Monthly Archives: August 2013


Woke up in the ghetto, got on a train to Koya-san, birthplace of a certain school of esoteric Buddhism that’s very popular in Japan. Since it’s up a mountain (Koya-san means Mount Koya), it was a bit cooler, which made it a very inviting respite from the humidity of the Japanese summer.

The place is mostly a Buddhist graveyard, but has some beautiful old temples where the old intricate wooden exteriors were on the point of falling apart. In general a very peaceful place. 2 odd things of note – a Panasonic sponsored grave, with, presumably, past presidents of the company, and also a grave with a massive space rocket on top of it.

Actually, another thing that was weird. There was a sort of mini museum, with a basement that takes you into complete darkness, and promises you, with the aid of a written sign, some sort of unforgettable experience. You have to guide yourself with along a wall in the dark. I was totally prepared for something to jump out at me or something, but it was just a buddha shrine down there. Quite spooky but slightly underwhelming.

I had previously booked a room at a Shoku-in, which means a temple with lodgings attached. Didn’t really know what to expect, except I hoped it would be good because it was quite expensive.

I walked through the gate and into the courtyard of the temple, and there was a monk sitting on the stairs. He came up to me and pointed to a scribbled “Bereza” on a piece of paper in his hand, so I nodded.

After I had swapped my stinky hiking boots for some size 6 red slippers he led me, hobbling, down some paper screen lined corridors, interspersed with the occasional ornamental garden courtyard, until we got to room no. 5.

It was an amazing room, japanese style reed matting floors, empty except for a hardwood table in the middle. I had my own private garden too completw with pond and waterfall.

Dinner arrived after 6pm after I’d had a soak in the baths. Again it was inredible. 15 or so dishes, tempura, oden, weird jelly stuff (konyakku I think), noodles, pickles, tofu etc – all vegetarian buddhist style food, delicious.

Day in Osaka

Downtown Osaka

Downtown Osaka

Next day, I set off to check out “Spa World” – this colossal labrinth/spa theme-park of hot baths from around the world. The queues were very long because it was sunday, so I decided to have a wander around the city instead. There seemed to be a lot of Americans in Osaka, which I found offputting, sory of ruined the buzz of being in Japan. Headed back to the ghetto for a more authentic taste of Osaka. Got some soba at a stand-up restaurant and then called it a day.



Woke up early to catch a train. On the way I discovered *garlic* flavoured cheese strings. My life is complete.

Bought a cheapo railpass that only lets you go on local trains (it’s called the Seishun Juhatchi Kippu). I took the train to Himeji which took hours on the local trains from Hiroshima… Himeji is famous for its castle. Apparently it’s the best castle in Japan. But it was being renovated so they built a big box around it to facilitate the the works.

So you can’t get an actual view of it. You can go in the box and see the outside of the building up close, but you can’t go inside. the view from the top of the box was amazing though. It felt like I was looking out of a medieval sky-scraper (or whatever 1600’s is)

Much more exciting was the princess’ house, still within the castle’s moat. It was the interior that was incredible. You have to go in barefoot, and the floor is made from ancient polished cedar. It was very serene and the smell of the wood almost made it feel like you were in a forest. I was considering hiding in a cupboard until it was closed and I could stay the night but my senses returned to me just in time.


Got on the train to Osaka where I’d booked a super cheap hotel in a particularly grimy but central part of town.

I got out of the metro to the sound of live jazz coming out of a street-side Oden restaurant with loads of people standing outside it watching the band, including a few hobos which I think Osaka should be famous for (the hobos, I mean). That’s how you know your in Osaka. There’s a lot of hobos (and loud Japanese people.)

Found dinner at a makeshift ramen restaurant outside a pachinko parlour. Post apocalyptic shanty town. Made friends with some troublemakers who were causing a racket on the table next to me.

My hotel room looked like it hadn’t been decorated (or even cleaned,) since the 60’s. Years of tobacco smoke stained the walls, and a sound that I couldn’t distinguish between faulty air-con and the scurry of rats. The room was the same size as a double bed but slightly longer. It was also japanese style – so sleeping on a futon on the floor – kind of added to the crack den ambience of the place.

Ankles for dinner

DSC02248So what happened last night is when the sun went down, the mosquitos came out. I changed into my trousers and as I was changing my socks I got bitten on my feet. Then they were swarming round me. It was such a perfect spot to sleep, on the crest of a hill with a view for miles around, and I had to ruin it for myself by covering myself in DEET and going head-first into my bivvy bag. It was suffocatingly hot inside.

I could hear them swarming around me, searching for a gap, wish I could have recorded the sound, a microscopic cacophony of tiny high pitched whines, all at different pitches.

After about a minute and a half of the mozzer’s taunts, I decided to make a break for it. Luckily it was a full moon, but I was still a few miles away from anywhere. I stumbled in the dark back to the small town in search of a hotel or hostel. On the way I almost stepped on the most gigantic toad I’d ever seen. The grassland was screaming with the racket of millions of insects.

The town was completely dead, and no sign of any hotel, but I finally found someone to ask for directions, and he ended up driving me all the way with his mother in tow.  He was called Muraku-san.

The hotel was in the forst. Quite posh but sort of communist/70s looking, good communal baths, but had japanese kids in it diving in and using it like a swimming pool, not a peaceful relaxing retreat. Grump.

About half an hour after I got there, there was a knock at the door and a bell boy had brought me some food that Muraku-san had bought and delivered back to the hotel for me because he’d discovered that the hotel had stopped doing food. So nice of him! He’d gone before I got a chance to thank him. That’s Japan!


Today, I woke up super early and got on the bus then train to Iwakuni where there was supposed to be a nice traditional-style garden but gave myself blisters ontop of my new mosquito bites on my feet trying to walk there (it was quite far). Bought the biggest pair of sandals that I could find to stop the rubbing, but they were too small, so I hobbled for the rest of the day.

Got back on the train to Saijo which is a town east of Hiroshima known for its sake breweries. Did some tasting, and learnt about the brewing process. Seems quite labour intensive. Think I’ll stick to making beer, but the unpasturized sake was pretty delicious.

After that, I headed to Hiroshima, found my hostel and went for a wander. Found the main shopping street and had the best ramen ever! I practically licked the bowl clean. It was called Ichiran. It’s actually a chain. You have your own compartment, shut off from the other diners, so you can enjoy your noodles in peace. You also interact with the restaurant through a hatch.

After that, I went to the memorial with all the cranes, and the famous blown out atomic bomb dome, then went to bed.

Japan, take 3.

nice cave pool

nice cave pool

The adventure begins. I’ve been in Yamaguchi for a week for a work related thing. Last night we had a party til sunrise to celebrate the end. Now I have 9 days holiday to spend in Japan. Right now I’m on a bus heading to a cave. Monster hangover, or still drunk, can’t tell. Scenery is ripe with forest.

Went into a massive cave called Akiyoshidai. It was incredible, with turquoise pools of water. I contemplated sneaking off into a hidden place in the cave and spending the night there but chickened out. Outside, it was scorching. I went back into the cave to cool down.

I had decided to sleep outside tonight. Don’t know if it’s going to be a good idea The landscape near the caves is sort of grassland, so no cover or shade, and in the nearby forest, it’s full of insects. Can’t win.

I found a picnic bench under a tree near a forest. Had a nap already, it’s about 6pm. Just gonna stay here or move somewhere else closeby if there are too many insects.