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Posts tagged “Kansai

DAY 1 (1/6): ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan, 2016.12.03

Our departure schedule to Kansai International Airport (関西国際空港) was far from ideal.  It was a red-eye flight departing from Hong Kong at 1:50am and arrived in Japan at around 6:30am.  At the airport, we picked up our pre-ordered Haruka Express ticket from the JR ticket office and rushed to the platform for the Kyoto bound express train that was about to leave.  The train sped past towns and suburbs along Osaka Bay and reached Osaka in about 40 minutes.  From Osaka, the train took another half an hour to reach Kyoto.  Opened in 1997, the current Kyoto Railway Station is a futuristic building made of glass and steel trusses, with an enormous atrium and a huge stepped plaza reaching multiple storeys up to the sky garden 70m above ground.  We stepped out the station for a quick peek of Kyoto Tower, the city’s tallest structure opened in 1964 coinciding with the Tokyo Olympics.  Together with the modern railway station, the tower often comes as a surprise for tourists who come to Kyoto expecting to see an 1200-year-old ancient city.

We took the escalators down to the subway, topped up our Icoca cards that we kept from our previous Kansai trip, and managed to board the train with our suitcase and backpack.  Our designation was Higashiyama Station (東山駅) on the Tozai Line.  We reached Higashiyama Station at a peaceful residential neighborhood sandwiched between two of Kyoto’s popular tourist areas: Northern Higashiyama (Nanzenji, Ginkakuji, etc) and Southern Higashiyama (Gion, Kiyomizu-dera, etc).  At Higashiyama Station, we purchased a city bus pass for the day and picked up a handy bus map.  We crossed the street and walked into a quiet alleyway right beside the crystal clear Shirakawa River (白川).  We reached Eco and Tech, a 2-star budget hotel that we would call it home for the next five days.  After checking in, we immediately headed out to the bus stop near Sanjo Station (三条駅) and Kamo River (鴨川).  Before arriving in Japan, we had already decided to begin our Kyoto visit at the northwest part of the city where the cluster of three famous temples Ryoanji (龍安寺), Ninnaji (仁和寺) and Kinkakuji (金閣寺) are located.  According to online updates of the autumn foliage at Kyoto’s main attractions, Ryoanji (龍安寺) and Ninnaji Temple (仁和寺) were two possible places where we might still encounter peak autumn foliage.  Because of the recent cold weather, the autumn foliage of 2016 came earlier than usual.  By the time we arrived on Dec 3rd, the fall foliage at most places had already passed the peak.  The bus ride took over half an hour.  It was sunny and we took a brief rest on the bus under the late morning sun.

01Our plane landed at Kansai International Airport (関西国際空港) at about 6:30am.  Despite a sleepless night, we were very excited upon arriving.

02We left the airport and over to the railway station for JR’s Haruka Express train.

04Upon arriving at Kyoto, we were overwhelmed by the steel trusses and overhead catwalks at the huge atrium of the futuristic Kyoto Station.

03A large Christmas tree on the organic shaped platform looked small under the huge atrium roof.

05Across the street from Kyoto Station stood the tallest structure in the city, Kyoto Tower.

06Advertisements on the subway train reminded us that the special night visits to a number of temples were available during the autumn foliage season until 4th of December.  Arriving in Kyoto on the 3rd of December, we made just on time for the night visits.

14-kyoto-bus-mapMany Kyoto’s attractions can be accessed only by public bus.  We picked up a bus map from the ticket office at Higashiyama Subway Station, which proved really handy over the next few days.

07We managed to carry our suitcase up the stairs and finally reached the exit of Higashiyama Station.

11Following online instruction, we crossed a bridge at Shirakawa River (白川) on our way to our hotel.

08aA local couple dressed in traditional costumes were taking photos on a stone bridge at Shirakawa River (白川).

09Eco and Tech Hotel is located in a quiet residential neighborhood away from the tourist crowds.

10Eco and Tech Hotel.

15-websiteWe checked the website http://souda-kyoto.jp/travel/koyo/ for the autumn foliage at Kyoto’s main attractions almost daily for at least a week before departure.  We decided to head to Ryoanji Temple on our first day because of its peak colours.

13We walked to a bus stop near Kamo River (鴨川) and Sanjo Station (三条駅) for Bus 59 heading towards Ryoanji Temple (龍安寺).

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Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan

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Day 9 – CHURCH OF LIGHT, Osaka (大阪市), Japan

If there was one architect that redefined Japanese architecture during the 1990s it would be Tadao Ando. And if there was one project that best exemplified the essence of Ando’s architecture it would be Ibaraki Kasugaoka Church, or the Church of Light. Located 25km northeast of Osaka, Ando’s Church of Light is a pilgrim destination in the world of architects and designers. The precise use of natural light, minimalist layout, smooth pour in-situ concrete walls, modular spatial proportions, and zenist interplay of void and solid converges into an architectural masterpiece with a volume no bigger than a small house.

The Church of Light opens only on specific days of the week, usually on Sunday but sometimes also Wednesday and Saturday.  Visiting the church requires advanced reservation online. It was about 20 minutes of train ride from Osaka Station to Ibaraki, a residential neighborhood in the outskirt of Osaka. From Ibaraki station, it was another short local bus ride to reach the closest bus stop to the Church of Light.  It was a peaceful Sunday when we visited, we found our way to the main entrance of the church complex, which was consisted of the Church of Light and the Sunday School, a latter addition to the complex also designed by Ando. We registered with the staff at the reception of the Sunday School, and was then led into the famous Church of Light. Once inside, we had all the time we needed to examine the architecture, take photos, and take in the spiritual atmosphere.

We stayed at the church for over an hour, until it was time for us to return to Osaka Tennoji Station, where we would take the Haruka Express for the Kansai Airport. Nine days of Osaka, Kobe, and the spiritual Kumano Kodo gave us a refreshing spring break, with joyful memories from the splendid cherry blossoms, spiritual scenery, fantastic seafood, to poetic architecture.

DSC_1137Osaka Station, with its recently added canopy.

01We got off the local bus at the community park at Ibaraki, where the Church of Light was just around the corner.

02The church complex with the Sunday School on the left and Church of Light on the right, both designed by Tadao Ando.

03Entrance pathway to the church.

04Slit windows and architectural concrete are the common design language in Ando’s works.

05Interior of the Sunday School.

06Overall interior view of the Church of Light.

07The iconic slit opening of cruciform in the Church of Light.

08The large pipe organ at the back of the church.

09Indirect natural light is introduced into the space through an opening that is created by a slant wall at a 15 degree angle.

10Side view of the cruciform opening at the altar.

11Glazed wall meeting concrete wall at the church entrance.

12The curved vestibule connecting the Sunday School and Church of Light.

13A small outdoor gathering space between the school and the church, occupied by a man in suit playing badminton with a young lady. It was lovely to see how people making use of the space and we were both touched by this scene, for some reasons.

IMG_2407After a thorough visit to the Church of Light and a relaxing stroll in the laid back neighbourhood of Ibaraki, we returned to the Osaka Station. The station was busy and filled with people but somehow everything remained in good order.

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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino 
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka


DAY 7 – KUMANO HONGU TAISHA, Kumano Kodo (熊野古道) 3 of 4, Japan

At Hongu, we dropped off our backpacks at a locker across the street from the main entrance of Kumano Hongu Taisha. We then went to check out the heritage centre where we learnt a little more about the history of Kumano Hongu Grand Taisha and the Kii mountain range. The Kumano Hongu Taisha is the house for the deity of Kumano Gongen, where pilgrims came to pay their respect to the deities of Kumano area for almost 1000 years. Every spring, the Kumano Hongu Taisha Spring Festival would take place with three days of ceremonies.

On a bench outside of the centre, we took out the lunchboxes for a quick lunch. The yummy lunchboxes were ordered online before we left for our trip and delivered to our hotel at Yunomine in the morning. After lunch, we took our time to visit Kumano Hongu Taisha a second time.  This time, we had more time to examine the donor lanterns, flags, signs, etc. along the main access path. After a relaxing stroll around the complex, we walked down the main entrance stairs one last time under the afternoon sun. We picked up our backpacks at the locker and walked over to the bus stop in front of the heritage centre, where we would hop on a bus for Wataze Onsen.

1The banner at Kumano Hongu Heritage Center commemorated the 10th anniversary of inscription into UNESCO’s World Heritage for “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range”.

2The Heritage Center represents a good example of modern architecture with a traditional touch.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA33.9m tall and 42m wide, the Torii gate at the entrance to the sandbank of Oyunohara is the largest in the world.  This is where the original Kumano Hongu Taisha stood over a century ago, before the devastating floods destroyed much of the old shrines.

4Along with our accommodation and luggage shuttle service, we also reserved this local lunchbox online at http://www.tb-kumano.jp prior our arrival in Japan.

4bHoused in a bamboo box, our lunchbox contained a number of seasonal local delicacies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARebuilt after flood damages, the Zuihouden next to the entrance of Kumano Hongu Taisha houses religious study areas, a hall and a souvenir shop.

6The stair leading up to the main shrine is flanked both sides with donor flags.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWorshipers put all kinds of wishes onto these wooden “ema” to communicate with the deities.

8Tying the Omikuji, the fortune telling paper slips onto trees or ropes at the shrine is a common customs of worshiping.

9Small bamboo flags were another common option for worshipers to leave their messages.

10Before entering the complex, cleaning our hands at the purification trough had become a common practice even for foreign visitors like us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWooden staff in hand, lots of elderly worshipers spend great effort in walking the pilgrim route before reaching Kumano Hongu Taisha.

12Our second visit to the Hongu Taisha.  This time we had all the time we needed to wander around the complex.

13Beside the main shrines stood this small and popular shrine under tree shade.

14After a thorough visit, we walked down the main stair once again.

15Lanterns with donor’s name were hung on a rack near the main gate of Kumano Hongu Taisha.

16We bid farewell to the Kumano Hongu Taisha under the late afternoon sun.

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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino 
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka


DAY 5 – TAKAHARA to TSUGIZAKURA, Kumano Kodo (熊野古道) 2 of 3, Japan

At around 10:30am, we left Takahara and continued to hike east towards Tsugizakura. In the next seven hours, we passed by a number of shrines, including Daimon Oji, Jujo Oji, Osakamoto Oji and stopped by the Chikatsuyu Village.  We took our time along the way, checking out almost every shrine and lookout, some of which required a short detour from the main trail.  The shrines (Oji) were in various conditions of preservation, from decently intact to completely in ruins or even disappeared entirely except an interpretation signpost.  In Tsugizakura, a small village 18km from where we began our hike at Takijiri, we checked in at Minshuku Tsugizakura.

19After Takahara, dense forest took over the scenery of rice fields and green rolling hills.

20Soon after we ventured into the forest we encountered two timber shelters.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPerhaps these shelters were resting huts for local loggers.

22Evidence of forestry was common along Kumano Kodo.

23At each major oji (shrine) along Kumano Kodo stood a wooden shelter where hikers can obtain a souvenir stamp chop.

25A small porcelain cup at Osakamoto Oji was left for hikers to leave a small offering.

26Although small, the statues at Gyubadoji shrine were beautifully carved.

27More detailed stone carvings were found at Gyubadoji shrine.

28At 3pm, we were approaching the village of Chikatsuyu, a popular destination for hikers to stay the night.

29We entered the village of Chikatsuyu via a bridge spanning across the Hiki-gawa River.  The atmosphere of Chikatsuyu resembled an Alpine village in Europe.

29aWhile many hikers stopped at Chikatsuyu for the night, we still had another 1.5 hour before reaching Tsugizakura, where we could finally rest for the night at Tsugizakura Minshuku.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe passed by a number of self-served vending spots where local villagers left their agricultural products or handcrafts for sale.

31Along the way, we saw a number of interesting scarecrows.

32Before leaving Chikatsuyu we saw a large school complex.

33Inside the school fence, a cool playground equipment caught our attention.

33aUpon leaving Chikatsuyu, we passed by a long flight of stair leading up to the torii gate of a local shrine.

34By the time we reached Hisohara Oji in half an hour, it was only twenty minutes away from Tsugizakura.

35Because of the humid climate, much of the stone pavement and walls were carpeted with moss.

36Finally at about 5pm we reached the famous torii gate of Tsugizakura Oji.  Tsugizakura means “grafted cherry tree”.  Accordingly to historical account, an aristocrat from the 12th century passed by a cherry tree grafted on a Japanese cypress at this location.  Today, a number of century-old Japanese cedar trees still remain.

37At top of the stairs beyond the torii gate stood the shrine.  We clapped our hands, paid a small offering, and were grateful for reaching Tsugizakura after a long day of walking in relatively good weather.

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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino 
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka


DAY 5 – TAKIJIRI to TAKAHARA, Kumano Kodo (熊野古道) 1 of 3, Japan

Along with Way of St. James in Spain, Japan’s Kumano Kodo is one of the two pilgrim routes inscribed as an UNESCO World Heritage.  We first came across Kumano Kodo during travel research when we were looking for an off-the-beaten path destination in Japan.  Learning the historical and spiritual significance of the centuries-old pilgrim trail, we immediately fell in love with Kumano Kodo.  Since the 10th century, pilgrims from Kyoto and other Japanese cities took the Kumano Kodo to reach the sacred sites of Kumano Sanzan (熊野三山) in the Kii Mountains.  The Kumano Sanzan includes three sacred mountain shrines: Kumano Hongu Taisha (熊野本宮大社), Kumano Nachi Taisha (熊野那智大社), and Kumano Hayatama Taisha (熊野速玉大社). Nowadays, the Kumano Kodo is a popular hiking destination for both local and international hikers.  Most visitors do the Kumano Kodo as a three-to-five day hike, staying at minshuku (local bed and breakfast) along the way.  In the middle of Kii Mountains near Kumano Hongu Taisha lies the famous Yunomine Onsen, the oldest hot spring in the country.  Most pilgrims, past or present, would go for a dip in the healing hot spring after days of walking. Out of the various Kumano Kodo routes, we decided to take the popular Nakahechi route from Takijiri to Hongu Taisha.  This route would take two days.  On the first day, we walked from Takijiri to Tsugizakura (18.2km), and the second from Tsugizakura to Hongu Taisha (22.1km). OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother rainy day to start off with.  From Tanabe train station, we took the 6:50 bus heading into the mountains.  At 7:28 we get off at Takijiri (滝尻), the official trail head of the Nakahechi route.  The Kumano Kodo visitor centre had not yet opened its doors.  At 7:30, the van of our backpack shuttle service arrived and we gratefully handed over our backpack to the driver, who would deliver our bag to the minshuku where we were staying the night. 2Along the way on Kumano Kodo, there are many oji shrines.  These oji are subsidary shrines of the Kumano grand shrines.  Takijiri Oji is situated right at the trail head of the Nakahechi route of Kumano Kodo. 2aOne of the first things encountered on Kumano Kodo was the beautiful cedar forest. 3The rain stopped soon after we ascended into the mountains.  High up on the first lookout we could admire the picturesque valley and distant mountains of the Kii Mountain Range. 4Mount Meshimori-yama, the first lookout on the trail. 6About 1.5 hour from Takijiri, we were soon approaching the village of Takahara (高原). 5Small family farms overlooking the Kii Mountain Range. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn Takahara, we visited a local wood shop.  The scent of the local wood filled the entire shop.  The owner showed us his master piece, wooden frame of a double bed.  Beside the workshop there was a small souvenir shop selling all kinds of things made of wood, from key chains to photo frames. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATakahara is an attractive small mountain village famous for its mountain views and morning sea of clouds. 9Takahara Kumano-jinja, the main shrine in the mountain village of Takahara. 10From Takahara Kiri-no-Sato rest area, we stayed for a short while to enjoy the view. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe vending machine at Takahara Kiri-no-Sato rest area was selling all kinds of drinks. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt Takahara Kiri-no-Sato rest area we ate the snacks that the wood shop owner gave us. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter Takahara Kiri-no-Sato rest area the sign pointing to Chikatsuyu Oji, the next major village about 9km down the road. 14After a few more minutes of walking, we exited the village of Takahara and came to a fork road where a cherry tree stood and a “Kumano Kodo” sign that pointed to an uphill path. 16At the top of the path we came across a number of rice paddy fields.  In the reflection of the blue sky, rows of young seedlings shooting upwards against a backdrop of the Kii mountains.

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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino 
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka


DAY 4 – PRELUDE OF THE KUMANO KODO, Tanabe (田辺市), Japan

It was a rainy day. Leaving Osaka’s Tennoji Station behind, the JR Kuroshio limited express took us southwards to Kii-Tanabe. The train ride took slightly less than 2 hours. The rain stopped by the time we arrived Tanabe in the afternoon. As planned, we walked to the souvenir shop beside the station to pick up the keys of our reserved timber townhouse, where we would stay the night. The host handed us a map and a leaflet of house rules. We put on our backpacks, stepped out the shop, and found our way into the winding streets of Tanabe. Situated along the southwest coast of Kii Peninsula, Tanabe is a fishing city in Wakayama Prefecture. Throughout history, Tanabe had been the traditional starting point of the Kumano Kodo where pilgrims turned away from the coast to enter the inland mountains. Through the mountainous trails eastwards, pilgrims would wind through the Kii Mountains and reached Hongu Taisha, the most sacred shrine in this pilgrimage area in about two days. This route is known as Nakahechi Route, and has become the most popular route among all Kumano Kodo trails today. We also chose to explore Kumano Kodo via Nakahechi Route. Tanabe, therefore, became the obvious place where we would spend the night before heading into the mountains. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe arrived at Kii Tanabe in the afternoon. 2We were intrigued by the minimalist house setback from the street on a narrow lot. 3No surprise, the seaside town of Tanabe is a great place for seafood.  We dropped in a local restaurant called Ginchiro Ekimae near the train station.   4The local dish in Tanabe includes the double-decked seafood rice bowl.  The lower bowl contained rice and small silver fish.5The upper bowl included sashimi, cooked seafood and sour plums.  6Community shrine.7Near the railway station there is a network of small lanes lined with restaurants and izakayas.  Two security patrols sat at the central intersection of the main lanes waiting for the night to fall upon.

11Finally we arrived at Konyamachiya Townhouse, the traditional two-storey timber house where we would spend the night. Konyamachiya Townhouse is a Machiya townhouse 町屋, a type of traditional timber townhouse found in much of Kyoto area.

8The house was tidy, spacious, atmospheric and furnished with handmade furniture.  The dining room opened to a small garden deck.  The kitchenette was neatly situated behind a wall of sliding panels, which could be fully concealed when not in use.9There were two tatami bedrooms on the upper level.  The traditional wooden structure of the roof was completely exposed.  It had been raining most of the day.  There scent of the bamboo mats was very strong when we entered the room. 10A neat lamp made of bamboo by local artisan was a decent feature in the bedroom. 12A long and winding yellow street connected the neighborhood of our Konyamachiya Townhouse to the town centre.13The yellow-painted street passed by shops of various kinds.14Traditional shrines and temples were very well maintained in many cities in Japan, including Tanabe.15This shrine near our Konyamachiya Townhouse offered a sense of peacefulness in an already relaxed fishing town. 16At last we stopped by a traditional soba (蕎麦) restaurant for dinner.  It was already quite late in the night.  The chef prepared us whatever left available for us. 17A simple soba dinner, including tempura shrimps and vegetables, was one of the most special meal for our trip.  No tourist menu, and no sample images.  A simple and unpretentious effort from the chef just before the restaurant closed its doors gave us an unforgettable pleasure of a local dining experience in a small Japanese town.  18From the dike of Aizu-gawa River, we looked back at the end of Konya-machi, the street where our townhouse stood.  A quiet night in the sleepy town of Tanabe, we awaited the arrival of the beginning of our hike the next day.

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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino 
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka


DAY 3 – A DAY IN CENTRAL OSAKA, Osaka (大阪市), Japan

Day 3 was our only full day in Osaka (大阪).  Started from our hotel in Shinsaibashi (心斎橋), we explored the nearby neighborhoods on foot, including Dotonbori (道頓堀), Minamisenba (南船場), and Namba (難波). 1Daimaru is a well known Japanese department store.  The store in Shinsaibashi has been the landmark of the area since 1931. The building was designed by American architect William Merell Vories, with a mix of Art Deco and Neo-Gothic style. The food hall at the basement level is particularly a wonder to explore. 2Linking two of the city’s largest shopping districts, Umeda and Namba, is a 600m long covered shopping arcade, Shinsaibashi Suji.  In fact, covered arcades can be found in many cities and towns in Kansai.3Known for its eccentric nightlife and food scene, Dotonbori is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Osaka.  Restaurants, bars, multi-storey billboards and bustling tourist shops lined up along Dotonbori-gawa Canal.  The billboard of an athlete crossing the finishing line for Glico (a popular confectionery company) is one of the most iconic feature of Dotonbori.  4One can find many striking billboards along Dotonbori-gawa Canal, such as this gigantic Ferris wheel.  This Ferris wheel is an eye-catching landmark of a duty-free shop. 5Osaka is a heaven for street food lovers.  Takoyaki (grilled batter with diced octopus filling) is one of the most popular street food among all.  There are always a queue for the make-to-order takoyaki.6 There are many variation to the takoyaki recipes but the main ingredients are egg batter and diced octopus. 7North of Shinsaibashi lies the area of Minamisenba (南船場), a former hotspot for fabric wholesaling.  Since the decline of the fabric business in 1990s, many of the old office buildings and storage facilities had been converted into trendy shops, design studios and new offices.  At the heart of Minamisenba is Organic Building.  Designed by Italian architect Gaetano Pesce in 1993, Organic Building soon became the icon of the area.  It was an early envisioning of a vertical living wall.  The bright red facade is “cladded” with over 80 native plants to Japan.7b Perhaps, we were attracted by the simplicity of the storefront design. We walked into this little restaurant at a street corner in Minamisemb for a bowl of comforting beef udon. The interior decor is elegantly simple with a large wooden communal table and an open kitchen.7aIt is common to find high-carbohydrate set meal on a menu in Osaka such as a combination of udon/ramen and a bowl of rice. 8A beautiful wall painting in Minamisemba. 9One of the most successful renewal projects in Minamisemba is the conversion of the former Association of Agricultural and Forestry into the trendy hub of designers, artists and bookstores.  Many of the old architectural features from the 1930s remains.10At Minamisemba, we walked past a shrine complex called Namba Shrine.  Attracted by the full blossoms of cherry and plum trees, we decided to go in and check out the shrine.   11Plum (ume) blossoms at Namba Shrine.12The cherry blossoms at Namba Shrine was at its peak.13South of the busy Namba Railway Station lies a unique retail complex, the Namba Park.  Designed by American architect Jon Jerde and completed in 2009, the Namba Park shopping and office complex was built at the site of the former Osaka Stadium. The development consists of a 30-storey office tower and a 8-level shopping mall.  The shopping mall is designed as an urban oasis with extensive roof gardens in the midst of a bustling city.  14Much of the roof surfaces of the complex are designed as landscaping and dining terraces.  15The exterior scenic lifts with a glass roof take visitors to each shopping levels, topped with a Surrealist white blob.16The winding outdoor mall of Namba Park resembles a natural canyon with hanging terraces and layers of stones.

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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino 
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka