Dziadziu Visits Japan: All Kyoto, All Day

This morning we set out for our first stop, the National Modern Art Museum of Kyoto. After the crowds of the previous days we enjoyed the quiet solitude of the galleries.

From there we continued on to the shrines nestled along the Higashiyama mountain range. After strolling through Nanzenji shrine, we continued on to my favorite, Eikando. Eikando draws huge crowds during the peak autumn foliage season, or momiji. The rest of the year it’s a fairly quiet place, which I love.

After pausing for some refreshment of matcha green tea and a red bean paste sweet cookie…

… We continued on to Ginkaku-ji, or the Silver Pavilion.

After lunch we headed for easily the most crowded spot of our trip so far: Kinkaku-ji, or the Golden Pavilion.

All day, everywhere, we saw sakura. Cherry blossom fatigue starts to set in with so many trees around, and so many people determined to capture the perfect shot. I know–poor us.

For our last dinner in Kyoto, we enjoyed the varied offerings of an izakaya. On our way to the restaurant, we blended in with the foreigner crowd on foot determined to find an excellent meal. But once we reached the restaurant, we saw nothing but Japanese customers surrounding us–always a good sign, especially in a heavily touristy area such as Gion. We ordered an assortment typical to an izakaya: grilled chicken skewers, assorted vegetables with miso sauce, a soft boiled egg nestled atop potato salad with anchovy, and steak cooked to perfection.

It capped off a lovely day with amazing sites, perfect weather, so much sakura, and the best company.

Tomorrow we board our final Shinkansen: back home to Yokohama.

Dziadziu visits Japan: Hiroshima and Kyoto

I can’t believe that it’s only day two of our trip! We’ve seen and done so much already.

This morning we headed out to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Loyal martayaki readers may recall that I visited this museum back in 2016 when Grandpa Don came to visit. The experience was a bit different this time due to a recent renovation–but still utterly gut wrenching.

The Children’s Peace Monument

After the museum we strolled past the Children’s Peace Monument and Genbaku (Atomic Dome). At all three sites the size of the crowds struck me. Here is probably the least fun thing you can do on vacation, looking at photos of brutal death and destruction. Yet people care, and spend their free time learning about such dark times in history. It gives me hope.

The former Bank of Japan branch, designed by my friend Marcos’s grandfather

Right as we were leaving the museum, my friend Marcos sent me a suggestion to check out a building that his architect grandfather designed. Since the building was only a few minutes walk away, we headed over to see it for ourselves.

Built in 1936, the building originally served as the Hiroshima branch of Bank of Japan; it survived the nuclear blast and now serves as an exhibition space. We enjoyed the photo exhibit on display.

After a quick lunch, we boarded yet another shinkansen, this time bound for Kyoto.

After relaxing in our hotel for a bit, we headed for Kyoto’s busiest tourist site, Fushimi Inari shrine. It’s not only the most visited tourist attraction in Kyoto but also in all of Japan. The late afternoon visit proved to be a wise choice; we experienced fairly uncongested pathways as well as the Golden Hour for photography, right before sunset.

We enjoyed a traditional Izakaya dinner then called it a night, enjoying the sites on our stroll back to the hotel.

Dziadziu Visits Japan: Himeji Castle and Hiroshima

My dad’s here! Dziadziu (grandfather) came to see the grandkids and see what our life in Japan is like. After a few days of Yokohama sites, it was time to hit the rails.

Dad said that he wanted to see Hiroshima, so I decided on a stop at Himeji Castle along the way. So we boarded our first Nozomi Super Express Shinkansen of the day.

As loyal martayaki readers may recall, I visited Himeji Castle once before.

We arrived in Himeji and saw tons of people. And sakura (cherry blossoms)! Honestly I had no idea that the castle is surrounded by them, so it was a lovely surprise. A gorgeous Sunday afternoon with sakura in full bloom brought out the masses, but somehow no one seemed to mind. The long lines moved along at a steady pace, and the announced wait time of 60 minutes to enter the Main Keep (main part of the castle) turned out to be about 20 minutes. Our fellow line standers all seemed in good spirits. Call it the magic of the sakura, or simply good manners–but everyone waited patiently, enjoying the beautiful day and incredible scenery.

Standing there, looking at these breathtaking flowers, and this stunning castle–I swallowed a huge lump in my throat. It’s impossible for me to feel anything but pure gratitude that I have this opportunity, and that I shared it with my dad.

After the castle Dad sampled his first bowl of katsudon (pork cutlet with egg over rice) and soba noodles.

Then we returned to the Shinkansen for a quick 60 minute ride, continuing on to Hiroshima.

We arrived late afternoon, checked in to our hotel, and relaxed a bit. Then dinner!

If you mention a visit to Hiroshima, you’ll get very different responses from Western and Japanese friends. The Westerners frown a bit and ask if I went to the Peace Memorial and other sites related to the atomic bombing. Meanwhile Japanese friends light up and enthusiastically ask, did you try any okonomiyaki?!?

So for dinner Dad and I headed to Okonomimura, or okonomiyaki town–really a building with several floors of okonomiyaki stalls. We carefully reviewed the stalls, weighed our options, then judiciously chose one. Kidding! We sat down at the first place with two open stools, then ordered beer and a Deluxe Okonomiyaki.

Well nourished, we retired to our hotel for a solid sleep ahead of Monday’s plan: a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Atomic Bomb Dome.

Hong Kong: Street Art

My favorite aspect of Hong Kong was also the biggest surprise: the amazing street art adorning building all over our neighborhood. We rented a studio on U Lam Terrace in a somewhat pretentious/chic area called PoHo (from nearby Po Hing Fong).

As soon as we started walking we saw amazing murals and street art on every block. It made getting lost in the maze of streets and stairs so much more interesting! I’ll let the photos tell the story.

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Hong Kong: Food and Shopping

I arrived in Hong Kong with high expectations of delicious food, and Hong Kong delivered! Our first night we enjoyed an amazing Nepali meal in our neighborhood. Many of Yokohama’s Indian restaurants are actually operated by Nepali nationals, and I wish some of the dishes we had in Hong Kong appeared in Japan more often instead of the parade of mediocre curries.

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Our second night we tried French fusion dim sum. We loved the setting and beautiful presentation while appreciating the novel twist on traditional dim sum, but we both agreed that it wasn’t our best meal. Foie gras in a dumpling….not so much.

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Another night we grabbed a bite at a restaurant near a street market. We sat at long, communal tables and heeded our neighbors’ recommendations.

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For our final night’s meal, we sought out a Michelin recommended hole-in-the-wall. The rather utilitarian ambiance and entirely Chinese clientele foretold a great meal. And it was!

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Like many Asian cities, Hong Kong features several street markets, night markets, and “antiques” rows featuring loads of colorful baubles and trinkets to tempt the eye. We wandered and picked up a few treasures.

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Our hands-down favorite shop was right in our neighborhood, and I lost count of how many times we popped in. Every surface was covered with both Western and Chinese vintage records, eyeglasses, cameras, toys, and more.

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The final installment: street art.

Hong Kong: Views

Last week Cy and I headed to Hong Kong for spring break. We ate amazing food. We saw cool stuff. We climbed. So. Many. Stairs.

Here’s the first report: views!

The Hong Kong Museum of History provided and excellent overview of the many people who have occupied Hong Kong over the centuries. I loved the vivid displays that recounted Hong Kong’s fascinating and turbulent history. The United Kingdom officially handed control of Hong Kong back to China in 1997, and the museum’s displays abruptly stopped at this point in time. Because apparently no history happened since then….? Still, I really enjoyed what I saw and learned.

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We ventured out on the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbor one day….

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…then braved the crowds to ride the Victoria Peak Tram to stroll wooded paths and catch the views from the top.

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And the stairs. So many stairs! Streets abruptly became flights of stairs, and we were so grateful that our visit wasn’t in the steamy summer months as we climbed them every day.

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We stopped by Hong Kong’s most famous temple, Man Mo…and were extremely underwhelmed. “Hong Kongers are not a religious lot,” our guidebook drily noted. No kidding! I can think of a dozen temples and shrines within five minutes of our house in Yokohama with more to offer.

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Next up: food and shopping.