Kyoto is stunning. If there is only one place on your bucket list I recommend this be it. Only Rome has more world heritage sites.
We stayed at a traditional house that gave us a glimpse of Japanese life. Every day putting the futons out and eating at the sunken table were highlights. Loved it! However, at night the ambiance – and particularly the sliding doors – reminded me of the film The Ring.
We hired bikes, which made it easy to explore the city with the children. Jonas slept most of the time on the bike. Around Gion we parked the bikes and walked up some stairs crowded with tourists and school kids – Dylan and Jonas unsheathed their samurai swords out to fight off any ninjas (or geishas, as Dylan was slightly scared by them). We eventually reached Kiyomizu-dera temple which was particularly impressive.
Second day there were some slopes that I was not warned about. I blame the bike with no gears and Jonas for going so slow and the Golden palace is just too far.
After exploring the Golden Palace we did a visit to the famous rock garden at the Ryoanji zen temple was needed to restore our yin and yang.
With Ady, Mark’s pal, being more adventurous on the food side we tried the most amazing dishes. Udon noodles, dim sum, yakatori chicken; one restaurant better then the next. Went to the coolest sushi restaurant where you order on an iPad and it lands within a minute at your table after being plucked out of an nearby aquarium.
On the last day, with fantastic weather, we walked through the Arashiyama’s bamboo forest then on to the stunning red gates at Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine. There are apparently over 10,000 gates weaving 4 km up the mountain – we probably made it half way. We were so enthralled that we nearly missed the train back to Kyoto station (by seconds). I would love to spend weeks in Kyoto… will have to be another time as Beijing awaits.
We visited quite a few places in Tokyo. All made easier with the newly purchased Ergobaby ( carrier) from a department store in Shibuya. With Dylan on Mark’s back when tired we visited Asakusa to see the famous Sensiji temple and gardens then met with NCT friends from London so Dylan and Emilia could play cool down in the fountain next to the Imperial palace. Ady, Mark’s pal from Hull was jetllaged so took a power nap on park bench shaped like a tube. We also visited Tepia – Technology Utopia – to see the world’s latest innovations; advanced robots, mirrors which measure your heart rate, and even a face recognition system which tells you the percentage of a person’s smile (tried my best to reach 100% or 0% smile but failed). We walked around Harajuku (crazy fashion) and Shinjuku by night with dazzling lights and quirky, cool, occasionally seedy bars. We finished off with a visit to the Tokyo Skytree.
Perhaps what impressed us most was the Japanese rail system, though sure the feeling wasn’t mutual… On the famous Yamamoto line our broken stroller didn’t mind the gap, got stuck for a nanosecond and the doors shut on it. Sirens. Frantic workers ran to assist. I am sure we have affected KPIs somewhere and those seconds disrupted the entire train schedule for the day.
Later on, about to take a very long electric escalator to the exit, when Dylan spotted a little red button at his eye level on the side of the stairs. – a packed escalator suddenly stopped. Those sirens again. 50 or so Japanese commuters staring at us before trudging up the stairs that were now refusing to move again. Dylan smirks, laughs and jumps around a bit. We all run off, passing guards sprinting the other way. Best to leave Tokyo before they put pictures up of our kids as root causes of impacted performance. On to Kyoto.
After a 30-minute delay on our flight we arrived later then expected at Narita airport – over an hour from Tokyo – so we were lucky to catch the last train with 2 minutes to spare. Reached the apartment after midnight so saw very little of Tokyo, not even the famous bright lights. The next day however it was love at first sight…
We headed to Ueno and soon came across hundreds of Japanese children going to the zoo with school (there are hundreds of Japanese children everywhere in Japan; they never appear to be at school). Beautiful ponds and people relaxing in the park. Distances are very long though so loads of walking. Witnessed the Japanese power-naps seemingly anywhere anytime. Dylan was so tired he even went in Jonas’ pram. All the locals seem asleep in the park.
We had a go at our first traditional Japanese meal which I must say was an act of courage given that even the pictures shed little light on what we were about to be served (except for some miso soup and rice). Oh dear! Mark didn’t attempt to eat anything but rice with soy sauce. Dylan started playing with the chopsticks as if they were swords. I shut my eyes as I tried squishy things with consistency never encountered before. Some tastes were new and interesting (polite cough) and others were unexpectedly unpleasant. As luck would have it, Dylan came to the rescue and accidentally poured the entire bowl of miso soup over my lap. Within seconds the lovely waiters came running with ice in case I was scolded. I was fuming as
1. Dylan had been messing around in what should be a peaceful, zen-like, restaurant
2. I was drenched and smelled of miso soup with no chance of going back to the hotel as it was too far
3. The only food I could actually eat or use to wash down what I didn’t like was now gone.
Fortunately I used the incident as the perfect excuse to leave so we made a run for the nearest place that sold recognisable food; McDonalds. This was the only thing we could recognise and Dylan (and Mark) would eat. Shamelessly walked in only to find loads of other tourists with a big smile on their face too. Not a good sign so far on the food front! Promised ourselves no more McDonalds for the rest of the trip but this time it was much appreciated.