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Welcome to my blog!

If you are in for an adventure paired with lengthy, quirky, brutal honest thoughts then you are in the right place.

My name is Arisa and was a cosplayer for 12 years in Malaysia before settling down in Kyoto, Japan. Exploring Japan full time has been a long time dream of mine, so let's explore it together!
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Day Trip to Ohara, Kyoto

Since state emegercy has been lifted almost a month ago and everyone is adjusting to the "new normal", honestly speaking though things seems to be more lax among the locals, we still gotta be diligent whenever we are out. We have to keep in mind that viruses don't just "disappear" just because the news stops reporting about it.

Our days in Kyoto has been quite calm and slow, which was surprisingly refreshing because it has always been over crowded with tourists (local & foreign) making it hard for us to enjoy going out even for once a week family outings, so we took this crowd free opportunity to explore around Kyoto (in a responsible manner of course) and hunt for ajisai (hydrangeas) as they are in season right now and its the peak too!  

This was what lead me to this small rural town of Ohara, I've not heard of this place previously because i'm not one to sit down and stare at the map all day planning visitation routes but if i do come across it by chance, i'll most definitely bookmark it XD

Also turns out my favourite Tsukemono restaurant- DOI at Kyoto station (hachijoguchi entrance), their main branch and farm is actually in Ohara, people actually drive up there (it's about 30km+) just to enjoy fresh tsukemono buffet! We didn't know about it until we passed by the main restaurant while on the bus to Sanzen-in, too bad we've already brought our takeaway bento along (still not dining during this period) or else we would have made a stop there for lunch! Fate has a funny way of pulling things together as usual lol.  

Doi no Shibazuke at Kyoto station. My favourite place for tsukemono fix lol, every meal set you order allows you for endless refill of tsukemono

Kyoto has seriously alot of hidden gems especially in rural areas, it might be a small challenge getting to some of these places but trust me, the effort is well worth it especially for seasoned visitors of Kyoto. 

Frankly speaking most of these "far" places are actually just about 30km+ drive from Kyoto station (this is considered central point on the map), if you lived in KL like me that's like driving from Damansara to Kajang which i used to do so every week for hospital check ups lol. Probably it's because there are not much public transport options available to and fro, so making it kinda inconvenient in general just to purposely head out that far for one thing. Heck if i had a car in Japan i would gladly drive all around kyoto every weekend just for the scenery!

Getting Here

There's actually a bus directly from Kyoto station to Ohara and back but the whole trip takes about almost 1.5 hours on the local bus (which means stoping at every station on the way), a quicker option is to take the subway all the way till the end of the line- Kokusai Kaikan Eki mae and exchanging to a bus heading to Ohara. 

We've met a nice old lady sitting next to us on the bus who's from Ohara and shared with us stories about her hometown during the whole bus ride. Seriously starting to think that the danna is right about city people being cold (general assholes la) towards each other while small town people are still friendly to one another regardless whether you are a friend or a complete stranger. Seriously we need more of this in times like these. 

What's in Ohara making it worth a trip?

Okay, first you'll need learn a little back story about this town to appreciate it better, Ohara is located on the northern moutains of Kyoto and its name means "plain/ field" and it's home to farmers even till today. One of their main speciliaties in this area is growing red perilla also known as shiso, a type of herb from the mint family which is used to make tsukemono (pickled vegetables) like shibazuke* (made of cucumbers, eggplant, ginger & shiso). It's apparently said that Ohara is one of the earliest places in Kyoto to supply tsukemono before other places started producing their own. 

*Shibazuke originated from Ohara

Shiso used to make various types of tsukemono, it usually gives out a bright vibrant purple shade

Another lesser known fact is the history of their strong farmer women clad in traditional farming outfits called "Oharame" who used to roam the lands carrying firewood bundles on their heads to sell. They were called the definition of a rural beauty during those times.
These brave women were known walk for long hours with their pulling carts, just to sell their local produce in the city. Something i doubt we women could barely do even today, but never underestimate our strength and will lol. Apparently you can even experience dressing up as an Oharame for a fee of 1500yen (i just found out while writing this post) and there's even a festival to celebrate them as well (usually held for 2 weeks between end of May to mid June). 

Found a statue dressed in Oharame 

Most people come here for the temples like Sanzenin and its spectacular autumn foliage as it reaches its peak usually a week earlier compared to the main city (due to colder temperartures of the mountainside) but to me, all year round each season offers it's own unique beauty and that even includes summer and winter too. I've seen photos of this place blanketed in white during winter, it's seriously breathtaking. 
And definitely cycling around the area is a better way to cover more areas in Ohara.   

A day trip definitely enables you to cover the basics of this area like what we did, though we could have done more places but having a kid with us, we decided to take things slow and enjoy whatever comes our way.  

Filled with lush greenery

Ohara initially wasn't much of an onsen town up till 2004 when they finally had access to natural hot spring water so now you can actually enjoy it at nearby ryokans. You don't have to stay overnight to enjoy the onsen too as they usually have lunch + onsen packages for day trip visitors.

The main temple attractions are Sanzenin Temple and Jakkoin Temple, visitors sole driven purpose to Ohara is usually either one of these temples lol but there are other minor temples worth dropping by if you have time and of course another one not to be missed is their legendary "silent" waterfall called Otonashi no Taki.Though it's only a 10 mins walk from Sanzenin, we didn't manage to drop by; not too sad about it because that gives us more reasons to come back here 😂
Ohara is also pretty popular with hikers since it's surrounded by mountains and there's even trails from Mt.Hiei to Ohara, from what i heard from the danna if you hiked long enough you might end find yourself in Shiga as we are pretty much at the borders of Kyoto lol. 

Did you know that these postal boxes exists in hiking routes for hikers to fill and post their personal information (including next of kin) with routes they are taking in case they end up missing (accident, lost or sudden death) so the police and area patrol can dispatch a search team to retrive the missing person. I've not hiked in Japan before so i found this postbox rather fascinating.

We brought our own bento lol

There's surprisingly decent amount of restaurants in the area from Ohara's bus top leading all the way up to Sanzenin, so you don't have to worry about hunting for food. From my previous travel experiences, i usually get caught off guard in rural areas because they are usually lacking of restaurants or even local convenience stores so gotta come prepared lol.
Also mind you that it requires a minor hike up (beginner level sort) so do wear comfortable shoes and if you a bringing along a baby stroller like me, going down can be quite scary because it's steep but overall bringing a stroller up and down IS DOABLE all the way to the entrance of Sanzenin.
And you must give their shiso ice cream a try while you are here (you can't find this elsewhere yo!), it might sound gross and intimidating (pickled herb ice cream?) at first but if you give it a little thought our usual mint ice cream is derived from a herb as well so there's not much of a difference here lol. 
The price ranges from 320-350 yen for an ice cream cone, i took the one mixed with Yuzu ; a bizarre combo indeed especially when i could have gone for a safer option like vanilla. YOLO haha.
It was suprisingly a refreshing combo that i don't mind having it everyday for the rest of my summer days 😂 it's that good!  Wasn't expecting the shiso ice cream to taste like LIME and yuzu being a citrus was a perfect match.  

Sanzenin's Ajisai

This one was unexpected because i never knew Sanzenin has an impressive garden of ajisai (over a 1000 blooms), on travel sites it's usually about its autumn scenery and they aren't even on top of the recommended spots, you'll usually see people spamming about Mimurotoji temple (known from their heart shaped ajisai), it's also quite crowded there and i've been there once already ans was put off by the crowd, we definitely made a great decision coming here because there's barely anyone in sight and the temple grounds are huge so it's the perfect spot for social distancing.  

We literally spent the whole day wandering around the temple halls and garden exploring every single nook and cranny before lil penguin became too grumpy and sleepy to walk anymore lol, regretted not bringing the baby carrier along. 
If you are not a much of an ajisai fan then the temple's overall landscape would be a feast for your eyes and soul, just wander along the path and absorb in the tranquility.

Every corner of Sanzein is breathtaking that we couldn't help but to stop and snap pictures of it, inside the temple itself some areas have signs prohibiting photography so make sure to be respectful of the rules.

Overlooking Shuheki-en Garden

Pathway heading to Yusei-en Garden, filled an avenue of momiji trees

Don't forget to look up! 

Spot the hidden moss covered warabe-jizo statues around the garden!

Sanzenin was founded back in the late 8th century by a monk named Saicho, he's apparently a prominent figure in religious history; this sacred spot it is also the birthplace of Shomyo (Buddhist sutra chanting), legend has it that the nearby waterfall (Otonashi no Taki) became silent after fusing with the chanting of the monks nearby. 

More information on Sanzein can be found on their website (it's in english): http://www.sanzenin.or.jp/en/

Souveniers to Bring home

Japanese pickled vegetables is a MUST try at least once, and you'll seriously grow to love it. In Malaysia i was never a fan of "jeruk" because it's often super sour and filled with bright food colouring that it looks freaky AF but after coming to Japan and trying their tsukemono, it became something i would eat in a heartbeat right now lol. Kyoto being the home of pickled vegetables especially in Ohara, if would be a huge shame for us to go back home empty handed. There were quite a number of souvenier shops here selling tsukemono, so you can easily grab a couple of packets as gifts for your friends and family. We bought ours from this particular store- Shibakyu since it was on the way down from Sanzenin, they had quite a variety and their packaging is so on point too. 

Shibakyu's proud collection of tsukemono packaging designs all framed up, love the artwork style!

There's another store (closer to Ohara bus stop & facing the shiso farm), a quaint washi (paper) shop called Motoshiro (和紙の店もとしろ), they sell all sorts of hand crafted items and you'll definitely find something to bring home. The interior in this shop is rather impressive, especially when you look up at their ceiling. The owner was a nice old man who gladly allowed me to take pictures of his store to share with you guys. 

I truly enjoy my short visit to Ohara, it's really refreshing to walk around this small quiet town breathing in crisp and fresh moutain air, hearing nature's music by rivers and winds; truly a perfect place to raise a family or retire peacefully. I can finally understand why my sister in law wanted to move her whole family here, initially we thought she was nuts moving so far away but this place is definitely way better than the city and cost of living is obviously lesser too. After she moves, we have more reasons to drop by this area lol. 

Thanks for reading and supporting as always guys! Will be slowly updating more Japan travel spots and arranging my prefecture tags because i noticed there are some entries missing from it. Tons of work to do but i'm so low on writing motivation lately lol, not sure if anyone feels me on this sluggish mood. Probably the summer weather getting to me because i feel so tired all the time and lacking of appetite too, who else feels this way during summer too? 
Remember to stay safe everyone and see you in my next update! 😊

Yours Truly,

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