Japan · Osaka/Kyoto

Japan – Hiroshima, Kyoto and Osaka

After spending a week in Tokyo and Hakone we took a bullet train down to the south of Japan’s main island, Honshu, to Kyoto. After settling into our small but very modern apartment we set about for a day trip to Nara, which was a 45 minute train ride from Kyoto. I had read about the Silk Deer Park, and well, anything involving animals is a hit with the Reed girls. Nara is a charming little town. We walked from the train station up to the Park, stopping to sample some snacks and look in some souvenir shops along the way. It was quite obvious when we had reached the Deer Park as there were deer-biscuits for sale and deer roaming freely, everywhere. It didn’t take long to attract a gathering of deer and we quickly handed all of the food to Murray as we realised that they were not polite about waiting for a biscuit. If they see you with a biscuit and you don’t hand one over immediately, they head-butt you. Quite hilarious, but also a little terrifying if you are a small child. We all had a good laugh at Murray trying to fend off a dozen Bambys while simultaneously being head-butted.

We finished off our day at Nara with a visit to an Owl Café ( as you do). I was a bit skeptical after our rabbit café experience in Tokyo, but this café was pretty amazing. We each got to choose an owl to hold, with a special glove. The staff were very informative and terrific with the kids AND we got to sit at a table and drink tea.

While we were in Kyoto we were lucky enough to catch up with some friends from home, Cam, Bec and Annika, for an awesome dinner. We chose a Teppanyaki restaurant in a trendy food district ( thanks to Cam and his Lonely Planet Guide) and tried Okonomiyake ( cabbage pancake – it tastes a lot better than it sounds). Murray and I enjoyed some adult conversation and the kids absolutely loved hanging out with Annika. It was a huge highlight of our time in Japan to ‘do dinner’ with friends.

If you are thinking of visiting Japan, then Kyoto should be on your agenda just to experience Fushimi Inari Taisha. It’s not ‘just another temple’. It’s a walk through 10,000 odd Tori gates, up a hill-side and through a Shinto-shrine complex overlooking Kyoto. There are small shrines to stop look at along the way, lots of statues of foxes and places to stop for a rest or a drink. The gates apparently date back to 711 AD , which is mind-boggling. It’s a spectacular walk with plenty to keep the kids amused . Back at the base of the Fushimi shrine is a food market which was a good way to refuel after a big walk. We enjoyed sampling some traditional Takoyaki ( octopus balls) and fried noodles.

Moving on from Kyoto, we head further south to Hiroshima for the day. We have visited some significant war zones on our travels through Cambodia and Vietnam but the scale of the destruction to Hiroshima is hard to comprehend. The main building that survived the atomic bomb, the A bomb dome, was an Exhibition Hall in it’s day. It now stands alone, maintained as it was after the attack.

The other confronting thing about the atomic bom, was learning a bit about the after-effects on the people who survived the initial blast. A lot of people died the most horrific death in the days, weeks and even years afterwards due to burn injuries and emerging cancers.

The twins found the whole day-trip to be a little boring. There isn’t a great deal to do outside of visiting the Peace Park and the museum, and understandably, the atmosphere is quite somber. Maya found it hard to understand why it all happened, especially considering children were victims of the bomb. The museum wasn’t overly graphical in terms of images of people suffering, but had a lot of vivid visual representations of the city ruins. There was one room that was a replica of the town before and after the bomb. Black and white photos line the room from floor to ceiling, and there is an exact model of Hiroshima under a dome that shows the impact of the bomb as it detonated.

The most uplifting part of the day was having the kids ring the Peace Bell that sits within the Peace Park. It gave us a hopeful and optimistic feel for the future and Maya felt proud to become part of a peace movement that hopefully never bears witness to another atomic disaster.

Our final destination in Japan was the city of Osaka ( which is only a 15 minute ride away from Kyoto on a high-speed train). We spent a morning wandering through the Osaka Aquarium where the kids particularly enjoyed watching the whale sharks. We also browsed some traditional markets ( a lot of seafood on display) and bought some souvenirs. To finish off our Japan experience we treated the kids to a day at Universal Studios. The park is world-class and has some of the best rides we have encountered, but it also gets VERY crowded. We went on a Monday in the hope it would be a little quieter, but no such luck. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was the highlight for us. You can sip on some Butter Beer, watch a magic show or buy some treats in Honeydukes. On the 3D ride you even get to venture through Hogwarts and play quidditch with Harry and Ron.

Overall, Japan has been a unique and exciting experience. We loved the orderliness and the slick way everything operates – from ordering food to using the bathroom facilities. We appreciated pin-codes, buttons, vending machines, tickets, queues and self-service. We loved the mountains, the small villages and the open space. We enjoyed the train travel. The only down-side for us was that it was perhaps too orderly , too rule-abiding at times. Our kids can be noisy. They touch things in shops and they get impatient with queuing quietly. On the whole, the Japanese don’t seem to embrace rambunctious kids, so I found myself putting a lot of energy into keeping the kids calm and well behaved. I think it would have been easier if they were a little bit older but I guess that just means we will have to come back again. Maybe for the ski season next time? 🤔

Next stop, Philippines. Back to the beach .., yeah!

Japan · Tokyo/Hakone

Japan – Tokyo & Mt Fuji

Japan wasn’t technically part of the original travel plan but I am SO glad we have been able to come to this country. Needless to say , we were a hop, skip and jump away in Hong Kong when we decided to fly to Tokyo and spend a couple of weeks exploring this very unique Asian country.

The first thing you need to get your head around when arriving in Japan is their rail system. Forget about taxis and Uber, trains are how you travel in Japan. It makes for a long trip when you get off an international flight and straight onto a local train, but the good news is that Japan has the whole rail thing sorted. Similar to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore, the rail system is sleek, on-time and convenient. Oh and super fast if you get a chance to ride on a high-speed train.

We booked some accommodation in a small town called Uji, about 30 minutes out of the main Tokyo drag and we LOVED it. To be completely honest, we booked our accommodation fairly last minute and there weren’t a whole lot of options left, but Uji was perfect for us. It is a picturesque village with a train station, parks, playgrounds and lots of small, traditional hole-in-the-wall eateries. There are also 7-11s which have become a bit of a go-to over the last 8 months for us. We are more familiar with the inside of a 7-11 than probably anyone you might know.

For dinner on our first night we went to one of the hole-in-the-wall restaurants in Uji and found that it was super easy to order a meal without really having to speak much Japanese (handy considering we only knew a few phrases). The Japanese love to display model food that looks unbelievably real and they also love a gadget. This meant that we could choose a meal from the display window, press a corresponding button on a machine, insert cash, hand ticket to restaurant worker and receive food. Brilliant, easy and delicious!

On the theme of buttons, if you have little kids like ours, Japan offers ample opportunity to press buttons. Very important and exciting if you are 5 years old….and well a little exciting for us big people too. Buttons operate every gadget in your apartment and no toilet in Japan would be complete without a set of buttons to spray water here and there, warm your seat and play some background sounds of gushing creeks and birds. The whole bathroom experience is something else.

We spent 5 days in Tokyo and ticked off most of the main touristy things to do and see from visiting a bamboo grove, drinking traditional green tea, experiencing the busiest street crossing in the world (Shibuya Crossing) and soaking up the atmosphere of the famous, eccentric Takeashite Street (yes there were a lot of juvenile smirks about this name) in Harajuku. We were also able to include a visit to Tokyo zoo in the mix (the polar bears were our favourite) and add to our list of themed cafe experiences by dropping into a ‘Bunny Rabbit Cafe’. The café was exactly as it sounds without the coffee or tea…or any tables strangely. In fact, come to think of it , we really just went to someone’s house and paid them to play with their pet rabbits.

The other ‘touristy’ thing we did in Tokyo was a sushi-making course. We were a group of mainly Australians in an apartment building in the burbs of Tokyo, being taught sushi making techniques by a lovely, polite and softly spoken Japanese lady. Our sushi rolls looked pretty professional if you ask me.

Moving on from Tokyo, we took a train to a village about 80 km away called Hakone. The main reason for stopping here was to see Mt Fuji, which is Japan’s highest peak and also an active volcano. I would be lying if I said we weren’t a little bit cold on this part of the trip. We had bought a jumper each in Hong Hong but most of the tourists in Hakone were kitted out in snow-type gear, getting ready to face a blizzard. Lucky we are pretty tough and didn’t let a bit of chill factor get in our way of having a good time. We might have been shivering and shaking on top of Mt Komagate, where we had a great view of Mt Fuji, but we layered up our clothes, enjoyed some warm, sulphur-spring boiled eggs and enjoyed the view. Staying overnight in Hakone was a special treat for us because we go to camp out together in a traditional-style room with tatami mats and futons mattresses rolled out on the floor with central heating and big blankets. We really felt like we had experienced a bit of traditional Japan and breathed in some super fresh air in beautiful Hakone.

Next stop is further south to the city of Kyoto and Osaka. We are hoping it’s a little warmer if truth be told…