Kyoto/Hiroshima (10/28 – 11/1)
Hello from Japan! I want to emphasize what Phi said in her previous post; the people in Japan are SO warm and friendly. Despite the language barrier, everyone always greets us and tries their best to help us. Overall, Japan is an incredibly refreshing place to visit. Two quick examples to share….We’ve gotten up early for two morning hikes leaving directly from the Airbnb. The first morning: As soon as we walked out of the door, a man asked where we were going and offered us a ride. Five minutes later we ran into an older couple we had met at dinner the night before. They stopped and waited for us, introducing us to their dog and asked what we had planned for the day. The second morning: We met a woman who walks every morning. She basically escorted us to the start of the trail and asked if we had a map to make sure we did not get lost. At one point, she thought we were going somewhere else and ran after us to make sure we didn’t miss our turn.
Highlights of our Kyoto/Hiroshima:
- Local dinner: Our Airbnb in Japan is adjacent to a restaurant (run by Momo-ma, mother of our Airbnb host). We decided to give it a shot. When we walked in the door, Momo-ma was straight up passed out with her head down on the counter. Once she woke up, she was so excited we were there. Soon 5 locals came in that eat there 3-4 times per week. We spent the evening using google translator to communicate with them from topics ranging from backgrounds, families, baseball in Japan (Japanese World Series is also going on), the World Series (they knew about the Cubs – Indians), etc. It was such a cool experience. As far as the goods go, aka food, we only ordered 4 things from the menu, yet somehow got 12 or 13 dishes and drinks. Most of these were “presents.” Dinner included Sake and plum wine to drink; raw fish including horse mackerel and tuna, shrimp tempura, grilled salmon, edamame beans, greens and cake.
- Momo-Ma part 2: We saw Momo-Ma working outside about 2 hours before we left to head to Osaka for a flight the next morning. Realizing we were leaving, she quickly went inside and showed up about 30 minutes later with the feast pictured below. She was such a sweet host and meeting her has been one of the highlights of our trip!
- Ramen!!!!: So normally in the U.S., I’m not a big ramen fan, but that has quickly changed here. Phi and I have tried 3 different ramen restaurants (so far). Check out the pictures below. Here’s how Phi described her ramen dreams coming true:
- The first ramen was the most unique experience, with the stalls and vending machine. Our second ramen experience was by far the best tasting. The broth was incredibly rich, smooth and yet smoky at the same time. The charshu (pork) was grilled to a crispy and tasty perfection. The noodles were good but the real standout was the charshu and the broth. We got a bowl of rice to put finish up the broth after the noodles were gone. Our third ramen had the most local feel- it was a grease spoon kind of place, attended by many locals from our neighborhood and had big portions. It was good but pales in comparison to the second ramen experience. The second ramen was like ramen from heaven and the others were like ramen from Earth.
- Fushimi Inari Shrine: ~ 3 mile hike directly from our place to get to the so-called # 1 tourist attraction in Japan; however, the really cool thing is we come from the opposite direction of the shrine from 99% of the crowd. We actually got to visit twice early in the AM. Essentially, it’s a shrine with over 10,000 gates. Of course, they are the distinct orange color that is significant in Kyoto. Going early in the morning enabled us to do tons of exploring by ourselves and walking around. There is so much to see in this must visit!
- Hiroshima: After hiking to Fushimi for the 2nd time, we boarded a train for a full day trip to Hiroshima. This was really a trip to experience some WWII history in Asia. Hiroshima was the location of the first atomic bomb dropped in 1945. Close to 100,000 people lost their lives. While it isn’t an upbeat topic, it was powerful to see the memorials and the atomic bomb dome. Tons of great information and perspective on the event. Almost all of the exhibits and messaging are geared towards eliminating nuclear weapons and testing. It’s really powerful/emotional to see a country and people so inspired to eliminate something that caused them so much harm. To close on a more uplifting note, we did get to experience local cuisine (okonomiyaki, a Japanese savory pancake which means “what you like grilled”) and visit the Pokemon Center on the way out of town. Phi got a really cool Pikachu sticker for her journal. There was also a plaque in the center commemorating me as the #1 Pikachu player in Smash Bros history. Josh and Steve were on the rankings, but they were quite a bit lower (others receiving votes sections).
- Onsen/Kurama experience: Phi and I took the train about 45 minutes outside of Kyoto to the mountains. We did a hike to visit the Kurama temple in the mountains. Then, we had our first onsen experience (think thermal bath in Japan, except fully nude). We found this great 1-day pass that included our round-trip train ride, access to hike to the temple and access to an onsen for $17 bucks. It was a great day trip. The onsens are divided by gender, and we both found it to be incredibly relaxing after a full day of hiking.
- Sight–seeing in Kyoto: We spent the majority of a day in Kyoto walking to many temples and shrines. All of them were ornate, beautiful and spiritual. The big drawback was the sheer volume of people. Almost every stop was really packed.
- Cubs: Kyoto has not been good to the Cubs. Thankfully, the Cubs survived for us to make it to Korea. I think we’ve finally found the right combination of clothes to lead them to victory.
To close on a high note, here are some more pictures to highlight our Kyoto experience.