Nanzenji Temple - Kyoto

Sanmon Gate

Last week, we finally took a holiday we had been planning for a year. In March last year we were lucky enough to get to Kyoto for the peak cherry blossom season, and we wanted to do the same for the autumn leaves. I was so happy we got to make this trip happen!

After our temple stay in Koyasan, we made our way to Kyoto for 3 nights. We checked into our Airbnb, which I had chosen because of it's proximity to some of the most beautiful temples in Kyoto. I first visited Nanzenji temple during my first trip to Japan around 12 years ago and fell in love straight away! Because it was only around 10 minutes walk from our apartment, we headed over there to have a look before sunset. 

As soon as little G spotted people up the top of the Sanmon Gate, we decided to go up to check out the view. It was incredible! I think it was particularly crowded with people up there trying to get sunset photos, but I just wanted to get an overview of the complex, filled with gorgeous autumn colours!

After making our way back down, I was a bit disappointed to see the garden already closed (which luckily I have seen in the past!), but we looked at the main temple and G had fun playing under the arches of the aqueduct. The grounds of Nanzenji are absolutely gorgeous, especially during the autumn season. There's a reason this place is so popular (and busy!).

Beware the photo overload below:

This here is what I came for!

Nanzenji temple, in Kyoto Japan is one of the best places to see the gorgeous fall colours in Kyoto.

Taking in the beautiful view

Nanzenji temple, in Kyoto Japan is one of the best places to see the gorgeous fall colours in Kyoto.

Nanzenji temple, in Kyoto Japan is one of the best places to see the gorgeous fall colours in Kyoto.


Nanzenji temple, in Kyoto Japan is one of the best places to see the gorgeous fall colours in Kyoto.

Nanzenji temple, in Kyoto Japan is one of the best places to see the gorgeous fall colours in Kyoto.

Streams everywhere!

Nanzenji can be easily accessed by Kyoto bus or a short walk from Keage station on the Tozai subway.

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Nanzenji temple, in Kyoto Japan is one of the best places to see the gorgeous fall colours in Kyoto.

Temple Stay at Koyasan

Last week I got to cross something off my long-time Japan bucket-list. A temple stay at Koyasan. Koyasan is the center of the Shingon sect of buddhism introduced to Japan in 805 by Kobo Daishi. Kobo Daishi's mausoleum is in the Okunoin cemetery. I have seen countless photos of the amazing Okunoin cemetery and heard about the delicious Shojin Ryori (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine) served at the temples. Seeing as little G is now older and actually really into temples, we thought we could attempt it. 

The train ride to Koyasan is gorgeous when you eventually get out of Osaka, winding up the mountain, looking at the fall leaves and many many persimmon trees. Once we arrived at Gokurakubashi station, we transferred to the cable car for the steep ascent to the top, then hopped on a bus to take us in to town. Although it seems like a lot of transferring, the cable car and buses are all timed to meet each other, so it was fairy straight forward. 

Once we arrived at our temple, we wandered around until we found where to check in, and even though we were there at 1pm, they checked us straight into our room, which was great. We dumped our luggage, then headed out to find some lunch.

This guy - LOVES riding the trains
Our temple, with the name right out the front

View from our temple room

Our room at Shojoshin-in temple in Koyasan. It overlooked a gorgeous Japanese garden with a pond and koi.
Our room

Entrance to the temple

Fall is an amazing time of year to Visit Koyasan. It is cold enough to enjoy your sento and there are red leaves everywhere!
So excited for all the maple leaves

Fall leaves in Koyasan, Japan

Stopped for some matcha - which I don't even like!
Unfortunately, there is actually not too much happening in the town, and finding somewhere that served vegetarian food was difficult. The one place recommended online had a huge wait, so we ended up in a tiny cafe with cheese toast and matcha tea. It was ok, except the matcha was incredibly bitter (and I don't really like matcha) and later we walked past a cafe that was super cute with what seemed to have plenty of vegetarian options! Oh well! We stopped in there for afternoon tea later.

As we were walking through town we checked out a couple of temples, then headed to the Okunoin cemetary, which was next to our temple stay and the main drawcard for me. It was super cold (MUCH more than Okinawa), so we didn't walk the whole way (2kms), and headed back to our room to warm up with a family bath before dinner.

For dinner we were placed in our own separate room downstairs which was already laid out with trays full of different dishes. Someone brought in the hot portions after we sat down and we dug in. The food was really delicious, even though I wasn't sure what some of it was. There was a LOT of food, but it was the kind of food that I knew would leave me starving again in a few hours. There was one especially delicious boiled daikon radish dish.

Dinner time!
After an early night, we had to get up and be at the morning ceremony (prayers) at 6:30am sharp. The room was gorgeous (no photos allowed), filled with gold and we basically sat silently for 45 minutes while the two monks were praying.

Staying in a temple with a 5 year old, we were a little worried about his ability to keep quiet (the walls were paper thin), and last through the morning ceremony, but he did amazingly! Actually other guests were louder than G.

After the ceremony we went straight to breakfast in the same room as the night before, and I think it was even more delicious. The dishes were all different than dinner, including an amazing ginger tofu that I could eat forever.

The morning fog after the ceremony
After breakfast we headed out to explore Okunoin cemetary in the fog. It added such a mystical, eerie quality to the experience, and this was probably my favourite part of the stay. After the morning walk, we packed up and left because we had a long commute to Kyoto for the following 3 nights.

Seriously this fog was intense.

The morning fog in Okunoin Cemetary, Koyasan was mystical and eerie and made for an amazing photography opportunity
Okunoin Cemetary
Morning fog in Okunoin Cemetary, Koyasan
Moss <3

Morning fog in Okunoin Cemetary, Koyasan. There are over 200,000 graves in this old cemetary

Morning fog in Okunoin Cemetary, Koyasan

The temple we chose to stay at was Shojoshin-in. There is a lot of choice, and it can be a bit overwhelming. We made our decision based on the recommendation of a friend, online reviews and the fact that it was located next to the entrance of the cemetery. I think it was a good choice. The garden was gorgeous, the food was tasty and they don't have a curfew as i've heard some of the other temples have.

Dinner is served at 5:30 exactly, and you need to be at the temple by this time. Guests are also required to attend the morning ceremony. If you are a bit picky with your food, you should note that there are no convenience stores in the town (that I could find!), so it might be an idea to stock up on some snacks before you leave Osaka in case you end up hungry.

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A temple stay at Koyasan in Japan is a must-do for a traditional Japanese experience. The journey up the mountain is gorgeous, and staying in a temple is an experience you won't get anywhere else!

Camping at Kouri Island, Okinawa

This past weekend, the stars aligned, and we FINALLY got to use the tent we bought over 6 months ago! Ever since we moved to Okinawa, we have talked about going camping on a beach somewhere. The only thing in our way really was the intense heat of summer. I know a lot of people go camping in Okinawa during the summer, but the idea of camping when the temperatures don't drop below 35 celsius at night really sounded like hell to me.

Anyway, finally November arrived, and with it, beautiful, not too humid temperatures in the mid-20s. We decided to try out a secluded beach on Kouri Island. I have never been to Kouri Island before and both my blogging friends Hannah and Laura had been, so with their tips we decided to head to the beach! The main reason we chose here was because we wanted to take our dog, and as far as i'm aware, there are no "official" camp grounds that allow dogs. Driving over the bridge to Kouri Island, I was super excited because the water looked unbelievable! Probably the bluest i've ever seen (I now, I make this claim a lot about different places in Okinawa).

Getting to the beach involved a fairly long drive down an overgrown dirt road, and towards the end there was actually a part that seems to have eroded and our car simply couldn't get past. Because of this, we ended up having to park our car some way away from the beach and lug all our stuff in a few trips. Unless you have a 4WD, I might not recommend this trip. We ended up persevering because we had already driven an hour to get there, and in the end it was worth it.

Camping on Kouri Island at a secluded beach
Check out the colour of that water!
We finally got all our stuff to the beach and decided on the far corner of the beach to set up. Because it was the first time using our tent, AND the instructions we all in Japanese and not that clear, it took us over an hour to get the tent up! When we were finally done though, we got to relaxing. I was so hot and sweaty I got straight into the water. It was crystal clear and so blue, but there was also an element of wildness to it, so I didn't stay in too long cause it started to creep me out!

The beach was completely secluded, and everything that I love about Okinawa. The steep, sharp rock cliffs covered in jungly trees and the turquoise blue ocean. We spent the afternoon relaxing on the beach, collecting firewood and generally appreciating nature. It was lovely and made the effort to get there so worth it.

As the sun started to set, H set up the fire, which was perfect because the temperature had started getting chilly. We ate veggie sausages for dinner and then got ready for bed. Honestly, I barely got any sleep. Even though we had futon mats to sleep on, I was so uncomfortable and ended up reading my kindle for a lot of the night. I'm pretty sure the dog had the best night sleep of all of us! If anyone has any tips on getting a good nights sleep when camping, please let me know!

 I got up at sunrise, made a much needed coffee and took some photos. Unfortunately little G started feeling sick in the morning, so we basically packed up and headed straight home. Still, he was so excited that we finally went camping, and even though I was physically exhausted, it was just what we needed after the horrible news week surrounding the US elections and overindulging in the internet!


The water was quite eerie

Took ages, but we got it up!

Beach to ourselves

Camping on the beach at Kouri Island, Okinawa was a cheap way to have a staycation with the dog as well.

Sunrise over Kouri Island, Okinawa
All in all, i'm really glad we finally went camping, and I think all the effort was worth it. If anyone is wanting to try camping in this location in Okinawa, I must warn you that getting there was not good for our car. We came back with many scratches on the car from the overgrown track, so be warned!

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Camping on Kouri Island, Okinawa is a great way to enjoy the ocean and nature Okinawa has to offer. Waking up to the sounds of the waves is so relaxing.