Kyoto also spells Tokyo

It has hit that point, as it does in every trip, where you suddenly realise how fast the time has gone, and how little you have left. As the cold seems endless, the race through train stations never ending, and the new faces familiar, the days begin to blur into one and you lose track of how long you’ve been traveling for. But if you ask me, these are the greatest days. The days you don’t have internet connection, but don’t even realise. They days you forget about time-wasters like makeup and planned outfits. The days you just want to lose yourself in a city in order to truly find its treasures. The days that challenge you, change you, but stay with you forever.

This week started with an end. On our final morning in Kyoto, we vowed to find the large Buddha we had spotted on the edge of town while we were up the Kyoto Tower. A true test of how well we knew the streets, we managed to find it after going in a few circles (however that was most likely due to us getting lost in conversation). The monument, we learnt on arrival, was called Ryozen Kannon and is a tribute to all the unknown soldiers who bravely fought and died in World War II. The 24 metre high compassionate Buddha is a symbol of peace, both for the state of Japan, and for those who died fighting for it. Not mentioned anywhere in our guidebook, I was particularly pleased with our discovery. It was an interesting and un-touristed little complex with plenty of temples, memorials and shrines – some for luck, marriage, peace and even blessings for miscarried foetus.

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After our walk back to the hostel, the falling snow made it all the easier to jump on the toasty-warm Shinkansen train for three hours, headed to Tokyo! As we laid back in our spacious seats, we watched the world literally fly by – the dense city centres to the sparse rural villages, all looking as though someone had lightly dusted them with a fine icing sugar. All going too perfectly to plan, we were two stops out of Tokyo when the cabin crew realised we were on the wrong train (our JR pass did not cover super express Shinkansen, only the express) and asked us ever so politely to get off at the next stop and get on the next train. While ordinarily this sort of mistake could have been disastrous to a tight schedule, the next train came in a measly 5 minutes. Nice one, Japan!

Once arriving in Tokyo City, we found Hiroko, after a kind gentleman helped us decode a confusing pay phone, much to both ours and his amusement. Hiroko is a friend of my grandmother’s who hosted me when I first visited Japan, some 19 years ago. She had kindly offered to have us stay at her house for the first night we were in Tokyo so we could see her perform in a traditional drum concert to be held the next day. She was more than hospitable while we stayed with her, more than we could ever have asked for or expected. She treated us to the most amazing sushi train experience I have ever had (they filleted the fish before your eyes), the chance to cook our own okonomiyaki, a real crazy Japanese experience at a Ninja restaurant, cakes, cats, and most of all an insight into a side of Japanese culture we could not have got through guidebooks. She even introduced us to her friend Emi who, with her husband, kindly took us up the Tokyo SkyTree to 350metres above Tokyo and treated us to a lovely lunch while Hiroko practiced her drumming.

One of my favourite things I discovered while staying with Hiroko was the technology. Her toilet can be put through a range of strange motions such as spray, heat, dry, mist, etc (you can work out what for), her bath heats and fills itself up and tells you when it is ready, and her washing machine will weigh your load of washing and tell you how much soap to put in and how long it will take. What are we doing in Australia!?

All in all, we could not have thanked Hiroko enough for her immense generosity, and although all she would accept was a bunch of flowers and some chocolates, we are eternally grateful for all that she did for us and can’t wait for her to visit Australia to repay her for her hospitality.

On our second night in Tokyo, after a delicious dinner, Hiroko was kind enough to drop us to our hostel (quite literally to the door, any closer and her car would have been through the front window) where the second half of our Tokyo journey began. But more on that later…

Good night for now. I hope you are all smiling just as much as me.

IMG_0203 Our sushi plate stack – we tried Tuna, Sea Urchin, Salmon, Bloody Clam, Scallop, Red Fish and many more…

IMG_0207 Hiroko and I

IMG_0202 View from the Tokyo SkyTree

IMG_0204 Lunch with Emi and Hero

<a href=”https://emmabreislin.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/img_0205.jpg”>IMG_0205 Hiroko’s traditional drum performance

IMG_0206 Making our own okonomiyaki

Kyoto

It’s quarter past two in the afternoon and I’m lying on the couch in my hostel wearing my pyjamas. Before you judge me, Hannah is on the couch next to me passed out. So I’m doing okay. The last couple of days in Kyoto have been a whirlwind, and this trip shows no signs of slowing down. Apart from today. Today has been a very slow day. But a very deserved day.

We started the week by packing our bags, farewelling our host Mark, and hitting the subway for the next leg of our adventure. Settling into our seats on the Shinkansen, for what we expected to be a lengthy ride to the next city, ended up being a short 15 minute trip to Kyoto. Sydney should really invest in trains that travel at 220km/hr. And in trains that leave precisely when they are scheduled. It’s too easy.

Arriving in Kyoto we had no idea what to do. We had planned to read our Lonely Planet on the train ride but clearly had our reading time cut short. Nonetheless we went wandering and found the local Nishiki Markets full of fresh fruit, vegetables and meats. Freezing and hungry we found a bustling little corner and sat down for some delicious fresh ramen and soba noodles. My face was so cold I couldn’t feel that I was burning my tongue until afterwards. Worth it though. On our walk towards Kyoto Tower we walked by a Cat Cafe, and I thought of my crazy cat lady at home. For those unaware, a cat cafe is just a cafe with heaps of cats walking around. We poked our heads in the window and it looked hilarious. Oh Japan, you continue to entertain me. On we walked, past liquor stores where we checked what the damage would be for the nights that would undoubtedly be to come. $12 for a bottle of Vodka and $16 for Baileys. That was very doable.
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After following two good looking chaps from our hostel who had #swag we navigated our way to Kyoto Tower where, for what feels like the 100th time, we climbed to see an amazing 360 degree view of the city. We can’t help that we enjoy getting high! Apart from the amazing view watching the sun set and the lights come on all over the city, the tower was also great for organising the rest of our time in Kyoto, as we were able to spot the temples and districts we wanted to visit in the following days from the one convenient spot. After taking a photo with a group of random guys from Korea (the third group to ask for our photo so far!) we left and headed to the Gion district. We managed to find the district eventually but weren’t so lucky with finding any Geisha. We did however find some delicious gyozas for next to nothing, although I’m pretty sure Hannah enjoyed the condiments more than the meal – helping herself to pretty much all of what looked to me like rice bubbles. Clearly she was deprived of good old ‘Snap, Crackle and Pop’ as a child.
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Literally running home to avoid frostbite, we warmed up by sitting on the heated toilet seats and entertained ourselves by watching the Clown fish in the common room of our hostel. YES! I found Nemo! Definitely not at 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney.

The next day we woke to find tiny snowflakes falling from the sky outside our window. And after putting on two pairs of socks, three thermals tops, a jumper, a jacket, two scarves and a beanie, I was ready to step outside. After flashing our JR train passes at the station like celebrities, we hopped on a train bound for Nara – a town which is hard to say whether there are more tourists or deer. Like an obstacle course, we managed to dodge the cold, the camera lenses, and the crazy deer ramming at your legs for food, and arrived at the Todai-ji temple – the home of a 15 metre high Buddha. The temple itself was pretty incredible, and no photo could accurately depict the size of the room and Buddha. Regardless, it didn’t stop most tourists, and the continuous camera shutter sound was harsh against the peacefulness of the Buddha. After watching a group of tourists holding biscuits be attacked by a mob of deer we pop back on the train headed for Kobe. However, we didn’t last there long. Our frozen fingers and rumbling bellies won over and we headed home for dinner which we cooked ourselves! Anyone know how to use a rice cooker? Because I don’t.
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The next day was a big one, and also the cause of the state I am sitting in now, on the couch, with Hannah passed out next to me. It started with a challenge. We took our map to reception to ask the best way to get to where we wanted to that day. The girl looked at us and laughed, saying that it was a lot to achieve in a day. Challenge accepted.

First stop was the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, which happens to feature on the cover of our Lonely Planet guide. Hannah and I have had a growing obsession with bamboo ever since we started recording the various ways it was used through out South-East Asia, and it was great to see it in such abundance and so green. Big shoutout to the kind man at the station who was laughing at us trying to work out where we were for helping us, and for telling us all about tofu for some reason.
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Next stop was to the Kinkakuji Temple, or the Golden Pavilion. After a fairly solid walk we reached the pavilion – a beautiful gold temple sitting on a stunning serene pond. A truest Japanese looking setting. No filter required. After getting lost in conversation we managed to find the exit and set off back to the station, but not before being interviewed by a small group of Japanese students on an English excursion. KAWAII!!!!
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The last stop of the day was on the other side of the city and we were in a race against the sun. Making a vital mistake and not reading the guidebook properly we decided to walk instead of train to the Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine. Not a particularly pretty walk, we found ourselves out if the tourist zone, and lost. Thankfully a very kind old man pointed us in the right direction before wishing us a happy day, and we with sore feet we made it to the shrine. Which is located a few metres from the station. Good one Emma. Walking through the food stalls we gave into temptation – Hannah got some okonomiyaki and I helped myself to a pork and shallot skewer dripping in teriyaki sauce. Gone in one bite, we then had to carry our rubbish for miles. Japan is immaculate and you never see any rubbish on the floor anywhere. But they have NO bins anywhere in the streets. How do they do it!?!?
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Getting the the shrine was amazing. 228 metres of bright orange torii dedicated to Inari, glowing in the fading light around them. A really really cool shrine. One of my favs to date. And we arrived at the right time because it wasn’t too crowded later in the evening.

Getting back to the hostel we treated ourselves to some Baileys at the bar…while wearing slippers. Classy. At this point the hostel had been taken over by some 50 odd American a College students who were on a Semester at Sea program which sounds incredible. Over 100 days, 12 countries, 4 continents. I was jealous to say the least. One Baileys turned into two, which turned into four, which turned into us dashing down the block in our slippers to the closest corner store to buy more drinks, which turned into two Aussies and a whole heap of Americans roaming the streets, which turned into a karaoke bar, which turned into joining random Japanese peoples karaoke rooms, which turned into a lot of Katy Perry, One Direction and random Japanese pop music. Waking up with a whole heap of new friend requests, a pretty sore head, and a rough throat, I farewelled our new friends, and got comfy on the couch. Which is where I still find myself….six hours later. Hannah eventually made it up to join me, but has been unconscious for most of the day. Our new room mates have just arrived though so I should probably go shower and make myself approachable.

I’m pretty hungover, but pretty goddamn happy right now. How about you?

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Osaka

They say the best way to see a city is to get lost. But when you’re such skilled explorers like Hannah and myself, it’s hard to get lost, so walking is our next best option. While both a means of staying warm, and saving money, walking takes you to secret parts of the city a guidebook never will. The real city.

We stayed in bed a bit longer than expected the second morning. In our defense, we had been taken to a comedy show (rorcomedy.com) and drinks by our airbnb host Mark the night before and were still blaming jetlag at this stage! Nonetheless we packed our day to the brim.

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Night out with Mark.

First stop we navigated the subways and made our way to Tempozan for a fun day of activities. This little seaside village was home to one of the biggest Ferris wheels in the world – at 112 metres high. Being the daredevils we are, we opted for a clear-bottomed pod to maximise our views over Osaka and beyond! And we were not disappointed. Although we managed to break almost every rule – Hannah seemed keen on proving the strength of the structure by shaking the pod while floating at 112m above the ground – we survived unscathed.

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View from the top of the Giant Ferris Wheel.

As we’d made the effort to get to Tempozan, we thought we thought a visit to the Aquarium would be worthwhile, as it is marketed as one of the best in the world. We got to pat stingrays, and get very very close to a whale shark. Hannah was smitten with the sloth, and I was impressed with the Great Barrier Reef exhibit which I’m pretty sure looks better than the real deal these days!

A quick train trip back into the centre of town, we revisited Dotombori, the area we’d been in the night before, and got to see a different side of it in the light. If the streams of people flowing out of each department store entrance wasn’t enough, I couldn’t believe the size of the Starbucks – which appear on every block (literally)! The one we went into was three stories and doubled as a library. It appeared to be where students went to study, as finding a seat was impossible! Move over libraries, Starbucks is taking over the world!

As we watched the sun go down and the lights come on, Dotombori emerged from behind the shadows, assaulting the eyes, ears and nose in true Japanese style. In the throngs of it all, however, we managed to tick off the first item on our food wish list: taco-yaki (grilled octopus dumplings).
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Doing Dotombori
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Taco-yaki (grilled octopus dumplings)

Escaping the hustle and bustle of the centre of town, we wandered to the outskirts to find the best ramen in Osaka (proved by a pretty solid line outside)! Without being able to speak Japanese, or the waiters English, we managed to navigate waiting for, ordering, and eating our desired ramen. Hannah was highly impressed by the assortment of condiments available and instantly thought back to Anna in South-East Asia. Meanwhile, after exposing where we were from, the waiter tried to explain that the store has a branch in Sydney, before giving us each a business card. So readers I’m Sydney, head to Shop 211 Dixon Street, Haymarket for some pretty serious ramen!

The next morning was particularly cold, making it quite a challenge to rip ourselves from bed. Mark had asked whether I wanted to join him for yoga but I was so cold I though my limbs might snap if I tried to bend them! Even more of a challenge though was trying to get ready around Mark who had then decided to start meditating right outside our room!

But today was our first ride on the Shinkansen (bullet trains) and once we worked out where we were allowed/supposed to sit we were under way! The world whizzed past us and before we knew it we were in Hiroshima. Remembering back to the books I’d studied in year 12, the city began to come alive. We managed to stumble upon a sightseeing loop bus that wad covered by our train passes, and from there ventured across the city – the Atomic Bomb Dome, the Peace Memorial Park, the Flame of Peace, Children’s Peace Monument, and Peace Memorial Museum. The museum was particularly evocative and brought to life the stories I’d read at school. The atrocities of war and the evils of mankind.
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The Atomic Bomb Dome

Hannah was keen to find some okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes) for lunch and Mark had told us that Hiroshima had a distinctive style that we should try. We managed to locate a three-storey building that contained 25 stalls all selling the pancakes, and had ours cooked on a hot plate right in front of us! It was one pimped out pancake! And another tick on our food list.

With the sun quickly descending we decided to make a quick dash out to Miyajima – a small island off Hiroshisma, home of the vermillion torii (shrine gate) of Itsukushima-jinja. Racing the sun and clock, we stopped to ask some local deer for directions before reaching the torii for sunset. The deer were everywhere and watching them stick their heads into prams and wheelchairs reminded me of the monkeys in Bali. We found one very resourceful deer, however, who had decided eating his own poop was the most economical approach. Anyway! After gawking at all the girls walking around in heels and mini skirts, we trudged our way out to the torii. The tide was out so it didn’t appear to be floating like often photographed but it meant we were able to go and touch it! Even cooler!
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Oh deer! I’m lost!
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Back to the train, we used our JR pass to its maximum advantage, going in and out of the station to ensure we found the shop with the cheapest chocolate. Dragging our tired eyes and feet, we both collapsed in bed and drifted into a solid sleep.

Our last day in Osaka was bittersweet! It had started to rain and to make matters worse, it was Australia Day back home. While keeping our portable wifi close on hand and our phones tuned to the Triple J Top 100, we explored Amerika-Mura – a hip and happening district full of trendily-dressed youths in cafés. With street art covering the walls and street lamps brightly painted, we explored secondhand clothing stores and cheap dumpling restaurants ($2 for 6! That’s Cambodian prices!) in the afternoon we explored Kuromon Ichiba, the local fresh food market, where we gawked at live crabs and lobsters, fresh fruits, and pufferfish! Although we were too scared to try. Next time though! I swear!

For dinner we visited our little Pork man around the corner from us to say good bye and have one last meal. I was a piggy and asked for a big serve and then couldn’t finish, but Mr Pork just laughed at me and put it in a takeaway container. You’re the best, Mr Pork! There’s breakfast sorted.

Off to Kyoto tomorrow morning! More adventure to come!

Check out @emmabreislin on Instagram for more pictures.

E x

P.s. Congrats Chet Faker on beating Tay Tay in the top 100!

Our Osaka

A good way to test the strength of a friendship is to challenge yourself to walk from one edge of a city to the other. If you get lost, if you get hungry, if you need to pee, if you’re cold – how do you react? Do you bite each others head off and proceed to give each other the silent treatment for the rest of the day, or do you seamlessly pull it all together without a hiccup?

Forget whatever ‘they’ say. This is the true test of a friendship.

But if you require further explanation on the concept, let me tell you a story.

One day, two girls woke up in a foreign city on a grey and frosty winters morning. They rose, dressed, ate, put on another pair of socks and a few more jumpers, went outside, went back in and put another jumper on, and then set off for the day. Navigating old-school style without a phone or internet, they made it to Osaka-Jo (Osaka Castle) without a bump. Walking the walls of the castle, the selfied and they panoramed, until they were forcibly persuaded by a elderly Japanese man to walk around a small pond to reach what he told them, albeit in very very broken English, to be the best angle to take a photo. After he offered to take a photo of them ‘kissing the castle’ similar to how people hold up the Eiffel Tower or sit on the Leaning Tower of Pisa, they decided it was probably time to leave.

Absorbed in conversation, and following their noses for food, they ended up on the other side of town. A good 6km walk away. There they stumbled upon the Umeda Sky Building. One of the top twenty buildings in the world, it boasts 360 degree views over Osaka and has a glassed-in escalator between the top of the two buildings. After leaving their stomachs at the bottom of the building, the girls rode the elevator back and forth, soaking up the stunning views of the sun setting over Osaka – a city sprawling for miles.

After picking up their stomachs at the bottom, they decided they needed a feed. Stumbling across a little hole in the wall, they feasted on fresh sushi and stared at the extravagant ramen in the bowls of the people sitting around them, vouching to return for dinner before they headed out to a comedy show and some drinks later that night.

Before I waffle on for days, the moral of the story is that these two girls passed the friendship test. They navigated a city without Internet and without an issue.

They shall go down in history. Remember the names of the two best best friends in the world. Hannah and Emma.

E x

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