This morning we woke up and it was pouring with rain, not exactly ideal sightseeing weather! Nonetheless we got everything packed up and got a taxi to the train station to avoid getting our bags soaked. Unfortunately it turned out that all of the coin lockers to store luggage were out of action to prevent any possible bomb threats with Obama visiting in a few days time.
So we carted our bags south on the train to the port where we would be catching the ferry to Miyajima Island. Luckily there were some spare lockers down there so we dumped our bags, purchased umbrellas and jumped on the ferry.
Miyajima Island was still beautiful in the rain, particularly with the mist in the treetops. We didn’t have a lot of time so walked straight to the main shrine and took in the view of the torii gate in the water.
Along the way we spotted some of the deer that the island is also known for. Apparently some tourists hadn’t got the memo and the next thing they knew, the deer were eating their maps, bags, anything they could get their teeth on!
After taking in the sights we headed back to the mainland and got a speedy train up to Okayama where we’re staying for the next four nights. We checked in at our hotel, a replica of the previous one only a bit older. From there we decided to go and check out the Okayama Castle and gardens.
The castle was gorgeous, lots of black and white and gold. We walked up to the sixth floor and took in the view from the top. After the castle we walked over to Kōraku-en Garden, one of the top three landscape gardens to see in Japan. The garden was stunning, built so that you have a new vista around every corner. We stopped for a green tea icecream and took in the beautifully manicured sights.
On the way home we found Pablo’s cheesecake which had been recommended to me by a friend so obviously I had to buy one to take home. They’re not very big and only cost around ¥850, how could I resist?!
For dinner we stopped by a 280 bar where all the drinks were ¥280 and the food was much the same. We tried lots of yummy things and I think the favourite was the soy sauce and butter fried potatoes…darn good with a cold beer! For dessert we dug into the cheesecake when we got back to our accommodation.
Today was another amazing day! We got up early and took a train down the coast before boarding a ferry bound for an island covered in fluffy creatures. Ōkunoshima otherwise known as rabbit island, was awesome!
We had some cabbage from our lovely okonomiyaki chef which was lucky as they didn’t sell anything on the island to feed the rabbits. They loved the cabbage, and they also loves the remnants of Joseph’s salad which I made him surrender so that I could have more rabbit food.
The rabbits were incredibly tame, running up to you to see if you had any food for them. They stand up on their hind legs and lean against you as well as climb over you if you sit down. There must have been hundreds of them. It wasn’t quite like the crazy YouTube videos I’d seen but it was still so much fun!
After we, and the rabbits, had our fill we took the ferry back to the mainland. That evening we headed out for dinner and a random okonomiyaki spot. It wasn’t quite as delicious as last night but we did get a yummy cabbage salad on the side which we’re pretty sure had MSG sprinkled on it!
After dinner we went to a bar that I’d seen on TripAdvisor called Koba. It was a crazy 80s rock music themed bar with an incredibly friendly bartender who proceeded to mime the haka when we told him we were from New Zealand. The bar was great and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone visiting Hiroshima, but that might’ve been the local sake talking.
Today we had an earlier start, fitting in a trip to the beautiful Shosei-en garden before heading to the train station and catching the bullet train south to Hiroshima.
I had my first experience with a delicious train bento box which I enjoyed on the 90 minute journey. Once we arrived in Hiroshima it was straight to our hotel to dump our bags as we didn’t want to carry them any longer than necessary in the heat.
In the afternoon we visited the Hiroshima Peace Park and museum. It was a very solemn experience and not one we’ll ever forget.
We then went to the Okonomi-mura, five stories of okonomiyakk restaurants! Luckily Joseph’s friend Rob had told us which one to check out otherwise it might have been a little overwhelming. Rob was totally right though, the restaurant we went to was fantastic. The chef was so much fun and she enjoyed practicing her English with us while she made delicious okonomiyaki which we ate straight off the grill. She even sent us home with some old cabbage when we told her we were going to see the bunnies tomorrow!
Yesterday was our last day in Kyoto so we wanted to pack lots in, starting with the Arashiyama bamboo grove. We left early as it has been getting very hot during the day. After wandering along the peaceful trail in the bamboo grove we took on the steeper hill that was home to around 150 macaque monkeys.
The monkeys live at the top of the hill and while humans can go and visit, monkeys still run the show. One of the things they tell you not to do was to look the monkeys in the eye, and they’re right. I accidentally made eye contact with an adult monkey and took it as a challenge, showing me his teeth and making like he was going to charge…one way to get the heart racing!
After walking further along the river bank we decided to try and take a train through the hills. Unfortunately the line we took just went through tunnels in the hills so we didn’t actually get to see anything.
From there we had our first experience on a Japanese bus on the way to Kinkakuji, a stunning temple which was largely covered in gold leaf. We definitely prefer taking the train over the bus, and I wouldn’t recommend visiting that temple on a busy Sunday in the scorching heat!
After putting our feet up for a little while, we went on a mission with bikes hired from our hostel. The trip to the second hand store which Joseph was very keen to visit took us along the river bank and into a different part of town. It was a great way to see the sun set!
For dinner we popped round the corner to another beautiful vegetarian restaurant. We ate while watching the city lights reflected in the river, and saw tiny bats catching bugs under the street lamps. For dessert I ended up trying a strawberry sundae from the convenience store which had frozen strawberries and condensed milk…oops!
After such a big day at Universal Studios yesterday we had a pretty slow start this morning. After finally getting moving we wandered through the Gion district where we saw lots of girls all dressed up in kimono and having their photo taken. From there we ventured to Nishiki Market where we looked around all of the different shops and saw all sorts of crazy souvenirs.
We found a great spot to have lunch that made all kinds of delicious vegetarian food and fresh juices. HappyCow is proving to be a fantastic app for finding really good places to eat!
From there we visited the Nijō Castle, which they began building around 400 years ago. The grounds were immaculate as with most gardens we’ve seen here, and there was a huge moat around the area.
After making it back to the central station near our accommodation we found chairs that gave you a five minute calf massage for ¥100, totally worth it! After relaxing a bit we had some fun in one of the photo machines where you pull silly faces and it does crazy things to the size of your eyes and colour of your skin.
Before heading back to our hostel we went up Kyoto tower (around 100m tall) and looked out over the city. Now that we’re home we’re going to put our feet up for a bit before we go and find something tasty for dinner. It’s hard to believe we’re halfway through our time in Japan!
Today was the best! We got to go to Universal Studios Japan and check out The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!!
We headed down to Osaka on the train to be there when the park opened, which turned out to be earlier than advertised so I was happy we went first thing.
The place was incredible. I went to Universal Studios in LA as a kid and it scared the crap out of me so it amazing to be able to go back and enjoy it properly. It was huge, loud, colourful, and so much fun!
We knew we had had express passes which gave us a head start on four rides so when we got into the park we missioned it to The Flying Dinosaur ride in Jurassic Park. We only waited about 40 minutes which was nothing compared to the people who went later in the day and waited around 130 minutes!
Harry Potter world was next, and Joseph put up with me acting like a little kid as I took everything in! It was amazing, you walk through Hogsmeade and up to the castle where we went on two different rides. I tried frozen butterbeer which was essentially just frozen sugar, but amazing nonetheless.
Other rides we went on included Spider-Man, Terminator, Jaws, Back to the Future, and Hollywood Dream. We went back and did the Hollywood Dream rollercoaster ride again just as the park was closing and it was pretty amazing to go on in the dark. The ride itself lit up and we saw across Osaka with the city lights, as well as the park parade going on beneath us.
We didn’t get home until 10pm and we were totally exhausted, but it was such a great day!!
On Day 9 we were up pretty early to catch the bullet train for the first time. When we made it to the station we activated our JR passes for the first time and reserved a seat for the train to Kyoto. When we took off on the train Joseph got out the GPS app on his phone which said we were going about 300kph! We made it to Kyoto with no trouble and walked to our hostel.
After getting settled in we went our first Kyoto mission, heading to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. It was a scorching day so we relished walking in the shade of thousands of torii gates on the path up the hill. The orange gates looked beautiful against the green forest but it was also incredibly crowded.
The following day we were heading to Universal Studios so that evening we stayed in with sushi, cold udon, and a movie.