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Slow Trains to Kyoto October 2011

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Typhoon rains causing landslides across much of the southern Kii Peninsula this autumn, forced us to cancel our planned tour to Kumano and change the itinerary to the Slow Trains to Kyoto tour. I believe that focusing on west Honshu island, rather than points north of Tokyo, remains a sensible option at the moment, given the ongoing situation at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Meeting in Osaka, we sped west on the bullet train (the only fast train!) to Hiroshima, where I was happy to see that the ancient Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima was not as badly affected by recent flooding during seasonally high tides as I'd feared. We were actually fortunate to be witness a wedding, followed by a traditional gagaku dance. That evening we enjoyed the first of many delicious meals and sake at one of Hiroshima's better know Japanese restaurants.

Our next destination was Arifuku Onsen natural hot spring village in western Shimane Prefecture. The dance theme continued as we attended a dynamic kagura performance after dinner on our second evening. The ryokan we stayed at is run by a family we have a very good relationship with and who always look after us very well indeed. The ryokan is a home from home, and a real sanctuary. We enjoyed the new café they have attached to the ryokan, as well as soaking in the local sento hot baths.

Lanterns and bamboo
Ubiquitous in Japan
Giving strength and light

Sira Nicholas

The second day in Arifuku we drove over to the Iwami Ginzan silver mine (a World Heritage site), where a local guide interpreter led us on a fascinating hike. I interpreted for our small group, and learned much more that I'd discovered on my previous trip to Iwami. Few people really realize how significant the silver mines were in the context of world history from the 16 th century onwards.

From Arifuku we travelled to the little city of Matsue further along the coast, where we stayed for three nights. Using Matsue as a base, we took a very slow train to Izumo Grand Shrine. After visiting the shrine we climbed Japanese tallest lighthouse, and one of the oldest, at Hinomisaki. The next day we climbed to the top of sacred Mount Daisen. We were buffeted by strong winds on a ridge on top, but the quiet beech forests on the slopes of Daisen looked gorgeous in their golden autumn colours.

Mount Daisen today
Clouds, wind, leaves gliding earthwards
One step another

Sue Garlick

From Matsue we travelled, again by slow trains, to the pretty hot spring town of Kinosaki. Our groups always love spending a night or two here, as much for the scenery as the hot springs. Artistic skills were much in evidence at the Tajima pottery, where members made plates and a rather nice bonsai pot. These will fired in the next few days.

Our next stop was Asuka, where we rented bikes to sightsee some of the more important historical sites in an area where the state of Yamato once existed.

A murder of crows
Over a burial mound
A sense of wabi

Sira Nicholas


Walking ancient paths
A kingfisher flashes blue
Movement and stillness

Sue Garlick


Across the still pond
Flashes a blue kingfisher
So silent breathtaking!

Bob Heffill

The following day we hiked the Yamanobe no Michi. The last day before Kyoto was spent exploring Nara in the company of our friendly and knowledgeable guide, Yoko.

Crows talk in Nara
Rage in an old Buddha's ear
Disturbeth he not

Off to Kyoto
Ordering Japanese food
Disaster looms

Richard Garlick


Time waits for no-one
Listen! The temple bell sounds
Going, going, gong

Bob Heffill


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