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 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 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

The School Holidays Begin

November 17, 2013 at 11:10 am

And so, the school holidays have started. The girls will be home with me, and boy, it’ll be tough keeping them occupied so that they don’t disrupt me working.

I’d kind of laid down the rules, before they get to watch TV or use the iPad, the girls have to pick 2 of my activities every day from : 1) writing on their journal; 2) learn and write 4, 5 new Chinese idioms (for Zara), and words (for Zaria); 3) do 4, 5 pages of work sheets. They have also smartly laid down their rules, on days I don’t work (i.e. Saturdays and Sundays) they don’t have to do their work. They said,“It’s a holiday for you, so it’s also a holiday for us!”.

Here is Zaria’s writing last Wednesday, looking forward to her holidays.


(See what she calls me! At least she knows who’s the boss.)

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