Inside Japan Tours are the people who put our in-Japan arrangements together. They did an excellent job consulting with us to set up a plan we liked. They're based in the UK, but that didn't actually affect the planning at all. ( picked them because they actually do specialize in Japan, their website is good, and they're really flexible. And it was a good choice, so I recommend them if you want to travel to Japan anytime soon.


We took several food photos while we were in Japan, but because they're very large, I'm just going to link to them from here.

1) The Denny's menu in Ikebukuro, Tokyo. Note the English at the bottom. I tried to sharpen it, but here's...
2) a close-up. That's right: Foie gras with truffles and caviar. At Denny's. For about $16 US.
3) A Denny's dessert, described previously in this journal.
4) Another Denny's dessert. This one includes malt balls, brownies, puff pastry, and bananas, among other things.
5) This is a cream-cheese-and-jam sandwich from the convenience store.
6) Sashimi at the ryokan in Kurashiki. Notice the flower branch! Even plum blossoms weren't blooming in January, so I suppose they forced it indoors. I think it's considered seasonal anyway because of the New Year's holiday.
7) You can't see the food, but this is a semi-outdoor noodle house at Kiyomizu-dera. Clint got lots of attention whenever he ate because he was able to sit Japanese-style.
8) Hot drinks at a train-platform vending machine. The ones with red labels are hot; blue are cold. The Royal Milk Tea was our favorite.
9) Kaiseki cuisine at the ryokan in Hiroshima. Yes, those are real pine needles.
10) More from Hiroshima. You can probably guess I didn't eat a lot of this meal...but Clint did! The candied tangerine was good though.
11) Hiroshima really had elaborate kaiseki. The little "teepee" structure imitates the coverings put over trees and bushes to protect them from snow. (It looks like I missed a photo of the meal with gold foil on it.)
12) Another elegant Hiroshima plate with New Year's touches. (These were individual courses, not the whole meal.) The realistic-looking persimmon was actually mochi candy.
13) Mos Burger, Japan's home-grown fast food.
14) A riceburger at Mos Burger wasn't what we expected. The "buns" were made of rice and the filling was Japanese vegetables and nori and stuff.
15) One of my favorite ryokan courses was this tofu stew in Kyoto. It was delicious.
16) A sheaf-of-wheat sweet. It tasted good and the two parts were made differently. At ryokan, someone usually greets your initial arrival and each return-for-the-night with a sweet and hot tea. Especially nice in the winter!
17) One of our first kaiseki meals at the ryokan in Gion, Kyoto. And this wasn't all of it! Since it was winter, most of the kaiskei meals included a hot soup/stew course, which cooked on the table as you can see here. At this ryokan, the room maids (I don't know the right term) pulled a long lighter out of their obi (kimono sashes) and lit the heat source every night. They didn't *stick* the lighter in their obi; instead, it rested horizontally in a loop of the sash. Pretty elegant!
18) Mister Donut! Only historically related to the American chain, this place features great American and Japanese (rice flour-based) doughnuts. We loved 'em. They had churros, pizza-flavored doughnut holes, and all sorts of things.
19) Oh, I forgot one! Another plate in Hiroshima. I think it's fugu. It was really good, whatever it was.

If the linked images are too large, you can see the thumbnails here:

Oishiikatta desu! (Delicious!)

In summary...

It's been over a month since we got back. We both really enjoyed it and wish we could go back. Now, we both know part of that is just missing being on vacation/honeymoon, but honestly, we do want to go back. We barely scratched the surface of most of the cities we were in (particularly Kyoto and Tokyo), not to mention Honshu (the main island of Japan, where all of these cities are), not to mention Japan's other islands, from snowy Hokkaido to sub-tropical Okinawa. So, one of these days we'll return. (Hopefully, with a better grasp of Japanese!)

On to more adventures!


Actually, only one of these pictures is from Tokyo proper. Tokyo is a big city and most of the interesting things we saw there were in museums and such, where no photos were allowed.

We did a two-day trip to Echigo-Yuzawa, home of the Nobel-winning Snow Country novel, and one of Clint's favorite non-fiction books, Snow Country Tales. Even though it's only 70 minutes by train from bone-dry Tokyo, it's famous for its massive amounts of snow, due to a variety of geographical and meteorological features. For obvious reasons, daily life here was very different from the rest of Japan until relatively recently, when technology and lessening snow each year have made things more normal. However, keep in mind that these photos are from the beginning of the snow season (which used to run from October to April, or something). Even now, things won't reach serious levels until late February to March! So this is just a little snow, for Snow Country.

On the walk from our ryokan to the Snow Country museum. There's water running through here as almost everywhere in Echigo-Yuzawa. The roads have tiny waterjets built into the divider stripes, as do parking lots and such. Water constantly flowed out of the jets, keeping the roads and parking lots essentially clear, even when three feet of snow seemed to accumulate on the bus parked beneath our window overnight.

We walked to the ropeway and took a steep ride up a mountain. (Naturally, Echigo is mostly ski-resort now.) Here we are going down. I would have loved to take photos on the mountainside, but all you would have seen was a big white rectangle. The wind was blowing really hard, it was incredibly cold, and we were standing on top of several feet of packed snow. We didn't really have any plan in going up there; we just wanted to see what we could see. It was too cold and windy to run around or throw snowballs, but there was a sturdy building serving hot food, so we climbed up there and had some very delicious tonkatsu (pork cutlet). The owner was very friendly, and we watched the snow switch between "snowy" and "whiteout" out of the rattling plate-glass windows.

Halfway through our meal, the emergency ski patrol came in and told everyone that the mountain was being evacuated, because the winds were getting too high for the ropeway to run. It took a little effort on their part and mine for us to comprehend this and that it was okay to finish our meal. So we did, and went back to the ropeway station, where we waited for other people arrive. Eventually, the restaurant owner and all of his staff joined us too. Good timing on our part! Everything was under control and we weren't in any danger, so it was an exciting little adventure.

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Okay. This is a dessert of a type we saw advertised several places, but this one is at Denny's in Ikebukuro, which is so much better than ones in the US. This insane dessert, probably 10 inches or so tall, is essentially topped with other desserts, and features: a cream puff filled with vanilla ice cream, a miniature flan/caramel custard, strawberries, real whipped cream, more vanilla ice cream, pie crust, scoops of strawberry sherbet, sliced bananas, and strawberry pie filling. Good grief! Now that's what I call dessert.

That's pretty much it. When I put the rest of the photos into a website I'll let you know.


Okay, here are the real Nara photos.

Three Things for which Nara is Famous: Tourists, tame deer, and the world's oldest wooden building, only part of which you can see here.

The deer, by the way, are kind of mangy, and they make a noise I hadn't expected deer to make--a high squealing noise overlaid with buzzing, or vice versa. For a while we were concerned that they were going to explode, but fortunately not.

Deer were traditionally considered messengers to the gods, and they roam freely here, at Miyajima, and other sacred sites.

The main part of the building. It looks even larger than I remember. Can you spot the people in this photo?

A priest speaking with someone, and a small part of the massive doors.

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Cats of Nara

No, really. The next place we went was Nara, an ancient city that predates Kyoto, etc. Naturally, it has lots of temples, Buddhist art, and so on. So before I load up all that, I'm giving you and me a break by featuring some of the rather well-fed street cats of Nara. (I'm guessing that unlike in Nepal, the temples take care of the cats.)

I first spotted the cats near one of the major temple/historical complexes.

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All I know about the history of cats in Japan is that Kij Johnson says, in her novel Fudoki, they were imported, relatively late (compared to Nara) from Korea. Cats who are colored red, black, and white (i.e., calico) are considered the most lucky.

Speaking of cats, we went into a pet-themed store in Tokyo. It appeared to have a side wing where, for 600 yen, you could play with kitties for an hour. Aw.


Next we went to Koyasan, a famous mountain. Getting there was an experience--we took a fairly slow train out from the city and the train stations got smaller and smaller, till they were just covered platforms as we got into the mountains. It was a really beautiful ride.

Then we took a "funicular railway" up to the top of Koyasan. I don't have photos of that, but imagine a rail car that is built at a 45-degree angle, with a stair-stepped interior.

This is the rock (and snow) garden and the temple of the monastery where we stayed. The only lodgings on Koyasan are in temples; there are hundreds and hundreds of Buddhist and Shinto sites on the mountain. Many are devoted to the Shingon sect of Buddhism, whose founder is believed to be resting in his tomb nearby. Shingon is an esoteric sect with connections to Tibetan Buddhism.

Shingon student-monks did the ryokan-style work of getting out our futon, serving food, etc. We went to the morning services, which were very interesting. The head monk's mother came and talked to us while we had dinner. Her English is terrific and she didn't look anywhere near 82. As promised, this was a highlight of visiting Koyasan. We also talked to her son after the services, but he had to go because he's also the principal of the junior high.

Because of his presence, followers (from the rich and famous on down) have had their ashes or personal relics sent here for burial for centuries. There are 1/4 to 1/2 million of these here in the world's largest cemetery. In the cold and light snow, it was really beautiful and peaceful. The trees are ancient ... It's supposed be gorgeous and mysterious at night when the lanterns are lit, but it was too cold for us to go back.

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Okay, this is in the shiny new section of the cemetery. It appears to be sponsored by UCC, the giant Japanese coffee company. There's a Kannon in the inner portion. Is this the grave of the founder, or just a devotional act by the company, or something else? I have no idea. There were other corporate sites nearby, and one I think was for the Japanese space program. Hmm.

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Osaka's a big city full of harried men in three-piece business suits. It's supposed to be a gastronomic paradise, but I think that may require more cash than we had with us. Oh, well.

An expensive, hand-made doll in a department store's Girls' Day/ Doll Festival display. I really liked looking at all the dolls in their Heian-style imperial clothing.

Osaka castle. It's a reconstruction, but a very fine one. Nice dramatic clouds that day. The inside is a shiny modern museum with cool stuff like holograms. However, Clint was disappointed that it wasn't more "castley" inside.

Luckily Paul saved the day by escorting us to Himeji Castle, a real castle with a largely original interior. Extra-cool since it figures in the story of the life of Miyamoto Musashi. Sorry about the branch in the corner ... it's mundaning up my shot.

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From Hiroshima we went to Kurashiki, a town built around a willow-lined canal, featuring centuries-old storehouses with white walls and black tile roofs. These have been converted into ryokan, museums, art studios, etc. We really wish we could have spent more time here.

The canal, swans. I'm sure it's even prettier in the spring and summer.

A little statue in the garden of the teahouse at the famous old ryokan where we stayed. Frommer's recommends visiting the garden even if you aren't staying at the ryokan. It was really a gorgeous place.

Another end of the canal toward dusk. It's a really peaceful place.

Requisite lousy photo of the happy couple. Outside of the ryokan.

As long as we're tallying things, we went to a total of 11 cities in Japan: Kyoto, Hiroshima, Miyajima (day trip), Kurashiki, Osaka, Himeji (day trip), Koya-san, Nara, Sakai (day trip), Tokyo, and Echigo-Yuzawa.


From Kyoto, we went to Hiroshima on January 2nd. We stayed in a beautiful ryokan directly across from the Genbaku Dome, a building whose shell survived the atomic bomb blast. We were staying remarkably close to ground zero. Strange thought. Although the ryokan was traditional in style, like virtually everything else in Hiroshima, it was built after 1945, when everything else was destroyed.

Genbaku Dome.

Turtledoves on the tree in front of the dome.

Origami cranes sent by kids from around the world. We saw photos and tiny, tiny cranes folded by Sadako, the real girl on whom the book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes is based. Like most American kids of recent generations, I read it in school.

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