Our delayed second holiday trip; Totoro tags along
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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My Significant Other and I went on our honeymoon trip to Tokyo in 2012. Both of us enjoyed the trip immensely and had planned to visit other parts of Japan in the near future.

Our initial plan was to visit Japan again two years later, in 2014. However, due to the work involved in the publication of our first game, Three Kingdoms Redux, we had to delay the trip by a year. Another factor that contributed to the delay was the renovation work of Himeji-jo. The castle has been undergoing restoration work since 2010 and that was scheduled to be completed in March 2015. In order to visit Himeji-jo, which is my Significant Other's highlight for the trip, we delayed our Kyoto-Himeji-Osaka-Nara-Kobe-Otsu-Hikone trip to 13 May - 5 Jun this year.

The inspiration for the format of this geeklist comes from the Forwarding the Love II - Jack the Meeple's FtL Adventure geeklist. We bought a number of Totoro meeples mb recently and thought that it will be fun to bring one along with us on our second holiday trip to Japan. Totoro will also be sharing its thoughts about the trip.

1 For those not in the know, this is my Significant Other:
Keng Leong Yeo
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小富靠勤,中富靠智,大富靠德。
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2 And this is Totoro mb:


3 Totoro will be rating the various sightseeing spots, based on his level of enjoyment, from 1 to 5, with 1 being the least recommended and 5 being the most recommended.

4 I am making this open to public additions only to enable my Significant Other to add geeklist items, as this geeklist is our joint effort. Other BGG-ers, please refrain from adding any items or I will delete them.

5 For those who are interested in receiving a Totoro meeple, you may take part in June G4GG. I have posted an item for a Totoro meeple here. Totoro is keen to make more new friends.
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1. Board Game: Pick & Pack [Average Rating:6.48 Overall Rank:2687]
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Day 0


I started packing a week before the trip and finally got it done the night before. We also decided to bring Parade and Battle Line with us, in case we had any free time.
Totoro wonders what adventures awaits it in Japan.

Totoro's rating of my packing skills:
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2. Board Game: Flight Path [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Day 1


Totoro waits impatiently for its turn to board the plane...

The entire trip, including the flight and limousine bus to the hotel, took 8 hours. robot

Totoro's rating of the flight: (I much prefer the catbus)
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3. Board Game: Market Day [Average Rating:5.64 Overall Rank:13368]
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Day 2


Nishiki Market

A morning trip to Nishiki market for breakfast cum lunch.

One will probably be spoilt for choice by the wide variety of food available, such as tofu donuts, eel liver, egg roll, stick skewered, riceball. The eel liver and egg roll were heavenly. Even a simple mandarin orange was packed with juice and really sweet.

Totoro's rating of Nishiki market: (yummy food, with lots of variety)


Museum of Kyoto

The permanent exhibition of the Museum of Kyoto takes up two floors. The third floor displays Kyoto-related arts and crafts works while the second floor introduces the history and festival of Kyoto.

Audio guides, which explains the exhibits about the history/festival of Kyoto, is available for rental. A particularly interesting exhibit is the corridor of illustrated scrolls, which introduce the lives of people and the townscape over four periods (Heian, Kamakura, Muromachi and Edo).

Totoro's rating of Museum of Kyoto: (quite short on details as the permanent exhibition about the history of Kyoto only takes up one floor)


Pontocho

Pontocho consists primarily of a narrow alley of restaurants. Some of the restaurants face the Kamogawa River and offer the option of dining on the temporary platforms out in the open air.

It was raining lightly when we were dining at the upper floor of one of the restaurants. We could see the restaurant staff clearing the tables and cushion and re-setting them up at the platforms when the rain stopped. An interesting sight unique to Pontocho.

One can also get to enjoy the beautiful scenery along the Kamogawa River while resting at the small path running along the length of river.
Totoro enjoying the cool breeze along the Kamogawa, next to Ponto Cho

Totoro's rating of Ponto Cho: (great ambience but pricey food)
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4. Board Game: Festival [Average Rating:5.56 Overall Rank:12552]
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Day 3


Aoi Matsuri

Aoi Matsuri is one of Kyoto's three most famous festivals and takes place every 15 May. It includes a parade involving hundreds of people dressed up in the aristocratic style of the Heian Period. The parade starts from the Imperial Palace at 10:30am and ends at Kamigamo Jinja.

Paid seatings are available in advance at both the Imperial Palace and Kamigamo Jinja. However, one can also watch the parade for free by standing by the side, though one should arrive early to find a good viewing spot. Despite our arriving early at the Imperial Palace, it was already quite crowded with people. Many brought their own mats and reserved the good viewing spots.

We got lucky and found a relatively good spot next to a small platform. An ojisan (elderly man) was standing on the platform throughout the parade, explaining the proceedings in Japanese. The people in the parade would stop and bow as they passed the platform. It is a pity that we could not understand much of the Japanese.

Totoro's rating of Aoi Matsuri: (colourful costumes but explanations are only in Japanese)


Kamigamo Jinja

Kamigamo jinja is the final destination of the Aoi Matsuri. It is one of the most important and oldest shrines in Kyoto. The shrine is well-known for the two sand cones, as shown in the picture below, which have a purification function.


Totoro taking in the sights of Kamigamo Jinja

Totoro's rating of Kamigamo Jinja: (one of the oldest shrines in Kyoto, but there is little else to see if it was not part of the Aoi Matsuri)


Kyoto Botanical Garden

The Kyoto Botanical Garden is huge, with three entrances. Various type of plants/trees such as roses, peony, bamboo, bonsai etc. can be seen here. There was even a special exhibition on cactus (not sure whether this exhibit changes from time to time), some of which have won prizes. It is a pity that we were unable to enter the Conservatory as we arrived late.

Totoro's rating of Kyoto Botanical Garden: (did not manage to visit the conservatory, which closes at an relatively early 4p.m.)
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5. Board Game: Age of Steam Expansion: Japan [Average Rating:7.24 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.24 Unranked]
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Day 4


Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum

The entrance and display hall for the Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum was the former station building of Nijō Station in Kyoto. It was built in 1904 and is the oldest wooden railway station in Japan. The building was then moved to the museum grounds in 1997 as a railway cultural asset. A number of exhibits can be seen within this old building, such as the history of locomotives, operation of steam locomotives, actual exhibits of the driver's area, etc.

Located beside the exhibition hall is a fan-shaped locomotive house which displays a number of locomotives for public viewing. One can also get to experience a short ride on the steam locomotive, which operates three times a day.

There is currently an expansion plan for the museum, which includes addition of two large exhibition halls. Besides steam locomotives, there will be exhibits of shinkansen, electric locomotives as well as diesel locomotives. It is expected to open in Spring 2016. Sounds like it will become an even more interesting place for future Kyoto tourists!


Totoro blinded by the intense fires of the steam locomotive engine

Totoro's rating of Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum: (learnt a lot about steam locomotives and even got to experience riding one!)


Kyoto International Manga Museum

Many comic collections are available in the Kyoto International Manga Museum, though we did not manage to read them, as they are in Japanese. The primary attraction for us is the main exhibition room that shares the development of manga in Japan.

Totoro's rating of Kyoto International Manga Museum: (most manga and the free kami shibai (Japanese storytelling) performance are in Japanese, which will reduce the level of understanding for most non-Japanese speaking tourists)
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6. Board Game: Tokaido: Matsuri [Average Rating:7.37 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.37 Unranked]
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Day 5


Tenryu-ji

The landscape garden next to the main hall of Tenryu-ji is one of the oldest in Japan. It looks splendid against the backdrop of Arashiyama. We rested and relaxed at the main hall while enjoying the wonderful view of the garden.



Totoro's rating of Tenryu-ji: (an excellent garden against the backdrop of Arashiyama, but try to reach the temple early to avoid the crowds)


Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

The Bamboo Grove is located near the north entrance of Tenryu-ji. Strolling along the narrow path, one can enjoy the view of fully-grown bamboo on both sides of the path. This is the only area that has such a high concentration of bamboo among all the places we visited. The bamboo lends a serene feel to the entire path, if not for the crowd.


Totoro enjoying the bamboo grove

Totoro's rating of Arashiyama bamboo grove: (fabulous ambiance but as before, go early in the morning to avoid the big crowds)


Mifune Matsuri

We crossed the Togetsukyo bridge to the opposite bank to look for a shady spot to view the Mifune Matsuri. This matsuri is a reproduction of a boat party held on the Oigawa River. People dressed in colorful ancient costumes board a number of decorated boats, which are then rowed at a leisurely pace along both sides of the river. Each boat has a different role; there is one that carries musicians and another where dance performances are performed on a platform.

People can rent small-sized rowing boats to explore the Oigawa river. We observed a significant increase in the number of rented boats shortly after the event commenced as tourists tried to get near the matsuri boats. It was a rather bizarre sight with the traditional music and dance performances going on the matsuri boats.

Opened sensu fans of all colors were dropped lightly onto the water surface by participants of the matsuri from their boats. We observed some of the rented boats picking the fans up. We overheard one of the Japanese shouting something along the lines of "genki", which means good health, to the people on the rented boat. It seemed that receiving a sensu fan was akin to good spirits/feeling well.

Though we did not fully understand the significance of the various rituals, it was still an enthralling experience.

Totoro's rating of Mifune Matsuri: (find a shady spot on the opposite bank to sit down and watch the proceedings unfold; the boats will make rounds and eventually come to you)


Kameyama Koen

A reasonably long trek is needed to reach the top of Kameyama koen, but the view from there is simply stunning. We could see the river flowing at the foot of Arashiyama and can make out Hozugawa boats approaching from afar. There is even a temple (we assumed it is a temple) framed by the foliage of Arashiyama on the opposite bank.



Totoro's rating of Kameyama Koen: (a long climb up but affords a stunning view of Arashiyama and Hozugawa)
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7. Board Game: Origin of Failing Water [Average Rating:5.61 Overall Rank:12069]
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Day 6

The itinerary has been packed thus far and we finally got the opportunity for a game of Parade this morning while doing our laundry.
Totoro observing our game of Parade, while waiting for the laundry


Sanjusangen-do

The most striking feature of Sanjusangen-do is its long temple hall measuring 120 meters long. Within it housed 1000 standing statues of Kannon and one gigantic seated Kannon statue right in the middle of the standing statues. One can only marvel at the amount of effort in carving and preserving these statues, which are made of Japanese cypress in the 12th/13th century.

We also learnt about Tōshiya, which was an archery contest held annually at Sanjusangen-do. Contestants compete based on the most number of arrows hit on target. Champions were honoured by having a certificate hung in the temple showing their name, age, the number of arrows shot and the date of the competition.

Totoro's rating of Sanjusangen-do: (stunning array of 1000 Kannons though pictures are not allowed, and also interesting stories of the archery contests that took place along its long corridors)


Kiyomizu-dera

Kiyomizu-dera is one of the prime tourist attractions of Kyoto and attracts huge crowds. The temple will probably be more enjoyable with smaller crowds. One of its well-known features is the wooden stage that extends out from the main hall. Both the main hall and wooden stage were built without the use of nails. The wooden stage is an ideal place to view the surroundings.

The Otowa Waterfall located at the base of the main hall is also very popular among the visitors as they queued up to drink its water. The water split into three streams and have a benefit for each (longevity, success at school and a fortunate love life).

During our visit, some of the buildings are closed for renovation. Although a pity for us, it was nice to know that the Japanese are working hard to preserve all these historical buildings for future generations to enjoy .




Totoro amazed by the tall pillars supporting the main veranda of Kiyomizu-dera

Totoro's rating of Kiyomizu-dera: (majestic veranda but extremely crowded and parts of the temple are closed for restoration)


Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka

Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka are shopping streets located near Kiyomizu-dera. They are lined with traditional shophouses, some of which have a long history. As they are only accessible to pedestrians, one can stroll leisurely along the streets and enjoy the old and rustic feel of the place.

We came upon an old shop, Shichimiya Honpo Coporation, that was established in 1889. It sells shichimi, which consists of seven flavored spices (Tou Garashi, white sesame, black sesame, blue perilla, hemp seed, green lavers and sansyo). They also sell a shichimi set with a gourd-shaped or cylindrical container. This makes for a nice souvenir for those who prepare Japanese food such as soba at home.

Moving along, Totoro also met his other friends. There is a sizable Studio Ghibli shop with a giant Totoro greeting us at its entrance. There are lots of Studio Ghibli memorabilia within the shop. Little Totoro was so excited about the reunion and almost refused to leave shake.

One can also spot on occasion, ladies who dressed up as maiko walking along these streets. It turns out that there are a number of shops in this general area that ladies can rent and experience wearing a kimono and/or dress up as maiko.


Yasaka Pagoda can be viewed from the backlanes of Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka. We were hoping to enter the pagoda after reading that Yasaka Pagoda opens occasionally to public. However, luck was not with us and the pagoda was closed when we arrived. We found out afterwards from the locals that the opening hours of the pagoda are highly irregular and infrequent. You can count yourself very lucky if you are able to enter the pagoda during your visit!

Totoro's rating of Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka: (many interesting shops housed in machiya shophouses line these two streets, lending a unique shopping experience)


Nene no Michi

This walkway was named after the wife of the warlord, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. She is more commonly known as Nene. Nene no Michi is a quaint little street without much to see.

The cute statues you see in the picture below are of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Nene, but they are found near Kodaiji (see next geeklist item) and not along Nene no Michi.

Totoro's rating of Nene no Michi: (Totoro has little recollection of this street... blush)
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8. Board Game: Meiji Ishin [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Day 7


Ryozen Gokoku Shrine

We only found out about the Ryozen Gokoku Shrine and Ryozen Museum of History towards the end of the previous day, when we were touring Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka. That prompted a change of plans for today's itinerary as we decided to include these two places.

The primary reason for our interest is Sakamoto Ryōma. We first came to know about him through a Japanese drama, Jin. Sakamoto Ryōma played a key role in the movement to overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate. His life was in danger a number of times, and a particularly well-known assassination attempt was made at the Teradaya Inn. He was fortunate to escape. For that reason, we had already planned to visit the Teradaya inn the following day.

Sakamoto Ryōma was subsequently assassinated at the Omiya Inn.

The Ryozen Gokoku Shrine honours the heroes of Japan, especially those from the Bakumatsu period and the Meiji Restoration. Sakamoto Ryōma was buried side by side with his companion, Nakaoka Shintarō, at the shrine. We went to pay our respects to Sakamoto Ryōma.

Totoro's rating of Ryozen Gokoku Shrine: (mostly for history fanatics, particularly Sakamoto Ryōma fans)


Kodaiji

Kodaiji was established by Kita-no-Mandokoro (more commonly known as Nene) in memory of her late husband, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Within the temple, there is a special memorial hall enshrining Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Kita-no-Mandokoro. Their wooden images can be seen at the rear of the hall.
Totoro enjoying the Zen of the rock garden of Kodaiji


Totoro's rating of Kodaiji: (also for history fanatics, particularly Toytomi Hideyoshi and Nene fans)


Ryozen Kwannon

The statue of the gigantic Kwannon caught our attention the previous day and we paid a quick visit to Ryozen Kwannon to view it up close. The merciful looking Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (Kwannon) looks really beautiful against the green backdrop of the mountain range in Kyoto.

Ryozen Kwannon is a memorial built in commemoration of those who perished during the second world war and for the establishment of a peaceful Japan. On the eighth, eighteenth and twenty eighth days of each month, the priests of this temple will kindle a sacred fire for the purpose of national prosperity, highway traffic safety and harmony within families. That explains the smoke we saw the previous day while we were touring around Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka. At that time, we had thought that a fire had broken out prompting the arrival of fire engine. On hindsight, it was the ritual that resulted in the smoke.

Totoro's rating of Ryozen Kannon: (relatively empty and quiet as tourists prefer Kodaiji and there is the stunning Kwannon statue that one can enter from the back to find more deities enshrined)


Mametora

Mametora is a restaurant in Gion recommended to us. At this restaurant, one gets to try Mamezushi, which are small bite-sized sushi (as shown in the picture below). They look really cute and we overheard multiple exclamations of "kawaii!" by two Japanese ladies sitting at a neighbouring table as when they opened their box of Mamezushi .

We went to Mametora during lunch and there are two options to choose from. We chose the five courses option. The main course is of course Mamezushi. Before that, we were served a number of other dishes such as tofu, soup with bamboo shoot and fish with daikon on top. The meal was completed with a mochi and green tea dessert.

The tofu has a nice firm texture while the soup is rich in taste. The Mamezushi is superb and fresh too. Each Mamezushi has a unique taste. Certainly a refreshing experience for us.

Totoro's rating of Mametora: (great way to experience washoku but go for the lunch set, which is cheaper)


Ryozen Museum of History

The Ryozen Museum of History is a two-storey museum specialising in the history of the Bakumatsu period and the Meiji restoration. Most of the exhibits are in Japanese and that limited our understanding. However, we did get to know of a person by the name of Yoshida Shōin as we heard his name repeatedly over a video. That roused our curiosity over who this person is. We later found out that he was an intellectual who had nurtured many students and would subsequently go on to mkde outstanding contributions to the Meiji Restoration.

For those who understand Japanese, there are videos showing the summarised life story of the various important persons involved during this period. We also saw a life-sized Sakamoto Ryoma as well as the sword that was used in his assassination. Models are available to show the Omiya incident, where Sakamoto Ryoma was killed, and the Ikedaya incident. The Ryozen Museum of History will be an interesting place for visitors who are Japanese literate and are interested in Japan's history during this period.

Totoro's rating of Ryozen Museum of History: (lots of historical information about the Meiji Restoration, but most of it is in Japanese)


Gion

Our final destination of the day was the famous Gion area. Along the way there, we caught a glimpse of a maiko/geiko in a hurry, presumably to fulfill a booking for her services. Many of the tourists were busy taking pictures of her.

As we strolled along the street at night, we saw machiya lining both sides of the street. All the machiya have brightly-lit red lanterns at their shop front, lending the area a consistent dated feel. The street is also accessible by vehicles and we could see a number of taxis ferrying more tourists to Gion.

Totoro's rating of Gion: (somewhat overrated as one can also see preserved machiya shophouses in numerous other locations, is crowded with tourists at most times and is really difficult to spot a real maiko)
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9. Board Game: Fantastic Mr Fox [Average Rating:4.50 Unranked]
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Day 8


Teradaya Inn

The Teradaya Inn is an old Japanese inn where the Teradaya incident took place. Sakamoto Ryōma was nearly assassinated here. He managed to escape because his girlfriend who was in the bath at the time, ran upstairs naked to alert him of the intruders. One can view the room that Sakamoto Ryōma used to stay as well as the markings caused by bullet and sword from the incident. It is a charming little inn that satisfies the curiosity of those interested in the Teradaya incident.


Totoro gazing at the Sakamoto Ryōma statue at Teradaya Inn

Totoro's rating of Teradaya Inn: (relatively small and also mainly for Sakamoto Ryōma fans)


Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum

The Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum is one of the best museums we have visited during the trip. The exhibits show the tools used and processes employed in the sake brewing trade. English translation is available and that allowed us to develop a better appreciation of the processes.

Another exhibition room recounts the history of Gekkeikan. Old sake bottles and flasks as well as advertising posters are on display. The development and accomplishment of the company can be seen through these exhibits.

At the end of the tour, one can also get to taste three of their sake products (Retro-bottle Ginjoshu, Tama-no-Izumi Daiginjo and Plum wine). We ended up buying a bottle of Retro-bottle Ginjoshu due to its sweet and rich taste.

We were also given two small bottles of sake that came free with each museum admission ticket. The bottle packaging was pretty cool as it comes with a small cup at the top, making it convenient to drink the sake.

Totoro's rating of Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum: (very informative, impressed by the foresight of Gekkeikan's previous generations' owners and affords the opportunity to try some sake )


Fushimi Inari Shrine

Fushimi Inari Shrine is well-known for its thousands of vermilion torii gates. Many fox statues can also be seen around the shrine grounds. They are regarded to be the messengers of god.

Behind the main shrine is a trail leading up the mountain, lined with thousands of torii gates. Each of these torii gates is donated by an individual or a business. The torii gates vary in size according to the amount donated. The name of the donor and date of donation are inscribed on the gates. One can easily tell that some of these torii gates are very old from their faded colour.

At the start of the trail, it was crowded with people, making phototaking a challenge. However, the number of people reduced significantly further up the trail and that will offer good opportunities to take some nice pictures of the torii gates.

Towards the halfway point of the trail, one will come upon a small lake and a shop selling torii gates. There is even another shop selling food for tired hikers/tourists. However, they close early (approximately 4pm).

The hike to the summit is said to take approximately two to three hours. We stopped at the halfway point and took an alternative route down because we wanted to purchase a miniature torii gate as a souvenir. The particular style we were after, with small gate extensions on both sides(see picture on final geeklist item) seemed to be only available at one particular shop near the entrance of the shrine. It was a good thing we made that decision, for most of the shops were closed by around 5pm. If you would like to purchase souvenirs or food, be sure to reach the shrine earlier to avoid disappointment.

We also got to try the local dishes (inari sushi and kitsune udon), both of which feature aburaage, a favourite food of the foxes. The aburaage tastes sweet and received Totoro's approval .

Totoro's rating of Fushimi Inari Shrine: (an absolutely enchanting experience hiking up the mountain along the path that is lined with vermilion torii gates and tasty inari sushi)
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10. Board Game: Pagoda [Average Rating:6.72 Overall Rank:1648]
Keng Leong Yeo
Singapore
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Day 9


Toji

Toji was a reasonably short distance away from our hotel, so we made our way there on foot that morning. The famous 5-storey pagoda of Toji came into sight as we neared the temple and we can't help but admire its regal appearance.

We had intentionally picked the 21st of the month to visit Toji as we knew a flea market was held on its grounds for that day. More of that later, because we decided to visit the inner grounds and pagoda first.

The 5-storey pagoda is the tallest pagoda in Japan and is the centrepiece of a well-maintained garden. The garden allows visitors to admire the pagoda from a distance or up close. Visitors may also enter the pagoda, but only on the ground floor, which is a pity.

There are a couple of other halls and a museum housing Toji's treasures on the temple grounds, but the pagoda is the most eye-catching.

Totoro's rating of Toji: (majestic pagoda, where one can enter its ground floor, set in a well-managed garden)


Kobo-san Flea Market

It was late morning by the time we completed visiting the Toji temple grounds. Time for the Kona-san flea market!

There was a wide variety of goods on offer, but we were hungry and found ourselves attracted mostly to the food stalls. We had taiyaki(fish-shaped cake), karaage(fried chicken), yakitori(grilled skewered chicken)... The karaage and yakitori was especially memorable zombie.

After satisfying our hunger pangs, we strolled leisurely between stalls selling antiques, cloth, kimonos, trinkets, lacquerware, umbrellas,... until it was early afternoon and time to move on to our next planned location.

Totoro's rating of Kobo-san flea market: (really delicious taiyaki, karaage and yakitori, but very crowded and hot)


Sumiya Pleasure House

Sumiya is the largest surviving machiya shophouse in Kyoto. Its name comes from the fact that it was once an ageya, i.e. restaurant-cum-brothel. The first floor is open to the public and the second floor may only be accessed by a guided tour conducted in Japanese that required reservation, which we did not make.

We were really fortunate that we arrived just when a guided tour was about to start. That allowed us to join up with the group and view the luxurious second floor. The second floor is made up of mostly banquet rooms of various sizes. Halfway through the guided tour, the guide, an ojisan (elderly man), inquired where we were from. At the end of the tour, the ojisan motioned us over and started to re-explain the main parts of the guided tour to us in English surprise! That certainly helped in our understanding and appreciation of the architecture and we thanked him profusely after it.

The first floor is taken up mostly by a huge kitchen. A kitchen of that size was required to serve up quality food for numerous simultaneous banquets taking place on the second floor!
Totoro amazed by the size of the kitchen of the Sumiya Pleasure House

Totoro's rating of Sumiya Pleasure House: (well-preserved machiya shophouse that one can actually enter and explore and a kind guide who took the trouble to explain the main parts of the guided tour to us in English)


Kyoto Tower

It was evening by the time we returned to our hotel and had our dinner. As we still had some energy left, we made the impromptu decision to explore the Kyoto Tower, which was just a stone's throw away from our hotel.

Kyoto Tower's exterior felt a little strange and seemed jarring when considered alongside the machiya shophouses and temples of Kyoto. Upon entry, we found souvenir shops and a Daiso. An entire floor was also under renovation. It was quite pricey to go up to the observation deck and we decided to head back.

Totoro's rating of Kyoto Tower: (lack of interesting shops, rather expensive to go up to the observation deck and its exterior seems out of place for Kyoto)
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11. Board Game: Inspector Moss Investigates [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Day 10


Ginkakuji

Ginkakuji was established by a shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa. Yoshimasa planned to build a retirement villa and model it after his grandfather's Kinkakuji, which is famous for its golden pavilion.

The path to the entrance is lined with 50m long hedges made of stones, bamboos and camellias, giving it an aura of magnificence as one walks up to the entrance. The Silver Pavilion appears shortly after entry and can be observed from a close distance. Despite its name, it was never in silver but instead, has a dark exterior. It is also one of the only two buildings on Ginkakuji grounds to have survived fire and earthquakes over the past centuries. There is path leading up a hill that provides a nice view of the entire Ginkakuji grounds.

A massive sand cone named "Moon Viewing Platform" stands next to the Silver Pavilion. This carefully maintained sand cone is said to symbolize Mount Fuji and is an important element of the entire dry sand garden.

The path up the hill take visitors through the moss garden, which features little streams and plants. The moss garden is extensive and exceptionally well-maintained. Indeed, we rate it the best moss garden among the numerous we have seen over the entire trip.

Totoro's rating of Ginkakuji: (absolutely beautiful moss gardens, probably the best in Kyoto, and a humongous sand cone)


Path of Philosophy

The Path of Philosophy is a pedestrian stone path that runs along a canal. It will be better enjoyed during the cherry blossom period as the path is lined with cherry trees.

While strolling along it, we saw quite a number of large black carps hiding in shady spots of the canal. Some small fishes can also be seen trying to swim upstream along the canal. This canal is part of the Lake Biwa canal that tunnels through the mountain to Lake Biwa in the neighbouring Shiga prefecture. It is a relaxing walk that allows one to take occasional breaks due to the multitude of benches. The path eventually leads to Eikando and Nanzen-ji.


Totoro pauses for thought along the Path of Philosophy

Totoro's rating of Path of Philosophy: (relaxing walk that affords shade and seats along the way, with a sprinkling of interesting shops)


Eikando

Eikando is known for its unique statue of the Amida Buddha with his head turned sidewards. According to legend, Abbot Eikan woke up at dawn to see the Amida coming down from his pedestal and walking away. He was speechless by what he saw. The Amida then looked back at Eikan and asked him to follow. Eikan wanted to retain the merciful image of the backward looking Amida and a statue in this form was made. It has since been the main icon for Eikando.

We also saw a lengthy video in one of the smaller rooms about the training the monks undertook at the temple as well as the scenery at the temple during the four seasons. Eikando is especially beautiful during autumn.

There is also a two-storey pagoda located on the hillside above the temple's other buildings. From there, one can catch a fine view of Kyoto city and the temple grounds.

Totoro's rating of Eikando: (neat story about the backward-looking Buddha and a kawaii pagoda framed in the foliage of the mountain)


Nanzenji

The first thing that catches the eyes as one approaches Nanzenji is the massive Sanmon entrance gate. It was built by the ruling Tokugawa clan as a prayer for the repose of the souls of soldiers who perished in the siege of Osaka Castle in 1615. Visitors can pay an entrance fee to climb to the upper level of the gate. From there, one can enjoy the view of the Higashiyama mountains. Many tourists take the opportunity to rest their legs on the upper level while taking in the view.



We were a little surprised to find an aqueduct passing through the temple grounds. It is part of a canal system constructed to carry water and goods between Kyoto and Lake Biwa in the neighbouring Shiga Prefecture. An unusual sight indeed.

The gardens of Nanzenji require entrance fees and offer little that is different from the other Kyoto temple gardens we had already visited.

Totoro's rating of Nanzenji: (Sanmon gate is definitely worth going up and it alone is 4 but the rest of the paid gardens are forgettable, probably 1, and can be skipped; the old aqueduct gave the temple grounds an unusual flavour)
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12. Board Game: Feed the ducks [Average Rating:7.02 Unranked]
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Day 11


Miyako Messe (Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts)

Miyako Messe displays exhibits of the wide variety of traditional handicrafts in Kyoto. Via exhibits, videos and the occasional "live" demonstration, visitors can see the elaborate processes behind each of the works such as dyeing of textiles, Kyoto dolls, lacquerware, folding fans, stone crafting, woodblock prints etc. Tremendous amounts of time and effort are invested into designing and completing each piece of work. We developed a much better appreciation of these handicrafts after touring the museum. Totoro was impressed by the dedication towards preserving these traditional crafts. The best part is this museum can be accessed for free!

Totoro's rating of Miyako Messe: (a fabulous and very informative exhibition of traditional Japanese arts and crafts but it is unfortunate that no photographs can be taken)


Heian Jingu

A gigantic torii gate is a landmark that one can't miss. Walking straight along the road from the torii gate will lead one to the Heian Jingu. The shrine's main buildings are a partial replica of the original Imperial Palace from the Heian Period, though they are on a smaller scale.
Totoro admiring the massive torii gate leading to the Heian Jingu


Behind the main building is an attractive garden with a wide variety of plants and a number of ponds. The first tram of Kyoto is also preserved and exhibited in this garden. Water lilies were blooming during the time of our visit pond. There are stone paths across the ponds, giving visitors the opportunity for a closer view of the beautiful water lilies.

The Tai-hei Kaku bridge at the east garden provides a good resting place for visitors. Visitors can also feed the carps, turtles and ducks at the pond surrounding the bridge. A small token amount can be paid to buy feeds for these animals. We spent quite a bit of time feeding the carps and turtles. The ducks joined in at a later stage when we were almost done with the feeding. It was an enjoyable way to spend the afternoon. Tototo tried hard to feed the turtles that are slower and less agile than the carps. Looking at the size of the carps, we can only conclude that they must be very well-fed .



Totoro's rating of Heian Jingu: (a huge and well-maintained garden, with the bridge crossing the pond from which one can feed the carp, turtles and ducks the highlight)


Kyoto Handicraft Centre

The Kyoto Handicraft Centre is actually a shop selling Kyoto handicrafts, similar to those exhibited at the Miyako Messe. It consists of an East and a West building. Most of the items can found in the East building. These include lacquerware, gold leaf crafts, teapots, fans, chopsticks, yukata, swords, Japanese sweets and food etc. We even met a lady who told us she had spent her fortune at the second storey of this building laugh.

We bought Kyocera cooking knives and peelers(see picture in the last geeklist item) at the Kyoto Handicraft Centre, which may seemed rather strange to some readers. These are ceramic knives and peelers and therefore do not rust. The quality is good after I tried them after returning home. However, we also found out belatedly that it is much cheaper to buy these knives and peelers from Shinseikai in Osaka shake. Don't repeat our mistake...

The only handicraft we ended up buying at the Kyoto Handicraft Centre are two gold leaf mouse pads(see picture in the last geeklist item) as our current mouse pads have been in use for a number of years. Another thing to note is to bring along your passport and you may qualify for the tax rebate if your total purchases exceed 10,000 yen. That is pretty standard across the bigger stores such as Tokyu Hands.

Totoro's rating of Kyoto Handicraft Centre: (this is a big shop rather than an exhibition, but one does get the opportunity to purchase some of the items similar to those seen at the Miyako Messe, albeit at rather high prices)
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13. Board Game: The Golden City [Average Rating:6.63 Overall Rank:1686]
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Day 12


Kinkakuji

Kinkakuji was the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. It is best known for the Golden Pavilion and is a prime tourist spot of Kyoto. We had thought that by reaching the location some time before opening hour, there would be a smaller crowd. How wrong we were, for the entrance area was already crowded with people 15 minutes before the opening time gulp!

We were greeted by the stunning sight of the Golden Pavilion shortly after entering. Gold foil on lacquer covers its upper two levels, giving it that famous golden brilliance. Statues of Shaka Buddha and Yoshimitsu are stored on the ground level of the pavilion. Though the pavilion is not accessible to the public, we can still see the two statues on the ground floor as the pavilion's windows are kept open.

After viewing the Golden Pavilion, we followed the path and happen upon some statues. People were tossing coins at the statues for good luck. We joined in just for the fun of it. Totoro shaked his head after watching our missed throws.

Totoro's rating of Kinkakuji: (stunning golden pavilion but there is little else to see and it is extremely crowded, even during opening hours)


Ryoanji

The rock garden at Ryoanji was packed with students when we arrived. Many of them were counting the rocks at the garden. What makes the garden's design intriguing is that from any vantage point, at least one of the rocks is always hidden from the viewer. That explains why the students were counting the rocks. Totoro also started counting from various vantage points and confirmed the fact .

Due to the large and noisy crowd, the Zen garden lost most of its appeal on us.

Totoro's rating of Ryoanji: (nothing else to experience besides the 15 rocks garden and even that is overcrowded, so it is difficult to experience the Zen there...)


Nijo-jo

Nijo-jo was built as the official Kyoto residence of the shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. We found out afterwards that there used to be a five-storey castle keep but that was destroyed by fire in the 18th century. It was never rebuilt and that explains why Nijo-jo is missing a main keep when we compare it with the other castles we visited during this trip.

The castle's main attraction is the Ninomaru Palace, which served as both the residence and office for the shogun during his visits to Kyoto. The buildings are connected by corridors with "nightingale floors". The floorboards squeak like a nightingale when stepped upon, an intentional security measure against intruders.

Only the highest ranked visitors were allowed into the main audience room where the shogun would sit on an elevated floor, flanked by bodyguards hidden in closets. We could see life-sized models depicting the scene of visitors seeking audience with the shogun.

The innermost rooms consisted of living chambers, which were only accessible to the shogun and his female attendants.

Outside the Ninomaru Palace is the Ninomaru Garden, which is a traditional Japanese landscape garden with a large pond. Honmaru (main circle of defence) was the site of a second palace complex and the five-storey castle keep mentioned above. Both were destroyed by fire and never rebuilt. Visitors may still climb up the stone foundation of the former castle keep to view the surrounding castle grounds.


Totoro inspecting the defences of Nijo-jo

Totoro's rating of Nijo-jo: (doesn't have a castle keep anymore and therefore lacks a certain presence, though the Ninomaru Palace with squeaky floorboards was an interesting experience)
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14. Board Game: Textile [Average Rating:6.33 Unranked]
Christina Ng
Singapore
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Day 13


Kitano Tenmangu Flea Market

We made our way to the Kitano Tenmangu flea market early in the morning and it was less crowded compared to the flea market at Toji. We also noted other differences. For example, the people who visited the market were mainly locals/Japanese instead of foreign tourists like ourselves. There were also a sprinkling of game stalls that catered for children. Some of those games look challenging, even for an adult.

Remembering our fine foodie experience at the flea market in Toji, we went out seeking for the likes of yakitori and taiyaki. We only managed to track down one yakitori stall. We eagerly ordered one each. Our suspicions were aroused when the preparation time was significantly shorter than the Toji stall we patronised. As it turned out, the yakitori was quite disappointing, with the meat lukewarm and not as tasty.

We then found a taiyaki stall nearby and ordered two of different flavours apprehensively. Fortunately for us, they turned out fine. We also tracked down a karaage stall and ordered some. This also turned out to be another disappointment as the meat felt a bit too dry for us.

The saving grace for us was a fruits stick stall. We ordered some pineapple and a mandarin orange to quench our thirst and cool ourselves under the hot sun. The cold green tea sold here was surprisingly sweet and refreshing. We bought some packed tea from the tea stall(see picture in last geeklist item) before heading for our next destination.

As we headed out, we found another yakitori stall, right at the main entrance of the flea market. After some spying, we decided to give it a chance and was finally rewarded with juicy and hot yakitori meeple.


Totoro a little dazed by the sights and sounds of the flea market and the heat of the late morning sun

Totoro's rating of Kitano Tenmangu flea market: (more spaced out than the Kobo-san market with much more shade and is therefore easier and more comfortable to explore, a greater variety of shops but the food is decidedly less delicious)


Nishijin Textile Centre

Nishijin silk textile is one of the traditional handicrafts of Kyoto. We were greeted by a large loom immediately after entering the Nishijin Textile Centre building.

The Nishijin Textile Centre is a three-storey building, with exhibits of woven textiles on the third floor. The exhibition room is quite small and that limits the number of exhibits that can be displayed. Kimono fashion shows are performed on a small stage on the first floor seven times a day.

A sizable shop specialising in textiles occupies the second storey. Demonstrations of hand weaving can sometimes be seen here. We also saw some live silkworms, explanations of their life cycle and how silk is extracted from them.

Totoro's rating of Nishijin Textile Centre: (exhibitions are rather small and a large part of the centre is actually a shop selling textile-related goods, though there are regular Kimono shows to enjoy)
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15. Board Game: Castle Keep [Average Rating:5.70 Overall Rank:8076]
Keng Leong Yeo
Singapore
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Day 14


Shinkansen

This was designated as our Himeji day. It is a fair distance from Kyoto to Himeji and we chose the Shinkansen(bullet trains) over the special rapid trains to save time. This also gave us much more assurance of seats, so that we can enjoy breakfast on board instead and save even more time.

It was certainly a more comfortable ride, more so than the average economy flight! It took approximately 45 minutes to reach Himeji from Kyoto meeple.


Totoro about to tuck into a sushi bento box on the Shinkansen

Totoro's rating of Shinkansen: (though on the expensive side, it is fast, timely, stable and best of all, affords lots of leg space; reminded Totoro a lot of the excellent service provided by the catbus)


Himeji-jo

The imposing sight of Himeji-jo greeted us once we alighted from the Shinkansen at Himeji station. The wide main road of Himeji city leads to the castle, so it is certainly an imposing sight. It takes about 15 minutes to walk from the station to the castle but one gets to appreciate the castle from a fair distance away until reaching its main entrance.

Himeji-jo is a very fortunate castle, escaping destruction and demolition on a number of occasions. It has since been preserved and has just undergone extensive renovation work lasting over five years and reopened in March 2015. As expected, there were many visitors to it. One doesn't feel the crowd too much until entering the castle keep because the castle grounds are just so big.

The castle itself is quite a wonder. There are various defensive measures included in its design that simply has to be seen to be appreciated, e.g. hidden rooms in the castle keep for soldiers to hide and ambush attackers. There is even a long bailey to house the women living in the castle (see second picture below).

Himeji-jo also goes by the nickname of "White Heron Castle" because its white exterior has some resemblance to a white heron taking flight. Its elegance and beauty makes it difficult for any photographer to take a bad picture!





Totoro's rating of Himeji-jo: (an absolutely majestic surprise castle overlooking the city of Himeji, though it can get really crowded in the main castle keep; one can probably afford to wait a few more months to a year for the crowds to subside before visiting it)


Kokoen

Kokoen is right next to Himeji-jo and to be honest, is quite a big step down from its illustrious neighbour. Still, it affords the visitor of Himeji-jo a nice quiet place to rest his/her legs after the hard climb up and back down the castle grounds.

The entire garden is separated into numerous smaller gardens of various themes and most has small pavilions for visitors to rest up.

Totoro's rating of Kokoen: (a quiet garden next to Himeji-jo for me to rest my legs after all that ascending and descending during the castle visit, but there wasn't much to see within the garden itself)
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16. Board Game: Row Row Row Your Boat [Average Rating:5.07 Unranked]
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Day 15


Hozugawa Boat Ride

The Hozugawa Boat Ride offers tourists the opportunity to sightsee the Hozugawa River, from Kameoka to Arashiyama, without having to take a single step. The ride utilises a traditional style boat, which is managed by three boatmen. One of trio is in charge of using the long bamboo pole to push the boat forward, a second man rows the oar to help in steering and moving the boat along, while the last man stands at the back of the boat and mans the rudder. The three of them exchanged positions every third of the route as pushing the boat with the bamboo pole seemed to be the most laborious. The entire trip takes slightly less than two hours and each boat's capacity is about twenty people.

The boat departs at specific timings. We were lucky that we did not have to wait for the next designated timing, because a tour group had made reservations for a few boats that was just about to depart and there were available slots for us to join in. Our planned ride started earlier as a result . Due to the sunny weather, a canvas roof was set up on the boat.

The Hozugawa River was originally used to transport logs for the construction of the capital of Kyoto. The logs were used to build many of Kyoto and Osaka's famous temples and castles, such as Tenryu-ji, Osaka castle, Fushimi castle etc. Besides transporting logs, the river was also utilised to transport grain, firewood and other cargo. This vital role of this river was superseded by rail transport and was thereafter rendered obsolete. However, the boats were brought back and eventually became popular as a sightseeing attraction.

Beautiful scenery can be enjoyed from the boat. We saw wildlife such as turtles, ducks and herons, and caught glimpses of the surrounding mountain range, bridges and intriguing rock formations. Explanation of the surroundings were given by the boatmen in Japanese. Although we could not understand most of it, we still enjoyed the slow ride and breathtaking scenery.

At several points during the ride, we saw rocks punctuated with several strategically positioned holes. These were caused by the boatmen over the many decades with their bamboo poles as they pushed the boat along. The picture below shows the boatmen dismantling the shelter on the boat we took. It only took them a short while before the shelter was totally removed surprise.

Towards the end of the boat ride, we were pleasantly surprised by an approaching motor boat that latched itself onto our boat. It turned out that they were selling drinks and light food such as grilled octopus and dango. The passengers were all quite amused by it and we bought some dango to try. Totoro was particularly thrilled by the ride and was still reminiscing about the experience after returning home.

Totoro's rating of Hozugawa boat ride: (cool and fun boat ride with great scenery and lots of wild life)


Oigawa River and Togetsukyo

After lunch, we decided to find a cool and shady spot to rest before climbing up the mountain to visit the Arashiyama Monkey Park. The hot and sunny weather was starting to give Totoro a headache soblue.

We found an old stall on the shady side of the Oigawa river. Sitting by the edge of the river, we ordered some cold tofu and grilled octopus. The cold tofu was marvellous, to say the least, and was especially suitable for a hot day like this!

As we enjoyed the shade and food, we came to realise that this stall are also the owners of the motor boat we met earlier. They were motoring their boat along the Oigawa river to sell drinks and food to those who had rented row boats or for the larger tourist boats like ours. We even heard some visitors shouting for the motor boat as they wanted to buy some drinks.

A particularly interesting sight was that of the female owner of the stall washing somen and cooling drinks with the mountain water that the stallowners have redirected for their use.

Totoro almost fell asleep while relaxing in the shade and enjoying the delicious cold tofu.

Totoro's rating of Hozugawa and Togetsukyo: (fabulous scenery where one can relax for an entire afternoon while people and boat-watching)


Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama

After a good rest, we were ready to climb the Arashiyama mountain to visit Arashiyama Monkey Park. One can reach the peak where all the monkeys are congregated by hiking for approximately 20min up a mountain path. A rest station and an observatory are located at the summit of the mountain. From there, one can see most of Kyoto while monkeys scramble around in the surrounding area.

Visitors can also buy peanuts or apples to feed the monkeys. The monkeys do sometimes turn aggressive against one another as they jostle for good positions to ask for food. The younger and smaller monkeys have to try to sneak in at opportune times to receive food from the visitors. When discovered, the bigger sized monkeys often hiss at the smaller ones to shoo them away.

We bought some apples and experienced feeding the monkeys. Taking pity of the smaller monkeys, we offered them where possible. While doing so, we noted a particular smaller sized monkey that is very picky with its food. It refused to eat the skin of the apple, biting off the apple flesh and discarding the skin shake. Other smaller monkeys around would amble over to pick up the thrown skin to eat. We even saw the picky monkey spit out the apple skin when it accidentally swallowed some goo.

There are three designated timings per day when the Monkey Park staff feeds all of the monkeys. A lively music would be broadcast and names of the monkeys would be called to gather them for the feed. Once gathered, the staff will scatter the food onto the floor for the monkeys to pick up. The monkeys were as fast as vacuum cleaners and within minutes the food was all gone. All this, we got to watch at close quarters as the monkeys were not bothered at all by our presence. Totoro was astonished by their insatiable appetite .

Totoro's rating of Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama: (a long hard climb up to the mountain peak but it was great fun feeding the monkeys and watching them go about their business)


Hana Ikada Ryokan

The climb up the Arashiyama mountain was tiring and we were eager to book in to the ryokan that we have reserved for that night. Hana Ikada Ryokan is situated near the entrance of the Monkey Park, making it very convenient for us. The names of the guests for that day were written at the entrance of the ryokan cool. We looked forward to relaxing in their onsen.

Staff of the ryokan greeted us as we booked in. An elder lady brought us to our room and showed us around the ryokan's facilities. Some form filling was required and we were told that dinner would be served in our room while breakfast the following morning would be in a common dining area on the first floor. We could choose the timing of our meals.

Next, warabi mochi and green tea was served as a late afternoon snack. Yum yum... We were then left to ourselves until dinner time. We had intentionally booked a room with its own onsen so that we can enjoy a soak in private and at any time. The onsen was certainly welcoming after the long hike up and down. We changed into yukata(Japanese casual wear) provided by the ryokan after the bath and onsen.
Totoro enjoying a soak in the ryokan's onsen
Shortly after, dinner was served. There were a total of ten dishes, served one at a time. There was even a beautiful menu stating all the dishes. Each of the dishes was meticulously prepared that not only taste great but were also pleasing on the eyes. We could tell a lot of time and effort was spent preparing the food.

The chicken simmered in soup was very rich in taste, the sashimi were fresh and the grilled fish were soft and tasted good with the sauce... I can go on and on waxing lyrical about the luxurious food. The meal was completed with a variety of fruits.

We were surprised by the ryokan's thoughtfulness when they brought two small boxes of sushi into our room. The staff explained that this was for the guests in case they got hungry at night surprise! We laughed when we heard it as we were so full from the dinner and doubted we would be able to take on any more that evening.

An ojisan staff came into our room after dinner to set up the futon(Japanese bed) for us. He was very efficient and completed it within a short time. With such a full stomach, we decided to go for a stroll around Arashiyama at night. There were vests provided by the ryokan that we could wear over our yukata for that very purpose. One of the lady staff helped us with our yukata dressing as we seemed to worn it wrongly blush.

There was not many people out at night in Arashiyama. I suppose most of them are probably resting in their ryokan and enjoying the onsens .

Totoro's rating of Hana Ikada ryokan: (onsen was superb and so relaxing that I soaked in it three times whistle, dinner was a great experience of kaiseki and the breakfast was only second to the dinner!)

Totoro's additional comments: This was easily my favourite day of the entire trip! thumbsupmeeple
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17. Board Game: This Big! [Average Rating:5.47 Overall Rank:12761]
 
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Day 16

Shinsaibashi-suji

Shinsaibashi-suji is a very long shopping street that will definitely satisfy a shopping aficionado's shopping itch. Beyond that, there wasn't really anything else to see.

We did find a branch of a reputed ramen shop, Ippudo, in this area. We gave it a try and enjoyed it immensely. Their ramen comes with thinner noodles and pork-based soup. The taste is enhanced with the addition of crushed garlic that can be requested for free.

We then visited a sizable Tokyu Hands branch nearby and bought some useful household items such as umbrella, nail cutters and water filters(see picture in last geeklist item). We first found out about Tokyu Hands in our previous Tokyo trip and retain fond memories of it. We also could not resist purchasing the nanoblocks set for the Shinkansen N700 series as that was the very model that took us to Himeji a few days back .
Totoro unable to resist Ippudo's fantastic ramen

Totoro's rating of Shinsaibashi-suji: (only for modern shopping aficionados...)


Dotonbori

The signboards at Dotonbori are enormous. Indeed, everything is big here and attracts lots of attention. We saw large signs of crab, gyoza, cow and even a hand holding a sushi. The signs are probably the unique feature of Dotonburi.

The famous Glico poster showing a man running was also a popular phototaking spot. We saw lots of people imitating the same pose as the Glico man while posing for pictures in front of the sign. There was a boat ride along the river running along Dotonbori and its guide was explaining the surrounding area to the tourists. We found a good resting place along the river to relax and people watch.
Totoro gazing at the famous Glico sign of Dotonbori


Totoro's rating of Dotonbori: (lots of huge and in-your-face signboards to gawk at, but quite crowded as expected)
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18. Board Game: Ruins [Average Rating:7.81 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.81 Unranked]
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Day 17


Osaka International Peace Centre

The Osaka International Peace Centre consists of three floors and visitors start from the second level before proceeding to the first and finally the third level. English audio guides are available by presenting your passport to the staff.

At the second level, we saw the devastation of Osaka burnt down by air raids during WWII, the emergence of more advanced weapons that resulted in increased damage as well as exhibits showing the lives of children and adults during the war. Letters from soldiers at the front, attires worn by the common people and housing during that times are also on display. The hardship and anxiety experienced by the civilians can be felt through these displays.

Drawings depicting the memories of people from the war and air raids line the corridor leading to the first floor. At level one, we watched videos of people recounting their experiences and the horror of the war. Osaka was subjected to eight major air raids and these are illustrated via a video projected onto a model of the city. The eighth and final bomb raid took place on August 14, 1945, the day before the end of the war. Many civilians were killed in these series of air raids.

There was also a replica of the air raid shelter and one canexperience it by walking into the narrow and small shelter. We learnt many of these air raid shelters were not well-built and did not provide the necessary protection for the people.

The third storey shares the recovery of Osaka after the war. The idea of hope for a peaceful future is reinforced here. Overall, it is an informative museum and we have learnt more about what Osaka went through during the war.
Totoro hoping for world peace at the Osaka International Peace Centre

Totoro's rating of Osaka International Peace Centre: (learnt a lot about devastation Osaka suffered during WWII, with numerous first-hand accounts, and Osaka's subsequent revival after the war)


Osaka Museum of History

The Osaka Museum of History is a walkable distance from the Osaka International Peace Centre. Along the way there, we passed by a park with a raised platform. We found out later in the museum that it was the original site of the Naniwa Palace from ancient times, when Osaka served as Japan's first capital. Ruins of this ancient palace were found by a local archaeologist Tokutaro Yamane in 1957.

The Osaka Museum of History is located on the seventh to tenth storey of the building. Life sized replicas of the pillars and mannequins dressed in that period court dress greeted us when we started from the tenth storey. A video depicting ancient court life is also shown at regular intervals. The site of the Naniwa Palace can once again be seen from the museum, which probably explains the location of the museum. Many items excavated at the site are on display here. Models of the palace are recreated to give visitors a glimpse into the majestic structure that existed in the distant past.

Moving down the levels, we saw the development of Osaka over the various periods. The ninth floor presents Osaka during the middle ages and early modern period. Osaka is an important water city and used to be bigger than Tokyo. There are a number of bridges in Osaka and we saw replicas of these bridges bustling with people and activity. On the seventh storey, a reproduction of the crowded streets at Shinsaibashi and Dotombori in the late Taisho and early Showa periods are on display. We even saw an old Japanese version of Snake and Ladders on display here!

Located outside the museum is a warehouse of ancient design. It has a unique roof design and is raised above the ground.

Totoro's rating of Osaka Museum of History: (lots of information about the origins of Osaka and how it developed into the city today; the remains of Naniwa no Miya Palace segment was particularly eye-opening)
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19. Board Game: Build A House [Average Rating:4.25 Unranked]
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Day 18


Open-Air Museum of Old Japanese Farm Houses

The Open-Air Museum of Old Japanese Farm Houses is an outdoor museum located at Hattori Ryokuchi park and is a fair distance away from the subway. Twelve farmhouses from north and south of Japan were moved and restored for exhibition at this museum.

Each of the farmhouse has a unique design to accommodate the natural environment they were once located in. For example the farmhouse from Shinano Akiyama which was built in an L-shaped style. It was previously located in a mountainous area with deep snow and has thickly thatched walls and earthen floors covered in hay with straw mats on top. A rural Kabuki Theatre and Takakura Elevated Storehouse are also on display. The wooden pillars of the storehouse are so hard that even mice cannot climb them.

Another really interesting exhibit for us is the Gassho-zukuri Farmhouse from Hida Shirakawa. Its most distinct feature is a very steep roof that resembles two hands pressed together in prayer. The farmhouse is also substantially bigger than the rest as the villages of Hida-Shirakawa are known for their unique society of large families. A number of people can be seen around this farmhouse trying to capture its beauty in drawings.

Totoro was also hugely impressed by the Gassho-zukuri Farmhouse.
Totoro pondering about the steep roof of the Gassho style house

Totoro's rating of Open-Air Museum of Old Japanese Farm Houses:
(quite a number of well-preserved farm houses to appreciate, in particular the gassho-zukuri farmhouse of Shirakawa-go with the steep thatched roof, but the museum grounds seem a little less well-maintained than its Tokyo counterpart)

Totoro's additional comments: I want to visit Shirakawa-go and stay in a gassho-zukuri farmhouse! zombie


Osaka Museum of Housing and Living

The upper floor of the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living is primarily a life-sized reproduction of two lanes of an Osaka town during the Edo period. Upon entering, one first gets to see the town from above via an observatory based on the tenth floor.

Descending a level, we soon found ourselves strolling through one of the two lanes. This particular lane is lined with shophouses. There are a number of summer festival exhibits featured prominently at the shopfronts. Merchants in Osaka would decorate their stores with a tsukurimono in celebration of the Tenjin festival, traditionally held on 24 and 25 June of the lunar calender. These tsukurimono were very elaborate and painstakingly made from items such as trays, plates and even futon!

We also saw a display of a Tenjinmaru(boat-like festival float), which was restored to its former glory after being out of use since 1925.

The other parallel lane is not as eye-catching, lined by backstreet tenement houses. These are the living quarters of the poor and only has a single room with an earthen floor. The people shared a drinking well and toilet located at the side of the houses. Quite a contrast from the machiya townhouses of the other lane.

Unfortunately for us, this floor was packed with tourists when we arrived. As it does not occupy a large area, the lanes felt overcrowded with people, making it hard to enjoy the exhibits.

We escaped shortly after to the floor below it. This floor introduces the living spaces and lifestyles of Osaka during the Meiji, Taisho and Showa periods via a mixture of storytelling and miniature models. Although we were unable to understand much of the story told in Japanese, the miniature models were self-explanatory enough for us to catch the gist. For example, old buses were re-modelled as living quarters after the World War II due to the shortage of housing.

Totoro's rating of Osaka Museum of Housing and Living: (charming reconstruction of an old Osaka street scene but it was really crowded)
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20. Board Game: The Game of Deer Stalking [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Christina Ng
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Day 19


Kofukuji

We have the nanoblocks set for the five-storey pagoda in Nara and have been looking forward to seeing it in the flesh all trip zombie. We've seen a few pagodas but what was unique here is the deer roaming freely near the pagoda. As we arrived early in the morning, there were very few people around and we had the opportunity to take some pictures of this impressive looking pagoda.

There was a smaller three-storey pagoda at the back of the temple grounds. Although it look less grandiose than its taller peer, it exudes a different charm that attracted us to this little pagoda as well. Some of the other buildings were closed for restoration work so we left after viewing the pagodas.

Totoro prefers the 3-storey pagoda of Kofuku-ji, as it is more kawaii

Totoro's rating of Kofukuji: (enchanting to see deer roaming below a regal looking pagoda, but parts of the temple are undergoing preservation works)


Kasuga Taisha

Kasuga Taisha is famous for its bronze and stone lanterns, which were donated by worshipers. Hundreds of bronze lanterns can be seen hanging from the temple buildings and many stone lanterns line both sides of the path leading to the temple. It reminded us of Fushimi Inari which is lined with torii gates also donated by worshipers.

There was a wedding going on at the temple during our visit and we saw the bride and groom in their traditional wedding gowns. There are many smaller auxiliary shrines in the woods around Kasuga Taisha and one of them, Meoto Daikokusha, enshrines married deities. That may probably be where the newlywed couple and their families are heading to.

On our way out, we saw more deer roaming around.

Totoro's rating of Kasuga Taisha: (more deer roaming the grounds with many stone lanterns to admire, but it is rather expensive to enter the inner grounds)


Nara Machi

Our next destination was the Nara machi area. We had researched and found a restaurant by the name of Edogawa Naramachi receiving good reviews. It is popular for its eel dishes.

After lunch, we continued to explore Nara machi and look at some of the machiya shophouses. These machiya shophouses served as both residence and workplace for the local merchants. The shophouses typically have a narrow front and deep long interior. The reason for such a design is land taxes were assessed based on the width of the house's facade. Box staircases were utilised to preserve space and drawers were included into the staircase to provide additional storage place.

Koshi-no-Ie Residence is one such former merchant home open to the public for free. On its premises, we came upon a very long bamboo with plant sticking from one of its end, lying across the corridor and were intrigued by it. We were guessing that it was used to sweep the roof of the machiya shophouse .

Totoro's rating of Nara machi: (many preserved machiya shophouses, a number of which can be entered for free to explore)


Todaiji

Todaiji is a famous landmark of Nara. Its current main hall, the Daibutsuden, is the world's largest wooden building, though it is only two thirds of the original temple hall's size surprise. The main hall was reduced in size via reconstruction work.

The massive building houses one of Japan's largest bronze statues of Buddha, flanked by two Bodhisattvas. The length of the Buddha's head alone is 5.33 metres and the height of its body is 14.98 metres.

There used to be two seven-storey pagodas near the main hall but they were lost to earthquake. They would have probably dwarfed Toji's pagoda, which is five storeys and the current tallest in Japan. What a pity soblue!

Miniature models are displayed to show the original look of Todaiji. There was also a queue forming next to a pillar with a hole at its base. People were trying to squeeze through the hole; children obviously had an easier time crawling through it. It is said that those who can squeeze through this opening will be granted enlightenment in their next life.

Totoro's rating of Todaiji: (massive and impressive temple with an equally massive Buddha statue enshrined, but very crowded)


Nara Koen

Todaiji is surrounded by a garden known as the Nara koen. After exiting Todaiji and entering the garden, we were greeted once more by deer roaming the garden.

With our itinerary for the day completed, I could finally feed the deer at leisure kiss. I have been itching to do so for the entire day whistle. Feeding the deer is definitely one of the main highlights for visiting Nara.

We bought some special crackers from the numerous vendors around the park. The price is standardised at 150 yen for ten pieces of crackers. You will be surprised by how fast the deer devour the crackers. They have grown to be very streetwise and can tell that you have the crackers from a distance away. They will keep badgering you for the crackers by following you around. Some of them have even learnt bow to you to request for the crackers!

We saw a few smaller-sized deer and tried feeding them. The smallest one is fearful of the bigger ones and tended to hesitate when requesting for the crackers. Before we knew it, the crackers were gone! Sensing that we did not have any more crackers, the deer would saunter off in other directions in search of new victims. Not a challenging task since many other biscuit-grasping tourists were around.

At Nara koen, there are lots of photo-taking opportunities with the deer.



Perhaps a less mentioned observation of Nara koen is the amount of deer droppings around gulp. There is a light but persistent stench wafting around, though one gets used to it quickly . It is also heartening to see all the biscuit vendors doing their part in clearing the deer poo around the general area of their stalls.

Totoro's rating of Nara koen: (so many kawaii deers to feed, though there is a lingering stench of their droppings ninja)
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21. Board Game: Road to Osaka [Average Rating:6.67 Unranked]
Keng Leong Yeo
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小富靠勤,中富靠智,大富靠德。
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Day 20


Shitennoji

To be honest, Shitennoji was never in our travel plans. This is after all Osaka and having visited so many temples in Kyoto, we were not keen to visit any more in a city not known for its temples.

However, during our previous three days in Osaka, the name of Shitennoji came up a few times and we penciled it in for a visit. It turns out that Shitennoji is one of Japan's oldest temples, dating back to the 6th century. It has been rebuilt many times due to fire.

We reached the temple grounds early and proceeded directly into the inner precincts. We were particularly interested in climbing its pagoda, the only pagoda we encountered during the trip that we can do so. To our disappointment, the top floor of the pagoda is almost entirely enclosed and offered a very limited view of the surrounding.

As Osaka is not known for its temples, there were only a few tourists around and we got to enjoy the tranquility of the temple grounds. There was also a pond with a sizable population of turtles. We spent some time turtle-watching there .
Totoro admires the pagoda of Shitennoji


Totoro's rating of Shitennoji: (the only pagoda that one can go to the top, but there was not much of a view as the top floor is largely enclosed)


Shinsekai and Tsutenkaku Tower

Shinsekai was a 15 minutes walk from Shitennoji and we reached it close to noon. It was fairly empty then as the early morning market has already closed and the afternoon tourist crowds were not in yet. One is immediately sucked in by the archaic aura of the area.

The iconic Tsutenkaku Tower overseeing the Shinsekai area has a somewhat campy design and adds to the ambiance.

It was lunchtime and craving some sushi and sashimi, we stepped into a shop named Rokusen located at the foot of Tsutenkaku Tower. We ordered a couple of sashimi and sushi ala cartes to start and soon found ourselves ordering more and more of them. The sashimi is simply out of this world. This is probably the best meal we had for the entire trip, not counting the elaborate dinner at the Arashiyama ryokan as that isn't a really fair comparison.

Our travel plans were also to skip going up the Tsutenkaku Tower as it was quite pricey. The basement level was free and we found a quaint Glico shop there. It carries a wide collection of Pocky (biscuit sticks coated in different toppings), some of which are advertised as only available at Tsutenkaku Tower. The brochure introducing the upper levels of Tsutenkaku Tower also intrigued us sufficiently to pay the entrance fees.

We were glad we did as the upper floors did not disappoint. There were exhibits introducing the area's and Tsutenkaku Tower's history. The tower itself was damaged and torn down during WWII and rebuilt after the war. And there were more Glico and Pocky shops. There was even a mini Tsutenkaku Tower constructed out of Pocky surprise!

The observation deck offers an all-round view of Osaka and the immediate Shinsekai area. One cannot help but notice a large building at the end of one of the streets in Shinsekai. We found out later that it is the Spa World, a huge multi-floor bath complex with themed after different territories, e.g. Asian and European surprise.

Late afternoon saw more tourists and the restaurants started to come alive. More big and in-your-face food signs ala Dotonburi...

Totoro's rating of Shinsekai and Tsutenkaku Tower: (Shinsekai exudes an oldish ambiance and there are many shops with excellent food, while the iconic Tsutenkaku Tower adds to the area's aura and contains a fun Glico shop)


Hozenji Yokocho

Despite taking our time at Shinsekai, we found ourselves with sufficient time to include one of the items from our list of backups. We picked Hozenji Yokocho, which is near Dotonburi, since we planned to dinner there.

Hozenji Yokocho is a relatively short and narrow alley lined with restaurants and cafes. At one end is a very small shrine, something one probably does not expect to find in downtown Osaka. The highlight is the Fudo Myoo statue, which is covered in thick moss and is an unusual sight. Other than that, there isn't much else to see in the quaint little alley.

Totoro's rating of Hozenji Yokocho: (moss covered Fudo Myoo is quite a sight but the street is very short and offers little else)
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22. Board Game: Herbs [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Christina Ng
Singapore
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Day 21


Kobe Earthquake Memorial Museum

The Kobe Earthquake Memorial Museum comprises of a West and a East building. Visitors start from the fourth level of the West building to view a video demonstrating the destructive power of the Great Hanshin earthquake. After the screening, we walked through a realistic reproduction of the devastated streets after the earthquake. It was unimaginable what the Kobe citizens had gone through.

At the lower levels, we saw the actual accounts from Kobe citizens of their experiences during the earthquake. The picture below shows an exhibit of a grandfather clock that stopped at exactly 546 am, which is the time the earthquake struck.

The biggest takeaway from these exhibits is the kind and selfless acts from people all over Japan and rest of the world in providing aid. Many Japanese made the trip to Kobe to offer help to the victims. Some of the local corporations also provided free services or donated their products such as food and water to the victims. It warmed the heart to see these kind gestures.

A documentary about the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami was also screened at the 3D theatre of the East building. We even met some Singaporean students who happened to be visiting the museum. What a coincidence!

Totoro's rating of Kobe Earthquake Memorial Museum: (informative exhibits on the 1995 Kobe earthquake and updated to include exhibits on the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, but there is a segment of exhibits that feel out of sync with the rest)


Shin-Kobe Ropeway and Nunobiki Herb Gardens

We bought the one way ticket for Kobe Nunobiki Ropeway to the Herb Garden as we planned to walk down from the top station to Shin Kobe station for the return leg. During the ropeway ride, we saw the Nunobiki no Taki Waterfalls and Nunobiki Gohonmatsu Dam. The waterfalls look stunning from the cable car. Visitors are also greeted with the wordings "Nunobiki Herb Gardens" below, which are formed by meticulously planted roses. We only realised this on our way down from the top station.
Totoro trying to make out the words of "Nunobiki Herb Gardens" from the cable car


A flowery scent lingers in herb gardens and that made the stroll down quite relaxing. Many plant types can be seen along the way including roses, herbs, edible plants, lavender, fruit trees etc. Different plants and herbs can be enjoyed throughout the year depending on the season.

As the herb gardens was located on a mountain, the temperature was a little lower. We found out about a herbal footbath from the brochure and the colder temperature gave us impetus to seek it out.

We found the footbath eventually and it was quite crowded. A small towel is available for purchase at 100 yen for drying the feet after the footbath, though the footbath itself is free. We joined in enthusiastically and enjoyed the panoramic view of Kobe from the footbath area. What a refreshing experience after the long descent!
Totoro enjoying the foot onsen with us

Totoro's rating of Shin-Kobe Ropeway and Nunobiki Herb Gardens: (cable car ride affords great views of Mount Rokko and Kobe while the Herb Gardens offer plenty of colour and a relaxing foot onsen!)


Nunobiki no Taki Waterfalls

The herb gardens ended at the Kaze no Oka mid station. Most visitors would take the ropeway ride downwards from the mid-station after strolling through the herb gardens. However, we intended to continue walking down the mountain to take a closer look at the Nunobiki no Taki Waterfalls.

One of the station staff told us that we could unledge the gate at the side and follow the path downwards to reach Shin Kobe station eventually. We were pretty much on our own from this point onwards. With no map on hand, we could only follow the quiet circular path downwards. For the most part, we could only see forest on both sides of the road and only occasionally saw the cable cars of the ropeway ride a good distance away. This option of getting to the Shin-Kobe train station does offer different views of the mountain's scenery but it certainly shouldn't be attempted at night.

After a long and tiring descent, we finally reached a platform with some seats. A couple was sitting at one of the corners chatting quietly. We moved on and came upon an intersection. Unable to comprehend the Japanese wordings, we followed our gut feel and picked one of the paths. This path led us on an ascent and an old wooden bridge. On the other side of the bridge was an unfenced narrow path leading into the forested area. We decided to give it a try with the hope of seeing the waterfalls at the end of the path. It was pretty scary looking down as we climbed up the rugged stone path. After exploring for a while, we decided to turn back as it didn't look like there are any waterfalls nearby.

At this point, we were getting a bit disappointed shake and started wondering if we would ever get to see the waterfalls. We doubled back to the intersection point and took the other downward path instead. After some time, we heard the sound of falling water. That perked us up! There were also signs stating that the waterfalls and Shin Kobe station are in the direction we were heading towards. We passed a shop before the waterfalls finally revealed itself to us laugh.

It is more stunning than expected, comprising of a tall waterfall with a second shorter waterfall closer to us. The beautiful scene made the long hike down and our little misadventure worthwhile after all!

The descent to the train station continued from there and we could make out parts of other smaller waterfalls along the way.

Totoro's rating of Nunobiki no Taki Waterfalls: (takes a long and tiring walk down from the Nunobiki Herb Gardens, but it is an awe-inspiring waterfall)
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23. Board Game: Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan [Average Rating:8.05 Overall Rank:144]
Christina Ng
Singapore
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Day 22


Honke Owariya

Honke Owariya is a soba restaurant based in Kyoto with a very long history. It started out as a confectionery shop in Nagoya before moving to Kyoto in 1465. It was during the mid-Edo period that they started their business as a soba restaurant. Honke Owariya has since been designated as the purveyor of soba noodles to the Imperial Palace.
Totoro enjoying the appetiser at Honke Owariya

The English menu is available upon request. We ordered the recommended item, a soba noodles set served in a 5-layer tray. The ingredients are served by the side and customers can add them to the soba noodles according to their personal preferences. An instruction leaflet was also provided by the side to teach the customers the proper way of enjoying this meal.
Totoro tucking in to the 5-layer soba set at Honke Owariya

The confectionery on offer at Honke Owariya tastes great as well, particularly the Soba-ita. The aroma of the buckwheat flour is brought out very well and enhanced by a sprinkling of sesame. All accomplished without becoming overwhelmingly sweet.

Totoro's rating of Honke Owariya: (5-layer soba is heavenly, especially the shiitake mushrooms and the shop offers soba and soba-related pastries to buy back)


Osaka-jo

I was feeling rather tired out from yesterday's hike and we had reluctantly removed the Osaka Mint Bureau from the day's itinerary. That left us with the opportunity to seek out Honke Owariya during lunch instead and only with Osaka-jo for the day's sightseeing.

To be honest, we did not find the exterior of Osaka-jo attractive. It is decorated with a bit too much gold and appeared gaudy to us. However, there is a sizable museum within the castle, which turned out to be extremely informative.

Via the Osaka-jo museum, we learnt a lot about the history of Osaka-jo, the life of Hideyoshi Toyotomi as well as the Summer War of Osaka. The current castle keep was remodeled after the Osaka castle built by Hideyoshi Toyotomi, based on its illustration on a famous folding screen depicting the Summer War of Osaka. There is a fascinating amount of detail on the folding screen and even a lengthy video explaining each scene of the folding screen. Miniature models of the intense battle between Sanada and Matsudaira are also on display.

There is an extensive amount of information covered over a total of eight floors, with the highest being the observation deck, and not forgetting the lengthy videos. It is therefore advisable to visit the museum earlier in the day so as to give yourself ample time to go through all the exhibits. We found ourselves rushing through the last few levels as the museum closes at 5 pm. The Osaka-jo museum will definitely satisfy the history buff in you.

Totoro's rating of Osaka-jo: (castle keep itself is a fairly new reconstruction and therefore lacks history, but the exhibits cover the life of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and the castle's tumultuous history very well)
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24. Board Game: Ice Lake [Average Rating:5.45 Overall Rank:13104]
Christina Ng
Singapore
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Day 23


"Michigan" Paddlewheel Boat Lake Biwa Cruise

We came to know about Lake Biwa in the neighbouring Shiga prefecture during our trip to Nanzenji. The aqueduct and spotting of a Lake Biwa canal museum in that area roused our curiosity. Some impromptu research that evening led us to finding out that it is Japan's largest lake and also one of the oldest lakes in the world, at over four million years old! How could we have missed out such a historic location that is located not too far from our Kyoto base? We adjusted our itinerary in haste and added the Lake Biwa cruise to the last day of our trip.

The cruise starts from Otsu, the capital city of Shiga prefecture. We booked the earliest possible cruise at 10am and arrived to find not many people . Most of them were elderly whom we believed are on a retirement trip. The lake gives rise to a strong perpetual breeze, which can be quite chilling at times.

The on-board entertainment provided by the cruise felt a bit too touristy for us and we stayed outside on the decks instead. The fine weather and panoramic views of Lake Biwa made the rest of the cruise highly enjoyable.

Most of the entire paddlewheel boat can be explored. The highest deck has telescopes installed for patrons' use. We spotted on occasion some locals out on the lake fishing in small boats. The vastness of the lake made us feel like we were out at sea instead of a lake. The mountains surrounding the lake gave the whole area a surreal feel. At one point in time, we could even make out the shadow of the small cloud moving languidly along the mountain range.
Totoro pretending to be the ship's captain


Upon alighting, we found many more tourists waiting to board it for the next cruise. I suppose the fewer number of patrons in our cruise was due to the earlier departure time.

Totoro's rating of "Michigan" paddlewheel boat Lake Biwa cruise: (offers fabulous views of Lake Biwa, though the onboard entertainment seems unnecessary)


Hikone-jo

After the Lake Biwa cruise, we wanted to explore more of the Lake Biwa area and picked Hikone castle. Lake Biwa is so big that it took us another 40 minutes by train to travel to Hikone from Otsu.

Hikone-jo is one of only five castles in Japan that has its original main keep intact and is therefore designated as a national treasure. Hikone-jo has a three storied keep and is relatively small in size compared to other castles. However, it boasts of a unique architectural design with nice curves in its roof.

By climbing the steep staircases to the top of the castle, one will be rewarded with a wide view of the castle grounds and city. Lake Biwa can also be seen from here. As it is close to the lake, a cool breeze can also be felt on top of the hill where the castle keep sits.

The castle is simple but functional and has many defensive features. For example, there is a wooden bridge leading to its main gates that can be easily destroyed in case of an attack. There are also embrasures covered with plaster to conceal them from the outside. When necessary, the wall is broken through and the embrasures can be used for defensive battle with guns and arrows.

Totoro's rating of Hikone-jo: (quaint and functional castle, which is largely the original, great views of Lake Biwa from the castle keep but a pity that the famed stable is undergoing preservation works)
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25. Board Game: Three Kingdoms Redux [Average Rating:8.10 Overall Rank:875]
Christina Ng
Singapore
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说了又不听,听了又不懂,不懂又不问,问了又不做,做了又做错,错了又不认,认了又不改,改了又不服,不服又不说,那你要我怎麽办?
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Day 24


We woke up really early to catch the limousine bus at 7am to the airport... That probably explains our giddiness when we reached Singapore.

As a side note:
During one of the train rides towards the end of the trip, I asked my Significant Other whether he missed Singapore. His reply to me is as follows:

此间乐,不思シンガポール也。
(Translation: It is fun here, I do not miss シンガポール. シンガポール is Singapore written in Japanese. He actually pronounced Singapore in Japanese, so I am being faithful to his quote shake.)

(For those who have read the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, you will probably find the phrase familiar. It was the reply given by the defeated and exiled Liu Shan when asked by his victor, Sima Zhao, on whether he missed Shu. For those who are curious, you may read about it here from my Significant other's geeklist.)

The following are our stash from the trip:

We received a 2000 yen note as change during the trip. It was the only 2000 yen we have seen during our entire two trips to Japan. We found out via some research it was issued on July 19, 2000, to commemorate the 26th G8 Summit and the millennium. It was the only 2000 yen note design ever to be printed surprise.

Although it is technically still in circulation, these notes are rarely seen in public. Looks like we got lucky to be able to receive such a rare note. Maybe I should frame it up as a memento of this trip .
Totoro ascertaining the 2000 yen note we brought home is real

Totoro's rating of the duo's shopping: (the 2000 yen note is admittedly an impressive find but how can they not buy any Totoro-related souvenirs??? shake)
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