering veggie starters — good news for fellow veg munchers, as they are not considered “proper sushi”, they are so cheap!!) we walk over to the up-scale shopping district of Ginza.
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We only pass by the peculiar and impressive looking high end stores, I have a particular place in mind. Namely, itoya — or stationary heaven if you will!

There are two itoya stores just across the street from one another and one of them towers up 12 storeys. I take my time watching pens, note pads, washi tapes and hand made papers until mum taps my shoulder saying
“I’ll go wait outside, we’ve been in here for 2 hours.” Oops…
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As a last sakura excursion, we went to Aoyama Cemetery (because flowers + tombstones, you cannot deny that is the world’s most beautiful juxtaposition).

Oh, and taxis too apparently.
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On the bucket list we had watching the Tokyo skyline from above at dusk. Of course SkyView is closed on said evening. We quickly take the metro to the Metropolitan Government Buildings that offer a free tour up their observatory. Of course #2, the freebie comes with a queue that stretches around each and every corner and out on the parking lot…
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Whilst already in Shinjuku, we end up at Ain Soph Ripple again. Not realizing until we are right outside the door, it is the very same place we went on our first evening in Japan. The story comes to a full circle!

After downing one of their vegan cheese burgers each; we bring some mason jar tiramisu back to the airbnb, pack our bags and I stress out over not knowing where the fudge I will sleep the following night back in Aberdeen. #curseofthetimeoptimistic


This was part 7/7 and thus the last one of my Japan Photo Diary entires. The previous posts can be found below:

Jetlagged in a rainy Tokyo.
Livin la vida Ryokan & the 1st glimpse of Kyoto.
Bamboo groves, trendy coffees & hidden gems.
Neon lights & deers of might.
A historical hike & a last, lazy day in Kyoto.
The Lost in Translation One & Museum Hopping in Hakone.


Up next I am working on a full 14 day itinerary of the trip (something I found incredibly useful when planning ours!) and a survival guide for vegans in Japan.

Japan Photo Diary, Day 10-12: The Lost in Translation One & Museum Hopping in Hakone

Koya-San

I put so much effort into planning our route FROM Koyasan, that I seem to believe getting TO Koyasan sure cannot be that difficult. All I know is that we need to take three trains.

Of course, taking rural countryside trains are a bit more of a hassle than the metro that run every 5-or-so minutes with clear signs even foreign eyes can comprehend.
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After catching the first two departures alright, I seem to have a flick on the third and get us off one station too early. We end up seemingly in the Middle of Nowhere, or at least that is what I imagine this train stop would translate to in English. Getting off a station too early is not a big deal. Unless the next train will not arrive for another hour.

This one event seems to be the first in a long row of domino bricks of mistakes. To make a long story short: We leave Kyoto around 7am and arrive on top of Koyasan just after 4pm…
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Getting to Koyasan is a bit of an adventure on its own. (Like, without the extra detour to Nowhereland). For the final bits the train winds its way up the mountain, with its wall on one side and steep valleys on the other. At the final station, you catch a cable car to reach all the way to the top.
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Most people visiting Koyasan will stay in shukubo (aka temple lodgings).
As a) I do everything last minute and b) this is high season, we however spend the night at a capsule style backpackers called Koyasan Guest House Kokuu.

It has a design that brings chapels slash stables to mind along with the best English spoken staff encountered the entire trip. (One has even studied in Scotland and gets muy excited when hearing about me arriving from Granite City!)
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The biggest attraction is undoubtedly Oku-no-in — where the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi resides surrounded by circa 200’000 tombstones and monuments. Kobo Daishi was the founder of the Shingon Buddhism that Koyasan is a pilgrammage for; he was last seen in year 835 and according to legend he is to this day sat in meditation inside his mausoleum awaiting the arrival of Miroku (the Future Buddha).

It is a really atmospheric, almost eerie feel walking about the cemetery as the sun begins to descend. Despite knowing we are most certainly not alone as visitors of the mountain, it sure feels like it as you vanish into the large grounds.

You can also watch the monks do their morning chanting in the early am’s over at Okunoin, as we did the following morning. Brings me back to my week at Doi Suthep in 2014.
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Koyasan has recently gotten a new supermarket that stays open until late, but other than that everything closes early (like 5pm max). Which in this case means I did not have time to try out Shojin-Ryori — a traditional buddhist veggie (vegan actually) cuisine — typical for the region. Alas, the more reason to visit again!

On the bright side, it brings people inside and together — we spend the evening drinking copious amounts of tea at the hostel, chatting to fellow travellers about our Japan feels.

Hakone

DSC_0114DSC_0081Fresh out of the chanting, we hurry off to catch the cable car back down to the train station. With the disastrous logistic failures of the day past, we were on a roll. The perkiest bit was when I realised we could get off the shinkansen already in Odawara, instead of travelling all the way back to Tokyo to swap trains. Ha-le-lu!

It is still quite the bus trip to reach the top of the mountain though. Once we are checked in at our hotel Mount View, we head straight out and into Museum of the Little Prince just up the road. Which must be the most unpredictable of locations to find a museum dedicated to a French childrens tale?
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Apparently the founder was so fond of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book that she felt a museum was in order. It is a full on experience, with a French style townscape and gallery of St Exupéry’s life doings. (Most of the accompaning captions with the works found in the latter are in either Japanese or French though… Of course I do not really mind just watching photos).
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Back at the hotel (it is so alien to me staying in a hotel that my fingers automatically add an extra s in there) we change into our yukatas to get into the groove. We head downstairs for dinner, then spend the remains of the evening in the public outdoors onsen.

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The following morning I dress up in my most museumy outfit and we take the bus to Hakone Open Air Museum. It is a very hot morning and thus the sun creates some really harsh shadows over the works unfortunately.
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Hakone turns out to be a right mekka for art museums – there seems to be something for every taste, at every other bus stop.

This makes me completely forget what we really came there for – to catch a glimpse of infamous Mount Fuji…
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Unfortunately the installation I am most keen to watch, The Symphonic Sculpture, is having maintenance work made on this very day (what are the odds?!) so there is no entry.

They do host an enchanting photography exhibition by Kishin Shinoyama – a series of portraits of fellow artists, including Yoko Ono, in their right element. That along with the vegan friendly sushi bar down the road makes it a pretty decent excursion anyway.


This was part 6/7 of my Japan Photo Diary, the previous entries can be found below:

Jetlagged in a rainy Tokyo.
Livin la vida Ryokan & the 1st glimpse of Kyoto.
Bamboo groves, trendy coffees & hidden gems.
Neon lights & deers of might.
A historical hike & a last, lazy day in Kyoto.

Why a Shawl is your best Travel Accessory.

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetWhenever going travelling I try to think what I can get maximum use out of, and those are the items that will end up in my packing, often leaving little to no space for accessories. But there is one that always gets to come along on different venturings. The Shawl.

What else can you squeeze into your backpack that takes up so little space, yet get so much use of? Hear me out:

1. Dry shampoo, who?

Whether the hostel you stay has shitty water pressure in the showers, you have to get up in the early am’s to catch a flight or is just a fellow member of the Lazy Gals Club™  — hair washing mightn’t sound so appealing. And this is why we wrap it up! The instant cover up of greasy hair. Dry shampoo, who?

2. Quick Cover up.

So ponder you are out for an evening stroll at your latest destination and by chance you pass by a majestic church or temple that you would just love to have a peek inside? In most places and cases it is considered inappropriate to enter with bare shoulders for instance. Luckily for you, a simple swirl of the scarf over your shoulders and you are good to go! Getting changed quicker than Superman in his phone booths.

3. Lighten up an outfit.

When packing for a shorter trip, I usually end up with an all black wardrobe of items easily mixed and matched between each other. A colourful scarf can easily lighten things up a little, plus you feel kinda fancy like you were on your way to the opera. (No, just me?)

4. Sun Protection.

Heading out for a trek? Protect your head from strong rays and  by wrapping it up in a turban. And don’t forget so bring some water with you!


What are your best useful travel accessories?

Japan Photo Diary, Day 7: Neon lights & deers of might.

Remember my post the other week from a rain covered Osaka? Well, here is the prologue leading up to that evening. Welcome to Friday and day seven of our Japan trip, an intense day travelling from temple sites to urban jungles.

Nara

DSC_0701DSC_0703We start off the morning touring Nara – Japan’s first ever permanent capital; today renowned for housing one of the world’s largest bronze statues and about 1200 deers who roam around the town as they please.
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The Bronze Statue in question is the near 15 metre tall Daibutsu (‘giant Buddha’). To give you an idea just how giant it is, one nostril measures about 50 centimetres(!). While we are on a number dropping spree, the statue is also kept in one of the world’s largest scale wooden buildings. Pretty impressive, hey?

Originally the creation was completely covered in gold leaf, making it a construction that brought Japan close to bankruptcy back in the 8th century.
DSC_0733DSC_0759The deer on the other hand were in pre-buddhist times believed to be messengers of the gods; a reputation they are still enjoying the benefits of as they wander around town; slowing down cars and chasing (particularly the children of) tourists that are unfortunate enough to carry food around.
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Nara is a fairly compact town, so we manage to do a loop around its main sights before the rain does so.

We have lunch at Kinatei; enjoying our warm meal with the dusky weather hovering outside, then place the first ever pins for “Umeå” on the owner’s map over her guests.

Osaka

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On impulse, we catch a train to Osaka rather than returning to Kyoto for the afternoon. I really had no expectations for this 3rd largest city of Japan (rather than it being a massive urban jungle), but boy am I glad that we went!
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After spending some time lost in one of the city’s many stylish-enormous-shopping complexes, we reluctantly head out to the rain and winds outside, trying to catch some sights of the town.
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We followed Lonely Planet’s “Sights of Minami”-city walk, covering about 2.2 kilometres of the city. First on the hit list was the Amerika-mura neighbourhood, which (as you may have guess from both name and photographs) translates to American Village. The name derives from shops that started to appear in the area after the second world war.

The general vibe is sort of futuristic and hip (I feel SO OLD whenever I attempt using the word hip?!), with many things to rest eyes upon; from murals to peculiar street lights and not to forget the miniature Statue of Liberty surveying it all from the rooftops.
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Continuing on, the map takes us down the Shinsaibashi-suji arcade – a market street that routes all the way down to the Dotombori-gawa canal and where you will encounter the bridge Ebisu-bashi.

Take a moment to stop on the bridge for photos of the glittering neon signs reflecting in the canal (well, on a clear day I imagine so) and look back at the crowds making their way down the market arcade.
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Finally, as we were walking down the infamous and buzzing Dotombori Street, I thought to myself

All that glitters is not gold.
Sometimes it is NEON
and that is a heck of a lot better!”

As mentioned, we end the evening at Le Coccole – the cherry atop this pleasant surprise-afternoon, before taking the train back to Kyoto; with drenched socks but with eyes and bellies very well-fed.


This was part 4/7 of my Japan Photo Diary, if you enjoyed this post you can find the previous parts below:

Jetlagged in a rainy Tokyo.
Livin la vida Ryokan & the 1st glimpse of Kyoto.
Bamboo groves, trendy coffees & hidden gems.

Japan Photo Diary, Day 5-6: Bamboo groves, trendy coffees & hidden gems.

Alternative title, ‘A 2-minute Stroll Scroll down the Kyoto tourist attractions.”

Despite the early morning and having done no research other than which stop to get off at, we do not have to neither worry nor read maps when arriving to Arashiyama rail station as there is already a decent amount of tourists out and about.

We target a couple with pretty looking cameras and then shadow them; trying our best to walk slow enough not to surpass them, yet fast enough to not lose them behind the next corner. All while crossing our fingers they are, in fact, also on their way to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.
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Perhaps you recognise the grove; it can be found on several top lists on essential things to see whilst in Japan. These lists also tend to bring up the topic of how difficult the task of capturing this place on photo in a way that does it justice is.

Well, they are right. Now you guys know also.
DSC_0492DSC_0494Back in the city, a train ride and four espressos later, we slowly make our way to the Nishiki Market – a narrow arcade market stretching for five blocks.
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DSC_0501DSC_0518 Via Happycow (as per usual) we find the all vegan restaurant Hale that is located within the market. The place is pretty well hidden if you do not know what you are looking for. Actually, it is proven difficult to find even if you DO know what you are looking for, as I have to walk past several times before finding its entrance.

Once inside, the place really feels like an oasis compared to the market chaos just outside.
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On our way to Gion, aka the “Geisha quarters”, we stumble (quite literally) over Ryozen-Kannon when its massive sitting statue of the Goddess of Mercy surveying the city from her height of 24 metres suddenly hovers over us.
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(My kind of philosophy if I ever open up a business ↑)

After this we collect our bags to check-in at our new airbnb out in suburbia and that is the end of that Wednesday.
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Thursday calls for yet another early morning. We are at Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Temple, well before the gates open.

A security guy tells us to walk around the sides of the complex for 15-or-so minutes and there will be another gate that opens before 9am. Either he was pulling an early April’s Fool prank or something very essential got lost in translation, as we end up in the hills without a single alternative gate in sight. Atleast we got to enjoy a decent view from  up there.
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Back at the temple grounds, still mere minutes after its opening, the place was pretty darn crowded (I can only imagine how it would be like going around noon!) and thus it felt very much like we were sheep being herded around.

I guess that is the thing with this kind of trip; you have a limited amount of time and you want to squeeze all the must-see sights in, yet you end up feeling completely un-original chasing down the same postcard views as everyone else. But hey, I guess that is how tourism works ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
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In the afternoon we join the crowd queueing up outside % arabica – the award winning coffee shop. (They also have a shop out in Arashiyama if you are needing a caffeine hit whilst exploring the Bamboo Grove!) These guys are really passionate about their doings, and it is easy to tell why the queue more often than seldom swirls its way down the street.

Also, check out the look of that sleek espresso machine?! Divinity.
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Following along the tourist trail, we take the train out to Fushimi-Inari Taisha to climb up through its seemingly endless amount of torii gates in time for the sunset.

This one was a top pick from the trip’s bucket list. There are four kilometres of wooded pathway that crosses over Inari-san. The bottom bit is well crowded with people wanting to have their photos taken, you are basically a potential photo bomber every 6th step you take (but don’t quote me on those numbers!). The higher you proceed, the lesser the crowd. Top tip of the week.
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About halfway up the mountain there is a beautiful pit stop with a view over Kyoto. DSC_0662DSC_0665
We climb up as the sun declines from the sky. Suddenly the crowds seem to have vanished and you can hear birds chirp and the light buzzing as power travels through the electricity wires.
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For both brunch and dinner that day we went to Choice, which I think you can tell is a pretty top notch grade. I will write a seperate post dedicated to this place a bit further on.


This is part 3/7 of my Japan Photo Diary, the previous posts can be found here:

× Japan Photo Diary, Day 1-2: Jetlagged in a rainy Tokyo.
× Japan Photo Diary, Day 3-4: Livin la vida Ryokan & the 1st glimpse of Kyoto.

Next time we will do a daytrip to Nara & Osaka, and head out on a historical hike. Until then! x

Japan Photo Diary, Day 3-4: Livin la vida Ryokan & the 1st glimpse of Kyoto.

Leaving Tokyo behind, we put our JR-passes to use travelling north east towards Yudanaka.DSC_0118DSC_0119
Passing by snow covered roof tops and 1998’s host of the Winter Olympics Nagano ↑, where we changed trains and had time enough for coffee.
DSC_0131Once we arrived to our final destination of Shibu Onsen, another train and one bus later, the weather looked like this.

Since we arrived a couple of hours prior to check-in, we decided to get the area’s no.1 tourist attraction over and done with, namely visiting the Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani.
DSC_0136DSC_0142DSC_0154I had read somewhere that one could walk up the hill to the monkeys in about half an hour, but must have missed out on the tiny detail of that being from the last bus stop and not from the village at the bottom of the hill… Either way, we chose a forest route signposted from the village and I am sure it took us well over an hour (and that excludes the many photo-breaks that were made along the way) and only met one couple and two snow trucks on the way. #offthebeatentrack #theroadlesstravelled 😛

But never mind that, apart from my choice of footwear (sneakers baby) getting completely drenched in the snow slush that covered the road, our longer walk through the high rising pines was absolutely beautiful.
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Arriving at our destination, my heart was definitely pounding at an increased speed. I could not help but to think of my latest monkey-encounter in Malaysia, especially when one jumps out in front of this American couple, on their way to depart, and grabs the lady’s plastic bag containing the printed t-shirt she had just bought and completely demolishes it.

The Snow Monkeys are definitely an interesting breed. What is particular about them is how they are the northern-most living nonhuman primate. To keep warm during the snow filled months they bathe in the natural hot springs. Other than that, they do all the regular monkey business. (Like flea picking and starting fights over hierarchical issues and what not..)
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Back at the Ryokan, we changed into our yukatas before going downstairs to enjoy our dinner; which seemingly consisted of a thousand tiny little dishes.

It all felt a bit like being on a health retreat; sitting in our robes, on the floor, eating a meal mainly consisting of different kinds of mushrooms and tofu (I had requested a vegan meal after all).
DSC_0344DSC_0297DSC_0327Shibu Onsen consists of nine bathhouses, whereof only one is open to the public. The other eight only locals or overnight guests have access to, through a master key that your ryokan will provide. It is said to bring good luck if you visit each one of them.

At first I was a little worried we would not have the time to visit all nine, but finally you do not spend an excessive amount of time in each hot spring. Like 5-10 minutes tops… Unless you want to faint from low blood pressure of course.
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The following day was spent mainly on different modes of transportation. Back to Nagano, up further north-east to Kanawaza, before finally reaching Kyoto.
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At this point I was absolutely starving and we were both a bit cranky arriving at Kyoto Station. But the higher we walked up to explore this magnificent station building, just in time to see the sun fall down over Kyoto and leave everything in a beautiful pastel tone, we quickly forgot about our hunger.

Above and below are “some” photos to illustrate. (Yes little photo bomb, but no kidding, I have already excluded like half of them!!! Too much pretty)
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Our airbnb was like two blocks up this road, by the way. (Pun intended)


This is part 2/7 of my Japan Photo Diary. Hope you enjoyed this somewhat mastic post of two very different towns. The last post covering our first two days in Tokyo can be found here:
Japan Photo Diary, Day 1-2: Jetlagged in a rainy Tokyo.

Next up is two days of exploring Japan’s ancient heart, aka Kyoto.
Until then!
xx