Photos from Yakushima

27 04 2013

Nagano-ken Snow Monkeys

6 01 2010

After the first day of skiing we went to a local onsen to soothe our muscles. But after 2 days of beginners skiing it was time for a break from sore knees, shoulders, ankles, cold toes and fingers. We caught a couple of local buses from Hakuba to Nagano and beyond to the Jigokudani Monkey Onsen Park.

“Wild” Japanese monkeys live in the park and when it is cold they like to hang out in the hot spring onsen. It was a 30 minute walk up the mountain along slippery ice/snow paths before we could reach the monkeys in their natural surroundings. There were two film crews filming the monkeys and one of the teams interviewed Benno in Japanese about where he was from and his experience of visiting the monkeys… maybe he will be on Japanese TV?!

The monkeys were really cute and quite tame (they didn’t mind cameras pointing in their faces). Although some of them had their grumpy faces on display the day we visited…

There is a “Monkey WebCam” set up outside the onsen that takes photos every hour and posts them online. We got caught being uninteresting at midday. You can see the monkeys too.

When we came back to the hostel the snow had piled up and in some places we had to walk through almost knee-high powder snow. So soft, but so cold and wet.

Kyoto over O-bon

16 08 2009

O-bon is a Buddhist festival celebrated to remember your ancestors. In Osaka the O-bon meant holidays and many of the restaurants were closed and we had trouble finding anywhere to eat 😦 In Kyoto however, not so many places took holidays but there are some interesting celebrations. Giant fires in the shape of kanji are lit on the mountains around Kyoto to show the spirits where to go (it is believed they visit this world during O-bon).

Today we caught the local Randen train to Arashiyama, the hilly region to the north west of Kyoto. We visited Tenyru-ji and walked through the very peaceful gardens they had. Then we went out the north exit and strolled through the bamboo grove. There were lots of elderly walkers (maybe part of a hiking club?) in a big group all walking up and down the mountain. The bamboo grove itself was quite large but maybe not so similar to the Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon movie. There are in fact bamboo groves in the Ginkaku-ji gardens and they looked just as good.

After the bamboo grove we walked down the hill, over the river with the fishing boats (used for cormorant fishing) and the up a hill to the Monkey Park. It was a bit of a walk to the top of the hill were the monkeys were and you can only feed the monkeys through bars. Since it was summer, there were lots of little baby monkeys born recently in spring and they were cute.

Taking the train back to Atsu’s house we had some of his delicious forest rice for lunch, relaxed for a bit then caught the JR train to Kyoto eki and then south to Inari eki. All three of us visited Fushimi Inari shrine, famous for its red torii. The red torii stretch on and on for 4 km or so, we reckoned, so we only walked a short stretch. Many of them had inscriptions – they had been donated by companies in the hope that they would have success and prosperity.

It was getting time for dinner so we heading back on the train, stopping in at the supermarket on the way. We made vegan okonmiyaki for dinner, with entree of salsa and avocado dip with corn chips, and chocolate self-saucing pudding for dessert.

At 8pm we stood out on the balcony and were able to see 2 giant fires lit on the mountain sides around Atsu’s apartment. From one side we saw a giant torii (shrine gate) and from the other side we saw the daimon-ji (kanji for big, dai). The fires only lasted for about 15 minutes then died out. It was great to be able to see them from the apartment.

Miyajima & the Hiroshima Bombing Anniversary

6 08 2009

Today was the annversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. We attended the Ceremony at 8am in Peace park where prayers were said and a bell was tolled at 8.15am, the exact time the bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945. The Japanese Prime Minister Aso, the Hiroshima governor and 2 UN Representatives spoke at the ceremony. Doves were released and a new scroll with updated names of all that died in the blast was placed in the memorial.

After the ceremony we caught the streetcar to Miyajima station (60minutes), then ran to catch the ferry to the island (10minutes). We walked past many deer, one ate part of our map (yum, paper), then we walked through Itsukushima shrine and took photos of the O-torii out in the sea at high tide (10.30am). There were lots of little crabs in the mud flats around the temple walkways. We hiked up Mt Misen which is about 580m above sea level. It was stairs the whole way and it was soooo tiring, sweaty, humid and hot. It took about 90 minutes to hike the whole way up to the peak. We couldn’t be bothered walking all the way down again so we took the cable car ropeway down the mountain. Around the cable car station were monkeys and deer. There were baby monkeys and mother monkeys, grooming monkeys and even monkeys grooming the deer. The descent on the cable car was steep, then we walked through the ‘Maple Park’ where a deer was eating a newspaper.

We wandered down Omotesando shopping street and saw the World’s Largest Rice Spoon which was 7.7m long.

Then we caught the ferry and tram back to the A-bomb dome. We wandered past some other monuments including the A-bomb mound (that contains the ashes of 70,000 people) back to the museum so Benno could buy a t-shirt and the Japanese book Shanti (about the girl who made 1000 paper cranes when she was dying at age 10 from atomic-radiation induced lukemia). We bought pink paper for a lantern for 600Y then made dinner back at the hostel.

We returned at night to the Peace park to put our lantern (with our wishes for peace written on it) in the water. We had to line up for about 1/2 hour or more as heaps of people had lantern wishes. Luckily we brought snacks of sugar-coated potato to eat while we waited.

After the festival we ate red bean and chesnut sweets from Takayama with iced tea then had cold showers to wash off all the sweat from our Mt Misen hike.