I’ve been waiting for the right moment to tell you all about our trip in Japan. I wanted the posts to be the perfect reflection of everything that we experienced. But it’s impossible. Our journey there was so rich in Emotions. Tastes & Smells. Craze & Zen. History & Discoveries. I cannot find words (and time!) to say it all. Better leave it to the artists that I mention in this earlier post. This is a condensed version of our 17 days travelling around Central Japan, 5 of us now in the Boz family (i.e. it was not just a pack n’ go affair, although we did pack and go every 2 days as we were on a mission to see it all. Well, not exactly all. Thank you Inside Japan for the tremendous help in planning it)
Part 1/3:Osaka – Naoshima Island – Miyajima Island
OSAKA (2 nights):
We started in the 2nd largest city for practical reasons. Ceki was in Kyoto at a conference and Osaka was a good meeting point 30′ away by train. It was going to be a place to adjust but it turned out to be a memorable city in itself. The Kaiyuken aquarium is a-ma-zing. They have some of the world’s largest tanks, some with shark whales. Shark Wales!!!
Marcelo was over the moon, plus the fact that he was able to touch beautiful rays in the aquarium. Funny how children remember best their experiences involving animals when they travel (Marcelo still talks about the tiger encounter in Thailand in 2011).
At Kaiyuken, you start from the top of the butterfly-shaped building and make your way down in a spiral, as if travelling thru the many layers of the oceans (better get there first thing in the morning). The visit is quite interactive and enjoyable for everyone. Amalya even took part in a workshop to make a heart-shaped blinking little island sort of thing. I can’t even find the words to describe it but it is probably the most kawaii (read: cutest) thing according to her. Btw, I loved that classic music is often played in museums, restaurant and public spaces in Japan. That’s what I have playing at home too.
Another Osaka highlight was the sword-fighting, samurai and ninja style class that Marcelo and Ceki took together at the Nihon Tatedo Association (not sure Ceki agrees with me posting this photo..!). Meanwhile, I took Lior and Amalya to the little shopping mall near the aquarium. Loved this shop where I bought a few funky tee shirts, and we marvelled at the big wheel for a while.
We topped our stay with a super yummy meal at the casual and economical Chibo restaurant (tel:06-6643-0111) where they have been serving okonomiyaki for over 30 years. Did you know that Osaka is the foodie capital of Japan? Okonomiyaki is a type of mega-filled pancakes cooked in front of you. You also need to try the Takoyaki, some dough balls filled with octopus… Our philosophy with eating in Japan was “you gotta try at least 3 bites of everything in your plate“. I know, I am more of a “French Children don’t throw food” type of mom. Must be the French in me. Chibo’s was our first dinner in Japan and little did I know how sticky is sticky rice…
Ps: Chibo is right inside the pedestrian street by Namba train station, around the corner from the Swissotel where we stayed. It was a rather boring hotel but perfectly located and with views to die for at breakfast time. The Turkish concierge (go figure?!) was of huge help when I bumped into her in the Takashimaya Food Hall (a must visit) and she helped me find some milk and cookies for Lior. A life saver!
With more time in Osaka, and older children, it would have been nice to organise a cycling tour or take a river cruise through the city.
NAOSHIMA Island (2 nights):
Ok. If you ask me what I preferred in Japan, I cannot answer. It’s like our trip around the world, I loved too much of it. But if you really ask me what moved me the most in Japan, it has to be Naoshima. I know, because I shed a few tears when the boat left the island. This overwhelming feeling that I will cherish the place forever in my heart.
Naoshima is actually a group of islands in the Seto Inland Sea, in the Okayama Prefecture. It’s a bit of a trip to get there, but completely do-able over 2/3 days. You take a train to Okayama, then a taxi to the ferry, and then a 20′ ferry ride across (or a private boat ride, which we did on the return and the children loved it, very James Bond-like).
The whole place is an ode to beauty and nature, art and architecture. The founder of a big Japanese publishing house commissioned the great, the marvellous, the incredible Tadao Ando, an architect whom I really got to appreciate during this trip (there’s a gem of small museum dedicated to his work on the island).
Mr Ando built a series of museums and hotel buildings that host an incredible collection of contemporary art throughout the island. You sleep with art, you eat with art, and it’s all very accessible to the children too. The ideal is to sleep at Benesse House (the Beach House is the only one open to families, and is actually the best of all 4 locations – breakfast…hmmm so good) but there are a few b&b’s on the island which seem really friendly too. In the summer, families can stay in the big tipis set up on the beach, it sounds like a lot of fun. Days are filled with visits to the three museums, going around by bicycle (if the children are old enough to ride on hills), visiting the many art installations scattered around…There’s even a bathhouse which needs to be reserved beforehand. we missed it, too bad. (note the disclosure on their webpage: you will not be allowed if you are a member of an organised crime group…not kidding)
We had a most unusual meal of burgers & pop corn in town one night, in a real American diner stuck in the fifties and run by this intriguing couple. We had another unusual (only unusual for us foreigners!) meal at the Cat Cafe NyoShima in the village.
The owner is in love with her cats, has so many we could not keep up with the count. They even have their own playground. Marcelo and Amalya were mesmerised.
Naoshima encapsulated so many images that I have of Japan. Permanent contrasts between: a celebration of nature and the factories working in the background (across the bay). Old wooden houses beautifully preserved and cutting-edge designs. Burgers and Sushi. Surprises at every corner…What do you think of Yayoi Kusama’s pumpkin on the beach?! Or Monet’s water lilies presented in a stunning minimalist room filled with natural light at the Chichu art museum. A place to be seen at least once in a lifetime.
MIYAJIMA (2 nights):
Marcelo and Amalya’s words, when we arrived on the island of Miyajima were: “it’s like a book here”. And it was a fairy tale kind of place.
Starting with our ryokan Iwaso, the most traditional place where we stayed during our trip. Deers and racoons wandered freely, we fell asleep to the sound of the river flowing by, and we bathed at the Onsen (traditional bath – read the etiquette here) of the ryokan with the water of the river.
We all loved it, especially Amalya when she saw the beautiful cake that our host brought as a surprise for her 5th birthday. What a celebration! In kimono, all of us seating cross-legged on the tatami with Lior jumping up and down the whole night. The children’s favorite part was the family falling asleep all together on a giant bed of tatamis, in our kimonos. We were so surprised when we understood that you eat and sleep in the same room, it just gets transformed when it’s time to go to bed. And back to being a living room at breakfast time. Wonderful (apart from the fishy smells that lingers in the morning but it’s all part of the experience, isn’t it?!)
Miyajima is world-famous for its beautiful floating gate facing the bay of Hiroshima. It’s stunning at low and high tides equally, and so is the nearby Itsukushima shrine.
We loved riding the cable car to the top of the island, pretty high, and hiking even further up to the temples. Nature is omnipresent on the island, you feel like you are travelling back in time.
In this idyllic setting, it is hard to imagine that Hiroshima, less than 30′ away by boat and train, has gone thru such horrors 70 years ago.
HIROSHIMA (day trip):
We spent an afternoon in Hiroshima to pay a visit to the Peace Memorial, and respect to the site. Actually, I waited with the children in the entrance of the museum while Ceki visited as we worried it would be too graphic for them. It was a good opportunity to chat with the children about the horrors of WW2, or any war as a matter of fact. We discussed the moving story of the little girl Sadako, and we took a few photos of Lior walking around with his Dandystar Peace tee-shirt.
From Hiroshima, we took the bullet train (i.e. the Shinkansen high speed train) back north to Kyoto, where we stayed for our first night on top of the tantalising train station.