Monday, May 14, 2012

From Kyoto to Yudanaka

I can promise you that this blog post will be long, but I'll do my very best to keep it as concise as possible. I'll simply write briefly about my favorite things my husband and I did in each city and try to stay away from things you can read about in any random guide book.

If you can't find a good/affordable hotel in Kyoto, make sure to check the surrounding cities. We stayed in  Ishiyama, just 10 min by local train from Kyoto station. Very convenient.

We spent two full days in Kyoto (4 nights) and we were lucky enough to arrive in the middle of the sakura season (cherry blossoms). So our impression of Kyoto is very much dominated by the breath taking beauty of a city in bloom. Most guide books will lead you to important Temples, the Imperial Palace, parks, neighborhoods etc. We ran out of time before we got to the eastern parts of Kyoto, but most of the important landmarks we saw in Kyoto was well worth a visit.

One temple that was not mentioned was Otani Hombyo, located between Kyoto Station and the Kiyomizu Temple. Otani Hombyo might be no more than an average temple, but if you walk through it and into the winding streets on the left of and behind the temple (leading up to the Kiyomizu Temple), the seemingly hidden burial grounds are simply mind-blowing.

My favorite park in Kyoto was at the Toji Temple, but I have a sneaking feeling it was all due to the cherry blossoms. According to our guide book, Toji Temple is the tallest wooden structure in Japan, but else from that, it's barely worth a visit. But if you're in Kyoto during the sakura, it is utterly amazing.

Unfortunately, we had terrible weather during the one day we spent in Osaka. So, what do you do when the weather is bad? You eat and shop (or at least window shop). The most memorable thing about Osaka (not including the food) was the pod hotel we stayed at. Men and women were not allowed to stay on the same floor so it might not have been the most romantic accommodation for a couple on their honeymoon. But for the experience of it, we said our good byes and went out separate ways for the night. Next morning, I woke up, switched on the tv and to my astonishment, the Moomins were on tv (Finish book/cartoon from the mid 1940s). After one night in Osaka, our trip continued to Hiroshima (and Miyajima).

I have not been to many places where the sense of actually walking in history is as potent as in Hiroshima. After have been there I'm convinced that it is a place every person should visit at some point in their life. If you're a peace-loving person like me, it is with a very heavy heart you take part of the city's history from within its own body. Everyone knows about the nuclear bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, but when walking in the Peace Memorial Park or visiting the Peace Memorial Museum you can actually feel it.

To most people, Hiroshima will always be synonymous with the atomic bomb. To me, Hiroshima has transformed into an ambassador of Peace and a hope of a future without nuclear weapons.

When planning a trip to Hiroshima, I would recommend you to plan an extra day to explore Miyajima Island. After a short train ride followed by an even shorter boat ride, you'll find yourself on a very pretty island where tame deers run free. You should know that the deers are everywhere and they really like paper, so be careful carrying paper around or you'll end up losing parts of it to hungry forest creatures, just like I did. 

If you're short on time you can explore the Itsukushima Shrine and it's surroundings, but if you have all day, I would recommend you to walk/climb up Mount Misen. It's a decent climb and a good work-out so dress appropriately. Mind you that I did the walk wearing a maxi-dress, TOMS shoes and a leather jacket in pouring rain and was miserable during most of the climb, but I still recommend you to do it. That should speak volumes.

Yudanaka (and Shibu Onsen)
Most people choose to visit Yudanaka for one very specific reason, the Snow Monkeys at Jihokudani Yaenkoen. So did we, and  boy, are we happy we did! The Snow Monkeys hanging around their onsen (hotspring) were adorable and highly entertaining. I could have stayed there all day. Another perk of staying in the Yudanaka area were in fact the onsens. We stayed at a ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn) which had its own onsen but we also took the opportunity book a private onsen at Tomi No Yu which had a spectacular view. 

Between Yudanaka and the Snow Monkeys you'll find Shibu Onsen, a small mountain village with multiple onsens. There is a "onsen scavenger hunt" you can do (we did), but it is more than enough to aimlessly wander the streets and just enjoy the surroundings. One thing you shouldn't miss is the local sake and beer brewery. They have free tastings and sell some really nice sakes in store. 

While staying in Yudanaka, we took the opportunity to visit Obuse, a village just a few train stops from Yudanaka. In Obuse we were pleasently surprised to find the Hokusai Museum. Katsushika Hokusai is the artist behind The Great Wave off Kanagawa, which happens to be my husbands all time favorite painting. Another unexpected surprise Obuse had in store was ice-cream. The chestnut ice-cream we found was the best ice-cream I've had in my life!

Besides the Snow Monkeys, onsens and Obuse, our 4 night stay at Yudanaka would not have been the same without the amazing Mr. Ichiro Yumoto, his wife and the wonderful ryokan they ran and owned. So friendly and helpful. Mr Ichiro Yumoto drives his guests to whatever place they want to visit and he only hopes for a smile in return. So, if you ever find yourself planning to visit Yudanaka, make sure to stay at Shimaya Ryokan.

After Yudanaka, our honeymoon continued to our last and final stop, Tokyo. An eclectic city like Tokyo needs a introduction of its own. So, stay tuned, to find out more about Tokyo.

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