Temples of Kyoto – Kodaiji

With 16000 temples and over 400 shrines, Kyoto has no shortage of places to visit. In fact,  the hardest part about coming here on holiday is trying to figure out which sites you should go out of your way to see and which ones you should leave for your next visit. As with tourist destinations all over the world, the most famous sites are not always the best. The Higashiyama (Eastern Mountain) District is widely known as one of Kyoto’s most beautiful areas but even in this district alone there are more temples than can be seen in one visit.

This beautiful garden is famous for it's autumn foliage but it looks good all year round.

Rather than talk about which ones I like the best I thought I would introduce a few of the temples on this website through photos that I have taken on previous visits and let the images speak for themselves. The following black and whites have all been taken at Kodaiji and it’s sub-temple Entokuin.

Kodaiji's atmospheric bamboo forest

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Japan on film

As a big Japan fan, I love it when something Japanese pops up in my favourite TV shows or films.

Earlier this week I saw Inception at the cinema – a fantastic psychological thriller set in a world of dreams within dreams, with lavish cinematography to match. The opening scenes are set in a luxurious golden Japanese restaurant, a Shinkansen train and a Tokyo hotel room complete with aerial shots of the capital.

OK, there was a glaring continuity mistake: Leonardo DiCaprio says ‘I’m getting off at Kyoto’ and then the action cuts straight back to Tokyo. My only disappointment in the film as a Kyoto-jin! But note to other bloggers out there: you can get a compartment on the bullet train!

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The Streets of Takayama

If a picture is worth 1,000 words then I apologise for being a bit longwinded.

This is a photo blog of Hida Takayama, one of my favourite places in Japan. I couldn’t possibly do it justice with words or pictures but hopefully the following images will give you a glimpse of what it’s like to wander the streets of this small town that is nestled in the Japanese alps.

Nothing beats a night out in your yukata. Standard wear for many Japanese onsen towns.

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Climbing Mount Fuji!

Recently, there has been increasing criticism about the number of visitors to Mt. Fuji and the environmental impacts that tourism has had on Japan’s most scared mountain. The following article was written in response to these critiques.

Over the past 6 years, working as a Tour Leader, I have taken hundreds of tourists from all over the world to the far corners of Japan. To steaming hot springs in Shikoku, meandering back streets in Nagasaki, and geisha filled teahouses of Kyoto. But I have yet to find a destination that fills people with more awe, more respect for nature, and an overall closeness to Japan and the Japanese people than a trek to the sacred peak of Mt. Fuji.

Many may find it hard to understand why so many people make this gruelling trek up crowded hillsides in the freezing cold through thin air only to wait for a sunrise that may or may not penetrate the dense clouds that stick to Mt. Fuji throughout much of the year. Fortunately, the Japanese have no such difficulty. For them, climbing Mt. Fuji is a pilgrimage up sacred slopes to the symbolic heart of their homeland. The Japanese will be the first to tell you that there is much more to climbing Mt. Fuji than simply reaching the peak. On this sacred volcano it is the journey and not merely the destination that make this a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.

A recent group of brave souls who made it to the top of Mount Fuji

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Extraordinary Unzen

At lunchtime in central Unzen, three Japanese ladies standing outside their restaurants were competing for my custom. The restaurants looked ordinary, and with the greatest respect, so did the ladies. But in Unzen, a 90 minute bus ride from Nagasaki, I was reminded that the ordinary has hidden charms. In an ordinary looking shokudo (diner), served up by an ordinary looking waitress, I discovered the extraordinary Turko Rice.

Turko Rice is a meibutsu (a famous dish) of the Nagasaki region. A vital ingredient, as the counter-intuitive will already have guessed, is a pile of spaghetti. A fried pork cutlet on a bed of rice, salad and HP sauce fill the rest of the dish. I was in heaven, three meals in one sitting, on one plate. My childhood dream had come true.

Turko rice - the fulfilment of a childhood dream.

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Japanese Eating Experiences with a Difference

I really miss my Japanese food when I am in the UK as you can probably tell by the amount of food related posts on this blog. Japan offers some of the best food in the world and really is a culinary heaven. There are some eating experiences in Japan though that are more than just about the food. I thought I would highlight one or two throughout the blog.

Catch your own fish – Get that hunter-gatherer feeling before dinner to appreciate your meal all the more. Zauo has branches across Japan but each is designed like a boat from where you will dangle your fishing line or dip in your net to catch your meal.

The sushi chef will then prepare a wonderful  sashimi or sushi meal for you.   I am not sure if this would be everyones kettle of fish but it certainly a bit different. The sashimi is great and there are certainly no questions about the freshness of the fish here.
Their shops are all over the country with the original one being in Fukuoka but you can find Zauo in Tokyo’s Shinjuku and Kameido districts too.

Ninja Style – A slightly different concept in eating and drinking, this themed izakaya wins the prize for ‘shocking’ service. ‘Ninja‘ sits in the Akasaka district of Tokyo and there are no prizes for guessing the theme. The izakaya is full of nooks and crannies from which the ninja waiters jump out at you from.

The food is pretty good but is reasonably pricey compared to other izakaya, but you pay for the experience which is worth it for a one off visit – great fun.

There are plenty more interesting and varied eating experiences to be had in Japan and no doubt I will look at  a few more at a later date.

Enjoy your meal sir!


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