Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Japan trip during June school holidays - Kyoto Higashiyama, Gion, Pontocho/Osaka Pokemon center (Part 4)

Kyoto has over a thousand temples and shrines per se.  Most of them were easily accessible by bus and trains.  The close proximity of some also set us astounded as if all the temples were congregated here.  The popular ones, inevitably, would be flooded with tourists like us and the Japanese students.  But it was well worth the visit despite overcrowding in these places.

Since it was our first visit to Japan, we did some home learning with my boy on the difference between temples and shrines before the trip.  Shintoism originated from Japan and has been their tradition religion before the introduction of Buddhism (from India/China). It usually characterised by the torri gate at the entrance.  The names often ended with 'jingo' (神宮) is a Shinto shrine.  Whereas, Buddhist temples came with a  'dera' or 'ji' (寺). 

12 June 2015 Kyoto Kiyomizu-dera 清水寺/Kodaiji 高台寺 temples
Osaka Mitarashi komochi - these plain looking little rice cake with sweet soya sauce filling which we bought from Kuromon market in Osaka, was surprisingly so good.  We ate as breakfast and within a few minutes, all the rice cake were gone! We could not do without a good coffee in the morning.  Papa recommended Espressamente illy at Kyoto station which was very popular with the Japanese due to its value for money breakfast set.  It was pretty crowded but managed to get a table in the non-smoking area. The place was small and the non-smoking and smoking area were only partitioned with a glass panel.  Hence, the non-smoking still smell strongly.  So, we swiftly moved out and went for take-out instead.  The coffee was excellent and literally perked us up! 

A long queue has formed when we reached the city bus terminal near Kyoto station's Karasuma exit.  They were lined up for the Raku buses which operate a loop service that stopped near temples/shrines in the city specially for tourists.  A one-day pass at 500 yen would probably be the most economical means to hop from buses to buses as many times you like.  We paid 230 yen for adult and 120 yen for child per trip using suica card. Unless you planned to ride more than 3 times on the buses, otherwise the difference was quite negligible just for 2 temples.  The following links were helpful when travelling on Kyoto city bus :-
Either Raku bus No. 100 or 206 would bring us to Kiyomizu-dera.  We hopped on the former and dropped off at Gojozaka.  A short walk uphill and some steep stairs to the top lead us to the orange structure 'Deva Gate'.  Kiyomizu-dera was founded in 778 and under the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List.  The attraction was the main hall (Hondo) with a veranda.
Deva Gate


Kiyomizu-dera's main hall (Hondo)
As we admired the Main Hall (Hondo), a kind Japanese elderly man gesturing us to take a family picture for us against the backdrop.  We were touched and blessed to meet friendly people in Japan throughout our trip. 

Soft serve ice cream again !?!? Yes, we had it almost everyday in Japan.  Particularly, after a long walk and a hot weather! And, the best way to cool down too.  As we descended downhill, there were lots of souvenir shops, restaurants, café, Japanese sweets shops and many more, lined up along the Higashiyama district.  The latter has the best preserved district with narrow alleys and wooden buildings, reminiscing the old Kyoto.  With stream of people walking down the Sannen-zaka stairs 三年坂 (three year slope) and Ninen-zaka stairs 二年坂 (two year slope), I had to kept reminding my son to be careful and not to fall down.

Sannen-zaka stairs 三年坂

Ninen-zaka stairs 二年坂

After a cold soba lunch in one of the restaurants, we walked to Kodaiji for its beautiful designer's gardens. Kodaiji, a zen Buddhist temple, built in memory of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1606. The temple featured a rock garden that consisted of raked gravel, tea house and bamboo groves. To enjoy the peace and serenity of the surroundings, it was better to keep the noise level down.  As we entered the main hall (Hojo), we were being frowned at when our son suddenly got so excited over the zen interior and rolled on the floor.

Entrance to Kodaiji

Rock garden

Bamboo groves

We spent the rest of the day walking around Hanami-Koji Street (花見小路) in the area of Gion (祇園), one of the Kyoto's geisha district. It was also one of those places swarmed with tourists who came here for its traditional wooden machiya merchant houses. Then, we took a stroll at the scenic Shirakawa Area (白川) that has a canal running through.  The place was lined with willow trees and we felt a sense of calmness and tranquillity here. 

Shirakawa Area
As the evening approached, we headed for Pontocho  (先斗町) to experience yuka outdoor dining facing the Kamogawa River.  A popular pastime in Kyoto during Summer. Many restaurant offered Kaiseki dinner (Traditional Multi-Course Meal) and kabuki performance.  We were at the right place and right time to be able to spot some geisha hastily walked past us.


 I picked Kyoto Yamatomi which seemed affordable.  However, a regrettable decision I made.  It was an unpleasant dining experience and hospitality we encountered.  We ordered tempura set meal which consisted of many sides like sashimi, tofu, salted fish, rice, noodles and dessert.  The vegetables were skewed in a stick like kebab which was supposed to dip it in the batter and deep-fry inside a black iron kettle ourselves.  Probably we could not control the fire or we were too slow, the obasan (old lady) abruptly came over to our table and started helping herself to deep frying the food for us.  We were in for a rude shock when she began mumbling to herself like a grumpy woman in the midst of frying.  

Kyoto Yamatomi
Outdoor dining

Pontocho alley

Kamogawa river

Although we could not enjoy our dinner, it was a fruitful day nevertheless.  We still looked forward to the rest of our itinerary.

13 June 2015 Osaka Pokémon Center
We were back in Osaka again for the little one - Pokémon Center.  It was his favourite cartoon series and character.  The store was located inside Daimaru shopping mall in Umeda.  Usually it was the adults we saw carrying shopping basket.  But here, it was the little ones' haven!  To follow the trend, Papa gave him a basket too for his shopping spree and a budget to spend.  And he really spent hours browsing and choosing the stuff even although the store was pretty small.

His collection from the shopping spree

We basically did nothing much of sightseeing except eating and shopping the whole day. What's for lunch?  Fresh udon!  We had a fabulous time lunching at Umeda Hakagure.  We had soup udon that came in clear broth and light sauce soup.  Whereas my boy has cold udon with raw egg.  Simple and yet delicious! Good and cheap too. The friendly owner who could speak simple English even taught us how to eat udon.   It was heartening to feel welcome again after our lousy dinner at Kyoto Yamatomi.   Everyone were smiling and laughing as the owner cheerfully chit chatting with them.  We had a great time indeed and thankful for the warmth hospitality the owner has shown us.  It certainly worth waiting in the queue. 

We did a lot of window shopping largely in the underground shopping mall before we retreated back to our hotel in Kyoto. 

If you like my post, do read the other parts of the Japan trip.  Thank you. :))

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Wordless Wednesday

One day shy of 8 years old
Happy Birthday to my other man
Once was partially blind
with unexpected retinal detachment
and progressive retinal atrophy
Miraculously, God gives him back his vision
Not both but one
He lives with a zest for life
A game of fetch satisfies him
Other times, he lays quietly besides anything
Just to be close to us
A senior dog with lots of love to share
And many more years to come


Sunday, October 4, 2015

Japan trip during June 2015 holidays - Kyoto Nishiki market /Osaka Aquarium/Kuromon market (Part 3)

We were half way mark through our itinerary during our 12 days trip.  Here we were back to Kyoto, our 'base camp'!  Kyoto, one of the scenic prefecture in Kansai region.  It was used to be the capital of Japan before Tokyo took over.  Despite it was culturally riched with numerous temples and shrines that were absolutely well preserved and many were named UNESCO sites, Kyoto seemed to be overshadowed by Tokyo. The nostalgic charm of Kyoto streets and towns was such as lovely place to visit and yet without compromise towards modern infrastructures and facilities that brought much convenience and cleanliness to the people and country.  

10 June  Kyoto: Cycling/Nishiki Market (錦市場)
The first day we arrived in Kyoto station en route to our hotel, we passed by Kyoto Cycling Tour Project (KCTP).  We checked out their rental bikes as well as the weather forecast for the rest of the week.  The staff we met was really friendly and helpful.  Most importantly, she could converse in fluent English.   Kyoto is fairly easy to cycle around due to its flat terrain apparently.  She was kind to give us a map and, suggestion to cycle along the Kamo River. Therefore, we were back to the shop as promised because it was the only sunny day with the rest of days forecasted to have some rain.  

Here in Japan,  the most common bicycle type at rental shops were 'mamachari' (aka mom's bicycle) equipped with a basket. At KCTP, my son unfortunately, at 1.3m tall could not find a bike that he was comfortable with. It spoiled our original plan to cycle to Coin Laundry Sentakukan, the Kujo store with a large bag of dirty laundry. We were rather dismayed and unexpected by the fact that there was not much choice for kid's bike at KCTP.  Hence, we moved on to have our breakfast first at the Japanese coffee chain -  Inoda coffee at Kyoto porta.  The coffee was bold and acidic not to my liking.  However, the breakfast was sumptuous and filling.  We felt energised and ready to walk to the laundromat.  Lady luck was smiling at us! We found another rental bicycle shop, Kyoto Eco Trip, on the way.  We finally got all our bikes! Yippee!!  Meanwhile, I have to get all the clothes washed first.  The coin laundry at Sentakukan was small but clean and easy to operate.  Put in the exact amount of coins and the machines did everything.  I made a mistake of stuffing too many clothes and some of which were only partially dried. 

Cycling along the Kamo river (or Kamogawa 鴨川 ) was a breeze but it was pretty hot at noon.  Couples of locals fishing at the riverbanks and a few birds frolicking by the river.  On the other side of riverbank, there were restaurants with open balconies called yuka for outdoor dining.  Very inviting indeed!  We dropped by Pontocho but was quiet and nothing much to see compared to Gion.  We then rode towards Kyoto downtown. Since, we would be shopping and eating there, we parked our bicycles at a designating bicycle park (which I had no clue since I had very bad sense of directions).  It was difficult to figure out the instructions in Japanese language on how to operate the bicycle lots machines. Fortunately, Papa has a knack for machines and, our bicycles were safely locked and secured.

One of the reason I wanted to visit Kyoto was to drop by Bento & Co store which located near Teramachi, among the shopping arcades.  Surprisingly owned by a Frenchman (not Japanese), Thomas Bertrand, an entrepreneur who started an online shop initially and later, a brick and mortar store was set up in the city of Kyoto. Probably a bento lovers' thingy and therefore, a must visit for me!  I was fascinated with their bento boxes and accessories and the best thing - it was not crowded that afternoon.   Needless to say, I bought a couple of their bento boxes.  One of which was the 'Original Magewappa', handcrafted from Japanese cedar wood with their brand name on the inner lid. The smell of cedar was absolutely divine!

Our stomach was rumbling loudly from cycling then.  Lunch was a simple affair of Japanese udon and oyakodon around Teramachi.  With our hunger pangs fixed, we strolled the 400 years of Nishiki market (錦市場).  The latter was a narrow and long shopping street that got our mouth watering too over the food shops there as you could see the pictures below.  We just could not resist Japanese soft serve ice cream and the too-cute-to-eat tako tamago.

Another eventful day!  Papa and myself ended up with a few more shopping bags back in our hotel.  My son was complaining at our shopping spree. To be fair, we promised to take him to Osaka Aquarium (Kaiyukan) the next day. We love Japanese food.  The presentation was tasty enough to whet our appetite.  Look at the condiments we had below for our dinner at Kyoto Yodoshiba!

11 June 2015 : Osaka Aquarium (海遊館 Kaiyukan)/Kuromon market (黒門市場)
Our morning was awakened by the little rascal who felt so elated to go for his outing to Osaka Aquaraium (Kaiyukan).  We began with a yummy and yet sinful treat at Malebranche, the ultimate Kyoto patisserie in Kyoto station (in my opinion).  We ordered its breakfast set that came with thick and sweet Japanese french toast with a small serve of vanilla ice cream.  A piece of green tea biscuit and coffee were such a perfect match in heaven!

From Kyoto station, we travelled on JR line to Osaka station using Kansai pass.  Then, transferred to the JR loop line and stopped at Bentencho station.  Hopped onto subway Chuo line which would bring us to Osakako. There were plenty of sign posts providing directions to the aquarium.

From a distance, we could see the giant ferris wheel.  As we walked towards it, there was a huge giraffe made of lego brick beckoning.  Nay, we did not go for the ferris wheel.  Instead, we turned left and continue our destination. 

As we approached, I was blown away by the impressive colourful mosaic façade.  The Osaka aquarium was one of the biggest aquarium that housed tropical marine life to arctic animals,  It was therefore, very popular with Japanese pre-schoolers and school children alike.  Interestingly, Osaka aquarium's habitants conceptualised on the theme of Ring of Fire.  A walk through the aquarium led us to different habitants on the ground down to the bottom of deep sea which the latter was our favourite.

Sea otter - Aleutian Islands

Whale shark - Pacific Ocean

Japanese spider crab - Japan Deep


Common Cione (Naked Sea Butterfly)
I love its large touch pool area where kids could get really close to shark and sting rays.

The day trip wrapped up with a slow and relaxing cruise on the ship, Santa Maria. At this point in time, it started to rain.  More gancha po (capsule toy) for the boy too!

We had been snacking a lot from takoyaki (octopus ball), corn dogs, churros, and french fries.   And we continued munching at the Kuromon market (黒門市場).  Local dishes such as takoyaki and okonomiyaki  were originated from Osaka.  However, monjayaki was a specialty in Kanto region which ironically we found it here. Since we were familiar with takoyaki and okonomiyaki, we tried monjayaki instead. Equally delicious but I could not distinguish the difference between okonomiyaki and monjayaki ;P  Back home, it was so expensive to eat good sashimi.  Papa, of course, would not want to miss the chance to eat here.  A packet of fresh tuna sashimi cost only 980 yen (exchange rate was approximately SGD0.01+/Yen 1 then)!  Similar to Nishiki market Kyoto, it was another seafood paradise.


Tuna sashimi

We were so well fed throughout the day that we grabbed a quick bite at seven eleven at night upon return to hotel in Kyoto. At the same time, we were dead tired because we took the wrong local train (普通 ) which stopped at every station instead of Rapid (快速) or Special rapid (新快速) service train.

Thanks for reading.  Do drop by my other posts of Japan trip :-