Cornwall

A few years ago Gareth spent some time in Penzance for a work project, and as he’d enjoyed it there we’d always said we’d go down together for a holiday. So in August we finally did have a summer holiday there.

2016-08-21 Cornwall
View from our balcony

We went with my brother and sister-in law, and as Cornwall is very dog-friendly their little scamp came too.
2016-08-21 Cornwall
Meet Nutters the teddy bear / ewok / fluffball

There was lots to see and do!

Beautiful coastline at Land’s End
2016-08-22 Cornwall

2016-08-22 Cornwall

2016-08-22 Cornwall
It was very windy that day

2016-08-22 Cornwall
A photographer at the edge of the world

Pretty St Ives, with lots of lovely little shops (we did not meet any men with 7 wives)
2016-08-22 Cornwall

The stunning Minack Theatre – we saw the Merry Wives of Windsor.
2016-08-23 Cornwall

2016-08-23 Cornwall

We visited the Eden Project, which was fabulous.
2016-08-24 Cornwall
The famous biomes

2016-08-28 Cornwall
Natural dyes

2016-08-28 Cornwall
Dahlias – one of my favourite flowers

2016-08-24 Cornwall
Cute little roul-rouls, which run around wild in the rainforest biome

We also arranged to do a spot of sea fishing – I’d never done this before, but I did alright, apart from some tangling on the seabed and with another person’s line a couple of times…
I caught 2 pollock, and my brother caught a pollock and a couple of mackerel. It was very exciting, but I found it quite tiring on the shoulders! Gareth cooked the fish for dinner – extra yummy for being caught ourselves!
2016-08-25 Cornwall

And we visited the Poldark Mine (its actual name!). It’s a well preserved 18th Century mine, and is where all the underground scenes for the BBC Poldark series were filmed. That aside, we really enjoyed the tour inside the mine and wandering through the indoor museum displays – a real slice of history.
2016-08-26 Cornwall

It was a lovely holiday, and the weather held up for most of it! I’d love to go back again.
2016-08-25 Cornwall

More Cornwall photos in Flickr
Cornwall

Kyoto Food Roundup

In Kyoto too there was, of course, so much amazing food to enjoy! On our first evening here we stumbled upon a tiny little teppanyaki place, with one quiet chef and one friendly waitress. Here we got to try a Southern Japanese special: okonomiyaki. This is a sort of savoury yam-based pancake/omelette, filled with pretty much anything, griddled to golden-brown perfection, and topped with special sauce and plenty of bonito flakes.
2016-04-18 Kyoto

Collage Kyoto 08

The chef cooked everything on the teppanyaki griddle, and it was amazing to sit right in front of it, watching him manoeuvre his two little ‘swords’ so gracefully.
Collage Kyoto 07

The restaurant was very welcoming and also keen on remembering their visitors from around the world, so we joined their map. I don’t even remember the name; it felt like a magical sort of place that wouldn’t be there in the morning – off elsewhere to feed some other hungry tourists and warm their hearts.
Collage Kyoto 14

Another lovely little place we found did delicious yakitori skewers, with just the one chef/waiter/manager slaving over a hot grill.
2016-04-19 Kyoto

Over in our hotel, we also enjoyed some French-Japanese fine dining at one of their restaurants.
Collage Kyoto 13

And as expected, there was cherry blossom food and drink to be found.
Collage Kyoto 12
Locally brewed sakura beer, sakura mochi, and sakura red-bull (not a joke…)

One afternoon we had a cooking lesson which started with a walk round Nishiki Market, with our guide pointing out lots of exciting ingredients, and the sellers offering us some tasters as well. We bought some of the ingredients we needed later, and all four of us in the tour group had a go at asking for an item at each shop (after much training from the guide).
Collage Kyoto 09
Top: Pickle shop; Japanese cucumbers pickled in sake lees (yeast residue after brewing)
Bottom: Dried bonito tuna (shave your own flakes during cooking); Different grades types of miso paste.

Then over to the cultural centre where we got straight into our cooking lesson. Here are the ingredients for the sushi roll – the trickiest bit is making the rolled omelette, but we all succeeded!
Collage Kyoto 10
Rice; crab stick, shiitake mushroom, gourd, cucumber; rolled omelette; the final rolled sushi, ready to be sliced.

The final meal, a proud achievement for us indeed.
2016-04-21 Kyoto
Spinach with sesame dressing, rolled sushi, and miso soup.

The cooking lesson was held at the same WAK Japan cultural centre where we had the tea ceremony, so it was lovely to see Yukiko-san again and be taught by her. She explained that UNESCO has awarded the status of Intangible Cultural Heritage to washoku, traditional Japanese cuisine. It was lovely to try this, and it was actually quite straightforward with a little experience and knowledge of the ingredients.

We were also given a recipe booklet to take away, which we got home and put to good use (this spread lasted us two meals!)
2016-05-02 Sushi at home

On our final evening in Japan we had a bit of a blowout, at an unassuming office block which turned out to house several large restaurants.
We had a ‘stairway’ of sashimi, tried horse meat (which was really very tasty!), had fantastic sushi and meat skewers, and rounded it all off with a matcha green tea medley of panacotta, ice cream, and kit kat.
Collage Kyoto 11

And all too quickly, our trip was over. We were off to the airport the next morning, and back home in no time. And then we had all the fun of unpacking, and going through our souvenirs and photos. What a wonderful honeymoon we had, full of astounding discoveries, lovely little gems of experiences, stories and images from childhood come alive, and wonderful new memories for both of us. It was just perfect.

See all photos from Kyoto in Flickr
Japan: Nara, Himeji

Nara and Himeji

While in Kyoto we made a couple of day trips out as well. First stop: Nara, which is a charming tourist town. The souvenirs and symbols everywhere tell you quite clearly what it’s famous for.
Collage Nara 01

We spent the day in Nara Park, a huge park with many shrines and temples within, as well as many semi-tame deer.
2016-04-20 Nara

2016-04-20 Nara

They roam freely around the park, and the shrine and temple grounds, and people can buy special ‘deer crackers’ which can be safely fed to them. They’re technically wild, but they’re pretty docile if unthreatened and have become quite used to humans, and especially to being fed.

The first set of deer we met were a rather brazen bunch. They were hanging out right by the cracker stall, and started coming up and reaching for the crackers as soon as we came out near them – we foolish tourists had our crackers out in the open. I may have squealed a little and given up all my crackers at this point…
2016-04-20 Nara

We headed off to visit our first temple, Todaiji. This is said to be the world’s biggest wooden building, housing the world’s biggest bronze Buddha sculpture. It really was very impressive, but it’s difficult to get a sense of scale in the photos.
2016-04-20 Nara

2016-04-20 Nara

2016-04-20 Nara

Then we made our way to the Kasuga-taisha shrine, which has several thousand stone lanterns lining the paths towards it, as well as smaller hanging lanterns inside.
2016-04-20 Nara

2016-04-20 Nara

2016-04-20 Nara

There are many more temples, shrines, and museums in and around the park complex, but it’s quite a huge area to cover on foot, so we’d picked out the main places we wanted to visit. On our way out we had another go at feeding the deer.This time we were a little more savvy: when we bought the crackers we put them in our bag immediately, and walked a little further away to find less demanding deer.

Success! A far more cordial interaction. The ones here even did a bit of ‘bowing’ – sometimes if you bow at the deer they sort of bob their heads up and down, which they seem to have learnt that the humans like and give them crackers for.
2016-04-20 Nara

2016-04-20 Nara

Our final day trip was to Himeji, to visit Himeji castle.
2016-04-22 Himeji

Starting out as a fort in the 1300s, it was developed and extended over the years into a vast castle complex, and has remained in its present design from the 1600s. It is considered one of Japan’s finest and most beautiful castles. It is even more stunning with the cherry trees in full blossom, but that period was over by the time we visited. We were still very lucky to have seen the castle at all, as it had been closed for five years of renovation work and only reopened last year.

2016-04-22 Himeji

2016-04-22 Himeji

Beauty aside, it has many highly defensive features, such as a wide moat, many little holes for archers to shoot out of, stone throwing platforms, warrior’s passages for quick access through the castle, and, cunningly, not only a very long path leading up to the main keep, but a confusing maze of a path, which often goes back on itself. An approaching army would certainly lose the element of surprise, and potentially be ambushed themselves if they tried to launch an attack here.

2016-04-22 Himeji

2016-04-22 Himeji

2016-04-22 Himeji

We then went across to the Koko-en garden next to the castle. This beautiful garden is a modern creation in traditional Japanese style. We spent a long time strolling through and admiring each section of it before heading back to Kyoto.

2016-04-22 Himeji

2016-04-22 Himeji

2016-04-22 Himeji

2016-04-22 Himeji

2016-04-22 Himeji

See more photos from Nara and Himeji in Flickr
Japan: Nara, Himeji

 

 

Temples and shrines of Kyoto

Kyoto has about 2000 shrines and temples, many of them hundreds of years old. On our second day here we had a full day tour visiting some of them, but we first started with a castle – Nijo Castle.

This was built by the first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, whose mausoleum we visited in Nikko.
2016-04-19 Kyoto

The entrance gate displays a tiger, Tokugawa Ieyasu’s zodiac, as well as a dragon, his son’s zodiac. Later on when the Emperor reclaimed authority from the shogunate, the triple hollyhock crests of the Tokugawa clan were removed and replaced with the imperial chrysanthemum crest.
2016-04-19 Kyoto

This castle is famous for its ‘nightingale floor’ in the inner section, which was intentionally constructed with floorboards that squeak, meaning an attacker couldn’t ever sneak in unheard. Inside there were many beautifully decorated screens, and plenty of gleaming gold leaf. Our guide, Akie-san, explained that many of the feudal lords were ‘frenemies’, and were allowed only into the outer rooms – accordingly, the decorations in these rooms used imagery of fierce animals and mighty trees. Family and trusted friends were seen in the inner rooms, which were decorated with more pastoral images of flowers and little birds.

It has a beautifully landscaped moat, and lovely gardens full of cherry blossoms.
2016-04-19 Kyoto

2016-04-19 Kyoto

We then headed over to Kinkakuji – the Golden Pavillion, which is a beautiful Zen Buddhist temple. The temple has three different styles of design for each level, covered in gold leaf on the highest levels, and topped with a golden phoenix.
2016-04-19 Kyoto

Next we visited Ryoan-ji, another Zen Buddhist temple, with a splendid rock garden. The white gravel is raked into the same pattern every day by the monks.
2016-04-19 Kyoto

2016-04-19 Kyoto

There are 15 rocks in this rock garden, but they are laid out such that all 15 can never be seen at the same time from any point (except directly above). No one knows the original meaning of the pattern, but Akie-san considered it a metaphor for the Zen approach to life, in that you can never have everything, and must be content with what you can realistically achieve. We sat on the verandah for some time, gazing upon the rocks and contemplating this.

After a hearty ramen lunch, we headed on to Kiyomizu-dera, also a Buddhist temple. It’s located up in the hills, and was built in the 1600s with no nails at all, just interlocking joints.
2016-04-19 Kyoto

This natural spring is said to grant wishes if you drink from it, and is what gives the temple its name – kiyo mizu means pure water.
2016-04-19 Kyoto

There are also several other shrines and buildings in the temple complex, and further below is the Higashiyama district, full of little shops in the preserved wooden buildings. We made our way down the street, stopping at many shops and acquiring more souvenirs and gifts.
2016-04-19 Kyoto

2016-04-19 Kyoto

Akie-san led us on through the streets of Kyoto, and along the way we saw two more interesting little shrines. One was a shrine for cutting off bad things – illnesses, bad business dealings, bad relationships, whatever it may be. Part of the worship at this shrine is crawling through a hole in a monument, ‘leaving’ your unwanted thing behind. It seemed to be very popular, going by the thousands of papers with prayers and supplications attached to the monument.
2016-04-19 Kyoto

The other was a shrine to a monkey deity (where, of course, we got an omamori). There were interesting little offering ‘garlands’ with little fabric ornaments which look like monkeys attached. Often families will leave an offering with the right number of monkey ornaments to represent each family member.
Collage Kyoto 02

In the following days we also visited some other places of worship. One of these was the Higashi-Honganji temple, just minutes from our hotel. This Buddhist temple had a huge, beautiful entrance gateway, and a large main hall. It was also very different from the other temples we’d been to, in that it was not ‘touristy’ at all. From the information displays they also seem quite politically conscious, in conveying their strong pacifist beliefs and desire for people to question government actions that support or may lead to war.
2016-04-21 Kyoto

2016-04-21 Kyoto

There was a prayer session going on in the main hall, but the attendants there waved us in, so we sat at the back for some time, listening to the chanting. It was really very serene and peaceful, and we very glad to have been welcomed to experience it.

Another very different shrine we visited was the Fushimi Inari shrine, dedicated to the god of rice. Inari’s messenger is a fox, so there are many depictions of foxes here.
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This shrine is over 1300 years old, set at the base of Mount Inari, and has thousands of little sub-shrines in the path that goes up the mountain. What makes it really special is that the path is lined with thousands of stone and wooden torii gates (estimates range from 5000 to 10,000 gates). These have all been donated over the years, mainly by businesses – Inari, being the deity of a precious crop, has become the patron deity of business and industry. Whatever the number is, there are very many torii gates, each inscribed with the names of the donors, and it’s so very impressive seeing this line of orange gates winding up the trail. We were there in the early evening, as the sun was starting to set, which made it even more atmospheric.
2016-04-20 Kyoto

2016-04-20 Kyoto

2016-04-20 Kyoto

The temples and shrines of Kyoto truly are captivating.

Cultural Kyoto

From Hakone we got the train to Kyoto, and were reunited with our luggage. We’d taken a small bag for our two nights in Hakone, and sent our luggage ahead from Tokyo by takkyubin.┬áThis is a brilliant courier service for luggage, and for travellers most hotels help with the process, arranging for the service to collect your luggage and transport it to your next destination, so that you don’t have to be lugging around big suitcases while travelling on subways and trains.

We had a cultural session arranged for that afternoon, at a centre called WAK Japan, based in a traditional wooden machiya (townhouse). To begin with, we were dressed up in kimono, which I really enjoyed. It reminded me a lot of wearing a sari – very fiddly to put on, but once it’s on feels beautiful and elegant.
2016-04-18 Kyoto

We then went down to the room set up as a traditional tearoom, and experienced the tea ceremony. Our guide was a lovely lady, Yukiko-san, who very patiently explained all about chado – the way of tea. This practice uses matcha, powdered green tea, which is whisked with water to make a thick, strong, tea. Matcha is also used for flavouring food and sweets. As part of the ceremony we also learnt a little about bowing, where there is formal, semi-formal, and casual bowing, for different occasions and relationships.
2016-04-18 Kyoto

It is such an elaborate and precise process, and there are certain phrases that you say as the host offering the tea, and as each guest accepting the tea. There was another couple with us during the cultural session, so there was more interaction and phrases to be said between guests as well. As Yukiko-san explained, the drinking of matcha tea and the ceremony originated with Zen Buddhism, and the whole experience really is very meditative in the conscious and careful execution of each process, and in the appreciation of fine details, and to me felt very refined and peaceful.
Collage Kyoto 03

And finally we were taken a short walk away to a former traditional sake brewery, where we briefly learnt about the brewing process, and then got to try some sake – we’ve developed a taste for it now!
2016-04-18 Kyoto

Kyoto is Japan’s capital of culture, and there is even a building height restriction to preserve its historic setting – the mountains surrounding Kyoto are always visible in the distance. The city is laid out in a grid system, and there is a lovely intermingling of wooden buildings, historic temples and shrines, and modern architecture. Although it is a busy city, there is a far more relaxed feel compared to Tokyo.
2016-04-18 Kyoto

After the cultural session we continued to explore, finding the Teramachi shopping street. This very long street is partly covered, with a mix of traditional and modern shops, as well as temples along and just off it.
Collage Kyoto 04

We also saw many symbols and statues of this little mythical creature, Tanuki. It is a Japanese racoon-dog (real animal, related to the wider dog family), and in Japanese folklore is a playful trickster, good luck symbol, and affectionately known as the ‘deity’ of drinking and bars – he’s usually portrayed with a sake flask. In Kyoto he’s particularly beloved, as a bad fire in the ’70s broke out in the Pontocho district, causing much destruction and one death, but before getting any further down the narrow street it mysteriously stopped, leaving only a shattered ceramic Tanuki statue. It is said that he sacrificed himself to stop the fire, and a little shrine to him was built at that spot.
2016-04-18 Kyoto

We eventually made our way to Gion, the popular geisha district. In Kyoto the local term geiko is used. We had a wander through Hanamachi-dori, a street lined with ochaya, exclusive teahouses where geiko entertain clients. They look unassuming, but you know fine well you can’t just go in. The older and more exclusive ones require not just a lot of money but an introduction from an existing regular client.
2016-04-18 Kyoto

2016-04-18 Kyoto

I wasn’t sure how I felt about geiko at first. In the past they were recruited at a very young age, but modern legislation means that children must be schooled up to age 15, and only after this or later do girls join geiko houses to train as maiko (apprentice geiko), which takes around five years, before becoming independent geiko. They are highly trained in the classical arts, and there are strictly no sexual services in their line of work, but they are still entertainers and performers primarily for men. But from doing some reading, and speaking to our guides in Kyoto, it seems that increasingly women also are able to visit ochaya and experience geiko entertainment.

The geiko industry, although still a secretive world even to our Japanese guides, seems to be run almost solely by women, from the geiko schools and boarding houses, to the ochaya, and to the vast supply chain involved in training, costumes, hair and makeup, and public performances. The Western view of geiko is broadly perceived in Japan as exoticised, especially by the book Memoirs of a Geisha, which received much criticism for misrepresentation. The geiko who was revealed as the main source, Mineko Iwasaki, opposed the negative portrayal of her life and later published her own autobiography, Geisha of Gion. So as an outsider, but having learnt a little more, I’m happy to defer to the local view of geiko – a cultural icon, exponents and preservers of the classical arts, and a group of financially independent women.

On the following day, we got to see the Miyako Odori, a performance in the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo, the Gion geiko theatre.
2016-04-19 Kyoto

All five geiko districts in Kyoto put on an annual show, and this one is held throughout the month of April. All the dancers and musicians are maiko and geiko. Our tour guide managed to arrange for tickets to the main show that day, and we also got the English audio guide, which made such a difference. The sets, costumes, dances, and music were beautiful, but having the meaning behind the scenes and steps explained enabled us to truly appreciate the performance. This has been going for over a hundred years and is a highlight even for locals, so we were very glad to have been able to experience it.

There were no photos allowed in the theatre, but there is an official clip on Youtube.