A Travellerspoint blog

March 2020

Day 101- Oh Deer!

Day trip to Nara

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13th March
We both woke up giddy, feeling like yesterday was maybe a dream until we saw the evidence on Izzy's (my fiancé's finger... sounds so weird and grown up saying that!). Once we recovered and after a bit of reminiscing it was time for another train (you know to get our money's worth out of the JR pass); this time to Nara.

We had heard many reviews about how beautiful this place is; surrounded by shrines and where the deer walk freely. Plus as the deer are wild it's not like the place could be closed! We took a slow walk from the station, hand in hand, surrounded by our little bubble!

It was insane how many deer there were. Initially we saw only the odd one but as we approached the park their numbers increased, until they were everywhere. They outnumbered the people here about 6 to 1, however again this is probably the impact of the virus. They all looked so darn cute, especially the young ones that were the spitting image of Bambi! After a little time stroking and just observing them we chose to go and buy some biscuits to feed them. We imagined it being a lovely experience whereby the deer would circle around you and would eat the biscuits one at a time out of your hand. There was also a heard rumour that the Japanese had taught these deer to bow for their food. Idyllic!


Well forget that perfect image as that is not how it went down AT ALL! Before we could even purchase the food one deer had somehow knocked nuts from the vendor everywhere and she tried to fight off the stampede that followed to save her produce. During this time Izzy was also being surrounded and harassed by the hungry deer with one particular stag continually ramming into her bum. Lucky their antlers had been cut otherwise it would have been an even more unpleasant experience. After the woman recovered Izzy had the biscuits and boy did the deer know! Literally every deer in that small section of the park were headed her way. A little intimidated she gave me the biscuits. Now I knew they would follow me but I didn't expect the way they enclosed you and were biting my coat trying to get to the goodies. At one point I must have had 30 deer around me. I couldn't even juggle the biscuits quick enough to give them. There was no bowing, no orderly feeding fashion this was just a frenzy. Although cute when there are that many attacking you it is pretty scary. The biscuits lasted about 2 minutes and after you showed them your empty hands they lost interest.

The below video is me looking like Santa Claus shortly before it properly kicked off and pictures of Iz standing nervously waiting to buy the biscuits:


Returning to the bench rubbing my bite mark on my arm and Izzy nursing her bum we reflected on our traumatic experience. I imagine they are used to flocks of tourists feeding them all day, with enough people to divide the group up. But with the drop off travellers I imagine they are hungry and therefore run, leap and barge their way to get what food is available that isn't grass. Once we had recovered and the deer had calmed down we again could appreciate their beauty but wouldn't be purchasing anymore snacks. We sat they for a while more to witness others have their feeding experience before walking further into the park. We reached all the way to one of the main shrines and looked in some shops before heading back to the station to fit in some of the areas we didn't get to see yesterday.


We experienced our first and so far only issue with the Japanese Rail with a few delays but we eventually reached Kiyomizu-dera. This was the location of another UNESCO heritage temple and the Jishu Shrine. This shrine had been somewhere I had been looking to take Izzy yesterday as it is dedicated to Okuninushi, a god of love and matchmaking. This place had also been on the list of a potential proposal location. In front of the shrine there are also two love stones, which are 18 meters apart. Legend says that if you can find your way from one stone to the other with your eyes closed (no cheating) you will find true love. If you unfortunately miss the stone then your desire for love will not be fulfilled. I thought all these little symbols would make it a perfect location to potentially propose or as that was already completed test our love. However as we were only really interested in the shrine and not bothered about another temple we decided that 800 yen each was too steep a price to test if we had found true love; especially as we seemed pretty convinced already... Well that and the fact that as we are so clumsy one of us (probably me) would end up in the river. So we gave it a miss and after a few pictures headed back down the steep slope and back to Gion to have a deeper explore of the area and the shops we liked so much.


It was fun just walking around together without any real plan and enjoying this beautiful city that now would forever be a part of our story. We even saw a real life Geisha running between buildings. To further cement our promise of lifelong commitment to each other there was only one place we could go to celebrate... McDonald's! Having a much better nugget experience here than in the Philippines we were pretty happy even if they had misunderstood Izzy's order. Plus it was the cleanest and friendliest McDonald's we had ever been in. A stark contrast to our previous local in Brixton! Satisfied and full it was back to the hotel to pack up and relax with a film ready for our train to Hiroshima the next day.


Posted by Bears on Tour 18:32 Archived in Japan Tagged kyoto japan nara engaged deer gion nara_deer love_steps Comments (0)

Day 100- Big Surprise!!!

Can tell what it is yet?

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12 March

We had a super busy and exciting day planned today. First up, monkey mountain. Pretty self explanatory; on the outskirts of Kyoto there is a mountain.. with hundreds of wild monkeys. We spent over an hour just walking around amongst the adorable animals. There were loads of babies (monkeys not humans) running around and playing together. It was so much fun watching them climb up trees and falling out of trees (they’re almost as clumsy as Andy). Another slight positive of the virus is the place was quite quiet (compared to how I imagine it normally is).

We decided to feed them and the great thing about this place is to feed the monkeys, they put you in the cage rather than the other way round. It was a really great experience. As in nature there is always a leader and here was no different; with one big beasty boy apparently being chief (we named him Bruce). He was quite a bully. Andy fed a baby monkey a piece of apple and Bruce sat next to him, watching. The moment the small infant had it in his hand Bruce struck; giving the baby a huge shove, knocking him off the ledge!! It was heartbreaking and funny at the same time. The weather was amazing, especially compared to the previous day.


One of my good qualities is appreciation in the moment. We were so happy wondering around and joking together. I knew today was going to be a good day just hanging out with my bestie. You’d think spending every minute of every day with someone would be stressful and cause arguments, let alone added to the stress of traveling. Yet we haven’t had that issue at any point in the last four months (touch wood), we balance each other in any situation.

At the bottom of the mountain was a small (busy) village. Walking down towards the bamboo forest I noticed a sign for ‘Kimono Forest’ pointing down a side street. It looked just like the background of our caricature! We had to check it out! It was a walkway with plastic poles with kimono material inside made to look similar to its neighbouring bamboo forest- it looked beautiful. This area was particularly busy (well not as busy as normal I’m sure but a lot more busy than anywhere we’d been), interestingly only with Japanese. I guess all their schools and businesses closed and unable to travel why not go on holiday in your own country? We walked through the ‘forest’ and found a perfect quiet spot for a photo. There was two teenage girls taking selfies. Traveling hack- always ask people taking selfies if they want you to take a picture of them so you can ask them to return the favour for you. These Japanese girls were more than happy for me to photograph their photo shoot. They then asked if they could take a photo with us, we haven’t really had this anywhere (we expected it more in China) but we were happy to oblige. We’d wanted to find someone dressed in a kimono to take a photo with so this presented the opportunity. It was a strange experience, having a photo shoot with two Japanese teenagers!


We carried on to the bamboo forest. It was incredible how these single shoots are so strong and how they can grow so tall without snapping. It was taller than a normal forest however didn’t feel as closed in since all the shoots are so narrow you can see so far between them all. It took about an hour to walk through the forest with bamboo as far as the eye could see.


With our day planned out we looked up how to get to our next stop the Philosopher's path, we realised we were going to end up going right past Kinkaku-ji. A temple with the upper two floors entirely wrapped inside and out in gold leaf. We amended the route for the stop off here. As soon as the temple came in to view the sun hitting against the gold was almost blinding. It really did sparkle from the reflection of the water in the lake in front of it. It was spectacular and another attraction we almost had to ourselves.


During the trip we’re so busy in the day we generally just grab a small pastry for breakfast and skip lunch (means we’ve both lost weight, mini win), however it was such a hot sunny day we decided we’d treat ourselves with ice cream. Wanting to try everything we could while on this trip, we dismissed the delicious looking chocolate ice cream covered in gold flakes, and opted for the green matcha tea flavor. Unsure if it was going to be delicious or disgusting. Surprisingly it tasted like passion fruit flavour, perfect for a hot day!


Making our way late afternoon to the walk from Higashiyama Jisho-ji temple to Nanzen-ji Temple alongside a River. Apparently a tourist attraction popularised from a university professor walking this route every day (you may have expected something more noteworthy, so did we). Yet you can't deny it's beauty. It was a lovely walk and known for its colourful cherry blossom. Below is a picture of how it looks in spring...unfortunately, we’re here in winter so instead it looks like this:


There was a few craft shops along the walk we popped in to with some lovely trinkets but nothing we would be able to carry in our backpacks for four months without breaking them.

Our next stop was supposed to be the love steps. However it was now around sunset so instead we decided to make our way there tomorrow (read about that in the next entry blog). With Andy’s clumsiness it probably wasn’t a great idea to jump from one stone to another with his eyes closed anyway. Instead we looked how to get to Fushimi Inari Taisha. It seemed simple but Japanese google doesn’t tell you bus stops so we wandered around Kyoto bus station for almost an hour trying to find where it goes from (doesn’t help there is two number 5 buses), unable to read where buses are terminating etc. A minute or two before we were about to just suggest going back to the hotel and out for dinner (we were already on a tight schedule since the restaurant we wanted to go to closed at early), we finally found the right stop.


This shrine is also known as 1,000 gates (self explanatory). We walked around and under the first few Tori gates almost alone; another positive of the virus. Although I imagine it is usually quieter after after dark, we were only there with a handful of other people. We walked under the section of the first line of gates; I’m a sucker for nighttime and dim lights. I love fairy lights, candles, flying at nighttime and seeing city lights twinkling below. It seems so magical and peaceful. This was no exception. It was lit up by just a few spotlights every ten or so Tori's, it was beautiful, a very romantic walk.

I tried to get a photo of the gates we’d just walked through as each one had inscriptions on, it was so atmospheric with nobody around. Turning to continue walking confusion hit me... how has Andy fallen over (and strangely quietly)?!? Remember above, I was saying about how clumsy he was. It took me a second to realise he hadn’t fallen over, he was on one knee... with a box in his hand. After a short speech and question we were both in tears and I had a new ring on my finger!!!!!


We had been having such an incredible day and this was the cherry on the cake. I had not remotely seen it coming, how had he been carrying that ring around all day and I hadn’t noticed? Turns out there had been four previous occasion the ring had been taken out but the day hadn’t gone to plan (I’ll let Stew tell you about the times I’d obliviously ruined his plan to propose throughout this trip). The last four years have been such an incredible adventure together, feels like we’ve known each other for a life time already. It was such a perfect moment for us both. Overwhelmed, excited and so wholesomely happy is just the start of the emotions coursing through my body in that moment. Adding an extra special touch to this amazing trip we’re on and although Japan is already our favourite place so far it just cements it as our favourite place. From the moment we met we just work, we make sense, we just fit together. We understand each other and encourage each other’s weirdness. <nerdy computer game bleeping> Level Up!

We were so giddy, neither of us really paid any attention to our surroundings for the remainder of the walk. We even left the shrine and just walked down the street before we realised we had no idea where we were going and didn’t know the way back. We decided to get dressed up for dinner and have a little celebration. Worried the restaurant would be full or deny entry since it was only 40 minutes before closing. We arrived to a completely empty restaurant! We sat down and ordered our ramen (another Japanese dish we were yet to try here) and everything else on the menu too. Before our dinner was served, we were handed paper aprons- only Stew and I could get dressed up for dinner then end up covering up and eating in paper napkins! Since the restaurant was empty we basically had an personal chef. He bought over the two bows of ramen, explained some health and saftey rules and then poured a pan of fire in to the ramen, shooting flames about two foot high, right infront of us. It was definitely an experience. Luckily the chef nor waitress seemed to mind that at 10 o clock we were still eating and chatting even though it was there home time.


We decided to walk the 25 minutes back to the hotel rather than get the bus. We were both so stuffed from all the food we thought a walk might help. I started the day a girlfriend and have ended up a fiancé! Seems so grown up!

Andy's Input
Although Iz wanted to write this blog entry I couldn't let it be uploaded without a little input from me. I've known for a long time that this girl is the one for me. She is beautiful, kind, crazy and competes me! Despite our little frustrations and odd little downs like every couple we really are best friends and whenever I picture the future she is the one person I always see by my side. These last 4 years have been the best of my life and that is all down to Izzy, the experiences we have had and the friends/family around us. I'm writing this with a huge smile on my face as I sit across from the woman that has agreed to be my wife and I can't wait! Anyone that knows me well will know I'm a hopeless romantic and although our story hasn't followed the usual Disney storyline, I do feel like I'm in a fairytale.

I've known for a long time that I wanted to propose to Izzy and knowing our big trip was coming up, seemed perfect timing with so many unique and beautiful settings to choose from. I had asked her parents nervously before coming on this trip for their blessing and had always planned to ask her somewhere. Although, uncharacteristically for me, I purposefully didn't plan where. As I wanted it to be in the moment and I didn't want to get too worked up over it. However this has therefore meant hiding the token ring (I didn't want to get the real thing out of fear of loss in some form) for 3.5 months in a bag that Izzy goes in and repacks everyday. It also meant that I had to be prepared should the optimum moment present itself. As Izzy references this means taking it out on a number of previous occasions only for the weather, the crowds, or just the fact Izzy would rather stay in bed instead of a 30 minute bike ride in -5 degrees to watch the sunrise over Mount Fuji to scupper it.

Today however I knew it was going to be a good day. And although not everything went to plan it was! And if only one good thing came out of the Corona Virus for us it is that we got to experience a hugely popular tourist destination with hardly any people (I say this as we sit in a hotel waiting to call our insurance to curtail our trip). It was exactly how I imagined it to be and more... I just wish I picked somewhere easier to pronounce (Fushimi Inari Taisha)!


Posted by Bears on Tour 00:43 Archived in Japan Tagged kyoto japan engaged ring fushimi_inari_taisha philosopher's_path monkey_mountain bamboo_forresr kimono_forrest Comments (0)

Day 99- Kyoto Arrival; Rain, Shopping & Caricature

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11 March

Stew hadn’t slept well so I got up to make eggy bread for breakfast with the intention of waking him up when it was ready but apparently made such a ruckus I woke him up before I’d even opened the beans (although in fairness, I was opening beans without a can opener so it was a tough task from the outset). We made breakfast together, probably for the best as he’s a better cook than me. We checked out of the little apartment and jumped on the train to Kyoto, only a short 15 minute train away. We found our hotel, looking super fancy, and dropped our bags off since it was only 11am and we couldn’t check in till 3. We only had two and a half days to explore the city so had to make use of every spare second.

Walking up to Ninjo Castle, we considered whether it would be closed or not. Of course it was! Well part of it, they were offering half price admission but with it pouring down with rain and as it was only the gardens open we decided to skip it.


Instead we cowered in a 7-Eleven before buying an umbrella (everyone in Japan seems to have the same 7-Eleven umbrella so it must be pretty decent). We continued on our way to Kyoto Imperial Palace, free admission and all open! Win! Since they didn’t have an English audio guide we used the guide book to learn about the place, it seemed every building was just used for ceremonies.


There was a lovely designed gardens with a funny story of princes and royals sitting in the river and placing a glass of wine in the water with them and taking it in turns to make up a poem before the glass had floated past... or you miss a drink, I think this is the Royal version of smoosh. I found it amusing such a pompous drinking game.


We headed to an area called Gion where authentic geishas spent a lot of time in. We were amazed at all the beautiful kimonos, although, not seeing an geishas, we just saw lots of teenage girls hanging out with their friends all dressed Up. They all look beautiful except they all have baggy oversized unfitted white socks and clogs. We had seen kimono's elsewhere but here everyone was wearing them.


The shops were full of crafts and some lovely souvenirs. We bought a pair of cherry blossom earrings as an early birthday present to me amongst a few gifts. There was an art studio with anime styled caricature, having previously discussed this being a great souviner of our trip to Japan we went inside. There was loads of different styles and we asked to be drawn in kimono and as a samurai with a background we’d seen in another drawing although unaware of where it was. Sitting there was an anxious wait. Having a large nose I assumed this was going to be the main focus! We sat for half an hour before setting the final product... we love it!


We quickly checked out one of the local shrines beforeb heading to the hotel to check in and find some dinner. Our room was super fancy, being used to travelodge’s, we get very excited at the luxury. A simple 7/11 bento box filled out tummies and an evening spent writing blog- were so far behind!


Posted by Bears on Tour 19:38 Archived in Japan Tagged kyoto kimono gion bento caricature Comments (0)

Day 97-98: Himeji Castle & Oooosaka Wrap Up

Before off to Kyoto.

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9th March
Up early and breakfast eaten (it is so nice having our own little flat where we can store milk and cook, it feels like a treat) we were using our JR passes and on board a train to Himeji to see it's famous castle. We had planned to go the day before but with neither of us sleeping well we delayed it. When off the train and faced with a dull dark grey sky and rain we were regretting our choice. But in true British fashion we didn't let the rain, or the fact we were unable to go into any of the buildings due to the virus (again), put us off.

With the rain getting heavier we bought our tickets and competed a self guided tour of the castle grounds. It was definitely one of the more impressive castles/ shrines we had seen so far and we were pleased we could at least enter unlike Osaka castle. It was a shame we couldn't enter the main keep or the long corridor but the half price entry price was fair compensation. Also unlike they other buildings we had visited there were a more in-depth and exciting stories about the previous occupants. However like every old building in Japan, it seems, it was destroyed by fire a number of times and therefore has largely been rebuilt. Despite the weather it was time well spent and a good day trip.


Before heading back we tried our hand at the strange, yet oddly addictive and fun, photo booths. These photo booths aren't the ones you get your passport picture done at in Sainsbury's. They were ones whereby you are encouraged to do cute and crazy poses and they make your eyes huge and apply make up in true Japanese style. Yes these are predominantly for groups of teenage girls, but hey I look good with a bit of blusher so we gave it a go. Money paid and poses competed we assumed that was it. Oh how wrong we were! After you have taken your pictures you take a seat at a computer screen outside and can edit the hell out of it; from changing your make up colour to adding stickers and of course random animal features. It actually was quite fun... However we got so carried away we didn't realise there was a time limit! This resulted in me somehow adding a random sticker over Izzy's face in one of the pictures (Doh!). Due to this and feeling we now had the hang of it we decided to try a different machine and have another go with much more success!


With our new pictures in hand it was time for the train back. At the flat we spent the afternoon completing some admin; packing, blog, contacting airlines to try and cancel our South Korea flights and get refunds for China and booking our bittersweet flight home. One Corona perk amongst all the difficulties it is causing us is that we are getting to fly Emirates back to London from Singapore for around £500 for the both of us... Bargain!

10th March
Breakfast this morning was more exotic than our recent chocolate cornflakes. A Happy Pancake was coming up in lots of searches about good places to eat in oooosaka. Who’s turning down pancakes? Not us! The restaurant was so ‘Instagram worthy’ but that’s lost on two people who couldn’t care less about social media. It was a super cute decor though! We shared three ginormous pancakes (how are they so fluffy that big?!?) with whipped butter, ice cream and syrup- yum!


Another Pokémon stop in Daimaru Umeda, although provided the same memorabilia as the Pokémon cafe a few days ago so we didn’t waste too much time here.


After a few hours in a book shop we made our way to Umeda Sky Building. On the top is the Floating Garden Observatory, where Osaka's cityscape can be viewed from a height of 170 meters. Of course, this attraction followed suit with the rest of our trip- closed. We were really trying not to let all the closures get us down too much but when it’s every attraction, seems pointless saving three years to come to the other side of the world to do nothing.

We could still get the lift to the 38th floor and travel up the escalator in the middle of the donut hole shape at the top of the building. Turns out the only thing really closed was the very top floor outside, we didn’t miss out too much on this. The architect said he wanted the building to look like an alien spaceship had just lifted off... I kinda get that from the big circle. Time to head back to our little apartment and pack up for our trip to Kyoto in the morning! What excitement could kyoto hold for us, we had no idea!


Posted by Bears on Tour 19:40 Archived in Japan Tagged osaka himeji himeji_castle umeda japan skyline corona umeda_sky_building pokemon a_happy_pancake Comments (0)

Day 96- The ups and downs of Osaka

Well this just describes the odd Ferris wheel ride!

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Sunday 8th March

Weary legs from all the walking the day before we needed a little lie in. Our first stop for the day- Pokémon Cafe. In New Zealand we geeked out on Lord of the Rings stuff, Japan we’re geeking out on Pocket Monsters (as they’re called here, way cutier!). Once finding the entire floor of Pokémon, we spent about an hour looking round the shop, they had arcade games, tv showing the cartoon, even tables with set ups for the card game. I wouldn’t say I’m a Pokémon fan in anyway, I downloaded the Pokémon Go for about two weeks, but I basically just spot anything Evie related and comment on how cute it is. Stew still plays Pokémon Go, possibly the only person in the world still playing it. We didn’t realise you had to have reservations for the cafe and decided it wasn’t worth it anyway. The menu was fairly average with things shaped like Pokémon characters, we’d imagined banana milkshakes with cherry’s to look like Pichachu or a chocolate milkshake with chocolate on the top to look like Evie. There was so much potential lost!


Bubble tea is a big thing here, a drink originally from Taiwan. Consisting of a flavor of tea with jelly like pearls added. We ordered a peach flavor cold tea and a warm chocolate flavor tea. It was an interesting concept. While we sat there loads of Japanese were ordering them so it’s definitely not just for tourists. While I wouldn’t rush back for another it was good to try. The bubbles just take over a bit and you end up eating jellies more than drinking.


Wandering through the Dotonbori, we’d been promised in guide books this was a great place for souvenir shopping! There was a river running straight through the Main Street, we meandered in and out of side streets.


All of the lampposts in this area looked like the below with a different pattern:

There was a big Ferris wheel over a building, with no intention of going on we went in the shop to have a look around and were accosted by a man shouting at us in Japanese. We politely smiled and carried on, clearly awkward that we couldn’t understand. Repeating himself in English he was saying the Ferris Wheel was free at the moment because there weren’t many tourists around (we get some mini wins from the virus), we queued up without time to really consider what we were doing. Within minutes of the barrier going down I changed my mind. This was a one of a kind Ferris wheel, mainly since it wasn’t a wheel; it was an oval and the carriages aren't fixed like a usual Ferris wheel, instead the outer carriage is welded all the way around and an inner ball swivels inside to fix in a position looking outwards. After a quick search the ride is only 77meters however it felt much much taller, especially as you couldn't see how much further you had to rise before going over the top.While the view was nice over the whole city, one of us enjoyed it, one of us hated the entire experience.


A bit more wandering around the area and we came across an arcade. We haven’t played on many grabby machines, we’ve watched locals play a lot and they always seem to win a lot so we thought we’d have a go. It was my first time ever on one of these machines so I didn’t expect to do very well. Attempting a stuffed Evie, I failed. Stew had a go and almost got it! On the third go she dropped in to the basket and she was coming home with us! She’s so darn cute!

They love this creepy clown but we still have no idea who or what he is!

After a day of ups and down, quite literally, we arrived at the Namba Yasaka Shrine, a huge lion head shaped building. Apparently, the huge open mouth will swallow any evil spirits plaguing you, leaving you only good luck for succeeding in business or school-related ventures, during Japanese exam period this shrine is full of students hoping for good luck in their exams.


Stew had found a sushi restaurant that all the dishes were only 100yen (70p), I was very excited about this. The restaurant was very futuristic with a check in machine and table assignment all electronic. The table had an interactive tv to order any items from their extensive menu. Since Stew doesn’t like fish this was an experience mainly for me, although he seemed to be excited by the whole process. After scoffing 7 plates of various types of sushi (including eel!) it was time to find something for Andy to have for dinner.


Look how excited she is! Such a cool experience:

We found a curry place for him, another weird machine order system. One thing we’ve been surprised with is the lack of language barrier. Our Japanese extends to two words (good afternoon and thank you) but their ability to speak English (even in really rural non tourist areas) is amazing. After a HUGE bowl of rice, curry sauce, chicken... and cheese (vom!) arrived, Stew tucked in. I think I definitely got the better end of the deal for dinner this day!


Posted by Bears on Tour 18:05 Archived in Japan Tagged japan ferris_wheel sushi curry katsu pokemon Comments (0)

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