Monday, October 28, 2013

Japan October 2013 - Kyoto (Day 8) 

Today is planned to be the Temple day! Hopefully we can get in Kinkakuji 『金閣寺』, Ginkakuji 『銀閣寺』and Kiyomizudera 『清水寺』. Looks to be tough though, unless we move fast but then that would not be fun anymore.

As Kinkakuji 『金閣寺』 and Ginkakuji 『銀閣寺』 are on opposing sides of Kyoto, we decided on going to Kinkakuji 『金閣寺』 first as Ginkakuji 『銀閣寺』 was nearer to Kiyomizudera 『清水寺』. First things first, we bought ourselves the 2 day Kyoto Bus and Subway pass for 2000 JPY each. This would allow us to take unlimited rides subway and city buses within the 220 JPY fare zone. A 1 day version of this pass is also available at 1200 JPY.

We boarded the bus to Kinkakuji 『金閣寺』 and if you are planning to come here but are worried that you will get lost on the bus systems, you do not have to worry. The buses are equipped with large monitors at the front, which show you the name of the next stop. The announcements for the next stop also go off frequently. In addition, if there is a major tourist location, or a connection to the subway, the announcement will also be made in English. You do not have to worry about language.

We got off at the announced stop and proceeded to pay our dues (bought ourselves the admission ticket). The admission ticket comes in the form of a talisman. Really cool!
We wandered around the grounds (Japanese temples are not like Singaporean temples ah, it's really quite big.) and took lotsa photos. The main focus is naturally on the gold gilded building that sits serenely in its cosy spot by the lake.

All in, I'd say Kinkakuji 『金閣寺』 is nice but it's not my favourite temple.

After visiting Kinkakuji 『金閣寺』, we went over to Ginkakuji 『銀閣寺』and they also have a talisman admission ticket! So now I have two :D

In a way, Ginkakuji 『銀閣寺』 is complementary to Kinkakuji 『金閣寺』 in that one is gold (Kinkakuji 『金閣寺』) and the other is silver (Ginkakuji 『銀閣寺』). As such, that pretty much means that the best way to enjoy them is go to both of them! The actual Ginkakuji 『銀閣寺』, however, is pretty nondescript. In fact, we walked right past it on the way in and didn't even notice it. We only noticed it when we went up the hillsides and were looking down on the temple grounds when we noticed something that was large and... well, not all that silver.

There was a lovely bamboo grove there. I think pandas would love it here. Of course, we had to go to the shops on temple grounds as well. Cannot miss that!

 After leaving Ginkakuji 『銀閣寺』, we went to grab lunch in one of the shops nearby. The owners don't speak much English, but they will bring you out to the display so you can point to them what you want. It's really nice and fun to be able to get your point across without even speaking a word.

I ordered a Tendon. Not a tendon (like muscle and stuff) mind you, but a rice bowl with prawns.
After that it was too late to get ourselves to Kiyomizudera, and so we decided to take a bus to JR Kyoto stations. We all knocked out on the bus and slept through our stop and almost ended up back at Kinkakuji! We hopped off the bus and took the subway instead. The trusty trusty subway. I always feel more comfortable with it than with buses. The subway is pretty fixed. You know pretty much where it goes. The bus? I just don't feel as comfy on it.

We wanted to get to the JR Kyoto Station so that we could have dinner at Wako that is situated in the restaurant area of Isetan JR Kyoto. I like this place. They serve nice portions of food that are delicious and yet affordable. A set meal costs around SGD 20. On the way up to the restaurant, we stopped and spent time admiring the steps that were lighted up in animation. It's really pretty.

At Wako, all three of us went for the same set meal, cos it has a buttload of stuff to try! It has prawn tempura, fried chicken, crabmeat croquette, chawanmushi, free flow rice, salad, tea and soup which has tiny little shells in it! Needless to say, the food was quite good!

After dinner, we passed by a pillar advertising Loft. Loft is a shop that sells lifestyle and household items. The Ikebukuro branch sells craft items, so I am so excited to be able to go to a Loft in Kyoto (Hadn't been to the one in Tokyo!) especially since it doesn't seem very far away from our hotel. Tomorrow~!!

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Japan October 2013 - Nagoya to Kyoto (Day 7) 

Nagoya. An almost transient stop for us as we only stay here for one night. Fortunately, we managed to at least go to Nagoya Castle yesterday. Hadn't managed to quite get ourselves into the Nagoya underground shopping yet.We should probably have spent another day in Takayama instead of just one day in Nagoya, but we wanted to cover as much as we could (comfortably) in the time that we had in Japan.

After checking out of the hotel in Nagoya, we were on our way to the JR Nagoya station. The Toyoko Inn Nagoya Marunouchi branch has a transport that sends guests to the JR Station in the mornings. In the evening it is the other way round instead. So we took the transport to the JR station, totally skipping the walk yesterday (got lost, seriously cos of laggy GPS! and an impatient and overconfident me).

On our way to the station, we passed by this sign that was rather interesting. In fact, if you read it in Teochew, if would produce the sounds "Na Go Ya".

We got to the station and managed to get our reservations on the Shinkansen which would take us to Kyoto. In the meantime, we manage dto get more shopping done. My friend had been suffering from dry skin since she arrived in Japan and she finally decided that she had to buy some moisturiser. After some careful selection, she settled on her choice while I ended up buying two different sunscreens.

The trip to Kyoto was fairly uneventful as it was a rather short journey of around half and hour on the Shinkansen. The fare would have cost us 2520 JPY and the seat reservation: 2920 for the Hikari, but this was covered under our JR Pass! Our very last squeeze of the JR Pass :D

Once we got to Kyoto, it was really not like Nagoya where we actually got lost. No way lol. Kyoto, to me, is much easier to navigate. We went over to our hotel (Toyoko Inn Kyoto Shijo-karasuma) by the subway and deposited our luggage there under the... ehrm.. possibly watchful eyes of a... rather harried staff. He didn't give our luggage tags to us and I didn't notice. My friend did notice though but I misunderstood what she had meant so..... Anyway, from the hotel, we went off to lunch.

And where did we go to lunch but >> Ippudo!
This time, I had the Tsukemen and it was definitely much more memorable than the last time I had ramen here :D YUMZ!

After lunch, we walked around the area and all the way up to the Imperial Palace grounds. The Imperial palace gardens are open to public, but if you wish to view the palace itself, you have to register or turn up and hope they have slots available during the guided tours. You can go to this website to get more info and register for the tours : http://sankan.kunaicho.go.jp/english/ . We hadn't registered so we contented ourselves with walking around the gardens which was pretty nice and peaceful. Quite a few people wee also out enjoying the day, walking their dogs and what nots. It's a really good way to enjoy life.

As the distance between our hotel and the Imperial Palace was quite far, and we had stopped by quite a few shops and stuff along the way, this easily took us into the evening and we had walked all the way back to the hotel, checked in. We got smoking rooms because there were no more non smoking rooms left when I booked. It was really a smoking room >.>, and the window wouldn't open so I couldn't air it. Grr. Anyway we rested and went out to the konbini to grab some food for the night and ended our day.

Oh, at the konbini I managed to buy some really yummy cuttlefish snacks that I neither took a shot of or remember the name of. It was super yummy!! I hope I can get it again the next time I go. It's from one of the lesser seen konbinis :(

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Japan October 2013 - Takayama to Nagoya (Day 6) 

It has been wet and soggy since the day we arrived in Takayama and today is no different. Typhoon weather makes it soggy so it is kinda depressing to be in Takayama. This area is actually very pretty but we were unable to fully appreciate the beauty it has to offer.

It is probably best to plan for a few days stay in this area. One might base themself in Takayama, and then make day trips out to the various locations around like Shirakawago or even stay a night or two (budget dependent) in ryokans at Shirakawago. After all, this area is supposedly famed for its onsen and a few nights relaxing in the area should be a great idea for those who love onsen. There are quite a few hotels within 5 mins walk from JR Takayama station so there are no worries about accomodation.

We checked out in the morning so that we could catch the 0930 ish train to Nagoya. Initially, we thought that we wouldn't reserve seats and just hop onto the non reserved cabin (this way if the cabin was empty we could spread out a bit more), but then when we got to the station, I suggested that we reserve our seats instead. When we boarded the train, it was quite empty. But when the train got to Gero, a whole bunch of people boarded. This old lady came up to my bag which was placed on the empty seat next to me, slapped my bag twice and said "sumimasen".

I had no clue whether she wanted me to move my bag, or she had accidentally knocked into my bag so I waited for her to indicate her intentions further. When she went on to talk to her companions about another seat, I ignored her. Turns out that she did indeed want me to move my bag as it was on one of three seats that they had reserved. This was probably the most impolite person I've met in my trips to Japan. Seriously, even in Singapore I would not be cordial if someone came up and slapped my bag like that.

We sorta enjoyed whatever scenery we could for the trip down to Nagoya. In Takayama and Shirakawago, we pretty much tromped everywhere in summer clothing even though it was cold and soggy. It wasn't really that cold, as air con rooms in Singapore can be colder and it was precisely because it was soggy, I did not want to wet my Uniqlo jacket that I had bought in Tokyo. I would rather be a bit chilled then soggy from top to toe. However, once we reached Nagoya, the wind was fairly chilly although it was sunny and I finally had the opportunity to pull out my jacket.

From JR Nagoya station, we took a walk over to Toyoko Inn Nagoya Marunouchi. Now, if you ever stay at this hotel do note that they have a free shuttle from JS Nagoya Station to the hotel from 1700 to 2200. We did not arrive during this time slot though. Along the way, I actually got us lost. Here I have to point out that the map provided by the hotel seemed a bit outdated. All I gotta say is Yoshinoya is unreliable!!

As we arrived at the hotel too early for check in, we left our luggage at the reception and went over to Nagoya Castle. They are currently reconstructing some portions that were bombed during world war II and the rebuilt areas will be open to public progressively until 2018. Admission to the castle is 500 JPY and you can pay and additional 300 JPY to visit the special exhibit. The special exhibit basically consists of building plans for Nagoya Castle, so if you are not in that kind of stuff, I would say, save the 300 JPY and just get the general admission ticket instead. That ticket allows you to go everywhere in the castle except the 3rd floor where the special exhibition is.

It was at Nagoya castle that I dropped my camera and it got seriously nicked. Must be because I had some snarky thoughts in mind when I read about the castle being bombed.

After the castle, we popped over to JR Nagoya station to get some dinner and it was here that we found a restaurant that served kurobuta which is what my friend wanted to eat. The food here is pretty good, it's a restaurant on the 12th floor of JR Nagoya Takahimaya named 黑豚俺 so if you are looking for pork in Nagoya, you might wanna give this one a thought.

After dinner, it was some shopping time and then back to the hotel for snoozes.

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Friday, October 25, 2013

Japan October 2013 - Takayama , Shirakawago (Day 5) 

Halfway point!

Today, we spend the morning in Takayama. We went to the Miyagawa morning market, where one can pick up all sorts of local produce and other souvenirs. It's not too big though, it's baasically a market lined up on a street along the river, with one end being buildings and the side by the river being stalls that pop up. There aren't that many pop up stalls either, but I am not sure whether it was because it was not weekend.

We had breakfast at one of the shops and it was a really cosy little place. We got in there just before the little one in the house had to go to school, so we got to see his preparations (breakfast, dressing in his little school jacket and hat) before his mum sent him off to school. Gotta love such places, as they let us see a little bit into the lives of the locals even if it is just a little glimpse.  The food was pretty good too. We had rice, mushrooms, egg (nicely done omelette!), pickles, yam, seaweed and miso soup with free flow tea for 550 JPY.

 After breakfast, my friend didn't want to go to the temple in the Hida Folk Village nearby so we continued to shop as we had time before meeting up with the tour for Shirakawago. All this while it was raining, so it was quite dampening, literally.

We were supposed to meet up with the tour in front of JR Takayama Station at about 1325, and we popped over there about 10 mins earlier. We were getting kind of grumpy cos of our wet socks, but nothing to be done about that. The tour leader for our group is called Yamamoto, and he is kinda bubble as all tour leaders would need to be to keep the group enjoyable, even for a half day tour like ours. We booked the tour from !Site for 3800 JPY. It's a pretty good way to see Shirakawago if you do not intend to spend too much time there, although staying at a minsyuku is highly recommended is you have the budget.

The route to Shirakawa goes through quite a few tunnels, so we couldn't really see much of the scenery, but along the way we got to see the koryo whenever we got out of a tunnel. The view is really nice, it was really worth the trip and I can almost say worth the soggy rain to view this. You get wonderful hues of orange, red and yellow all over the mountainsides. It's almost as if someone took a pallete and spilled it artistically.

When we reached Shirakawago, we were brought to an observation area to view the 'classic view' of Shirakawago that is usually seen internationally. The area overlooks the village and of course there is a souvenir shop conveniently located there.

After that, we went into the village proper. We crossed over a suspension bridge to get into the village as the bus had to park some ways away from the village.
Apparently, over 1 million tourists come to Shirakawago a year. I can imagine 1 million people crossing that bridge in a year. That is one popular bridge!

Shirakawago is famous for it's Gasshou style houses where the roof is extremely high and steep. Winter views of Shirakawago is ridiculously pretty. I should like to be able to view it myself someday but I am not sure about the cold. Incidentally, my friends and I were the only 3 idiots walking around in 'summer wear'. Everyone else was in some kind of jacket, windbreaker or even winter wear. I was in polo shirt and jeans, as is one of my friends. The third one was in shorts. I was told I looked cold. Honestly, even though I am generally afraid of the cold, I really wasn't that cold in Shirakawago. Yes, you do feel a chill, but this motley crew is well trained in Singapore. 15 degrees is nothing to us (just as long as there is no wind!).

What bothered us more was the rain... Like seriously, wet shoes and socks drives most people nuts. Plus the rain went on forever.

Anyway, we went on to visit the dokorobu festival museum (entrance fee 300 JPY), which is dedicated to exhibiting items related to the dokurobu festival. And, one of the things they do for dokurobu is sake. It's a cloudy sake that they only have for festival purposes and is not for sale. You can have as much as you want in the dokurobu musuem. Really, I am not kidding. They will refill your saucer as many times as you go back, although I don't know what they would say after your 50th time. I had a taste of it and gave the rest to my friend. I am really not an alcohol person.

After the sake, we went over to the Kanda house (entrance fee 300 JPY), where they had free flow tea that was boiled in an iron pot in an old style Japanese fireplace.

On a wet and soggy day such as this, it was really nice to see a real fireplace! We spent some time in the Kanda house, drinking tea, warming up (I missed out on the sake so now I must catch up on the tea!) and then visiting the rest of the house. On the upper floors, they had exhibits on equipment that they used in the old days. It was a rather interesting place as it seemed liked there were way too many nooks and crannies for a house that size, plus the views were awesome (even in the rain)!

As our time was limited, we only visited these places in Shirakawago. It was sad that the rain dampened our shoes, socks and spirits, but Shirakawago is really pretty and I think it would be amazing in better weather. I guess the weather can't be helped, especially since there is a typhoon going on. We should count ourselves lucky that we were only getting our toes wet and complaining about it. People on Izu island are getting it much worse.

Gonna be moving to Nagoya tomorrow. Takayama and the auurounding areas are a great place for onsen if you like that.

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