Temple

Autumn in December: Nagoya Castle

Three months after my first trip, I returned to Nagoya. This time, with a special travel buddy: my younger sister Ebany. The day of Ebany’s arrival in Japan was the first snowy day in Toyama, and man does Toyama know how to snow. We were both entranced by the blankets of white and crisp, chilly wind, made even more festive by the abundance of lights and Christmas decorations that fill the city. Our train ride in the morning was a perfect way to see the snow topped mountains and trees, seated comfortably  and with plenty of leg room in our heated JR train.

_DSC0007Upon arrival we spent a few hours wandering the overwhelming luxe JR towers, a 15 story behemoth of fancy restaurants and fancier stores.

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Sunday morning we payed a visit to Nagoya’s famous castle, originally built in the early 17th century during the Edo period and has since been demolished and reconstructed in the mid 20th century. Like most attractions in Japan, it’s surrounding area is an essential element to the experience. Winding paths, stretches of stone walls and lush foliage are a serene introduction to the extensive castle. Unlike Toyama, Nagoya hasn’t realized that it’s December, and so we were delighted to find fall leaves and warm sun.

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Every floor of the reconstructed castle features a different exhibition of history and the building’s construction. The top floor  offers a panoramic view of the extensive city and visual evidence of its ranking as the 4th most populous city in Japan. Of course there are plenty of cheesy photo opportunities, my favourite being the large golden Dolphins which pay homage to the castle’s architectural history.

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Cats, Temples, and Geishas: KYOTO in a Nutshell

KYOTO: my first trip there and I’ve fallen in love. Japan’s old capital validated my high levels of anticipation, making a return trip the top of my travel to-do list. Two and a half (very) short days were crammed full of sight see-ing and (of course) food, more than I can fit into one post. I’ll be breaking Kyoto down into smaller stories, but first here it is: Kyoto in a nutshell.

Day one: An embarrassingly indulgent breakfast of pancakes and coffee and roaming around Kyoto station and its many levels of shopping. Kyoto station was a stunning example of functional but beautiful design. Large expanses of criss-crossing metal beams form walls- yet never enclose to form a building, allowing light and air to stream through.

Nishiki Market: It was easy to get disoriented in the bustling roads of shopping for everything from fish to wigs.

It was here that I also visited a temple to receive a fortune, after a few technical difficulties. Like most temples, a few hundred yen can be exchanged for a “fortune”, which you can take as lightly or as seriously as it suits you. I found a somewhat kitschy machine with an automated dragon(?) who fetched fortunes within an enclosed case.

It was here that I also ate a cat donut (adorable) burnt ramen (yes, burnt) and visited my first Cat Cafe.

The day culminated with a sensory overload at the Fushimi Inari Shrine. A series of hundreds of orange “Torii” gates leads up a mountain, called the Senbon Torii. We hit it just as the sun was going down, making the climb down treacherous but worth the view of the glowing orange shrines.

Day Two: Maiko Dress-Up in the Gion District, something I’ve been dreaming of doing and finally had the opportunity!

Kinkaku-ji, a stunning, golden temple which in the perfect weather absolutely glowed in against the blue sky and water.

This was followed by a return trip to the Gion District to explore the bustling nightlife and souvenir shops. In contrast to my other experiences in cities, Kyoto was surprisingly lively past 8 pm. Tokyo’s nightlife felt more hectic, and chaotic, especially in the Shibuya area. Kyoto, on the other hand was alive with excitement and yet entirely comfortable, like a spirited reunion with old friends.

Day Three: after a hasty breakfast and bus ride we spent an ethereal hour at Ginkaku-Ji, Kyoto’s silver temple (aka… the not so silver temple).

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My first long-ish venture into Japan travel proved to be surprisingly stress and hassle free. About two weeks before departure I booked a hostel online and bought a bus ticket at the train station in Toyama. I’m no stranger to bus rides, having been a student traveling home or to Toronto and back countless times. The three and a half bus ride to Nagoya was amazing. Yes, amazing. The highway from Toyama to Nagoya cuts directly through the Japan alps, and so I was treated to a spectacular and seemingly endless view of mountains and small villages tucked between them.

Impressions of Nagoya… A large, lively city. I was only there for a brief time and in the major areas, but from my experience it would be a good place to go with friends or family. There are countless stores and shopping malls, and restaurants. One of the highlights was the Ossu Kanon Temple, where we received our fortunes and tied them to the ropes for good luck.

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We also spent an hour and a half waiting for Hitsumabushi, a Nagoya specialty of eel cooked over a bed of rice. The long wait was completely worth it for this amazing meal.

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Apparently Nagoya is also the coffee hub of Japan (who knew?). The absence of cafes is something I noticed quickly in Japan. There’s a breakfast chain in Nagoya called “Komodo”, which we ate breakfast at on our last morning.

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