Back in Japan – Day 4 (Osaka)

We’re staying in Osaka today! fireworks go off The enthusiasm was primarily because after a gruelling two days which covered Kyoto, Hiroshima and Miyajima, we were grateful for the extra time to sleep and I was also excited by the prospect that today may be the day we got to wear a Kimono or Yukata in Japan, something I passed on last time I was here. We continued our bread basket breakfast tradition and finally tried the black lychee looking fruit. Verdict – not lychee but close enough? We also continued our post-breakfast walk around the hotel before finally getting ready to board the bus for our day in Osaka.

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Discovering magical things on our early morning promenades

It was a fantastically hot day, defying the weather report, with bright blue skies and a burning sun which made us question if it had really rained the day before. Our first stop was Osaka Castle. The Osaka Castle, built and fortified by Hideyoshi as never before, only for his chief retainer, Ieyausu of Nijo Castle, to burn down the castle is the Summer War after which Hideyoshi’s son committed suicide. Being a castle, it’s surrounded by deep moats, which means it was a long walk to the castle through the tree-lined paths kindly gracing us with their shade.

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In the shade of trees

The walk was unexpectedly crowded, with throngs of people pouring in and it was only when we reach the inner bailey that we realized a colourful and lively event going on was what had attracted all the crowd. Above the crowd, the white castle sits on a sheer base of giant quarried stone, from which it rises with its characteristic green tiled roofs tipped with golden shachihoko. While I was busy being stunned by the size of the rocks, we were handed our tickets and were ready to explore the castle. We walked up the steps of the stony base, grateful for the mist spraying over our heads in an attempt to ward of the ever-increasing heat.

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Osaka Castle resting on its base of rocks

At the entrance, we found two lines – one for anyone who cared to climb up the 8 storeys to the observation deck, and one for those who preferred to take the elevator upto the 5th floor. We stuck to the elevator, avoiding the stairs like the plague to ensure ma didn’t have another Sunrise Peak episode. The 5th floor houses the folding screen depicting the Summer War in Osaka and while photographs are permitted here, photography is prohibited on the 3rd and 4th floors which house the more interesting parts of the exhibition such as portraits of Hideyoshi (who we’d now become eager to see having heard so much about him), real Japanese armour and intricate scale models of Osaka Castle during different rules. What I didn’t get to see however was the Golden Tea Room its walls and ceiling and even the utensils used for tea, all covered in gold leaf.

As we walked down to the second floor, we stumbled upon… a costume experience, where we found one of our tour buddies getting dressed up as a samurai, complete with helmet and battle coat! We decided to join in the fun (Z abstained) and ma and I dressed up in colourful kimonos! Of course, the kimonos were far too large for me, and I was reminded of my internship days where the guys on site declared that 3 of me could fit into the smallest pair overalls they had for me… they weren’t wrong -_- It was so much fun getting dressed up in a jiffy kimono, sash, flower in our hair (read hijab) et al and then asking Z to be our photographer ^^

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No the flowers on our faces are NOT part of the costume

Back on the first floor, we bagged another commemorative coin (I know you’re getting curious but you’ll have to patient and wait till the end of this series to see the final tally) and a couple of postcards. We didn’t have much time to linger since we had to negotiate the steps back down and eventually we all assembled under the shade of a tree, armed with a rainbow of crushed ice flavours, from traditional melon to exotic Blue Hawaii in an attempt to ward of the heat.

As we began our long walk back to the bus I realized just how much of the castle gardens we had left undiscovered. What we had seen around us was breathtakingly beautiful and I began to wonder what a spring picnic on the castle grounds would feel like. Magical I suppose, surrounded by the plum blossoms. There was just something so peaceful about the grounds despite the throngs of people and I just wanted to lie down and stare up at the canopy tracing out the shapes of the different leaves against the sky.

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So much left to discover as we say goodbye

I couldn’t do that though, less out of fear of what constitutes propriety in public, and more because we were hastening on to our next stop- the recently opened Osaka Museum of Housing and Living. The bus dropped us off at a street corner from where we walked towards the museum entrance past photo studios, where Z picked up more film for his Polaroid, and beautiful salons promising to leave you looking like a plucked chicken. We picked up out tickets at the museum entrance and began our tour not quite knowing what to expect.

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Edo Period Osaka

As it turned out, the museum is designed such that you can experience life in Edo period Osaka by walking down streets lined with shops and houses and doing so in a kimono if you should like to get into character. We decided to forgo the cosplay having dressed up already, but Z decided to give it a shot only to find out that they were out of kimonos! Our first view, as we started from the top, was an overhead view of the wooden buildings lining the streets with tiled roofs and a buzzing walkway filled with people dressed up in kimonos. We made our way down and took a step back in time. We found ourselves peeping into schoolrooms and theatres, workshops and homes, staring at lions and dolls, lanterns and ukiyo-e. The best part of our meanderings was when the lights went dark, a deep rumbling of thunder was heard and the flashes of ‘lightning’ could be seen the overcast sky.

We left the night behind on the 9th floor and stumbled across the beautiful beginnings of the Hermann Harp Concert. We lingered there listening to the familiar classical chords before entering what I could call a modeller’s heaven, where intricately detailed models of Osaka were displayed through the Meiji, Taisho and Showa periods. Even some of the models, like the Tsutenkaku and Luna Park had a complete 24 hour cycle, with skies changing and lights turning on and off. I would have loved to just sit there to be able to fully appreciate the detail put into every model. We left the 8th floor, past old TV sets and telephones that made me appreciate the world of OLEDs and smartphones all the more.

The true gold mine, though, came as we left the displays behind and entered the museum shop, which happily housed every kind of model I would potentially want to ever buy. Had I been a smart shopper, I would have exercised self-restraint and waited to head to a tax-free store to make my purchases, but on trips like this, where you’re not sure which models will be available easily, you tend to buy them as you see them. I picked up all my favourites, not wanting to regret missing them later and in doing so pretty much cleared out my mum’s wallet, having left my own behind in the bus. Oops. The museum had one other thing going in its favour – it was the place my mum discovered the healing refreshment of a cold Sparkling Apple Minute Maid.

After all that shopping and sparkly goodness we headed for lunch at the dubiously named Bulls at the OCAT mall.  Not one for experimentation what with my tissue paper colon, I wasn’t sure quite what to expect for our Japanese sukiyaki lunch. We stepped in to the restaurant and were met with a familiar sight- a simmering pot sat on our table accompanied by a plate of fine cuts of beef and an assortment of vegetables waiting to be boiled.  I was taken back to our Shabu Shabu adventure of 2015, which had been a resounding success for everyone, myself excepted again thanks to the uncooperative colon. My heart sank in the soy souce and sugar broth and even Fanta grape, which tastes exactly like my favourite childhood cold medication Dimetapp couldn’t help. However, I was determined not to write off the lunch without first giving it a try. Interestingly, the final touch in sukiyaki is to dip your cooked meat and veggies in raw egg before eating. Since eggs are my enemy, I skipped the last step and found myself , to my own surprise, enjoying the meat more than the veggies. Since we had half a day to go, I couldn’t overdo it though, so I was ecstatic when the noodles came out. Those noodles in that broth were absolutely divine. Lunch turned to be a spectacular success, and for those unsure of the raw egg, they had seized the opportunity and channeling their inner chef had simply mixed the egg in with their broth to cook it instead. cue slow applause

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Halal Sukiyaki Set!

There wasn’t much to see at the OCAT mall, so after a short restroom and prayer break we headed to the famous Dotonbori street. While it’s famous for its food and nightlife, we were heading there for neither of the aforementioned things, having just had lunch and it being afternoon. We ended up strolling down the food street, past dazzling mouth watering 食品サンプル displays and storekeepers all vying for our attention. There were game arcades, in which we ran in to our せんせい in the middle of an intense drumming session. Food, games, shopping – Dotonbori has it all.

As the summer sun began to bear down on us quite unbearably heating the asphalt of the road, we found ourselves making our way into souvenir and department stores to escape the heat. We went in to escape the heat, and came out with more models, at great prices I may add. By the time we all assembled at our rendezvous point under Osaka’s famous crab, we were all ready to hit Abeno Harukas for some much needed air-conditioning and to rest our feet.

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Abeno Harukas

We weren’t interested in seeing much at the mall, except the observatory and rooftop gardens. For others however, this was the place they’d finally get their hands on Japan’s famous cheesecake so while cheesecake lovers headed on to wait in line for some strawberry goodness, we went straight up to the rooftop gardens, to which we discovered entrance was free, for some well-deserved R&R and some great views of the city.

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Relaxing at the rooftop garden

We rested in the sanctuary of the garden for a long time, until the humidity forced us back inside. We’d already picked up our commemorative coin, so it was now all about finding a much-needed coffee shop. This would prove to be no easy feat. The evening had brought with it the crowds so we were struggling to find a single coffee shop with seats available as well as being sidetracked by all the alluring shop displays. From photo studios with the most gorgeous kimonos on display available to try on, to beautiful and delicately hand painted wallets and lanterns, from the promise of massive discounts at Loft to the more practical allure of black full face visors, the likes of which we had seen runners using at Osaka castle – there were plenty of distractions around until we finally descended to the same floor as our rendezvous point and found a seat at Muji Cafe.

By the time we reached the cafe, we were thoroughly exhausted and I felt like I had completed a marathon, despite this not having been the most hectic day of our itinerary. Coffee, tea and dates were very much in order and thankfully dinner was in the same complex, somewhere down below at an Indian place called Ganges. We had super spicy kebabs and tender boneless chicken tikka with papad as appetisers, so by the time the butter chicken and naan came out I was already feeling full. Oops. Z had been relegated to the gents’ table, so we ended up having dinner with our buddy from our list trip and her mum who’d joined her this year just as our had! We shared pictures, exchanged stories and by the end of it all agreed it was time to get a good night’s sleep.

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Time to head home

We had to pack up as soon as we reached the hotel, because we were going to be checking out in the morning – all set for our luggage to be shipped to Tokyo while we went on to Nara.

Missed Day 3 Part 2 in Miyajima?

Check out Day 5 in Nara!

Back to Japan – Day 3 Part 2 (Miyajima)

After a restroom and prayer break, it was time to round up and head for lunch. But not before most of the group got themselves ice-cream, because ice-cream before lunch is the correct way to go about planning dessert. You cannot ever leave dessert for after a meal because there’s never any tummy space left! Except of course if you’re blessed with two separate tummies, one for food and one for dessert ^^ It was a much needed ice-cream to be honest, because it had suddenly become rather warm, and despite the overcast skies, there was a glaring sun following us as we walked to a halal Turkish lunch at Karsiyaka (which incidentally also offers belly dancing shows). The food was great and it felt good to finally not be split up in to an awkward number of tables, because it allowed us to enjoy some fun lunch conversations and get to know our tour buddies some more. I ended up meeting someone who loves cooking and was fascinated by the soft warm bread we’d been served and also shares my love for Korean. After a filling lunch followed by hot tea and a prayer break, we were ready to board the bus for a long scenic drive to the ferry terminal so we could go to Miyajima.

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Peek-a-boo! The store across from our restaurant

We missed our scheduled ferry (oops) despite a mad dash, and had a short wait before the next ferry arrived. The trip takes only about 10 minutes, but it reminded me so much of our first ferry ride in New Zealand to Waiheke. We chose to spend our ten minutes not in the comfort of the air conditioning, but outside watching the tree covered island approach us. The sky was filled with clouds, which meant that the water looked varying shades of grey, only blue when the sun would break through the cloud cover for a brief cameo. From up on the deck we began to see the familiar vermilion of the Great Torii Gate of the Itsukushima Shrine grow brighter as we approached.

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First view of the Great Torii Gate from the ferry

The ferry docked and as we trooped out, we were surprised to find so many deer on the island. It was a sight I only expected to see in Nara, but unlike Nara, the deer here are wild and people have been explicitly told not to feed or approach them. We couldn’t do much about the deer that approached us, though, except admire them and acknowledge that the creators of Bambi had done a really good job. The deer were lazing around on the hot and humid summer day, along the path that wound around the island, the Mikasanohama beach on one side and tiny shops with beautiful storefronts on the other.

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Feeling lazy… please don’t judge me

The high humidity coupled with the still weather meant it was a slow walk up to the stone Torii on the way to the Shrine, but from there we got our first good view of the 60 ton Great Torii Gate majestically rising out of the water.

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Passing under the grey stone torii

I was amazed to learn that the pillars of the gate aren’t embedded in the ground at all; rather, the Torii stands in the sea by merit of its weight only. It is a structural wonder and it’s amazing that the salt water hasn’t worn out the columns over the years. While the tide was’t high, it was also not low enough for us to walk to the gate- enough for a shallow swim, maybe. I would have loved to walk up to the gate to see the columns up close. Imagine standing under the torii, the blue of the sea on one side and the green tree covered mountains framed on the other.

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View of the Great Torii Gate

We continued on towards the shrine, walking up the wooden pier to the Hitasaki lantern, aligned perfectly with the Great Torii Gate. We lingered there, unable to take our eyes off the 16m structure rising from the sea. It had once been considered disrespectful to build structures on the island (considered the dwelling place of Gods), which is why the shrine lies on the beach and the Torii in the water, but now, custom has given way to commerce.

We were now pressed for time, and found ourselves rushing through the corridors connecting various buildings that comprise the shrine, lined with barrels of sake, reminiscent of the walk up to the Meiji Jingu Shrine in Tokyo.

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Colourful barrels of sake line the corridors

We had no time to stop at the beautiful red five storey Pagoda that contrasts so beautifully with the deep green of the trees and no time to look for souvenirs. We had just enough time to stop at a vending machine to pick up a cold grape Fanta before rushing back to the ferry terminal. By this time, the weather had turned unbearably stuffy. Sweat dripping down our shirts we gathered at the terminal, which unfortunately for us had no air conditioning which meant we had to resort to our trusted hand fans and towels soaked in cold water to keep us cool. The weather seemed to have suddenly turned as hot as the day we had visited Nagoya Castle back in 2015, when my face had turned varying shades of tomato thanks to the suppressive heat. I do not like feeling and looking like an oven-baked tomato. We had to wait longer than we expected, as some people had understandably taken the wrong path back. Luckily for us, there was enough space in the air-conditioned cabin on the ferry to recover from our sprint and from there we finally emerged to watch the shores of the green island recede in our wake and the ferry approach the shore of the mainland.

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Back on shore

There was a much needed ice-cream break at this point, but not being able to have milk, I would much rather have taken ma and gone for a much needed foot massage at the foot spa we discovered next to the bus stop.

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Did someone say lemon-scented foot massage?

It was an hour long ride back to the Hiroshima Station, during which most of us collapsed into a coma. We made just one stop and that was to collect our halal bento boxes from WaO Bento for an exciting dinner on the Shinkansen. We pulled up to the station and the distribution of bentos began before we headed inside. We were well ahead of time, which meant there was enough time to explore the shops before going up to the platform. Ma was visibly exhausted, and while there were no seats to be found in the waiting room, we managed to find some empty seats at the platform so she could rest her feet. The Shinkansen pulled in and we all collapsed in our seats, grateful for a long and restful ride. Despite our exhaustion, we all had a great time with our bento boxes. Our guide had explained as we were waiting on the platform, that the bento boxes were self-heating, which meant we’d be having a nice hot dinner on the train. We opened up our boxes, removed the plastic wrapping and pulled the cord to start the heating process, while we read the menu.

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Yummy yummy in my tummy

I thoroughly enjoyed the vegetables with the rice and even the chicken tasted good. Though I couldn’t experiment with much else, it was a filling enough meal. Ma didn’t even venture to open her bento (even with her reduced sense of smell, she couldn’t take the smell of the chicken) and so we had an unopened bento left. We kept forgetting that with our appetites, we should only ever have one meal and share it between the two of us, rather than waste all that good food.

Finally back in Osaka, we purchased our tickets for our connecting train back to the hotel and by 10pm we were finally home, well and truly exhausted. Luckily, the next day we’d be in Osaka

Missed Day 3 Part 1 in Hiroshima

Check out Day 4 in Osaka!

Back to Japan- Day 2 (Kyoto)

Rise and shine! We woke up to the sound of our 5.30am alarms and started the day by testing out our newly purchased pre-travel impulse buy – a clothes steamer – on our highly crumpled but summer friendly viscose shirts. Verdict – meh…

In the light of the day, we were truly able to appreciate just how spacious our room was, far more spacious than our double room at Kyoto or Tokyo during our last trip had been with enough room for 3 people to get ready without getting in each others’ way. By 6.30am, we were ready to descend on our breakfast buffet. There was plenty of bakery goodness to go around, so we filled up on an assortment of breads, croissants and waffles topped with a variety of jams and sugary sweet maple syrup to get us through the day – until we met our next halal meal.

But why waste time with mundane things like breakfast when there’s an entire city waiting at your doorstep to be explored? (Okay. Scratch that. If halal food isn’t easy to come by, please don’t skip breakfast- eat like the world can wait at your doorstep). We left breakfast and headed straight downstairs to explore the streets of Osaka before our Kyoto adventure began. The weather, as it had been the previous night, was divine, with a slight spattering of rain which was enough to prompt us to duck into the nearest 7/11 and arm ourselves with umbrellas. Z was already well-supplied thanks toオサマさん’s generosity from the last trip. Even his umbrella seems to have received army training, as we discovered when Z finally got an opportunity to use it – it’s enough to maim anyone who gets in the way. ^^

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Walking in the rain ❤

Umbrellas in hand, we walked down the street lined with trees coming to life after spring, watching the brick pavement turn a dark red with the soft drizzle. There were of course, the obligatory  vending machines and Pachinko Parlour across the street, but more remarkably, a solitary tree reaching for the sky in the centre of a mini green haven squeezed between the mass of buildings across from Tully’s Coffee. A sudden reminder that is there more to life beyond the concrete jungle.

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First vending machine spotted

We walked back to the hotel, enjoying our umbrellas and the rather empty streets at that time of day, to rendezvous with the group for a headcount before we boarded the bus to Kyoto. It was an hour long ride at best, but was enough to give some of us some much needed shut-eye, others the opportunity to take in the fleeting scenery trapped outside our windows and others some background about our first stop – the famous Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, courtesy Kaoru せんせい who was our bona fide tour guide / source of historical information, myths and legends this time around. (Our guides from the last trip were apparently too unnecessarily verbose to handle a second time.) The last time we were here, I feel like I didn’t really understand the purpose of the shrine but this time we were treated to not just the history of the shrine, but the legend behind it.

An archer seeks to shoot a mochi which transforms into a beautiful swan and lands at a place where rice begins to grow in abundance. A sign from the gods to the archer, a shrine is erected dedicated to Inari, the god of rice. 

The shrine grew further in popularity when Toyotomi’s Hideyoshi’s (the first general to unite Japan) mother’s prayers for his success at this shrine were answered, as he went from peasant to ruler. More the sincerity of the person praying than the location of the prayer, I would think. The popularity of the shrine soared still when his mother fell ill and Hideyoshi prayed at the same place for his mother to recover, which she did, upon which he donated a large torii seen still at the entrance to the shrine. For every prayer answered, it seems a torii is donated, costing upwards of a million yen, and a winding path of bright orange toriis numbering in the thousands now lines the way up the mountain.

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The Romon Gate donated by Hideyoshi

While we didn’t make the long trek all the way up the mountain, we went through the first set of vermillion gates, each engraved with the name of the person who had donated it, along with the date of donation. Coming from a culture where giving is done in such a way that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand has given, I wondered then, for whose benefit the engraving was- the already all-knowing gods, strangers or a self-serving ego?

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The names etched in history

We managed to make our way up without a lot of rush, and were able to take some time to see the votive tablets with a variety of faces drawn on, most notably the one with the dollar symbol for eyes. Our path down was also nice and empty, which meant we had a lot of time to browse the souvenir stores at the base, something we’d missed before. I picked up some bookmarks, Z his staple crushed ice which he was loth to share with ma, and as they both got shoo’d out of the store for eating at the entrance where I was buying magnets, we concluded that we didn’t have much else to buy, apart from corn on the cob for ma ^^ We left everyone up near the shops and decided to make better use of our time by walking back down to the main torii, which was a long walk, and waiting for everyone at the base from where we could go together to the bus.

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At Fushimi Inari

We caught sight of some of the group shopping for drinks at the store opposite us, but there was no one else around. Z went back up to where we’d left everyone to investigate only to find no one there either. Not one to panic, he decided we’d just wait some more and he’d go check again. That too was to no avail. By this time ma was feeling unexpectedly unwell and we sat down at the base of a stone lantern next to some Japanese American tourists who’d brought their kids to experience Japan. We decided to callせんせい only to realize that we didn’t have a calling plan and she didn’t have a data plan. My data was switched off (force of habit thanks to exorbitant rates back home if you’re not on a plan like moi) and as soon as I switched it on, I got a message from せんせい’s daughter asking where we were. We came to realize that everyone had already headed back to the bus, without either of us realizing that we’d passed each other on the way. We quickly retraced our steps to the train line, which is where we met せんせいand her friend, a elderly student from university helping us out on Day 2, who were out looking for us. The bus was not too far away, thankfully, and we made it at last. One good thing that came out of the experience was that it prompted us to form a Whatsapp group, since most of us had gone for the data plan, where everyone could keep track of each other. ^^

The next familiar stop was the Golden Temple, Kinkakuji. If there’s one place I wouldn’t mind visiting again and again on any possible future trips to Japan, it would be the Golden Temple, in all its seasons. Luckily for us again, there wasn’t much rush, so we were able to not just enjoy the breathtaking golden temple sitting atop a lake, reflecting the grey overcast sky and the bright green foliage not yet back into its full summer swing, but also didn’t have to spend any effort in vying for precious photo space in the hope of catching a picture without random strangers in it.

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The crown that is the Golden Temple

The beauty of the temple, having now become a tourist attraction, is marred by the mindless babble of tourists and yet, there is still serenity to be found in the immaculately maintained gardens with their pristine landscaping. To me, the temple is simply the delicate finishing touch added to an incredible feat of landscaping that completes the picture of tranquility.

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The grounds of the temple

As we moved to leave, our attention was drawn to a rather secluded area with a relatively less worn pathway that led to a 600 yr old pine tree, being painstakingly shaped over time. It is a labour of love, knowing the tree will outlive all your plans for it and you will never know what it will look like when it’s ready to let go.

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The 600 year old dwarf pine tree still being shaped

It’s always to soon to say goodbye to this place and as we walked past the soothing sound of water breaking on rocks and a single maple with its leaves already rushing to turn red as though beckoning the autumn, I’m resolved to go back. We took a not-so-quick bathroom break, because this apparently is where all the tourists disappeared, and were finally ready to satisfy our bellies as much as we had our eyes, with a Persian/Asian lunch at a halal restaurant which ambiguously hosts belly dancing shows at night. As some of our group mentioned, the food’s halal and everything else is just iffy.

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Walking up to lunch ^^

The kebab and rice were just right and ma was happy to be having non-sticky rice, like she’s used to and we managed to nearly polish off both plates cue applause, only to find out that there was pizza next. Oops. Our tour guide stepped in to speed up the slow service by serving us herself, despite our many protestations to leave waitressing to the waiters and join us instead for lunch. A lively discussion ensued over lunch, with the two elderly gentleman from university who were accompanying us for the day, regarding the demographic diversity of the UAE. It seemed difficult for them to grasp the fact that despite 5/6 people in the UAE being foreigners from all corners of the world, we all get along rather well and our circle of friends is not limited to our own compatriots, but is as diverse as a rainbow. The discussion was then cut short as we began introductions. It turned out that the overwhelming majority of people were looking forward to going to Mt. Fuji the most. For me, however, the allure of this trip lay in visiting Hiroshima. For all the things I’d read and watched about the devastating impact of the bombs, I needed to see for myself the miraculous recovery of a city which stands as a reminder that while wounds may heal and scars may fade, the lessons learnt must never be allowed to fade from living memory.

Our next stop, after a filling lunch, was Nijo Castle, home of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the man who laid siege to Osaka Castle and was responsible for the death of Hideyoshi’s son who he had once been asked to protect. The castle is famous for its Nightingale floors which creak and sing at the slightest step, a primitive and rather annoying, though highly effective, security system. As we walked to the castle gate, we crossed the water filled moat, where bright green algae had started to deceptively cover the water surface, making it look more like a lawn than a deep moat.

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Ornate carvings, and gold decoration mark the entrance to the castle

The walk to the castle entrance is short and we had to take off our shoes before we began roaming the corridors filled with musty smell of wood I love so much. An audio guide is available, but we were pressed for time, so we just walked through the halls, reading the descriptions about each room we came across. Despite our softest footsteps, the floorboards were not to be deceived, and after a while we got used to the chirping at our feet. The castle and its nearby buildings were under renovation, and a much needed renovation it is. The murals on the wall were visibly water-damaged, which is probably why photography has been prohibited- in an attempt to prevent further deterioration from flash photography. It was interesting to stare up at the ceiling as we walked, and we noticed that the ceiling in each hall and corridor was unique – carved in a different pattern, and painted in different colours.

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Nijo Castle surrounded by trees

While the paint has begun to fade, restoration efforts should be able to restore the castle to its former glory.  On that positive note, we went to the souvenir shop and rest area to hunt down our commemorative coin and with that mission accomplished, we resisted the temptation of absolutely delicious looking ice-creams, and headed back to the bus.

We were scheduled for a quick one hour shopping stop at Hanamikoji, before returning to Kyoto. Too much to see, too much to buy and too little time was the presiding sentiment, so we set off like runners on a hundred meter sprint to take in all there was to see. From confectionary stores with sweets so cute you can hardly bring yourself to eat them, to stores dedicated to hair accessories in a dazzling rainbow of colours to match your kimono or yukata, everything was super kawaii. Somehow I even managed to stumble upon the Papernano samurai model kit that was on my list of must-bring-back-from-Japan-or-else list, along with the tools. With that happy haul, we were all set to head back to Kyoto for dinner.

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Time to Okinomiyaki at Osaka Botejyu

Dinner was Okinomiyaki – quite a mouthful, both the name and the food itself. We all settled in, already excited at the sight of the large metal hot plate embedded in our tables, a collection of sauces waiting to be tried and the prospect of cooking our own dinner. Our excitement was suddenly dampened, when we discovered that the waitress had come out with the bowl for the okinomikyaki with pork strips on the side. Serious consultations ensued between both Kaoru and Kishida せんせい and the restaurant owner to establish if our meal was actually going to be halal or not. Dinner there looked like it was going to be off the cards, but after much discussion, to our relief, dinner was back on after assurances that that specific meal was meant for someone else, and that our meals would be completely halal.

We were now ready for some fun. Our bowls came out, filled with something white and shredded, a prawn (or was it shrimp? This is going to take me much longer to figure out than my childhood confusion of chicken and meat) and raw egg as a topping.

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Getting ready to get our hands dirty (figuratively of course) ^^

I realized that I shouldn’t be having any egg and with the help of Kaoru せんせい managed to get another bowl, sans egg. The white shredded “something else” in the bowl turned out to be cabbage, enemy of my fragile fidgety colon. Sigh. With that, it meant dinner had turned from a foodie adventure into a cooking experience for me, which I didn’t really mind seeing as how we had sandwiches left over from last night, with plenty of cheddar cheese. The waitress came and with Kaoru せんせい began to demonstrate how to make our exotic looking dish. It turns out, there’s a right way to make this- remove prawn/shrimp who is just getting in the way, stir ingredients in bowl exactly 10 times before scooping half the mixture on the hot plate and flattening into a nice round pancake, add pesky prawn/shrimp with his tail sticking out only to bury him under the remaining half of the mixture so you don’t dwell (rather I don’t dwell) on how many legs he has, then flip 3 times to ensure everything is cooked through and through before lathering the top with an exciting assortment of sauces, mayonnaise and optional dried fish flakes for maximum yumminess.

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The final product a la Kaoru せんせい

We had a lot of fun making our okinomiyaki pancakes, and even though our eggless cabbage batter failed to rise into a fluffy omelette like pancake we made it nonetheless, flipping et al, which was probably the trickiest part of the whole business, with pancakes falling apart and others falling on other people’s culinary works of art. Ma and I ended up just sampling the taste, ordered coke and were pleasantly surprised when the noodles came out. Now the noodles, we could eat, which was a welcome change for me since during my last trip I couldn’t even have that! Even though I’m not a seafood person, something I’m actively trying to change in our cat, I had the noodles carefully removing any suspicious seafood-y bits. Having filled up on the tasty noodles, we were presented with transparent jelly-like mochi dessert topped with some soy powder that mum loved and I found to taste again- suspiciously like seafood.

Despite the way dinner had started out, it ended on a high note, not just because of the experience, but just as we were winding down, we were offered complimentary orange juice to make up for it. Not just that, but the restaurant owner herself came out to apologize and even offered us complimentary bottles of tea to take home with us. I passed, because I felt so bad that she felt so bad.

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Heading home

Back at the hotel, ma and I had our sandwiches with cheese and the remainder of the night was spent unpacking for the big day – Hiroshima, another futile attempt at steaming out those stubborn wrinkles and much needed showers before we finally hit the sack at 11pm.

I’m beginning to miss Aegi and Haya ❤

Missed out on Day 1?

Check out Day 3 in Hiroshima