Japan Memories Day 20: A Magical Day at Ghibli Museum!

This is day 20 of revisiting my journal from our trip to Japan last year! If you’d like to start at the beginning, here is day 1.

So, day 20, here we go!

From Shauna’s Journal

Day 20, October 20th, 2017

Today was a magical day. We finally went to the Ghibli museum in Mitaka<3 

What a special place. Being huge Studio Ghibli fans, it was one of the “must go” places for our trip, and since the regular tickets for the month sold out the DAY they were released online, we had to book a tour package. We paid a lot of extra money for a bus ride to the museum from a hotel in Shinjuku and a “tour guide” who gave us some tips and info while on the bus. Still, worth every penny! Our guide took our picture at the entrance to the museum but the “tour” ended there- the creators of Ghibli Museum want it to be a place of exploration and discovery. 

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Ghibli Museum has a rule of no cameras or phones to be used inside for photo taking (outside is ok). I’m very glad, because knowing me I would have been trying to take pictures of all of the wonderful things inside, seeing them through the screen of a device rather than my own eyes. It was lovely to just enjoy every moment without the urge to snap pictures everywhere. I did purchase a couple of photo books from the Reading Room shop to help me relive the special memories of Ghibli Museum. 

The museum is so wonderful, certainly the most memorable and awe-inspiring “museum” I’ve ever visited. Some rooms were open and airy, with frescoes of Ghibli inspiration and stained glass windows. Others were crammed full of so many interesting things- antiques, relics, storyboards, paintings, sketches, film strips, art and sculpture, shadowboxes, eye-trick illusions, hidden messages- that you could spend all day examining the details.

One favorite exhibit of mine was a special limited-time interactive display room with focus on food in Ghibli films- humble, everyday meals that are rendered in realistic, mouth-watering detail and even carry significance in the plot. 

I was also transfixed by the giant zoetrope, a spinning lightbox, which had Ghibli figures inside in various transitioning poses so that, when spinning, it creates moving images (Totoro hopping, a bat flying, etc.) 

We visited the takeout cafe window outside and had hotdogs, springrolls, ice cream, beer (me), and applejuice (Dustin). 

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Visitors to the Ghibli museum are given the special opportunity to watch an original animated short film in the Saturn Theater. These films are not available anywhere else, as Ghibli museum wants them to be another special part of the magic for visitors. The films are rotated regularly, and the one that was playing this October was Koro’s Big Day Out, a film about a dog who escapes while looking for the little girl who left for school and gets lost in the streets of Tokyo- it had a happy ending but I cried during most of the last half. I hadn’t cried in FOREVER! In fact, I had started worrying that my anxiety medications were stifling my ability to cry, so it was a bit of a release for me. I felt thankful to Studio Ghibli for showing me I can still cry!

Dustin took my picture on the rooftop with the robot from Castle in the Sky.

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We visited the main gift shop, Mama Aiuto, which the bus tour guide had told us is both a reference to characters from Porco Rosso as well as a cheeky moniker that pokes fun at how kids will plead “Please, Mama, Help!!!” when they see the exciting goodies inside. The shop was cram packed. I bought a Koro stuffie to ease my heart (I was still sniffling from the film) and I couldn’t help but pick up a bunch of other little things- postcards, pins, bookmarks, and plushies to remember this special place by. 

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We departed on a very cramped yellow Ghibli bus back to the station and on to the Ryokan. I’m very exhausted now, both from a very stimulating day and from the last few late nights, so I am just catching up on journal writing and plan to have a bath, relax, and get a good night’s sleep!

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The museum tickets are made from real film reel pieces!

Tomorrow is Day 21: Last Free Day in Japan, Revisiting Favourites, Trouble at Yodobashi Camera, and Lunch with Friends!

 

 

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Japan Memories Day 19: Sawanoya Ryokan, Hantei Kushiage, Nakano Broadway, Queen Dolce Danso Cafe and Relaxing Ryokan Soak!

This is day 19 of revisiting my journal from our trip to Japan last year! If you’d like to start at the beginning, here is day 1.

So, day 19, here we go!

From Shauna’s Journal

Day 19, October 19th, 2017

This morning we squished all of our stuff into our suitcases (the expandable duffle-bags we’d brought in our carry-on were too awkward and bulky to carry in stations and on trains, so we invested in some hard roller luggage) and we lugged our way to the station in the pouring rain. It looks like the weather will be rainy for the rest of our visit, and Okinawa is currently at risk of being hit with a super-typhoon 😦 

With roller luggage it wasn’t too bad getting through stations. Then we taxied from the station to Sawanoya Ryokan. We arrived very early, so we stored our bags with the kind staff and went out in search for food ❤ I had a place in mind- Hantei.

Hantei are known for their kushiage, and after eating there, we know why. Dusty and I both agreed that it was one of our best meals in Japan. Light, deep-fried foods with crisp outer layer. Mmm!!! I told the staff their kushiage is saiko (the highest) and they were very happy- they don’t need to know it is the ONLY kushiage i’ve ever had! XD

Next we headed to Nakano Broadway together, a nerd paradise we’d been planning to see but hadn’t gotten to yet. It was like a 4 story labrinthe of cramped stores where some gems were hidden. We got some (crazy cheap, probably bootleg?) figurines, and I found a store (a lashinbang) with a great deal on drama CDs!

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After Nakano Dusty was all shopped out, but I still had energy to explore, so I headed to another cafe I was curious about: Theme Cafe #9: Queen Dolce Danso Cafe. At Queen Dolce, the staff are Danso girls who crossplay as handsome Ikemen! Another fun, fascinating, only-in-japan experience. 

Here is a video about Queen Dolce by @suppinjapan for anyone who is wondering what sort of place this might be!

I used a coin locker at Akiba station to store my shopping bags and headed toward the cafe. The streets of Akiba felt completely different in the darkness of night- not scary or anything like that, but different all the same. The rain pounded down and girls from maid cafes stood on the sidewalks in their dresses and raincoats looking rather miserable and cold, but still smiling at passersby and doing their best to promote their cafes.

I walked on, and I have never had more stares in my direction than that afternoon- it was chilly and rainy but I’d forgotten my sweater at the ryokan and was wearing a shirt with open shoulders. People kept doing double-takes and saying things to their companions like “Ah! Gaijin!… Samui!” (Ah! Cold, foreigner!?) and cradling their elbows. I wished I could reassure them “I’m from Canada, this is nothing! Really, i’m fine!” but I didn’t want to cause a scene…

After some issues with google maps again, I found the cafe- once more, this place was tucked away on the third floor of a nondescript hotel/office building, so it was obvious to anyone interested that I didn’t just stumble upon the place- I’d sought it out for sure!

At first my venture into the cafe was suuuuuuper awkward. I had been planning on having a simple meal at the cafe as it had been a long time since I’d eaten at Hantei, but as it was late afternoon the Danso cafe had stopped serving food. So, I ended up sipping cocktails and munching on cheese pretzels as I sat at my lonely table. The staff weren’t comfortable with English so we weren’t able to communicate very well, so at first I was feeling a bit uncomfortable and thinking WHY DO I GO ALONE TO THESE CAFES AHHHHH…

Eventually a spot opened up at the bar counter and I sat down beside a girl who spoke English quite well and made a new friend 🙂 we shared pictures of our dogs and our dolls, and discussed kpop, travelling, all kinds of stuff. 

Eventually, with my new friend helping translate between us, I was able to communicate with the staff more and we had fun joking about Canada, Japan, and communication problems with the other bar patrons. So, it ended up being fun 🙂

Each staff member has their own signature cocktail at Queen Dolce, so when you order it you get a laminated photo of that Danso Butler. They also offer instant photos in fun poses (such as KABE DON) so I got some pictures with them to keep a memory of this unique experience!

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I got back to the ryokan and had a calming soak with Dustin in one of the big tubs. Not an onsen technically, but relaxing in its own way- not so hot as to be overwhelming (so you can soak longer) and deep. It also has a window that can be opened to let out steam and let in fresh, cool air, giving a view of a small pond, plants, and fish swimming lazily around. The small bath has an owl statue staring in at you, while the large one has a frog staring away.

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This ryokan is very charming and the owner is a sweet old man- I bought the book he wrote about his experiences running a ryokan with his family that has actively welcomed foreign visitors for many years, and I’m really interested in reading it. I can only imagine the shenanigans and cultural lessons learned on both sides, as even in these short three weeks I’ve experienced so much immersive culture shock, happiness, embarrassment, and more feelings than I can describe. Japan is incredible. 

Tomorrow is Day 20: A Magical Day at Ghibli Museum!

Japan Memories Day 18: Shibuya Scrambled Fashion, Revisiting Akiba, VAMPIRE CAFE and My Bloody Surprise!?!?!

This is day 18 of revisiting my journal from our trip to Japan last year! If you’d like to start at the beginning, here is day 1.

So, day 18, here we go!

From Shauna’s Journal

Day 18, October 18th, 2017

Dusty and I each took off for some solo activities today. First I headed to Shibuya to check out the famous Shibuya Scramble and Shibuya 109. The scramble was a big wave of people all crossing at once, although it was similar to some of the scrambles in Ikebukuro- just bigger! I saw some people doing a Mario Kart race.

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Mario Kart in Shibuya!

Shibuya 109 was a seemingly never-ending tower of fast fashion- it was overwhelming, and although I rode the escalators all the way to the top and did a walkaround of every floor, I didn’t buy one thing.

I also went to Akiba again, roaming and exploring. I ate a delicious crepe from Crazy Crepes and got some more ball-jointed doll supplies at Rajio Kaikan. 

Next came the highlight of my day- Theme Cafe #8: the Vampire Cafe in Ginza. Ginza is not an area that I would spend much time normally- it is full of expensive boutique shops that are intimidating- it’s hard to find a casual restaurant or a place to have a leisurely browse. However, the Vampire Cafe was one of the places that I REALLY wanted to visit, so I entered Ginza, feeling sort of like Tsukimi from Princess Jellyfish- a meek geeky girl entering the land of The Stylish. 

The Vampire Cafe was a b!t<h to find. I’m glad I left early, as I was wandering around for about an hour trying to find it- it’s on the 7th floor of a hotel building, and the tall buildings in Ginza were throwing off my GPS, I think. 

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I arrived and was greeted and seated by two vampiric men in heavy eyeliner and hooded clothes. The place is decorated to the nines- blood cell pattern on the hallway floors, candles and coffins, skulls, satin, and vampire kitsch. 

I got a little booth to myself (Maika kindly helped me make a reservation but I doubt I would have needed it anyway) and my booth had a blood-red curtain that made my spot feel cosy and private. I was provided with a drink menu in the shape of a coffin featuring cocktails such as Dracula, Nosferatu, Carmilla and Necromancer. I ordered the latter.

The menu for food offered such delicacies as Van Helsing’s Dead Body (a meat dish), and several other strange meals. My waiter brought me a complimentary fried-lizard appetizer. (It wasn’t a real lizard… I think…)

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I ordered a “squid ink” pasta calamari dish that came with DEATH written on the plate in chocolate (?) powder and a long scythe. A crispy skull chip (?) also adorned my plate. 

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I had special drinks and desserts as well, such as Pumpkin Juice and Jack’s Pumpkin Head.

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The waiters spoke in theatrically low voices. I heard them chuckling about me (“something something gaijin something hahaha”). Yes, the awkward shy gaijin came alone. I HAVE NO SHAME! XD

So, i’ve been there for about an hour by this point, and i’m feeling a tad left down that Vampire Rose, the face of the establishment, hasn’t appeared. Oh well, I thought, it was fun anyway. But then I heard a couple of girls a few tables over squeeing about something. And then I saw his unmistakable lavishly dressed silhouette. 

I worked up the courage to ask my waiter if Vampire Rose’s CD was for sale (he is a visual kei artist, and the lead singer in a vampire heavy metal band!) which it was. So he said “chotto matte” (hang on a sec) and left me for several minutes of anticipation. And as i’d surmised, it was Vampire Rose who came to give me the CD. 

My blood-red curtain was thrown back instantly in a flash. I was caught off guard. He said something in Japanese that I didn’t catch. I said “good evening”. He said more things (in the deep, theatrical voice) to which I nodded and kept saying “hai. Hai.” (yes, yes) despite having no clue what I was responding to. He seemed to realize I was flustered and from then on he had a smirk plastered on his face o.o

I paid for the CD and asked if he would please sign it. He got a silver marker and wrote my name, his signature, and the date.

Then I plucked up the courage to ask “shashin wa… daijobu?” (a picture… is it alright?), since I knew that the cafe staff often took pictures with visitors. He said yes and when I stood up he placed his hand on the small of my back and steered me to the middle of the cafe.

I stood awkwardly beside him as a staff member took my phone for a photo. I was wondering what to do with myself for the photo (how does one pose for a photo with a vampire?) when suddenly Vampire Rose’s hand took a vice-grip on the back of my neck. It was… amazing XD the vampire fangirl in me sang out silently and I felt the blood rushing to my cheeks. He held on until the photo was taken. 

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As the picture was being taken I heard some girls exclaim “kawaii!”- I think at my fangirlishness over Vampire Rose. I can’t help it!~ I thanked the staff and floated back to my table to grab my bags.

So finally I am about to leave and I ask Rose where the bathroom is. He walks me a few steps and then points at a cluster of concave skulls in the middle of the crowded resturaunt and meets my eyes. I look at him like… huh!? And he smiles “kidding!” pointing me to the (real) restroom down the hall. I felt his smirk on my back as I escorted myself out. 

When I finally got back to our hotel in Ikebukuro some time later, I was buzzing with excitement as I told Dustin all about the Vampire Cafe. I sat on the edge of the bed, fangirling shamelessly to my husband, when I took off my shoes.

“Huh” I remarked- “the dye on my shoes must have rubbed off on my (white) socks?” Dustin looked over at my socks, saturated red.

“Wait. My shoes are blue”. 

I walked so much today that, by the time I reached the vampire cafe, my feet were literally BLEEDING ALL OVER MY SOCKS. 

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Tomorrow is Day 19: Hello Sawanoya Ryokan, Hantei Kushiage, Nakano Broadway, Queen Dolce Danso Cafe and Relaxing Ryokan Soak!

 

 

Japan Memories Day 17: Sayonara Kinosaki, and We Meet Again Tokyo!

This is day 17 of revisiting my journal from our trip to Japan last year! If you’d like to start at the beginning, here is day 1.

So, day 17, here we go!

From Shauna’s Journal

Day 17, October 17th, 2017

I got up before 7 so I could go to an onsen before breakfast and checkout. I was tired, but an onsen is a great way to wake yourself up… after another excellent breakfast and a little chat with the owners, we were off. They gave us this lovely thank-you note!

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While leaving Kinosaki behind is hard, it also felt good to go back to Ikebukuro in a weird way. Our home-base. We are staying in the Tokyu Stay again for a couple of days before we will move again to the Sawanoya Ryokan in Ueno- the last home of our trip.

Dustin and I did a little shopping together, and later in the afternoon I stopped by the BL cafe- my new friend Tequila Queen (Yuri) was there and we shared our twitter accounts 😀 I tried a tequila sunrise (super yummy) and then another… and I ate a yummy bbq chahara dish. I met some new staff tonight as well, Kakeru and Mitako. Mitako and I sang This Is Halloween 🙂

 

Tomorrow is Day 18: Shibuya Scrambled Fashion, Revisiting Akiba, VAMPIRE CAFE and My Bloody Surprise!?!?!

Japan Memories Day 16: Kinosaki Onsen Soak, Zen Temple, Crab Hotpot, and the World’s Best Risotto!

This is day 16 of revisiting my journal from our trip to Japan last year! If you’d like to start at the beginning, here is day 1.

So, day 16, here we go!

From Shauna’s Journal

Day 16, October 16th, 2017

This morning’s breakfast included rice, egg, soup, sausage. all kinds of tasty stuff. After breakfast I checked out the TV- lots of funny and cute shows and commercials (animal mating rituals! People and their pets! Infomercials! XD). 

Next, I went down to one of the other onsen in town- it was the most relaxing onsen yet. Goshono-Yu. Indoor and outdoor onsen with a waterfall, sauna, and a stone bench with flowing water and a footbath. I stayed and soaked for over an hour. The cascading bench and footbath provided the perfect spot to sit when the overwhelming heat of full immersion in the onsen became too much for me. 

Dustin and I had lunch at a local spot- my rice with crab was SCRUMPTIOUS.

Then we got delicious ice cream that I didn’t drop on the floor this time! Mine was a scoop of “burnt condensed milk” and a scoop of regular milk flavors. 

We went for a stroll around and found a gorgeous zen temple. In the back was a peaceful cemetery with waters flowing down the rockwork and many weathered stones. 

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Tonight’s dinner was crab hotpot- amazing. I think this area is known for their crab. Then the maid took all of the veggies and bits remaining in the broth out (she found the “Japanese pickle” I had added and thought it was funny- I guess you eat those separately and don’t flavour your soup with them!) She added rice and whipped egg to the remaining crab meat, making “Japanese risotto”. It was so good that I was sad that I was already so full and couldn’t enjoy more of it!

When another woman came to give us dessert (apple-pear matcha mochi) I told her that the risotto is the best, highest risotto, best in the world! She complimented my Japanese (so many compliments, but I know they are being kind- my Japanese is very basic. I want to learn more).

So, we had another soak in the private onsen, and I used their vibrating foot massager thing, and now we are just relaxing and getting ready to journey back to Tokyo tomorrow!

Tomorrow is day 17: Sayonara Kinosaki, and We Meet Again Tokyo!

Japan Memories Day 15: Kinosaki Straw Handicrafts and Impressive Autumn Festival!

This is day 15 of revisiting my journal from our trip to Japan last year! If you’d like to start at the beginning, here is day 1.

So, day 15, here we go!

From Shauna’s Journal

Day 15, October 15th, 2017

Breakfast is served in the banquet room between 8 and 8:30. Dustin had said to let him sleep as we’d assumed it would be buffet style like at Takaragawa, but when I saw how a table was set for 2 with an elaborate breakfast set, I went back downstairs and woke him up for it. It was delicious- grilled fish, rice, tamagoyaki, salad, soup, tofu… so much food!

After breakfast I reserved our onsen time and the woman at the desk brightened when I spoke in Japanese. It was a rainy, windy day, but we did some exploring around and found there was a festival for autumn happening. I asked a maid and she said it is called Danjiri (a cart pulling festival). Lots of men and boys were pushing these huge floats around in a display of a battle. There were 6 floats in all I think, carried by hand and heaved around. There were drummers inside!

We had coffee at a charming little local cafe (well, cafe au lait for me and a banana berry smoothie for Dustin) as well as some crab sandwiches. We also got some trinkets from some interesting shops, and visited a small museum about straw handicrafts that the area is known for- muguwara zaishi- it was very interesting. A skillful craft.

We watched a video showing all the work that goes into it, and it made us appreciate it a lot. I bought a few souvenirs from the museum: these are comparatively simple to the designs shown in the video and the ones we saw in the museum, but no less beautiful!

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We got ice cream at one of the shops, and while I was paying I dropped all of my ice cream (matcha soft-serve) on the floor T-T the lady was very nice about it and gave me another, though. 

At another shop a kind old man who laughed a lot and reminded me of my Grampy chatted with me about Halloween, the local festival, and straw handicrafts. He showed me some straw art hanging on the wall with a stork on it, and said “this bird… brings a baby!” with a knowing smile. We joked about my family wanting a baby, and when I said “aw heck, I’ll take it!” (the stork art) and told him “i’ll tease my husband with it!” he shook my shoulders playfully and thought it was great. I also picked out a teensy dog stuffie to buy and when he read the description tag he said “this cat called… Pagu” (it’s a pug). I told him that I have a pug-beagle dog at home that I miss very much! He also recommended this silk (?) postcard of Kinosaki, and I can’t say no to a cute old man!

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A local told me that the festival finale would be happening in the centre of town between the bridges, so I headed there before dinner. He told me I was very lucky to be in Kinosaki at the time of the autumn festival, as it was quite the sight to see. Very impressive displays with the man-lifted floats and drumming that continued into the night.

Dinner tonight was impressive again- crab, shrimp, beef, lots of little sides. Immaculately carved oranges for dessert. We tried the smaller onsen tonight. So relaxing. 

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Tomorrow is Day 16: Kinosaki Onsen Soak, Zen Temple, Crab Hotpot, and the World’s Best Risotto!

Japan Memories Day 14: Goodbye Kyoto, Hello Beautiful Kinosaki Onsen Town!

This is day 14 of revisiting my journal from our trip to Japan last year! If you’d like to start at the beginning, here is day 1.

So, day 14, here we go!

From Shauna’s Journal

Day 14, October 14th, 2017

Goodbye Kyoto. Today we head to Kinosaki. We hailed a taxi to Kyoto station where we ate some yummy ramen and saw some school bands playing (they were very good!)

 

 

The shinkansen to Kinosaki was nearly 2 hours long, with gorgeous views the entire way. Mountains, fields, cute little towns with gardens everywhere, paths leading up steep hills of intense greenery.

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When we arrived in the town station, a woman asked if we had a reservation at one of the ryokan. She pointed us in the direction of our ryokan, the Mikunia.

 

We checked in and were shown our room by a kind young man. We had a mixup over yukata (summer kimono to wear around the inn and town). I later found out he was telling me I could choose a coloured Yukata downstairs if I wanted an alternate colour to the standard grey yukata provided, but at the time I thought he was simply asking what colour I preferred, so I said “blue or pink would be great, thank you” in my best Japanese.

He brought me two lovely and elaborate yukata and said “one for today, one for tomorrow?” with a grin. Soon after though, the maids came in and were fretting over my yukata selections (not sure why, maybe the colours or patterns didn’t match the season?) and they took the blue one away, to which he began apologizing to me and I was like “oh, it’s ok! It’s ok!”

The maids were also concerned about Dustin’s yukata size (he’s a big guy) and we were trying to explain that he had bought a personal yukata in Kyoto and brought it with him. Then later, when I tried on my pretty pink yukata, a maid appeared and I showed her that my yukata was much too long for me. I didn’t realize that it was a different kind of yukata than the ones we wore in Takaragawa- this one was a fancier type, using two obi (sashes) to hold it up and customize the length.

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Once we figured out all of the yukata confusion, we had a stroll around the gorgeous town of Kinosaki- river with koi fish, bridges and trees, little shops, and footbaths.

 

We were given a kaiseki shabu shabu meal in our room (SO DELICIOUS), after which the table was cleared and moved aside, and our futon set up on the tatami.

 

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We arrived a bit late so our onsen reservation for private soak was the last slot of the day (11pm) and I had to nap first as I was exhausted- but the wait was worth it. Dustin and I had the little onsen to ourselves and enjoyed soaking in the hot water together. The steam and heat prepares you for a good night’s sleep.

Tomorrow is day 15: Kinosaki Straw Handicrafts and Impressive Autumn Festival!