After a great introduction to Japan through two days in Tokyo, it was time for me to head to Kumamoto via a day in Kyoto. I took my first ever bullet train/shinkansen early in the morning to do the couple of hours travel from Tokyo to Kyoto.
The shinkansen’s are pretty roomy, there are also plugs and a person who brings food and drink to buy. One thing I noticed with Japan is that they actively discourage eating while on the move, to the point where there aren’t even bins on the pavement. It can be really annoying, but it also makes you really grateful when a person openly sells food to you whilst you’re travelling.
I had a whistlestop tour of Kyoto. It started off in a department store buying Birkenstocks because the heat and walking in Japan had caused my feet to swell and blister like I don’t know what. I am a UK woman’s 7, and got the biggest size they had in the shop which was 25cm, but I feel I could have gone up a side. Jokes aside, shoes in Japan are small.
Next, I headed to Nishiki Market,
It felt very authentic there, with lots of traditional foods and crafts on offer for sale. The attention to detail in the ceiling was also lovely to see, and not a place I would have expected such architecture to be present in.
After that, and via a doughnut cafe, I headed up 500-something metres to Kiyomizu-dera Shrine.
It was a trek and a half to walk up the hill in the heat and humidity, but as you can see, the beauty of the shrine was absolutely worth it. There were also some really impressive views from the top, and lovely little shops on the way up. I particularly noticed the amount of people in traditional dress around this shrine, and Yasaka shrine which I also visited. It was really lovely to see individuals, couples, friends and families of all ages embracing the heritage of their country.
Kyoto Tower is situated opposite the train station, so I made the effort to stop off there for more magnificent views of the city before I got the first of two shinkansens that would take me Kumamoto and Caitlin!
Caitlin very kindly left an end of term party early to meet me at the station. We promptly returned to her flat and sat up until 2 in the morning catching up! A year’s a long time to go without seeing one of your best friends, even though technology has been very useful.
Kumamoto is a fairly small city, but it was the perfect place to chill over the weekend and reconnect with my friend. We visited the absolutely stunning Suizenji park,
As you can just about see in this picture, Japan have mastered blending city living with beautiful greenery. Walking around their parks and extravagent shrines can make you feel like you’re tucked away in one of nature’s pretty secrets, when if you look over the trees, you might catch a skyscraper because you’re actually still in the city. I very much appreciate places like that, they’re my favourite types of places to be. You can also see the fake Mount Fuji of Suizenji park in this picture, over on the left, apparently every park in Japan has one.
That same day we also visited a British bakery which had the most authentic tasting scones I’ve ever had outside of Britain, and a Japanese owner with a very London accent! It was a lovely little shop.
For evening activities, Caitlin’s boyfriend Kohei was very helpfully celebrating his birthday so we had even more of an excuse to go out to a restaurant, then have all the fun singing and dancing to karaoke in our own booth (seriously, they need these in England), before heading out to some bars and writing upside down on polaroids. We also tried raw horse meat for the first time which wasn’t too horrendous (for me anyway), but definitely wasn’t as delicious as the gyoza (dumplings) we ate!
The next day was a slightly hungover one, but we still had many a place to visit! We went and watched one of Caitlin’s schools compete in a rugby competition. After lunch of more gyoza (seriously, those things are delicious as heck), doughnuts iced to look like animals, and a failed trip to an onsen because of road closures (though apparently my tattoos would have been frowned upon anyway), we ended up going back and watching the final of the rugby as well. It was really lovely to just chill and watch some rugby.
My final full day in Kumamoto unfortunately was a day Caitlin had to spend in work. Therefore, it was up to me to get myself up to and around the castle that is currently being reconstructed due to a really bad earthquake in April, and then to potter around the city centre.
I made it! And workers there very kindly told me that if I went up to the 14th floor of the city offices I’d get a great view of the whole site, so I did! That’s where I took that panoramic shot from. Their helpfulness was a continuation of all of the kindness I had shown to me by every Japanese person I came across, but particularly Caitlin’s neighbour. While I was waiting for the bus, it began to absolutely throw it down with rain – if you like extreme weather, head to Japan. Her neighbour came out and offered to drive me to where I was going, I cautiously accepted, and whilst in the car it became clear he knew about 3 words of English, which could only be countered by my 2 words of Japanese. After it became clear that he thought I was going to the nearby university, which I wasn’t, but that he also did not understand the word castle, only station, I ended up being driven to the station, to then catch a train to the centre. He also gave me his umbrella. A wonderfully kind man.
You can read Caitlin’s version of events here: http://gotmeunderaspell.blogspot.co.uk/2017/08/scousers-reunited.html, and catch up on her other amazing Japanese adventures! Seriously, she’s smashing life out there, you should check it out.
The next day took me to Hiroshima, which will take you to my next post…