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A group of 12 very enthusiastic tour participants led by yours truly, Melissa Luyke of Hyogo Cultural Centre, will be departing Perth on Sunday, November 5 for two weeks of glorious Japanese autumn colours throughout Hyogo, Hiroshima, and the Kansai Region. We have a jam packed schedule and can’t wait to share our daily program with you. We promise to blog about the best of the daily events, make you drool with envy at our foodie pics, and hopefully have a few embarrassing moments to make you giggle. By the end of this blog you’ll be begging to join the next tour! Wish us luck!
While several of our tour team have been to a Japan previously it seems it was the first time for them all to experience the incredible Kazurabashi (vine bridge) and the Oboke Koboke Gorge area of the Iya Valley in Tokushima Prefecture. This was a really wonderful experience and justified the loooong coach ride from Kurashiki to Tokushima that saw us driving twisty mountain roads in the dark.
Just over half the group braved the vine bridge, which nowadays has steel cables under the vines to make it safer for people to cross. From there we then enjoyed a short pleasure cruise through the gorge area. The scenery, as in all of our chosen locations, was amazing.
The tour team stayed at Obokekyo Mannaka and were greeted on arrival with waving Australian flags and personalised letters of welcome in our rooms. After yet another wonderful dinner we staggered into our rooms for a well earned sleep.
What is it about Japanese food that just makes you want to keep eating?! Everything just seems so delicious and the presentation is always so stunning that you just want to try it all. All tour participants are complaining of their pants becoming a little too tight on this tour, but it’s not stopping us! We’ll deal with that when we get back home.
Our tour team gathered at Kobe station at 11am on Sunday morning fresh faced and full of stories after a two night home stay. There were a few tears shed and exchanges of last minute gifts as host families said goodbye…Their hospitality and generosity has completely overwhelmed us all.
We headed off on the coach to Awaji Island, which in mythology is regarded as the birthplace of Japan. After stopping at the Service Area to take the obligatory photos of Akashi Kaikyo, the world’s longest suspension bridge, we then grabbed a bite to eat before taking the coach to our next activity. I couldn’t resist this beautiful Autumn inspired one to for just 900 yen.
Our first activity was to see the Naruto Whirlpools by way of a sailing ship cruise. Everyone was in hysterics as we were told to wave at the staff as we departed the terminal. The staff responded by waving back with giant hands. The whirlpools are a natural phenomenon in the straits between Awaji Island and Tokushima. The cruise was lovely and calm and our members thoroughly enjoyed the brisk sea air.
Following the cruise our group walked across from the ferry terminal to see the famous Awaji Ningyo (Awaji Puppet Theatre). The puppeteer explained how the puppets worked and demonstrated how 3 people were required to manipulated a single puppet. The performance itself was a story several hundred years old and terribly sad, but our participants thoroughly enjoyed the raw emotion and performance skills of not only the puppeteers, but also the storyteller and the shamisen musician.
After our traditional culture fix we headed off to our hotel for the evening – Awaji Westin Hotel, which forms part of the Awaji Yumebutai International Conference Centre. Awaji Yumebutai, literally “Dream Stage”, is an incredible facility set out on 28 hectares of land. Designed by Tadao Ando, Yumebutai is a setting of extreme beauty and is well worth a look. The hotel rooms are also spacious and superbly comfortable. Our tour participants were overwhelmed by the luxury!!
Awaji Island is famous for its onions so at the recommendation of the hotel staff we couldn’t resist trying an onion flower… delicious!!
Kyoto at any time of year is clearly a place of incredible beauty. However, the Autumn colours really do create a stunning backdrop like no other. A word of warning though! November is the season for school trips throughout Japan so there are literally school groups as far as the eye can see. It makes getting around quite tricky, but the views are still very much worth it.
In Kyoto we visited Arashiyama, Toei Movie Studio, Kinkakuji (the golden temple), Kiyomizudera, and Fushimi Imari shrine. Despite the rain on the second day our group was in fine spirits and the sea of umbrellas was something to behold!
It is tour tradition to pass on the 本日の主役 (honjitsu no shuyaku) sash to a new person each day as we celebrate their special achievements (or spectacular failures!!). The person wearing the sash gets to choose the next recipient each evening and the recipient then needs to spend the day in Japan wearing the sash. Our participants have so far received many “congratulations”, “happy birthday”, and “well done” messages from complete strangers, but last night Bill actually received flowers from the hotel as they assumed he was a person to be honoured. Of course none of these well wishers know what our participants have done to receive their “Person of the Day” sash, but they are certainly proud and excited for us!
The Tour Team has repeatedly remarked on the amazing customer service that one receives when travelling throughout Japan. No question is too difficult, no need too great to be catered for by one of our ever smiling, ever accommodating staff. However, the need to wave at any given moment has now become quite the joke amongst our group. Whenever we arrive somewhere or leave somewhere there is always some obliging staff member waving madly at us. We have been practicing our waving skills to return the favour and are getting pretty good! Not quite to the level of the wave we received as we departed on the Uzushio Whirlpool cruise though 🙂
Friday presented the Tour Team with a free day and an opportunity to explore at their leisure. Some of the group woke early, nice and relaxed after enjoying a long awaited soak in the hotel’s Onsen the previous evening. Many took the opportunity to wander the quaint streets of Arima, experiencing the foot bath and enjoying the spectacular colours of the park area. Later in the morning the group dispersed with one heading off towards northern prefectures for the weekend and some lucky enough to have friends meet them in Arima for a day of sightseeing and catch ups. A group joined me on the train back to Kobe for a chance to explore this beautiful city a little more and even indulge in some shopping in the street malls that seem to stretch on forever.
Hopefully it was a day of complete relaxation for all and a chance to settle the nerves before everyone embarks on home stay.