A Travellerspoint blog

Maikover Time

and an Oragami Party

overcast -15 °C

A Maiko is an apprentice Geisha, their costume/hair are slightly different but they wear the white face and kimono associated with the Geisha tradition.

Today, we went to Yume Koubou where they offer several makeover packages which allow you to be transformed into either Maiko or Geisha. The more expensive packages also allow you to be escorted around Gion (geisha district) dressed in full garb. We aren't exhibitionists enough for that but we did sign ourselves up for the Maiko makeover and photo shoot package.

It doesn't take much to see us off on a titter fit, so when the experience started by having to strip to our undies and whack on a see-through white robe, we found it hard to remain straight faced. More amusement abound when we had all of our hair scraped back into a net so that we now know how we both look completely bald. We were feeling anything but glamorous at this point!

Emma was first to have her make up put on- by the time they started hitting her in the face with a white sponge, we had to stop looking at each other because we would have fallen into hysteria.

Make up a-go-go, we headed to the Kimono wardrobe looking like male transvestite panto performers. We picked the Kimono we wanted to wear and were tugged and prodded into place before having a lavish wig planted on our heads. We were under strict instructions to not to touch our hair or face and to carry our kimonos in a very particular way, so that we could walk gracefully into the photo studio. Easier said that done for two women who struggle with the concept of 'ladylike'.

We were coaxed into various poses by very animated photographers. There was about 10 minutes of 'face, face, face', 'sexy face', 'nice'. Then, 'eyes, eyes, eyes', 'tilt', 'smile' 'nice'. If we look confused in the photos, it's because we weren't au natural in front of the lens. They also put us in stilt like heels to pose, which is particularly dangerous for two people who have been known to fall over in heels from a stationary position.

You'll have to wait to see the official photos as we we only have them on CD at the moment but we have a few that one of the lovely make up ladies took on our camera.

Lights, camera, action!


and a few that we took when left to our own devices....


check out the scary zombie faces on the make-down. You might be able to tell that we got a bit boisterous when freed from our kimonos. This is probably how real Geisha behave too after work:

Back to the hostel and the next stop was the Origami Party which they organise for free at Khaosan Kyoto! Ain't no party like an origami party! I think we both thought we would be much better than we were- there's a heck of a lot of folding involved. We made a crane, a balloon, a frog and a rose.

We were soon assured that this was not going to become our new hobby when the instructors and other participants pointed to our attempts and fell about in hysterics. We didn't impress anyone that night with our origami skills but we definitely made them laugh with our attempts. Good fun all round.

Posted by Ashton and Emma 04:03 Archived in Japan Tagged kyoto origami khaosan yume koubou Comments (0)

When it Rains, it Pours

Toei Kyoto Studios and the Imperial Palace

rain -20 °C

For anyone reading our blog who has suffered a bit of sun-envy from our photos, you may be pleased to hear that it chucked it down today. All day! On the bus ride to Kyoto Studios, Emma was observant enough to notice that EVERYONE was carrying umbrellas. It was at this time that we realised we might been a bit premature with the suncream and sandals.

The rain didn't dampen our spirits though as it gave us a good excuse to buy an umbrella. Usually buying an umbrella wouldn't be cause for occasion but the brollys here are fabulous and women use them for the dual purpose of sun shade and rain protection. An investment purchase it certainly was because we were out in showers all day.


The Kyoto studios are used for filming period dramas. The main attraction is the life size model village of Edo Period Japan (1603-1867) but there are also other film related amusements.

First we watched a short, live performance of a fighting samurai scene. We were really pleased when the show started because in the 5 minutes previous, quite a spectacle had been created around us. One girl had asked for a photo with us and we agreed, this then invited a whole queue of people jumping in and posing with us as if we were novelty statues. It was only 9.30am and there hadn't even been enough time for the caffeine to kick in from our morning coffee.

The performance was quite fun (from what we could interpret from the Japanese dialogue)- the actor's picked out one girl next to us in the audience and kept talking to her or running at her with swords to the amusement of the audience.


We enjoyed strolling about the Edo set, taking a look in the houses and posing in the bars. Here's some photos of us larking about:

We threw in a couple of comedy statue poses:

before heading to our favourite attraction: the Ninja Maze!! There was a brief introductory talk in Japanese which meant we understood nothing about what we were going to experience. We had gathered something about secret doors and ninjas jumping out at you, so by the time we came to entering the attraction we were at full panic stations!
The maze was actually incredibly fun and you had to go into a series of rooms and try and find the hidden doors. Once through, costume dressed staff often appeared in front of you causing you to jump. This was much better than the image we had created of ninjas dressed in black attacking us from the ceilings!

We took a brief look in at the Game Station, with little success for either of us:

We finished up our trip at the studios with a trip to Superhero land and what must have been a children's TV set or something. It was pretty weird but who doesn't want to see some oversized fried eggs?

and having achieved a good morning's worth of general lunacy and chuckles we headed off to the Imperial Palace for some high brow culture darling.

We were a little less excited for the tour when we realised it was going to be conducted outdoors...in the pouring rain. Brollys in hand, we had 60 minutes of admiring the outside of the palace. It was a battle of the brollys to get to the front of the crowd for the best photos. Ashton took at least 1 man out with a side swipe of her umbrella straight to his face.

Overall, it was an interesting and enjoyable tour and we learnt a lot about palace life and the history of Kyoto, which was the capital city for 1000 years. Our favourite sights were the gardens.


We headed back on the bus (once we had found the bus stop). Yes, we have had to brave buses today, blergh! We made a good brew and were given some lovely warm scones by a family from Singapore who we got chatting to.
In bag lady update, we think the staff have discovered her stash of carriers but we can't be sure what the outcome of that is. Emma will continue to have nightmares until further investigation is made.

Posted by Ashton and Emma 06:55 Archived in Japan Tagged kyoto palace studio imperial tolei Comments (0)

10,000 Torii Gates

that's a lot of gates

sunny -25 °C

Yesterday we took our last ride on the Shinkansen (bullet train) with our trusty JR Pass and arrived in Kyoto. First on the packed itinerary Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, just outside central Kyoto.

We were greeted by a fox at the entrance of the shrine. The fox is thought to be a spirit servant of the gods, who conveys our wishes to Inari Okani (god of harvest). Statues of the fox are littered all around the site.

We're not 100% on what is in the fox's mouth but a Japanese school girl told us that it might be a cucumber.

The main shrines are painted in vermillion, a bright orangey/red colour that is said to counteract spells. The gold, black and white decoration on the buildings make them an eye catching and attractive set of structures:


The primary reason that we wanted to make a visit to this shrine was to walk the pathway under the 10,000 torii gates leading to the top of Mt Inari. Each gate has been donated by worshippers and prices reach into the thousands. Each gate is inscribed with the donator's name and country and date and with a prayer attached. The gate is a medium of transferring thanks for a wish that has come true/or a wish that they want to come true to the gods.

Entrance to the pathway:


The stairs and slopes up the mountain are also surrounded by woodland and wildlife making it a relaxing and pleasurable climb. The only disturbance to the peace there today was when Emma nearly trod on a massive snake slithering across the pathway. We both nearly lost our hair in the fright of it all.

We still managed to reach the Yotsutsuji viewing point, roughly half way up the mountain and stopped to look out over the city of Kyoto:

The Otsuka (good omen statues that have been donated) plus the restaurants and souvineer shops along the walk made for a regular jamboree of interesting sights along the higgldy piggldy pathways:

We wrapped up the shrine by mid day and headed back to Shijo, the area we are staying in, in Kyoto. We took a meander around the shopping arcades. We looked into the fabulous Nishiki Market first, a long street of stalls under an arcade, mostly selling food. We weaved our way amongst the other market goes looking at the curiosities and delights it had to offer and sampling some of the produce:

We didn't fancy this one much, it looks like dead lizard:

The food all looks pretty amazing. We're going to try and sample it all, so may return obese.

Nothing much else to report other than that we are sharing a room with an old bag lady. She breathes heavily at night and makes funny groaning noises. She also sleeps with at least 1000 carrier bags. Emma thinks this might be the making of a horror movie, so we're hoping she doesn't come at us with carrier bags in the night. She's pretty severe and doesn't talk to us and from what we can tell, spends her day sorting vegetables and scratching her back with a back scratcher.

Posted by Ashton and Emma 05:52 Archived in Japan Tagged market mt shrine inari fushimi taisa yotsutsjui nishiki Comments (0)

Wowaweewa, it's Miyajima

what a day for a hike

From the time we started our research, Miyajima was a place that we were both really excited about visiting. Its beauty is renowned and it has been named one of the 3 top scenic spots to visit in Japan.

Coming over on the ferry, you are greeted by the bright O-torii gate, floating in sea and surrounded by a mountainous backdrop. The gate is considered to keep evil spirits away.

The gate is attached to the Itsukushima Shrine, first built in 593. We walked the corridors of this old structure trying to imagine what it would have been like for its first inhabitants.

We got slightly distracted from our high brow cultural experience by a group of wild deer who were being petted by other tourists. We wanted in on that, they were so cute!
This is Ashton taking the cautious approach as we had been told that they can get mean if they know you've got food.

This is Emma diving straight in for the petting:

This is one deer just being adorable:

Back in the zone, we headed for the Daishoin walking trail which took us up to the top of the mountain. Here's two enthusiastic amateur hikers:

We were really excited for the 1.5 hour climbing challenge ahead and very anxious to see the views at the top. You'll find that there are no pictures of us on the way up- things got a little heated and we were in mutual agreement that the sweat tash was not a good look on either of us.

It was a steep, thigh busting climb and we noticed that most people doing the walk were descending from the top. This made us question whether we were actually a bit crazy! The ducking a diving from flying bugs and the massive spiders littering the surrounding trees made the climb even more intense. However, frequent stops to appreciate our surroundings made the hike wholly worthwhile.

We were ecstatic to reach the top, shaving a good 30 minutes off the average time. This is us at the top of Mount Misen, 535 metres above sea level, looking out from the Observatory:

Here are the tranquil, hazy blue views from the top:

Despite our success on the walk up, we decided to use the Ropewalk (cable car) for the way down. The car took us a good way down but there was still a good distance for us to walk with our jelly legs. First stop then, a reviving cup of tea! We picked a marvellous coffee shop that was like walking back into the 70s. There were customers smoking indoors, the furnishings were largely brown in colour and you could order curry or pancakes. We monged out to the tinkling nursery style music whilst sipping tea from a cup and saucer. Despite the insignificance of such a regular experience as buying a cup of tea, the bizarre atmosphere in that shop, as we looked out onto Miyajima's naughty deer chasing tourists for their food, is a fond and memorable one.

Two tired but satisfied daytrippers headed back on the ferry, ready for some grub. We had been told that Hiroshima prides itself on its Okonomiyaki, so we went in search of a specialist restaurant and ended up in Tanokyu.
Okonomiyaki is essentially noodles and vegetables sandwiched between two omelettes, usually served with pork. It is served on a hot plate which is built into the customer's table. Here's a little preview, it's bloody yum by the way:

The way the food is served allows you to share easily and makes it a sociable experience. We thoroughly enjoyed this hearty meal after our climb and also the company of the staff who were really great.

After that it was time to wash up and prepare for our trip to Kyoto. With only 1 more night to go and having had a fabulous day, we were now able at least see the comedy side of our prison hostel. After all, what makes a grim experience makes a funny tale!

Posted by Ashton and Emma 06:56 Archived in Japan Tagged walking trail miyajima shrine itsukushima daishoin tanokyu Comments (2)

HM Miyajima Backpackers Prison

and Hiroshima Peace Park

overcast -25 °C

There has a brief intermission in blogging as we have just served a sentence in Miyajima Backpackers Prison. Let us explain...

After a rather frantic train journey, we arrived at Miyajima and found our hostel with little difficulty (we're becoming quite the orienteering experts!) We were all set for a cuppa and a sweet treat as a pick me up, following a hard morning's travel. This plan went a little awry as we arrived at Miyajima Backpackers Prison.

We were greeted by a flamboyant Japanese man with long hair tied up in a scrunchy, who immediately informed us that we weren't allowed to check in for 2 hours. However, he was quick off the mark to explain a whole list of rules and the deposit system for using pretty much everything in the place. Our least favourite rules were: bedroom lights could not be switched off manually but would automatically be turned on and off at the time imposed by hostel; guests had to have timed showers that could not be more than 7 minutes; eating or drinking was not allowed anywhere but the 1st floor; guests were required to do housework including making and stripping beds before and after use and sweeping the bathroom if using the hairdryer.

We could have got on with these rules had the standard of the hostel been up to the standard required from us but it seemed that little effort had gone into the structure and layout OR furnishing the building. For starters, the communal area, kitchen, shower rooms and toilet were all in the reception area. This means you were washing up next to people using the toilet-gross! Or, showering amongst a group of boozing guests-great!

Health and safety alarms were also raised by a furry toilet seat:

and we were not particularly reassured by the note on the inside of the toilet door that said 'sanitaly napkins' were available for ladies on request:

The upstairs bathrooms for brushing your teeth were also surrounded by open urinals and toilet cubicles. We were both unfortunate victims of the toilet attack whilst trying to do make-up/brush teeth.

Our bunkbed was on the 2nd floor. I think the use of the word 'dormitory' in the hostel's description was a bit loose. We were in an open room separated by curtains and temporary wooden partitions. The number of people crammed into this space made for a noisy room, which was not helped by the fact that no attempt had been made to seal up the gaps in the top of temporary walls. It also echoed a fair bit against the bare concrete walls. None of this was conducive to a good night's sleep!

We're not in Kansas anymore Dorothy!

After a few moments of despair, we put on our stiff upper lip, and munched down some comfort chocolate. We made our way to downtown Hiroshima to visit the Peace Park, which was a beautiful escape from our hostel shackles!

Here are a few of our favourite pictures from the park:

After a relaxing stroll, we headed back to bunk down for the night with the other inmates.

Posted by Ashton and Emma 05:46 Archived in Japan Tagged park miyajima hiroshima backpackers peace Comments (0)

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