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Travelblog Gone with the Wine

Travelblog and lifestyleblog. Life under the Californian sun - Gone with the Wine. Trips, food and wine from all over the world. Solo and family adventures.

Filtering by Category: Asia

Rocking and shopping in Shibuya, Tokyo

Paula Gaston

After touring around Japan, we returned to Tokyo for the rest of our vacation. While we were gone there was a snow storm in Tokyo causing a traffic mess, and they felt an earthquake located near by Fukushima. But when we returned, everything looked exactly the same as before our tour. We decided to visit a ward called Shibuya and see the sights over there. 

SHIBUYA CROSSING

Shibuya crossing is known from many different movies, and easily found since it is located right in front of the Shibuya Station. It is a scramble crossing where the traffic lights stop vehicles in order to let pedestrian walk across the walkways coming from many different directions. Thousands of tourist come to experience this cross road so it is always full of people.  

YOYOGI PARK AND THE ROCKABILLY DANCERS

Yoyogi Park is one the most beautiful parks in Tokyo. It is easy to find if you just take a train to Harajuku Station and then follow the crowds to the park. The most famous sight in the park is Meiji Shrine. This park feels very peacefull since it is full of huge trees which were brought from different parts of Japan. During the spring it is also a popular place to experience cherry blossoms. Close to Meiji Shrine you will see colourful Sake barrels. Japanese Sake producers donate these barrels every year in honor of the emperor Meiji and the shrine. 

Every Sunday the rockabilly dancers gather together at Yoyogi Park. They look like they are straight from the 1950's and they dance in the park for hours. It is fun to watch them, and they don't mind if you take some pictures or videos of them. You might also see some girls dressed in 1950's clothes cheering on the side. You can find the rockabilly dancers when you arrive from Harajuku Station if you just keep walking along the park fence. They are in a little square behind a corner. 

Check out a video of Rockabilly Dancers!

MEIJI SHRINE

Meiji Shrine is actually inside Yoyogi Park, but it deserves to be mentioned separately. This shrine is dedicated to emperor Meiji and it was first built in 1920. The shrine was destroyed in World War II and the current buildings are from 1958.

If you want to follow shinto tradition, you can wash your hands and your mouth at the purification trough located behind the torii gate. To get the water you will use the little wooden ladle provided. By the shrine you can either write your prayer on a wooden plate (Ema) and then leave them at the shrine, or get a paper Omikuji (a fortune telling paper) and tie it to a tree. This way your fortune should follow you. You can also make a prayer by throwing a coin in the offering box at the shrine. After that you ring the bell a couple times, take a step back, bow twice and clap twice when the coin falls into the box. Many big shrines have detailed guides on what to do there.

On Sundays it is common to see a shinto wedding ceremony at Meiji Shrine. We saw two wedding couples on our short visit. 

Shibuya is known for it's big department stores and shopping opportunities. Right from exiting the Shibuya Station you will see all the neon lights of the stores. If you are not interested in shopping, at least you should visit Yoyogi Park in Shibuya. 

We ate our lunch at Monster Cafe in Harajuku. It was such a unique experience! I wrote more about it on Crazy Cafés of Japan -post. I wouldn't recommend it because of it's food but if you want to see something totally different and strange, you should try it out. Our 4 year old especially was fascinated about this colourful cafe.

 

A Humbling Thanksgiving Day at Hiroshima

Paula Gaston

We arrived in Hiroshima, Japan on a day when people back home in California where celebrating Thanksgiving. After visiting Kyoto and Himeji, we hopped on to a bullet train and moved on to Hiroshima for one day. After that we would return back to Tokyo for the rest of our vacation. The day in Hiroshima was both touching and fun. We saw so many different sides of the city, and we were happy that we travelled this far from our original destination, Tokyo. 

I'm sure we all remember Hiroshima from history. On August 6th, 1945 the United States dropped an atomic bomb from 9450 meters on to Hiroshima. The bomb exploded at 8:15 am killing approximately 75,000 people and destroying 90% of the city. By the end of the year, a total of 140,000 people had fallen ill by the radiation and died. After a few days another atomic bomb was dropped on Japan, in Nagasaki. There are many different opinions about the necessity of the atomic bombs. Some say that they are the reason why the second world war finally ended, but many also thinks that Japan would have given up soon anyway, and therefore the bombing was not acceptable. Today the city of Hiroshima has been rebuilt, and they are devoted to work on world peace. 1.2 million people visits Hiroshima every year.

After taking our luggage to the hotel, we walked to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. The memorial is one of the rare buildings that survived the bombing even though it was at the hypocenter of the bomb. Today it is known also as the A-Bomb Dome, but back in the day it used to be an exhibition hall, museum and art gallery. The dome was registered in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1996.  

On the other side of the Motoyasu river and the Hirsohima Peace Memorial is the Hiroshima Peace Park. You can walk along the river and go over it from several spots. One of the bridges is called Aioi, and it is said to be the focal point of the bomb. There were several groups of school children visiting the Peace Park. One group was singing by the Children's Peace Monument. The monument was built to honor the memory of children who died in the Hiroshima bombing, and it tells the story of Sadako Sasaki who died at the age of 12. Sadako was two years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima but she survived that day. However she got exposed to the radiation caused by the bomb, and fell ill with leukemia later. When she was ten years old she got hospitalised. Her best friend visited her in the hospital and brought her some paper cranes she had folded. According to a Japanese tale, if you fold a thousand paper cranes, you can wish for anything and your wish will come true. Sadako started folding paper cranes while she was in the hospital but according to her father, she died when she had made a total of 644 of them. Before Sadako's funeral, her class mates folded the rest of the paper cranes and they buried them with her body. There are several different versions of this story, but it is famous around the world as a heart breaking example of the results of atomic war. Several books have been written about Sadako and her statue is also in a park in Seattle, USA.

You can see the A-Bomb Dome through the  Hiroshima Memorial Cenotaph . Names of the victims are written on it. 

You can see the A-Bomb Dome through the Hiroshima Memorial Cenotaph. Names of the victims are written on it. 

On the top of the Children's Peace Monument is a statue of Sadako Sasaki holding a giant paper crane. 

On the top of the Children's Peace Monument is a statue of Sadako Sasaki holding a giant paper crane. 

From the Peace Park you can also find an interesting museum called the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. There you can read about the chaos and consequences of the atomic bombing. Before going in, you should know that some of the pictures in the museum are quite upsetting. I had to walk through few of the rooms quite quickly because I was visiting with our 4 year old daughter and I didn't want her to see them. My husband who is a history freak followed us later since he wanted to read all the signs. The museum is not huge, so you will most likely walk through it in a couple of hours. But it sure is very touching! We were pretty quiet while walking back to our hotel while we were trying to process everything we had seen. Especially when we knew that our family and friends back in California where now enjoying a Thanksgiving dinner and celebrating the things we should be thankful for. Our day in Hiroshima gave a whole new meaning to Thanksgiving Day! 

In the museum you can see a model of the city of Hiroshima and where the bomb was dropped. 

In the museum you can see a model of the city of Hiroshima and where the bomb was dropped. 

I will never forget this little tricycle in the museum. 

I will never forget this little tricycle in the museum. 

In the evening we did a little stroll in the city. One of the streets had some amazing Christmas lights so we ended walking a little more than planned. It is wonderful to see, that even after the city was completely destroyed, it has risen again, and today Hiroshima is full of life! 

Himeji - Japan's Most Beautiful Haunted Castle

Paula Gaston

After visiting Kyoto and Nara our plan was to go straight to Hiroshima. While planning our trip I noticed however, that there was an interesting city mid-way called Himeji. The main attraction in Himeji is their castle which you will be able to see right when exiting the railway station. We didn't expect to see much else in Himeji but we were pleasantly surprised how nice this town was.

We had booked a hotel from next to the railway station, so we stopped at the hotel to drop of our luggage. Then we walked to Himeji Castle, which was about ten minutes from the station. You will not be able to get lost on this walk since you will be able to see the castle the whole time on top of a hill. We were in Himeji during Japan's Thanksgiving Day so the castle was pretty crowded, but we did get tickets to go to both the castle and Himeji Kokoen garden which is next to the castle. We parked the baby stroller behind the ticket office and headed to the most beautiful castle in Japan. 

The current castle in Himeji dates from the beginning of 1600. Before that there were two castles. The castle today is the biggest castle in Japan, and is said to be the most beautiful. It is also the most visited of the Japanese castles. It was built mostly of wood and then plastered white inspiring it's nickname the "White Egret Castle". You should reserve some time for your visit since there are a total of 83 buildings. You will not be able to visit them all of course, but we did have to wait in line to get into the castle. Himeji Castle was registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1993.

When you enter the castle you will be given a plastic bag. It is for you to store your shoes during the visit. Be careful of the doorways since they are very small and you might hit your head if you aren't careful. There is no furniture inside the castle but it is nice to wander around to see different rooms. One room has some old artifacts on display, and the upper floor has a nice view over the city of Himeji.

The floor plan of the castle is very complicated, and it might be hard to navigate inside the castle unless you follow the marked route. Little alleys can be deceiving and the castle has many gates, secret rooms and tunnels. There are also about 1000 different holes in the walls. These were part of the defense system of the castle, and were designed so the residents could shoot the intruders. No one ever attacked Himeji Castle so the highly complex defense system was never tested. 

Watch your head!

Watch your head!

A model of the castle's framework.

A model of the castle's framework.

THE GHOST OF OKIKU
 

An old Japanese folktale tells the story of the beautiful maid Okiku who worked for the samurai Tessan Aoyama. Because Okiku persistently rejected Aoyama's romantic gestures, he fooled her to believe that she has broken one of his ten valuable porcelain plates. Normally there would have been the death penalty for that, but Aoyama promises to forgive her if she would be his mistress. Okiku declined, and disappointed by that Aoyama threw her into a well where she died. It is said that Okiku returned as a ghost and comes out at night time. She wanders around the alleys by the castle and counts the plates. After she counts to 9 she breaks into a horrible howl. 

There are many different versions of this tale but one of them is situated in Himeji Castle. You can find the well while touring the castle, but be careful if you end up here at night time! The horror movie The Ring which was released in 2002 has been inspired by this story. 

We got quite tired after travelling to Himeji and touring around the castle. We decided to skip the visit to the gardens and headed to the city center to find some food. We ended up in a shopping area which seemed huge, and we found a nice restaurant from there. We stopped in few little stores and also had some coffee at a Hello Kitty cafe. For our 4 year old daughter, that was the highlight of the day. I have to admit that it was pretty fun and I wrote about it earlier already in "Crazy Cafés of Japan". 

For once we arrived at the hotel before dark and got some rest before our trip to Hiroshima the next day. 

 

Nara, Japan - Home to Tame Deer and a Giant Buddha

Paula Gaston

If you are visiting Kyoto, Japan, or close by, do not skip the town of Nara. It is full of history, old buildings and interesting things to see. We spent a day in Nara and fell in love with this unique and compact town. We originally planned to drop it off from our travel list if we get too busy, but luckily we didn't. It ended up being one of the best days on our trip to Japan.

Nara was established at the same time as buddhism started to take root in Japan. Because of that, a huge amount of cultural history was born in Nara, like temples and statues. Nara has seven temples listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, most of them are close to Nara Park. Nara was Japan's first permanent capital from 710 to 784.

We arrived in Nara by train, and walked to Nara Park to visit the temples over there. There is a bus going from the railway station to the sights, but we like to walk and see some local life. Right when we got to the park area, we saw some of Nara's famous tame deer. They are sacred to the Kasuga Shrine. There are over 1000 deer roaming freely in Nara, and they are very friendly. You can pet them and feed them and take pictures with them. I was surprised at how calm they were. Only a couple of them followed us around and tried to poke my husband in hopes of getting some food. Other than that, even our 4 year old was able to pet the deer. If visiting here, bring some small change since they sell deer crackers in the park so you can feed them. 

We have tons of pictures of the deer, and the fall colours were beautiful in Nara Park. The park is huge and you can easily spend hours just walking around there.  

We have tons of pictures of the deer, and the fall colours were beautiful in Nara Park. The park is huge and you can easily spend hours just walking around there.  

KOHFUKU-JI TEMPLE

The area of temples in Nara Park is impressive. At first, we arrived at Kohfuku-ji Temple and the five storey pagoda next to it. They are both on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Kohfuku-ji was originally built in 669 but it was transferred to it's current location in 710. Inside the temple is a museum of national treasures. 

The five storey pagoda is a symbol of Nara, and is right next to the Kohfuku-ji Temple. It was rebuilt in 1426 after it burned down several times. 

The five storey pagoda is a symbol of Nara, and is right next to the Kohfuku-ji Temple. It was rebuilt in 1426 after it burned down several times. 

TODAI-JI AND THE GREAT BUDDHA

One of the most memorable places we visited on our trip to Japan was the Todai-ji Temple, and the Great Buddha inside it. The current temple is from the year 1709 and is only two thirds of it's original size. But it still is the biggest wooden building in the world. Two temples before this one were destroyed in fires. Over 2 million people helped with the re-construction of the giant buddha and the temple, 350, 000 were actually building the temple. All the bronze in Japan was used in the Great Buddha, and the government of Japan nearly bankrupted the country due to this project. The buddha itself (Daibutsu) was ready in the year 751, and after that it has been repaired after some earthquakes and other damage.

It is hard to describe my feelings when I first saw the temple and the Great Buddha. For some reason I wasn't expecting anything this beautiful. The temple looked magnificent against the blue, sunny sky, and the Buddha was really huge. Pictures don't really do justice to this place. Next to the Great Buddha, there were two Boddhisatva statues, and a small souvenir shop. 

What a lovely day, and a great city! I truly recommend everyone travelling in Japan to visit Nara!

 

5 Best Memories from Kyoto, Japan

Paula Gaston

On our fourth travel day to Japan we headed from Tokyo to Kyoto by bullet train. From all the places we saw on our trip, I think that Kyoto really stayed in our hearts. It was different than what we had imagined, but I really understand now why everyone told us to visit there. We were there in November, so we saw some amazing fall colours at the same time that we saw beautiful buildings and views.

There are about 1.5 million people living in Kyoto, and they have 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites there. So there is so much to do and see in this city. Kyoto was the capital of Japan until 1868, and they are now trying to protect all those historical neighbourhoods. Our best memories from Kyoto are:

GION GEISHA DISTRICT

One of the coolest things we did in Japan was a visit to the Gion Geisha District in Kyoto. Even though there are so many tourists in these small alleys, you can still sense the history there. We were not sure if we would be able to see geishas, since I had read that you are extremely lucky if you see one on your trip. But we happened to be in the right place at the right time, and in a short while we saw almost ten geishas on their way to work. I was so thrilled! Definitely one of my bucket list items. I will tell you more about geishas in a later post in the future. 

There are several good restaurants and tea houses in the Gion Geisha District. But it seemed to us that they were always full; the same with the little stores close by. But this area has a lot of souvenir shops and sweets shops if that is what you are looking for. We also saw many kimono rental shops where you can rent a kimono for a day. 

We also visited another geisha district called Pontocho. We did not see any geishas there but it was a lovely place for the evening stroll. The little alleys were full of restaurants and tea houses. 

FUSHIMI-INARI-TAISHA
 

Fushimi-Inari-Taisha is not part of the UNESCO World Heritage List, but in my opinion, is one of the best sights in Kyoto if not the best. It is a big shrine located at Inari mountain and you can hike up by following a "torii" alley. Torii is a Japanese gate used usually at shinto shrines. The hike up will take about two or three hours, but you can always turn back after an hour and the road will lead you back to the shrine. During your hike you will see many smaller shrines which are guarded by foxes. The foxes are said to be the messengers of Inari. 

The map will show you the hiking trail up the Inari mountain. 

The map will show you the hiking trail up the Inari mountain. 

Also the buildings at the shrine on the bottom of the trail are beautiful. Fushimi-Inari is a very popular site and there is always a lot of tourists there. If possible, you should plan your visit on a weekday and go as early as you can. The higher you hike, the less people you will see. Visiting Fushimi-Inari is free of charge.  

KINKAKU-JI TEMPLE AKA THE GOLDEN PAVILION
 

On our next day in Kyoto, we purchased tickets to the K´Loop bus. It drives around Kyoto and stops at UNESCO World Heritage Sites and a few other places too. We soon discovered that it was not the best choice for us, since the bus did not drive back to our hotel in the afternoon. We still used the bus to go to Kinkaku-Ji aka the Golden Pavilion, and on from there.

The Golden Pavilion is one of the best sights in Kyoto. Do not leave without seeing it! Already at the gate we noticed how many tourists were there, and to see the Kinkaku-Ji, you have to stand by a little pond with all the other people. It got very crowded and there were security officers to guide people to the right places. It kind of broke the atmosphere of this beautiful place. But the view was worth it and the rest of the park didn't seem so crowded. I would recommend visiting here early in the morning and during the week.

The Golden Pavilion was built in 1397 but the original building was destroyed by a fire. The building today has three storeys and it was built in 1955. Two upper floors are covered with pure gold leaf. The building is used to restore the remains of a Buddha. 

NIJO-JO CASTLE

Nijo Castle was the first UNESCO World Heritage Site we saw in Kyoto. That is because our hotel, Guest House Rinn Nijo Castle was located right next to it. The castle was built in 1626, and it has suffered under several fires and typhoons. It has been open to the public since 1939.

After you purchase a ticket you will be able to visit the castle and its gardens. When going inside the palace, you will have to remove your shoes, so don´t forget to bring socks! There is no furniture inside the palaces, and photography is not allowed, but it is still an interesting tour. In Ninomaru Palace you will notice something special; the wooden floors make a sound almost like birds chirping when you walk on it. It is said that the purpose of this sound was to warn the residents of intruders and assassins. There is a big beautiful garden in Nijo Castle and you will be able to feed carp that live in the garden pond.

A little video of Nijo Castle. 

When you tour around the castles and shrines on weekends, you will most likely spot a wedding ceremony somewhere. 

When you tour around the castles and shrines on weekends, you will most likely spot a wedding ceremony somewhere. 

YASAKA-JINJA

This shrine is easy to visit at the same time you visit the Gion Geisha District since it is very close by. There are hundreds of lanterns that are lit in the evenings, so I would recommend visiting after sunset. You can also access Maruyama Park from here which is a popular site for cherry blossoms in the spring time. There are many souvenir and street food sellers in these little alleys. 

We could have stayed in Kyoto for longer. We felt like we missed many interesting places since we wanted to move on to our next destination. We would have at least visited the Silver Pavillion, Arashiyama Bamboo Forest and Fushimi Sake District. I had imagined that Kyoto was a smaller and more compact city where the sites are pretty close to each other, but it took a lot of time to move around in the city. We also ended up walking a lot, so every once in a while we needed a little bit of rest. 

Kyoto really is an amazing city!