weird things I've discovered since coming here, but there's so much more to talk about in terms of the food here in Japan. I may have eaten a lot of weird and wonderful things in my lifetime, but that still wasn't enough to prepare me for most of the culture shocks I'd experience...
1. Ordering at the sushi train. At least in my area, no one actually picks up sushi off the conveyor belt. Instead, the preferred method is to order the dish and have it made just for you! I've been to places where you can do it via a touch screen, write it on a slip of paper or even just call out what you want to the chef. It's a lot better than sitting and waiting for that salmon sashimi to come around, that's for sure.
2. Usually, you'll be served more rice than you know how to deal with. For one, when you order ramen in Japan the fun doesn't end there. Sometimes tonkotsu varieties are served with rice, which you're meant to mix and eat with the leftover broth at the end. When I went to Kyoto, I was also surprised to find out that eating rice with okonomiyaki is a thing!
3. Hot food in Japan isn't really that spicy. The one exception to the rule would have to be this tsukemen I ate at Tetsuya's, which definitely didn't hold back on the chilli powder. But apart from that, it's super hard to find food that's actually spicy here! Even when I buy store-bought kimchi here it seems to have a sweeter taste, probably to cater to Japanese tastebuds.
4. Eating with large groups is a breeze. Most restaurants here allow you to pay betsu betsu, or basically in separate bills. This is something I seriously wish was more common in Australia! Handling small change is the bane of my existence, and can make a simple meal feel more like I'm in maths class at times.
5. One word: natto. If you've never heard of it, natto is a Japanese food that most foreigners (myself included) can't seem to get their head around. It's basically fermented soybeans, but if you ask me? It kind of smells like dirty socks and the texture can only be described as snot-like. But for some reason, I've never met a Japanese person who doesn't love it! I guess it’s kind of like a Vegemite situation, where the only people who like it are Australians themselves.
Lately I haven't actually been eating out much, what with classes starting again and the fact that I want to save a bit of cash. Not to mention it's getting really cold here at the moment, so venturing outside is kind of the last thing I want to do! Despite having a heater and thermals at the ready, I honestly have no idea how I'm going to survive the coming months. It's going to be a long winter...
To round off my first day in Kyoto I decided to visit Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺), a Buddhist temple that's completely covered in gold leaf. Since it was overcast the building didn't look that golden first, but luckily the clouds parted long enough for it to really shine! I could've stared at it forever, but sadly my time was cut short since the place closes at 5pm. The same actually applies to a lot of attractions in Kyoto, so definitely keep that in mind if you ever make a trip.
Your ticket into the Golden Pavilion. The entrance fee's a bit steep at 400 yen, but I guess they have to maintain that gold leaf somehow...
Surprise surprise, this isn't actually the first version of Kinkaku-ji! Around fifty years ago the original was burnt down by a young monk and had to be rebuilt. There's no way of going inside, but today the temple houses precious buddhist relics.
The kouyou, or autumn leaves were just emerging during my visit but sadly I was too early to catch them during their peak. Anyway despite being my second visit, I felt like I was seeing Kinkaku-ji with fresh eyes this time around. I'll definitely be back!
My friend and I decided to try out these tofu and pork buns while we were strolling around, and they were piping hot! There was definitely no shortage of treats to choose from though; Kyoto is a city famous for its traditional crafts and handmade sweets.
Some of the shrines we visited were so small, I didn't even catch the names of them. And yes, apparently there's a wheel used in Buddhism that has the same name as me! You never know what you'll discover while travelling...
Without even planning it, my friend and I found ourselves at Heian Shrine (平安神宮) after a lot of wandering through Kyoto's tiny backstreets. The place gave me some serious palace vibes, and for a pretty good reason too! Apparently the buildings are actually modelled after Kyoto Imperial Palace, so the architecture mirrors the style of the 11th-12th century.
Lucky for us there happened to be some sort of lantern performance outside the shrine's entrance, even though they're usually reserved for Gion Matsuri. Passersby were even invited to take pictures with them while they were being suspended, haha!
The larger than life torii gates that can be found just outside the shrine. Anyway, while you may think I've already featured most of Kyoto's shrines and temples so far, the truth is you haven't seen anything yet. Until next time!
I ended up travelling solo because I knew if I didn't, I probably wouldn't get the chance to visit Kyoto at all this year. To be fair I wasn’t alone the whole time, and was lucky enough to have friends to meet up with along the way. But it was the first time I planned everything on my own, and for two days I was pretty much left to my own devices. Let me tell you, it's incredible how much more you can see when you're able to travel at your own pace. That's a whole other topic I won't get into now, though!
Anyway, my first stop after arriving in Kyoto was the ever famous Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺). The name literally means clear water in Japanese, and actually originates from a waterfall within the area. Since so many people were lining up here my friend and I thought this was some kind of wish-granting fountain, but nope! Apparently it's just a much cooler way of cleansing yourself before entering the temple.
While Buddhism and Shintoism are the two main religions that are practised in Japan, you'll find that they're actually intertwined in more ways than one. It's not rare to find Shinto shrines that actually exist inside Japanese temples, which is exactly the case at Kiyomizu-dera! You'll find a small shrine in there dedicated to enmusubi, or all things love and marriage-related.
This is koi uranai no ishi, or basically a stone that will tell your love fortune. There's an identical one ten metres away, and apparently if you can walk straight from one to the other with your eyes closed your love wish will be granted. I'm not exactly sure what the rules are, but I was pretty amused to see some school kids trying out their luck with a teacher guiding them along the way haha!
A pagoda overlooking the Kyoto cityscape. Since Kiyomizu-dera is pretty much on top of a mountain, don't forget to bring your walking shoes with you! The journey to the top was definitely a bit of a hike for me. Anyway, stay tuned for more pictures from my trip soon!
The concept of time is such a weird thing when you're studying abroad. There's so much pressure on this year to be the best experience of your life, but the reality is that you'll laugh. You'll cry. It's not perfect, and there'll be times when all you want is to come home to mum's cooking waiting on the table. Yet, there's so much more to gain from living in a new country that makes it all worthwhile. You meet so many people you never imagined you'd meet in your life, and are forced to push yourself way outside of your comfort zone. Now that I've reached the six month mark here in Japan, I find myself wondering if a year really is enough to complete everything I want to achieve here.
Anyway, it's been a minute since my last update but not without good reason! Autumn is synonymous with back to school season, and I've been busy with new classes and the challenges that come with them. I've also said goodbye to some of my closest friends, and said hello to the new faces that have popped up around my university. Even though I barely have enough time to do my laundry (I know, totally gross) it feels good to be busy, even if it's tiring at times. There are so many inspiring people around me who are in the same boat as me, and they push me to keep learning, keep improving my Japanese, and keep finding joy in the little things that make this country unique.
Moving away from the cheesy stuff, I still have so much to share from my summer break, which included a short stint in Kyoto! In fact, I went a little overboard and came home with over two thousand photos to sort through. It might take a while, but I definitely haven't forgotten about my dear old blog. Bear with me until then, and look forward to some fresh travel posts soon!