Kiso Valley: Tsumago & Magome

Hi, I thought I better write more about my trip to Japan before baby arrives! I don’t think I will have time to do it then!

So anyway… After Kyoto, we moved on to Tsumago and Magome in the Kiso Valley. We took a train from Kyoto to Nagiso and took a taxi to Tsumago. Tsumago is really nice. It was a post town on the Nakesendo route during the Edo period. You can read more about it here.

There are many ryokan and minshuku in Tsumago but the one we have booked is in Otsumago which is in between Tsumago and Magome. We spent the day walking in Tsumago. We had a nice soba lunch and had a few snacks at a tea house. It was really nice and peaceful. I also remembered seeing notices about bears being spotted along the hiking trail and we could hire a bell if we want to. The bell is to warn the bears that we are in the area. My husband refused to rent it….. argh. Here are some photos of our day at Tsumago.


Anyway, the walk to our minshuku, Kohshinzuka was quite tiring as we had to go uphill and downhill! We made it and we are so glad to be staying there because the host was really nice, the room was great, the bathroom was clean. It has a hot bath in there which we really enjoyed! Best of all, the food was amazing!!!! I highly recommend this place if you do visit Tsumago and Magome! The host even sang a folk song for us! There was audience participation too! We met a very nice family from the USA too. We all enjoyed ourselves!

Waiting to check in

Snack time

View from our room!

This kept us warm while we had dinner next to it

Starter: Raw horse meat (basashi) and some glutinous rice ball with peanut sauce. The horse meat was delicious!!!

Grilled fish with salt

We also had chawan mushi and some other dishes. I forgot what they were! But they were good!!!

Our host.

Breakfast! The soup was soooo good!!!

After breakfast, we checked out and started our walk to Magome. It was a long hike… mostly UPHILL! We were so tired by the end of it! My husband was so tired.. he got grumpy within 10 minutes of the hike! HAHA! It was so tiring!! See pic below! That’s how high we had to climb!

View from the top.

Beware of bears!!!

There are also big bells along the hiking trail that you can ring to warn the bears. I did ring it because I was so scared! However, I did wonder.. if the bears heard the bell, wouldn’t they think that dinner is here?!!!!

Anyway, we made it to Magome.. and we were so tired by then, we didn’t take many photos. Magome seems a bit more modern than Tsumago to me. From Magome, we took a bus to Nagiso and took a train to Tokyo.

For this trip, the highlight for me is staying at Kohshinzuka. I’ve never stayed at a minshuku before. It is miles better than the ryokan we stayed at Miyajima. The food was so good. I wish we had another day there just to have some nice home cooked food prepared for us! I would go back there again!

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Kyoto and Himeji

After Miyajima, we headed off to Kyoto.  We spent about 4 days in Kyoto and half a day in Himeji.

Our first morning in Kyoto was spent trying to find a way to get to Himeji as there had been an earthquake early in the morning. Some train lines were suspended. We felt the earthquake while asleep in bed! The building we were in was shaking! We didn’t know it was an earthquake then as we were so tired and went back to bed!! It was only later in the morning when I received a message from my Japanese friend that I found out it was really an earthquake!

Luckily the lines started running again within a few hours so we were able to go to Himeji to meet my friends. I stayed with them when I was an exchange student at Himeji Uni in 1999!! We didn’t visit Himeji Castle this time as it is under restoration until March 2015. We walked around Himeji city center and did some souvenir shopping.

I really like Kyoto. Not just because I can say Ookini all the time (Thank you in Kansai dialect  but also because there are so many wonderful things to see. Like the Kiyomizu Temple, Kinkakuji (The Golden Pavilion), Fushimi-Inari Shrine, Heian Shrine and Geishas and Maiko in Gion.

Speaking of Geisha and Maiko, I realised that you could now pay and dress up as one and walk around the Kiyomizu Temple area!! I was very excited when I saw some ‘Maiko’ but then realised that they just tourists playing dress up! Tsk! But I got some nice photos though.

I was also very lucky to see some real Geisha and Maiko in Gion. We were just walking along, minding our business, when out of an orange coloured sky, flash! bam! alakazam! Wonderful geisha came by! (Did you see what I was doing there? haha!) Then I heard snap! snap! snap! I turned around and saw a few Japanese men with large lenses snapping away! Some of them even presented photos they have taken of the Geisha to her. I took some pictures too and thought they must be “Geisha Spotting”. It was only after I posted the pictures on facebook that I realised they were famous!


Geiko Kyouka and Maiko Satsuki.

Maiko Mikako

Maiko Mikako

We also enjoyed eating in Kyoto. We discovered Musashi sushi located at the basement of Kyoto Station. (It is opposite Macdonald’s ).  136 yen for each plate of sushi! We had 34 plates between the two of us!

Dinner at Musashi Sushi

Musashi Sushi

We had 34 plates in total!

We had 34 plates between the two of us!!

We also had some awesome shoyu ramen at Dai-ichi Asahi Ramen near Kyoto station. We had to queue up every time we were there as it is so popular. The service was quick but jovial. Every time a customer leaves, they would all say “OOKINI!!” which means thank you in Kansai dialect. They open from 5am to 2am! Yes!  5 AM to 2 AM! On their website they put the opening hours as 05:00 to 26:00!! haha! You can even order the ramen online. They only deliver in Japan of course!

Dai-ichi Asahi Ramen – Kyoto

We also discovered Ichiran Ramen in Kyoto. Unlike Dai-ichi Asahi, they are a big chain with shops all over the country and they serve tonkotsu (pork broth) ramen. I love tonkotsu ramen! The atmosphere in Ichiran is also very different from that in Dai-ichi Asahi. Firstly, you will need to get a coupon from the vending machine and choose whatever extra topping you want eg. egg, spring onions, garlic, vinegar, tenderness of the noodle etc. While waiting for the table or while at the table, you will be giving a form to choose whether you want your ramen to have a strong or light flavour, if you want garlic or not or how oily you want it to be. Most of the seats at Ichiran ramen are counter seats. There is also a divider between the seats so you won’t be able to see the person next to you. You can remove the divider too if you want. Also, because of how the way it is set up, I never got to see the face of the waiter/waitress unless I pressed the buzzer to call them over.


Besides enjoying good food and spotting beautiful Geishas, we also managed to see some Cherry Blossoms in full bloom! We missed the peak by about a week! We saw a few here and there but didn’t think much of it. We saw the full bloom Sakura by chance. We were walking past Kyoto Gyoen National Park and decided to go in as we were really tired and needed a rest. (It was another half an hour walk back to our hotel!!). After a rest (Ali had a nap for 20min!!), we walked around the park and saw this:




I was so happy to finally see them in full bloom, UP CLOSE! Aren’t they beautiful?

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First Stop: Miyajima

The last few days have been a bit depressing for us.

After spending about 14 wonderful days in Japan, it’s back to work… BOOO!!! Well that will fund the next trip..


Our first stop in Japan was Miyajima Island.  It is famous for the giant torii gate and I’m sure you have seen it at some point when you read about Japan.

You can access Miyajima by taking the JR line to Miyajima-guchi station and then take a ferry to the island. There are two companies running the ferry – JR and Matsudai. If you have a JR pass, you won’t need to pay for the JR ferry – which was what we did!

Before we headed over to the island, we decided to have lunch at Ueno Anago Meshi. It is only a couple of minutes aways from the JR Miyajima-guchi station, right next to the underpass (opposite the train station). Anago is conger eel (salt water eel). Anago meshi is conger eel served on top of rice. I love unagi (fresh water eel) and I have tried anago once in Singapore and wasn’t too keen on it as it is different from what I normally have (unagi). I decided to try Anago meshi anyway as it is one of the famous dishes in Miyajima. We have also read many good reviews about it so we were really excited.

We were at Ueno Anago Meshi just after lunch time and it wasn’t so busy so we didn’t have to wait long for a table. While waiting for one, a Japanese family came in and the daughter was so excited. She was telling her mum that this restaurant is famous and it was featured on a tv prog.

When I had my first bite of Ueno’s Anago Meshi, I can understand why it is so popular! It was delicious!  I’m not good at describing tastes so I’ll let my picture do the talking:

Anago Meshi

First meal in Japan: Anago Meshi from Ueno Anago Meshi Restaurant.

After a satisfying meal, we headed off to Miyajima.  The tide was out and the torii gate looks different from what I usually see on the internet. The weather was quite hazy too so I didn’t take any good pictures from the ferry.

Here are some pics I’ve taken of the torii gate from Miyajima.

The tide is out

Otorii gate of Itsukushima Shrine

We stayed overnight at Momijiso Ryokan so was lucky to see the torii gate ‘floating’ the next day.

The family running Momijiso Ryokan was very friendly. The food was good and the room was clean. It’s along the path to Momijidani Park. Our room has a very good view of the path and the koi pond. Occasionally we would see a few dear walking along the path!

Besides Itsukushima Shrine, we also explored Daisho-in. It was very peaceful walking around the shrine and temple. We also saw a few couples taking wedding photos with the torii gate at the background. How very romantic.

We wished we had stayed longer in Miyajima. Maybe next time…

I’ll end this post (abruptly) with some photos taken in Miyajima. You can see more on my flickr site here.



Categories: Culture, Japan, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge – Reflections

My first weekly photo challenge!

By the Leeds-Liverpool Canal

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