japan | hiroshima

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Hiroshima was a strange sort of experience in that it is a city which has carried on with life. It is hard to think that a city which was practically destroyed 70 years ago would still be here and life carried on. I think it is a symbol of the resilience of the human spirit to overcome horrors many of us could only imagine.

We only spent a day in the city but I am glad we did. I feel I would have missed out on a very eye opening experience if I hadn’t. The museum dedicated to the impact of the A-bomb and a continued wish for peace was really interesting as well as quite harrowing.

p.s. the building in the second picture was under where the bomb exploded. Approximately 5 buildings remained standing after the A-bomb went off for a radius of (If I remember) 10 kilometres. So everything in the city centre is new. The islands in the river have been dedicated to a peace memorial park which is quite lovely to stroll around.

japan | a few more things in kyoto

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Just a few more things you should do while in Kyoto (although I certainly didn’t get to do it al):

  • Sit on the river for a while. It is a bit different to other big city rivers in that (at least the bit we were sitting on) wasn’t really made a big thing of. There are some old, stilted restaurants along one bit but we just sat outside and enjoyed the peace.
  • If it is raining head to the National Museum of Modern Art. It was interesting to see some Modern Japanese art particularly in its home country.
  • If you head to the Museum there is a great little coffee shop called Noma across the canal (last two photos). They make delicious scones with a Japanese twist and some gorgeous iced-tea. There is also a little shop next door which has a collection of vintage and designer items. We couldn’t help but buy a little glass house when we went back for a second visit (because the shop was closed the first time around).
  • We didn’t eat out too much when in Kyoto but there was a vegetarian macrobiotic restaurant, called Choice, basically opposite the Airbnb we stayed in. It was a little pricey but the food was really good.

japan | the bamboo forest

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I loved the bamboo forest. It was about 40 minutes on a bus from where we were staying. I loved traveling on the bus. I saw school kids get on and off, an elderly lawn bowling group get on and off and a buddhist monk with rope shoes get on and off. Tim napped.

We got a little lost finding the bamboo forest but eventually a monk showed us the way! We were there early so the tourists hadn’t arrived. Just a few school groups (who seemed to be going on tours with taxi drivers).

Just so you know:

  • You can’t walk amongst the bamboo. I thought you would be able to but you can’t. I suppose if thousands of people were wondering through it would get rather damaged.
  • Growing bamboo has the most beautiful green tone. It is so calming. And it grows super tall.
  • Lotus flowers are pretty awesome.
  • The gardeners in these beautiful old gardeners have shoes that are made from some sort neoprene fabric and have individual toes.
  • Sometimes buddhist nuns take pictures with phone cameras (I kind of imagine she was taking a selfie).
  • Staring at a pond for a while can make you feel very zen (the garden is in a temple that is next to the bamboo forest).
  • The little town that the bamboo forest is in is pretty cute but you might want to get the bus back before all the tourists really arrive.

japan | kyoto i

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Firstly, I would go back to Kyoto anytime. It is just one of those towns that have some personality. The kind of place which would be your instant best friend, know all the great spots to go in town and will keep all your secrets.

We stayed in the eastern bit of Kyoto right near the Gion area. On our first full day there we woke up early-ish and headed to what was local, which happened to be one of the biggest temples Chion-In Temple which is next to Maruyama Park.

When we arrived there weren’t many people around and I really enjoyed the experience of wandering around and seeing these holy places in calm being used as they were meant to. We seemed to follow these ladies on their own path through the complex (it takes up a lot of space) and I enjoyed seeing how people interacted with the space.

We then wandered into the park, tried some bamboo ash ice-cream and waited for these children sitting near us to be eaten by the crows. Luckily it didn’t happen. At least while we were there.

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After the calm of the park and Buddhist temple we walked into the Shinto temple next door. The contrast is beautiful. From calm, natural colours, lots of raw wood we moved into this riot of colour, bells been rung, hands been clapped, bright orange paint, shops selling dreams and wishes at the front and tourists dressed in traditional Japanese attire. I love how these two polarities live together in Japan. This yin and yang of colour and nature, quiet and music, austerity and shopping. It is amazing to think that these two different practises live side by side within the Japanese culture. It is a nice metaphor that suggests we don’t have to fit into a tightly defined box, don’t you think?

japan | nara, the city of deer

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I am feeling black and white photos lately. Anyway…

We arrived in Nara to a marching band. We couldn’t figure out what the purpose was but it was quite fun to be accompanied down the road for a while.

Basically if you find yourself in Kyoto take a day-trip to Nara because … DEER! There are hundreds of deer that roam the city that are mostly friendly if a bit cheeky and they are big fans of the crackers you can buy (ie you will be running away from them as they try and take them from you). Plus you can find a fair number of World Heritage Sites. After a deer ate our map (oops) I think we only worked our way to one. A temple which is the biggest wooden building in the world and that had a rather large bronze buddha.

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There were lots of tourists in town but it didn’t take away from the charm of the place. Also I did do a bit of souvenir shopping from one shop on the main road from the station to the old town which had the most awesome things.

p.s. don’t you think the deer antlers look a little like pretzels …

japan | the quiet side of tokyo

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I was nervous about Tokyo. We were going from our 200,000 population town to a city with 28 MILLION PEOPLE! My mind just couldn’t get around that. I was eventually able to manage it mostly without getting lost too often in the crazy massive metro stations (I’m sure there were 200,000 people in our nearest metro station at one time). I did find that I enjoyed the quieter sides of the city more than what seemed like a shopping crazy obsessed city. So if you are not too concerned with spending all your money and you are also interested in the quieter side of Tokyo here are my suggestions.

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Yanaka

Admittedly this neighbourhood was mentioned in our Rough Guide guidebook and from the internet it seems like on a weekend it can get crazy busy. This neighbourhood is about the only part in Tokyo that was saved from an earthquake in the 30s and WWII damage and so is ‘old style’ Japan. I probably would have visited at another time as when we went on a Wednesday morning most of the shops and restaurants were closed and it was more just a pleasant wander through a nice neighbourhood. Also it was about as hot as the surface of the sun and not much shade so I now totally get why the Japanese ladies all carry an umbrella with them all the time.

One place that was open was a little bakery/cafe which made delicious ice-tea and delicious ‘fusion’ type bake goods with a Frenchy feel but definitely with Japanese flavours.

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This one street in Shibuya: Kamiyamacho

Shibuya is the ‘shop yourself crazy’ area of Tokyo with several malls which are just H.U.G.E. Like seven stories of mall! However, if you start walking towards Yoyogi Park you find Kamiyamacho street. Along the road you will find some beautiful little shops,an independent publishing bookshop and a Monocle shop which I was hoping would have coffee but didn’t.

However, we did find the one decent coffee that we had in Japan at a Norwegian coffee shop that makes Italian coffee called Fuglen.

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Yoyogi Park

Just a nice quiet place to walk around and gather your thoughts while watching the Japanese be Japanese. Playing basketball, reading the newspaper, cycling by.

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Mori Art Museum

I really enjoyed seeing contemporary art curated in a Japanese gallery. The Japanese aesthetic really came through in particular in this exhibition on Form and Shape which I really enjoyed. If you like art I would suggest heading to this gallery as you can also get a view of Japan from the 52nd floor.

Other bits

Sky High Juice bar did some great smoothies. It is a little bit out of the way but we really needed a vegetable and fruit hit.

I would fully recommend our airbnb.

Itoya stationery store in Ginza is amazing. Seven floors!