Year End Holidays Planning

November 3, 2015 at 3:05 pm

School holidays are coming, have you planned for your holidays yet?

We’d not gone on a holiday this year, except for the short weekend trips here and there, all because of the project I was working on which had me working many nights and weekends. Now that the school holidays are coming, it’s time for a long break!

We have a Bali and Japan trip coming, and there’s lots of planning to do, especially for the Japan trip.

I think I overbought the books.

After googling, contemplating, checking out travelling books, talking to CPWong who’s a Japan travel expert, we’d decided to visit Kyushu this round. Still there’s lots of research to do, as in how we’ll be travelling around this Southern Island, what are the places of interest to visit, and where to stay for the night.

Once we know our itinerary, we have to book the accommodation. Since the exchange rate is not in our favour, we had to compare hotel rates from various hotel sites before making the booking.

In 2013 when we took our first Japan holiday, our accommodation was around USD200/night for 2 adults and 2 children. This round, with more time to do research, we are able to cut down to USD120/night on average for 2 adults and 2 children in Kyushu! Good deal eh?

I found HotelsCombined to be extremely helpful in comparing hotel room rates from different booking sites (,, etc), and listing the best deals out.

We managed to get really good deals for Bali too, only RM350/night for a nice family room.

Can’t wait to see all these.

Photo credit: Rakuten

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Japan Part 11 – Day 12 – Osaka Doguyasuji 千日前道具屋筋商店街 and Shinsekai 新世界

April 10, 2014 at 10:08 pm

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

♥Dec 3rd Tuesday♥

Osaka Skyline

Last day in Japan, and I woke up with a massive migraine. I asked the hubs to bring the children out without me but they preferred to stay in with me. Good thing was after sleeping for 2hrs, the migraine went away, and we could still shop and explore for one last day before we left.

First stop was Doguyasuji 千日前道具屋筋商店街, a small shopping street which sells kitchen and baking wares/utensils. For a small street, we spent quite some time there, and I got myself a clay pot, a bread knife, a cast iron kettle, two thermometers and an aluminium pot; I made sure everything I got was Made In Japan to worth the effort for carrying them back.

There were other interesting shops around Doguyasuji, but we didn’t have time to check them out. O

Cycling seems to be very popular in Osaka and Kyoto; if it wasn’t for the busy traffic, we would have opted to use the bicycle too; maybe in future trips when the girls are older.
Around Doguyasuji

After that it was off to lunch. Our first western meal in Japan at Bene Pesce.
Bene Pesce Pesto Octopus Pasta

Bene Pesce Smoke Sardines

Bene Pesce Tomato Pasta
For about ¥800 for a set lunch, the food was not bad and of good quality, like all things Japanese.

We lugged all the things we’d purchased, and headed to Namba Station to store them in the locker.
Namba Station

Namba Station

Because the hubs has patiently waited for me to shop at Doguyasuji, I had to agree to go to Shinsekai 新世界; one of the poorest area in Japan, it has a unique character and tackiness that is not found in other parts of Japan. The moment we got out of the train, it’s as though we’d been transported back in time to a notorious and dangerous part of Japan.

Shinsekai Love Locks

People were sloppily dressed (Zara said every one looked like a gangster), some looked dirty and zombie like as though they had not taken a bath or rested for quite some time. Shinsekai is famous for cheap eats as well; we saw lots of small restaurants lining the streets, and they were mainly ‘standing bars’ or in Japanese 立吞, where the Kanji characters translated to ‘stand and swallow’ (I understand it’s now also a popular restaurant concept in Taiwan).

Shinsekai Standing Bar 立吞

Shinsekai Standing Bar 立吞

There were a couple of adult movie theatres that we came across with their bold posters, the girls squealed every time they came across one, “Eeeyer!!!! Humsup!!” “Eeeyer, she’s showing her boobs!” “Eeeeyer, they look like they are mating!” o.O”

I had to ask the hubs walk ahead of us to ensure the ‘coast’ was clear before we followed him.

There are a lot of Pachinko Parlour in Shinsekai too; hubs went into one of them to have a look.
Shinsekai Pachinko Parlour

If the restaurant signboards in Dotonburi is tacky (but acceptable), the ones in Shinsekai brought it to another level. Most of the restaurants have the Shinsekai Mascot Billiken that’s supposed to bring luck. Luck or not, it looked hideous.

Shinsekai Restaurant with Billiken

Shinsekai Restaurant with Billiken

Shinsekai Restaurant with Billiken

Shinsekai Restaurant

We didn’t have dinner there, because the girls were uncomfortable with the people they saw there. So if we were not after the cheap food, why were we there? This was all because the hubs wanted to photograph the vibrant colours of Shinsekai (no doubt it’s colourful) and the Shinshekai Tsūtenkaku 通天閣, which means “Tower Reaching Heaven”.

We were there late afternoon till night time, so the hubs could take the tower under natural light, and also when it’s litted.
Shinsekai Tsūtenkaku

Shinsekai Tsūtenkaku

So he took photos of the tower from different angles, of the tower itself, and also from the busy street.
Shinsekai Tsūtenkaku

Shinsekai Tsūtenkaku

Shinsekai Tsūtenkaku

He spent so much time there, the girls and I got really bored since there were no shops interesting enough for us to spend time in; and we had tackiness overdosed!

Finally when it was time to go, we were so happy! It was back to Dotonbori 道頓堀 and Shinsaibashi 心斎橋 for more shopping.

While we were walking around looking for restaurant to have a quick meal, a group of men were standing outside a small eatery chatting loudly. They started chatting with us too, i.e. where we were from, if we were enjoying ourselves etc. We asked what they were waiting for, and one of the guy mentioned onigiri. He told us the eatery sold really good onigiri, and we should try it. And so we did! It was one of the best onigiri we had tasted, they were made on the spot, it was so good we went for seconds. For the record, the name of the eatery is めはり屋文在ェ門 (pronounced as Mehari-ya Bun-zaemon).

After our light meal, we did all the girls’ shopping at GU, sister company of Uniqlo, where things were much cheaper. The girls bought 4 pairs of shoes from there, 3 were UGG like boots which were going for ¥500.

Then we came across Laduree at Daimaru, so we had to had some (moreover, a mochi costs the same amount as a Laduree macaron, i.e. ¥300, in Japan). We took 2 each, as we absolutely love (good) macarons. Choosing which piece of heaven we wanted to taste was tough though.
Choosing macaron flavours at Laduree Daimaru

Finally, a little more of Osaka by night, and it was time to go.
Osaka Taxi

Namba HIPS

Osaka At Night

The following day, after breakfast, it was time to leave for the airport. It’s been a good trip, and we can’t wait to return again.

Japan 2013 Part 10 : Day 11 – Osaka Castle 大阪城 Dotonbori 道頓堀 Shinsaibashi 心斎橋

April 3, 2014 at 9:24 pm

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

♥Dec 2nd Monday♥

Osaka, being the 3rd largest city in Japan, has a train network that is quite complicated. Every train trip, I (yes, read I, not we) had to plan out the route and then purchase the ticket.
Buying ticket at Osaka Station

The plan for the day was to go to Osaka Castle Park 大阪城公園 and then Namba 難波 in the evening.

Osaka Castle Park 大阪城公園 is a the second largest park in Osaka, a very beautiful and pleasant park, which attracts lots of locals as well as tourists.
Sparrow at Osaka Castle Park

It seems to be a very popular place to take wedding shots, we saw a couple of them; but this one seems to be having a great time getting their shots done.
Wedding couple in Kimono at Osaka Castle Park

Wedding couple in Kimono at Osaka Castle Park

Wedding couple in Kimono at Osaka Castle Park

We saw a few groups of children on a field trip there. As the park is near the Osaka Museum of History, it’s probably a good place for children to go for a field trip to cover both places.
School children at Osaka Castle Park

The park has lots of benches, and places to rest, and people do make good used of it.
Taking a nap at Osaka Castle Park

When it was time for lunch, we got ourselves Nissin noodles from the park vendors. The girls kept saying it was the best instant noodle they had ever tasted. Ha.
Lunch at Osaka Castle Park

Lots of people brought their dogs for walks the park. People in Osaka are generally more friendly than other Japanese, when the girls showed interest in their dogs, they slowed down to let the girls pet them. One lady let Zaria carried her dog, Nana; and Nana was so taken by Zaria (or was it because she tasted Nissin soup on Zaria’s face) she kept licking Zaria’s face!
Being kissed by a dog at Osaka Castle Park

Strolling around the park was extremely pleasant, and we could see the Osaka Castle from almost every where in the park; and it’s extremely beautiful in the evening sun light.
Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle Park

Osaka Castle Park

Osaka Castle

One part of the park had lots of ginko trees, which have beautiful yellow leaves on the tree and scattered on the ground.
Ginko Fruits and Nuts

Ginko Plant

After a stroll around the park, we headed back to the train station located near Osaka Museum of History 大阪歴史博物館 and took the train to Namba and then walked to the shopping dining paradise of Osaka, Dotonbori 道頓堀 and Shinsaibashi 心斎橋.
Osaka Museum Of History

Bright neon lights, LCD billboards brighten up the place.
Dotonburi Neon Signboards

Glico Man at Dotonburi

And when you are there, you will never miss the tempting scent of grilled crab from Kani Doraku Dotonburi かに道楽. They purposely grilled it at the front of the restaurant to lure customers I believe. For ¥700, we got a small portion of grilled crab and ate standing. The crab siew-mais were also very nice. ¥500 for 3 pieces, we bought 3 portions as they were just too delicious.
Dotonburi Crab Restaurant

For dinner, we chose a conveyor belt sushi restaurant.
Dining at Dotonburi sushi restaurant

I love the tacky restaurant signs in Osaka. Unlike the signs in Kyoto, they are loud here.
Seafood Restaurant at Dotonburi

And they like using 3D signboards.
Fugu Restaurant at Dotonburi

Gyoza Restaurant at Dotonburi

Some are also quite artistic.
Birdland at Dotonburi

Mural at Dotonburi

After some shopping and walking, we passed by Kinryu Ramen (金龍 ラーメン), and thought of trying. So we queued up, ordered 2 bowls, and waited. There’s only char siew topping, but there’s condiments such as kimchi, chives, for us to add, so while Zaria had all the char siew, hubs and I shared the rest with heaps of condiments added. It was quite nice, and Zaria claimed it’s the best ramen she’s ever tasted and the char siew melted in the mouth!
Ramen Restaurant at Dotonburi

Japan 2013 Part 9 : Day 10 – Gero 下呂 Friends Making and Osaka 大阪 Takoyaki Making

March 12, 2014 at 2:51 pm

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

Girls' shadown

♥November 30th Sunday♥

Leaving Gokayama, we started driving to Gero 下呂, a city about 2 hours away from Gokayama, which is famous for their onsen.

Why a stop at Gero? It’s all because of the beautiful listing of Shinko’s House in Airbnb.

The House is 100 years old and when I read about the place and the feedback, I immediately thought we had to make a stop there, even if it was just for one night.

Arriving at Gero after dark, we got lost trying to find her place, but with the help of a worker at a convenient store, who called Shinko (the house owner) and charted our route on a map, we managed to locate it easily). It’s located right at the top of a hill. We got a section of the house ourselves, which includes a living room and the bed room.

Shinko cooked us a simple local Gero chicken dish for dinner, and after dinner we went to an onsen for our bath. As this is a town famous for onsen, there are many onsens, and I couldn’t believe that they only charge as low as ¥300 for adults and ¥150 for kids to use the facilities. The girls’ feedback on the onsen here? “The ladies were younger and more beautiful at Takayama, the ones here are bigger size and older.” They enjoyed the dip none-the-less.

Sleeping arrangement in Shinko's house

♥December 1st Sunday♥

Shinko brought us a breakfast tray in the morning, and then sent in fried eggs and pancakes later. It was a big breakfast! Zaria enjoyed the pancakes so much she said that was her best breakfast in Japan.
Shinko's breakfast tray

After breakfast, the girls went to Shinko’s section of the house and met up with Shinko’s 2 children, Francois, 3; and Claire 9; the four of them clicked immediately. The rest of the morning, the 4 of them played in Shinko’s compound.

A holiday is not just about the places you see, but the people you meet and the friends you make.

Girls making friends at Gero

Girls making friends at Gero

Zaria was so taken by their hen Peacock, she kept asking us to get her a pet hen when we got home.
Francois was so taken by Zaria, he wanted to stay close to her all the time, and asking her to play with him. He wasn’t happy Zaria spent so much time with Peacock the hen.

Shinko’s house is situation on a hill, most houses have big plots of land to plant rice and vege. It was the same for Shinko’s house. There is a clear stream as well (she said during summer, it’s nice for swimming), and there are chestnut trees, persimmon trees, flower bushes around.

Drying persimmons

Fallen Chestnuts

Beautiful flower

We were rather sad to leave her house, especially the girls, who asked if they could stay for another night. We left at noon time after all the hugs and good byes, and then headed to Gero town for lunch.
Japanese restaurant

Then it was the long drive to Osaka, where 1/3 of the journey is on trunk road.

We arrived at Osaka after dark, checked into our hotel Crowne Plaza ANA. This was the hotel with the biggest room we got in Japan, however, we there’s only one king bed. So Zaria had to sleep on the sofa, while the 3 of us shared the king bed.

Room at Crowne Plaza ANA Osaka

Room at Crowne Plaza ANA Osaka

We then returned our rented car at the nearby Nisan centre, and had dinner at Takonotetsu, a Takoyaki (or Octopus ball) restaurant where you can cook your own Takoyaki.
Takoyaki at Takonotetsu
My first try in Takoyaki making, and it they came out quite good actually, and properly rounded. I saw some other diners’ Takoyaki came out pretty ‘disfigured’. I’m not sure if they were self cooked or the Takoyaki here is in deed nicer, we love our Takoyaki; we tried other Takoyaki in Osaka later in our trip, and they were never as nice.

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 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!


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

Le Midi Pumpkin Custard

It was an icy cold day.

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.

Creepy or Coincidence – Encounters in Japan

January 21, 2014 at 9:48 pm

When you go on a holiday and you snap a lot of photos, usually, you won’t know what you’d taken until you started going through them one by one back home.

So, the hubs and I had taken over more than a thousand photos during our Japan trip, more than a month later, when I sorted out the photos taken on Nov 27th, I spotted these 4 persons in a photo the hubs took of the girls and I at the Fushimi Inari JR station, waiting for our train to go to Tokufuji. They were standing next to us (I’d cropped it to remove us from the photo) waiting for the same train.

Thais at Fushimi Inari JR station

These 4 persons are Thais, who, 2 days later, stayed in the same farmhouse as us more than 270km away from where this photo was taken. They arrived the same time as us (they took the bus, we arrived by car), and because they insisted to have four of them stayed in 1 room instead of 2 rooms as suggested by the owner, we had to let them have the bigger room originally meant for us.

That day at the farmhouse, only 3 rooms were taken, the Thais took 1 room, we took 1 room, and another Taiwanese girl 1 room.

Even the girls were surprised when I showed them this photo. They found it strange that we ‘accidentally’ took the photos of the Thais in another city far away from where we actually met them.

Coincidence, fate or creepy? It’s like twilight zone.

If you know these Thais, get them to contact me, we might as well get to know each other and maybe we’ll be good friends.

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.

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


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 : 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.

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