February 28th, 2017
In today’s post, I’m back for more Postcard from Japan – I’ll be sharing the second part of our big fat trip, from Hiroshima to Kyoto, that my boyfriend and I did back in November 2016. In this part, we’re throwing back to Hiroshima, the savage deers of Miyajima, the gorgeous castle in Himeji, and our first intense two days in Kyoto! Let’s dive right in…
After Fukuoka, we are headed to Hiroshima for couple of days to see the city and visit the Miyajima while we are there. We weren’t really sure what to expect from Hiroshima as a city, especially for being the city with a heartbreaking past and with its new-ish façade. But shortly after we discovered that we were again in for a treat.
Arriving on the day that the Hiroshima Toyo Carp (the baseball team- FYI baseball is BIG in Japan, see what I did there?) having a victory parade definitely added some charm to our trip. We got to experience the city on its glory day, and memorise the team song as it was blasting through the speakers all around the city. Basically we became Hiroshima Toyo Carp fans instantly, though we have zero interest in baseball!
After rooting for the team that won our hearts, we took a walk to the centre, and eventually visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. It’s the building that survived the bombings and that is now a UNESCO heritage. It was truly heart-wrenching to be in that exact spot and to see it with your own eyes how the city was affected once.
There’s always something delicious happening in every region of Japan, and Hiroshima is no exception. Okonomiyaki, is a ginormous layered pancake that contains millions of ingredients like noodles, cabbage, eggs, cheese, seafood, etc. So when in Hiroshima, you have to treat your self to an Okonomiyaki dinner. We went to this place where they have one okonomiyaki place after another one – literally an okonomiyaki building , you get seated on stools that are around this giant cooking plate, where the chefs do their magic right in front of you. It was definitely an experience just to see the food coming together – mesmerising if anything. It was so so so so delicious as well, we chowed it down real quick with some Japanese beer – it’s all good in Hiroshima, baby baby!
– Visit Hiroshima Memorial Museum
– Take the boat tour along the river
– Eat Okonomiyaki at Okonomimura
Near the Memorial building in Hiroshima, you can take the boats to Miyajima (Itsukushima). It was about 15-20 minutes ride, and another 10-15 minutes walk until the Itsukushima Shrine or the red floating torii (you know, the emoji). Oh boy, that was some walk though- we passed through these amazing food stalls, where they sell anything and beyond sea food, some regional specialities. But what made me even more excited was spotting deers EVERYWHERE.
Those deers were everywhere on the island, and they were far from shy, if anything they would come and snatch food from your hands! We literally witnessed a poor lady with her baby losing their food to group of deers, I have never seen anything like that before! I was truly amazed and happy to be petting these cheeky furry friends in their natural habitat, that is the incredibly beautiful Miyajima. We visited the shrine and did a mini hike around the area surrounds the shrine, and appreciated the real life beauty of the floating torii.
We planned our visit to the island around the sunset so that we could enjoy the sights and appreciate the surroundings on a whole new level! I am so happy that we did that, and luckily it was a perfect day with perfect weather it gave us all the pretty pink to red shades of sky goodness.
When it comes to food, Miyajima offers two specialties; oysters and hot cakes. We are not fond of the first, so we exploited the latter like there’s no tomorrow. Momiji Manjyu is a hot cake that comes with different flavours, green tea, black sesame paste, custard, cheese, and so on. The smell itself is so inviting that I could hardly walked past it when we first arrived. On our way back, we stopped by to treat ourselves to some… and some more! In total we chowed down 6 or 10 of these (i lost the count) with custard, black sesame, and cheese! And I found some white peach (this flavour is so common in Japan, I had everything white peach, it’s amazing) ramune to go with the cakes – instant happiness! Seriously, Japan makes my belly so happy, it’s ridiculous!
– Visit Itsukushima Shrine
– Try Momiji Manjyu & oysters
– Have lunch/dinner from the fresh food stalls
Moving on from Hiroshima to Himeji on our way to Kyoto. We spent the day in Himeji – it is a relatively small city, which makes it perfect for discovering it by foot.
On top of our list to do in Himeji was to see the castle, which is the largest castle that still remains to be in tact in Japan, and to slurp some handmade udon noodles at Menme. We were already nicely fed as we chowed on some ekiben on the train, we were ready for some walk. Getting the castle was a bit of a walk, and some more walk, and then some more. As we got closer and closer (and passed through all the tourist trappy things – photo opts with “Geishas” and “Samurais”) the view kept getting better and better. This castle is massive and it’s a Japanese work of art – ain’t no photo (nor emoji) does justice to it! We were so glad we got to tick off this Japanese must-see from our emojis-in-real-life list!
After that mean walk and back, we were starving and were more than ready to kill a bowl of udon! Menme is the place to be when in Himeji, and so we did. It was again that typical no non-sense noodle bar anywhere you’d come across in Japan. So we just ordered the most popular one, that is with fried fish cake – YUM!
– Visit Himeji Castle
– Try udon noodles at Menme
I honestly don’t even know where to begin with Kyoto. We did SO MUCH. I took SO MANY PHOTOS. And there’s just SO MUCH to write about…
When we arrived in Kyoto, it meant that we were half way through our Big Fat Japan Tour – sad vibes (only for a second though) indeed! We knew that it was going to be completely different from all the things we experienced so far – we lived for all that “big city life” vibes until Kyoto, now it was finally the time to discover the traditional Japan that we’ve been forever waiting for.
We stayed quite close to the Gion area, more specifically around the corner where Nishiki Market is- I highly recommend staying in at Gracery Kyoto Sanjo, as we stayed at their Shinjuku location in Tokyo (twice haha), if you want to be right in the centre of everything! Everything was only walking distance away, and right outside our door it is this arcade like shopping mall- dangerous! Night time was somewhat lively (compared to Tokyo, it was still pretty dead). And the most importantly we were next to this giant game arcade which was open 24/7, which meant lots of purikura and playing some random arcade games late at night!
As we arrived pretty late at night from Himeji, we didn’t have the chance the see the much of Kyoto – we did a walk around Gion, which was incredibly impressive and beautiful- where I instantly fell in love with Kyoto. It almost like travelling back in time, minus the tourist flocks! All those arrow streets, only lit up with lanterns, the smell of amazing food and overall serenity, running into women in their traditional clothes, basically the whole vibe the city was giving was beyond anything we had experienced in Japan before. We also visited Tatsumi Daimyōjin while our walk in Gion and Tasaka Shrine, which was really special to see at night when all the lanterns are lit up- definitely add to the entire serenity of the city! Since Hiroshima, we couldn’t shake off the amazingness of Okonomiyaki, so we treated ourselves to another crazy looking one at Issen Yoshoku – an okonomiyaki restaurant that has the tacky/only in Japan kind of window setting that you basically cannot miss!
As for our first proper day in Kyoto, we pull an early bird, as it was packed with nothing but discovering the city on foot! As our first stop we directly hit Arashiyama, the area that is on the outskirts of Kyoto that sets the most beautiful scenery for the eyes! The walk towards our first sight, Tenryū-ji, did low-key turned me into a nature-lover! Seriously, the river, the mountains, the serenity… it felt like a living painting! Japan seriously masters that feeling though, which continue happening throughout our time in Kyoto! Tenryū-ji definitely stood out to me with its grand architecture while preserving the minimal & zen side of it. And the garden here is just a feast to eyes- the pond surrounded by pine trees whith every colour from green to red, the koi fish in the pond… Okay, I can seriously go on forever!
Following our walk, we were headed to the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Grove! I loved here so much, the entire area is covered nothing but bamboos. The photos sadly don’t do any justice, also because of the sheer amount of people… it’s hard to score a dreamy looking photo! Plus, at this point I just wanted to enjoy the incredible beauty that is this grove – a must in Kyoto! After our intense walk, it was time to have a break and we went to this tea house inside the bamboo grove and had green tea- it was incredible! I highly recommend doing this, if you’re planning of visiting the grove.
Tired but not defeated, it was finally time to slurp some ramen! On our way to Ōkōchi Sansō, we found this little udon shop run by two little sweet ladies, which didn’t require much convincing all thanks to that inviting smell of broth! I went for my absolute favourite – udon with shrimp tempura, never disappoints!
We didn’t specifically planned this trip around November to witness the most beautiful autumnal colours, but without realising we were in for a treat. During our walk to Ōkōchi Sansō, which involves a little hike and going through beautiful trees in every colour and shape – seriously, again, Kyoto in November is pure bliss! Like in Gio-ji Temple, I just simply couldn’t believe my eyes – I don’t think I have ever seen this shade of intense green before. The out-of-this world moss garden inside the temple was an incredible experience, it was so so so zen!
And last but not least, my absolute favourite sight from Kyoto – probably the most famous temple – is Kinkaku-ji aka the Golden Pavilion. This what dreams are made of Zen Buddhist temple was nothing like I’ve ever seen in my life. Inside of a very quiet (minus the millions of tourist there) and charming garden and right next to a pond, this temple stands majestic and tall! I’m so glad we left Kinkaku-ji to last, because the sunset and gold makes the best kind of sight, believe me! Watching the sunset with my boyfriend, letting it all sink, just thinking how lucky I am to experience such a beautiful moment in my life – cheesy alert, yes, but seriously… Kyoto, you got this incredibly sight game strong, I rest my case!
After walking forever and some more, we were finally ready to eat our weights in…drumroll… TEMPURA! Tempura makes me excited, tempura makes me all fuzzy inside because the Japanese mastered the art of frying food and effortlessly turn it into gastronomical gold! We again were incredibly lucky to be able to just walk in and score two seats at this traditional ryokan, where they make TEMPURA LIKE NOTHING ELSE! It was a small room, that hosts about 8 people in one sitting, around the chef. It is VERY old school so no taking 938393 photos of your food, no shenanigans but just enjoying your food quietly!
We got a set that was on the expensive side of the things – we’re on vacay baby, yolo all the way – but in hindsight it was sooo worth it! We were there for about 3 hours – being served without rushed into it. The chef prepares everything in front of you so intricately and according to your eating pace, explaining what goes with what… We also had sake to go with our dinner. Overall, this was hands-down one of the best dining experiences I’ve ever had (wait till about my Kobe story)! When it was time to have desert, they pointed us to a tatami section of the restaurant, where you get to sit next to fire and being served your food with hot tea! Magical place, amazing food, incredible service, a true insight to how the Japanese eat old-school! If you have time and want to eat like you’re a Queen, then definitely head to Yoshikawa Inn Tempura– but be sure to make a reservation first!
– Walk around in Gion area at night time
– Visit Arashiyama Bamboo Grove & have matcha at the garden
– Visit Tenryū-ji
– Visit Ōkōchi Sansō
– See the dreamy moss garden of Gio-ji Temple
– Watch the sunset at Kinkaku-ji
– Have tempura dinner at Yoshikawa Inn Tempura
So, this does it again for another lengthy Postcard from Japan, from Hiroshima to Kyoto! Hope you enjoyed while getting bombarded by my Japanese highlights. On the next (and last) post of Postcard from Japan, I will talk about the last leg of our trip, which includes more must-do’s from Kyoto, Kobe, Osaka, Hakone and finally some more Tokyo! Keep your eyes peeled for some more, if you’ve enjoyed this series so far!
I would love to hear your thoughts on this post below! Also, I forever talk about my obsession with Japanese cusine, what’s your favourite Japanese food, if not what would like to try the most if you ever visit to Japan?