The great thing about sight-seeing on a rainy day is that you can wander with ease. It also means you get wet, but we didn’t mind too much. Here are a few pictures from our visit to the Osaka Castle. As one the most recognizable castles in Japan, it’s height and elaborate ornaments are pretty impressive. And like everywhere in Japan, the surrounding area of walls, gardens, and water made for a peaceful walk. My favourite part was the stones on the surrounding wall. They sat beautifully together like bricks, but with wear and tear in the edges and cracks.
Winter “Illumination” is more popular in Japan than I have experienced anywhere else. Case and point, when I showed some students a video of Christmas decorations on houses, several of them shouted “ILLUMINATION”, but didn’t know “light”. I happened upon Kanazawa’s illumination at the Kenrokuen gardens by chance. I’ve been to the gardens once before in the summer, and it was nice to see the same sights with blankets of snow.
While Canada is battling through the polar vortex, Toyama has been relatively mild hovering at around 0 Celsius. Although I’m not one to complain about the lessened need for fleece and heaters, there’s something a little sad about a winter without snow. Over the weekend a group from my area drove to Nagano to spend two epic days at Hakuba ski resort. I haven’t been snowboarding in about 4 years, so I felt a little nervous and shaky on the way up to our first run. By an hour into the first day I remembered the rush you get from gliding down a mountain, and I felt exhilarated from the crisp air.
This is by far the most unique course I’ve ever been on, with multiple paths intersecting and diverging, and with multiple chair lifts and rest stops at various points on the mountain. This turned out to be quite an enhancement on our trip, because we were able to find sections of the mountain that we really enjoyed and repeatedly run them over and over.
After our first day on the mountain I experienced my first ever Onsen, a public bath. After the initial internal anxious meltdown had passed, my body was beyond grateful I decided to go. There’s no feeling quite like letting your muscles relax in hot water after being beat up by an icy mountain all day.
On our second day on the mountain the weather took a turn for the colder resulting in non-stop snow and freezing winds. We spent most of our time at the top of the mountain, where the snowfall had created heavenly powder that made you feel like you were flying. Of course, this came with the price of snowboarding through the white-out, with snow so thick the path disappeared a few metres in front. Like so many other times in Japan, this place felt incredibly peaceful despite the odds. Wind swirling around me, snow coating my face and goggles, skiers whipping around me, and yet the top of the mountain felt tranquil.
I’ve certainly gained a greater appreciation for Japan’s mountains (which I wouldn’t have guessed possible) and I’m eager to go back for more.
Sadly no, Arashiyama (嵐山) does not mean “Monkey Mountain”. Rather, it is the joint “Arashi”, meaning “storm” (incidentally also the name of Japan’s biggest Boy Band) and “Yama”, meaning “Mountain”. I had very little knowledge about Arashiyama, but having never been it seemed like the perfect excursion for a Thursday morning.
The town is a mecca of tourist attractions, including the very famous Sagano bamboo forest, Kameyama koen, and last but (definitely) not least, the Iwatayama “Monkey Park”.
The journey is no small feat, as visitors need to climb some extensive steps upwards on the side of a mountain. Throughout the ascent, informative signs are posted to humour and prepare visitors for their encounter with the park’s furry inhabitants.The three rules of the Monkey Park are as follows:
1. Don’t feed the monkeys
2. Don’t touch the monkeys
3. Don’t stare at the monkeys (it makes them feel embarrassed)
Rules number one and two are dismissed when located in the special monkey-feeding building which has large-gapped screens in place of windows. Monkeys calmly hang off the building and reach through the screens, holding their palms in patient (and a somewhat bored) request for food. Clutching my 100 Yen bag of fruit chunks I cautiously placed a piece of apple in an outstretched hand, expecting the monkey to snatch it up. Years of being fed this way have taught the monkeys that they have nothing to fear from camera-wheeling tourists and the monkey practically rolled his eyes at me.
The third rule (don’t stare at the monkeys) was the hardest to keep. I’m not sure how embarrassed they really did feel as they strolled around the mountaintop, occasionally blocking the walking paths as visitors (OK, me) edged around them.
Monkeys aren’t the only reason to come to Monkey Park (although you might expect as such). The height of the park is higher than that of Kyoto tower (131 Metres), offering a sprawling view of the city below. The climb (although potentially challenging) passes through some pretty beautiful scenery.
After the Monkey Park, we spent some time wandering the bodies of water, taking in the bright sky and mountains. Although Kyoto is not chaotic by any means, Arashiyama is most definitely a welcome relief of fresh air and picturesque surroundings.