Be warned:- Fairly long post but too lazy to break the places all down by days zzz …
We usually do not take long breaks in June for the following reasons:-
However, an excited notification by a friend about $300 RETURN TICKETS ON JETSTAR TO KANSAI AIPORT, OSAKA changed our routine for travel. $300 was even cheaper than going to Bali so how could we not go?? So go we did with the excited friend’s family, even though I made a trip to Kyoto and Osaka with friends, same time, the previous year. Just rehash the itinerary, so we thought. Okay, minus the hours hunting down some remote Onsens, Geisha-hunting and gawkage at Den Den Town this time. Even then, the kids proved to be challenging in their total lack of appreciation for culture and heritage and the incessant whining to go back to hotel for wifi and Minecraft .. grr ..
Oh in case anyone is interested, this was our itinerary for Kyoto and Osaka.
I had set expectations about this place already as the kids were quite taken by my previous trip’s photos of the deer. They seemed so Bambi-like in photos. In truth, the deer are feral mercenaries, resorting to gangster tactics just to get at the deer senbei (biscuits). Aside from deer, the critters complained endlessly about trooping through miles of park land and looking at temple structures. So the excursion in Nara was a hasty one. Find deer, feed deer, grab supplies at JR Nara station supermarket and go back to hotel.
|Don’t be fooled by Bambi who is actually a gangster!|
*Please note that these were rates in 2013.
We are Singaporeans so SUPERMARKETS are a big thing with us. The JR Nara Station has a very decent supermarket with very decent prices so it was the first and last place we visited while we were there. The critters discovered the absolute oishi-ness of Onigiri there and hankered for them throughout the trip. Crispy seaweed wrapped round compact Japanese rice with delicious morsels of grilled salmon, tuna mayo or other exotic stuff like wagyu beef, BBQ chicken etc, onigiri is a great grab-and-go food. Oh for a quick tip on how to unwrap onigiri from a Japanese supermarket, please see this ;).
As a UNESCO World Heritage site, this “Pure Water Temple” is something not to be missed should you be in Kyoto. The temple was originally built without the use of a single nail and its structure overlooking a hill is something to behold. While we did not go into the main hall, we did spend some time traipsing about the surroundings and of course, we had to queue up to get a sip of the pure water from the waterfall. The 3 streams of water are supposed to have different benefits such as longevity, success in school and a fortunate love life. Unfortunately, we did not know this at the time the critters were happily gulping down water from the first stream so we can only pray that this would be the “success in school” one ….
|Scenes from ‘Memoirs of a Geisha” shot here|
The total hike up and back down spans some 4 km and I am proud to say that we completed the course in about 1.5 hours, including vending machine pitstops and even an ice cream break! Do note that the higher you go, the more expensive the vending machine drinks become so better pack water unless you prefer to spend Yen rather than be weighed down. It was a great feat for the critters who stopped here and there to check out the occasional creepy crawlies from earthworms to caterpillars and spiders. The higher we went, the quieter the trail and after a point, the only noise came from the chatter of our critters. When I visited last year in the evening, it was even more surreal as my path was crossed by numerous cats! It was so akin to a scene out of Miyazaki’s ‘Spirited Away’ that I expected a Fox Spirit to step out of a shrine to give me a message of sorts.
CRITTER RATING: 4.5/ 5 STARS
4. Nishiki Market
|So cute! Must buy!|
Okay, the critters did not seem to take to this place as much as the adults did. I guess there was only so much gawking at foodstuffs kids could do. For us aunties, the sampling of local delights from the shops along the covered walkway, was definitely appealing. It was also a great place to pick up many
epicurian edibles as souvenirs for the folks back home.
CRITTER RATING: 3/ 5 STARS
Kyoto in June was already super hot! So the bamboo grove of Arashiyama proved a welcome respite from the heat. It was also packed with visitors so anyone hoping to attain some inner peace might be better off in a cafe with green tea latte. Crowds aside, the critters enjoyed the hike up the hills which overlooked the scenic river. While there were boat rides with oarsmen and boats you could row yourself, the blazing summer sun proved too much of a challenge so we retired to a pleasant cafe for green tea roll, iced yuzu drinks and waffles. That alone put everyone in much higher spirits.
|the hordes were behind me …|
6. Iga Ninja Museum
It took us freaking 3 hours or so to get there and another 3 hours to get back!!! But lest you be put off by this scary statement, I must add that we really liked the Iga Ninja Museum ;). It was one of the more authentic experiences and okay, we are also ninja fans, judging by our own museum of Ninjago Lego sets that we own. We also think that any movie with ninjas in them are pretty cool (the latest being The Wolverine). So, how to get there? Follow instructions outlined here
|Made a beeline for Tachibana!|
The critters (and their fathers) were weak and sullen by the time we got out of the Iga Ueno Shi station. Please note that this is a ninja town and ninjas are traditionally vegetarian, svelt and light. So, there are VERY FEW restaurants to be found around the immediate station area! Walking left from the station exit, we finally chanced upon 2 little cafes. Without debate, we entered the first one called Tachibana and were seated at the last 2 tables in the tiny place by a very exuberant kawaii waitress. Their specialties were Hamburger Steaks, Omu Rice and pasta and we could not be happier!
With our Health Points recharged, we were all ready to encounter the famed Iga Ninja, reputed to be the strongest clan in the country, after the Koga. The Iga Ninja Museum consisted of a performance, the ninja house and the ninja museum. Entrance fees were 700Yen for adults and 300Yen for the kids but to watch the performance, it was 200Yen more per person. Since you have come all the way, best to fork out the extra 200Yen and be entertained by the ninja action.
We were just in time for the performance and while conducted in Japanese, the prowess of the ninja guy hurling his shuriken (throwing stars) and other sharp objects was easily appreciated by all. Ninja guy also demo-ed his sword skills by chopping blocks in mid-air into small pieces. Ninja babe (yes, there is one!) also showed how to use the sword as a small step by jamming it into the ground and using the hand-guard to give the lift to scale a wall. Light-hearted elements were provided by ninja babe vanquishing fellow ninja and giving the signature kawaii victory sign.
|The Art of Ninja-Do|
|Go, Ninja babe!|
By parting with more Yen (think another 200 more if memory serves me right), the critters were given 5 shuriken to throw. The critters soon found out that it was no mean feat
as they hurled with all their might and might have hit the target twice out of the five times. So do not belittle ninja skills!
|Do not fall through trapdoor …|
Next up was the Ninja house which was rigged with all sorts of hidden compartments from revolving screens to trapdoors and hidden attic-like rooms for spying on attacking foes. We then proceeded to the museum which had a comprehensive collection of weaponry and exhibits on ninja jobs and disguises. Ninja could “walk” on water by using mud shoes which were made of straw and had a large surface area. They do not actually disappear in a “poof” of smoke but do use smokescreen tactics and hey, your average candy seller or travelling monk could be a ninja on an assassination mission!
So it was great ninja strategy to place a souvenir corner at the museum exit and in case one had more cash in hand, to have another souvenir shop at the entrance/exit of the park itself so that we could pick up sword-shaped umbrellas to defend ourselves.
|Hypnotic eyes ….|
In our excitement in the Ninja abode, we of course forgot to check what time the local train ran from Iga Ueno-shi to Iga Ueno station so it was, that we had to spend an hour sitting at the train tracks waiting to connect. People, it is imperative that you check the schedule of this train if you do not wish to whittle time away snapping infinte photos of the ninja trains parked at the station or spending your remaining Yen in the vending machines at the platform. You have been warned! Oh and have fun!
CRITTER RATING: 4.5/ 5 STARS
7. Shimogamo Stepping Stones
Sometimes, the simplest things in life provide the most joy. The critters were so happy stepping across these tortoise / turtle-shaped stones at the fork of the Kamo River (鴨川) that they deemed it one of the best attractions in Kyoto! So much for World Heritage sites and sacred grounds. After that, with the energy and endless imagination of youth, they chased each other for the next 2km along the banks of the river, playing commandoes and what-nots as their parents trailed behind …
The station is Demachi-Yanagi. Upon exit, just walk towards the river and lo and behold, the stone turtles await!
CRITTER RATING: 4.5/ 5 STARS
|Misshapened but still a star 😉 Thank you for reading!|