Our fifth day with Adventures by Disney in Japan got off to an early start. One of the amazing benefits of being on an Adventures by Disney trip is that they handle all of the luggage transportation for you. This meant having our bags packed and outside our room by 6:30 am, similar to how it disappears at the end of a Disney Cruise. Our Adventure Guides James and Tomomi did a great job of explaining the procedure the night before and if we needed carry on luggage for the day’s adventures, they could be stored on the bus with us (the luggage went ahead of our bus on a truck).
Before leaving Kyoto, we made an early morning stop to one of the most popular shrines with Keiko, our local expert from day 2. She gave us an audio tour of Fushimi Inari Shrine, famous for its mountainous trail of thousands of torii gates. We got there before the crowds, although it wasn’t exactly empty.
One of the magic moments was when Tomomi brought out a bag full of torii gate offerings on which we could write a wish and leave it at the shrine where it will be burned on New Year’s Day, sending our wishes up to the heavens to be considered by the gods. Alternatively, Adventurers could keep them as a souvenir. We were given some free time to explore on our own and while we didn’t feel confident that we could complete the entire trail in time, we did enjoy finding alternate paths that lead to smaller moss covered statues of foxes, who guard this and many other shrines in Japan as a symbol of good fortune in business.
Back on the bus, we travelled to the city of Nara in Nara Prefecture. Like Kyoto, it was once the capital of Japan and is famous for a Buddhist Temple that houses the largest wooden building in the world, inside of which is one of the largest Buddha statues in Japan. Tōdai-ji Temple was another inspiring sight to see and after a guided tour by Keiko, we were free to explore on our own. As with other stops, our Adventure Guides showed us the best spots for photos and offered to take individual and/or group pictures.
Like Miyajima Island, Nara is covered with deer, who are even more aggressive than the ones on the island. Keiko shared that the deer on Miyajima actually came from Nara, but this touristy area features stands that sell packs of biscuits that can be fed to them. We were warned not to do so, as the deer will gang up and sometimes bite the garments of the hands that feed them. They were cute, but we appreciated the pro tip.
Next we visited Nara’s main shopping and dining street. We went to a mochi shop as a group and got to watch a mochi making demonstration, which was a sight to see. James and Tomomi took away some mochi treats for everyone to enjoy back on the bus after time on our own for lunch. Fresh hand-made mochi is delicious!
We chose to have lunch at Mos Burger, a fast food chain in Japan, sort of like their home grown McDonalds (which are everywhere in Japan, by the way). I tried a teriyaki burger that was really yummy as well as the corn soup. They also had a rice burger, where a traditional bun is replaced by fried rice cakes. After lunch, we stopped at Mister Donut, which had an impressive display. We played it safe with strawberry flavor and found that donuts in Japan are more like a sweet bread than what we’re used to in the states.
Back on the bus, we enjoyed our mochi as we travelled further into Nara Prefecture to a town called Katsuragi City, the birthplace of sumo wrestling. We went to the Kehaya-Za Sumo Museum to learn more about the sport, the traditions of it, and see a live presentation, which also included a musical performance by a local troupe. We were told that weight doesn’t really matter in the sport and there are skinny sumo wrestlers. The wrestlers doing the demonstration were 275 and 220 pounds each and they seemed to win an even amount of times. It seems to depend more on who is able to get the best hold on the other first, although the lighter fighter seemed at a bit of a disadvantage as the bigger wrestler picked him up by his waistband several times to lift him out of the circle of the Dohyō.
Our Adventure Guides, James and Tomomi, returned wearing inflated sumo wrestler suits and the Adventurers had to vote to determine which one would fight that day. James sold us on voting for Tomomi as seeing a woman wrestler in sumo style is rare, plus he broke a rib earlier this year doing it and we all felt like voting him back in would be inhumane. Tomomi did an amazing job and won the match!!!
After the match, we were invited into the Dohyō to receive our pin for the day. It featured Baymax in the ring with the theme of the day, “Do You Dohyō,” written on it. We also got to take pictures with the wrestlers, another rare experience that visitors to Japan don’t typically have without the assistance of Adventures by Disney.
Back on the bus for a four hour bus ride to Takayama, James and Tomomi entertained us for the first half of the ride by teaching us some Japanese. They passed out laminated cards with katakana and hiragana characters and we learned about how Japanese students learn them. We were given pens and paper to try to write the words they gave us and it was a fun learning experience. In true Epcot fashion, it was “Edutainment” at it’s finest. After a short rest stop mid trip, our drive resumed with a screening of Big Hero 6 for the rest of the way.
We checked into our second hotel of the trip, Hotel Associa Takayama Resort, and we went directly to a buffet dinner while James and Tomomi handled check in for the entire group. The buffet had an impressive spread of Western and a Japanese dishes. There was definitely something for everybody.
The hotel itself reminds me of the decor at the Grand Floridian on the inside. It feels European inspired in many ways and I found the lobby and common areas to be quite beautiful, but not everyone in the group felt that way. The rooms are a bit outdated, with twin beds, no USB plugs, and a fairly basic bathroom (but the toilets are the fancy Japanese kind that can give you “The works” if desired). Another sign of the hotel being behind on the times is that your room key is an actual key. As promised, our luggage was waiting for us inside the rooms when we got there.
Hotel Associa Takayama may not be known for its rooms, but it is famous for its onsen with views of the Japanese Alps. We took a pre-bedtime visit and found it very relaxing. These public baths are gender specific and you aren’t allowed to wear swim trunks so it may not be for everybody. Adventurers with tattoos were also warned not to use the onsen as this is associated with gang activity in Japan. The onsen is very sanitary and everyone must shower before entering the baths. There are different levels of them, some more like wading pools, some like hot tubs, and some like bathtubs. You can choose indoor or outdoor and we greatly enjoyed both experiences. For obvious reasons, there are no photos of the onsen, but trust me when I say it was a beautiful area of the resort. Each pool featured a mix of tile and natural rock, with gurgling water features in each bath.
Tomorrow we will explore more of Hida Prefecture and the majestic mountains. Be sure to check back daily for more of our Adventures by Disney Japan coverage.
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Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.