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  • Writer's pictureKristin

Japan | Mt. Fuji, Osaka, Kyoto & Himeji

The past 10 days in Japan have been quite the contrast to what we experienced in Southeast Asia -- more expensive, orderly and spic and span clean! A couple times when we were crossing the street we even had to remind ourselves that we needed to mind the traffic signals. The flight to Japan was a little rough, as both of us were crammed into the middle seats in the middle section and didn't get any sleep. So the first night in Narita we went to bed at 6 p.m. but the next morning we woke up early to get the train to Fuji and then onto Osaka.


Mt. Fuji - Disappearing into the Clouds

We had some great views of Mt. Fuji as we were approaching the mountain, which excited us because we had heard that it is difficult to get good views due to clouds blocking it a lot.

As soon as we got off the train and started walking towards it, the clouds started moving in. Within 15-20 minutes it had gone from being a great view to not being able to decipher where it was. Although we did get a nice picture story of the clouds moving in as we tried to race the clouds to a good point for photos -- but the clouds won that round.


The cloud cover moved in quickly and stretched out for miles so we figured it wouldn't be worth the wait to see if the clouds passed, as we only had a couple of hours before we had to catch the next train. We spent a lot of time on the train that day to get to Osaka. This was because our Japan Rail Pass wasn't activated yet and that only left us to use the Kippu pass for the local trains only -- but it saved us quite a bit of money so it was worth the extra time. We both enjoyed the train rides though and time passed surprisingly fast! Alex would try hard to get us in the first car of the train so we could "drive" the train along with the engineer. It was pretty interesting to watch the engineer because he would use such precise movements and vocalized each step as he did his safety checks; as well as approached and departed each station.


Getting Accustomed to the Rain

The next few days we spent in Osaka, Kyoto and an afternoon in Himeji. However, for these 3 days it RAINED! The unfortunate part was that most of the sites within these cities were outdoors, so it made for some wet and cold days. In fact, on the second full day of rain, and after our cheap Malaysian umbrellas broke, we forked over 500 Yen per umbrella and got some waterproof hiking boots that we knew we could use again in the future. Our new rain gear helped make the weather just a little more bearable.


Hot Drink Vending Machines

However, the greatest thing that helped us through the cold and wetness, was that we discovered the vending machines actually dispense HOT drinks! At the convenience stores as well they have a refrigerator-type holder that heats instead of cools. So instead of going to Starbucks and spending at least 280-300 Yen for a hot drink, we went to the vending machines had hot coffee; they even had various types of tea, in plastic bottles or cans that were hot when they were dispensed. We had just wished that we had discovered this in January when it was really cold! We just haven't figured out why this amazing concept hasn't been introduced in North America -- we know that'd we would hit it up for sure! We need to have a talk with Coca-Cola.....


Osaka

Osaka was a nice and modern city. We visited the Osaka castle during the day which is renown in Japan for being one of the more famous castles. It was constructed in the 1500s and has faced a series of destructions and reconstructions over time. However, the park surrounding the castle is two squared kilometers and offers a variety of amenities and beautiful cherry blossom trees.


In the evening went to the Dontobori Street where there were several restaurants that were moderately priced. (Supposedly some of the cheapest in Japan, but still expensive to us...) There were some pretty outrageous signs outside the restaurants that made for some entertainment.


One of the nights we spent in Osaka, we went to a revolving sushi restaurant. We tried a variety of sushi. Since most of it wasn't in English, it was a guessing game as to what we were actually eating. We had a few mystery items that we never identified.


Kyoto - Nijo Castle & Imperial Palace Gardens

Kyoto was a nice and historic district. Just wandering around the city and the streets you felt like you were experiencing the true essence of Japan.


The main attractions in Kyoto were the Nijo Castle and the Imperial Palace Gardens. It was interesting to see such old and historic places. Although we found out that several of the castles and historical places have been reconstructed over the years due to war and earthquake destruction.


Nijo Castle:

Imperial Palace Gardens:


Kyoto - Nishi Market

In Kyoto there is the Nishi market which is where many of the restaurants owners go to do their shopping for foods and cooking supplies. They had a variety of pickled foods and some other different items. Our favorite places were the little shops where they sold the sweet rice cakes, which is a pastry shell filled with sweet bean paste or other things. They would just have small pieces laying out so you could walk all over the store and try all different flavors.


Gion District - Traditional Ceremonies

One night we went to the Gion Corner and they gave a performance of traditional Japanese arts, including a Geisha dance, a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, traditional music and flower arranging, a Japanese comedy play, and a puppet show where the puppet is so large that it has to be manipulated by three different men dressed entirely in black. It was very interesting, but because they allowed photography it got a little crazy with all the tourists trying to take different photos and the performance lost some of its appeal and significance because of this.


Himeji Castle`

The castle in Himeji is still the original structure. In order to preserve the wooden floors when we got inside, we had to remove our shoes and wear the slippers provided. There wasn't much inside the castle, but it was interesting to think of the things that went on there hundreds of years ago.


Japanese Shinkansen (Bullet) Trains

The day we traveled to Himeji was also the day that we activated the Japan Rail Pass and were able to start riding the Shinkansen trains. The train transportation in Japan continues to amaze us and it so fast and efficient. The Shinkansen trains are so fast and everything departs on time. Over a year's time, the average delay of a Japanese train is only 6 seconds!!!!! The trains are super comfortable and it is almost more convenient than flying, because you go from city center to city center; whereas, airports tend to be on the outskirts of the city. The only problem we had with the Shinkansen trains was determining who was going to get the window seat. Somehow Alex seemed to win out on that one.

Our second Bullet Train journey took us to Fukuoka for some baseball and beer!



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