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 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

Japan Photo Diary, Day 1-2: Jetlagged in a rainy Tokyo.

DSC_0002Already when hovering in the air above Tokyo I knew we were in for an experience beyond the ordinary. Just look at the order of this harbour, all down to seemingly millimetric perfection,  much in line with the country we were about to encounter.
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We arrived in Toyko at 11am local time. Most part of the day was spent queueing. Twice to get through the border, then near an hour to activate our Japan Rail-passes at their airport office.

This in turn made our mantra for the day something along the lines that “at least it moved us an hour closer to bedtime” → Beating that jetlag blues. After all, for us it was around 2 o’clock in the morning that we had landed upon Japanese grounds.
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Once we were settled into our AirBnb (believe me did that take some time! Hey, here is a secret travel tip: Do not follow the wrong co-ordinates on Google Maps. You might not find the place you are looking for ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ) we hit the streets of Shinjuku – known for being a major administrative hub, housing the world’s busiest railway station along with the Tokyo Metropolitan Building where you can enjoy a decent view over the city free of charge. (If you are, surprise, willing to queue for it!)DSC_0020
We were however on the food hunt. Following a HappyCow recommendation we ended up at Ripple – part of a smaller chain of restaurants called AinSoph serving vegan food around Tokyo. Mum had their falafel burger and myself a burrito – particularly tasty after the joke* of a “meal” that SAS had served me on our way over.

(*The philosophy of my in flight meal seemed to be “let us replace all the non-vegan items with different flavoured jams.” Whereby my mum is sat with a full 3-course breakfast meal; myself with a bread roll and three types of condiments. Considering they had plenty of notice AND offer their customers a vegan meal plan option, I would have expected something a wee less spartan! Greetings, Hangry Bastards ™!)DSC_0041The following morning we had coffee at the Starbucks surveying Shibuya Crossing. (I have never in my life purchased so many cups of Starbucks coffee as I have during this trip! Who am I!)

All the best seats were obviously already occupied by dudes and their tripods, but the building also contains floor upon floor of stationaries. The top ones that sell books and magazines feels like a haven escaping the crowds of lower floors.

Processed with VSCO with t1 presetAfter satisfying our caffeine depots, we went to a Purikura. In other words it is sort of an interactive photobooth experience. Snapchat IRL. Instant airbrushing and doe eyes making you look like a far more kawaii version of your normal self.

I won’t explain it in much more details, I think the severe confusion you are struck by definitely adds to the comedic effect of it all. However I will add that I have not laughed like that in a la la long time!
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For lunch we walked just around the corner of Shibuya Crossing. Initially we ended up in a long queue (I swear, the Japanese love queueing more than the British!) but soon realised it was for the wrong place (phew!). It is relatively easy to miss restaurants and cafes when in Japan as one immediately thinks it ought to be visible on the ground floor – but look up! (Or in some cases down, it may well be a basement you are looking for.)

DSC_0058Up a tiny staircase we went, entering an Indian veggie place called Milan Nataraj. The bright side of chasing vegan grub in a country of fish fanatics – you really avoid the queues and the crowds!

The buffet hostess was lovely and happily pointed out my options as a vegan. (This was before I realised it is clearly labelled on the buffet table itself.) There is a lunch time All You Can Eat (only my four favourite words in that particular order) buffet served daily for about ¥ 1500, which is a price similar to most dishes on the set menu. But the more the merrier, right? At least as a vegan in Japan, one never knows when there will be food other than plain onigiris the next time!
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After lunch we took the train to Harajuku with its fair fashionistas, wacky installations and high pulse. It feels a bit like Tokyo’s response to Camden. The crowds down Takeshita Dori (starting under the wee dinosaur) were just mad. Then again, these little prefectures that make up the grand mass that is Tokyo are more populated than my hometown…

DSC_0099DSC_0111Our final stop before retreating back to the airbnb for the night was the Ueno Park. It is said to be one of the better spots in Tokyo for Hanami.

Due to the colder spring the cherry trees (this one above, that must have been standing under heating lamps or so, was under severe papparazzing! iPhones from all angles!) were far from ready to bloom this last week of March. We still agreed that it was a beautiful park on its own — of course yet hopeful to be able to visit it again later on and see what the fuss was all about.


This was part 1/7 of my Japan Photo Diary. Next post will be of Shibu Onsen and the arrival to Kyoto.