Thursday, September 9, 2010

Newlyweds in Nippon: Kansai-Chugoku

As we left Tokyo on the shinkansen that Saturday morning - we traveled back in time to a more traditional, more historical Japan: Kyoto.

I cannot say enough about how awesome the Capsule Ryokan we stayed at was. The owner greeted us at the door (in very good English, I might add), and showed us how our room worked. Yes, the room required explanation. It even came with a binder of instructions! Every Sak's dream room!

It was a tatami mat room with futons, with a secret storage area for luggage. There was a shower, which I'm fairly certain was really an alien transporter. And when you opened the bathroom door - the toilet lid popped up!
Oh - and did I mention there's a SINK on top of the toilet?!

Amazing. So just like last time, I spent an embarrassing amount of time playing with the toilet again.

Anyway, we started off our tour-of-a-billion-temples with a "hearty" breakfast.
Or rather, a heart-attack breakfast. It was two pancakes, held together with syrup, which was corralled into the middle by a giant ring of margarine. Artery-clogging, super-sweet deliciousness.

We checked out Nishi and Higashi Hongwanji, famous Buddhist temples.
We grabbed a day bus pass, and rode the tourist-line to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, famous for it's scenic hillside location. In between temple-visiting, we ate the local specialty - green tea, in the form of cold noodles and ice cream! Finally, we checked out the zen temples of gold (Kinkaku-ji) and silver (Jinkaku-ji) - which were quite popular for "Kodak moments". And turtles.
And since we had a little more time left that day, I pulled out our touristy map and pointed to this funny picture of a monkey and a mountain.

"I want to go there!" I stated. Monkey Mountain, I called it.
Well, it really is a mountain. And to say it was a huge strenuous climb at the end of an already long day was an understatement. Not to mention the place closed in thirty minutes, meaning we had to high-tail it up 75 meters. The first real test of our marriage was whether or not to kill penga for insisting on such a crazy and painful idea. But eventually we made it to the top of Arashi-yama (mountain).

And I was not disappointed.
There were Japanese Macaques everywhere! But you can't look them in the eye, or else they will attack you. Sak, having fear-of-monkey instilled in him from a very young age, grew very anxious, and insisted we go inside the "safe" area of Iwatayama Monkey Park. Well, even cooler - you can feed them from inside! Centuries of historical significance aside, I still think this is the coolest thing we did in Kyoto. But, to appease scared husband - after climbing down the mountain we indulged on some fried onigiri (rice balls) from a vending machine by the river. Food is so fun in Japan.
The next day we went back to metropolis life - to the city of Osaka. We walked down the Namba shopping district, which was amazing and oh-so-very-long. We ate okonomiyaki and takoyaki, regional favorites. We went to the Osaka Aquarium, where I saw whale sharks and giant crabs for the first time.

And I visited my very first Japanese castle, Osaka-jo. Which, by the way, incited some sort of castle-fever in me. Sak had only planned on visiting one castle. We ended up going to seven. I love castles. While in Kansai/Chugoku regions, we also visited Himeji and Hiroshima castles. Himeji (on the left) is considered the "best" castle in Japan, since it has not been reconstructed (most have burned down, or were bombed in WWII), but the main keep was closed due to reinforcement work.

After Osaka, it was off to Hiroshima. What I now consider to be the most depressing and emotionally "heavy" place I've ever been.
It sounds ignorant of me - but I didn't really care much about our (the US) involvement in WWII before my visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Of course I knew the bomb was bad and killed a lot of innocent people, but I was always more interested in the nuclear physics and the process in which the physicists at the time came up with the "A" and "H" bombs.
Yet through seeing the actual blood-stained clothing of small children who had literally melted from the heat, and the wax figures of their skin dripping off as they attempted to walk home to their parents - my shallow knowledge of history has changed. The preserved body parts showing the effects of cancer, the pictures of patients charred beyond recognition, and the cranes - oh, the four little pieces of paper that Sadako never got the chance to fold - it hit me very hard. The Peace Memorial Museum was a horrific and sometimes gruesome visual reminder of the cruelties of a nuclear war.

I asked Sak why in the world he would ever want to come back to the museum (he had been to it before). He replied that I would have turned around and ran right out had he not been there - and he is right. I'm glad that he helped me through it though - I have gained a new perspective, and shared in the grief that all humanity should feel for the loss of life. In this case, the loss of an entire city within the blink of an eye.

Upon exciting the museum, we walked around the park in a dazed funk, trying to process all that we had seen. We stumbled upon Sadako's monument, the famous spot where people leave their paper cranes. Renewed with a drive toward world peace, Sak and I were kicking ourselves for not remembering to bring our cranes. We had left them in Hawaii. Luckily, however - we can still send them via mail, so that's what we'll do after our second reception (courtesy of Miss Glasses' post with the address).

Too sad to be hungry or interested in doing anything - we did our laundry in the hotel and went to bed.

In order to cheer us both up, the next day we headed via ferry to the island of Miyajima, famous for it's giant torii gate which sits in the water. As soon as we arrived we were greeted by a herd of deer, anxiously waiting to sniff our pockets for signs of food.
It was low tide as we checked out the Itsukushima Jinja shrine, so we could see plenty of beachy critters.
We also visited a temple with a bonsai palm tree growing in front. You don't see that everyday. And I just had to try the local specialty of fresh grilled oysters with lemon juice and soy sauce. My mouth waters at the memory, they were so good! Sak, who decided he was not an oyster fan, let me eat his. Yay!
Once we had browsed the shops, and taken a picture next to the "world's largest rice paddle", decided to head back on the ferry. With one week left (and one post left) on our journey, it was time to ride the bullet train off to the island of Kyushu.


  1. That shower DOES look like an alien transporter! And green tea noodles?!?! I want to try that!! Was it good? Light understones of tea?

    The monkeys were cute! And how do they keep vending food fresh like that?! Do they fry it internally upon you pressing the button?

    Wow. Those deer got close! Like... they could cause some damage if you pissed one off?!

  2. Wow, check out those monkeys! I think that was the most awesome part of your trip, too :)

    I think it'd be really hard to visit the Hiroshima museum. I had a similar experience at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. Even though it's painful, I think it's important to expose ourselves to these things so we all learn from the past.

  3. These posts are too long! There is so much I want to comment on!

    1. LOVE the bathroom. I wish I could see photos of how the shower worked. You should have made Sak put on his swim suit and demonstrate. It would have been so awesome.

    2. O MY GOD MONKEYS. I HATE PRIMATES! AHHHHHHHHHHHH I understand (100%) Sak's concern with those little devils. (There is a mark on my leg to prove this.) I can't believe you survived.

    3. My boss came back from Japan last year saying that if you ever want to diet, go to Japan because the food is nasty. Unfortunately, your vending machine photos are confirming this for me. It totally creeps me out.
    (But then again I'm a huge fresh food fan so anything from a vending machine creeps me out.)

    AH, loving your honeymoon!

  4. blah! what did blogger do to all my page breaks! egads.

    @gator - sorry! i know they are long! but i'm only allowed so many honeymoon posts for the bee. T_T.

    I didn't think to take a video of the shower..I should have! it had weird jets coming out everywhere and you could use the radio and phone in the shower too. which is...rather odd.

    And wow. I can't believe you were attacked by a monkey! well, i guess i can believe it, but that's crazy! Now sak's going to be like, "see, i told you they were evil".

    And there's definitely a lack of budget fresh food, I guess. Aside from rice and noodles, which are pretty cheap. Good thing I like junk food! hehe.

    @alvina - the green tea noodles were a total hype, I think! I couldn't tell the difference from the non-green ones, but then I'm not the most discerning noodle taster either. and I think the rice balls were just frozen and then reheated when you press the button. :P not as cool as frying!

    @ppg - Yeah, i couldn't imagine how depressed i'd be going to concentration camp museum/memorials. But you are so right that it is immportant to understand the past, unedited and untrivialized.

  5. That shower does look like an alien transporter lol! Wow your honeymoon looked so awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!