Thursday, December 31, 2015

Japan trip during June school holidays - Kyoto Kinkakuji/Heian Shrine/Fushima Inari-taisha (Part 5)

This is the last part of our Kyoto trip in 2015.  I must apologise that this post was long over due. We continued with more temple/shrines since the little one was more inclined to oblige after we brought him to his favourite Pokémon store in Osaka the day before. 

14 June 2015 Kinkaku ji (金閣寺)/ Heian Jingu (平安神宮)/Gion
After we had our dose of medicine which was a cup of coffee in a café at Kyoto station, we proceed to the bus station for Raku bus for another visit to temple/shrine. 

First stop was Kinkaku ji (the golden pavilion).  A zen Buddhist temple that served as a retirement villa of a shogun (将軍, millitary commander) in Kyoto. The picturesque surrounding the gold plated building (top floor) and its mirror reflection on the pond provided a perfect backdrop for photo taking.  People came in droves just for it (so do we!). It was a small compound and took us less than an hour to finish touring the ground. 

Who wouldn't want a soft served ice cream during summer time?!?! 

Having learnt about the difference between a temple and a shrine at home, we definitely need to make a trip down to Heian shrine to see it ourselves.  The shrine was built in 1895 to commemorate 1100th anniversary of founding of Heiankyo (former name of Kyoto) as well as dedicated to the late first and last emperors.   A giant torri gate welcomed us as we approached.   Buildings were painted with bright orange which was a common sight in all the shrines.  The paid garden was impressive and well worth to check out. We rested our foot at the Taihei-kaku covered bridge where my son fed the fishes and turtles for 100 yen. A delightful moment for the boy!  Towards the end of the visit, my boy entertained himself at the huge open area filled with gravel.  He got so carried away that he had some cuts on his knees from a fall unfortunately.


Japan was a shopping haven especially for cosmetic, skincare and medicated supplies.  Another bonus point was, these drugstores were tax free!  I went back to Nishiki to buy a bottle of 500ml Kose sekkisei lotion for 5400 yen from Sundrug which has the best deal in town.  I was not familiar with Kose sekkisei range of products and got confused over the term 'Japanese lotion' that I have mistakenly understood as skin moisturiser.  In fact, it was the 'toner' I was looking for. :P  At the cashier, I showed them my passport and the staff would attach the necessary papers and receipts onto the pages for the purpose of declaration at the airport.  (We thought we need to present the physical purchases to the officer for checks and hence did not pack inside our check-in luggage.  I was then told to re-pack the 500ml lotion as check-in luggage.  So silly of us lugging bags of our shopping spree!  Luckily, the bottle of 500ml lotion did not break in the midst of transporting.)

Papa also bought not one but many Sonny Angel minifigures from Kyoto LOFT for our niece, Christine, who was a fan and collector.  (Astonished and yet happy, she received so many at one go!)

Dusk began as the sun set from a distance illuminating Gion.  It was a gorgeous sight!  We could not leave Kyoto without trying a proper kaiseki meal (Japanese multi-course meal) insisted by Papa.  A once in a lifetime chance, not to be missed even though the whole course was really pricey.  With the help of Righa Royal hotel staff, we made a reservation with Gion-Nanba, a one Michelin star restaurant.  It was hidden in a dark alley and we almost could not locate it.  We settled for a 10 course meal and my boy, has a 8 course meal. We also ordered a small sweet sake to complement our meal which was tad too sweet for me.  The lady boss, who spoke little English, explained the ingredients used in each course that was meticulously prepared by the chef.  We were all so stuffed by the 6th course.  Nevertheless, the food was great and we enjoyed the dinner very much!


The chef and us

15 June 2015 Fushima Inari-taisha (伏見稲荷大社)
Before we flew back home tomorrow, our last stop was Fushima Inari-taisha.   This shrine dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Foxes were the Inari's messengers and hence, there were many statues around the shrine.  The attractiveness of this shrine was its famous Torii gates which lined up to the forest of sacred Mountain Inari forming a walking trail. 

We took a train to JR Inari station where the shrine was located outside the entrance of the station.  How convenience it was!  There were lots of steps ascending and descending the mountain.  Some of which were pretty steep and hence, be prepared with a pair good steady walking shoes and a bottle of drinking water.  Along the way, there were vending machines selling mineral water and therefore, fret not if you did not bring any. By the time, we reached the top, we were all perspiring profusely and exhausted.   A good work out in the morning indeed !

Back to Kyoto station, we had a simple and yummy bento lunch.  Afterwhich, we were off in search of some Japanese paper for our dear Christine.

In the evening, we wanted to try Japanese charcoal grill dining experience and picked a restaurant cum bar which seemingly appeared to be the one. They served frozen meat right out from the refrigerator (not even defrozed yet) and we paid exorbitant price for a lousy meal. Worst, Papa miscalculated our expenses and did not have enough cash to foot the bill.  Frantically, he went back to our hotel for help which was just nearby and left us, embarrassed and unsettled in the restaurant.  We waited anxiously for his return. Papa was directed to a few convenience stores and finally, 7-Eleven ATMs saved our day. <Phew>  Ironically, I randomly took a picture of the poster around Narita airport Tokyo on arrival.  Was it a pure coincidence?  I found it absolutely baffling. 


Nevertheless, it was a wonderful holiday.  The next morning, we took the Haruka limited express train to Kansai Airport International Osaka, bidding goodbye to Japan.  But we certainly look forward to our next holiday destination in Japan again!

This was the longest travelogue I have ever written.  If you like it, please hop on to other parts of our Japan trip below.

Gingerbread man cookies

Christmas has just passed.  The new year is coming and there are lots of new year countdowns happening in town and our neighbourhood.   
December 2015 has been quite a busy year for us.  Attended a wedding in Malacca and a relative's baby shower in Singapore.  We also went on a 10 days road trip to Malaysia (Malacca/Pangkor Laut/Genting).  We enjoyed eating and snacking Nyonya food in Malacca and reminiscing about old times we brought our little boy, then 3 years old at the former and 4 years old in Genting.  And our first luxury retreat at Pangkor Laut resort that I could have otherwise dreamed of.  Thanks to the weakening of Malaysia Ringgit currency against SGD. Our dear Papa bought the Spa package as a belated birthday surprise for me.  Back home in Singapore, we watched 2 movies; The Good Dinosaurs and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.   Baked gingerbread man cookies 2 days before Christmas days.  Gone to the Science center with Granny for the Sea Monster exhibition.   Phew......
Time flew.  In a week's time, my boy will be going back to school.  He is still in his holiday mood though....

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. :))