The Walk To Our Son’s Condo

The New Sanno Hotel, where we’re staying while we’re here in Japan, is just a 15 minute walk from our son’s condo in the NishiAzabu neighborhood. We have two choices of how to get ourselves from the hotel to his place: a) turn right out of the front of the hotel and walk along a busy four-lane thoroughfare lined with shops, restaurants and other businesses, or b) turn left out of the hotel and then take the next left onto a narrow residential street that takes us the “back way.”

Both options are quintessentially Japanese, but we always choose the second one, and this is the walk we take each day.

While most of the area is residential, there are also a few businesses along the way. There are also several vending machines interspersed on the road, most selling either hot or cold drinks, or cigarettes.

The street is very clean. There is absolutely no trash, and the sidewalk is swept the entire way. Japanese are master recyclers, and on trash days bags are neatly set out in designated areas with each type of trash/recycling separated for pick up. If there is a large pile of trash, the bags are covered with netting so they don’t spill out into the street.

Occasionally we see an old house among the new. The land the house sits on is extremely valuable, worth millions of dollars. Building a new house would also cost millions, so the owners tend to hold on to their old house as long as possible and then sell the land to a developer.

More older-style homes, probably from the 1970s and 1980s, with a new high-rise condo going up in the background. Almost every house and condo has plantings in the front, or at least some potted plants.

We pass a small neighborhood Shinto shrine on the way. This is one of the things I love about Japan, finding a very traditional shrine or Buddhist temple mixed in with modern homes and condos. Local festivals and services are held at the shrine throughout the year.

Halfway to our son’s condo is the National Azabu supermarket. The neighborhood contains many embassies, so there are lots of foreigners living in the area, and National Azabu carries a wide selection of “foreign” foods, although you will pay dearly for them. A container of Fage yogurt that costs around $4 back in the U.S. is approximately $19 here, and a western-style beef roast, if you must have it, will cost you your firstborn.

A studio apartment in the neighborhood can start at $2000/month, and prices go up from there. Many of the apartments in the neighborhood are larger than a typical Japanese residence, to suit Western tastes, and have amenities like dishwashers, ranges with ovens and such, things not typically found in Japanese homes but that appeal to foreigners. We saw an ad for a 683 sq. foot 1-bedroom condo (new construction) that was selling for $1.25 million dollars!

A sculpture adorns a corner of an apartment building along the way.

Our son’s condo is just nine stories tall, but all units open into an inner courtyard, which is a feature our son and his wife wanted after the big earthquake in 2011. A mixture of foreigners and Japanese live in the building, and there is rarely ever a unit available for rent. An apartment/condo building will always have balconies; a commercial building won’t.

I have yet to go to any residence in Japan, whether it’s a house, condo, or high-rise apartment, that doesn’t have an intercom system used to announce your presence, whether you’re family or a tradesperson. Modern intercoms, like at our son’s condo, also have video capability, so you can see who is asking to be let in.

Everyone takes off their shoes in the genkan before stepping up into a Japanese home. When you take your shoes off, you turn them to point out so that all you have to do is slip them on to leave (we fail miserably at this). All homes have a spacious shoe closet built next to the genkan.

What no photo can capture is how safe the neighborhood is. Cars watch out for people walking. You can walk alone at night and not worry about being accosted. You can leave your umbrella or your bicycle outside a store and it will be there when you come out.

But Will It All Fit?

Gifts play an important role in Japanese culture, so any trip to Japan for us means taking gifts for family and others . . .  and in our case this usually means lots of gifts. However, Brett, YaYu and I will only each be taking a carry-on bag, and one additional bag for under-seat stowage (tote bag for me; backpacks for Brett and YaYu), so making sure everything fits and arrives in good condition will be a bit of a challenge.

Besides clothing for eleven days, here’s what we’ve got to fit into our luggage this time:

Gifts for our granddaughter: Two onesies, a Hawaiian-print sundress, some leggings, a stuffed hippo, a feeding set, and some ocean-themed blocks.

For our grandson: Star Wars Lego set (he’s obsessed with both right now), Star Wars Lego t-shirt, six boxes of macaroni & cheese, and two packages of tortillas (for quesadillas). Tortillas and mac & cheese are available in Japan, but are super expensive.

For our daughter-in-law, Kona coffee and Kaua’i made soap.

We’re giving our son some of his U.S. favorites that are unavailable in Japan. He especially loves anything chocolate & mint, and it’s hard if not impossible to find in Japan. We’ll also get him two to three cases of Diet Coke from the mini mart in the hotel while we’re there – you can’t buy it otherwise in Japan, and he loves it.

We’ll probably get together with our daughter-in-law’s parents, so we’re prepared with a small gift of Hawaiian items: Kona coffee, chocolate covered macadamia nuts, and Kaua’i-made cookies.

Because it’s so ridiculously expensive now to mail anything to Japan, we are taking along some of our granddaughter’s first birthday gift: eight board books, a birthday card and gift bag. We’ll buy a couple of other things while we’re there for them to put away until her birthday.

We’re also taking several gift bags, tissue paper and tape, and will assemble and wrap everything once we get to our hotel room. Presentation is important in Japan!

The big question as we start this week is whether we can get all of this to fit into our bags. I think we can – the only “big” items are the box of cereal and the Lego set. Brett is a master packer (and I’m no slouch), and I’m confident will find ways to squeeze everything in. We do have some Space Bags to use if we need them, but I’m hoping they won’t be needed.

Fingers crossed!

Postcard From: Kamakura

The Daibutsu – Kamakura’s most enduring icon

Located 31 miles to the south of Tokyo, the beautiful seaside town of Kamakura is an easy day trip to make from Japan’s capital. Once the capital of Japan itself (1185-1333, the Kamakura Period), this now-small city contains numerous Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, and is home to the iconic Daibutsu (‘Great Buddha’). While Kamakura was devastated in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, everything was eventually restored. The city was not bombed during WWII so all historical buildings and statues remain original. Many have been proposed for addition to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

The manhole covers at Kamakura Station
The manhole covers at Kamakura Station

Kamakura residents offer a wonderful service to visitors: free guided walking tours of the city given in English and several other languages. Sign-up for these tours is done online where visitors can choose the date they’d like to tour as well as the two or three sites they’d like to visit (two are allowed for a half-day tour; three for a full day). Guides meet their tour members in front of Kamakura station. Members are expected to buy lunch for a full-day guide, and pay any admission fees, but otherwise the service is completely free. One of the great things about having a local guide is that they know all sorts of back ways and interesting routes, and provide opportunities to walk through beautiful residential neighborhoods that might not be seen otherwise.

A walking tour through Kamakura will take through many beautiful residential areas.
A Kamakura walking tour takes you through many beautiful residential areas.
This view should look familiar!
This scene should look familiar!
Along one street we passed an old warehouse that had been turned into a shop. These warehouses, with their thick walls, were used to store rice and other valuables.
An old warehouse has been turned into a shop. These warehouses, with their thick walls and doors, were used to store rice and other valuables.

WenYu, YaYu and I signed up for a tour as part of our Japan visit in March of 2015. We opted for the full-day tour, and chose to visit the large Tsurugaoka-Hachimangu Shrine, the small Zeniarai-Benten shrine, and finish with a stop at the Daibutsu before heading back to Tokyo. We met our guide, Kumiko, at the station at 10:00 in the morning; she gave us a brief overview of Kamakura’s history, and then we set out on our way. Brett’s sister had planned to join us, but had an injured foot and chose to stay in the neighborhood near the station for the day.

A store with nothing but Studio Ghibli merchandise on the way to Hachimangu shrine - the girls were in heaven!
We found a store with nothing but Studio Ghibli merchandise on the way to Hachimangu shrine – the girls were thrilled!
Souvenir store full of traditional items and crafts
This liquor store was ready for the cherry blossom season, which arrived in Kamakura about a week after we were there.
Ready to check out Hachimangu Shrine
Ready to check out the Tsurugaoka-Hachimangu Shrine

Our first stop was the Tsurugaoka-Hachimangu Shrine, just a short walk from the station. Kamakura is a popular tourist destination in Japan, and on the way to the shrine we passed several souvenir and other shops, several which offered traditional folk crafts. The imposing Hachimangu Shrine was first built in 1063, and moved to its current location in 1191. It is the largest and most important shrine in the city, and at one point was located in the center of Kamakura – the city basically grew up around it. We were able to observe a formal Japanese wedding taking place there when we visited, complete with traditional musicians and other accoutrement, which apparently had cost the family quite a bit.

The entrance bridge to Hachimangu Shrine
The entrance bridge (showing modern repairs) to the Tsurugaoka-Hachimangu Shrine.
The main shrine building at Hachimangu
The main shrine building at Tsurugaoka-Hachimangu. A 1000-year old ginko tree once stood to the left of the stone steps, but was blown down in a storm in 2010.
Uma board. Uma are small plaques where write their wishes or pleas on the back
One of several boards for hanging ema, small plaques for leaving prayer requests.
Traditional musicians perform at a wedding ceremony that was taking place in a small pavilion outside the main shrine.
Traditional musicians perform at a wedding ceremony that was taking place in a small sacred pavilion outside the main shrine.

After visiting Tsurugaoka-Hachimangu, we began our trek to the Zeniari-Benten shrine, founded in 1185, and located up in the hills that surround Kamakura. In spite of its small size, it is the second most visited site in Kamakura. The hike up to the shrine was fairly steep, but more than worth it once we arrived. It’s tradition there to ‘wash your money’ in the spring that’s located at the back of the shrine – doing so will supposedly multiply your money. Baskets are provided for this activity, and I ‘washed’ 10,000¥ (around $100). The next day Brett’s sister, who had no idea what I had done, handed me 10,000¥ and told the girls and I to enjoy ourselves while she stayed back at our apartment and rested her injured foot!

The entrance to the Zeniari-Benten shrine is at the top of a steep hill, and through a tunnel
The entrance to the Zeniari-Benten shrine is at the top of a very steep hill, and through a tunnel.
Once through the rock tunnel, visitors pass through a tunnel of torii. Torii mark a passage into sacred space.
Once through the rock tunnel, visitors pass through a tunnel of torii. Torii mark a passage into sacred space.
Visitors pray and make offerings before entering a cave to wash their money in the spring (which was too dark for pictures).
Japanese high school students pray and make offerings before entering a hillside cave to wash their money in the spring (the interior of the cave was too dark for pictures).

Our final tour destination was the Daibutsu, with a stop for lunch along the way. Except, we could not find anywhere to eat! Every single restaurant we passed was closed the day of our visit, for who knows what reason – our guide was completely baffled. We finally found a small place that served kare-raisu (rice with curry), and that hit the spot.

Approaching the Diabutsu. We could see the top of Buddha's head in the distance well before we arrived.
We could see the top of Buddha’s head off in the distance well before we arrived. The statue is 43.8 feet tall.
This souvenir stand was across the street from the Daibutsu. The signage includes every Japanese icon, just in case you forgot where you were (actually, Mt. Fuji can be viewed from the beach at Kamakura).
The signage on this souvenir shop across from the Daibutsu includes all sorts of Japanese icons, just in case you forget where you are (actually, Mt. Fuji can be viewed from the beach at Kamakura).

The Daibutsu is part of the Koutoku-in Temple, believed to have been erected in 1252. The statue was originally housed in a large wooden building, but a tsunami in 1493 washed away the building, and the giant bronze image has stood uncovered ever since. The Buddha is thought to have once been gilded as a small amount of gold leaf remains near the statue’s ears. The base was heavily damaged in the 1923 earthquake but repaired in 1925, and measures taken in the early 1960s to strengthen the statue against earthquakes. There is a small door in the back of the statue, and visitors can going inside and climb to the top – doing so is said to bring inner peace and beauty. WenYu and YaYu chose to go inside, and while they did that I was approached by several middle school students who wanted to practice their English with me, which was lots of fun!

Hato Sabure are delicious bird-shaped butter cookies that were originally from Kamakura, but can now famous all over Japan. Hato means 'pigeon."
Hato Sabure are delicious bird-shaped cookies that originally could only be found in Kamakura, but can now be purchased throughout Japan. Hato means ‘pigeon,” and Sabure is Japanese for ‘sable,’ a type of French butter cookie.
The Enoden line runs right through the city on its way out to the shore.
The Enoden line runs right through the city of Kamakura on its way out to the shore.

By the end of our day it began to rain, so we hurried back to the station and arrived around 3:00 p.m. We stopped at the flagship Hato Sabure (‘bird cookie’) store located there and bought a box of cookies to bring home to Brett, and then boarded the Enoden line at Kamakura Station to begin our journey back to Tokyo. The Enoden line was famous for running its orginal wooden cars long after other trains had been upgraded, but modern rolling stock was introduced in 2005. The line runs along the shore to the town of Fujisawa, and offers beautiful views of the beaches.

It was raining by the time we left Kamakura, and we were exhausted, but we all agreed it had been a terrific day. Brett, YaYu and I are looking forward to visiting the city next March, but will (gasp!) do it on our own next time. We plan to visit the Tsurugaoka-Hachimangu Shrine and the Daibutsu, but will go to the Hase-dera (temple) instead of the Zeniarai-Benten Shrine.

(Free walking tours are offered in cities all over the world. Visitors can search to see what’s available before they go, or check after arrival. Often all that’s required is a tip for the tour guide, but these tours are a fantastic way to see a city, its sites, and its neighborhoods through the eyes of a local resident).

Japan On a Budget

10714010-a-close-look-of-japan-moneyHow much do you think it would cost a U.S. family of three to visit Japan for a week? $7500? $10,000? More?

There is no doubt that Japan can be an expensive place to live and visit (although Tokyo is no longer ranked as one of the top ten most expensive cities on some lists). It’s also one of the most expensive destinations to reach from the U.S. But, there are ways to go and have a memorable visit for much, much less than you probably imagine. Brett, YaYu, and I will spend nine days in Japan next year for $5450, including airfare, an amount many might imagine it would cost for just one person to go. By the time we leave next spring, we’ll have been saving for this trip for nearly a year, and by taking advantage of some of our military benefits, and using our experience and other tips we’ve picked up along the way we’re going to have a great vacation at a very affordable price.

We have family in Japan, but we won’t be staying with them – their condo is too small to add three adults, even for one night. Our son and daughter-in-law may take us out to eat while we’re there, and we’ll probably eat at their home once or twice, but we will reciprocate and take them out as well so our budget wasn’t based on any “family” savings.

When we start planning a trip, Japan included, we break expenses down into three main categories: transportation, lodging, and dining/other expenses. Here’s a look at what we’re spending on our Japan trip as well as some tips for enjoying a visit there for a lot less than you might think:

  • Transportation: Other than arriving by cruise ship, the only way to get to Japan is by air. This is where research becomes vitally important because transportation to and from Japan can take the biggest bite out of your budget. To begin with, and in order to find the best deal on airfare, you have to know what typical round-trip fares are. From Honolulu, for example, nonstop economy fares to Tokyo typically run in the $900 – $1000 per person range, sometimes more (fares are generally a bit lower from the mainland). There are sometimes much lower fares available, but check carefully because often those ‘good deals’ involve long layovers somewhere and a long travel day either coming or going, something we try to avoid. For our trip next year, we set our upper limit for airfare at $900 per person ($2700 total), with upgrades, if any, included in that amount. A few weekends ago I found nonstop round-trip fares and a terrific flight schedule at $750 per person, and we snapped them up. Premium economy seats were $1060 per person at the time and over our maximum, but as I’ve written, I was able to upgrade via the airline’s website for just $158 per person, making the total cost for each ticket $908 per person, or $24 total over our budget, an amount we could live with, especially for upgraded seats. Patience (and a little bit of luck) is key for finding a good ticket price and schedule to Japan, and you have to be willing and ready to jump in and buy when you find a good price that works for you, and then live with your decision. Another consideration when purchasing tickets for Japan is whether to fly in and out of Narita or Haneda airports. Haneda airport is the most convenient for Tokyo, only around 40 minutes away, but flights in and out of there will almost always cost a few hundred dollars more than ones into Narita. Narita airport is unfortunately convenient to nothing other than the town of Narita, but a round-trip ticket on the NEX express train into Tokyo and back can be purchased by international visitors at the airport for a little less than $40 per person ($120 total for us).

    There are lodging bargains in Tokyo: This entire small apartment, located in the posh embassy district near Roppongi, can be rented for $60 per night
    Affordable Tokyo lodging can be found on AirBNB: This entire small apartment, located in the posh embassy district near Roppongi, is just $65 per night
  • Lodging: On our upcoming trip we will be using one of Brett’s earned military benefits and staying at the New Sanno Hotel, run by the U.S. Navy for the exclusive use of military personnel. As retirees, we can stay there only if Brett is along; without him, I can use all the facilities and restaurants, but not stay overnight. Our room (queen bed plus single sofa bed) will cost us $67 per night, tax included, so our entire lodging expense for nine nights will be $603. The hotel is in a great location for us, just a 10-minute walk from our son’s condo. If you’re not eligible for someplace like the New Sanno, business or boutique hotels run around $115 to $125 per night. The rooms are smaller and not as luxurious as the major hotels (which can run $300 to $500 per night), but they’re clean, comfortable and sometimes very stylish. AirBNB in Japan is another affordable option, where you can find entire small apartments for less than $100 per night. The AirBNB rentals we used on our last trip exceeded all expectations for comfort and cleanliness, and our hosts were extremely helpful. Brett and I are planning to use AirBNB when we go to Japan for longer stays in the future, for the savings and the cultural experience.

    A typical Japanese bakery – those creme-filled coronets in the front left cost just $1.50 each. Some of the rolls above contain cheese and bacon or ham and are a little over $2.00 each.
  • Dining/other expenses: We’ve budgeted $200 per day for the three of us for our meals, in-country travel, and other expenses, plus a couple of extra hundred dollars “just in case” ($2000 total). Our days will start with coffee and pastries – Japan has the most incredible bakeries, and a Paris-worthy pastry and coffee cost around $5 – $6 (less if we make coffee in our room). For lunch we often buy something ready-made from a convenience store or supermarket, for around $8 or less per person. Stores like 7-11 or Lawson carry all sorts of interesting bentos, but there are also noodles, fried chicken (yum!), potato salad (yum!), sandwiches, yakisoba, and several varieties of the girls’ favorite onigiri (rice balls). Another inexpensive lunch option is noodles, such as soba (buckwheat noodles), udon (wide wheat noodles), or ramen (Chinese-style noodles). A big, filling bowl of noodles can be found for around $10. Other inexpensive lunch options are kare-raisu (rice topped with curry) and gyoza (potstickers), and ‘set lunches’ can be found at many restaurants for an affordable price. There’s almost always a plastic model of these lunches out in front of a restaurant so you can see what’s available, and only have to point to it when you want to order. The evening meal is when we typically ‘splurge’ and allow ourselves to spend a little more, up to $18 or so, and the possibilities are endless. Besides Japanese foods, there are restaurants serving almost every type of foreign cuisine you can imagine. Meals in Japan come with water and tea, but you can usually order beer or soft drinks at most places, although they’re not all that inexpensive. Besides dining, in-country transportation is factored into our daily expenses as well, for train and taxi fares. A round-trip train trip within Tokyo can be up to $10 but is usually less, maybe $2 or $3 each way. The most expensive journey we’ll make on our trip next year will be to Kamakura at around $18 per person for a round trip ticket, but Kamakura is located over an hour and a half outside of Tokyo. If we were planning some longer day trips, traveling to another part of the country, or staying longer than two weeks we would most likely purchase a rail pass, which would save loads of money. These passes can only be purchased outside of Japan before arrival though – they’re not available once you’re in country. We don’t use taxis all that often, but they can be very convenient. Taxi fares in Tokyo currently start at 730¥ – around $7.00 – and to go around a mile will add another 580¥, a bit less than $6.00. Your fare will add up quickly though for longer rides, especially if you find yourself stuck in traffic. Other daily expenses can include entrance fees to museums or gardens (anywhere from $3 to $5 per person), but we spend most of our time walking around and visiting places that don’t cost anything, like temples or shrines or parks, and window shopping is also fun and doesn’t cost anything. There are free guided walking tours available in Tokyo (in English), and you can sign up for free, private full- or half-day guided tours with an English-speaking guide if you want to visit Kamakura, the only cost being lunch for your guide and possibly some entrance fees. Free guided tours are also available in Kyoto. We usually splurge for an afternoon treat of some kind when we’re out, like crepes in Harajuku, or some ice cream or another fabulous pastry. There is no tipping in Japan, either for food or transportation. Other than picking up interestingly-flavored KitKats and other foods we can’t find here, or a couple more tenugui for the kitchen, we don’t expect to buy much of anything. Pictures and memories are our favorite souvenirs to bring home. One new expense this trip will be a prepaid SIM card for our phones, around $33 for seven days. They weren’t available on our last trip (we rented a phone), but we want one this time so that we can contact our son or daughter-in-law if necessary. Many AirBNB rentals offer pocket WiFi that you can carry with you for free or a very small fee, and/or you can rent them from your hotel.
A Tokyo train & subway map looks complicated, but is not really, and will help you get around Tokyo cheaply and efficiently.
A Tokyo train & subway map may look complicated, but is actually quite easy to figure out and will help you get around the area cheaply and efficiently. I’ve always had someone offer to help if I seem confused about how to get somewhere.

The absolute best way to save money and see Japan for less is to come with a sense of adventure. Japan is very different from the U.S., from the language to the food to the customs, and even if something looks familiar it will always have a unique Japanese twist to it. But, a visit to Japan is an experience like no other. It’s clean, it’s safe, and the Japanese are courteous and helpful to a fault. If you speak a little Japanese, even a simple phrase, you will be praised to the skies. If you get lost someone will help you. I’ve had Japanese people get on a train with me to make sure I got to the right station, or walk with me somewhere to make sure I didn’t get lost. Trains, subways and sites around Tokyo have plenty of English signage these days, in preparation for the 2020 Olympics, making it much, much easier to get around than even just a couple of years ago. Seeing Japan on your own is only limiting or frightening if you let it be, but armed with a good guidebook and map, you can get around and have one of the most memorable times of your life for way less than you might imagine.

Postcard From: Arashiyama

The Togetsukyou Bridge crosses the K River, with Arashiyama in the back.
Togetsukyou Bridge crossing the Hozu/Katsura River (the river changes its name as it passes under the bridge).  There is a hint of the cherry blossoms to come on Arashiyama’s slope in the background.

Located on the western outskirts of Kyoto, the Arashiyama (‘Storm Mountain’) district is both a Japanese National Historic Site and designated Place of Scenic Beauty. Arashiyama is famous for both the explosion of cherry blossoms that cover its slopes in the spring, and the amazing displays of color in the fall when the leaves change. The district is also home to the breathtaking Sagano bamboo forest. I had wanted to see the bamboo forest again on our visit to Kyoto in 2015, so my daughter-in-law arranged a wonderful day’s visit to the district for our family.

The Karatsu River from the train
The Hozu River from the train. The river’s aqua color is gorgeous.

We began our visit to Arashiyama with a ride on the Sagano Scenic Railroad (also known as the Sagano Romantic Train), a private line that runs along the Hozu River as it heads east into the district (reserved seats only). The charming, old-fashioned trains run from Torokko Kameoka station to Arashiyama station, and offer superb views of the river and foliage along the way. We were about a week too early to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom, but it was obvious they would be spectacular. The train ride is especially popular in the fall when the leaves turn, and the views are said to be even more amazing than they are in the spring or summer. Visitors can also take boat trips down the river in the summer and fall, and we saw a few traditional inns and restaurants on the river banks where visitors stop and/or stay to enjoy the scenery.

At Saga-Arashiyama station, our grandson enjoys a traditional Japanese treat, mochi dango. The balls made from pounded sweet rice
At Arashiyama station, our grandson enjoys a traditional Japanese treat, mochi dango. The colored balls are made from pounded sweet rice and served on a stick.

The Sagano bamboo forest walk begins just across the street from where the train ride ends. It’s almost like entering another world as you step on the path, and pictures really can’t do it justice. Even the light seems different. Gigantic bamboo stalks surround the path and whisper overhead as you walk toward town. The forest path ends at the main road through Arashiyama, and takes around 20-30 minutes or so to walk from end to end and absorb the scenery. Visitors are not allowed to leave the path without special permission.

The bamboo path through the Sagano forest. The fence is made from dried bamboo branches.
The path through the Sagano bamboo forest. The fence is made from fallen dried bamboo branches.
The bamboo towers overhead, swaying in the wind.
The bamboo towers over the path, swaying in the wind.
The torii at the entrance to Nonomiya Shrine, located about halfway down the bamboo forest path. The twisted rope on the torii is a shimenawa and is hung with shide (folded paper). The shimenawa indicates that a place has been purified, and is also thought to ward off evil spirits.
You don't see trash on the ground in Japan. Trash receptacles are everywhere, and trash is sorted for recycling.
You don’t see trash on the ground in Japan. Trash receptacles are everywhere (the ones in Sagano are appropriately made of bamboo), and trash typically is sorted for recycling.

Arashiyama is a popular area with visitors, and there are many restaurants and shops lining the main road featuring Japanese specialities and locally produced goods. Before heading down the main road through town, our group stopped at a traditional restaurant and enjoyed a tasty grilled beef and tofu lunch, but other restaurants along the road offered tempura, soba and other dishes. After our lunch we wandered down the street, stopping along the way to admire the goods for sale. I did some shopping at one store that sold items made from local bamboo, and purchased some hand-crafted bamboo spatulas to bring home. There were also several snack shops along the road, some selling traditional treats such as mochi dango, others offering ice cream and other treats. Even though it was very cold the day we were there, I tried a sakura (cherry blossom) ice cream cone – delicious!). The main street also had numerous souvenir shops where we found some of the more exotic flavors of KitKat bars, including roasted tea and wasabi (both were very tasty).

Grilled beef and tofu lunch in Arashiyama
Grilled beef and tofu lunch in Arashiyama
Japanese restaurants often present their menu outside using realistic plastic models of the items. If you don't speak Japanese, you can take your waiter outside and point to what you want.
Japanese restaurants often present their menu outside using realistic plastic models of the items. If you don’t speak Japanese, you can bring your waiter outside and point to what you want.
Young Japanese women visiting Kyoto often rent kimono for the day, to create a more "Japanese" feeling while they visit the sites.
Young Japanese women visiting Kyoto and the surrounding areas often rent kimono for the day to have a more ‘Japanese experience’ while visiting the area.

We strolled the main road until we eventually reached the wooden Togetsukyou (‘Moon Crossing’) Bridge that crosses the Hozu River. Actually, depending on which side of the bridge you’re standing on, you may be looking at the Katsura River – the river changes names as it passes under the bridge from east to west. The Togetsukyou Bridge was first built over 400 years ago, and has been used many times as a location in historical dramas. The bridge is famous as an outstanding spot to view the cherry blossoms (or autumn foliage) that cover the slope of Arashiyama.

Togetsukyou Bridge
The Togetsukyou Bridge carries both foot and light motor traffic.

The weather changed abruptly while we were viewing Togetsukyou, with the already cold weather suddenly turning stormy. We quickly hurried back to Arashiyama station and caught a train back into Kyoto, stopping for one more short visit in the Gion district before heading back to our machiya rental to warm up before dinner.

It was still cold when we got to Gion, but the rain had stopped.
It was still cold when we got to Gion, but the rain had stopped.