Kansai Trip

So before I left Japan I went on a trip to the Kansai region of Japan. The Kansai Region is home to some of the most well known cities in Japan: Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka.

Transportation
To get to and from Kansai I decided to use the bullet train. It seemed like the fastest and most comfortable way. The ticket was a little pricy, but since I was leaving Japan soon I did not mind so much. Both ways (Tokyo to Kyoto and then Osaka to Yokohama) averaged about 13,000 yen each. The train itself was awesome. I got to ride on the Nozomi Super Express train and it was very quick and the ride itself was very smooth. I definitely reccomend riding on the bullet train at least once in your time in Japan.
Kyoto
We stayed at the Chita Guest Inn in Kyoto. It was in a very nice spot; very close to Kyoto Station and one of the biggest temples in Kyoto. It was also very close to a bus stop that allowed very easy access to all of the big sights. The owner spoke English well and was very friendly.
The first temple we visited was the Kiyomizudera Temple known for its wooden pavillion. It was a very scenic and quite impressive temple. We took a bus from Kyoto Station that was about fifteen minutes. There were also tons of touristy souvenir shops along the walk to the temple.
After the temple we lounged around a little until about 6pm when we headed over to the Gion Festival. The festival is one of the biggest festivals in Japan and is held in the Gion area around the Yasaka Temple. The festival was really nice. There were tons of tasty junk foods lining the streets of Gion and around the temple. There were many taditional Japanese drum performances and the environment was really nice.
The following day we headed to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. It was a couple of stations from Kyoto. I really liked this temple. There were tons of Japanese Tori and the environment was very tranquil.

All in all Kyoto wasn’t bad. There were tons of tourists everywhere which I didn’t like, but I still definitely recommend visiting the city. It is very beautiful.

Nara

In Nara we stayed at Yougendo Guesthouse. . It wasn’t in Nara, but in Oji (a couple of stations away from Nara). Despite this, I definitely recommend staying here. The owner is British and it is a very comfortable place to stay. The rooms are beautiful and there is even a bar very close by that is operated by the owner.

Nara itself was very nice. There were tons of stuff to do outdoors and the hiking was very nice. Nara is famous for the thousands of tame deer that roam around in the park. There were many vendors/shops around selling rice crackers that you would feed the deer. It was really nice to be able to give the rice crackers to the deer and pet them. The thing is once one knew you had a rice cracker all the others started to swarm around you.

In Nara Park there were many temples. We visited the Todaiji Temple which is known for its huge Buddha Statue. The temple was gorgeous. It was very big and the architecture was just plain stunning. A picture cannot do it justice. In this temple there was also this very small crawl-hole in one of the wooden pillars. It is said that if you can crawl through it you can reach nirvana. I knew I was too big to go through it, but there were many girls/little kids that were able to go through it.

I also hiked around the mountain/hills area around Nara Park. It was a very enjoyable hike and the weather was very nice. I saw some nice views around Nara. I really liked Nara. It seems that I saw many less tourists/foreigners here than in Kyoto (especially when I hiked around a little).
Mt. Koya

To be honest I think this was the highlight of my trip. Mt. Koyo is about an hour away from Osaka and is home to the Shingon Buddhist sect. We took an hour train from Osaka to the cable car station, and then a cable car station up to Mt. Koya.

I stayed at Eko-in for one night. I looked at the best temple lodgings on TripAdvisor and decided to pick this one. We booked for one night.

When we checked in we were shown to our room and I was asked to fill out a card with all of my information. I was then explained the rules of the temple. It was explained that dinner was at 5:30pm and they would give us a call before bringing the food to our room. After a nice hot cup of green tea in our room and a bit of relaxing the monks gave us a call and asked if we were ready for dinner.

A monk brought the dinner to our room shortly after and set it up for us. It consisted of traditional Japanese cuisine that the monks eat. It was all vegetarian so don’t expect any meat or fish. I was feeling the moment and also bought a beer with my meal (700 yen for a big bottle of Asahi). The meal was really good and we had some lovely tea to go along with it.

There is no bedding in the room at first. After dinner finishes the monks come and clear away your table trays. They then bring Japanese futons to your room and set everything up. The beds are futon mats with covers. Pretty much all you need.

The room itself was a traditional Japanese style tatami mat room. It had a window with two straw chairs overlooking the lovely garden. It was really relaxing. There was a TV in the room (although we never used it). There was no air conditioner so know that before going. Koya-san is actually pretty cool (even in the summer) so the fan that they provide in the room was adequate even in the peak Japanese summer.

The bath/shower is open from 4pm-10pm. It is a traditional Japanese style bath so you must be comfortable with public nudity as it may be hard to catch the shower alone. It is big enough though so you really don’t have to worry about it. The bath water is very hot and a really great way to relax after a day of hiking. All towels, soap, shampoo, and rinse is provided to you along with a Japanese Yukata (pajamas). While there were definitely monks with English ability, having some extent of Japanese linguistic skills helped. I suppose this is the same anywhere you stay in Japan though. If you don’t speak a word of Japanese don’t worry.

The location is near plenty of useful shops: a restaurant, souvenir shop, and a grocery store. It is important to note that you cannot bring food onto the temple from outside so be aware. Eko-in is also close to a major bus stop that will take you all over Koya-san.The Morning Prayer ceremony feels authentic and is a nice experience. It is very intuitive what to do and is a nice way to start the morning. There are two computers set up with high speed internet so you can check your mail or upload pictures easily.

Overall it was a nice stay. If I had to do it again I would stay for two nights and enjoy everything the mountain has to offer. We paid 12000yen for one night so we didn’t want to make it too expensive. Overall though this was definitely a worthwhile stay.Mt. Koya was really nice. There was a ton of nice hiking to do and I could have easily stayed an entire week there if I wanted to. If you like outdoors Mt Koya is definitely for you.

Reflections
The trip was really nice but honestly a little expensive. I am glad I went once, but next time I am back in Japan I am definitely going to go to some of the smaller and less known prefectures. I also never had a chance to make it up to Hokkaido which I definitely want to do in the future.

To be perfectly honest, just going off my brief five days in Kansai, I prefer the Kantou (Tokyo) Region a lot more than Kansai. The people seem to be a little bit more tolerant of foreigners. I just like big modern cities more than average sized towns I suppose. I liked Mt. Koya a lot because it was so small and secluded though.

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Mount Fuji – Climbing Reflections

So last weekend I climbed Mt. Fuji with my dad. I kind of did it on whim really. I figured I came all the way to Japan, could see Mt. Fuji from work, so it would

We started from the Kawaguchi 5th Station and planned on climbing the Yoshida trail during the night so we could watch the sunrise from Mt Fuji. After taking a two and a half hour bus ride from Shinjuku to the 5th Station we geared up. After buying walking sticks and suiting up we started climbing. It was pitch black so we equipped the lights that we had brought.

A small note on the lights. I brought a headlight that used a regular light bulb and by dad brought a LED one. The LED one was the better choice as mine just seemed to to be too dim

From the 5th to the 6th station we seemed to go up a zigzag type pattern for quite some time. It seemed to go pretty fast but as I later found out on the climb down it was actually a pretty big distance. The terrain wasn’t terrible here and the rate of ascent was moderate. Every now and then we stopped to take a sip of water but it really wasn’t terrible. The sixth station seemed to be way up there though. We kept climbing and climbing but the light of the sixth station for some reason didn’t seem to be getting closer. Finally we reached it.

We got our walking stick stamped at the station and rested up a little bit. We were so oblivious with what was to come. From the 6th station to the 7th station it was terrible. The terrain was absolutely horrific. Mt. Fuji is a volcano so there are a lot of volcanic rocks. I am really skeptical to call this section hiking… it was more mountain climbing. The ascent was really sudden and very treacherous. The walking stick that I bought really got in the way here. I needed to use my hand to grab rocks to hoist myself up. It was really like boulder hopping. Still somehow after a couple hours (which seemed like an eternity) we managed to get to the 7th station. After the 7th station was more boulder hopping.

At this point the altitude change really started to get to my father and me. We could only walk very short distances without stopping for air. At one of the 7th stations we got some oxygen which didn’t really seem to help me too much. Anyways we eventually reached the first 8th station. It seemed like it took forever though. It was more boulder hopping off sharp, steep, and treacherous volcanic rock.

A few days before we started climbing I made a reservation at one of the 8th stations on a whim. I figured that we got to the 8th station too late, but after asking the clerk it turns out that we were able to stay. Thank god for this. We were so tired, exhausted, and fatigued. After resting a few hours at the station we had enough energy to chug up to the top. We didn’t reach the summit in the time for the sunrise but it actually worked in our favor. From the 8th station we could see the sunrise while from the summit there were clouds obscuring the view. I took some really nice pictures.

From the 8th station to the summit was mixed terrain. Some of it was boulder hopping (more towards the summit), but a lot of it was walking on narrow paths of volcanic gravel. This proved very hard as sometimes the gravel would slip up under your feet leaving you on your ass. It was hard to take care of all the factors at the same time.

Finally after what seemed like hours and hours we made it to the top at roughly 8am. It was a cold desolate place. The wind was blowing really hard and it was very very cold. We wanted to stay there as little as possible. After taking a few pictures we started our descent.

The descent took just about as long as the ascent. There was snow on the “special” descent course so we were forced to go back the way we came. I don’t see how some people did it, they were just Mario hopping down the mountain. I was mortified that I would slip and break a leg or sprain an ankle… I couldn’t imagine what I would have done if I did do that though. It seemed like it took FOREVER to go down. More so than it took going up. It was very hard. I guess going up we were excited (for the majority) about getting to the top, but hiking down was so miserable.

After falling on my ass a couple of times and cautiously going down the mountain we made it to the bottom of the mountain. We were dead. We hadn’t showered or had a decent night sleep in over a day. Zombie would be the right word to describe me. After catching a bus to Kawaguchiko train station, taking about four transfers, we ended up in Hon-Atsugi. Taking a Taxi back to my apartment we both passed out after taking a nice relaxing shower.

The muscleache could be felt for days afterwards. Everything… legs, arms, butt (from the falling). Looking back at it, it was definitely the ultimate workout. I can say now (some 3 weeks after the fact) that I am glad I did it once… but there is no way in hell I would go again. It was an experience and it feels good now to say that I did it. I would reccomend anyone who lives in Japan to go. However, here are a few words of advice.

This is what I brought to Fuji:

  • LED Hand Light
  • Light bulb Head Light
  • 2.25 liters of water
  • Sweater
  • Snow Cap
  • Scarf
  • Onigiri/Snacks
  • Tennis Shoes
  • Camera

Looking back, it was very chilly and I could have done better with a bit warmer clothes. I am very resistant to the cold so it worked out fine, but a pair of gloves or a warmer sweater would have worked.

If I had to do it again (which I don’t see in the near future), I would do it as follows (in order)

  • Make a reservation at a mountain hut on the 8th station
  • Start climbing early afternoon
  • Reach the hotel in the evening (7/8ish)
  • Spend the night at the hotel (start climbing again at 2/3ish)
  • Reach the summit to watch the sunrise
  • Descend the mountain not tired

Like I said I don’t really foresee myself doing this again. The terrain was really rough and to be honest I believe there are many other superior hiking trails in Japan. I am glad I did it once though and it was a really good experience. I suggest everyone does it at least once. It kind of has a “wow factor” to it. You can say you climbed Mt. Fuji and even Japanese people are surprised.

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Tokyo Giants Game

I went with Steve, Andre, and Shozakai-san (the big big boss) to a Tokyo Giants game on Friday. It was really fun and I had a blast. We left around 4:20pm from work by bus and took a train to the Tokyo dome. From Hon-Atsugi there were a couple of transfers and it took about an hour and a half.


We grabbed some Subway before going in (food was very expensive inside the dome). After getting our bags checked we were in. Our seats were right in front of third base. The were really nice and were close to the action.

The game was really interesting. I followed baseball a bit back un the States. The environment was very festive and everyone was having a good time. The Tokyo Giants were playing the Yakult Swallows. The Giants dominated (7-2) and even hit two home runs.

It was also nice to talk to Shozakai-san. He showed up about 30 minutes after the game started. I talked to him about many things ranging from baseball to life. He is the big big boss who is busy with everything so it was nice to talk to him on a personal level and get along nicely.

Anyways even if you don’t like baseball I would suggest going to a Giants game with friends. It was one of the most fun things that I have done in Japan and when I come back I how that I can see more professional games within Japan.

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Pepsi Shiso

I pride myself with being pretty relaxed when it comes to food and drink. I am not picky at all and the advantage of this is that I can eat and drink pretty much anything (this comes in handy in a foreign country). I was at the convenient store today however and saw a new green looking Pepsi called “Pepsi Shiso”. Intrigued, I bought it as well as a breakfast sandwich (salmon, letuce, bread, and cheese).


There aren’t a lot of drinks that I can only take one sip of and not finish. It tasted like grass and cough syrup. It was the worst tasting devil’s nectar that has ever touched my tastebuds.


This is one of them. It is saying a lot. I could not finish it and immediately gave it away to a friend. Not to my surprise, most of my foreigner friends shared my anguish.

I bought two of them so I could take a picture of it and post it on facebook/here. Later I learned that Shiso is actually a plant. In any case I did not care for it all. I thought I would share it here just to show some of the different drinks they have in Japan.