In November 2019, I took my parents to Japan for their first time – and my seventh – over two weeks. This series is to be read as a diary, and serves as a place to showcase the pictures taken and preserve the memories made.
If you’re reading this during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, it must be surreal to be on a travel post. I get you. But perhaps there is no better time than now – especially as we have more of it – to have a good think about all the places to see, things to do and food to eat when this all blows over. After all, one of the best bits about travel is the planning and anticipation of it. We could all use a bit of an escape from this unreality.
Date of trip: 14/Nov/2019 – 28/Nov/2019
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All experiences – food, accommodation and activities in this post were independently paid for.
|Day 1 – Hiroshima (introduction)||Day 2 – Okayama/Kurashiki|
|Day 3 – Osaka||Day 4 – Mount Koya|
|Day 5 – Kyoto||Day 6 – Kyoto|
|Day 7 – Arashiyama||Day 8 – Kyoto|
|Day 9 – Uji & Nara||Day 10 – Hakone|
|Day 11 – Hakone||Day 12-14 – Tokyo|
Japan Day 7 – Arashiyama
Visit Rome without marvelling at the sheer architectural scale of Saint Peter’s Basilica. Visit Paris without taking in the riotous opulence of Versailles. Visit Kyoto without losing yourself in Arashiyama’s verdant bamboo forests.
There’s a term for these kinds of trips: incomplete.
Now, there is a fantastic reason not to visit Arashiyama: if you think Kyoto landmarks get their fair share of tourists, wait till you visit Storm Mountain during peak season (which, really, is almost all year these days). It’s one of the few times where even Japanese manners fail, where people in their quest just to take a step forward are forced to spill out onto the streets meant for vehicles. It can be a sh*t show.
But if you brave – and contribute to – the crowds, you’ll see why they congregate here.
Equally impressive is Tenryuji Temple, one of many at Arashiyama, but inarguably the most important, as its founding story involves both shoguns and Emperors (but this isn’t a history lesson so I’ll leave that up to you). Combined with its sheer beauty and you’ll see why its UNESCO World Heritage Site designation was a no-brainer.
Once the rents were suitably impressed with Arashiyama’s bamboo groves, historic sites and criminally beguiling scenery, it was time to get down to some monkey business. Iwatayama Monkey Park is a short hike up the Arashiyama Mountain which is inhabited by over a hundred wild Japanese macaque monkeys. Red butts all around, it’s certainly one of Japan’s more unique tourist hotspots.
Lunch was at Unagi Hirokawa, which as you no doubt have guessed, specialises in Japanese freshwater eel. Now I need to be clear: don’t visit if you’re not a fan of the slithery swimmers, as all of Unagi Hirokawa’s courses (ranging from 5300JPY to 13,000JPY – $191 AUD but a la carte available) feature eel heavily, as you’d expect. We’re talking grilled eel liver, eel & liver soup, eel & egg hot pot, and a whole eel’s worth of meat served kabayaki-style on rice. Eel eel eel. Sound funny yet?
If this sounds bloody excellent to you, make sure to reserve at least six weeks in advance during the busy season. Thank me later when you’re getting your name checked off while watching – with just a sprinkling of schadenfreude – a steady stream of people being turned away because they thought they could walk in.
As it was a helluva long day (something like 7am-9pm), dinner had to satisfy three criteria: fast, delicious, and close to the hotel. In yet another case of ‘only in Japan’, train station dining – at least at major train stations – is an unexpectedly satisfying and dare I say it, high quality experience. Our supper was at Conana, a wafu pasta restaurant. Wafu refers to ‘Japanese style’ [cuisine], and its various interpretations of European pasta is one of the more successful Asian fusion stories. I’ve forgotten just how satisfying it is to eat thoughtfully crafted pasta dishes that’s not as the Italians do. I won’t try to convince you because My recommendation? The soy milk carbonara. Thank me later.