Nara & Kibune

A day trip to visit the deer in Nara and the Kurama to Kibune hike 


Staying at Hostel Len (which I would happily recommend) we started off in Kyoto at Nishiki Market before making our way to the Higashiyama District. To keep cool, I started buying a matcha ice-cream before every temple stop.  Later in the evening we visited Ramen Sen-no Kaze which is where we discovered Japan's best ramen. Obviously there was a line and we ended up waiting over an hour but it was easy to fill in time at the bar next door.  We were in Kyoto for five nights in total. One of the other food highlights would have been the katsu beef I had in Pontocho.  I also tried matcha beer, but probably wouldn't do that again. It was in Kyoto I stepped foot in my first onsen, Funaoka. It was quiet and serene, looking out to the pebble garden and pretending I'm well acquainted with slipping into a bath with naked women who speak a completely different language to me. This was one of my favourite days, walking around Dragon Street with its colourful flags and lack of tourists, followed by Monster Street. It was in this area that we discovered a bar with no name and sat down with locals and cooled down our bright red faces post onsen.  Some temple highlights were Kinkaku-ji and Ryoanji, where we sat peacefully admiring the rock garden.  We woke early to take on the famous Fushimi Inari Taisha before the crowds, lit candles along the way and breathed in the fresh air and felt calm among the fox messengers. Arashiyama was my favourite part of Kyoto and I was blown away by Ōi River. We sat here watching the boats go by while eating our bentos and matcha icecream(naturally). We took a trip out to Otagi Nenbutsu-ji which was well worth it, with more than 1200 rakan statues - many humorous, which represent the disciples of Buddha. We dangled our legs over the balcony of its highest temple and looked over the backdrop - mountainous and green Arashiyama with thousands of Buddha heads lining the ground. 


If you go to Japan, Kanazawa is a must. The Kanazawa 'gold leaf' is a big thing, and they're very proud of it. Kanazawa is full of art museums, alleyway bars, izakayas, gold ice-cream, shopping districts or quiet streets, and so much jazz (my favourite bar was Jazz Spot - a real authentic experience). We went to the preserved tea district of Higashi Chaya and it felt like a mini Kyoto. There's plenty of green grass, parks and Kenroku-en to take your bento boxes. 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art was a highlight, as well as the meditative, zen and architectural dream which is D.T. Suzuki Museum.  It was one of our favourite places and memories in Japan. 


Magome to Tsumago

Magome is a town in the Kiso Valley, it served travellers of the Nakasendo, a route that connected Kyoto with Tokyo in the Edo Period. 

We boarded a small bus from the town of Nakatsugawa that travelled up through winding green hills and passed through small towns where children were finishing school. When we arrived in Magome, we walked up the steep pebbled path - it's the main tiny road that goes through the small town and lead to our hostel, "Guesthouse Nedoko".  It was a room with tatami mats and a view that looked upon the small town. Situated right outside our room was a pond full of colourful koi fish. There is also constant running water that you will hear no matter where you are in Magome, with little streams running along both sides of the main path. Magome is full of rice patties and rolling mist. We walked down a driveway and said 'konichiwa' to some locals, who are more than accommodating to have their houses nestled on the main path of the town. We noticed some women workers in the fields, wearing straw hats and the view of the rolling hills behind them. We explored the town a little more before having a drink at one of the last shops open for the day (everything closes at about 5pm in Magome). After that, we purchase a drink from a vending machine (the town is lined with vending machines all along its path despite being so old and remote). We then sat down and watched over the fields and the misty mountains. Later, we were treated to a 5 course meal and sake at the only place open after dark. 

In the morning after coffee, we did the Magome to Tsumago track - a two/two and a half hour hike from one old town to the other. It was raining but this just made it all the more beautiful as we purchased some clear see-through umbrellas and were on our way. We made jokes about the bear warning signs. However, I naturally became scared after I heard a noise and started ringing the bells at every stop, to uh, warn off the bears. I'm not quite sure if this really warns them off though or attracts them. Half way along the Magome to Tsumago trail is a cosy and warm teahouse where a very friendly local man serves you tea, for free. He then burns your paper cup.  On the wall outside, there is a picture of himself when he was much younger next to Joanna Lumley and then when you go inside, the same picture appears another two more times. The only time he talked was when he asked us where we were from, I assume this is what he asks everyone that stops by. We signed the guestbook and gave a donation as this is what he does every day!  We carried on our walk and saw his chimney puffing away in the distance. We passed watermills, temples and a shrine dedicated to phalluses, why not?

In Tsumago, we slurped on homemade sake, took in the views of more misty mountains, traditional houses and waterfalls. Then we slurped on more homemade soba noodles, ate rice balls and miso soup. There were crabs all along the streets and cobbled paths in Tsumago and we tried our best to avoid stepping on them.

Catching a bus back to Magome, we arrive as the sun is about to go down. Bells start chiming to say it is 5PM. The town is asleep after this, with very few lights on in the village. It still feels incredibly safe. We enjoy the last of the peace and quiet.