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Hiking Addict? Perhaps Not…

I must have been truly exhausted last night, because I fell asleep immediately and didn’t wake up until 8:30. It was oddly quiet this morning, probably because the loud and annoying Phillipino people checked out already. Despite having the most solid sleep I’ve had in a week, I still felt tired and,my body felt like a bag of bricks. I guess that’s all the walking and cycling catching up with me. I had breakfast and got ready, then set out for a flea market that the girls last night were telling me about. I wanted to get a coffee from this cafe I saw yesterday, but it was closed. So I got a chilled one from Family Mart. Like I keep mentioning, it’s becoming an addiction. I walked to the temple where the market was held, and was surprised at how big it was. It completely covered the area in front of and next to the temple grounds, as well as spilling out into the streets. The vendors were selling mostly antique things (crockery, kimono fabric, bags, that kind of thing), but there were also some pickle and vegetable sellers thrown in for good measure. One side of the market was great, but the other was kind of tacky, packed with carnival style games and fried food stalls.

After looking around and debating whether or not to buy a hand carved wooden bento, I walked back towards the main river in Kyoto, to a station called Demachiyanagi. This station is the terminal for a special train that goes up into the northern mountains of Kyoto. There are two main towns that are accessible from this train; Kibune and Kurama. It is popular to hike between the two towns via a special route that passes through forest and temples. This is what I planned to do. So I took the train up to Kibuneguchi, where I would start my hike.

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It was a funny little train. It was two cars long, and had different kinds of seats inside. There was a row of single seats, some pairs of seats facing each other, and some bench-style seats facing the window for your viewing pleasure. The train slowly made its way toward the mountain, with voice-overs every 20 seconds that said the name of the next station, and continually thanked everyone for using the train. It said everything in Japanese and English, but the English voice was really slow and annoying. It spoke English as if it was speaking to a non-English speaker. I felt like the voice was being intentionally patronizing.

The train arrived at the station and I got off and collected a free map. I was a bit disoriented, and there was nothing around, so I wasn’t really sure where I was meant to go. I knew that I could either take a bus to the main part of Kibune town, or walk for about 20 minutes. I could see the bus stop, but I wanted to walk, so I studied the map and eventually worked out where I was meant to go. It was much colder up in the mountains, and I wondered if wearing shorts was such a good idea. I had been walking for about 5 minutes when it started to rain. Not heavily, just a shower, kind of. Just my luck, I thought, but it didn’t last very long, and I didn’t get very wet. The walk to the town took 20 minutes, as expected, and was just along a paved road that wound around the hills and followed the river. I was amazed at how tall the cedar trees were, and how clear the river’s water was. The town wasn’t really much of a town, more of a small collection of noodle restaurants and a shrine. And, being Monday, most things were closed. It started to spit again, and I sheltered underneath an overhanging roof to eat lunch. There was a bench there, which belonged to a restaurant that wasn’t open, so I sat on that. I ate a new kind of salad, with sweet potato, walnuts, pumpkin, hijiki and burdock root mixed in with the salad. And I had an ebi-may sushi roll, which I am now a pro at unwrapping (it’s tricky the first time because they are always wrapped so that the rice and nori don’t touch.) Then I was still hungry, and wished I had brought another onigiri as well. I thought there might be yaki-mochi vendours or homemade onigiri stalls in the town, but there weren’t. I did, however, come across a guy selling all kinds of daifuku, so I bought one that was famous in the area, which was brown and filled with tsuba-anko. Super tasty!

Feeling slightly better after finding the daifuku, I set off on the hike to Kumara. You have to pay 200 yen to enter the trail, but I have no idea why. The sun had come out (although temporarily), and the forest was incredibly beautiful. The trail was also very steep. It went straight up, and I was panting after about three minutes, thinking how am I going to do this?! I remembered reading about the hike online, and I remembered reading that it’s intimidating at first, but soon levels out. Intimidating, it certainly was! I passed a few people coming down, who told me gambatte! (do your best!) After a while, I got to a small shrine, which also featured this sign…

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1915 meters to the main gate at Kurama. That doesn’t sound that far, but you have to remember that this is a climb, not a paved, flat path. I just kept thinking of my grandfather, and how he would be proud if I finished all these hikes that I set out to do. I also thought of my dad, and how he’d want me to keep going and do my best, and never give up. I make it sound like the hie was impossible, but really  it wasn’t that bad. The first bit was steep, but only enough to make my heart rate rise, not enough that I needed climbing picks and ropes. Don’t get the wrong idea here people.

The next section of the course featured a whole heap of tree roots, all over the ground. They were incredible, and looked like a maze. Some parts were really smooth, from being stepped on over and over again. I really had to watch my footing because the roots were really uneven, and some were quite high. The root forest led to another small shrine, and then I had to climb about 400 stairs (steep ones), which seemed to go on forever. I passed a lot of people, all going in the opposite direction to me, of course. I had only gone up, so I thought maybe I should have started from the other end of the course, because it might be easier. Oh well, I liked the challenge.

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At the top of the death stairs, there was another collection of root trees, which snaked across the ground in a beautiful pattern. I have a thing about tree roots- I just think they’re really cool. And then, there were stairs that went down! I was so excited. These stairs led through more forest, and eventually came out at a large temple. I started to rain again, but the view from the temple balcony was so beautiful, and all the mountains faded into the distance in different shades of blue. I felt so free and calm, I think hiking tends to de-clutter my brain.

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From the shrine, the path kept leading downwards, and I passed more forest and little shrines and lanterns along the way. I happily passed all the people coming up, feeling a bit smug that I had chosen to walk the course in this direction, because I ended up going down a lot more than I went up. He he, suckers.

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Then, I was suddenly at the bottom. I had arrived in Karuma in only an hour, which I thought was strange. I really thought I remembered reading that it would take about three hours. Maybe it does if you walk in the other direction, who knows. Anyway, I was a bit surprised and stunned, but I walked around the small town on Karuma, then headed back to the train. I was actually surprised how easy the hike had been, as I was expecting it to be a bit harder and longer. But I was also happy that I had completed it.

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The train ride home was fast, and at the station I bought a chestnut flavoured daifuku from a little stall. It was only 3:30, so I decided to catch the subway to Gion, and buy some food for dinner from the department store there. It felt strange riding the subway in Kyoto. I associate trains and subways with Tokyo, so I felt kind of out of place. There was also only 4 people in the carriage, whereas in  Tokyo is would be full at all times of the day. In Gion, I wondered around the basement food level of Takashimaya, then walked through Nishiki market, and all the way back to the hostel. It was freezing, and the wind was icy. My legs got really cold because I was still wearing shorts.

When I got back, Tida the dog greeted me, and I learned that he was about to be taken for a walk. I was invited to come, and I said yes, because they were only going to a nearby park. Tida liked eating the grass. It was freezing, so we didn’t stay out long. I warmed up in my room, and then it was time for dinner.

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I was so hungry, having worked up a huge appetite from hiking all day. So I went all out and made a huge tei shoku dinner. I made a donburi with brown rice, topped with some cooked spinach and mushroom from the supermarket, and an egg, which cooked in the heat of the other food. I also had a cabbage salad, some miso soup, and the collection of food that I’d bought from the department store. It was amazingly delicious, and I ate everything. I ate dinner with 2 staff members and another guest. I like how everyone just joins each other and talks. It’s really homely, and it feels like a little family.

One of the girls has been learning how to do the tea ceremony, so we had a little practice one, and drank the matcha tea with daifuku ice cream and matcha Kit Kats that I’d bought. I had a go at whisking the tea, which was much harder than it sounds.

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I can’t believe tomorrow is my last night in Kyoto already. Time is zooming by and I’m gling to be back in Australia before I blink. Tomorrow we are having nikujaga party at the hostel, for my last day. They have last day parties for everyone, so there’s a party almost every day!

Here are some more photos from today that didn’t really fit anywhere…

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Hi Kyoto, Remember Me?

I had absolutely no idea where I was when I woke up today. There was noise all around me, and it sounded really close. I felt a bit of shaking too, but it didn’t feel like the back and forth quivers of an earth tremor. Then I remembered that I wasn’t in Tokyo anymore, and that I was in a capsule. The noise was the other people in the room, and the shaking was the (slightly larger) person above me, climbing up and down from their capsule.

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Kyoto! Good morning! I was really feeling the effects of going to bed after midnight, and wanted to roll over and sleep in again for another hour or so. But everyone else in the room was shuffling about, so I decided to get up too. It was 7:30, but felt much earlier. I don’t think I explained the capsule ryokan very well yesterday, so let me have another attempt. This place was pretty much dorm-style accommodation  with shared bathrooms, common room and showers. The only real difference was that instead of bunk beds, there were ‘Tatami Capsules,’ which were supposed to be really premium and fancy. Don’t get me wrong, everything was clean and new looking, and the bed was quite comfortable, but the place was definitely not a ryokan (as you’d expect for 3900 yen.) The capsules had little material screens that you could pull down for privacy, but they were definitely not noise proof, and you knew that you were sharing the larger room with other people. The person above me had tossed and turned and snored all night. Ya.

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Anyway, I was really hungry this morning, so I went across the road to the Circle K (combini of choice in Kyoto), and bought a yoghurt and a coffee, and ate them with a banana I’d brought from Tokyo. Whilst I ate, I looked online at Kyoto guides, because I realised that I hadn’t actually planned anything itinerary wise, and didn’t have the luxury of time that I did in Tokyo. If I didn’t plan out what I was going to do, I wouldn’t have time to do anything. I did a quick and very rough list of activities, then headed back to the room to collect up my stuff and check out. In the room, I talked for a while to Sarah, the girl form Sydney who I’d met last night. We both weren’t really sure what to do for the morning, as we had to kill a few hours before checking in to our next accommodations. Sarah was headed back to the station to get some breakfast, and having no plans, I decided to join her for the journey. Something inside me last night told me that I liked her, and that our personalities clicked, so I was more than happy to walk to the station with her. We found a bakery in the shopping mall under the station, where I’d been last night, and Sarah grabbed a toastie and a honey and cheese bread, then sat down to eat. We talked about everything, and conversation flowed really easily. I felt like I had known this girl for a long time. I think that when you travel, you are more open to new friendships forming, and tend to build relationships with people much faster than when you are at home. Boundaries are broken down quickly, and the true characteristics of people are revealed. I think you are better able to judge a person’s character when you travel. Somehow your senses become more perceptive. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is, we clicked instantly.

We sat in the cafe chatting for ages, then walked around the shops for a little while. Then we went above ground, and decided to walk to a nearby river and explore that area a little. Along the way, we slowly reveled each other’s inner nerd, which meant we were really comfortable with each other’s company. We have a lot of things in common, value and opinion wise. I kept thinking ‘wow, we are like, the same person!’ When we got to the river, we walked along the banks, which where lined with sakura trees in various stages of bloom. They were incredibly beautiful. But when they are all blooming, the river will look so amazing. Sarah loved the blossoms, and we both acted all touristy and made a fuss over them. But Japanese people do that too, so its ok. Then we headed back towards the centre of town, and crossed to the other side towards a park. We passed a lot of wagashi shops along the way, which all looked incredibly tasty. The park was beautiful, and had a huge open lawn, with blooming cherry and plum blossoms around the edge. There were little stalls vending snacks, and people playing ball games or picnicking on the grass. We wondered around a little, then went to a 7/11 to get some food for our own little makeshift picnic. The weather had warmed up and it was sunny, so it was perfect to sit under the cherry trees and eat. I had a salad with a new kind of dressing (which I had no idea what was in it), and a haru no takenoko meshi onigiri (Spring bamboo shoot rice.) There is an aquarium next to the park, and as we ate, we could see dolphins practicing tricks in a giant tank. After lunch, we headed back to the capsule place to collected our luggage, stopping at a wagashi store to share a traditional Japanese sweet. When we checked out, the capsule staff gave us each a pair of chopsticks, which he explained are for “eating sushi and other foods.” Then we parted ways, and made plans to meet up in a couple of days for an adventure to Arashiyama- a nearby town with an amazing bamboo forest. We thought we might bike there and take obento along.

My back was a bit sore from carrying my backpack around (filled with my laptop, two cameras, and the things I’d needed for my overnight stay), but I still decided to walk to the next accommodation, because it didn’t look far on the map. It wasn’t really that far, but carrying the heavy backpack, as well as two bags of gifts, really started to hurt after a while. I passed Nijo-jo on the way, and there were about five million tourists there. All foreign. I still don’t like being in places where there are tourists. It makes me cringe.

It took about 40 minutes to walk to the hotel, which is called Hostel Mundo. It is a little backpacker’s place, built inside a traditional old Japanese house. It can only host a few people at a time, and the rooms are private, which is perfect for me. I found it without much trouble, and then went to check in. The host, Midori, was surprised I could speak Japanese, and so explained everything in Japanese. I was actually quite surprised myself because I understood every word she said. Usually I have to pretend that I now what’s going on some of the time. My room is a tiny little tatami room, with just enough space for a futon, and a tiny table and chair (traditional Japanese style.) It’s perfect. I love it so much. And for 3500 yen a night, it’s really affordable! Plus its in the centre of Kyoto, so close to everything.

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After relaxing for a while, and pouring over the maps that Midori gave me, I decided to go out and explore before dinner. I wanted to go to this street where there is a food market called Nishiki, but it was quite a long way away, almost back near Kyoto station. But I was happy just to walk around, and had no other plans, so I walked all the way there. It was dark by the time I arrived, and all the stores were closing or already closed. But it was huge, and undercover, and would probably be really busy when everything is open. I think I’ll go back and explore one day (during the daytime.)

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Kyoto looks nothing like how I remember it. It is very city-looking and cosmopolitan. There is Starbucks everywhere, and a lot of the architecture is modern and funky. The streets are full of traffic, and there are lots of tall buildings. Of course, this is just in the main streets, and I’m sure that as I venture further out there will be more of that old Kyoto charm. It’s just like visiting a city I’ve never been to before, rather than one I’ve visited 3 times before. I don’t know why, but it makes me think of Sapporo. Not that I’ve ever been there before, and have no idea what it’s actually like. I just can’t help but think of Sapporo when I walk along. Perhaps I’ve been watching too much Anthony Bourdain.

On my way home, I stopped at a supermarket and bought some things for dinner, then walked all the way back to the hostel, which was much faster than when I had to lug around all my gear. When I got home, Midori and the other staff member were having dinner with one of the guests, and invited me to join. I heated up my dinner and sat down at the low table with them. I had some mini tofu burgers, some cooked spinach and carrot, which I topped with a soft boiled egg, a “20 things” salad, and an onigiri. Then I was offered pickles and sembei, which I nibbled on. I talked to the others for ages, completely in Japanese, and felt comfortable to hold up my part of the conversation. I guess I’m now able to ‘hear’ Japanese a bit better.

At 9, the other guest who was at dinner (I’ve forgotten her name, she’s a lovely Japanese lady who lives in Noosa) headed to the public bath, and I tagged along because I had also planned to go. I kind of wanted to go by myself, because I thought it might be awkward being naked in front of someone who I would see again, but it was decided by the group that we would go together, so I couldn’t really get out of it. Anyway, we walked along chatting together (in Japanese again, of course), and found the bath down the street. There is a separate section for men and women, and a whole bunch of different baths to choose from. First, you must wash your whole body at the showers, then you can get in the baths. I went in this one that was bright green and looked like jelly. It was green because it had some special healing minerals inside. And it was really hot! When I got out, I was completely pink, and sweating a little. I rinsed off and then went to a combini to buy an ice cream. It was vanilla ice cream with anko and mochi on top. Tasty!

Back at the hostel, everyone was arriving home and chilling, and I talked to the staff for a while, again in Japanese. It’s really fun! And I’m able to understand most of what is being said. We are going to have a takoyaki party on Sunday. Takoyaki is fried octopus balls, so it should be delicious! I was so exhausted, so I went up to my room, but the walls here are the thinnest I’ve had so far, and I can hear everything from the dorm next door, the dorm below, and the living room. The African and Phillipino people next door won’t be quiet. I think I should have kept the earplugs that the capsule hotel staff offered me last night.

 

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Earthquake

There was an earthquake in the middle of the night last night. It woke me up, and the shaking felt very strange. It was only a mild one, but was very disorientating in the middle of the night. It also woke my mind up so I couldn’t get back to sleep for ages. Then I woke up again at 6am when the alarm of the person in the apartment above me went off. So I felt half dead when I got out of bed. I’d also pressed one too many buttons on the airconditioner control again, and couldn’t work out how to make it do hot air again instead of cold. So no heater for me this morning.

I spent a few minutes writing a list of things I wanted to do whilst I was in Tokyo, and I’ve accumulated a lot of mini lists in random places, as well as piles of brochures and art exhibition postcards. Then I made a little calendar and penciled in the dates, so that I wouldn’t forget anything. Feeling all motivated and organised  I got up and ready to go out in record time.

I decided to attempt walking to Ueno, which is 4 stops away from me, if I start at Tabata. I figured it wouldn’t take too long, because it wasn’t much further than the cemetery I walked to the other day. Outside it was sunny and warn, but incredibly windy. Within minutes, my hair had turned into a tangled bird nest, and I felt like one of those people in videos about Antarctic blizzards. It took me about an hour to reach Ueno station, which wasn’t that bad. I think of it as training for my hike next month. Eep!

I walked through Ueno park to get to the station, passing about five thousand people headed (I thought) to the zoo. The park is probably really pretty in spring and autumn, but today it was pretty grey and brown. But you could see the feint tinge of pink spreading through the trees- sakura getting ready to sprout. I saw my first sakura flower today- one tiny limb on a tree had begun to sprout the delicate pink petals.

Today I noticed that Ueno has a lot of panda-themed things around. Last week when I was there, I saw a panda-shaped bus with a panda face and panda ears on every seat. Today I saw lots of panda-themed food and hats. Below is a menu serving panda buns, bento, and cookies, and below that is some kind of panda rice cake.

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As I passed through the park, someone dressed in a panda suit handed me a packet of tissues. The tissues, however, were advertising fire safety, and had nothing whatsoever to do with pandas. I was very disappointed.

I made my way over to Ameyoko, which is a bunch of streets that are jam packed full of semi-permanent market stalls. There is everything from watches, bags, shoes and jackets to little food stalls and a fresh seafood market. And also enough people to populate an entire suburb. I wanted to return here to buy a bag to take hiking in April, and to capture some photos of the seafood vendors (as well as some of the stranger goods on sale.)

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By the way, the image of the octopus above hasn’t been overly saturated. It was actually that colour!

I hunted for a bag for a while, also checking out some incredibly cheap shoes. I stopped in a 100 yen shop to buy batteries, as well as a cheap bento and bento bag, so that I can make my lunch to take some places in Tokyo, if I choose to. Before long, I felt like devouring food, so I headed to a cheap kaiten zushi store that I knew was popular in the area. For my mother, kaiten zushi is the sushi that goes around on a conveyor belt. I had to que outside, and then inside, for about 20 minutes, but it was so worth it! This was the first time I’ve eaten sushi on this trip, and I wasn’t disappointed. The sushi was so fresh and delicious, and cheap too! All plates were only 126 yen each, and contained two nigiri.

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Next, I headed back through the market to a place that sold green tea and softcream (soft serve ice cream.) I had a sudden craving for matcha ice cream, and this was perfect. I got a mix of vanilla and green tea, which I ate inside the store in a special area. The store owners also gave me a complimentary cup of green tea, which was perfect after the cold ice cream.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next stop was the department store next to the market, because I wanted to visit a store called Loft. It is one of my favourite stores in Japan, and sells all kinds of things, but I especially like the stationary and bento goods. But today I had to pick up a birthday card for my grandad. I’d been looking for one for a few days, but couldn’t find them anywhere. Loft did not disappoint.

I looked around the other levels of the department store, then went back to the market and bought a bag for my hiking trip. I asked the girl at the register if I could get a discount (you’re allowed to do that at this market), and she said she was sorry, bout she couldn’t give me any discounts on this particular bag. She then proceeded to give me 200 yen off. It was almost 4, so I thought I’d better head back towards Nippori. But on the way, I passed a stall selling nuts and snacks, where the stall owner asked me where I as from. We then had this long conversation about what I was doing in Japan, and how he is best friends with Jackie Chan. A random woman on the street joined in our conversation. He insisted on taking a photo of me in the street.

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I gave him one of the crappy clip on koalas that I carry for such an occasion, and he was delighted by it. So much so, that he asked me to wait whilst he collected a handful of little snack for me to take with me ‘on my journeys.’ What a nice guy. He also gave me his business card and said to drop by the store anytime.

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Crossing back through Ueno park was like trying to swim against a current. I think the zoo had just closed, because thousands of people were heading to the station, in the opposite direction to me. The wind had picked up again too, and it was beginning to get cold. I spotted this guy and his overenthusiastic dog as I crossed the main square. Sorry about the quality, it’s cropped from a wide shot, which is as close as I could get with my 14-42 lens. I thought the pair of them looked hilarious.

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It didn’t take me as long to walk home as it did to walk to Ueno. On the way I stopped at the 100yen Lawson store to pick up some supplies. I was glad to get home because I was absolutely freezing, and walking with my giant bag in a bag was hard in the wind. I had to try my best not to accidentally bash people in the face when the wind picked up and swung my bags around wildly.

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For dinner I made a Korean-Japanese fusion fired rice, with the leftover bibimbap, and some fresh carrot, mushrooms and spinach. And lots of garlic. I didn’t have high hopes for it, but it was really good. I also ate some cereal and a mini banana that I’d bought earlier. Then I had to resist the temptation of finishing the rest of the mochi ice cream, because I’d already had a huge ice cream today and really didn’t need anymore.