Category Archives: Holidays

Nara 2016 – Day One

My favourite part of public transport when visiting Koyasan is by far the cable car.  Getting from Koyasan to Nara involved a bus, a cable car, a train, a subway train and another train.  Seems a bit overwhelming, right?  As I’ve mentioned before though – all extremely easy to navigate.

Cutest (excluding Tama-densha) and most exciting form of transportation.

When we were booking our trip, we had intended on staying in Kyoto for two nights in an airbnb apartment, but as the date approached our host let us know that he was going to have to move us to a different apartment or offer us a refund.  I opted for the refund and booked a ryokan in Nara instead.  Upon arrival in Nara, it became clear to me that we made the right decision.

I love Nara.  Not just because of the adorable shika (deer).  The pace is a bit slower, the city isn’t built up and there is so much to see and do.  It’s tourist friendly without feeling like a tourist trap and I truly enjoy just being there.

Nara Lunch

Tim had udon in a bag of aburaage and dashi. A different take on Kitsune udon! Mine was a bit simpler - a shika seared into the top of my aburaage.
Tim had udon in a bag of aburaage and dashi. A different take on Kitsune udon! Mine was a bit simpler – a shika seared into the top of my aburaage.

When we arrived we checked in to our hotel where they kindly held our bags while we spent the afternoon walking around Naramachi (literally translated – Nara town).  Naramachi is a neighbourhood around a 10 minute walk from the Kintetsu station and is the former merchant district of Nara where you can see a bit of the “old town”.  It’s a little bit of a maze, and is packed with residential homes, boutique shops, museums and temples.  One of my favourite attractions is the Koshi-no-Ie,  a traditional merchant’s house with a beautiful zen garden that is open for visitors to take a look.

Tim and I had visited the main attractions of Naramachi last time we visited, so this time we just wandered around, poked our head into a few boutique stores, patted a few dogs, purchased lots of our favourite Nara candy and visited the Harushika sake distillery.  It was so pleasant to just be there, without an itinerary or a list of millions of things we have to see or must do.


Sake from Harushika brewery
Sake from Harushika brewery

Last time we visited was in summer and I didn’t have the opportunity to take Tim to one of the places I went in 2014 – I’m not exactly sure if it’s a temple or a garden (perhaps someone can help me out!) but during spring it is full of beautiful flowers and an amazing weeping sakura tree.  We stopped in and took many photos.

If you’re not a fan of MANY MANY FLOWER PICTURES.. i’m kind of sorry.

I didn’t even notice the bug on the petal when I took the picture

We returned to our accommodation via Kofuku-ji and were served some hot yuzucha (yuzu tea) while we filled out check-in forms.  Tim and I enjoyed it immensely and spent the rest of the trip seeking out yuzu drinks – more on that later.

A member of staff at the ryokan showed us to our room – it was perfect and had a wonderful view.

L - Five-story pagoda (part of the Kofuku-ji complex), R - Our room!
L – Five-story pagoda (part of the Kofuku-ji complex), R – Our room
The view from our room

Our accommodation included kaiseki dinner and breakfast.  I was thrilled, Tim was.. less stoked.  We made a deal that I would eat the meat portions of both of our meals and he would eat the vegetables.  Alas, dinner was served in a dining room full of other people staying at the ryokan and it made our food swapping plan a lot less discreet than we had hoped.  While I was giddily eating course after course, the food wasn’t as close to Tim’s taste as I’d anticipated.  He was being very good natured, but it was clear that he wasn’t a fan.

Delicious sashimi
Delicious sashimi

This plate came out:


I didn’t know what to make of it.  How was I supposed to extract the meat from the crab?  It dawned on me – am I supposed to eat the whole crab?  Feeling as conspicuously gaijin as I ever have in my life, I motioned at one of the staff members and asked her in the best Japanese I could summon after a tokkuri of sake – is the whole crab edible?

You could see his little crab face and everything.
You could see his little crab face and everything.

Yup.  I procrastinated for about 15 minutes and then ate it.  Ate basically everything else on the plate first.  The texture was difficult to come to terms with, but it was delicious.. I think.

I passed on Tim’s.  It stayed on his plate, untouched, and they brought us our dessert – tea jelly with cream and a peeled grape.  It was so delicious.

As we finished our meal, I encouraged Tim to have some green tea to warm up – we were heading out later to take some photos of Nara in the evening and he seemed a bit disappointed by dinner.  He took a sip, looked over the cup at me with a strange look in his eye and said:

“There appears to be the smallest of bugs in my drink”

I couldn't help but laugh.
I couldn’t help but laugh.

A perfect end to a perfect meal, as far as I’m concerned.

We went back to our room, changed into our warmest clothes and headed out to take some photos.  It was freezing – at one point my fingers were so cold I had trouble moving them, but it was wonderful to walk around at night.  There was barely anyone around – a few business men, couples holding hands and talking.  It felt a bit magical.

Five-story pagoda at night, from Kofuku-ji and across Sarusawa-ike

We went home via a vending machine to buy hot BOSS coffees to keep our hands warm.  Before leaving nara, we ended up completely emptying this machine of hot cafe au lait.



Koyasan 2016 – Part Three

We spent one evening at Jimyo-in.  I stayed there last time I visited Koyasan and wanted to share the experience with Tim.  The temple hadn’t changed – still immaculate with beautiful furnishings and peaceful views from each room.



Dinner was served promptly at 6pm by a monk who was balancing several trays of delicious food to feast upon.  The highlight was probably the tempura!  There were a few things we didn’t enjoy, and when the monk came back I practiced my Japanese and pointed out which things weren’t to our taste.  He thought it was funny, Tim nearly died of shame.


Post dinner, another monk came to our room and laid out the futons.  I immediately climbed into bed with the intention of looking at photos but found myself drifting off in no time.


We awoke early the next morning to attend prayer.  I had primed Tim for a really serious spiritual experience – like nothing he had ever seen before.  Well…


I was laughing and shuddering and shaking in my seat so hard that Tim alternated between shushing me / joining me in quiet laughter for a good while.  We returned to our room for breakfast, and then made our way to Nara.

Jimyo-in breakfast


Koyasan 2016 – Part Two


After lunch, we made our way to the other end of Koyasan, stopping first at the Danjo Garan.  According to legend, Kobo Daishi threw his sankosho from his China toward Japan when he was studying, and found it stuck in a pine tree in Koyasan.  They started construction on the Garan nearby and the pine tree still grows there today.

The entire complex is beautiful and awe inspiring.  I am a big a fan of the huge, very orange Konpon Daito.

koya7 koya6


Tim was particularly taken with the Rokkaku Kyozo (hexagonal depository of the scriptures) which once held the complete Buddhist scriptures copied in gold ink on blue paper.


We visited later in the day so Tim could spend some time drawing and I could take photos.


We walked further up towards the Daimon gate and spotted our home away from home – Family Mart.  In Sydney, Tim and Jarrod like to go to a Korean style coffee shop called Tom N Toms to eat piles of honey butter bread, so Tim was thrilled to find packaged HBB that we stopped to enjoy with some hot BOSS coffee.

As we approached Daimon gate, Tim let out an audible “Whoa!”.  I think I had forgotten how imposing it was.




In the afternoon it started to get cold – really, really cold.  When we arrived back at our lodging (Jimyo-in) a monk showed us to our room.  We shuffled in, shivering and clutching our arms while he served tea, explained dinner and the onsen.

The room was beautiful.   I was unable to fully appreciate the beauty at the time because I had just met the new love of my life, Kotatsu-san.

Tim pls move I am trying to get a photo of Kotatsu-san
Tim pls move I am trying to get a photo of Kotatsu-san

I was familiar with the concept of kotatsu (My cats in neko atsume have one).  I just hadn’t realised the significant impact kotatsu could have on your life if you’re as fond of blanket weather as I am.  Probably even if you aren’t.  It was like the most amazing warm embrace from a welcoming and comfortable best friend.  Like Kif, but furniture.  Furniture that I am in love with.  An immobile furniture version of my fattest cat that I am in love with.



I was briefly separated from my beloved when the monk returned to our room at 6pm to serve dinner.



We got to the airport early.

I’d had a lot of trouble sleeping  (I remember waking up to check the clock four times) and was eager to make sure we got to the airport without me falling asleep.  After a makeshift hotel-room breakfast, we set off.  We were early.  Really early.  First people in the airport except for staff early.

Packing essentials
Packing essentials

Tim was as patient as ever, and we passed the time by levelling our pokemon.


I had come down with something on Saturday afternoon, the day before we were to depart on our exciting holiday and it really caught up with me on Sunday morning, so I took the opportunity to sleep as much as possible on the flight.


Upon arrival, we enjoyed a heated train, topped up our ICOCA cards, bought our first BOSS coffee, dumped our bags at the hotel and went for the first of many walks around Osaka.  To try and cure my sickness, we stopped at a store to buy some c1000 and the gentleman behind the counter gave us warm change – amazing service, if intentional!  We played some taiko, saw a cat, stopped by UNIQLO and enjoyed night ramen back at our hotel before turning in.






I learned a lot during this year’s CrumpXXXmas.

  1. Wallabies are the cutest animals in the world.  Not even sorry, Nibby.
  2. Jaffles are amazing.  Camping jaffles are a fine art.
    1. Elliot is a jaffle artist.
    2. Put canned chilli from ALDI on the jaffle with some cheese.
  3. I need to spend more time away from my phone.
  4. Always climb the freezing waterfall.

We make an effort to get the group together at least once a year for our CrumpXXXmas event, and this year we decided to go camping.

I know, it seems like a very unlikely group to camp with considering our predilection for dark rooms with powerful computers and high speed internet.  The camp site we chose was located in Watagans national park – it was lovely and flat, quiet, and convenient to a walking track that lead to an amazing waterfall.  Although there was no running water or even (gasp!) mobile phone reception, we were lucky enough to have access to drop toilets.


Upon arrival at the campground I noticed a posse of wallabies nearby and promptly forgot about the boys / setting up / talking to other humans.  We eventually named this little lady Jay-Z, and she stuck with us for most of the trip.  I would have brought her home if I didn’t think it would cause tension with the cats.


We went for a couple of walks down to the nearby Gap Creek waterfall:

I made the boys pose heaps and heaps:



Tim took the opportunity to make some plein air paintings:


Jeremy demonstrated his mad LED skills by decking out our camp with the most amazing camp lighting:


We also took many photos of Jarrod enjoying a Harcourt’s cider:


And we celebrated Elliot’s birthday with a hacked together chocolate cake masterpiece:


Love you guys.

Tuesday in Osaka

(Please excuse my swapping from past / present / past / present text.  I wrote this in a book while in Japan and am too tired to edit)

I’d read that I may encounter some difficulties when attempting to take out money using a MasterCard in Japan, and I was anxious to test that I could use regular ATMs.  I navigated from the gate, via a monorail, to the terminal and rushed over to the first one I found.

It worked.  I stuffed my travel wallet full of Yen and felt at ease – and on the hunt for omiyage.

The airport and train station seemed so quiet.  There wen’t a great number of people at either.  When I went to buy a train ticket I forgot all the Japanese I had prepared and practiced and the vendor assumed I required two (something that became a bit of a trend), but I managed to explain with broken Japanese and some gestures that I was alone.   I took the train to Tengachaya, with the intention to swap onto the subway.  I felt utterly overwhelmed at the station.  Names of stations are clearly spelled out in Romaji, but I was on another deserted platform and worried that I’d end up lost, with my luggage, and that I’d be too transit tired to find my way home.  I had a legitimate, approximately 3 minute, freakout.  I pressed myself up against a wall at the train station to stay out of the way, one hand clutching the handle of my bag tightly and the other thumb and forefinger on the bridge of my nose and eyes.
(Below – trains / airport train station / some advertising / The view from Tengachaya station)
Sanity prevailed, I took a leap, and found myself happily in Nippombashi.  Train / subway stations in the middle of Osaka are always conveniently located, except they are large, with many exits.  Finding the right exit can be difficult and somewhat disorienting before you remember that most of these places are tourist friendly and flag down a staff member for assistance.  A kindly man assisted me, pointing me toward the exist I needed (and memorised!), and I found myself above ground with a vague sense of where I needed to go.  My hotel was situated at the opposite end of Namba than my last visit and there were a lot of new sights to see, but it is ultimately very easy to get around.

Something I forgot to mention – something that a select few know about me – I have a deep, abiding, all consuming and constant craving for okonomiyaki.  At home, at work, in the shower, driving, eating, breathing – always, always okonomiyaki.  Not the rubbish we have in Australia.  I mean visiting an Okonomiyaki restaurant with the hotplate and yakisoba and beer.  Thick savoury pancakes with delicious morsels of octopus, prawn, pork, beef – carefully prepared by a talented chef, gently covered in tonkatsu sauce and served, steaming hot, to your table – after which you get to add your own mayonnaise, seaweed and – to top it off, all the thin, smoky wonderful katsuobashi you can eat.  I’m salivating.  My stomach is morse coding okonomiyaki to me.  It is contorting into the ESL for “okonomiyaki”.

Have you seen the episode of the Simpsons where Moe steals the Flaming Homer and everything becomes Moe?  This is me.  I am Homer.  Everything is Okomoemiyaki.

Below – The okonomiyaki restaurant, menu, beer, toppings, and the glorious – glorious – okonomiyaki. 

I digress.  After checking in, before getting my room key, I asked the woman at the front counter to point out a good okonomiyaki restaurant and after unceremoniously dumping my bags in my room, I set off to Dotombori.

Nearing sunset, the city was so beautiful.  The sky was stained with orange and pinky purple, which reflected off the canal.  It was a surprisingly peaceful contrast to the bright flashing lights – the welcome intrusion of colour and neon – gaudy figurines / mascots of restaurants loom overhead, street vendors offer their food, vending machines beckon, music blares from pachinko halls and stores and people – people everywhere – converging on the eateries and bars – with the beautiful, serene sunset pinned neatly behind.

Below – Dotonbori


Post meal (I would describe it in detail, but I feel like I have covered the topic of okonomiyaki enough, for now), I wandered around Dotombori avoiding the side streets because I didn’t quite trust my sense of direction yet, and returned to my hotel.

Considering how affordable my room was, it was extremely nice.   Even without the low cost to offset any unpleasantness, it was great.  It had a separate entry with a couple of pairs of roomy pyjamas, slippers, a small but very functional bathroom, a bidet (which I couldn’t figure out how to use right away), a giant bed, remote control and automatic lighting, and air conditioning.  I unpacked a bit, plugged in my electronics to charge, said hi to Tim and the kittybads and promptly fell asleep.