Johanna Buss

Joined September 2018
  • Day69

    Escaping the crowds - Yamanobe no michi

    May 18 in Japan ⋅ 🌬 22 °C

    To be honest, the sheer number of temples in Kyoto can be quite overwhelming. As can be the crowds. And it's a Saturday, to make matters worse.
    We decide to take a break. Instead of walking through Kyoto's narrow alleys with thousands of others, we take the train and head South to Nara. Originally we had planned to go on a temple run there, however, I had read about one of Japan's oldest roads, the Yamanobe no michi, in particular a well-known part of it which runs parallel to the JR Sakurai line. The prospect of exploring a bit of Japan's countryside is tempting. So we skip Nara and get off at Miwa instead. The old pilgrimage trail (it dates back to 700 AD) leads us past and through shrines and temples, forests, small farms, a cemetery and small villages. We see a source of sacred water, a traditional swordmaker (we meet the teacher and two of his students), flowers, orchards, rice fields, two snakes (don't worry, only tiny ones) and only a few other hikers. After roughly 11km we arrive in Tenri, marvelling at Isonokami temple almost by ourselves. Little did we know that we are in for another treat: on the way to the train station we pass a HUGE temple called Tenrikyo. We hadn't seen any other foreigners for the whole day and judging by the way people look and smile at us, we are a rare sight. We probably owe this rarity for being approached by Masui Jirou. He works at the temple and when he learns that it is our first time visiting, he is eager to show us around. We have a private tour guide, how lucky! Masui Jirou teaches us how to pray and tries to explain who we are worshipping, but unfortunately the language barrier doesn't allow a deeper religious conversation. Still, we understand each other well enough to exchange some small talk and become friends on facebook. What a nice guy! And what a wonderful coincidence to discover this place. On the way home we read that Tenrikyo is a newly established religion, but their rules and aims are a bit hard to understand, even in English. As always, mankind's salvation seems to be the ultimate goal. Filled with deep gratitude for such a lovely and calm day, we head home. Let's see what tomorrow will bring.

    For those who want to follow in our footsteps: we can highly recommend this walk for anyone who would like to get out of the city and the crowds. We started at Miwa and went to Tenri,both connected to the Sakurai JR line. It is roughly 11km, with lots of sights along the way. The whole trail is much longer, leading all the way to Nara. The part we walked seemed to be quite popular, as it's easily accessible and can be cut short at various intersections. It's well signed in English and offers a bit of an insight to Japanese country living.
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  • Day68

    Kyoto east temple run

    May 17 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    I checked Japan’s tourism statistics today and found that the number of foreign visitors has quadrupled since my last visit in 2012! And, boy can you feel it!
    Kyoto is bursting with tourist. Busses - full, temple - full, streets - full! Of course there’s a reason for that. Kyoto is a stunning city with more shrines and temples than you could wish for. Also, it’s usually easy to escape the crowds. Just turn a corner away from the main attractions and you're by yourself.
    I won’t bore anybody with the details of our temple exploration tour and will simply post the photos.
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  • Day68

    PETTiROSSO - great food in Kyoto

    May 17 in Japan ⋅ 🌙 20 °C

    (This is not an ad, simply a recommendation!)
    Ok, I herewith publicly admit it. I can be quite a nuisance when it comes to travel planning. I like picking up info leaflets, read blogs, follow instagram accounts and read guidebooks. It's time extensive and sometimes I'm way too obsessed. As mentioned yesterday, everyone should make time to simply explore. Wander aimlessly without an agenda. And I do that, too!
    But then I read about places like "Pettirosso", a small restaurant/ modern style izakaya that offers fish, vegetarian and vegan dishes made from local ingredients delivered from trusted farmers. And I'm intrigued. And when we got there for dinner tonight, I was glad that I had read about it. We wouldn't have stumbled across it as it's not super central, but it doesn't have to be. Marc, the owner and a very humble Italian from Milano, has created an awesome little place that immediately reveals its charm. The Mediterranean-Japanese fusion dishes are cooked right in front of the customers on the groundfloor and upstairs offers regular as well as traditional seating areas (tatami mats where you sit on the floor). We chose a vegan and regular dinner set which consisted of a soup, four little tapas, foccacia, salad and the main dish. All of it tasted fabulous! The beverage list features organic wine, as well as local beer and a homade fermented non alcoholic drink, at the moment made of Japanese grapefruit. Delicious!
    Deeply impressed, I started a short conversation with Marc, learning that he has had the restaurant for 1.5years and is part of a vegan/vegetarian, eco friendly local group here in Kyoto. Unfortunately we had to leave and take our bus home, so we couldn't talk much more.
    Nevertheless, I strongly recommend visiting this place, if ever you are in Kyoto! Good food, good company, and clearly led and run by a team who cares.
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  • Day67

    Arashiyama - temples temples temples

    May 16 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ 24 °C

    Our first full day in Kyoto. Despite the fact that we've been touring till 11pm last night and that our hotel room is amazing, we get up early and head to Kyoto's West, a district called Arashiyama. It's mostly known for the bamboo forest that everyone want to take a picture of, but it has so much more to offer. In fact, we try to keep away from the many many tourists as much as we can and actually discover hidden gems that we hadn't planned to visit or didn't know about.
    We walk past the Togetsu bridge and spot a few blue rowing boats lined up neatly on the Katsura river. I had ditched the idea of a river cruise before due to the costs, but those tiny boats don't cost much and we can row ourselves. And so off we go, Tom quickly getting a hang of how to move the boat efficiently. It's still early and we actually manage to go as far as hardly anyone else. We even stop for a quick scramble on a rock next to river. There must be some amazing hikes here.
    However, as we need to return the boat, we head back. Next time!
    Afterwards we walk towards one of the most important temples in the area, Tenryū-ji. Apparently the gardens are a beautiful sight and so we decide to pay the entry fee. What a mistake. Undoubtedly beautiful, both the temple and the gardens are so crowded, there is no way we can enjoy our surroundings. And this continues through to the bamboo forest. Hence, we opt not to take any of the famous pictures and instead keep on walking towards the Northwest. A few hundred metres later, we discover the Jojakko-ji temple. We're almost the only people that were willing to walk those additional few meters and can't believe we've got all this beauty to ourselves. But we do and it's delightful! The old buildings/structures and beautiful gardens evoke a serenity easily to be felt by anyone walking through.
    We ponder a bit, but our growling stomachs remind us that it's lunchtime. We follow their calls and stumble across another gem. A tiny soba restaurant led by three women, serving the most delicious meal we've had so far. I order "rice in green tea" and got a bowl of rice, sprinkles with seaweed and smoked fish flakes, a pot of green tea and a plate of pickles. Pouring the green tea over the rice changes its texture and flavour every time and my believe in this nation's great food is restored.
    Satisfied, we continue to walk through little streets, lined with small shops offering souvenirs and showcasing different craftmanships until we get to the Adashino Nenbutsuji temple. It used to be a graveyard and there are still gravestones from as early as the 700s to see. The main reason I wanted to come here, however, is the fact that it houses another, less frequented, bamboo forest. But alas, it's closed due to refurbishments. Seems like we are just not meant to get this picture. We're here for memories, not picture though, right?
    So we continue to walk further up the hill, still in full on exploration mode. We even almost decide to go bushbashing to make it to a trail we can only spot on google maps satellite view, but as time is limited, we turn around and visit yet another temple. Otagi Nenbutsuji houses six Buddhist deities and 1200 statues. They are called "rakan", followers of Buddha and are the coolest statues I've seen so far. I could spend hours trying to decide which one I like best!
    We need to be back at the station in time for our train though, so we pay our respects, including ringing the bell, and walk down the direct pathway to find another surprise: Arashiyama isn't only a place of temple and bamboo but also encompasses urban farmland! How cool!
    Slowly, our feet have become tired, and both Tom and I are looking forward to the last part of our journey today: we board the "romantic train" (Tom rolling his eyes), an old cargo train, now used to take passengers 7.3km along the Hozugawa river. The trip must be breathtaking in spring during the cherry blossom season or autumn when the foliage changes its color. Today, it is a nice ride through the hilly area and the perfect ending to our day of exploration.
    What we learned: don't stick to your guidebook recommendations and follow your guts instead!
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  • Day66

    Tokyo Part 1 - A wrap up

    May 15 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    Tom’s wrap up:
    Our first few days in Tokyo have come to an end today with us jumping on a Shinkansen bullet train bound for Kyoto.
    It’s been my second time to this city and again Tokyo did not disappoint. While the last time I had a wild ride through Tokyo’s Karaoke bars, weird Manga places and its electronic craziness in Akhihabara, this time we took a closer day time look at Tokyo’s diverse sights. And there are so many!!
    My highlights include the Hamarikyu Garden in Ginza, the area of Kagurazaka and the tiny bar scene throughout Kōenji. The tiny bars are just awesome. Ranging from dark holes reminding one of opium dens to posh and stylish wine bars. There’s something for anybody.
    In general I just love the friendliness of people here. No english, no problem. If anything, they will get embarrassed for not being able to help you and do anything to make it work.

    Japan - off to a good start!

    Brief interlude on addresses in Japan for whoever’s interested (Matl):
    Addresses here are structured from big to small units. Something like: Bavaria, Oberbayern, Munich, Sendling, Block 2, Haus 4. The challenge is that houses are not numbered consecutively by location but time of registration of that house. Also streets are merely the space between blocks and rarely named; not the other way around as we are used to.
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  • Day65

    Random facts that made us wonder

    May 14 in Japan ⋅ 🌧 17 °C

    Lots of things are quite interesting in Tokyo. Here is a few that stood out to us:

    The reason why people wear face masks is not quite clear. Either they're sick or trying to avoid to be. It's a very common sight and there are lots of different models.

    In Tokyo, you can rent a space to park your bicycle.

    I'm having a very hard time not to look into people's eyes. It's a natural mean of communication for me but the Japanese seem to get along quite well without it.

    Many places have a weird way to write 1am, 2am etc.. Here it's 25:00, 26:00...

    Toilets do play water sounds and have different ways to spray your private parts. Volume and pressure can be adjusted (I had read about this and still can't believe it's true). Some.even have the option to wash your hands on top of the water tank.

    You can rent lounge spaces to hang out in Shibuya by the hour. Probably lucrative due to the tiny spaces people live in.

    If a train is delayed, the cause and all other information is displayed on trains close by as well.

    There is an abundance of bushes that smell like sperm. Jasmine maybe? Haven't figured it out yet.

    A lot of things are tiny: streets, bars, cars, gardens, spaces and even dogs.

    People seem to like flowers. Many many houses have a garden patch, vertical gardens or at least a few flower pots outside.

    You mostly pay by cash. Credit cards aren't widely accepted, instead you can use your public transport card, charged with money, to pay in registered stores.
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  • Day63

    Kagurazaka street festival

    May 12 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ 20 °C

    This Mother's day Tokyo has plenty to offer. Tom and I made a rough plan yesterday, start the day with coffee and cereal in the apartment (yes I know, boring western style but you know...) and head off to Yoyogi park. Year's ago Tom had seen many costumed Japanese hanging out here, today we are walking past plenty of sports groups, photographers, people admiring flowers and, of course, the dog park. I'm not sure I approve of dressing up your dog but it didn't seem to stop them from playing.
    The weather is beautiful and we're lucky enough to find a Thai festival on the other side of the park. Lots of food to try and buy and a few souvenir stalls try to promote Thailand as a travel destination. It's crowded and loud and FUN. Tom even wins two beers by joining a screaming competition (yes, he loves Chang ;-)) and we try some 'amawori' a traditionally brewed rice spirit. The only downfall: everything is served in plastic cups. Would you refuse to take part and taste? We discuss and don't this time, however, we have cutlery with us from now on and will be trying harder to avoid plastic consumption. Even if it is hard.
    Then it's time to head to our main destination for the day: Kagurazaka. It was once the Geisha district just in front of the Imperial palace and many people stopped here before entering. These insights are shared by Kerry, our meet up group leader. I found the event a day before and thought it would be fun to join a group to get more information about the historic street festival that's going on here. With a group of 40+ internationals (including a few Tokyoites) it is hard to get much more information across, but it is fun to get to know a few people and learn about life in Tokyo. Out of the many performances we see, the Edo marionette one amazes me the most. So much skill!
    Once the tour finishes, we say our good-byes but decide to stay back for the last performance a little later. Beautifully set to the background of the Akagi-jinja shrine, we watch a magician and three guys playing weird metal flutes. Unfortunately, we hardly understand a word, but we get the jist.
    Yosho, a girl from the meetup group, suggested a place for dinner earlier and so Tom and I, hungry nd a bit cold by now, head to our first Izakaya experience. An Izakaya is a Japanese pub, its name "i" (sit) and "sakaya"(sake) basically meaning a place to sit and drink sake. They always offer good quality food as well as it's unusual to just drink in Japan. You usually pair your drinks with at least a little something.
    Once again, we are overwhelmed even though we have an English menu in front of us. What to order? What goes with what? In the end, we settle for a plate of sashimi, udon noodles and pickled Japanese vegetables. Delicious and easy to eat, we happily enjoy our meal and Tom tries two sake as well. The best about our dinner is the fact that we can watch the kitchen and their interesting methods though. Boiling coal in a pot before it goes on the grill, grilling things on wooden spoons wrapped in tin foil that are held towards burning sticks, garnishing a salad with chopped tomatoes that are placed on the plate with chopsticks... all super interesting.
    And with our heads full of these impressions, we finally go home, exhausted, yet happy, and are already looking forward to another day of exploration.
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  • Day62

    Tokyo - first impressions

    May 11 in Japan ⋅ 🌙 21 °C

    Quick and dirty recap after the first day:
    - the trains on Friday night are full of super drunk Japanese, most of them in suits (Tom: I reckon after work drinking is popular in Tokyo... But not everybody was wasted!)
    - it's been ages that I've seen so much plastic. It's EVERYWHERE
    - recycling is a must and well spread
    - ordering food can be surprising even if there is an English menu
    - vegans with a soy allergy: good luck finding food...
    - there is few signs of public affection but young couples still cuddle
    - public transport is quite well organized, cheap and fairly easy to understand
    - I forgot how disgusting it is when people smoke inside of bars. On the other hand, there is smoking areas in public spaces. It's not just allowed anywhere outside
    - people like riding their bicycles
    - today seemed to be a popular day for weddings
    - Tokyo has its crazy corners (Harajuku for example) but just the next road can offer some peace and quiet
    - many people speak at least a few words German and will try it on you
    - a few words of Japanese aren't enough to have conversations, but they might trick your conversation partner into thinking you can communicate
    - most Japanese are super friendly, helpful and get excited about foreigners that desperately try to recall their few words of Japanese. It will earn you a lot of smiles
    - Shiba Inus (famous Japanese dog) are much smaller than I thought
    - Japanese sit down to eat and drink, even if it means blocking the way
    - Sourdough bakeries are super popular here as well
    - even sandwiches come in the form of sushi
    - there is good coffee
    - green tea leave liquor and soda might be my new favorite drink
    - Japanese tapas (such as minced tuna with avocado on garlic bread) is a thing
    - you can drink tap water in Japan
    - there is wifi everywhere
    - most places don't offer you to pay by credit card. Make sure you've got cash
    - be aware of sensory overload. Little doses of city paired with staying in a quiet park corner are advisable
    - Koenji is a neighbourhood worth to explore and I can't wait to see more of it
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  • Day61

    Next stop: Kuala Lumpur

    May 10 in Malaysia ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    4.20am Friday morning. Our plane touches the ground and we're getting ready for a 10h quick stop to explore Kuala Lumpur. A HUGE difference in price (and the curiosity on Jo's part to always take the chance to go and explore when it presents itself) made us choose an AirAsia flight to our final destination Japan, including this layover. Be aware of hidden costs when making this choice: in true low cost carrier fashion, you have to pay extra for your bags, your meals and even water! It still ended up much cheaper though.
    AirAsia planes seem to be designed for as small people as I am. If even I complain about space issues, it's real. However, as it was a night flight, both Tom and I slept through most of it and arrived in Kuala Lumpur fairly well rested.
    I am still impressed about how easy it is to enter certain countries. With no visa needed, we simply walked through immigration and entered Malaysia at about 4.45am. I had been a bit negligent about the fact that internet wouldn't be as readily available and the fidgeting with the open wifi cost us the first skybus (yes, I hadn't saved a screenshot of our tickets... duh). Everything else went as planned though. The 5.20am bus took us to the city, that still lay dormant in the dark. Early morning hours, especially during Ramadan, didn't seem to be the most active ones in Kuala Lumpur. Initially I had wanted to get to the park, but as we wouldn't have seen anything yet, we headed for coffee first. Turns out, the breaking daylight was needed to navigate our way through all the highways anyways. We finally crossed a few, walked through a hotel lobby and secretly followed fellow pedestrians to get to the part of city that was easier to walk around. I had booked a 90min tour with "withlocals", a platform connecting travellers and local travel guides, that was starting at 8am. Thanks to offline maps, we made it well in time and started to get a feel for the interesting city on the way. Old and new, rich and poor, clean and dirty, traffic and people sleeping by the road. The contrasts were later described by Siddoz as diversity, and I think that might be a better term. KL's history made it a multi ethnic city. 68%Muslims, 23%Chinese, 7%Indians and 2% who knows what all live together, creating a melting pot that is hard to describe as anything other than diverse.
    Despite the fact that it is Ramadan, Siddoz, our guide, took us out for a traditional breakfast: Nasi Lemak (fried chicken, boiled egg, anchovies and peanuts served with cucumber, rice and a spicy sambal) and cham, a local drink that mixes tea and coffee with condensed milk. I was amazed that the drinks all came in a takeaway option: a plastic bag and a straw. Siddoz pointed out that plastic bans are becoming more and more common though and that the government supported women in leading positions. His way of saying that Malaysia is a forward thinking and modern country. Palm oil, on the other hand, is regarded as a major economy boost, creating jobs and opportunities and there is little discussion about its downfalls locally. How do you approach such topics? When talking about vegetarianism, Siddoz simply mentioned that Malaysian cuisine is mainly carnivorous and vegetarian dishes are rather found in Indian and Chinese restaurants. China town seemed to be full of meat still. Our casual stroll through the market, where animals were killed to order, simply regarded as goods, not so much as living beings, made me question the meat eating once again. While both Tom and I follow a rather vegetarian diet, trying to eat meat only when we know it's been ethical sourced, I haven't turned vegetarian or vegan completely, mostly because I don't want to take away the joy of trying local dishes. But I need to be stricter after all...
    Apart from food, Siddoz introduced us to a few historic buildings and temples in the area and filled the 90min with many interesting historic facts. A really good introduction in such a short time. As the tour progressed so did the heat and humidity (it stays 31-34 degrees year around!) By the end, time didn't allow for much more than to head back to the station. Navigating the confusing streets and crazy traffic once again, we made it back. Pedestrians are really a rare sights outside of the old part of the city opposed to cars as well as bikes jumping red lights, going the wrong way or driving on the rare pedestrian walks even in front of police stations. Oh craziness, I've missed you.
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  • Day60

    Fare thee well

    May 9 in Australia ⋅ 🌬 16 °C

    The time has come to say goodbye to OZ. It took a few days to digest the fact that we are not going on a vacation, we are not just gone for a few weeks. This is in fact a goodbye. But no, I will use the much preferred German “Auf Wiedersehen” which at least conveys the notion of a reunion.
    Thank you Australia! Thanks for your amazing natural wonders, thanks for the interesting culture, thanks for the uncomplicated travel opportunities. But more than anything thanks for the people! Thanks for the friends we made, the hospitality we were lucky to experience and thanks for all the support we received in the last weeks and months! The people we met are what made the past two years fantabulous and what will leave a hole in our hearts once we’ll have jumped on the plane in just 3 hours!

    We’ll miss you all terribly!

    Jo and Tom
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