Japan 2013 Part 8 : Day 8 and 9 – Snow at Shirakawa-go 白川郷 And Gokayama 五箇山

February 21, 2014 at 4:40 pm

The posts and summary for the whole trip, can be found here

♥November 29th Friday Night♥

Heavy snow fall started after we left Takayama 高山, and it slowed us down getting to Shirakawa-go 白川郷.

(A bit about Shirakawa-go 白川郷. From Japan-guide.com and Wiki : The Shirakawa-go 白川郷 and neighboring Gokayama 五箇山 regions line the Shogawa River Valley in the remote mountains that span from Gifu to Toyama Prefectures. Declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1995, these villages are famous for their traditional gassho-zukuri 合掌造り farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old.

The Gasshō-zukuri, “prayer-hands construction” style is characterized by a thatched and steeply slanting roof resembling two hands joined in prayer. The design is exceptionally strong and, in combination with the unique properties of the thatching, allow the houses to withstand and shed the weight of the region’s heavy snowfalls in winter.)

We were adviced by Shirakawa-go Tourist Association 白川郷観光協会, where we booked our farm stay from, to arrive at the information centre before 5pm to be shown to our farm house.

When we got to Ogimachi Village 荻町集落, the biggest and more popular village for tourists, where we would be spending the night in, it was after 5pm and it was pitch dark, except for a convenient store. The hubs went to ask for direction to Yoshiro 与四郎, where we’ll be staying. A lady came out of the store and told us to follow her car, in the heavy snow fall! I’m really in awe of all the help we’d received in Japan!

Yoshiro 与四郎 is a small farm house with about 4 rooms. It wasn’t one of my choices when I sent my inquiries to Shirakawa-go Tourist Association, but glad that we were assigned this farm house. Another group from Thailand arrived at the same time as us. The 4 Thais, refusing to be split into 2 rooms had to be given the bigger room which the owner, an elderly lady, had originally assigned to us. The owner kept apologising to us, “I am sorry. I am sorry.” and bowed her head. She told us that Zaria will not be charged anything (we were meant to pay ¥5,000 for Zaria).

The room we got was small but clean, rooms were not en suite. I went with the girls to bath at the common bath room, where a big hot tub of water was awaiting us.

Dinner was served at the common dining room at 7pm. Although children were charged at a cheaper rate (and Zaria free this round), all the portions served were the same. Zaria’s main was Hida beef slices, while we got chicken. (And Zaria said her beef was so soft and very yummy).
Dinner at Yoshiro Shirakawa-go
We were overfed and the food was delicious!

We were then entertained by the owner playing popular Japanese tunes (Doraemon theme song, Sakura) on her shanisen 三味線, a Japanese instruments with 3 strings.
Yoshiro owner playing the shanisen

And she asked us to play for her after that, all of us had a go, but no one could produce tunes she did. We had great fun though, laughing at each other’s attempts.
Thai tourist playing the shanisen at Yoshiro
The dining room was filled with laughter from all our failed attempts!

While we were dining and being entertained, someone went to our room to set up our futons. Because of the cold, we each had a heater box placed under our blankets. As there was nothing else to do, we all had an early night.
Thai tourist playing the shanisen at Yoshiro

♥November 30th Saturday♥

We were woken up by hub’s return from his early drive out. He told us it was beautiful outside, everything was covered in snow!
Snow covered Ogimachi Village Shirakawa-go

Snow at Ogimachi Village Shirakawa-go

Snow at Ogimachi Village Shirakawa-go
He showed us the photos he took where everything was covered in snow, and the girls immediately got up from their warm futons and wanted to go out and play. I insisted we have breakfast first as it was ready.

We were served a big breakfast, with rice and a hotpot of chicken (which were not in the picture).
Breakfast at Yoshiro Shirakawa-go

I did the packing, and the hubs brought the girls out to play.
Snow at Yoshiro Shirakawa-goThe girls were so happy to step on crisp snow!

We thanked the owner, while she kept repeating “I am sorry. I am sorry.”; paid her (and yes, she didn’t charge Zaria), and left Yoshiro.

The hubs brought us to the viewing point, which he went in the morning.

The good thing about staying in the farm house is, we got to enjoy the place before the first bus from nearby cities arrived.
Snow at Ogimachi Village Shirakawa-go

But looks like some early riser beat us to making the first snow man.
Snowman at Ogimachi Village Shirakawa-go

We quickly got to work and made ours too.
Snowman at Ogimachi Village Shirakawa-go

We got a really good view of Ogimachi Village 荻町集落 from the viewing point.
Snow covered Ogimachi Village Shirakawa-go

Snow covered Ogimachi Village Shirakawa-go

The area around view point seems like it’s popular for locals to exercise too.
Walking the dog at Ogimachi Village Shirakawa-go

The girls had their share of exercise too by gathering balls of snow, and tossing at each other, dodging and laughing all the time. It’s nice to see them so happy enjoying the snow.

We went back to the village. It was a sunny day, and the snow was melting away, so it got pretty wet every where. However, it was still beautiful and serene.
Snow covered farm at Shirakawa-go

Gassho-zukuri farm houses at Shirakawa-go

Snow at Ogimachi Village Shirakawa-go

Chili drying at Ogimachi Village Shirakawa-go

Chili and persimmons drying at Ogimachi Village Shirakawa-go

Restaurant at Ogimachi Village Shirakawa-go

Ogimachi Village Shirakawa-go

The girls, especially Zaria, was enjoying all the slopes she could find climbing up them, sliding down on her buttocks, doing cart wheels or whatever stunt.
Zaria on a snow slope

Zaria doing cart wheel on snow

We thought we would visit another village in Gokayama 五箇山 area, and we picked the nearest Suganuma Village 菅沼集落. It’s a small and quiet village with not many tourists nor locals.

Suganuma Village at Gokayama

Gassho-zukuri farm house turned Museum at Gokayama

Drying persimmons at Gokayama

Persimmons tres at Gokayama

Gassho-zukuri farm house turned restaurant at Gokayama

We break for tea at a quaint cafe 茶房掌, even in such a small village, the coffee and biscuit served were really good.
Coffee at 茶房掌 Suganuma Village Gokayama

And then attracted by a sweet aroma, we stopped at a snack shop for Gohei Mochi 五平餅, a snack available in this region made with rice, coated with miso sauce and then grilled; and a bowl of red bean soup
Gohei Mochi at Gokayama

Gohei Mochi at Gokayama

Red bean soup at Gokayama

Gohei Mochi shop at Suganuma

Gohei Mochi shop at Gokayama

Before we headed to our next destination, Zara and Zaria enjoyed the last bit of snow available right outside the restroom at Suganuma Village parking lot. It would probably be a while before they get to see snow again.

Snow at Suganuma Village Gokayama

Japan 2013 Part 7 : Day 7 and 8 – Road Trip, Exploring Takayama 高山 and Epic Lunch at Turuturutei つるつる亭

February 7, 2014 at 4:59 pm

The posts and summary for the whole trip, can be found here

♥November 28th Thursday♥

In the morning, we headed towards Nissan Car Rental to collect the car my Japanese colleague has helped me to book (He got a better deal from the Rakuten Japanese website compared to us inquiring via the Nissan English website).

Kyoto Tower
One last glance at the Kyoto Tower, our beacon for the whole Kyoto stay, and off we went. Using the English GPS, we headed to Takayama via Meishin Expressway 名神高速道路. It’s a very nice highway to drive on, and there were lots of beautiful rest stops along the way, with nice restaurants, clean toilets, souvenir/gift shop selling local produce. We stopped at the one in Otsu 大津.

From where we parked, view of Otsu City and Lake Biwa 琵琶湖 could be seen.
Meishin Expressway Otsu

The food at the Otsu Highway Restaurant was quite good, we had a simple lunch, and the hubs ordered a bowl of udon with Ayu fish, a Lake Biwa specialty. Fish was quite tasty.
Noodle with Lake Biwa stewed fish

Such a nice view of Otsu and Lake Biwa for diners at the restaurant.
Otsu Highway Restaurant

It was more than 3hours journey then on, driving on the highway.
Meishin Expressway

Close to Takayama, it started to snow!! The girls’ first experience of snow. We stopped the car and let them go out to ‘catch’ some.

By the time we reached Takayama 高山, it was already dark. We looked for a place to dine. The good thing about Takayama for drivers is the ample parking lots available at restaurants, shops, and 24hours convenient shops. We went to 備長扇屋 (I don’t know what it’s called in English, or how it’s pronounced in Japanese), a yakitori restaurant.

備長扇屋焼鳥 friendly waiter

It’s a local joint, so there was no English menu. Good thing was the waiter there was so friendly, for drinks, he actually went to the bar and took bottles of liquor/sake out to show us what was on the menu.
備長扇屋焼鳥 friendly waiter

The yakitori was delicious!
備長扇屋焼鳥

備長碳焼

Our hotel for the night is Spa Hotel Alpina. We got a room with Hollywood twin beds, joined, they are spacious enough for 4 of us to sleep.
Spa Hotel Alpina
The girls experience their first visit to the onsen (hotspring) there, initially both were shy to be naked in front of others, but after a while, they started enjoying looking at all the beautiful naked bodies of other guests while soaking in the bath.

♥November 29th Friday♥
It’s a day for us to explore Takayama 高山, a beautiful city in the mountainous Hida region of Gifu Prefecture.

Takayama from Spa Hotel Alpina

I love the little quaint shops at Takayama shopping streets.
Shop in Takayama

We stopped at a cafe, Le Midi, supposedly famous for their pumpkin custard. We got ourselves one and sat at the bench outside to enjoy it.
Le Midi Takayama

Yummy!
Le Midi Pumpkin Custard

It was an icy cold day.
Takayama

We explored the old street and their various shops, selling souvenirs, foodstuff from Takayama or Hida 飛騨 area.
Takayama old street

There were people who explored the town in rickshaws (we saw quite a few in Arashiyama and Gion area too).
Takayama rickshaw

The main reason we wanted a stop over at Takayama originally was due to the farmers market (after the visit we thought we should have stayed in Takayama longer though, as it’s a beautiful city with good and cheap hotels), but alas, there were too many distractions at the old street, so by the time we reached the market late morning, there was only one apple stall left operating.
Takayama market

The apples were locally grown. We bought a couple.
Takayama market - apples

Even these tiny ones were pretty delicious.
Takayama market - baby apples

After that, it got too cold for me. I went to a big heated shop nearby, and the girls and the hubs continued to hang around at the river bank.
Takayama river bank

Takayama bird watching

Takayama river bank

Takayama bird watching

Takayama street

Hida 飛騨 is famous for beef. We stopped at 喜八郎 Yamaichitei thinking of getting a beef bun/pao for Zaria to try.
Takayama Yamaichitei Paos

Takayama Yamaichitei

And in that small little shop, we bumped into CP, a blogger friend I’d known for a long long time, but never met in Malaysia! I knew she was going to Japan with her family the same time, but to meet in a small town in a small shop? What a coincident! We spent sometime updating each other on where we’d visited, and then had to part. She was heading to Kyoto, while we were heading to Shirakawa-go for our farm stay.

For lunch, we just use the GPS to help us find a restaurant, and of all restaurants listed on the GPS, we chose, Turuturutei 飛騨高山の蕎麦つるつる亭, and had an epic lunch!

The restaurant is a small restaurant, with only 2 tables, the other was occupied by a couple. We wanted to back off, but the owner came forward to greet us. He didn’t speak English, so he used his hands and facial expression to communicate. The other diner, and the owner’s son who’s working at the kitchen, with their limited English, helped us to order. We ordered 2 soba and 1 udon, with some flower tempura.

The owner sat with us, and then with every dish, he showed us the right way (or his way) to eat. This was what we had.

We were given a bowl of udon condiment each. See where the chopsticks were rested? He didn’t allow us to rest the chopstick on the table.
Turuturutei condiments

He grated us some fresh wasabi.
Turuturutei owner grading wasabi

Turuturutei real wasabi

The udon, delicious and springy, was scooped into our bowls of condiments, and a sauce was poured over it. When Zaria wanted eat it plain, the owner shook his head, and showed her that she should dip it in the condiment bowl, and pour in the sauce.
Turuturutei udon

The flower tempuras were really delicious. He showed us that we should only dip them in the salt and eat them.
Turuturutei tempura flower

Turuturutei tempura flower

The soba was served on a plate, and the owner told us to pour the sauce over it, and eat from the plate.
Turuturutei soba

Then he gave us each a small bowl of rice, with a tiny piece of plum.
Turuturutei rice

And scooped some soba soup (water that used to cook the soba) over it.
Turuturutei owner scooping soba soup

Turuturutei rice with soba soup

Gave us each a plate of condiments for the rice.
Turuturutei condiments for rice

And boy, it was delicious!!

The whole meal took us almost 2.5hrs.
When it was time to pay, the owner’s son came out and asked us, “Food ok?” We told him it was good.
Then he asked us with a smile, “Price high ok?”
Ha, that meal cost about ¥7500.
I asked Zara later if the food was ok.
She replied, “I don’t like people to control how I eat my food.”
Zaria added, “The King (the owner’s son told us his father was the king in the shop) was so bossy right? Like this cannot, like that cannot, he only want us to eat using his way.”

Anyway, we learnt the right way to eat Udon and Soba, it was a meal we will all remember.
Turuturutei Takayama

By the time we stepped out of the restaurant, it started getting dark, and then a snow storm started on our way to Shirakawa-go 白川郷.

Japan 2013 Part 6 : Day 6 – Fushimi Inari Shrine 伏見稲荷大社, Tofukuji 東福寺, Gion 祇園

January 19, 2014 at 10:48 pm

The posts and summary for the whole trip, can be found here

♥November 27th Wednesday♥

Our last full day in Kyoto, and we decided to visit 2 more temples, Fushimi Inari Shrine 伏見稲荷大社 and Tofukuji 東福寺 which is on the same JR Nara Line, and one station away from another.

To be honest, if I were to plan for the holiday again, I would skip Nijo Castle, and probably visit a few temples less. We had in total visited 8 temples this trip! Way too many. Unfortunately, I can’t turn back time, but will learn from this trip.

From Wiki
Fushimi Inari Taisha 伏見稲荷大社, famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates (鳥居), is the head shrine of Inari, located in Fushimi-ku, Kyoto, Japan. The shrine sits at the base of a mountain also named Inari which is 233 metres above sea level, and includes trails up the mountain to many smaller shrines.

Since early Japan Inari was seen as the patron of business, and merchants and manufacturers have traditionally worshipped Inari. Each of the torii at Fushimi Inari Taisha is donated by a Japanese business. First and foremost, though, Inari is the god of rice.

Guess maybe it’s a shrine for patron of business, and red is an auspicious colour, we see red everywhere.
Lanterns at Fushimi Inari Shrine

Lanterns at Fushimi Inari Shrine

Fushimi Inari Shrine

A Taiwanese wishing (on her wishing plague or Ema 絵馬) she would pass her exams and become an official teacher soon. Hope her wish is granted!
Wishing Plague at Fushimi Inari Shrine

There were bunches of threaded origami cranes hung at the wishing board. All the best to them too.
Origami cranes hung at Fushimi Inari Shrine

For us non-believer, we just rang the bell at the shrine for good luck.
Making a wish at Fushimi Inari Shrine

Statue of foxes, which are the messenger of Inari, are found around the shrine.
Inari Foxes

Inari Foxes

Even the Ema (絵馬) or the wishing plagues are in the shape of foxes.
Fox wishing plagues

The trail leading up the Inari mountain is lined with torii gates (鳥居).
Torii gates at Fushimi Inari

Torii gates at Fushimi Inari

With the donors named written at the back, as well as the date the torii is donated.
Torii gates at Fushimi Inari

Fushimi Inari Shrine

After Fushimi Inari Shrine, we headed towards Tofukuji 東福寺, which is 1 JR station away.

It’s supposed to be another good place to view autumn leaves; but by this time, seriously, it was just another temple to me, I wasn’t really enjoying myself. Moreover, it was so crowded at the temple.
Autumn in Tofukuji

Autumn in Tofukuji

Autumn in Tofukuji

Zen garden in Tofukuji

Autumn in Tofukuji

Autumn in Tofukuji

Autumn in Tofukuji

Autumn in Tofukuji

I was so glad the temple visit was over, as it was a super cold day.
Girls at Tofukuji

Thank goodness for a sweet stall set up opposite the temple, which offered complimentary hot tea, seats around a couple of heaters, and free access to the samples of the various sweets they were selling.
Sweet stall outside Tofukuji

Since it was our last night in Kyoto, we all wanted to go back to Gion 祇園 for some shopping. Unfortunately, it started raining when we reached there.

We found a yakitori (grilled chicken) restaurant for dinner, which didn’t have most of what we wanted. So we had a quick bite and left. The rain subsided a bit, but it was still wet.

Yasaka Shrine 八坂神社, Yasaka Jinja), also known as Gion Shrine seemed interesting, but nope, I wasn’t visiting another temple!
Yasaka Shrine

I stood outside the shrine with the girls while the hubs went into to have a quick look, there, we looked out to Shijo (四条通)junction at Gion.
Shijo Gion

While we were shopping, we were very lucky to spot a big group of Geishas walking out from Hanamikoji Dori 花見小路通, they were catching cabs and seemed like they were heading to some function which invited/hired (ok, I don’t know how this Geisha thing works) all of them.
Geisha at Hanamikoji

After shopping (not that we did much), as we were not satisfied with our earlier dinner, we went searching for another restaurant.
葱や平吉

We chose Heikichi Negiya aka the Heikichi Onion Shop 葱や平吉, a restaurant which featured mostly spring onion or onion dishes.

葱や平吉

Yuba at 葱や平吉

This is some special grilled onion, a recommended dish, but to me it was just another white onion.
The grilled onion at 葱や平吉

Their yakitori was better than the earlier place that we went to though.
Yakitori at 葱や平吉

Then it was back to the hotel to pack for our next stop.

Japan 2013 Part 5 : Day 5 – Eikando 永観堂, Kiyomizu-dera 清水寺, Higashiyama District

January 10, 2014 at 11:56 am

The posts and summary for the whole trip, can be found here

♥November 26th Tuesday♥

Daily routine during our visit to Japan was to walk to the train/subway/bus station to get to the destination we wanted to visit. That Tuesday, it was Eikando 永観堂 that we planned to visit.
daily journey to the train station

We gave the girls ¥150 daily as ‘drink money’, so, they would always made a stop at the vending machine, cracked their heads to choose a drink of their choice.
choosing a drink at the vending machine

We took the subway from Gojo Station 五条駅 to Karasuma Oike Station 烏丸御池駅 (Karasuma Line 烏丸線) and then changed train to get to Keage Station 蹴上駅 (Tōzai Line 東西線), the station closest to Eikando 永観堂.

From Japanese Search : At the southern end of the Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto, just north of Nanzen-ji, you will find Zenrin-ji. Zenrin-ji was the name given to the temple at its founding in 863. It means “Temple in a calm grove,” but few people use the name any longer. In the 11th century it became known as Eikando (永観堂禅林寺) after a famous head priest named Eikan. Eikan is attributed with acquiring the unusual Amida Buddha statue in the main worship hall. The head is turned sideways, and the legend goes that originally the statue faced forward, but turned to speak to Eikan as he was walking by.

Entrance ticket to the temple is ¥600 for adults and ¥400 for children. It’s one of the best temples to view autumn leaves per a lot of websites. The temple was very crowded the day we were there, but gorgeous indeed. You can see for yourself here.

Eikando garden

Eikando garden

Eikando autumn leaves

Eikando grounds

Eikando grounds

Eikando grounds

Eikando statue

Eikando grounds

Eikando lake

Ducks and Fish at Eikando lake

Autumn in Eikando

Autumn in Eikando

Tea house at Eikando

Tea house at Eikando

Autumn in Eikando

It’s almost like a fairy tale!

After Eikando, we bought some onigiri at the road side as our lunch, and walked to Philosopher’s Walk/Philosopher’s Path 哲学の道. Maybe it was autumn, and there’s no cherry blossoms to view, it wasn’t that pretty. There were a couple of artists selling their art work along the walk.

Artist at Philosopher's Walk

And it’s home for a lot of (fat) cats.
Cat at Philosopher's Walk

Next we took a bus to Kiyomizu-dera 清水寺.

From the website : Located halfway up Otowa Mountain in the eastern part of Kyoto City, Kiyomizu-dera is a historic temple that was established in 778, even before Kyoto became the capital of Japan. Since its foundation, the temple has burned down many times. Most of the current buildings were rebuilt by the third Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu in the early Edo period (1631 to 1633).

From the bus stop, we walked along Higashiyama District, the city’s best preserved historic districts, with ancient streets lined with shops, eateries, to get to the temple; and picked up snack we fancied along the way.
Buns vendor at Higashiyama Street

I think it was a public holiday for Japanese the day we were there, there were so many people on the street, and of course the temple was extremely crowded.

We paid our entrance fee of ¥300 for adult, ¥200 for children, and joined the throng of people.

We went to Jishu Jinja 地主神社, a shrine dedicated to God of love and “good matches”.

Ema (絵馬) or wishing plagues at Kiyomizu-dera

A God at Jinshu Jinja

A lot of couples were there making wishes, or probably pledging undying love for one another.
Couple at Jinshu Jinja

Otowa-no-taki 音羽の滝, the waterfall where visitors drink for health, longevity, and success in studies.
Otowa waterfall

Kiyomizu-dera is best known for its ‘nail-less’ wooden stage (Kiyomizu Stage 清水の舞台) that juts out from its main hall, 13 meters above the hillside below, which gives a magnificent view of the city below. It was so crowded that day, people stood behind one another to get a chance to stand at the edge for photos; but it was worth the wait.

Kyoto City, with Kyoto Tower, can be seen clearly on that day.
Sunset at Kiyomizu-dera

Sunset at Kiyomizu Stage

We slowly walked back out.
Higashiyama District

Along the street there were lanterns, indicating there’s special night opening at Kiyomizu-dera, probably to see the autumn light up.
Lanterns at Higashiyama District

Yasaka Pagoda 八坂塔, is one of the most visible and recognizable landmarks in the Higashiyama District.
Yasaka Pagoda

Outside of Kiyomizu-dera, more people were queuing to enter the temple for its night visit.
Crowded Higashiyama District

We came across many non-Japanese ladies (they spoke Chinese or Cantonese) beautifully made up in Kimonos walking around Kiyomizu-dera that day. It seems there are several kimono rental services in that area, starting from ¥3500, you can be a kimono clad Japanese for a day.

These 3 ladies, presumably from Hong Kong (they spoke Cantonese), were giggling, posing in front of a cream puff shop.
Girls in Kimono at Higashiyama District

After the visitors started entering Kiyomizu-dera for their night visit, the streets quietened down slightly.
Yasaka Pagoda

We found a small eatery nearby for dinner, and then headed to Gion 祇園 for shopping.

Supper was at Issen Yoshoku 壹錢洋食, a famous eatery at Gion. The restaurant only serves 1 dish, an Okonomiyaki-liked pancake. At ¥630, it draws a lot of local as well as foreign customers. It’s renowned for its logo, a dog pulling the underwear of a young boy; its unique interior, where kimono-clad mannequins serve as your dining companions/hostesses at every table; and also the wall deco which are actually ‘wishing plagues’ or Ema (絵馬) with sexual content.

Issen Yoshoko

Issen Yoshoko Logo

Issen Yoshoko wall deco

Issen Yoshoko model

Issen Yoshoko food preparation

We only ordered one ‘Okonomikyaki’ to be shared. I didn’t like it, the combination of everything mixed together wasn’t to my liking.
Issen Yoshoko - Okonomiyaki

It was then time to walk to the nearest bus stop to take a bus back to our hotel.
Gion at night

Japan 2013 Part 4 : Day 4 – Nijo Castle 二条城 and Nishiki Market 錦市場

December 29, 2013 at 11:49 pm

The posts and summary for the whole trip, can be found here

♥November 25th Monday♥

This is how our room in Sakura looks like. Every night when we got back, we had to lay our futons out and put on the sheets ourselves (sheets were always folded and not laid on the futon after the room was cleaned) and after we woke up, we would fold the futons and put them at the side so we have some space in the room.

We’d stayed in 2 other Japanese style rooms later part of this trip, and the futons were always laid out for us.

Sakura Standard Room

That day we decided to do some city tour. We were told by the staff at the hotel to bring along an umbrella as it would rain later.

We took a bus to visit Nijo Castle 二条城 (Nijojo).

From Japan-guide.com : Nijo Castle was built in 1603 as the Kyoto residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo Period (1603-1867).

Entrance ticket was purchased via a ticketing machine (¥600 adults, ¥200 children).
Nijo Castle Ticket Machine

Zaria trying zen sand drawing. She wrote 我要回家 (I want to go home), she actually meant going back to the hotel!
Nijo Castle Zen Art By Zaria

Nijo Castle Roof

Girls in Kimono at Nijo Castle

To be honest, I didn’t think this was a nice castle to visit. The landscaping isn’t that great, and the castle building itself wasn’t that interesting. The girls however did learn about the nightingale flour (uguisu-bari), which was a security measure to prevent people sneaking around undetected.
Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle

And just as the weather forecast, it started pouring when we finished our tour at the castle. We took the bus and headed to Kawaramachi 河原町 as we have plans to visit the Nishiki Market 錦市場. Because of the rain, for lunch, we picked the first restaurant that we came across, and lucky us, it’s this super nice Udon restaurant Omen うどん, we all ordered set lunches except Zaria who wanted grilled chicken.

Their chili pepper came in a variety of ‘flavours’.
Omen Chili Pepper

Here is what we got for lunch.
Omen Grilled Chicken

Omen Set Lunch

Omen Udon Condiments

We had a walk about around the departmental stores at Kawaramachi, i.e. Takashimaya, Kyoto Marui, just because we couldn’t walk on the street under that weather.

Busy Kawaramachi

When the rain subsided to a drizzle, we walked to Nishiki Market 錦市場 or Nishiki Ichiba, a 400 years old market located on a road near Kawaramachi, and runs perpendicular to Teramachi Street 寺町通 (a covered shopping street), it is renowned as the place to obtain many of Kyoto’s famous foods and goods.

Nishiki Market

There’s a small but busy temple at Nishiki, 錦天滿宮 Nishiki Tenmangu.
Nishiki Tenmangu

The rest of the market, is shops after shops selling food stuff (ready to eat, ingredients), tea, kitchen utensil.

Nishiki Market Pickle Shop

Nishiki Market Pickle Shop

Nishiki Market Grilled Eel Shop

Nishiki Market Chest Nut Shop

Nishiki Market Anchovy Shop

Nishiki Market Nara Pickle

Nishiki Market Pickle Shop

Nishiki Market Cake Shop

Nishiki Market Fresh Seafood Shop

Nishiki Market Fresh Seafood Shop

Nishiki Market Fresh Seafood Shop

And for a female, when in Kyoto, a visit to Yojiya よーじや is a must, a famous Kyoto cosmetic/skin care brand.
Yojiya at KawaramachiNot that I bought much from the shop as I try to stick to natural skin care/cosmetic these days.

We wanted a yakitori (grilled chicken) dinner on that cold wet day, so we walked about to search for one; again, it was a lucky find, we went to Yaoki 八百起, which has pretty good food and drinks (the hubs like their Sake, I like their Sawa サワー, i.e. shochu and soda added with fruit juice).

Yaoki Yuba (bean curd skin) Salad

Yaoki Yam Balls

Yaoki Yakitori

After dinner, the rain finally stopped! We walked back to the hotel.

Japan 2013 Part 3 : Day 3 – Arashiyama And Sagano 嵐山嵯峨野

December 27, 2013 at 12:19 am

The posts and summary for the whole trip, can be found here

♥November 24th Sunday♥

Weather forecast for that day was clear and sunny, so we decided to go to Arayashiyama 嵐山, which is another to go places on my list.

We walked to Kyoto Station to take a JR train, and stopped at a Drug Shop to stock up on snack. We just love the drug shops there which sell a wide variety of things.
Shopping at a Drug Shop Japan

Saga-Arashiyama Station 嵯峨嵐山駅 is just 15mins away. Upon arrival, we picked up a map from the JR station which provides walking route options, and what to see on each route (these sort of maps are common at JR stations). This round, we didn’t want to walk with an empty stomach, so we bought our lunch from a nearby Lawson (24hrs convenient shop), before we started our walk.

When we were approaching Daikakuji 大覚寺 (our 1st destination), there were lots of big banners with 大根供養 written on it. I know it has got something to do with daikon or radish, so I went to check further.

Daikakuji Daikon Memorial Festival 大覚寺大根供養

The temple was doing a Daikon-kuyo 大根供養 (Daikon Memorial Festival). From one of the ladies who were serving the daikon, we were told the daikon was offered to Buddha, and after that, they will be cooked and served to the public and those who eat the daikon will be blessed.

The daikon was cooked in these big pots for 3 days.
Daikakuji Daikon Memorial Festival 大覚寺大根供養

We ordered a portion (¥900) from these ladies.
Daikakuji Daikon Memorial Festival 大覚寺大根供養

Daikakuji Daikon Memorial Festival 大覚寺大根供養

They gave us an extra portion when they knew we were foreigners. Oh boy, the daikon was so delicious!! So glad we tried it.
Daikakuji Daikon Memorial Festival 大覚寺大根供養

We were warmly sent off by the ladies after our daikon break. Paid for our tickets (¥500 for adult, and ¥250 for children) and then entered the grounds of Daikakuji 大覚寺.

(Per Japan-Gude: Daikakuji was originally built in the early 800s as the detached palace of Emperor Saga, who thoroughly enjoyed spending time in this calm area on the outskirts of Kyoto. Thirty years after the emperor’s death, the palace was converted into a temple and has since been one of the highest ranked temples of Shingon Buddhism.)

We found a spot at the garden, and had our picnic lunch while the hubs went to take shots of the Osawa Pond (the oldest man made pond in Japan).

Dried lotus plants in the Osawa Pond

Duck in the Osawa Pond

Osawa Pond

After lunch (and waiting 30mins for the hubs to finish his photo shooting), we went into the Temple which is made up of several buildings connected by elevated wooden walkways.

As a security measure, the covered corridors has low ceilings so that no one can swing swords or spears, and the floor is uguisu-bari (nightingale floor) which squeaked quietly as you walk over them ensuring none could sneak through the corridors undetected.

Monks at Daikakuji

Chokushi-mon or The Gate of Imperial Messenger

Tablets for the death at Daikakuji

The temple is beautifully landscaped with some nice autumn leave viewing spot.
Daikakuji Autumn Leaves

Berry Plant at Daikakuji

Autumn Leaves View at Daikakuji

After Daikakuji, we went to Adashino Nenbutsuji 化野念仏寺 to view thousands of stone Buddhist images and stone pagodas. (¥500 for adult, and ¥250 for children)

Taken from Secred Destination: From the Heian (794-1185) to Edo (1603-1868) periods, the destitute of the Adashino area brought their dead to this hill, leaving the bodies exposed to the elements. Receiving no tombstone or proper burial, their souls were honored by stone Buddhas.

The place is so beautiful with autumn leaves scattered on the mossy ground and the mysterious looking roughly cut stone Buddhas every where.
Autumn at Adashino Nenbutsuji

Autumn at Adashino Nenbutsuji

Autumn at Adashino Nenbutsuji

Autumn at Adashino Nenbutsuji

Autumn at Adashino Nenbutsuji

Exiting Adashino Nenbutsuji, we walked through an old street where the buildings are traditional machiya (“town houses”) that served as private residences but are now converted to shops and restaurants.

Old Street at Arashiyama

Souvenir sold at Arashiyama

Since there was still some sunlight (although it was soon getting dark), we made a quick stop at Gioji Temple 祗王寺 (¥300 for adult, and ¥150 for children), a nunnery with a small thatched building and an equally small moss garden.

Giouji Temnple

Giouji Temnple

Giouji Temnple

Giouji Temnple

The temple was so small, we covered it in about 15mins.

We walked back to the town area of Arashiyama. I do like this town as there are lots of beautiful houses, and little temples here and there (not mentioned in the guide or the JR map).
Decoration at road side

Temple At Arashiyama

We made a stop at Bruce 2 as my guidebook has recommended the shop to get hand made little ‘man’ pencil case.
Inside Bruce 2 Arashiyama I bought myself one as a souvenir.

Not knowingly we reached the Arashiyama Station (Keifuku Line), where a bust of activities were going on. Tenryuji 天龍寺 temple was having autumn light up (i.e. the temple garden got lit up to highlight the autumn colours in the night), there was a counter selling some packages, ie. train ticket + ticket to view the autumn light up, and people were queuing up to buy them. We joined the crowd as well. Got our tickets, had a simple dinner at the station, and then walked to Tenryuji to view the light up.

It was an extremely cold night and the place was packed; although the crowd was orderly, I didn’t enjoy myself at all.

Tenryuji Autumn Light Up

Tenryuji Autumn Light Up

Tenryuji Autumn Light Up

After this, we took the train and headed back to Kyoto. It was a long day, and we walked a lot and I was again amazed with the girls’ stamina and ability especially in this cold weather.

Japan 2013 Part 2 : Day 2 – Takao 高雄

December 19, 2013 at 6:28 pm

The posts and summary for the whole trip, can be found here

♥November 23rd Saturday♥

A year ago, I saw a Hong Kong friend posted his beautiful Kansai photos (during autumn season) on FB and one of the places he went to was Takao 高雄. Some research later, we found that Takao is one of the best places to view autumn leaves, so it was on our to-go list.

After checking the weather forecast in the morning, reporting clear and sunny weather, we decided to go that day. We took a bus near Sakura, stopped a few stops away to change bus, got lost looking for the bus stop to take the bus bound for Takao (it was our 2nd day in Kyoto, still not familiar with bus system, but after taking the bus a couple of times, with the bus map on hand, it wasn’t that difficult to map out route and know what bus to take etc), thank goodness for kind Japanese, we managed to find the bus stop, and even got prompted to board the bus when it arrived.

50 minutes later, we reached Takao at lunch time.

We saw some stalls selling roasted sweet potato, mochi, and this, deep fried maple leaves. We didn’t know what they would taste like, but you can’t go wrong with anything deep fried right? So we just bought a pack to snack on.
Fried Maple Leaves

¥500 for a pack, not cheap, but it was good. Its batter is sweetened, and mixed with some sesame seeds, crunchy, sweetish, they were really delicious.
Fried Maple Leaves

Since we spotted these stalls, we thought it was going to be like Nara, with shops lined streets along the way. We bought a couple mochi, a roast potato, and thought we’ll snack on these, do some walking first, and then have late lunch.

With no map to guide us (1st time), we didn’t know we actually went on the Tokai Nature Trail 東海自然步道, as there were lots of people heading there, we just followed the crowd, not knowing we would be embarking on a 4.5hrs walk covering almost 8km with no proper lunch!

The consolation is, the view we got on this walk, was spectacular!

Autumn colours at its bestTakao Autumn Leaves

Takao Autumn Leaves

This part of the Tokai Nature Trail 東海自然步道 is along the Kiyotakigawa 清滝川 (Kiyotaki River), and at the banks of certain part of the river, people stopped to have picnics, sip tea, while enjoying nature. There were some tea shops set up next to the river too at the beginning of the trail.
Takao Kiyotaki River

Zaria disrupted the tranquility by tossing pebbles into the river.
Picnic at Takao Kiyotaki River

This was the last restaurant we saw on the trail, and because they were charging a lot for lunch, we thought we would push on.
Entrance of a Restaurant at Takao

From then on, it was just a walking trail with stunning view.
Takao Forest along Tokai Nature Trail

Takao Kiyotaki River

Takao Autumn Leaves

We came across a wide open space. A big group was there having a hot pot lunch. We only had some Kit Kat (since that was the only thing we brought along and some water). Bad planning on our part (but none of my guidebooks nor Japan Guide talked about this trail!).
Takao Tokai Nature Trail picnic spot

Some part of the trail is a bit tougher, but Zaria enjoyed these the most, taking the lead all the time.
Takao Tokai Nature Trail

Most part of the trail is easy and runs parallel to the river, probably because it was a weekend, lots of elderly people were walking on this trail too.
Takao Tokai Nature Trail along Kiyotaki River

The water from Kiyotakigawa was blue and clear.
Clear water of Kiyotakigawa

There were sign boards along the trails, stating the distant to the next main stop, and we were heading to Kiyotaki 清滝.
Sign Board along Tokai Nature Trail Takao

Arriving at Kiyotaki, a small village, we thought we could find a place to eat, but there was nothing near the trail.
Kiyotaki Tokai Nature Trail

Kiyotaki

We saw more people having picnics or just a rest next to the river.
Kiyotaki Tokai Nature Trail

Checking some signboards posted at Kiyotaki, reading words in Kanji, I managed to decipher the notices (or so I thought). I discussed with the hubs that we could either take a bus from Kiyotaki 清滝 to Arashiyama 嵐山, then back to Kyoto or continue walking to Saga Toriimoto 嵯峨鳥居本 to take the bus.

We decided to go to Saga Toriimoto.
(I think we took the wrong way). After walking about 0.5km, we couldn’t see any sign boards pointing to Torrimoto, so we walked back to Kiyotaki again to reread the notice. It was mentioned in the map that there’s a view point at Ochiai 落合. We decided to walk to Ochiai just to check out the view point, and if we couldn’t find Torrimoto, we would walk back to Kiyotaki to take the bus.

We knew we were on the right track when we arrived at Ochiai tunnel 落合隧道.
Ochiai Tunnel

After the tunnel it was the viewpoint, from which we could see the Hozukyo Gorge 保津峡.
Hozukyo Toroko or Gorge

Hozukyo Toroko or Gorge

We saw some boats were sailing by, and realised later that this is the Hozugawa-Kudari 保津川下り or Huzugawa boat ride, a world famous sightseeing experience which covers a 16km boat journey from Tanba-Kameoka to Arashiyama.

We couldn’t find any more walking trail after this point, but just a tar road, with occasional cars or cyclist going passed.

It was then decision time again, to walk back to Kiyotaki, or continue walking on the tar road? But to where? There was no signage.

We then saw 2 Caucasian men coming out from the tunnel, walking towards us. We asked them where they were going, and one of them said to a JR station. We couldn’t believe there’s a JR station out in this wilderness. The man said we could decide to walk to the JR station, or go back to Kiyotaki to take the bus, but JR train would be more frequent than bus, and also it would be tar road leading all the way to the station.

Since they knew exactly what they were doing, we followed them.

Walking along Hozukyo Toroko or Gorge

And yes, half an hour of walking later, we saw the station, i.e. JR Hozukyo Station JR保津峡.
JR Hozukyo JR Station

One last look at the view, before we finally got to rest our butts on the train and headed towards Kyoto.
Hozukyo Toroko from JR Hozukyo Station

That day, we walked for 4.5hrs from 12:30pm to 5pm(with lots of photo stops), covering more than 7km with no lunch!; The distance of the trails :
from Takao 高雄 to Kiyotaki 清淹 (3.8km);
then from Kiyotaki to Ochiai 落合 (~2km);
and then to JR Hozukyo Station JR 保津峡 (~1.5km).

This was what we covered.

Walking path - Takao to JR Hozukyo StationView Takao to JR Hozukyo Walking Trail in a larger map

We were truly amazed with the girls! They just walked on and on! There were times when Zaria complained about being tired, but when she saw another rough and tough path, she would brighten and then take the lead going through those sections first. Zara would occasionally mentioned she’s really hungry, and I would whip out another Kit Kat to fuel her. They really did well.

When we arrived back at Kyoto Station, it was rush hour at full swing!
Kyoto Station Rush Hour

We were all so keen in having something hot to eat, we chose the restaurant at the station with the shortest waiting queue!

Japan 2013 Part 1 : Day 1 – Nara 奈良

December 13, 2013 at 11:19 am

The posts and summary for the whole trip, can be found here.

♥November 22nd♥

We arrived in Kansai International Airport the morning. Following the advice from our hotel in Kyoto, we bought a 1 day JR Kansai Area Pass for ¥2,000 (Children half price).

At the JR ticket office, the girls experienced their first (kind) hospitality shown by Japanese. We were just commenting on the origami on the table of the ticket agent, and while we waited for our credit card transaction to go through, the ticket agent went to the back (office area) and took 2 origami cranes out for the girls!

We found rubber stamps for visitors too at the JR ticket office. After visiting a few JR stations, we realised this ‘facility’ is common; most popular JR stations and other tourist attraction have unique rubber stamps for visitors to make use of. The girls started their ‘stamping’ journey, looking out for rubber stamps at all the other stations, which they used to stamp on a notebook they carried along.
JR Station Stamps

We arrived at our ryokan Kyomachiya Ryokan Sakura at about 11am. Sakura is not cheap, especially when we wanted to have 4 in a room. We selected it because it’s located about 10mins walk from Kyoto Station, 5mins from Gojo Station (五条駅) on the Kyoto Municipal Subway Karasuma Line, and there is a bus stop (Nishi Hoganji Mae 西本願寺前) 2mins walk away; making it a good base to explore Kyoto and the surrounding area.

As it was too early to check it, we left our bags there, and left for Nara (奈良), since the train fare there is covered by the JR Kansai Area Pass. Lunch was onigiri (the girls’ staple 1st few days of our holidays until they got sick of them) and buns from Kyoto station which we ate on the train.

Nara, a beautiful town, is 45mins train ride from Kyoto. Upon arrival, we walked towards Nara Park to find the famous Nara deer. Quaint and lovely shops lined the street.

Deco placed outside of an organic clothing shop. I should have gotten something for myself, but because we just arrived, I didn’t want to start shopping immediately. REGRET!Organic Clothing Shop Deco

Sugitama (杉玉), gathered leaves of Japanese cedars, traditionally hung at the roof of a sake brewery to thank the God of Sake. Seeing the change of colour from fresh green (from the start), the age of the sake brewed can also be gauged.Good luck deco in shops

We have to stop at almost every shop! How can we not, every shop is interesting!Shopping at Nara

Nara Pickles (奈良漬) is famous, but no, we didn’t get any.Nara Pickle shop

This shop, Nakatanidou (中谷堂) was drawing a crowd. It’s a shop famous for mochi, made on the spot (the dough making was supposed to be quite dramatic, but we missed it, as they’d finished making the dough when we arrived) using the best ingredient. They were so fresh, they were still warm when we bought them! Delicious.
Famous Mochi Shop at Nara

The hubs was walking with us through the town, until, we first sighted autumn colours! He was lost in the beauty (and we lost him!) and took his time (sometimes too long) to photograph them!
Beautiful Nara

The first temple we came across on this trip was Kofukuji Temple (興福寺), a part of it was undergoing renovation.

The girls tried to ‘bath the Buddha’ by following what others did before them.
Bathing the Buddha

The Kofukuji pagoda (五重塔) is almost 1200 years old.Kofukuji pagoda (五重塔)

Ema (絵馬) or wishing plagues that were hanging on the temple boardWishes Board

And then we spotted them! The deer!
Deer at Nara Park

Zaria was caught trying to train one of those deer. “Come here boy!”
Zaria training a deer at Nara Park

Don’t let these deer with bambi eyes fool you. Yes, they are tame. Yes, some allow you to touch or pat them. But a couple of them can turn aggressive when food is involved.
Deer at Nara Park

One tore off a page from my travel guide, when it discovered I didn’t have any deer food on me! Some went to sniff our bags to check for food.
Deers at Nara Park

I bought 2 stacks of deer biscuit from vendors at the park. Once these deer knew we had something, they started following us, nudging us for those biscuits.
Deers at Nara Park

FEED US NOW!Deers at Nara Park

An aggressive one actually nudged Zaria, then stood up and pushed Zaria with its front hooves, scratching her eyes! That was when we tossed all the biscuits to the ground, and had enough!

We were meant to visit the Todaiji (東大寺) Temple, where the main hall, Daibutsuden (大仏殿), is the world’s largest wooden building. Unfortunately, due to hubs spending too much time taking photos of the park (have to admit the park is beautiful!), we arrived just when they closed, i.e. 4:30pm.
Beautiful Nara Park

It got dark pretty quickly after that, so we have to head back to the station.

Deer even roamed near shops, as though they were shopping.Deer shopping at Nara Park

We chose a small home style restaurant (we were told later, they have been operating for 60years) for dinner. Food was quite good, at a very reasonable price, set meals for ¥650~¥750 (rice + soba/udon + tempura). Their menus are little drawings pasted on the wall.
Creative dinner menu

After dinner, we spotted a cafe which served green tea dessert. The cafe, Kyousyouan (京匠庵), had nice little potted bonsai plant as table decoration. This is real plant, and we were worried Zaria would pull of the little apple like fruit dangling from the plant!
Miniature bonsai

We ordered 3 items, a matcha pudding, a hot matcha with glutinous rice balls, and the girls shared a matcha parfait. All of our orders came out great, all packed with fragrant matcha.
Kyousyouan Green tea parfait

After dessert, we walked toward the JR station, and passed by more shops.
Souvenir At Nara

Shopping At Nara

Nice shop signboard At Nara

Nice shop At Nara

Nara is a pretty nice town, with lots of arty farty shops, trendy and traditional restaurants. Would love to come back to this place again.

Back in Kyoto, we walked back to Sakura from Kyoto Station. During our stay in Kyoto, the Kyoto Tower would be our beacon to find our way back to Sakura.
Kyoto Tower

Day Trip to Carey Island And Tanjung Sepat

November 4, 2013 at 11:45 pm

(With so many activities plus a busy work schedule, it’s been an extremely low-key October for me here.)

During the Hari Raya Haji holidays, an ex colleague came over to stay at our place. It was a funny encounter. The hubs called her Louisa, a name that was never hers (but somehow he’s been calling her the same name for years I’d known her). She called the hubs Loke when he’s a Low. She called my girls 小瓜 (which means little melons) until Zara started asking me, “Why is Auntie calling us melons and not our names?” The only person retaining the right name was me!

Anyway, to help Louisa forget her troubles at home (the reason she came to stay), we went on a day trip out of town. And like all day trips we take, we usually have a destination in mind, but the detours are unknown.

Tanjung Sepat was our destination for the day, and while we were heading there with Google Map, the hubs decided to detour to Carey Island for a stop over and lunch. He wanted to bring the girls to the Orang Asli Museum, but it was closed. And while checking out what other places of interest there were on Google Map, we saw that the long Jalan Pulau Carey ends at the sea. Since we had time, we drove on the small Jalan Pulau Carey, towards the end of the road, passing palm oil estates after palm oil estates. There at the end of the road, at the fringe of a palm oil estate (what else?), lies a quiet stretch of beach.

No picnic goers, no kite flying, no facilities, just a narrow strip of beach.

We took a stroll and found some hermit crabs at the beach.

Zaria was intrigued that the crabs could actually leave their shells.

That day we learnt the below :

From wiki.
Most species have long, spirally curved abdomens, which are soft, unlike the hard, calcified abdomens seen in related crustaceans. The vulnerable abdomen is protected from predators by a salvaged empty seashell carried by the hermit crab, into which its whole body can retract. Most frequently hermit crabs use the shells of sea snails.

Here is a pix of a hermit crab which has left its shell, showing its its soft curved abdomen.

There was only 1 stall beside the beach selling freshly caught fish. What interest the girls was the tree besides it, they took turns climbing and chilling on it.

For lunch, we just took the first restaurant that we come across, i.e. Kang Guan Seafood Restaurant, the food is nothing to shout about.

After lunch, we all took a nap while the hubs carried on the drive to Tanjung Sepat.

Here is a map of Tanjung Sepat, click on the map to get a bigger copy.

We stopped at a restaurant with an extended walkway out to the sea which faces the famous Lover Bridge, seen on that day from a far, broken.

This walkway is drawing a lot of people, and probably going to be made the new Lover Bridge. It’s a good place to cam-whore.

A short walk from the restaurant took us to Ganofarm, a mushroom farm cum homestay.


There’s a shop that sells some mushroom produce, we bought some fresh oyster mushrooms and then left to look for a place to have dinner.

What we didn’t know was while we drove towards the restaurant of our choice, Restaurant Asam Batu Laut, we came across the highlight of the trip, a piece of mangrove forest exuding an eerie charm in the evening twilight.


It’s a photographers’ heaven!

We end the day with having dinner at Restaurant Asam Batu Laut, ordering their famous Asam Fish, which is fried fish with a spicy asam sauce.

How To Stay Safe – From Children’s View

October 25, 2013 at 2:07 pm

The recent case of a 15 year old being murdered, has made me extremely worried about my girls. (What is this world coming to?)

I went on to share with the girls some of safety measure they could take to prevent themselves from being a victim. Just to make sure they understand it, their writing project yesterday was to write about How To Stay Safe.

One thing still missing from their list, that is to keep their parents informed wherever they go. I have to continue to drill that.

And mind their spelling, they don’t use spell check like us adults on the PC/phone/tablets.

(Zaria still have a very vague understanding of what rape is, but Zara knows what happen in a rape, and she said it’s too disgusting to write it down in her journal.)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...