Ehhh, good enough

A menacing  kitsune  at the entrance to Fushimi Inari shrine .  

A menacing kitsune at the entrance to Fushimi Inari shrine. 

Day 4 began in a cozy, warm room and it was never warmer thereafter. Knowing how warm the northwest is becoming, I truly didn't prepare for the coldness that is Kyoto. Once again, we had to deal with the terrible transportation system that doesn't really assist foreigners. So when you find out the bus isn't going where you intended you jump off and try to find an alternate route. Eventually we made it to Fushimi-Inari, a torii-filled shrine I have wanted to visit since I watched Memoirs of a Geisha. Like the days before, my foot was still in pain, but that didn't stop me from wanting to reenact one of my favorite scenes from the film. I didn't know that Fushimi-Inari was actually a shrine filled with kitsune (fox) statues as opposed to the shishi (lion dogs) at each torii (gate). Also, I didn't realize that there were multiple shrines to see along a mountain. Because it was a pretty light traverse I had ambitions on making it to the top to get a photo of the view of Kyoto, but that hope was quickly dashed as my right foot began to give out and we became pressed for time if we wanted to make it to Kiyomizudera at a decent hour. So once we reached the halfway point, there happened to be a view that I openly told Ian was "good enough for me." An English speaker heard me say this and had a laugh. Throughout the day this more or less became my quote.

The view from halfway up is good enough for me and kitty. Also, I didn't make it to Tōji temple, but I could see it. Tōji temple houses the tallest wooden pagoda in Japan. Good enough.

The view from halfway up is good enough for me and kitty. Also, I didn't make it to Tōji temple, but I could see it. Tōji temple houses the tallest wooden pagoda in Japan. Good enough.

After we left Fushimi Inari, we made our way to Kiyomizudera, that is after we stopped for some udon. Kiyomizudera is a UNESCO World Heritage site that has a brilliantly orange entrance, and was made without a single nail. In fact it's probably for this reason it was under restoration in the main area which was a bummer, but it was still beautiful from what I could tell. Other notable mentions in Kiyomizudera were the shrine for business luck being a big fat black Buddha type figure, a housed horse statue with business cards thrown into the housing, a shrine for the love god Ōkuninishi symbolized by rabbits and a man with a hammer, and a tree filled with nails representing the "2am visit" death curse that women wished upon the men who betrayed them. Maybe they wouldn't have to constantly restore the building if they used some of those nails for things other than curses.

The main shrine on top, a pagoda and me with the love bun. 

The main shrine on top, a pagoda and me with the love bun. 

Once we left Kiyomizudera we continued to walk up a path filled with shrines and shops in hopes of reaching Yasaka Shrine. It's really, really easy to get distracted however when there is a shrine every 20 steps though. We found an unmanned building with weird art sculptures and the request that if you take photos that you pay the frog.

Creepy cool art.

Creepy cool art.

We passed a pagoda that I'm sure was important, but entry was barred as it seems most shrines close between 4-5pm. It seems a lot of things shut down early in Kyoto in contrast to Osaka and Tokyo, though Ian and I are sure that is due to how cold it is in Kyoto. We saw a big Buddha statue from afar that initially I wanted to see up close, but after realizing I'd need to walk a bunch to pay to see a statue that I could clearly see from afar I decided once again that my view was "good enough." We continued on and stumbled into a double-temple exhibit. One was Entoku-in and the other was Kodaiji. Entoku-in was created by Nene, the wife of Hideyoshi, to mourn his death. Samurai would pay respects by bringing Nene big rocks for her North end garden. I also got to see (but not photograph) a screen painted by the famous painter Hasegawa Tohaku.

Nene's samurai rock garden

Nene's samurai rock garden

By the time we left Entoku-in and walked over to Kodai-ji it was almost dark, but that's okay because both were lit up at night. While it would be lovely to see the garden during the day, we were surprised with the rock garden being lit up with a 2 minute show projected on the rocks and building. We then walked around the lit bamboo forest which was beautiful and reminded me of Miyazaki's The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Cherry blossoms falling over water before the dragon arrives. 

Cherry blossoms falling over water before the dragon arrives. 

Beautiful bamboo forest, no filters or editing needed.

Beautiful bamboo forest, no filters or editing needed.

We never did make it to Yasaka shrine before closing, but with all we did, it was good enough. Also, I would have liked to see Gion in the day, but again, decided it was good enough and that perhaps the night scenery was closer to the romanticized vision I have of it as there were less tourists and gift shops. Finally we ended our night with dinner at a restaurant in Gion, eating different sticks of yakitori, karaage, and drinking Mikan chuhai. It was probably my favorite meal in Kyoto so far, though none of the food in Kyoto has been bad. Definitely better than good enough.

The third stick was my favorite, wrapped in shiso with plum sauce. 

The third stick was my favorite, wrapped in shiso with plum sauce. 

"I hate Kyoto..." or at least its transportation system.

So maybe you noticed I named yesterday's post Day 2 + 3... Well, I totally forgot about day 3 because day 2 was just so jam-packed with awesome that day 3 paled in comparison. Part of that is because it was a travel day from Osaka to Kyoto. In the morning, Joe-San took us to Dotonburi with our luggage so I could go to the Ukiyo-e museum that was closed the day before. He gave us a very heartfelt goodbye and I can say out of my time here in Japan so far, meeting him has been my favorite part. Joe used to be a boxer in Korea, has two adorable daughters that I got to FaceTime with after they went to Sento with their mother, and he shared a lot of his interesting life story with us. Joe-San has great taste in noodles, too. AND he used to play part-time with my favorite Japanese rock band, Thee Michelle Gun Elephant and hosts a show on Osaka's television network every Friday night featuring musicians from Japan. One day maybe Tin Foil Cat can be on the show. 🙏🏼 His smallest daughter is already a fan!

Small plate style dining was delish

Small plate style dining was delish

We browsed through the museum and I enjoyed seeing the original woodblock prints that inspired so much if my favorite art. We then headed to Osaka station to make our way to Kyoto. The train ride was pretty short, but it took forever to get on a bus to take us to a bus stop that would let us ride a bus to our next AirBnB. The part that made it so miserable was that while Japan is filled with tourists, they seem to be a lot more pushy and rude in Kyoto. Likewise, the city just doesn't seem as friendly as Osaka, because well, Osaka really is the friendliest in my experiences in Japan so far. The destination was really only 15 minutes from the main Kyoto Station, but the public transportation system in Kyoto is far less efficient than anywhere else I've been in Japan, so it took us about an hour and a half. After we dropped our things off and took a short nap, we decided to tackle the central Tokyo area where Pontocho & Nishiki Market are since all the temples, shrines, and gardens would be closed by 5. Even this was quite a feat because all the maps in Kyoto seem to be turned every which way depending what direction you're facing, what the scale comparison is on destinations, and the fact that each bus, subway, and train company refuses to share a map system so you're stuck comparing multiple maps to see if you can reach your destination with any possibility of ease. (Yes, I know that was a horrible run on sentence.) The frustration this all caused had me constantly saying "I hate Kyoto" which is surprising when anyone I've ever met will say Kyoto is their favorite city in Japan. Another note, when in doubt about whether you're on the right bus or not, you're probably better off walking.

The main highlight of this day was our dinner. And that's pretty much it. We could have played with Bengal kittens, but we were too hungry for that.

Day 2 + 3

After staying up late with Joe-San on Monday night, we woke up around 11am and headed out to Senkouji Temple in Hirano. On the walk to the train station from Joe's house it was nice to see the shopping arcade open and full of life. In Japan, arcades are long strips of shops & restaurants, mostly owned by small business owners selling anything from convenience store items, flowers & plants, blankets, towels, souvenirs, clothes, etc. I'd venture to say there are probably never less than 100 shops.

Shopping arcades generally look like this. Also, you must constantly be on the lookout for bicyclists who speed through these walkways. 😖 

Shopping arcades generally look like this. Also, you must constantly be on the lookout for bicyclists who speed through these walkways. 😖 

Anyways, once we made our way to Hirano, it was mostly a residential area, which was nice because we could witness the day-to-day life for Osakans. Such as a little boy who clearly forgot to put out the garbage and had to chase the garbage truck down the road and then beg to be let into his house after failing to complete his task. There was also an older woman paddling her bedding as it dried over her back porch bannister. Another thing about Japan is they usually dry their clothes outside on their porches rather than have dryer machines.

When we arrived at Senkouji it was definitely one of the most unique and beautiful shrines I've seen, even in my last trip. There was absolutely no English on any reading materials, so I imagine it's mainly for Japanese folks. The temple was created sort of as a museum to teach people about the consequences of their actions and to give you a fortune if your decisions in life will lead you to heaven or hell.

So scary!! 

So scary!! 

Ultimately, the real lesson was that you are in charge of your own fate. Because I can't read Kanji, I couldn't do the quiz that would tell me my fate, so I'll just assume I need to live my life in a way that is good to others. :p My favorite part of this temple was the weird underground room that had small statues around a beautiful backlit glass floor. It reminded me of the fairy fountains in Zelda and I just imagined the Great Fairy rising up in laughter.

Please give me Farore's Wind or Din's Fire. Also, could you heal my sore ankle?

Please give me Farore's Wind or Din's Fire. Also, could you heal my sore ankle?

After we left Hirano, we headed to Dotunburi, a large shopping area on the river. When you've seen so many shopping areas in Japan, they stop being exciting. Though I still enjoy the search for unique Gashapon and food. We ended up eating some kushikatsu, deep-fried veggies & meats before embarking on a twenty minute tour of Dotunburi on the river.

LINDSEY!! Check out the climbing wall in the middle of the building in the city! I wish I could climb it with you!   As for the Glico running man, no one really knows the history, but Glico is the company who makes Pocky.

LINDSEY!! Check out the climbing wall in the middle of the building in the city! I wish I could climb it with you! 

As for the Glico running man, no one really knows the history, but Glico is the company who makes Pocky.

This was a nice break for me because the night before I started to feel pain on my right foot/ankle. Honto ni (truthfully), my foot has hurt since day one, but I can't really let it heal because there is too much I want to see in Osaka and Kyoto. I will relax it when I get to Tokyo. After our river ride, we shared a bowl of ramen with Kobe beef. You pour the hot soup over the Kobe beef slices to cook it. The ramen broth was pretty good, could be a touch saltier, but the Kobe slices were just okay to me, honestly. I still prefer chashu pork, though.

Kobe beef cooking in ramen broth.  

Kobe beef cooking in ramen broth.  

After sharing a bowl of ramen we headed to Osaka Bay Area to go to the Osaka Aquarium, which is the second biggest aquarium in the world. I know the saying goes that everything is bigger in Texas, but I beg to differ--it seems everything is biggest  in Japan. Besides boasting a huge aquarium, it also had a huge boat, the Queen Elizabeth the second that I could almost swear was the Titanic. There was also the Tempozan Ferris wheel which was even bigger than the one we rode the night before.

I meant to get a photo of this huge Goliath of a boat, but it seems I was distracted by the smaller boat with lights. 

I meant to get a photo of this huge Goliath of a boat, but it seems I was distracted by the smaller boat with lights. 

While I've been to tons of aquariums, being the daughter of a marine biologist, what made this one unique was that rather than having hundreds and hundreds of different species, each exhibit was focused on a different region of the world and created with the depths that said species were used to swimming in. For example, the area for otters would span about 2 floors, where as the area for seals was 3 floors, and for whale sharks and larger rays and hammerheads was about 4-5 floors. The main tank which housed those rays, sharks and larger fish apparently held 5,000 tons of water. Due to my foot hurting so much, I sat and watched them swim around for about 15 minutes, wishing so greatly to be able to breathe underwater so I could just sit there in the water and watch them endlessly. In fact, it seems I enjoyed this tank so much so, that I didn't even take a photo of it. Oops!

Once we wrapped up our aquarium visit, we headed to Umeda where we were the night before because we wanted to visit the sky garden on the 40th floor. It was lovely, though the name was misleading as there wasn't really a garden, just a 360 view of the city, but that was pretty nice too. Joe-San, our AirBnB host sent us a message to try a delicious Udon restaurant that is famous to tourists and locals alike. So we headed over to the house and met Nick, a Korean gentleman (that happens to take great photos) who was just checked into the home that day. Together we all headed over to the restaurant (I'll get the name of it later). As always, Joe-San was a benevolent host, driving us to our destination, and ordering his favorite item. He has known the owner for about 18 years and the owner and his wife treated us all kindly. We enjoyed chatting with them while they cooked our curry udon meals. They asked us about the election in America and who we would vote for, explaining we were fans of Bernie, the reasons why, and we all had laughs on behalf of the ridiculousness that is Trump. Finally our food arrived and it was even better than I expected. I will admit I was never a fan of udon, but this was curry udon perfection. Not too spicy, noodles the right firmness, and little pieces of fried seaweed and negi.

  By the way, this amazing meal was being enjoyed by us at about 2am. Don't you wish you could eat this in America after a few too many drinks?

  By the way, this amazing meal was being enjoyed by us at about 2am. Don't you wish you could eat this in America after a few too many drinks?

Anyways, while I was absolutely exhausted and sore, I can't think of a better way to end the evening than with good food and new friends.

Nihon niha Bōken!

Ok, I'm finally posting the beginning of my adventures in Japan (Nihon niwa Bōken). After scrambling all day to make sure I had everything I needed for my trip, I had a meal with a few of my favorite people, petted Rusti bun goodbye and was whisked away to Canadaland by my best friend, Lindsey. After arriving at the airport, I worked on my newest piece for the What's Up! April cover while waiting for the plane. I also worked on it in the Taipei airport and while in transit between Narita airport in Tokyo to Osaka. I am still working on completing it from in Japan which is great because it was highly inspired by my last trip to Japan. I'll discuss that once I can release the finished art. :)

Anyways, after about 20~hours of travel, we finally got to Osaka Station where we were picked up by Joe-san, our host at the AirBnB we chose based on fantastic artwork alone.

Joe's super cute & silly AirBnB listings!! 

Joe's super cute & silly AirBnB listings!! 

We knew immediately what fun it would be to hang out with him and from the moment he picked us up at the station, we were off to enjoy the ramen I had been craving for so long! He ordered us a spicy ramen which I was a little worried might be to spicy, but it had a miso flavor similar to that which I prepare at home with just a little extra spiciness than I would usually add. It was exactly what I wanted after such a long trip. We didn't stay up too long to socialize on Sunday night, just long enough to get unpacked and find the convenience store and shower.

Joe ordered us a couple bowls of spicy ramen and it was everything I could hope for. 🍲

Joe ordered us a couple bowls of spicy ramen and it was everything I could hope for. 🍲

The next morning, Joe planned out an itinerary with a bunch of the things Ian and I wanted to do. He and Tatsuya, his friend, picked us up and brought us to Osaka Castle. There we walked to a local train station to get the Shoryū/Amazing Pass. This pass granted us free entry to tons of places as well as free subway rides for two days. Initially, he had us on a crazy fast schedule, but we decided to take it slow and really explore the area of Osakajo. After walking up the Osaka Castle, reading the history and appreciating all the ARTifacts (sorry, I couldn't help myself, but they really did  have some incredible art), we walked around to see a view of the city. From the top I discovered there was a garden area below and I do love me some Japanese gardens! We snacked on some karaage & Kobe beef, talked to a local, and then were off to explore the garden and turret houses. I should note that between talking to the local and grabbing a snack, I found my first Gashapon machines! If you don't know what Gashapon is, it is basically my greatest obsession and money waster in Japan. Remember those toy machines in grocery stores with crappy toys/candy. Japan does it way better. It also costs a lot more (¥200-¥400 per capsule gift), but I just can't seem to control myself when it comes to these silly things.

After exploring the turret houses, we wandered over to the history museum which was closing up, and I discovered the HQ for NHK Osaka which is where Domo was created as a mascot for. We finally hopped over to Umeda to explore HEP-5 in hopes of going to the giant carousel.

The beginning of the gashapon collecting.

The beginning of the gashapon collecting.

We wandered around looking for yummy foods. The problem with walking around for food in Japan, however is that you can wander for hours. Not because there isn't any to be found, but there are almost too many options. 😖  After dinner, we shopped around and although I had insisted I wouldn't buy anything at KIDDYLAND, I was paralyzed in excitement, actually hyperventilating when I saw the huge Sailor Moon display (see cover photo.) It could very well be one of the happiest moments in my life. 😂 Needless to say, I knew I would be going overbudget on buying things, sooo I used my credit card instead. After about 45 min of browsing Sailor Moon merchandise, asking Ian if I want "this? Or this?" we finally left and made our way to the top of the HEP 5 building to ride the Ferris wheel. I won't lie, it was a little  scary riding a Ferris wheel that was hundreds of feet above hundreds of people shopping and above a train station, but it was a beautiful sight. We finally grabbed some dessert with a large chocolate cake parfait and then made our way back to Joe's house.

 

We asked if he wanted to hang out and were up til about 3am chatting. We even did a FaceTime with his children and wife who were next door while he was drinking with us. Our language barrier is sometimes difficult but I think we definitely have an amazing friend in Joe. He is very kind, has an interesting history, and is open-minded and friendly. I am looking forward to years of friendship. So that's essentially day 1-ish.

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