Deck the halls with boughs of holly fa-la-la-la…
For most people, the month of December indicates a slew of festivities and a brief respite from the world of work. For myself and most other students, December is a frightening month full of coursework deadlines, exams and revision. Complimenting 2016’s gifts, this year I also have the pressure of applying for jobs, to secure some sort of stable future after I graduate. Quite a stressful way to spend the holidays, but alas, the things we must do.
In any case, I’d like to take the time to thank everyone who reads/follows this blog! Whether you celebrate it or not, hope everyone has a great Christmas break. Take the time to relax for a moment and enjoy the luxury of just doing nothing before scaling the mountain of work again. My housemates and I celebrated with our own little Christmas dinner about a week ago, so it feels a little strange to be doing it again with my family, but I’m excited to return home and have one guiltless day of eating food and watching movies!
Our itinerary to round up Kyoto began with a visit to Kinkaku-Ji. Waiting for Wesley to arrive, my breakfast was the amazingly traditional choice of green tea sundae. (It had cornflakes at the bottom, so it counts right?) Kinkaku-Ji was 500 yen to enter and very crowded. It’s a beautiful attraction to visit, but I’m not sure it was worth the price of going in since you were only allowed to view the temple from outside. We also purchased some charms here, but later found the same ones 300 yen cheaper at Kiyomizu-dera! I was naïve in thinking that they were special to that particular location and not some mass produced tourist souvenir. Disappointing!
I would advise finding a location to eat before heading to Kiyomizu-dera. The food around the area is a little overpriced compared to other locations, but I guess it’s natural with the amount of tourists it attracts. Out of all the sights I’ve visited in Japan, the immediate area of Kiyomizu-dera is definitely the prime location to dress in yukatas! There’s so many people in traditional Japanese dress, you probably stick out more by being in normal clothes.
Attracted by the small cluster of tourists coming out of an unassuming temple, we were intrigued and paid the 100-yen entrance fee to go inside. The idea is that you enter the womb of Daizuigu Bosatsu, become a new born again and spinning the stone at the end grants you a wish. It was the weirdest thing stepping inside as it’s totally pitch black. Sometimes in the dark, you can make out faint shapes, but here it was impossible. It’s quite an unsettling feeling, but made amusing by the sounds of other people bumping into one another (there’s a rope to guide you round the inside).
Feeling a little disorientated as we stepped back out into the light, we headed towards Jishu Shrine, a place for the romantics amongst you. There’s two love stones here that come with a special challenge. Upon touching the first one, you close your eyes and attempt to make your way to the other. Doing this successfully means finding true love! It was sweet to see a group of school children helping out a classmate by shouting out hints and a group of girls also helped a stranger find her way to the other stone. Unfortunately, Wesley failed at this task and was condemned to never finding his true love.
Not to be overlooked, Kiyomizu-dera itself provides a lovely viewpoint to see Kyoto in the daytime. Seeing photographs on Google tells me it would be an even more spectacular sight during cherry blossom season. Not to mention autumn. Or winter. Wouldn’t it be lovely to be able to return seasonally and observe the changes?
feat. rant about hostel life.
Before anyone goes travelling and stays in a hostel, I believe one should be trained on the etiquettes of sharing a dorm with strangers. This was particularly the case in the hostel I stayed at in Osaka. The people in my dorm were up until 3am incessantly packing and unpacking their suitcase. This wouldn’t have been so bad if they didn’t have the LOUDEST plastic bags in the world! 3 hours of plastic scrunching interspersed with LOUDLY whispered conversations is hellish. What’s even worse is the arrangement of the beds. Although little stacked booths, the dividing walls had a small gap at the top meaning that if the people either side of you decided to switch on their light, your booth would be flooded with light too. Great. It’s a shame because the Fuku Hostel Namba’s facilities were pretty good overall; clean toilets, showers and beds, not to mention a 10/10 location. But given my experience, I really don’t think I’d stay there again, sorry!
Feeling a little sleep deprived and grumpy due to last night (and the previous nights!) antics, the day and a half of solo travelling ended and I met up with a friend (Wesley!) who I would travel with for the rest of the trip. From Osaka, the train to Nara is only 30 minutes and once you arrive at the train station, it’s only around a 20 min walk to the deer park. It’s amazing to see so many deer in one place and a little terrifying when you go to feed them but end up being swarmed! Wesley was the first to experience this and ended up running in circles trying to escape the huge herd that had formed around him – it was pretty hilarious! The key to this is to stand your ground and be firm, even if they nip at you. If you encounter a few on their own, they should bow before you give them food, which is really cute to see! In fact, I saw a lovely moment between a deer and an old grandmother who just kept exchanging bows to one another!
There’s a lot of shrines and temples easily within walking distance to visit too. For the budget conscious however, keep in mind 99% (likely 100%) charge an entrance fee, so it’s best to research what you want to see beforehand. The entrance fees aren’t exactly expensive, but 500 yen does quickly add up! Kasuga-Taisha Shrine is popular with visitors and you might even catch some baby deer hiding between the stone lanterns. Speaking of the stone lanterns, it would make for a spectacular sight to see them lit up at night – do they ever do this for special occasions?
One of my favourite days spent in Japan, Nara is the perfect place for a day trip out of the city and reconnect with nature. If I hadn’t sold this to you enough, I’m sure the deer will!
I never really saw the appeal of solo travelling before this summer. Travelling to another place I always wanted someone else to experience it with, a companion to explore and have adventures with. Travelling alone always seemed… lonely? But partly out of circumstance and partly from choice, I wound up spending the day alone in Hiroshima. Coupled with the solemnity of its history, I think visiting Hiroshima alone is the perfect way to experience the city, or at least it’s landmarks and museums.
Navigation wise, it’s pretty easy to get around. From the train station, there’s a tourist bus you can catch taking you to each point in the city. For Japan Rail Pass holders, this is free to use! I stopped off at the Atom Bomb Dome first, and it really is quite surreal to see it in person. Standing silently against the city, it’s an eerie reminder of Hiroshima’s history with the atomic bomb and as many others have described, a powerful reminder of the destruction created by humans. From here, I walked (5 minutes) to the Peace Memorial Museum, where it must have been national school-trip day with all the school children there! I was surprised to see so many, most of them were primary school aged, packed into the museum clutching worksheets to fill in. I found it particularly amusing to see the earnestness of the children against the really quite horrifying aspects of the museum. There were literally wax figures of children with melting skin on display with Japanese school-children diligently scribbling down notes like no big deal. The Peace Memorial Museum itself was very engaging nonetheless; facts were interweaved with personal stories making for a very poignant visit.
After, I mistakenly wandered into a very expensive restaurant on a search for food, ended up just buying an ice-coffee (560 yen, T-T) and leaving. Rather than getting on the bus again, I walked to Hiroshima Castle (20 minutes), which was very lovely to stroll around and purchased a soft-serve green tea ice-cream in place of lunch. Hey, I’m alone, I can eat what and when I want! Walking around a little more, I found that a lot of places had early closing times (~5.30/6.00pm) so wandered back to the main area of town looking for somewhere (affordable) to eat. Finding a restaurant, I ordered a set meal consisting of mackerel, rice, miso soup, pickled vegetables and two other side dishes – so delicious! Where normally eating alone makes me a little self-conscious, I really quite enjoyed dining alone in Japan! A lot of people do it, so it’s not something that would seem strange and is really quite pleasant – I recommend you do this at least once in your life! On my way back to the train station there was a spectacular sunset, closing both my day in Hiroshima and my first experience as a solo traveller perfectly!